I’d heard so many amazing things about Guatemala on my journey north through Central America and had bumped into so many people who told their own stories about getting ‘stuck’ there. As soon as I arrived in Antigua, I knew that I may too fall victim to not moving on. I can’t describe it very concisely but I was captivated by the city as soon as I stepped off the bus. It had this weird hold over me and the following morning when I went exploring it totally stole my heart. My hostel, Maya Papaya had all the luxury of a hotel, yet felt incredibly homely and comfortable. I’d been here less than 24 hours and yet was already concocting fantasies about missing my impending flight back to the US and spending time in Spanish School in Antigua.
After a day of exploring the cobbled streets of the city and bumbling about the market, I booked myself onto the Acatenango hike with Witcho & Charlie. The hike was to be an arduous one, up the side of the sandy yet stony volcanic terrain. I’ll never forget the sight of Fuego blowing smoke into the blue skies.
It was breathtaking, but not as literally breathtaking as the hike from base camp to the summit for sunset. The wind was insane as it whipped around my face and knocked me about. If being bloody freezing and thinking I was going to get blown off the side of a volcano weren’t enough, my legs decided to give up with about 15 steps to go. That was enough, and I had a single gal self pity moment. Resting my head on my stick (my savior of the hike) I didn’t think I was going to make it. Looking up, I saw the guide running down towards me. He grabbed my hand, pulled it under his arm and together we crossed over the summit. I actually gasped when I saw the view. It was worth it!
As the sun set, the temperature dropped and we had to make a quick exit back to base camp. Layering up on all my borrowed clothes, including a fetching green dinosaur hat too small for my head, we huddled around the campfire and enjoyed hot chocolate with marshmallows and what felt like a gourmet meal of pasta and sauce with carton red wine. Sleeping proved to be difficult in the cold temperatures, but when I opened the tent door at sunrise and saw the sky I didn’t care one bit. Unfortunately, there were no eruptions when I was there but that was okay. I was more than happy and content with the experience.
After such exertion, it was to Lake Atitlan for a couple of chilled out days. Choosing a village to stay in was quite the challenge, yet I opted for San Pedro, one of the largest villages. There was night life, bars and restaurants and quite a bit going on. The ‘Drunken Clam’ provided a ‘unique’ night out, and thoughts about getting chocolate cake off the lovely old Mayan lady amongst the tequila shots still makes me smile.
The following day I checked out several of the villages around the Lake. Santa Cruz felt less touristic than some of the others and had much more of a local community feel. Jaibalito had an amazing restaurant on the waterfront complete with infinity pool. Idyllic! San Marcos was totally hippy dippy. I was a little cynical at first, but after time in my hammock, drinking tea, eating my bliss ball and finding my zen I totally could’ve spent the night there
Yet there was no time for that, as when my alarm vibrated at 3.30am the following morning, it was up and out to get on the road and head to Semuc Champey. The journey was utterly miserable, a 12 hour shuttle extended to 17 hours and not helped by the driver fueling up $3 -$4 at a time. Finally we arrived into Lanquin and I hopped into the back of a pick up truck for the remaining 45 minutes to Semuc Champey. Despite being tired, it was actually quite fun bouncing down the dirt road, through the jungle in the dark towards Greengo’s hostel.
Situated in the Jungle, it was beautiful, picturesque and such a tranquil base. Exploring the caves and scaling the internal rocks and waterfalls by candlelight was awesome. It was all going so well until I found myself sat on the guide’s lap as he prepared to push my head through a hole in the rock. Apparently I’m a little bit claustrophobic, a wonderful thing to discover when you’re in the pitch black and have no easy way out. ‘It’s okay lady’… being pushed by my head through a hole in a cave, in the dark, surrounded by gushing water and no protection at all – I wasn’t sure what exactly was okay about this situation. But I put on my big girl pants and sucked it up, and after gasping and spluttering made it to the other side where there was a glimpse of light and the outside world. Tubing down the river after that trauma was even more lovely.
The real show stopper though was the Sumac Champey National park. Absolutely stunning and a lovely place to relax and soak up the afternoon rays in the pools.
The final destination of Guatemala was Flores. Flores, the launch point for Tikal, was a lovely little town and wandering the streets in the evening and indulging on street food was delightful. I could’ve easily spent a couple of days meandering and relaxing there. But with my heart still pining for Antigua, I decided that was the place I wanted to end my trip in. So, to the bus terminal and aboard an overnight bus it was.
For my second stint in Antigua, I was going for cultural embracement. And what better way to kick it off than taking in an Antigua G.F.C game. They take their football seriously, and I think it was the first time I’ve seen the referee get protection by police in riot gear. The market in Chichicastenango provided a fun shopping opportunity, and the delicious Mayan hot chocolate from the Choco Museo was indulgence at its finest.
As the sun set on the final day, I couldn’t help but reflect and as I did, I realized how incredibly happy I was. 6 months, 11 new countries explored, 3 more revisited, thousands of photographs and countless memories. By myself, but never really alone. It had been one incredible adventure!