Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Guatemala - A good start

Leaving Punta Gorda at 9.00am we caught the boat to take us down the coast and into Guatemala - 1.5 hours across the Bay of Honduras where the first part of the crossing was like those adrenalin rides you get flying down canyons. The two powerful engines roaring as we flew over the waves and crashed back into the dips and getting soaked with blue sea spray. Well, that's how it started. 30 minutes later one of the engines sputtered, whined and died. Leaving us to chug along with the waves hitting us side on yawing from side to side. Sea sickness quickly set into the 11 passengers. The kids fell foul to the movement first, A family of 5 kids in front taking turns to hurl over the edge whilst the concerned 2 parents patted their backs like circus plate spinners.. Soon after a Guatemalan woman joined in. Then one of her kids projectile vomited all over her. The smell of puke catching in our nostrils until a random wave crashed over the bow and completely drenched her (at least she was clean then huh?). It took another 45 minutes of this joy before a replacement boat managed to get to us. Then, still many miles from the coast, we all had to struggle from one lurching boat to the other, passing the sobbing children and bags over the choppy water between. 

Reaching Guatemala we then had to pass through the immigration office, conveniently placed for any smugglers, a hundred metres from the docks in the high street of the town of Puerto Barrios. We realise we have no Guatemalan money so I set off through the muddy streets all jammed with big lorries, bikes and cars that splatter everyone. None are working but I meet a seedy old sex tourist who showed me one that did. And, whilst telling me about his Belizean and Guatemalan wives (neither knows of the other) started urging me to go to the local whore house with him where I was assured I would find very young Guatemalan girls. You really do meet ‘em on the road. 

Sun Dog Cafe beside the jetty
I escape and we catch a colectivo which travelled through some stunning scenery whilst a young preacher stood between the seats reciting excerpts from the bible before doing a collection for Mr Jesus.  And then we are there. Rio Dulce. A busy little town that abuts a wide river basin and lake. Here bars and restaurants jut out above the water on stilts. Upon the further shores a mixture of locals huts and a large houses are built with hills rising in the distance. Moored around are various sailboats, and fishing boats whilst smaller craft ferry people backwards and forwards over the waters. It’s a lovely scene. Our guest house Casa Perico (reached by a launch) is down one of the estuaries. It's rustic and stands on stilts above mangrove swamp. Wooden walkways connect the various airy buildings and there are canoes we can use to paddle around the river and little inlets. It’s pleasantly cool in the shade and lovely waking up to the sound of birds – Actually we woke to the sound of some other guests farting and stomping about the first night but that soon stopped. It’s different and pretty cool and a great start to our Guatemala adventure.

Casa Perico
The following day the sun is shining and we took the chicken bus to Finca Paraiso where you find the Cascades Caliente. Here a small river flows swiftly over and around rocks to a pool beneath a 10 metre waterfall. Not so big but here’s the thing. The water that drops down on to your head is hot. Its extraordinary. Because of the heated water the rocks around the edge of the pool are hot too. A unique feeling and especially good since there were only a few people – locals, who were lovely and chatted happily to us. A highlight for me was climbing up rocks and vines at the side of the 10m falls and then launching myself off to drop into the pool. Oh it’s so fun to young and carefree!

Agua Caliente
The day ends with us standing at a little bus stop chopped into the side of the jungle with some children who want to sell us coconuts but eventually give up and just chat. Back at the dock heavy sheets of rain fall and a wind whips up the surface of the lake so on our boat ride back we huddle beneath a plastic tarpaulin and look forward to a nice hot cup of tea and somebbiscuits. Oh it’s so nice to old and set in our comfortable ways.

The route to Lanquin is arduous going – 6 hours in a minivan. Leaving Rio Dulce it follows reasonable roads for about 2.5 hours then veers off on mud roads that head up into and over the mountains. The roads become gradually more and more rutted and scattered with increasingly bigger rocks. Everything shakes, judders and swings from side to side. It is definitely one of the worse roads we have traveled on but as we climb higher the air becomes cooler, the vistas bigger and communities more isolated. Every one conforming to the dress style of the mountains. The views from the road are only snapshots but the glimpses we get are of beauty. Valleys of green interspaced with rock faces and sheer drops that start at the edge of the road and fall hundreds of metres so you grip the seat really tight (because that makes it safer right?). We arrive at 7.30pm and go to the first hotel, second, third and final hotel and are told in each there are no rooms. Desperate measures are needed – Rachel brings on the big eyes!!!! Booyah! They make some phone calls to check on whether people are coming and luckily one isn’t. We grab the key before they can change their mind and charge us even more than the overpriced rate they have already stated

Chris and Nick on one of the bridge crossings
Next morning we have arranged to be collected and are going to a hostel in the mountains called Utopia where we are going to finally break our 'shared dorm' cherry. Over 4 years of traveling and not once have we been tempted, desperate enough or inclined to go to such measures but here we are. Update comes tomorrow when I see how we sleep perched on top bunks on the second floor of an open sided building facing the mountains…. Today however, we walked up to a view point with an American guy – Nick (a 36 year old cynical barman with attitude who's actually a sweet guy - and someone we consequently spend quite a bit of time with) – It’s a perfect little hike and everything we would hope for in this lush volcanic landscape. A hike that we topped off with a dip in the fast flowing blue Cahabon river.

View from bunk in Utopia Hostel
So the dorm was OK. Everyone was pretty quiet. The general area below the dorm didn’t sound too loud, no one snored and all in all I would consider doing it again (if we have too) because its so strange not falling alseep holding one another (yeah we do that still!). The bunk beds (Rachel and I both in top bunks) are situated in the top half of huge A frame building open at either end with no screens and we are in the middle of jungle but still there were no mosquitos and waking to misty mountains sheathed in green and mist was quite wonderful. We have an early breakfast and tramp off with Nick to Semuc Champey – a series of pools formed along the length of the blue blue river. It's a one hour walk along paths and bumpy roads that rise and fall with the landscape. All the way we hear distinctive birdsong, grunts of occasional pigs and clicking and buzzing of insects in the bush. There’s a steep climb to the mirador (viewpoint) over rough hewn steps, precarious wooden platforms and tree roots. 

Semuc Champey pools
There’s a misty rain the whole time which makes the mossy surfaces as treacherous as ice and we have to hang on to branches and rock outcrops to stay upright. It's a great hike and amazing overview of the pools which we drop into to cool down. With Nick and Rachel “screaming like two little fannies” as small fish suckered their legs or touched their backs. A great day even though we got thoroughly drenched on the walk home.

Thats it for this one.... An 8.5 hour minibus journey and the city of Antigua awaits.

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