Central America | Guatemala – Homecoming
After almost six weeks on the road, with no set plans before me, I was feeling anxious to get back home to Xela, Guatemala.
When I returned to Cancun from Cuba, I spent a few days there at a friendly hostel – meeeting other travelers, dancing till dawn and ringing in the New Year together. I had a lot of options before me, as far as my route back to Guatemala, but I was ready to get back quickly. So I decided to visit Tikal, in the northern region of Guatemala, called El Peten, and then head back to Xela.
After a night in a dumpy hostel in Chetumal, Mexico, I took a very long bus ride to Flores, a town that acts as an access spot for visitors to the Mayan ruins at Tikal. Although, one could imagine Flores being somewhat charming – it’s situated on a small island on Lago de Peten Itza, with narrow cobblestone streets – the large blow-up Tecate beer cans, and a seemingly constant barrage of fireworks and nauseatingly bad Latin pop music detracted from what otherwise might have been a quaint ambiance.
I spent the day at Tikal exploring the ruins. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that I spent most of the day trying to find a peaceful spot amongst the ruins. Having been lazy that morning, I took one of the later shuttles and arrived at the most crowded time in late morning. Hundreds of tourists had already descended on the various temples, with their screaming kids jumping around on ancient edifices like they were new rides at Disneyworld. I did find a spot on the top of a temple, where some quiet visitors rested, from which you could see for miles. The rainforest stretched out before you, with the tops of temples peaking their heads up through the brush. For most of the time, the only sounds were the birds chirping and the howler monkeys wailing.
The next day I left to visit Finca Ixobel, two hours south in Poptun. The farm is known as a retreat of sorts for travelers. It´s a really peaceful setting – a farm with gardens, a fresh spring-fed swimming pool, horses, dogs, two attack geese (not kidding, they started lunging towards me and batting at my ankles, and I literally ran away screaming) and a big cage with formally abused monkeys and scarlet macaws. The food was great too – all yummy organic stuff – huge portions, and an all you can eat dinner buffet, with lots of veggie options. I couldn´t completely enjoy all of this however, because I wound up with yet another bout of some kind of stomach ailment which kept me a little bed ridden and doomed to eat only bread and drink soda or water.
Before i got sick, I went on an interesting adventure. The finca organizes a river cave trek. You hike two hours to the cave and back- flat for the most part, until you enter the jungle-ish area with muddy, rocky, somewhat steep trails – I was pretty sweaty, wet, muddy and miserable for this part. the cave was pretty interesting – the mouth opens up at the bottom of the trail, and the entrance is framed by two huge, curved stalagtites. They look slippery and slimey, but are actually cool and hard to the touch. We spent the next two hours swimming and trekking through the river that runs through the cave. The guide lit candles and placed them along the walls as we went along. It was dark (obviously), so most of the time when I tried to look at the cave ceiling, it just looked like a cloudy, dark sky. After passing some small rapids and a waterfall, we came to a 15 foot cliff. I thought everyone was kidding when they said we could jump off it, or climb down the side. Of course, everyone else was going to jump and I was completely petrified. It brought back memories of those horrid swim lessons at the Y where I would stand at the deep end while my teacher treaded water encouraging me to jump, which I inevitably backed out of. Yhis time i did not back out – stood on the edge and jumped toward the spotlight on the water from the guide (so we would avoid the rock on the left of the spot) – for someone afraid of heights and ..um.. respectful of water, this was a cool moment for me. It´s nice to know I´ve managed to gain an ounce of bravery since I was a seven year old relegated to the “guppy” lane at the Y.
So the cave was cool. The stalagtites were really beautiful, the candlelight made everything look kind of mystical and we got attacked by bats. (Ok-they were just flying around us, acting scary – which actually I enjoyed because I like bats.) When we emerged from the darkness of the cave, the color of the forest was so bright and astounding – so green and beautiful.
I headed back to Xela a day later after 10 more hours on two different buses. Received a wonderful warm homecoming at my language school and former host family.
So here I am until further notice. I’m busy trying to find a volunteer position somewhere in Guatemala where I can practice my Spanish. And I’m preparing for a visit from my college roomate this weekend, which I’m ecstatic about. All in all, it feels great to be back in Guatemala, and I know I want to stay here for a few more months before hitting the road again.