Sweet River

March 22, 2007

We continued on our travels by making a 9 hour trip to Rio Dulce. After the most uncomfortable bus ride we’ve had yet, we were thankful to get off the bus and get on a motor boat headed to a hotel tucked away in the jungle right on the river. We slept in the loft that had a thatched roof where bats lived. The next day we wanted to explore the town of Rio Dulce and find a place that was closer to the town. We found Tortugal where we have been for three nights. This is a very unique place that caters to yachties that bring their boats from places like Sweden, Canada, and Texas. This means the food is more expensive, but there are hot showers and our dorm room is above a dock and has a great breeze that battles the humidity. We climb a ladder to reach our beds and can feel the structure sway with the breaking waves.

From here we took a great boat trip up to the coast to the town of Livingston.  Even though the boat was late, cutting our time in Livingston very short, the ride was beautiful. We passed by little villages on the shores of the river, hot springs, and saw plenty of birds. Livingston is very small, but it has its own culture being populated by ‘Afro Caribbean’ people. We enjoyed fresh fish for lunch and then got back on the boat to Rio Dulce.

The next day we hopped on a bus towards the ruins of Quirigua, one of three national heritage spots in Guatemala. The bus dropped us off on the side of the road and we had to walk 4 kilometers to the entrance of the ruins. We were not quite sure if we were going the right way until a big tourist bus full of gringos passed by, an d near the end a nice Guatemalan man with his wife and baby gave us a ride about a quarter of mile from the entrance. In addition to the ruins there were large sandstone structures that were intricately carved with Mayan symbols and calendars. My favorite part was the grassy palace floor, surrounded on all sides by big stone stairs that helped create an acoustic sound system for the Mayan king to speak. Even though these ruins were a tourist hot spot (the entrance fee was Internationals: 25Q Locals: 2Q) we were glad we made the trip to see the remnants of what used to be an impressive Mayan city.

We wanted to explore a nearby fort called San Felipe de Castillo, which was built to protect Rio Dulce from pirates. The fort is accessible by kayak or by foot. Wanting some adventure we decided to head out on in a two person kayak from where we were staying. After an exchange of frustrations, we figured out a system and managed to get to the fort. The structure was pretty amazing with plenty of hidden rooms and doorways. The ride back was a work out, but less frustrating. Andy and I agreed that we need to work as a team more often, especially if we are going to someday be on the Amazing Race. The rest of the day we spent waiting on the side of a road for a bus to take us to the ‘hot waterfall hike’ that never came. Not phased by this we made a trip to the Mercado to buy snacks for our ride back to Antigua tomorrow. Kathy and Randy, Andy’s parents, arrive in Guatemala tomorrow night for a 10 day visit! We’ve got a great trip planned and we will tell you all about it.

I Found Chocolate Milk, It is a Good Day

March 16, 2007

Last week we finished up our studies and volunteer work. Both Kristin and Jon from Child-Aid and Norma, the head librarian from Probigua, were very impressed and happy with the work Rachel did at the library. And another volunteer this week will start where she left off. My work went all right, it did not go exactly as planned, but nothing ever does especially in Latin America. I’m not complaining by any means; I did become frustrated on some counts, but was able to experience another cultures work ethic. It’s much different from our own back in the States and for this is makes it more difficult to accept and adapt. To thank us for our work Jon had us all over to his house for lunch and personally gave thanks, and asked for advice as they hope to develop and expand their volunteer opportunities in the future.

Even though one chapter of our journey is over, we did not say goodbye to anyone just yet. We plan to return to Antigua for an additional week next month before leaving the country. However we did leave Antigua and set off for Coban in the northern part of the country. From there we were able to reach Semuc Champey, Las Marias, and Lanquin Caves.

Semuc Champey is claimed to be “the most beautiful spot in Guatemala” and we would have to agree with what we have seen so far. Nestled in between large, lush green mountains this natural limestone bridge stretches for nearly 1,000 feet. Below it is the River Cahabon and above it is a series of cascading, turquoise pools of water. All very in size and depth making some areas more private than others, and all are easily accessed through the assortment of waterfalls that spring from one to the other. Our tour led us up to “El Mirador” for a bird’s eye view of the place, than back down into the pools where we swam and jumped off a 20 foot ledge, ultimately we climbed down a rope ladder suspended in a waterfall to the rivers’ exit from the tunnel.

The next day we ventured off to Las Marias, which is a network of caves that string back into the mountain side for miles. The fun, and at times the scary, part of it all is the fact that a river runs through all of it. Armed with a simple candle each and nothing more our group went in. We went through a series of passage ways, most filled with water and others not. Much of the time we found ourselves unable to touch the bottom of the river and had to swim to carry on, all the while holding our candle out of the water to light our way. Twice we ran into waterfalls and climbed up through them using ladders previously placed there and secured by rope strapped to varying points. We eventually turned around after our candles reached their midpoint limit and hurried back before melted way entirely. We spent nearly two hours in the caves, which more than enough for both of us.

Our last stop was at Lanquin Caves. We were told the caves ran for 60km or more, but only the first few hundred yards are lit and the rest is unmapped. Impressive nevertheless as this was the biggest cave either of us had ever been in. And that’s saying a lot since we’ve been to Caves of the Wind, caves in Colorado, and New Zealand. We were even told that 600 Mayans were inside one of the caverns last month holding a sacred ceremony. They consider this cave to ‘good’ and use it to perform ‘white magic’. My goal now is to find an ‘evil’ cave for ‘black magic’. No comment as to why. =D

For now we’re back in Antigua resting a bit.  As the weather has started changing many people have become sick, including Rach and I a bit.  So we are taking it easy for a couple days and staying close to civilization before continuing on.

Adventure to Tecpan

March 5, 2007 (Raquel)

Last Friday Andy had the opportunity to see the fruits of his labor. In the mornings Andy works at the school setting up computers to send to various schools and libraries. In a pickup loaded with computers, books, and five people he made the 7 hour roundtrip to a Pueblo called Totonicapan. I stayed in bed all day with a sick stomach. Andy said the trip was long but worth it because he was able to see how grateful the community was for the computers. Rigoberto, leader of Probigua, mentioned Andy’s work in the speech that he gave at a small ceremony at the community center. The ceremony was traditionally Mayan being held in front of a small, replicated temple with a fire made from brush, flowers, and candles. Many people bathed in the smoke of the fire to capture its energy and spirit.

During the weekend we stayed close to Antigua. On Sunday we took a trip to the ruins of Iximche near Tecpan. We  thought it would be easy to take the chicken bus since it wasn’t terribly far away and we feel comfortable with our public transportation skills. As usual the chicken bus was an adventure. Let me just say it was a good thing that Andy grabbed some extra money before we left.

We took off on my usual bus headed for Chimal. Once there we had to transfer to another bus where the ayudante was trying to overcharge us. While waiting for the bus to gas up, I remember thinking: Here we are two of 4 gringos on this hot, humid, very crowded, smelly bus in Guatemala with the spanglish rendition of Lady in Red (Bum I totally thought of you) blasting over the speakers. Andy and I also enjoyed Total Eclipse of the  Heart and I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love Tonight? These buses are a part of Guatemala that can’t be replicated. Not knowing where exactly to get off for the ruins Andy and I had to practice our Spanish with the locals. Somehow we made it to our stop, but had to take a taxi to the ruins. Once at the ruins we paid the driver 25Q and another 50Q to enter the park. At this point Andy turned to me and said, “We aren’t going to have enough to get back Rach!” Rethinking our plan we decided that we could bet by as long as there weren’t any other surprises.

We spent a couple hours walking, climbing, and taking photos of the ruins. We had the chance to witness a Mayan ritual. A group of people were circled around an offering of flowers, candles, and various other items that were eventually lit on fire. Most men and some women were puffing on big cigars while listening to speeches given by a number of different people. As usual there were lots of firew orks, one that went of right by us making us jump. The Marimba and other native instruments filled the air as the people prayed and performed various rituals. This was another special experience to add to our list. Preparing ourselves for the trip home we jumped on a tuk-tuk and made it back to the highway to catch another chicken bus. I have never been on a bus with so many people! Andy and I couldn’t move let alone sit down! We stepped off the bus with  some change to spare and were more than happy to be back in Antigua. Our trip to Tecpan was truly a memorable one.