Central America | Guatemala | Highlands | Panajachel – Hippies, Volcanoes and Caves
Well I did it. I escaped Peten. I keep running into friends I made up in Peten but I am free finally of its seductive lure, for now. I took the number 13 highway from flores so I could stop in at a place called Finca Ixobal. I stayed in a very nice dorm building there but did have the option of staying in one of many tree houses. Had I somebody to share the tree house with I would have, I do love green eggs and ham.
Finca Ixobal is a wonderful retreat just over 100kms from Flores. It has a swimming hole with bar, tennis table and games. The setting is beautiful as was the ride there and they make incredible food. They also have arranged tours and trips like tubing and horse back riding for days into the jungle. I opted for the river cave trek. Actually it was for this trek I changed my plans and came down the 13 instead of hwy 5. And Im glad I did. We trekked for roughly 2 hours to get to the mouth of the cave. On our way we saw jet black crickets with neon yellow pin stripping, a large tarantula and near the mouth of the cave a large green snake was seen by our guide. Close enough for me. The closer we got to the cave the more dense and varied the vegetation became. It was a hot trek so we cooled off a bit in the mouth of the cave before venturing on. The cave has a river running through it. The river adds several elements for your senses to enjoy. Being in the pitch-black pit of the cave, the river gives an odd feel to trekking. Little waterfalls and rapids sound like huge death traps in the echoing cave. Overhead are more bats than Ive ever seen in one location and when the light hits right they reflect off the water.
There were other odd insects inside which I have never seen before along with silk worms. The silk worms move along the rocks hanging upside down for the most part on webs of silk. They lit up in a glow with the aid of our headlamps and flashlights.
In some sections of the cave it is necessary to swim as the dry trail enters the water. It is a very special feeling to swim in the dark like that. We actually spent about half the trek swimming, probably twice as much as was required.
At one point the dry trail brought us about 12 feet above the water. The guide explained what his plans were and jumped into the black abyss. He swam over to an outcrop of rock and shone his light to the safe circle of the pool below. I turned off my logic program and jumped…Whew what a sensation!!!!! This was the end off the line. In front of us stood a big pool of water under a vast black dome of threatening stalactites.
We had trekked one kilometer into the earth. We swam over to one end of the pool and clung to some rock. We were given a Spanish explanation of events to come by our guide and then he disappeared into the water. A minute later he emerged on the other side of the cave wall and shone his light in the water through the hole had just swam through. With my logic program still disengaged I followed suit. The length of the hole might only have been 10 or 12 feet but it was enough to get the adrenaline flowing. It took a bit of nerve and gave one hell of a sensation. We turned around and came back through almost the same scenario. It was a blast.
Four days later I made it into Guatemala City`. It is quite a challenge on two wheels but I managed to make it straight to my first choice of hotels with out getting lost. I really enjoyed the capitol. Its population is over 2 million and it has large sections of shanty town but for some reason, despite what I read and had been told I really liked Central Americas largest city. I didn’t do much besides people watch in the huge central plaza but there was an energy I fed off for a day and a half before parting that really attracted me.
The day I left I got out on the road by 7am to avoid heavy traffic. Yea right! It wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated however and when I reached the cities end and the hwy to Antigua, I looked to my left and saw a doughnut shop. I was happy on two accounts. I violated my healthy body with coffee and doughnuts and set out only to realize that the tunnels etc. id already cycled through were not yet over. In fact the worst was yet to come.
I persevered and succeeded. My lungs ached for a couple of days later but I escaped unscathed and without getting lost. I really felt satisfied with that.
The road to Antigua was demanding. Fortunately it was not long but it went up and up and up out of smoggy Guate city for a good few hours. The up and up was rewarded comming into Antigua however. The highway itself is new, 2 lanes separated from oncoming traffic and seemingly straight down in some sections. I got up to a wopping 82.6kms/hr!!!!!!Passing trucks and cars I was pumped, adrenaline peaking. I remained pumped for my first 3 hours in Antigua.
Antigua is a charming colonial Spanish town that has been perfectly maintained. This former capitol of Guatemala was destroyed in an earthquake and rebuilt. It has been declared a world heritage site. At one end of town stands the magnificent volcan agua. It is a towering giant, a ‘tell tale’ identification of the city in many paintings.
A little further south is another volcano called Pacaya. Although it is not as high as agua it is still active. So I faced my fear of heights with the challenge of its climb.
We were driven for over an hour and a half to and up a good portion of the mountain containing Volcan Pacaya passing villages built on lava pathways. After paying 25 quetzals we made our way up the well beaten path.
An hour of hiking brought us to where the volcanoes black cone protruded with authority from the green earth. Along this border, a line drawn by pencil, the soft green grass and trees abruptly stopped growing and gave way to an immense cone of black lava rock.
‘No way’ I thought as I faced the looming giant. My thoughts were echoed by one of the other two I had gone there with. I said nothing. I decided to take it one step at a time. I cant begin to tell you the mind games I had to play to get to the crater nor do you want to read all about it. But I will tell you that the sense of accomplishment and experiencing that amount of control was something that will work for me in future life events.
At the top of the volcano is a huge mouth of a crater spewing wafts of toxic cloud. The wind was in our favour but every once in a while it would sneak up on
us and force us to the ground with cloth over our mouths. I actually managed to stay at the top long enough to eat a bit and take some pictures all the while keeping my mind busy and off destructive perspective. It was a workout both physically and mentally. I slept well that night.
I am now in Panajachel, the land of hippies, hooch and volcanoes. Panajachel is on Lago Atitlan, a large beautiful lake surrounded by volcanoes and mountains.
Tomorrow I am taking a boat ride over to another town called Santa Cruz. I will be staying in a hotel of sorts that has no electricity and cooks vegetarian fare. I think they must have put this place together with me in mind.
I feel spoiled with bakeries and brew houses and now this get away across the lake. It will be tough to get back on the trail after this but I must try…….Until next time,
Love Peace and Volcanoes, Blair
Next Destination: Santa Cruz, Lago Atitlan, Guatemala
Weather: Sunny and warm early day cooler in afternoons
Flat Tires: 7
Mule Races: 1