Rio Dulce and Christmas in Flores

Rio Dulce
After a 5 hour shuttle ride Marie-Eve, Gina and I arrived in Rio Dulce. Gina was staying at Utopia with us and decided to join Marie-Eve and I to Rio Dulce instead of going to Livingston! I wasn’t a huge fan of Rio Dulce. There wasn’t much to do and not a lot of scenery even though we were staying on the river. Granted, we did just spend one week in a magnificent jungle so the expectations were set pretty high. There were two highlights of my stay in Rio though – (1) Seeing the Aramburu family! This is the most amazing family I have ever met. Jorge is from Uruguay, Judith from England, with two kids Mateo of 14 and Emma of 8. Jorge used to be a photographer for the U.N. and took his whole family with him when he had long-terms projects all over the world. The kids are so well-rounded and the family so, so loving. They were traveling with their dog Zidane too! We had met them in Semuc as well but really spent time with them in Rio. Great family. (2) The sunrise kayak tour! The first morning we were supposed to do this I accidentally set my alarm for 5:00 p.m. instead of 5:00 a.m.! We were lucky the next day though, it stopped raining and we made it on time for the tour. The tour was really cool, but not one of the best that I have been on. We saw howler monkeys and a boa constrictor! The boa constrictor was dead though – I watched it be macheted to death after eating a locals chicken! That pretty much summed up my time in Rio Dulce. Next stop, Flores!

Flores
We spent 4 nights in Flores at Los Amigos hostel. What an amazing time! The place was lovely, the people so friendly – i met a lot of new people there, new friends!

Tikal

Semuc Champey – A wonder of the world

ImageThe drive to Semuc Champey was not what the travel agency said it would be – 5 to 6 hours, no way. We left Antigua at 2:00 p.m. and arrived at our jungle lodge in Semuc Champey at 12:30 a.m. It was the bumpiest, roughest road I have ever been on. Talk about a soar butt! Anywho, more about the lodge!

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Utopia was AB-SO-LUTE-LY beautiful. The lodge is completely isolated (the nearest neighbor is a 15-20 minute drive), made completely out of wood and entirely open. There are open windows all around with the only view being the jungle. The plan was to spend only 2 nights here but we ended up staying for 6 nights. I’ve never been so relaxed anywhere in my life.

My days were spent reading in a hammock, exploring the jungle, sunbathing, swimming in the Cabahon river and limestone pools, and water caving. I have never seen so many different kinds of butterflies – I saw at least 15 different kinds with one being black and blue with a wingspan of 8 inches (a blue morpho). BEAUTIFUL. I tried taking pictures but I was only effectively able to take a photo of a few of them.

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I don’t think my description of my experience here does it any justice. This is the most beautiful and serene place I have ever been, ever. The two biggest highlights of my stay there…

1. Semuc Champey Pools + Mirador Hike:Marie-Eve and I walked to and from the SC pools and hitched a ride on the back of a truck for half of it! A true Guatemalan experience. Once we got to the park we hiked up Mirador, an one-hour hike up, I mean STRAIGHT up the mountain, to a view point for a birds eye view of the pools. It was breathtaking.

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We hiked back down and took a swim in the pools. I have never seen anything pristine, exquisite…naturally beautiful. The water was turquoise, warm, crystal clear and filled with fish! I dove right in and spent the rest of the day there. Semuc is definitely a place I see myself coming back to. I hope to be able to bring my brother here one day.

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2. Water Caving:This was the coolest experience ever! Only sucky thing was that I couldn’t take my camera in there because of the water. There was a group of 6 of us with a guide to lead us through dark water caves. We lit the way with candles in hand swimming through deep pools, kicking unexpected rocks underwater and climbing up wet wooden ladders. The tour lasted for about 2 hours. I expected to get claustrophobic going deep down into the dark caves but I surprised myself and held up well. There were some really cool and scary parts of the cave, though. There was a 20 foot waterfall with a rope dangling from it. We had the option to climb up a ladder that was on the side of it or to climb up the waterfall using the rope and the rocks. I decided to be a badass and chose to climb up the waterfall. The only thing underneath me was jagged rocks and 3-feet deep water. I took the rope in my hands and started climb up searching for foot placements on the slippery rocks, water falling fast into my eyes and my face. The only thing holding me up was myself. I just about reached the top when I began to struggle to find my next foot placement. I kept my cool though and remained confident in the strength of my body. I got up okay and every one shot out a hoot and a holler. No one else gave it a try! It was a pretty sweet experience and I loved it. I’ve never had an issue climbing up things, it’s getting down that strikes up my fear of heights.  Thankfully I didn’t have climb down the waterfall though! Overall, it was an amazing experience and hope to have more like it throughout my trip!

The next day we got on a shuttle and head over to Rio Dulce. More details to come later.

Side note: I was looking to extend my trip but one way tickets back home are $475!! My round-trip ticket down here was $550 – no way is that happening. Hopefully tickets will drop and I can spend a few more weeks out here. I am in love with Central America.

Till next time Amigos!

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Cockroaches, Volcanoes, Lakes, Devils and Chocolate!

ImageA lot has happened in the past 2 weeks – some good, some bad. Last Saturday, the 1st, I went out with the girls (Manon and Marie). We went to go see Gustalvo play at Cafe No Se and on our way we stopped at bar that had a 2-for-1 margarita special. In the middle of our first drink a group of Guatemalan natives decided to take it upon themselves to introduce us to some amazing cultural drinks. The first one was Rosa de Jamaica – which is an alcoholic drink derived from hibiscus flowers. It was okay. I wasn’t a huge fan, but it seems to be really popular down here. The other drink we were introduced to was La Cucaracha (the cockroach), which was a Kahlua and Patron shot that is lit on fire and sipped through a straw. I really liked that one! A couple of margaritas later we stumbled into Cafe No Se. It was getting late and Marie and I had a shuttle to catch at 6:00 a.m the next day to hike up Volcan de Pacaya. We watched Gustalvo play a few songs and head home.

ImageAfter sleeping for 4 hours, I woke up and got ready for my hiking trip. I felt a little bit nauseous but I assumed it was because I was hungry.  I tried to eat something but could only take a few bites of my peanut butter sandwich. One hour into our drive to the volcano my nausea started to get worse and I threw up at our bathroom stop! I realized then that I was having another episode of acid reflux from drinking the night before. My luck to develop acid reflux one-month before my trip. Anyway, we continued with our drive and arrived at the volcano. I was feeling a little better until we started our 4km hike up the steepest mountain ever to the volcano. Of course, strenuous exercise aggravates acid reflux and after another episode of throwing up I decided I should probably ride a horse the rest of the way up for the sake of my stomach – so that’s what I did. I was in awe once we reached the top of the mountain and started exploring the volcano! It was breathtaking! I was okay for the rest of the hike and took the opportunity to embrace this magnificent natural landmark. From Pacaya I was able to see three other volcanoes; agua, fuego and acetenanga. I couldn’t help but to think how lucky I was to be able to have this opportunity. We roasted some marshmellows from the natural of this active volcano and head back down! Once I got on the shuttle, my stomach started to bother me again and for the next 4 days.

ImageI started Spanish class the next day and my stomach began to have another problem – of course, Montezuma’s revenge! But fortunately…in the most minor form (yes, I am publicizing this). When I arrived in Guatemala I decided that I was going use the sink water to brush my teeth and eat everything I wanted to because I wanted to really immerse myself into the culture and not create barriers because of bacteria, pfffffffft. I have a relatively strong stomach so I figured the bacteria wouldn’t get me sick because I’ve never been sick in other foreign countries. Unfortunately, acid reflux reduces the stomachs ability to fight off bacteria so I was dealing with more than one problem! I took it easy until Thursday with a lot of rest, bread, water and Spanish homework. By Friday, I felt like myself again! I was so thankful to be staying with a host-family during this time. I definitely won’t be doing much drinking on this trip (booo).

ImageImageFriday – Friday was amazing! Friday, the 7th, was Quema del Diablo (the burning of the devil). The celebration used to be popular among all of Guatemala but many activists have protested against it because of the pollution caused by burning paper-mache devils. Fortunately, Antigua still celebrates this holiday!  Jenna and I, my new roommate, came early enough to have front row seats to the show! They spent 10 minutes dousing the devil in gasoline and then BOOM! He was set ablaze along with some fireworks – WOW!! I ducked to prevent being lit on fire and looked around to see all the excitement in the people around me. I am not sure about the exact significance of the holiday, but I know that it is religious and the gist of it is that the burning signifies a way to rid people of all bad things for the upcoming year.

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This past week I went to Lago Atitlan  via Panajachel and stayed in San Pedro. I loved Panajachel. It was a beautiful town filled with intricate and vibrant textiles. I really wish I had more than just a backpack to buy these beautiful handmade artisan crafts. Anywho, we stayed in San Pedro for some rest and relaxation. I wasn’t a fan of the village – it was mainly hippies (REAL hippies), who chose to live there and sell goods. I didn’t like that they were competing with the native Guatemalans.
We soaked in the “thermal baths” (it was really just hot water poured into an outdoor tub) and went to bed early that night. The next day….I went PARAGLIDING! We took a boat back to Panajachel on Sunday, had a 30-min drive up the mountain, jumped off the cliff and flew over the BEAUTIFUL lake of Atitlan surrounded by 4 volcanoes! It was the most amazing experience I have had and something I will never forget. I didn’t take my camera with me but my instructor took photos with his phone. I am still waiting on those but will definitely post once I receive them!!

ImageThis past weekend has been pretty uneventful. It is my last week in Antigua and my last week of Spanish class! My Spanish has severely improved. I can have a conversation with people now! It’s pretty awesome, though I still have a lot (a lot) of work to do before becoming fluent. Not much else has happened except for taking a chocolate making class at the chocolate museum! That was yet another unforgettable experience! I learned about and did everything chocolate! Chocolate tea, Maya chocolate milk, roasting cacao seeds, breaking open cacao seeds, making cacao paste and making my own chocolates! It was an exciting and tasty experience 😉

 

What I have loosely planned next:

Tomorrow I will be heading to Lanquin to see what is known as “the 8th wonder of the world!” in Semuc Champey National Park. There are a series of stepped, turquoise pools flowing through the mountains and caves to swim through to get there! There won’t be any internet there so I will have to post pictures later. After about 3 nights in Lanquin I will head to Coban, check out the coffee plantations and then go to Rio Dulce. Rio Dulce is a very, very isolated place in the jungle. I have to take a boat just to get to my hostel! I’m gonna spend a few days there with the howler monkeys, do some reading and sun bathe. After a few days of relaxing, I will be on to Flores to check out the Maya Ruins in Tikal (which is supposed to be like the Machu Picchu of Central America). I am super excited!!

I am so thankful for having this opportunity.

I feel so lucky.

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30 hours In

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I’ve been in Guatemala for about 30 hours now and the experiences I’ve had so far have been more than amazing! Antigua is about a 1-hour drive from Guatemala City and is known to be the safest city in all of Guatemala. The roads here are made of very, very uneven cobble stones and the city almost has a European feel to it. Antigua is in the mountains and surrounded by 3 volcanoes: agua, fuego and acatenanga. From my understanding, fuego and acatenanga are active volocanoes.

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Mi Casa

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The home I am staying at is about a 15-minute walk from the center of the city which is marked by Central Park. I have my own room and a semi-private bath. The family I am staying with is more than welcoming. Senora Irma does all the cooking for us – each meal is different and much tastier than I was expecting! Senora Cornelia is the lady of the house, she is 85 years old and sells wooden characters at the central market. Senora Cornelia’s son, Senor Sergio, stops by sometimes to see how we are doing. I practice my Spanish with him mostly because he is “borado”…which means a funny, loud person (which he definitely is!). I have one roommate right now. Her name is Manon and she is from Holland. She’s very warm and friendly and I’m enjoying having her as a housemate very much! I also have a furry roommate, a small dog whose name I can’t remember. He isn’t allowed in the house…but for some reason he is very fond of hanging out on the roof! The roof has an aluminum topping so when he runs it can be very noisy, especially in the mornings when I am sleeping and I jolt because I think the ceiling is about to cave in!

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What I’ve seen so far…

As soon as I got to Antigua, I unpacked a few of my things and head out to explore the city. I walked around and absorbed everything my senses could take in. After purchasing a cellphone ($25 for the phone and 100 minutes with free incoming SMS and calls!), I bought myself a bolsa (purse) since the one I had broke at the airport, I people-watched and head back home for a quick nap. In the evening, Manon had plans to meet up with a girl from our Spanish school, Marie. Marie is Canadian and she is traveling solo as well, but for 8-months! I was invited to come along so we went out from some cervezas and margaritas. After a few drinks, listening to some of Gustalvo’s beautiful music (a musician we met at the bar) and fighting off the Presidentes secretary (or so he said), we head over for some salsa dancing at a local bar. We shook our rumps with some Guates who turned out to be leading a project for an NGO (Ninos de Guatemala…children of Guatemala). They are opening up a school for families who can’t afford to send their kids to school. It turns out that it costs $260 a month per child for kindergarten here! SO – on Monday I will start volunteering after my clase de espanol! I might be able to provide some occupational therapy based interventions for the kids. Charly and his amigo said the kids are having trouble with playing. I can’t believe the exciting start to my trip. I can only imagine how the rest is going to unfold!

Preface

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I start my 2-month journey today!  I’m excited and nervous to embark on this adventure by myself but I know any challenges I’ll face will allow me to grow in new ways – which is the greatest gift I could ask for.

My trip starts with 2 weeks in Antigua, Guatemala. I will be staying with a family and taking Spanish classes at a nearby academy. I’ll give more details once I’m there!

I can’t believe I fit the next 2-months of my life in a backpack…we will see how that goes! For now, hasta luego!

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