Monday, May 14, 2012

send me on my way

I returned to San Pedro with the terribly brilliant idea of settling down for awhile. There was delicious veggie food, cheap accommodation, and most importantly, amazing people to spend endless hours wasting time with. The town itself invites the laid back backpacker to hang out, party, and connect with the community and I couldn’t see myself anywhere else for the moment. So I got a private room and shower, bought groceries, and settled in immediately.
I can’t say I did a lot of terribly productive things during this time. Sure I wrote and exercised a bit, but I spent the vast majority of my time relaxing. Purely enjoying the simple things in life is one of my favorite activities and San Pedro is most definitely a place to do that. And best of all: I was surrounded by incredible, unique, creative, and fun people to be lazy with There were music festivals, movie marathons, and sunrise hikes. But my favorite activity was the regular community dinners we shared. While I didn’t actually sleep at Yo Mama’s Casa, I did make that hostel my home. Collectively we’d put in money or vegetables and then spend a few hours whipping up a delicious home cook meal for 20 people. That was no easy task. Usually fueled by smoke and drink, we somehow managed pulling off unique gourmet meals about 4 nights a week, and I never stopped being impressed. Of course when the night came, we would eventually go out for 10 q drinks ($1.50) and random debauchery at the same few bars we visited almost nightly. It was fun to say the least. Eventually I got burnt out smoking and drinking everyday and had to escape for some legitimate detoxing. Plus I had card/bank issues and the intention of meeting up with others for travel. But in reality, I knew it had to end at some point. And I hate being the last to leave the party and so I exited semi-gracefully to Xela. Pronounced “Shaey-la” and located high in the mountains only a few hours away, Xela provided the perfect detox setting. I immediately went to Spanish school 5 hours a day and moved in with a local family. I stopped smoking and drinking entirely, wrote furiously, and began soaking in all the culture I admittedly missed in San Pedro. I felt great. I started exercising regularly again and even went running with the 72 year old grandpa I adored. I also joined a women’s only gym and I must say that was quite the self esteem boost. I showed up late the first day to a class of 6 and while I was concerned I wouldn’t be fast to follow, I quickly learned that I had a massive edge on 40 something overweight Guatemalan ladies. Besides their clumsy coordination and general lack of athletic abilities, I had a natural energy all their tortilla eating must have zapped. I thoroughly enjoyed myself to say the least.
During this time I did notice a vast improvement in my Spanish as my teachers diligently berated the various types of past tense into me. But I probably learned the most from the families I lived with, one of which I truly adored and loved. I went to two schools, one for each week and you can read about my experience at one here. Yet the most rewarding experiences are always people related and that’s why my first family with 6 kids (a mix of cousins really), an old grandpa who runs, and a mother with the loudest, most genuine laugh was my favorite experience. I truly settled in cooking together, sharing recipes, birthday celebrations, dancing and singing, and Semana Santa. This holiday is massive in Latin cultures, but even more so in Antigua, Xela’s neighbor. Still, being the second largest city in the country, there were plenty of processions, alfombras, and street food.
For hours and days on end, men and women somberly walk in a procession of up to several hundred people each, extremely slowly, over alfombras. These brightly colored carpets are made by hand hours before the procession tramples over them, destroying this unique art, similar to mandalas. The people carry large, intricate structures dedicated to Jesus and Mary and it can take up to 70 people to carry each one. These processions block streets making it impossible to get around the city but invite a carnival like atmosphere where families for all over the country gather to celebrate ‘Holy Week’, with heaps of cotton candy and Jesus trinkets (obviously). Truly an interesting and once in a lifetime experience, mostly because I never need to go through that again. But healthy living simply isn’t for me long term; it’s much too boring. After just 2 weeks I was ready to get back off the wagon. My friend from home, travel companion, and work colleague Justin joined me in Xela for a few days of focused work and hiking. He brought his brute caveman friend, Captain Strangelove, with him, someone I quite quickly loved to hate. I had my good friend Kate from San Pedro come and join us and together we climbed the highest point in Central America. Climbing the volcano Tajumulco was something Sam had inspired me to do and I couldn’t leave Guatemala without conquering this 4222 m feat. While I have lived in higher altitudes, continuously walking uphill with a large pack stuffed with camping supplies is not an easy task. The crisp windy air gets fiercely cold and the altitude cuts your breathing ability in half, more so if you’re a smoker (like I have so unfortunately chosen to be). We were not alone though; we trekked with a large group of 30 people with a fantastic non-profit organization called Quetzaltrekkers. They have an amazing reputation and based on my personal experience I’d highly recommend any of their treks to anyone traveling through Guatemala or Nicaragua. At some sweaty point we made it to the base camp, just below the two summits. That evening we hiked the lower one to witness a sunset that wasn’t really impressive with so many clouds. No matter, we were still nearly on top of the world and it felt damn good. After not much sleep in our freezing tents, we woke up before 4 am to climb the final ascent to the highest point in Central America. It wasn’t very far, but we were sick, exhausted, and constantly catching our breath. Kate in particular had been properly sick for awhile and I’m impressed I didn’t have to carry her up. But the struggle was well worth it.
An array of colors slowly emerged in the distance and the sky began to light up vibrantly. Luckily, we barely made it to the top by sunrise and I’m so grateful we did because it was one of those epic sunrises I will never forget. The sky was clear except for the sea of clouds we were perched above. Yet the chain of volcanoes throughout Guatemala was still visible poking through and I literally left as if I were sitting on top of the world. It was one of those perfect mornings that was made even better by the fierce struggle it took to get there. The decent felt more like a cake walk compared to the previous day and we nearly ran down the volcano. Beer was much needed when our lungs could open up and I spent the next couple of days recuperating and working in our new hive team: me, Justin, and Captain Strangelove. I was sad to say goodbye to Kate as her path directed her back home. The boys wanted to stop in Sumac Champey for a few days and since I had already seen it, I decided one quick return to San Pedro would be best before I said goodbye to Guatemala. So I returned for a week of reunions only to discover that most of my good friends had already left. Plenty were still there but the town felt like a Twilight Zone replica of the place I loved so dearly before. The rainy season was setting in, tourism eased off, and I discovered the main reason I loved this place so much was because of the people in it. This goodbye was easier as it was clearly time to move onto the next adventure in my journey. So I met back up with the World Travel Buzz team hive in Rio Dulce, a small not so touristy city on the Caribbean coast. We worked, visited an orphanage with 300 kids, and met up with some crazy girls the boys had acquired whilst in Sumac Champey. Altogether we took the boat cruise down river towards Livingston, the truly Belizean border island town used for jumping in and out of Guatemala. We didn’t stay in Livingston though, instead opting for Finca Tatin, a gorgeous hidden hotel nestled in the jungle and right on the river. Nature enveloped this place and with as many hammocks as there were, it was virtually impossible not to relax there. Dinners were served family style and the 8 of us loudly took over what was supposed to be a quiet getaway. Not surprisingly, our last night included nude night swimming, super dragons (don’t ask), and heaps of rum. The girls that joined us were just the kind of girls I like: down to party and get weird.
During the day we remained active: kayaking a few hours down river, hiking several hours back through the sweltering jungle, and swinging into the river to cool off. The atmosphere was serene with lush tropical forest and a calm wide river. Boats came by every so often, but not near our hotel because it was down a side river which made it more peaceful and secluded. We were soon on the go again towards Honduras which was really close but inconvenient with public transportation. Two boats and three buses in one day and we made it to the hostel brewery located in the highlands of Honduras. D & D is truly off the map; unless of course you travel with a Lonely Planet. Nonetheless, this hidden gem remains a growing trend among backpackers and locals alike because it is, by far, the best freshly brewed beer in Central America. From porter to apricot ale, they have it all and for a mere $2 a pint. If beer really isn’t your thing though, they have a pool, hammock, fire, and great food. After a few days there chilling out, exploring the natural beauty of the area, and getting drunk on yummy beer at night, it was time to move on. The Bay Islands were next on our itinerary and we were eager to get there. It’s hard to begin to explain the shenanigans that is Utila, so I won’t and will save it for the next installment. But I’ll leave you wondering about what kind of damage I could do with 50 cent tequila. I know, I know, bad idea. But I’ll never learn. And that's what makes my adventures so entertaining.

No comments:

Post a Comment