We were picked up by a shuttle that we arranged the day before to go up Semuc Champey. This is a natural wonder. A series of limestone pools with a giant river that flows underneath them. The hostel we booked, recommended by Nate was right at the entrance to the pools and had a great river that ran past. It is still up in the air if we want to spend three nights or two. The shuttle ride is eight hours to get there, not too torturous either. Every blog that Mateo or I have read say we must do the tour, I’m not into tours but we are going to do it. After a senic drive through Guatemala’s countryside we arrived. The first thing I notice once we were on to dirt roads were the cocoa trees, they were everywhere, just growing wild. I couldn’t believe it. I had completely forgotten that this is where chocolate comes from! It only grows within 20 degrees of the equator. We really have arrived into an Emily paradise.
Moved into our dorm room for the next couple days and met the Swedish couple who were sharing it with us. Spent the evening playing jenga and had dinner. The food at the hostel was cheap and really tasty. That has been a theme on our trip, cheap and tasty, and when we do go to a real restaurant it’s is normally underwhelming and expensive. Street venders are typically safe or out of business. I wonder about the day when our luck runs thin and what that will look like. For now we live without fear!
I woke up at 6:30am, I am an early riser I like to enjoy the morning, our tour took off at 10am so I had time. I watched the lastest round of people leave and enjoyed listening to other peoples conversations about where they had come from and how they where getting to to their next destination. Not being on the bike has thrown us into somewhat of a backpacker whirlwind culture where many people talk of where they are from and where they are going. The culture of the country your in is some what lost in it all in a hostel, mainly all foreigners and English. I enjoy it and I don’t, I want to know who people are are not just where they have been or where they are going. Maybe who they are will all come later on, the Swedish people we met are really nice. I hope to find myself meeting them again but in Sweden.
What a beautiful colonial town, tomorrow we plan to hike up to a volcano, Pacaya. It is an active volcano, it last really erupted five years ago, and it’s most recent small eruption was in March. I was excited to hike and to visit a volcano. Everyone from the hostel was going to a giant party outside of town Mateo and I were not interested but we were excited about having the hostel to ourselves. We sat and chatted with Luis one of the employees at Jungel party. Nate, Mateo’s brother had made friends with him just a couple weeks before when he was visiting Guatemala. He is a funny character and very entertaining, he invited us to the party so we joined him when he was finished with the hostel. The party was horrible, just really bad and it was out side, the night was cold. Mateo and I gave it a shot but we were not feeling it and just as we began to leave, Volcano Fuego began erupting, you could see blasts of lava coming out the top clear as day. The volcano erupting made our trip out to a horrible party all worth it. In the morning we tried to catch a tour at 8 but we would have needed to sign up the day before so we went looking about for breakfast and ran in to Luis and Phil I invited them to joins us and instead we joined them in the cooking of breakfast back at the hostel. We were not allowed technically to use the the kitchen being guests but they were staff so us joining them was no problem. We had an awesome Guatemalan breakfast with our friends and we convinced Phil to join us on the 2 o’clock volcano tour. We walked around until it was time to leave around an awesome historic sight of a church that had full collapsed in the 1976 earth quake. The sight was completely open for climbing all over the rubble and exploring. It wasn’t like Europe where every tourist was closely watched to make sure no finger prints were left behind.
It was a blast. The bus ride out to the hike was about an hour and a half south. The clouds were out and I wasn’t sure if we would have a view. The hike was nearly straight up, took the wind out of me at first. I miss the bike but at the same time it has been so nice to get as much exercise as we have been getting. There were amazing views as we reached the top, we had views of all three volcanos. hiking through the lava field you could feel the heat from the geothermal layers of the volcano. I even roasted a marshmallow from just a hole in the ground.
The taxi driver asked if we are going to Guatemala City, he flashes his lights and the bus stops! A quick transfer out of the taxi and onto the bus. This bus is a 1970 charter bus, no air conditioning and no reading lights. Now we have a 6 to 8 hour drive to Guatemala City. Our German girl friend needs to get off at another city, and we need to get to Guatemala City to transfer and head to Antigua where we have booked a hostel for the night and are seemingly still on schedule to make it. When we get onto the bus there is maybe 5 people after several stops we are finally full. I feel like I’m on a midnight train being smuggled into Guatemala. We are the only Americans, I like this feeling of transporting the way Guatemalans do it, not paying more, still getting there and just testing the local waters. Both Mateo and I are just going with it, we are both aware that we need to be in Guatemala City, and the German girl gave us a lonely planet travel book, full of helpful information. The bus stops after 8 sweaty hours, the only people not getting off are sleeping people and then us. They start asking us questions, I guess this is our stop, we are in Guatemala City. The bus station is packed, it reminded me of being in New York’s central station, it was so busy, the time was about 9:30 am. Neither Mateo or I are feeling good, sleep deprived and sketchy food with little water consumed in the last 24 hours, we head towards open air and sunlight at the south end of the station to re group. After finding a man in neon green and asking for directions. We head to the upper level to find a bus that is heading to Antigua. There is a mass of people stuffing them selfs on to buses that are showing up frequently, we ask again about getting to Antigua, and get told a stop and head towards the crowd. We shimmy on to the second bus that arrives, we don’t fit on the first one, the buses are patrolled by cops, I assume they make sure not to many people get on the buses but also just help to maintain general security. Five stops later we squeeze our way out of the packed bus. I felt like I was being slowly pushed out of the birth canal, Mateo was even assisted by a man out side of the bus and pulled off. We were in Guatemala!!! How awesome, it is hard to describe the ways it feels different but it is not Mexico, I notice first how Guatemalans look different, it could be because we are in the city but not everyone says good morning when passing by you. Inquiring for directions from the first cop we see he sends us in a direction towards a small cheese market, also many stands were providing breakfast, I was tempted but we really just wanted to get this over with, turns out we were heading the wrong way and need to cross back over the Main Street. After being pointed in the right direction we boarded a school bus with a fancy paint job saying Antigua. This was our first “chicken bus” the most popular form of transportation around Guatemala City and the surrounding areas. Chicken busses are old school busses from the United States. Luckily this chicken bus ride should only take us about and hour and a half, and at the whopping cost of 1.20$ US. It was full quickly and had some interesting revolving characters. There were people stepping in to the bus to sell whatever they could, chocolates, suckers, and most strange for me, diplomas for best mother, all at a cost. Antigua is a old colonial town, it feels like Europe, with cobble stones, pleasant night life and many Spanish ruins. We stayed at the same Hostel Mateo’s brother Nate stayed at only a couple weeks prior. We enjoyed a nice walk to the hostel and rested a good part of our day.
On our way to Guatemala
The empanadas we baked last night was the only thing that drew me out of bed this morning. Mateo and I need to pack our bags, sift through all of our things and decide what needs to come with us. This will be the fist real departure from a location with out our motorcycle, I’m sad, about leaving Laura, Lander and Inada. We won’t be on our bike any more. What will we complain about now, we will no longer have sore butts, or drives through thunder storms in winding roads. At least we have had 11 days to get use to the lack of motorcycle, I can imagine how much more difficult getting our motorbike to the boarder of Guat and ditching it would of been, luckily Lander did purchase this VW bus and now we are pleasantly enrout to export the bike and have if in safe storage with Lander until who knows what.
Maybe we will return with a new engine and install then head south once again on a new adventure. Maybe I will be confident on a motor cycle by then and we each will have our own to tour South America! For now the bike will sit quietly at Landers until Mateo is in the right place to make decision on it. I’m happy it is not becoming scrap metal or some more debree on this side of Mexican-Guatemala boarder. We left around 10:30 from San Cristobel and raced to the boarder, 5 days ago while we were having our jungle adventure Lander purchased a VW bus. Laura and Lander needed more mobility than they currently have with public transit. Mateo and Lander had took off the front tire on the bike and put it into the be bus the night before.
We arrived to the Cudade just prior to the boarder and processed our papers to export, we were ready for our Guatemalan adventure to start! Ladner did all the talking and translating for us, it made things to easy for us. We soon found out the boarder was closed from the Mexican military out side the export office. As far as they knew only vehicles were not allowed through and pedestrians were able to pass. We found a safe place for the Vw to park and all three of us board a taxi for the border. When I think of a border crossing I think of what I saw when passing from the United States into Mexico, tons of broader patrol, giant speared fences, and large gaps between one side an the other so people can be shot if trying to cross with out permission. Yeah not here, yes the boarder was open for people on foot but the offices were all closed, no immigration workers in sight. It hadn’t been open for a couple days now and won’t be for many to come. Well here we are standing in Guatemala, at a crossing that is entirely open to any thing that can fit under the gate but no immigration office. If we continue on with out a stamp in our passport, only trouble can lay a head if we wanted to leave Guatemala. We get back in the Taxi and return to Ciudad Cuauhtémoc. Lander finds out from the taxi driver that the surrounding area over the boarder has not been receiving electricity and they are protesting by blocking the roads and the boarder. Sounds reasonable to me, I would be irritable if my power was shut off. Mateo and I weigh our options, stay a night, try and get in tomorrow, or take a bus south to Tapachula, to cross the boarder there. The bus option is what it will be, the bus is of course four hours behind schedule but at least it’s an option. From there we will catch another bus to Guatemala City. The bus is running late by four hours so departure has been pushed back to 9, it is a 4 hour trip to the other boarder crossing. That will get us to the boarder at 1am. We made sure it was a 24 hour, border crossing. At the bus station we met a girl from Germany who had been traveling around Guatemala for a couple weeks, she also received the awesome surprise of the closed boarder. It was nice to take a charter bus with air conditioning and reclining seats! The bus station in Tapachula is desolate with a couple security guards and people getting off our bus. I know it is 1:30 in the morning, not many things are open at 1:30 out side only the bars/night clubs. One thing we do know is that there is a bus that goes into Guatemala City that leaves from the other side of the boarder at 4 am. The three of us, German girl and Mateo get into a cab that drives us to the boarder. This border looks like what I think to be a border crossing would look like, with out the security guards. We get our Mexico stamps for the second time in a day and cross the border. The three of us are met but some Guatemalan guy and his son, I didn’t like his from the start, any one willing to help you out speaks English and speaks like he knows everything I become werrey of immanently. Too helpful yes, we walk on over the border Guat guy showing us where the immigration office is. It looks closed, really closed. Guat guy is tapping on the window and asking for the person on the other side to open, I lose hope after a minute of so of this tapping and asking. We could just sleep at the border, then we saw signs of life. Finally the cardboard gets removed from the small round window and we see a guy who looks like he was still in the process of waking up. It will cost us 10 quetzales, legally there is no charge to get a visa in Guatemala. We where not going to contest the fee. The Guat guy soon had four people with him, 2 young boys and another guy wanting to exchange some money with us 7 quetzales for one US dollar, not a bad exchange rate. Mateo made a deal with him, Mateo is a Math nerd thank goodness because the money exchanger was quickly trying to rip us off, unsuccessful he was. The Guat guy goes running off, he was a chubby guy not the runner type, he returned quickly in a cab. He was trying to convince us that since it is 2:30 in the morning that can cost more and validate safety by pointing out that the police were in our presence. I don’t trust the police, ever since we ran into a guy who told us about the local cops of Mexico being scummy. After a good 15 minutes we are out of there sitting in the taxi for 100 quetzales. Thank goodness, I don’t want to find talked my self negotiating taxi fare with a driver at 2 am at any boarder ever again.
Laura and I got out of the house and went in search of a Mexican blanket, I want to send one home for my bus, along with a few things for my roommates. Reflecting on our time in Mexico brings me to thoughts of awesome cacti, bright colors, amazing food, and generous people. We have been so blessed to have come so far and experience so much. I have probably seen more of Mexico than most Mexicans and maybe even more than I have seen of my own country. The generous people is what gets me the most, I saw a lady while walking though the market with Laura the other day carring a sack she strolled around searching the markets floors for produce that had been dropped on the ground by the market workers or by people purchasing produce. I made eyes with her and gave a big smile, in return she gave me a smile. That smile broke my heart a little, that is how she has learned to provide food for herself. To me it was a beautiful thing, nothing wasted nothing taken for granted. Laura informed me that there is no minimum wage here an that most jobs pay by the day, 50 pesos per day, about 4.50$ USD. It is a strange thing to think of with news of Seattle’s wage going up to 15$ and hour just yesterday. Sometimes I yern for the simpler life, and then my western thought kicks in, what about when I’m older, career, providing for children, improving my education. It baffles me, can there be a happy medium, where I cross simple Mexico life with a complexed American life? And this, this is why I travel to be reminded that my way isn’t the only way, and that there is no wrong or right way. I like that my life as of right now considers a baño with running water, a toilet seat, and a mirror as fancy in my mind. I still need coffee and chocolate in my life, even the poorest community’s we can find both, it’s looking more like my “basic” needs are still universal.
Here are a few photos that I missed in blogs past from our time in San Cristobal