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Guatemala

Curious what backpackers do in Guatemala? Discover travel destinations all over the world of travelers writing a travel blog on FindPenguins.
  • Up, up, up and up some more.

    Antigua Guatemala and Lake Atitlan are the mountainous capitals of Guatemala. We'd been eyeing up a challenging hike since we hit this continent and boy did we strike gold.

    Acatanango was not our first pick, in fact we'd been looking further afield, but it had been recommended to us and our hostel offered to arrange it, so we locked in the overnight hike at the modest price of $35NZD per head.

    Acatanango is a giant. It's Ngaruhoe shaped cone tops out at 3980m (taller than Mt Cook!), making it the tallest in the country and one of the tallest in Central America. This region lies on an active fault and is dotted with similar peaks, many still alarmingly active. Lake Atitlan is also a caldera, surrounded by peaks and the geograhical resemblance to the Central Plateau is uncanny.

    Our two day expedition began with some nervous wees and a shuttle pick up. A shuttle pick up always includes a free tour of the town, as one must navigate as many narrow cobbled streets as are required to visit all the hostels, plus some. This tour continued, picking up food and gear and of course tour guides. The tour company obviously not bothering to do all this before they picked us up. Hot tip: Learn to love a shuttle ride.

    Hopefully you're not thinking lesser of us for getting tour guides. Trust me, if they say you need one you most probably do unless you want to get lost, robbed, stabbed or worse.

    The start for this hike was at a local's house on the side of a narrow, two-lane mountain road with no parking or footpath. So we parked on the road, unloaded all our gear into the gutter and repacked our bags with the overnight camping gear and food with which we had been provided - all the while dodging trucks, buses and men on horses. Luckily we were able to fit it in the three tramping packs and two day packs we had; the rental packs comprised canvas on a welded steel tube frame. "In my day..." right dad??

    After some serious faffing and a $10 NZD park entrance fee we were ready to go. Starting elevation: 2500m (over half way already!). We crossed the road and were instantly funnelled into a steep river of loose volcanic rock. It went straight up. It literally pointed at the summit. As far as you could see. In the midday heat, a rising dust cloud and a pack laden two-forward-one-back step routine, it was undoubtedly one of the most brutal ascents I've done.

    And it didn't relent. Up, up, up, rest, repeat. We climbed out of farming pasture (yes, they farm this slope?!), into rainforest and deeper into the clouds. The view disappeared, the temperature dropped and quads and calves burnt like the Great Fire of London. Our group was in surprisingly good shape. The lead pace was slow, and the stragglers were slower still, but we only had one turn back and zero audible tantrums.

    As the afternoon dragged on the trail flattened and forest thinned. We tip toed along the top of the clouds, fatigued yet grateful for the break in ascent. By now the thinning air was adding noticeably to the difficulty. Late in the afternoon I heard a few 'bang-rumbles'. I feared the worst; thunder meant rain. It struck frequently and grew in intensity as we continued. I verbalised my fears and much to my surprise, was informed as to what we were hearing. It was the nearby Mt Fuego, erupting from beyond the clouds!

    By 5pm we were scaling the final stretch to our campsite. This confused me. The whole day I had not seen a single plot of flat land. Certainly nothing flat enough to pitch a tent, let alone ten tents! And we were currently on all fours climbing in tussock laden scree. Where the hell were we going to sleep?! My confusion was resolved moments later when we scrambled past a homemade timber retaining wall. Genious. There were several of them; a few meters high, constructed of stripped trees from the surrounding forest and cutting into the steep volcanic rock face. Each retained just enough rock to pitch a row of tents on the 'flat'. Hazardous terrain encompassed each site, making even just going for a wee quite a risky exercise.

    It was an unceremonius end to the day. We had not yet conquered the beast and the thought of a cold nights sleep on rock wasn't exactly what we desired, although putting down the pack for the last time felt damn good! Our mood was swiftly replaced with excitement by another huge bang from Fuego. Heads swivelled to watch the giant blast another ash cloud into the atmosphere. It wouldn't be the last. As the night fell the blasts became more and more regular, and the lava brighter and brighter, rocketing out of the crater and tumbling down the cone. Explosions of molten orange in all directions. By now the high clouds had evapourated, thousands of stars had come to shine and our fantastic guides had made us a fire. We'd also snuck up a couple of beersies each (cheers Mike!) which had finished chilling in the crisp mountain air.

    That evening was worth every step of the climb. We sat around the fire drinking beer, eating ramen noodles and toasting marshmellows, with the mountain of fire providing endless spectacle under the starry night. Truely incredible.

    During our earlier excitement, our guides had snuck off and felled a tree each for firewood. They'd made good use of the scree and dragged the 5m long trunks back to site. Their evening's entertainment was letting the more foolhardy of us chop them up with a machete. Hard work for the days end, but it generated heat we much desired, especially Cat who had brought up and worn every item of clothing she had plus some of mine!

    To say we awoke the next morning would be misleading, as most of us never slept. The freezing cold, continuous blasting and a rocky bed countered our fatigue and prevented any decent rest. 4am slowly drifted around and we were roused back into the icy wind for the summit climb. It was cold. Really cold. And pitch black, thanks to the rogue head torch straight to face, abolishing any form of night vision that might have developed under the half moon.

    The ascent started slowly, as we slipped and scrambled and bumped into each other. With no cloud cover yet, the sparkle of distant towns was our only reference point, and progress was faster than it seemed - especially with no packs. It only took an hour and a half before we were making the final ascent to the summit, with the sky glowing orange, blue and black under the rising sun. In an unworldy coincidence, with the sky still half black, we popped over the summit of Acetenango to witness Fuego in all her might; firing lava high into the sky and down her slopes in a fashion only hollywood could recreate. By this stage, low level cloud had drifted in, soaking the lowlands in a fluffy white blanket. The only land visible was the peaks of numerous mountains, poking up from the mystery below. Peak elevation: 3980m.

    We sheltered from the roaring sub zero winds in the lee of some rocks, tucked into some banana bread and muesli bars whilst watching the sun rise over Mt Agua, a nearby peak, and Fuego continuing to announce its presence. It was a morning I will never forget.

    Moments before frostbite cut through my cotton socks (yes, yes, no cotton on the mountain - sorry mum and dad!) we were hustled to the start of the descent. The triple head count that ensued was by far the biggest indicator of the guides' care for our wellbeing I had witnessed all trip. That quickly went out the window as we burst into a free-for-all descent. Shoes buried deep into the soft scree as we ran, jumped, skidded, slid and skied down the mountain, narrowly missing rocks and on occasion, each other. The hour and a half ascent obliterated by a fifteen minute run-tumble back to base camp.

    By the time we got back, we'd all warmed up, the sun had turned on the heat and the wind eased. We drank hot chocolate on heaven's porch, soaking up the sun, the view and the morning that was.

    A lot more faff followed as we packed up camp and readied for the descent. The packs were much lighter without the water, beers and food yet the legs were suffering from the previous day and descending was no less brutal. We had one fast guide (running fast) and one slow. The fast guide set a pace almost impossible to match; ascending the steep, slippery narrow and winding track like we had the summit earlier that morning. Very impressive. Meanwhile in the middle of the field, the quads had packed in and a combination of fatigue and lack of coordination saw Cat rack up quite the number of spills. Perfectly acceptable under the circumstances, I might add. In fact, by the time we reached the bottom, at around midday, I was thoroughly impressed at the state the team was in. Well, except for the fact we looked and smelt like we'd been dragged through a chimney.

    We were spent and ravenous. We loaded up the van and prepared to depart. The thought of jacuzzi and pizza were making my mouth water. However, it was not to be. Our van crapped out (for lack of a less vulgar phrase) leaving us tired, hungry and stranded on the side of the road for nearly two hours. Aid came in the form of cold beer and it would have taken a lot more than a broken bus to bring me down from that high (no pun intended). A huge thanks to nature for nailing the weather and the tectonic activity and to our legendary guides/Guataninjas for putting up with useless gringos and learning english for us!!!!

    By the time we made it back to Antigua in our rapidly repaired bus, we were hangry, busting for the loo and in need of a shower. After much debacle, our needs were met (in that order) so we put our tired, wrinkly feet up in newly appreciated comfort and relived the day that was.
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  • Leaving our jungle oasis behind, the team embarked on another 8 hour minibus trip to Antigua, cracked windscreen and all. We had a few issues with our driver being the air conditioning police and not letting us have the AC on full blast, literally reaching back to change the setting from three to two within ten seconds of us changing it, every time. This was bad enough for us, let alone the poor girl sitting near the front who was battling a severe hangover and trying not to throw up the whole journey! Surprising lack of voms though, given the way she looked. What a trooper.

    One of our stops ended up being quite entertaining when Scott and Mike found a lady selling hotdogs in a wee shop next to the petrol station we had pulled up at. When I found the two of them in this tiny shop about the size of a two-man tent, with no cooking devices except for a microwave in sight, it's fair to say I was a bit sceptical of how this was going to turn out. The lady was super lovely though and proceeded to put out some plastic stools for us to sit on (basically then using all the spare space in her shop) whilst we waited for her to rustle up the hotdog Scott signed up for. She pulled out a single hot dog from her little fridge, tightly wrapped in plastic which she then proceeded to cook in some water in the microwave. Fresh bread and an abundance of condiments surfaced, followed by the seal of approval from Scotty, so Mike and I were sold. The way she tried to sell us other various things from her random assortment of shop items while we were waiting was hilarious too. Scott was offered instant porridge and baby food to which he had to politely decline but everyone was laughing by the end of it all, as she knew how ridiculous her offers were getting. What a little hustler! One that makes a mean hotdog.

    After driving through different villages and lush landscapes for the best part of our journey, it was a bit of a change to arrive in the beautiful Spanish colonial town of Antigua. Founded in 1543, Antigua was the capital of Guatemala until an earthquake devastated the town in 1773 and the capital city subsequently moved to Guatemala City in 1776. This means that much of the architecture here is from the 17th and 18th century and actually reminds me quite a lot of San Cristobal de las Casas that we visited in Mexico. Again the streets are cobbled and the town is surrounded by volcanos plus some more chilly mornings and evenings given we were back at 1600m above sea level.

    We'd booked another nice hostel here called Matiox that'd only been open for three months. Sturdy bunks in the dorm, comfy beds and a nice open air courtyard in the centre of the building gave us a nice place to call home for a few days. Dave who worked there was really helpful in recommending us some good food and drink spots to try out, as well as being super flexible with changing our booking around when we realised we wanted to do an overnight trip up one of the many volcanoes that surround Antigua.

    The team headed out to try some of Dave's recommendations, the first of which was an Asian restaurant of sorts which happened to serve some epic Indian curries with the plates piled high, much to the boy's delight. Bear in mind that Antigua has many internationals living here or calling it home for a while at least, given it is quite popular for Spanish language schools. There's even a few of the big chains like McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts etc hidden inside the colonial buildings. Slightly bizarre. With the first of Dave's recommendations being a hit, we tried a couple of bars he'd told us about as well. One of which proved quite difficult to find but was a low-key cocktail bar with a slightly eccentric owner, where we got chatting to a couple of Aussies. A few cocktails later and we ended up at another bar with them which had a ladies night on - free drink on entry, or rather something that resembles petrol if you're silly enough to order rum like me. And so we danced the night away.

    Understandably our next morning was quite a slow start, but eventually we ventured out to the huge market that Antigua is well known for. This market housed anything from handicrafts, electronics and clothes, to fresh fruit, vegetables, spices...you name it, you could probably find it here. We set out to barter and buy gloves and hats for our volcano expedition, plus all sorts of produce to make a stir fry as we thought we should make some savings and use the kitchen available at the hostel for once! The amount of people and things packed into this place is insane. All was successful until we tried to find some sort of sauce, but eventually we managed to improvise enough with borrowing (cough) a few things from the hostel.

    ...Wee break here where we went to Volcán Acatenango - separate blog for this one!

    To be fair we didn't do a massive amount in Antigua aside from eating (common theme here) and researching our next move, or recovering from the huge couple of days at the volcano. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) well and truly set in. And what better way to reinforce the pain than do another walk - thankfully much less strenuous - to Cerro de las Cruz (the hill of the cross). It gave us a nice view of the city and the mountain behind, on arguably the hottest and clearest day we had in Antigua.

    Unfortunately this was also our last stop with Scotty, who's headed back to NZ/Aussie for the next wee while and to figure out the next move! As for the rest of us, we're off to San Pedro la Laguna, Lake Atitlan to get deep in a week of Spanish language school and stay with a couple of local families. With any luck, this time next week we will be a bit more fluent...
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  • Where do I even start? What an epic adventure. Mixed with plentiful amounts of faffing about, many a tumble and a few what-the-heck-have-I-signed-up-fors.

    We'd all been wanting to have some sort of challenge for a while, so we jumped at the opportunity when we heard a bit about the tough climb that is Volcán Acetenango and the option to stay up there overnight and see the sunrise. Our original research was looking at about $90US each for the expedition but upon our arrival to Antigua, we quickly found that we could do the exact same expedition for as little as £29/$42NZD. Savings. Although don't get me started on that GBP/NZD exchange rate.

    After about an hours drive from Antigua we arrived at the beginning of the hike. When I say the beginning of the hike, I mean what basically looked like a rogue path off the side of the main road with no signs whatsoever. There were just a couple of huts to pay your park fee (again not signposted) and a family home where they sold some much appreciated sticks to hike with, or gave you a last minute opportunity to buy gloves or beanies had you been silly enough to turn up without some.

    Plentiful faffing occurred as we were given sleeping bags, sleeping mats and tents to divide between us and carry up with our packs. At this point I realised I'd either left our GoPro in the van or misplaced it somewhere between the van and the side of the road or it was stolen. Unfortunately no sign of it since. And yes that's the second one in less than a year - GoPro 2, Char 0. Thank goodness for travel insurance but again have lost some photos from the last week, which is always the part that sucks the most!

    Fees paid and bags packed, our group of 18 and our 2 guides finally got on our way. Straight into the ankle deep volcanic sand and the uphill battle which was quick to become the norm on this strenuous hike. Although we started at 2500m, our base camp for the night was situated at about 3600m so we had quite a bit of height to gain, and this trail wasn't going to be easy on us. For some reason I came down with some severe stomach cramps and almost fainted in the first stretch and seriously considered pulling out. Thankfully Mike and Rich came to the rescue and took my bag for a few minutes and then at our first pitstop, my bod seemed to sort itself out. Pheeeeew. I'd say about 90% of the hike was uphill and not just a steady incline, nor any particularly stable ground. Thankfully the first hour or so of the walk was mostly covered by the jungle canopy, giving us some shelter from the heat and sun.

    We stopped regularly, maybe every 20-30 minutes but the five of us being at front of the group became both a blessing and a curse. More time to rest at the breaks but also more time to get cold, especially as we got higher - one of the problems of having a large group with a range of fitness levels. Bear in mind the altitude was making this brutal climb even more brutal. Even in climbing one flight of stairs in Mexico City at 2200m was enough to make you feel like you hadn't been to the gym in years, so you can only imagine how rough this hike felt!

    One thing we were prepared for was that we'd known to bring extra food, as the food we were given was pretty minimal - two sandwiches, instant noodles and a pastry to last us for lunch, dinner and breakfast/lunch the following day. We also had to carry all the water we needed for the two days, which was advised to be 4 litres each. Poor Scotty took a large portion of this so he was really lugging a heavy bag that first day!

    The last portion of our walk to our camp for the night was relatively flat compared to the rest of the day's hike and had us walking through the clouds. We didn't see an awful lot of the views that first day to be honest. Even when we reached our camp at 3600m, we didn't know there was another volcano (Volcàn Fuego) right next to us until we heard it erupting. We weren't expecting that! This also showed our lack of research into this expedition, as we realised photos of this volcano are on all the advertisements of this hike when we got back to Antigua. Classic. Our two little guides ran off to cut down a tree or two with machetes and proceeded to bring them back to cut up for our fire for the night. The boys and I all gave it a try too, harder than it looks though!

    As we set up our tents for the night, the clouds began to clear and eventually we could see the top of Volcàn Fuego as the sun was setting. When darkness fell, the true beauty of Volcàn Fuego's eruptions became apparent. I'd say it was erupting every 5-10 minutes and with darkness we could see the spurts of lava and then watch it travel down the sides of the volcano at great speed. Truly mesmerising and we never got sick of watching it! Unfortunately at night it was too difficult to take photos of but I'm sure the images will be vividly ingrained in our memories instead.

    We huddled round the fire while the guides proceeded to boil some water in a tiny wee kettle on the fire for our noodles and then later roasted some marshmallows and cracked the beers we'd carried up (cheers Mike). Who needs a fridge when you've got cold temperatures at altitude! The amount of stars up here was insane. Every time we looked up I swear there were more. Absolutely stunning and so hard to even put into words, watching an active volcano so close up and thousands of stars too. This world we live in always continues to amaze me with such natural beauty if you make the effort to find it.

    4am rolled around and we forced ourselves out of the our sleeping bags and tents. Not a lot of sleep was had that night due to a combination of things. It was absolutely freezing and we were all wearing basically all the clothes we had, sleeping on essentially volcanic sand and old mate Volcàn Fuego erupting every few minutes sounded like an intense thunderstorm. There were definitely a few times it was so loud I thought the lava was going to make it over to us and we'd be toast! When we got up though, we realised how little we had seen the previous day. It was almost completely clear outside and we could see a second volcano right in front of us as well as Volcàn Fuego, plus the lights from the villages in the valley bellow. Muy bonito.

    After much faffing from the group, (seriously what can one possibly need to do at 4:30 in the morning apart from get dressed?!) we rustled up some energy to get hiking again, the last 300m to the summit - this time in pitch black aside from a few head-torches scattered through the group. As we hiked higher, the sun got closer to rising and we could make out that on one side of our track was the volcano and the other was almost a sheer drop - not sure if it was better to be seeing this or not! Sorry Mum. The last ridge at the top was semi-sketchy, especially as we were a lot more exposed to the wind and cold but it was definitely an achievement to reach the top!

    Unfortunately as we climbed, the cloud had come back but not so high this time - so we could still see the other two volcanoes peeping out. The sunrise was just as stunning and we tucked into some banana bread whilst losing the feeling in our fingers. A few snaps later and we were happy to be heading down again and out of the cold. It was definitely a morning to remember though, hanging out on top of a volcano that we'd worked hard to get to, above the clouds, watching a sunrise.

    Getting down was a bit of a free-for-all, running down the side of the volcano as if it was a sand dune. We got back to base camp within 20minutes or so, compared to the hour plus that it took us to get up!

    Back at camp we finally found some warmth in the sunshine and the hot chocolates made for us by the guides using boiling water and Guatemalan chocolate which is basically just cacao. Then began more faffing from the group as we packed up our tents and then finally embarked on our descent. It was much clearer than the previous day for our descent, which was awesome to see from a height. Our two guides went down at completely different paces, one running off like a wee ninja that Scott and Mike battled to keep up with, the other taking it slow. It was definitely much easier to get down by a sort of gallop/jog/run due to the sandy ground, however occasionally it wasn't so deep, therefore slippery so it was easy to have a few tumbles. Cat's count got to 10 I believe, mine about 7! Thankfully the ground was soft to fall on so no real injuries. What we did have was lungs, mouths and nostrils filled with the dust clouds that running in this sand created, shoes saturated in volcanic sand that I think we'll be stuck with for weeks, and some extremely grubby faces - Scott in particular!

    Our bus back to Antigua couldn't even get going so we had to wait around for another bus to come, beersies in hand. By some miracle the original bus had been to a mechanic to be fixed by the time the new bus turned up an hour or later. Impressive turnaround considering we were in the middle of nowhere really, but we were all super hangry by the time we got back to Antigua as we'd eaten all our food early in the morning. Definitely no contingency plans there!

    I feel like this post and what I've written (even can't do this experience justice but hopefully the photos will fill the gaps a wee bit. Definitely one for the memory bank and a big highlight of all our travels to date.
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  • We set off in the pouring rain to the border. We didn't have to unload our bags this time which was good. Have a look at some of the weird items which are banned.
    Driving over the border was like driving through a car wash!

    Stopped by a nice lake for lunch then off to the camping site where we are spending the night. I am fantasizing about a 5 star hotel!

    Next its three hours walking through the Tikal mayan ruins. Fantastic! Its in the jungle with few tourists and the ruins are impressive. And true tropical weather as you can see. Loving the amish look!

    Then after the worst nachos of my life we went
    to our tents. Hot sweaty and covered in sunscreen and mosquito repellent we went to bed in our clothes. Me of course am using my pop up mosquito net for the first time in a tent in the dark as my camera battery is nearly flat! I sort of get it up and that will have to do!

    A very uncomfortable night on a thin mat with questionable sheets.
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  • Camping in an old tent with holes in it in mosquito land. No thanks!

    The mist in the early morning was nice though.

    But the shower block wasn't used by anyone!

    But disaster I can't get the pop up mosquito net back into the tiny circle!! Everyone in the group tries. Even the swiss guy who can solve a rubiks cube in under a minute can't solve it. So it has to go in the bus as a fairly large circle. And yes I did watch the you tube instruction on how to fold it and thought I got this! Wrong! Once I get wi fi I will have to watch it again closely!!

    We drive through the country side to our next destination Rio Dulce which is set on a lake.

    The country side on the way is beautiful but there was alot of poverty and people living in one room timber shacks.

    On the way we stop at Flores which is a lovely little town on a tiny island.

    Then we stop in Rio Dulce to have lunch and stock up on food as the jungle retreat only has the one restaurant. The main street is crazy with heavy traffic and lots of people walking down the fairly narrow road. Very easy to get run over and a van reverses into us giving us a scare.

    I do quite well and manage to get some yoghurt bread avocados tomatoes bananas and a bag of sliced mango. Then I find a place that does smoothies so with alot of sign language I get the best banano and fresno (banana and strawberry) smoothie. They must have sweet tooths here as she offered to put a tablespoon of sugar in!

    Then with the huge mosquito net we get on a boat and get to our jungle retreat on the river. Its heaven.
    I am a real site with the mosquito net!

    My room is gorgeous and we have an outdoor lounge area facing the jungle and a shared bathroom and there are only two of us in the little house like structure.

    Rest of the afternoon spent relaxing and had a nice dinner with the group in the restaurant which overlooks the river.

    Mosquito net put to use and an early night.
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  • Up into the mountains today to a town called Chichicastenango which has a large market and a very colourful cemetary. Loved wandering around the markets taking photos.

    Bought a little hand made material cat which spoke to me - had to bargain hard though! Her name is Guatsup!

    Had my smoothie for the day in a cute cafe.

    Then onto our homestay in the village of San Jorge La Laguna overlooking Lake Atitlan. My room is pretty large. We share a toilet and a cold trickle of a shower with the family. There is a kitchen and two other bedrooms one which is used as a homestay room as well. So the family must sleep in one room when a homestay is on. See the various photos of the home including my colourful bed!

    Then there is a central courtyard which is partly covered.

    We had a traditional Guatemalan meal with the family with a very bad soapie on the tv in the background.

    We were told to bring gifts for the family - food shampoo pots etc. Anything as the families don't have much. I took soap and shampoo. Others took pineapples, corn, muffins. I should have got some pencils or pens for the kids as well.

    There were two kids - the boy was fascinated with my padlock on my case. The little girl was curious about everything so I showed her the photos and videos I had on my phone - including Minnie Mai dancing and skipping which she loved. She also loved the dolphin and sea lion photos.

    The whole tour group got dressed up in traditional clothing supplied by our families. Then we went to the town centre to hang out. We also went to part of a church service where a band played!

    Dinner was pretty good and filling. Early night as no internet and nothing to do. Our home had these crazy christmas lights in the courtyard which played the same christmas tune so in the ear plugs went!
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  • The faces say it all!

    First food photo was dinner and next is breakfast.

    Me in my traditional attire. There are alot of pretty gruesome photos on my camera!

    Is my forehead beginning to take over my face?

  • Find Pengiuns only let's me put six photos per footprint, so I'm adding Semuc Champey as a seperate one and to be fair, it deserves it.

    Our hostel offered a guided day trip to this natural wonder for 225 Quetzals ($45NZ), lunch included. Our chariot was a ute with a home made tent-like frame bolted over the tray. We piled in and rode the half hour or so over some horrific roads in the cool air under a hot rising sun. In itself it was a great ride, weaving through the countryside, seeing families and farmers in their daily routines stopping only to shout 'Holà' at us, the giant gringos.

    Our first stop was to venture into the underground. Caving was included in our package so we stipped down to our shorts or bikinis and retied the trainers - a look more unusual the the dreaded sneans. At the entry to the cave we were armed with our only equipment: a candle. It wasn't until we were held up at the entry that we realised our guide hadn't even brought a lighter, which gave us a lot of faith in his preparation... The guides took great pleasure in turning us into warriors with candle-soot face paint. I'm sure they were laughing at as the whole time, cheeky sods.

    Unlike most caves, this one was surprisingly uniform in size and water depth and had a distinct lack of alternate caverns or routes. That or we couldn't see further than our candlelight permitted. This made for easy navigation despite thex wading, swimming, climbing and jumping that was involved. What happens when you climb a waterfall with a candle? Yes it goes out, but keep it safe in your back pocket or tucked in the side of your bikini bottoms and hope that an amigo will give you another light on the other side. The tour culminated in a rock jump into darkness followed by a now heavily congested exit route. Glad to have been the first through!

    Upon exiting we raced for the sunlight, as slow progress and relentless wetting and re-wetting had brought a chill to the bones.

    The next activity was a sketchy and pretty darn massive seated rope swing. It provided outstanding entertainment watching many amatuers attempt to dismount the swing into the racing river below. Many complaints of pain put the girls off, but the boys all had a crack and walked away with only minor bruises and humility.

    Still in recovery, we were marched to the local bridge for another hit of adrenaline. A young and highly abusive Guatemalan boy set the bar for the jump, climbing onto the suspension wire, parading up and down whilst giving us a gutful before dropping a dizzying 10m into the river. Some attitude. Some kahunas. We all jumped, girls included, and were grateful for our shoes on impact once more!

    We're more used to the hustle now and are learning quick and easy ways out, or how to avoid the situation altogether.

    Lunch came and went with little excitement, save for my attempt to pick up a pile of sticks Guatemalan-style (with my head). A different life they lead indeed!

    The afternoon brought us to Semuc Champey, literally the only reason this secluded and so very isolated place is on the tourist trail. Semuc Champey is a series of terraced rock pools, filled with turqoise blue water and schools of those fish that nibble at your toes, creepy! The main river, Rìo Cahabón actually flows underneath the terraces; an impressive tunnel of roaring white water, only just visible to the intrigued tourist.

    It was nice to relax after the hike to get there, swimming, diving, jumping and sliding (barebummed) down the terraces, from pool to pool. The natural beauty speaks for itself in the photos below. We went back the same way we drove in, ever appreciating the friendly and smiling locals.

    All in all it was one of the best days in Central America yet! Definitely worth the hot and bumpy eight hour drives we put ourselves through at each end.
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  • The day started with one of these situations I will never fully understand. I wanted to take a bus from Lanquin to Rio Dulce from where I would then take a boat to Livingston on the caribbean coast.
    I had already bought my ticket for the bus in Flores. I was a little worried as I had heard that sometimes tickets bought elsewhere are not accepted. But when the hostel called the travel agency in Flores to confirm the date of my departure (I had bought an open ticket) they said everything should be fine.
    So the pick up truck brought us from the hostel into town where all the shuttle busses with different destinations were waiting. I found the bus to Rio Dulce and showed my ticket to the driver. But he said he couldn't accept this ticket. I told him to please call the number on the ticket as they could probably confirm that the ticket was valid. But he only asked "Where do you wanna go?" "Rio Dulce." "Which hostel did you stay?" "Zephyr Lodge, but I bought the ticket in Flores. Please call that number." "No, it's the wrong ticket!" (and of course all this was in spanish).
    Another guy showed up and I had the same conversation over and over again. When the bus driver finally called the travel agency there were already 4 people there telling me I had the wrong ticket. And they still asked me every now and then where I wanted to go. Seriously? Still Rio Dulce.
    After the bus driver had spoken to the travel agency he made 2 more phone calls. All the while even more guys walked by asking me where I wanted to go, telling me I had the wrong ticket.
    But suddenly after a few minutes the bus driver put down his phone saying "esta bien!". He took my ticket, put me on the bus and suddenly everything was fine.

    The bus drive to Rio Dulce took about 5 hours. The first 4 hours over really bumpy gravel roads. The streets in Guatemala are definitely the worst I've seen so far. Never felt such an relief when we finally reached the paved road.

    But the journey from Rio Dulce to Livingston made up for everything. We got to Rio Dulce just in time that I could hop on the public lancha (small boats who work like collectivos) to Livingston. These boats make a few stops in between and give you a few informations about the area. Finally the sun came out again and it was a really nice tour. The river ends in the ocean and I was back to the Caribbean.
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  • Nice sleep in, then down to the retreat's restaurant which is right next to the lake.
    We haven't had wi fi for a while so caught up on my emails and did abit of banking. The connection was very patchy though and came and went.

    Its a lovely place.

    After my homemade brunch/lunch (check out the knife they gave me) we walked into town 20 minutes each way. The heat the heat! We are all dripping.

    I get some orange drink which tastes like tang for energy - the water just wasn't cutting it.
    We walk around abit make a few purchases and I get another smoothie from the same place and we head back.

    Then we watched the you tube video a dozen times and managed to get the net back into a circle! Not easy and it took two of us!

    Finally relaxed in the restaurant by the lake. The meals are western prices but without the western quality.

    Most of the photos are on my camera so here is what I have of the retreat. My room, the shared verandah and bathroom, my lunch, the view and a random boat!
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Republic of Guatemala, Guatemala, Guwatemala, ጉዋቲማላ, جواتيمالا, Qvatemala, Гватэмала, Гватемала, Gwatemala, গোয়াতিমালা, གྷོ་ཊེ་མ་ལ།, Gvatemala, Guatemala nutome, Γουατεμάλα, Gvatemalo, گواتمالا, Gwaatemalaa, Goatemala, Guatamala, ગ્વાટેમાલા, Gwatamala, גווטמלה, गोतेदाला, Գվատեմալա, グアテマラ, გვატემალა, ហ្គាតេម៉ាឡា, ಗ್ವಾಟೆಮಾಲಾ, 과테말라, گواتیمالا, Gwatémala, ກົວເຕມາລາ, Ngwatemala, Goatemalà, ഗ്വാട്ടിമാലാ, ग्वाटेमाला, ဂွာတီမာလာ, Cuauhtemallan, ଗୁଏତମାଲା, ګواتمالا, Watimala, Guatêmälä, Guwaatamaala, குவாத்தாமாலா, గ్వాటిమాల, Гуатемала, ประเทศกัวเตมาลา, Kuatamala, گۋاتېمالا, Ґватемала, گواٹے مالا, Gvatemalän, Orílẹ́ède Guatemala, 危地马拉, i-Guatemala