A Travellerspoint blog

June 2015

Rio Dulce

The world's only hot water waterfall and the murder village

semi-overcast 20 °C

Another early rise had us packed and ready to take a bus to Rio Dulce which is by the only Caribbean beach that Guatemala has. We decided we would skip the beach but head to the river that looked as if it could be a lot of fun. The bus journey left at about 5am and we made it there by midday. We had to take a boat over to our hostel; Kangaroo. The hostel was set right on the water, complete with rope swing and crocodile – if you dare! We spend a couple of days lazing around, tanning, swimming (we never saw the crocodile), and just enjoying the location.
The best part of our time in Rio Dulce was when we headed out on an adventure – complete with bottles of rum, to the worlds one and only hot water waterfall! We had to go quite a way in local transport, which provided ample rum and bachata time with the locals who sipped on my rum despite them protesting 10am was far too early to drink. We were dropped off at a tiny farm in the middle of nowhere, handed over a small entrance fee, and stumbled our way through a short forest hike to where we found the waterfall!
We were so amazed to see the steam coming off the water, and quickly got into our swimsuits so we could get right into that water.
We swam underneath the waterfall and into the cavern where we drank our rum in the natural sauna that it had created.
We climbed up to the source of the hot water and were covered in healing mud by the local guy Francisco who led the way for us.
We jumped off the boulders, climbed into the little caverns, saved a local boy from drowning, and just enjoyed our 5 hours of swimming and rum time before we went back to the hostel – for what shall ever be known as, Katy’s 14 hour nap…
Oh and we alsogot to hold the cutest kitten both of us had ever seen on our hike back, a kitten that had the strangest meow we had ever heard too – that we were then told was a baby lynx and not just an ordinary domestic kitten!
A couple of days later we felt the urge to head on our way. We packed up and bid farewell to all of our new friends at the Kangaroo and returned by boat to the main town where we caught our shuttle to Lanquin. I would love to say that the long drive to Lanquin was event free and we had no troubles. However, I have now been in this part of the world to know that such things are never quite so straightforward.

The drive itself was windy and rough, as we wound up and over huge mountains.
When we were about as high as we could ever possibly go, when there was not a single person around, when there was no cellphone coverage or a shop nearby…we hit a roadblock. Not just a normal one either, I am talking about an entire mountainside village blocking the road. There were children, babies in slings, grandparents, and adults, all blocking the road. The trucks moved in behind us, the people had branches of trees across the road, and the men of the cities held tightly to their machetes. At first I tried to laugh it off with Erie who was starting to panic. “Oh this is just latin america Erie” I said, without mentioning it wasn’t the Latin America I had yet discovered. Everyone in the van with us turned to me as I was put into the position of translator. I tried desperately to understand what was being said between the driver and the spokesperson of the town, but could only understand the odd Spanish word as the conversation was in one of the many Mayan languages spoken throughout the country. However, the words I did understand were integral to what was going on; money, roads damaged, daily driving, big company, and lawyers. I explained to the others the few words I had understood, and began to feel relieved that what was going on possibly had nothing to do with our venturing over the hills. Until the driver of the car was told to get out of the vehicle…We closed all of the windows as children were reaching their hands inside and trying to climb up onto the roof where we already had two hitchhikers sitting. We locked the doors and began to suffocate in the heat. There was a man circling the back of the van as he held his machete with one hand and stroked our van with the other. Of all my time in this continent I had never felt so scared as I began to feel in that minute. Visions of the driver being sliced up in front of us passed through my head, alongside the thoughts of having literally nowhere to run to for help.

We were all feeling the heat, the fear, and tension, and we were calculating how much money we all had to use as bribery when the driver got into the car with a wife and small child. He drove us off, laughing as he did so. He explained that the town we were passing through was his, that the child and woman was his wife. An international company is driving huge trucks through the roads and damaging them without paying, as they steal from the local water supply. The town is now fundraising money to pay for a lawyer so they can fight the bastards. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief as we drove away from what Erie now calls ‘The Murder Village.”
My sneaky photos just don’t do the ordeal any justice… I couldn’t take many as I had hidden my phone in my underwear in case they stripped us of everything.
And as scary as the ordeal was, I was very impressed to see an entire town out fighting their own revolution to make their lives better. How I will always love and appreciate that side of Latin America.

Posted by chasingsummer 12:02 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Volcano Pacaya

toasting marshmallows over lava

semi-overcast -50 °C

We woke up super early - which was about to become the theme for the rest of our time together in Guatemala, regardless of the time we went to bed – and got ready to meet the shuttle that would drive us to the other side of El Fuego and to the base of Pacaya. On the way, Erie had her first experience of latino driving, when our bus nearly collided head on with another. Luckily our driver was wonderful, and managed to save us from a very nasty accident by sacrificing only his wing mirror. The fault was of the men signalling which lane got to drive due to the roadworks, miscommunication or any other equally useless excuse. However, we arrived safely at the base of the volcano, signed our life away, and began the trek up to the peak.
The going was not as bad as I had imagined, but we were stopping every ten minutes or so – both to look out at the view, and to get out breathe back.

There was an option to take a horse, and the horses followed behind us as we made our way up which was a little tempting. However, the entire group was pretty determined we were going to make it up without a horse so they ended up sending the horses back down to try their luck with the next lot of hikers. The view out towards El Fuego and Acastenango were just incredible.
We could even see them sending out their puffs of steam and smoke into the sky where it would then mingle with the clouds.
I felt like I was going to die at one point as I was struggling more with the cold than the exercise. After a year in the Caribbean, cold is not a feeling my body understands too well these days. I dosed up on a few puffs of the old Ventolin and soon found my second wind. Erie and I were soon racing our way up to the top with new found energy, and finally we got to the part where there is the most volcanic activity.

Suddenly the landscape changed to one of volcanic ash and rock, and the trees and greenery instantly disappeared. The earth felt hot under our feet and we couldn’t tell if it was from the sun hitting the dark gravel or if it was geothermic activity.
The view out across the other mountains was unbelievable and we all stopped for a few pictures at the top of the trail. The hike doesn't actually lead to the summit of the volcano - due to safety reasons, but we were close enough that being higher wouldn't have changed anything.
Erie and I tried our best to make it look as if we were on top of the entire world.
The hike over and across the volcanic rock was quite slippery but lots of fun to slide across. I could see how it would be possible to do volcano boarding in Nicaragua – the main destination of mine after Erie leaves.
We laughed as we approached a ‘lava store’ on the side of the volcano – always a gift shop huh?
But the coolest part of the entire adventure was being able to actually SEE lava, and then toast marshmallows over it! We were so excited it was ridiculous.
The lava itself wasn’t red which surprised us. It had a very dark and sticky appearance, looked like melted tar from the road. But wow was it hot! There was no way we could touch it, and it melted our marshmallows to a perfect consistency without burning the outsides at all. Now we just need to have some lava at every s’mores party!
The hike from the lava pit up to meet the trail to head back down was the toughest thing I have ever climbed in my entire life. Thankfully it only stretched for about 100 – 150 metres because it felt like at least 2 kilometres. We were stopping to catch our breath every 4 or 5 steps because it was so tough. I swear the only thing that got me up was the promise we had made to eat another burrito when we got back to Antigua!
We joined back up with the jungle part of the trek we had hiked up on and passed many people who were walking up to start their volcano hike. We felt really bad for them as the clouds had come in and there was no way they would have seen what we saw. We made it back to our hostel without any further driving dramas and returned to Cactus Taco to eat the same delicious prawn burrito that had motivated us to boost it off the volcano!

Posted by chasingsummer 11:05 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

let the Guatemalan adventures begin

a day in Costa Rica before I meet Erie

semi-overcast 18 °C

As I write this latest blog entry, the tears glide down my cheeks because my best friend has just left my side after three wonderful weeks together. But before I can write about today, I need to go back to the beginning of our crazy adventures.

I left Billy at 2am in a bundle of goodbye tears, overstaying immigration fees, and ticket confusion at Santo Domingo airport. I flew to Costa Rica for what was the longest day of my entire life as I waited the 16 hours until my next flight to Guatemala. Thankfully I was allowed out of the airport to explore the nearest city; Alajuela. I slept in a park for a while and kept waking up to concerned Costa Rican citizens asking me if I was ok. I even overheard a couple of children asking their grandfather why there was a white girl asleep in the middle of the park. The grandfather replied that not everyone is fortunate enough to have money or a home – I laughed to myself because at this point in my life I actually don’t have either!

I had enough of wandering around the small city and spending money I didn’t actually have, so I returned to the airport to waste the rest of the day. I fell asleep on the floor of the airport, which again can’t be a normal sight in Costa Rica because this time I woke up to a man taking photos of me! Not every day does one end up on Instagram wearing a cat shaped eye ask and pink earplugs while snuggled beneath a stolen airline blanket (thanks Condor). Finally, the time to fly to Guatemala arrived and it was a short while later that I arrived in Guatemala City (commonly referred to by both Spanish and English speakers as Guate). It had been 24 hours since I leaving Billy in the Dominican Republic – nearly as long as Erie’s flight time from New Zealand. I got to my hostel without any problems and settled in for some real sleep, in a real bed, without the paparazzi or confused children.
The next morning I woke up with butterflies in my stomach as if I was 5 years old on Christmas day! I headed off to the airport to wait for Erie, and was super gutted to realise her plane was 3 hours delayed! I literally paced the grounds waiting for her to appear, drinking coffee after coffee, and trying to sneak through customs so I could be with her just a few minutes earlier.
Finally, there she was in full Erie glory and it was so great to be back together. We used the taxi of my friend who was already driving me around everywhere, and he drove us as we chatted absolutely nonstop towards the gorgeous city of Antigua. The city itself was once the capital of Guatemala until it was shattered by a devastating earthquake in 1773. Because of the huge threat of future damage to the city due to its position between three (still) active volcanoes, the entire city moved an hour’s drive away to form what is now known as Guate(mala City). Because the architecture of Antigua dates pre- 1773, the old city itself is gobsmackingly beautiful.
The old buildings remain everywhere, the streets are of cobblestone, and everything is framed by the beautiful volcano named el fuego (the fire).
It was quite late by the time we arrived to Antigua so we found something to eat (recommend Cactus Taco restaurant to anyone who ever goes to Antigua, get the prawn burrito!) before deciding to have a quiet night and just one rum… Well, of course one rum always leads to a bottle, and next thing we were dancing reggaeton, bachata, and salsa with the local cool kids in a bar on a Monday night!
The next morning, despite the hangovers, we explored most of the city on foot as we made our way up to see the lookout point of Cerro de la cruz. On the way we found a market and we tried the weirdest, spikiest, oddest fruit ever - Lychee!
We had been walking for about 4 hours over cobblestones and of course Erie was very jetlagged. When we saw the huge hill we had to climb to get When we got to the base of the lookout we just looked at each other, laughed, and pulled over a tuktuk to take us up!
When we got to the top, the view out over Antigua was just gorgeous.
We took our first photo together at the top as we looked out and spotted everything that we had walked past. We also realised there was also a lot more to the city that we had not seen on our walk!
One of our favourite things were the chicken buses (called parillas in Spanish) that were everywhere in Antigua (and as we soon saw, throughout Guatemala). In the USA, school buses can only do about 150,000 kilometres before they are deemed useless/ unsafe for driving school children. Thankfully instead of sending them to the dump yard they are sent to central America where they are pimped out, driven with great pride, and provide the cheapest transportation around!

That night we booked the Pacaya volcano trip for the following day and actually managed to tuck ourselves into bed at a reasonable hour. The following morning was due to start at 5.30am so there was no way we were going to climb our first central American volcano with a rum hangover!

Posted by chasingsummer 09:34 Archived in Guatemala Comments (1)

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