Saturday, April 7, 2012

caring is creepy

Thick lush jungle, crystal blue waterfalls, playful monkeys, ancient ruins, cobblestone streets, gourmet food, towering heights, colorful markets, and endless opportunities for fun and debauchery. Guatemala has been more than I ever could have hoped for.

In my last blog I mentioned that I had met someone and we decided to travel a bit together. I had never really done this before (romantically) and felt both nervous and excited. Traveling with someone is far more intense than living together: you literally spend every moment in sync. You know everything they eat, when they fall asleep, and when they go to the bathroom. (And if you’re with a French Canadian, you know the size, smell, and color of said bathroom goings.) Traveling with anyone, romantic or not, can be difficult but luckily for me, everything about our journey together was easy.

A long time ago I decided not to write about the men I meet or the relationships I have just because it opens Pandora’s Box. The reality is I couldn’t write this blog without mentioning Sam and who he is to me. So let’s ignore the ‘we’ as nothing more than the reality of traveling with someone, no matter who they are. This is a story about my journey through Guatemala.

The first stop was in Flores to visit Tikal, the most beautiful and fascinating Mayan ruins I’ve seen. The cool part was that only a tiny fraction of the ruins have been uncovered, which means under the thick grassy hills and through the dense jungle forest you can stumble upon all sorts of ancient architecture. And considering the spread of the park was beyond a day’s walk, not including the vast protected areas, there was a lot to stumble upon.

Rather than seeing it all, which you can’t, we spent way too much of our time playing with monkeys and chasing other animals. It was nice to be with someone who wanted to do exactly what I wanted to do, which was get off the beaten path, climb a hidden ruin, and eat a jenky can of beans and bread lunch “talking” to the nearby howler monkeys and trying to get them to growl. (Which we did using an old recorded video of howlers and it was AMAZING!)

From here someone suggested a stop at Semuc Champey and it only took one postcard to persuade us that we had to change our plans. One of the important traits in a travel partner for me is someone who can truly go with the flow. Someone who is open to suggestions and understands a change of heart or weather determining where you book your next ticket. Sam is one of these people and that’s one reason we traveled so well together.

So then we convinced a couple of friends to join us to Sumac Champey, a gorgeous series of pools and waterfalls nestled in the mountainous jungle. It was fucking beautiful to say the very least. There were also caves to go splashing and swimming through with only candles, a river to swing into and tube down, and then a sweet hike up to an even sweeter viewpoint. But it wasn’t the waterfalls that kept us in town for 6 days; it was Zephyr Lodge, the chill party hostel we adored.

Despite our makeshift shack we called our room (no walls and located above the workroom) we kept extending our stay every day based on the scenery, hangovers, and good company. There was so much to explore and see here; simply enjoying the incredible view from the open air hot shower was a favored activity. We had a fun group of people there and had some good times partying. Too good because I woke up with cat whiskers one day and no recollection of receiving them, despite there being pictures of my clearly lucid face. (Thanks again Sam.)

From here I learned about a place called Earth Lodge, an avocado farm nestled into the hills 20 minutes above Antigua, our anticipated next stop. ‘Avocado’ was the only word either one of us needed to be convinced to make a pit stop, and again we stayed longer than anticipated. It was quiet, calm, and beautiful. We stopped drinking, went to bed early, and became lazy with our days, but loved every minute.

In Antigua we stepped back into tourists’ roles strolling the cobblestone streets, trying all the food we could, and sampling the local brew. We even did a chocolate making class where we learned the whole history, made traditional cocoa using both Mayan and European methods, and then made our own variety of gourmet chocolates. Super delicious and fun! We also visited an organic macadamia nut farm and climbed a volcano. I’m not usually one for cramming lots of tours or activities into a small space but I love that Sam encouraged me to see and do as much as I could here being that my lazy ass probably misses out on so much when left to my own devices.

Eventually we made our way to San Pedro de la Laguna, a small traveler’s paradise located on Lake Atitlan. It had been our long term goal of reaching this place and hanging out for as long as possible. Stories of this chilled out community of backpackers had convinced us this would be a place we would like, and we were not disappointed.

San Pedro is so small you can walk everywhere you’d possibly want to go, even though most of it is concentrated into a few alleys lined with delicious restaurants, fun bars, and tiendas for everything else. This area had clearly been developed by travelers who were ready to stay put for awhile and wanted a bit of their homes with them. You can find anything from falafel to Thai curries, and all of it is reasonably priced as well. To be honest, Guatemala was not as cheap as I had planned on and it was bothering me, until I reached San Pedro. Finally a place I could afford to eat out well and drink everyday! Even the accommodation was a tiny fraction from what we were paying before.

To make this place even more paradise, we already knew a few people in town and automatically joined in the community of people who were staying long term. I knew I would become one of them automatically. At this point I knew Sam was leaving soon, and it seemed obvious I would end up staying here longer than planned so I planned on awhile.

While Sam was there we remained active: kayaking, hiking, horseback riding, going to markets, and constantly discovering delicious food. But eventually his time had come and he had to book it back to Cancun fast in order to catch his flight home. But the last thing he wanted to do before he left was climb the largest volcano in all of Central America, located just outside of Xela which was only 3 hours away. But timing is everything and somehow we screwed up our one and only chance to climb the volcano. If there is anyone as good about procrastinating as me, it’s possibly Sam, so naturally as a team we sometimes suck.

In the end, we spent our last day together enjoying the simple beauty of a hot spring finished by an evening of cooking and drinking wine. I am extremely grateful for all of the incredible adventures we shared. I have heaps of wonderful memories and pictures to take with me and that’s good enough. After the final farewell, I scoped out some Spanish schools as I knew I’d eventually come back to detox. Then I quickly returned to San Pedro to settle into my next favorite community and home for the following month. And what a truly amazing home and family it turned out to be.