12.12.2016 - 23.12.2016
Our second two weeks in Guatemala were just as jam packed as the first two! We have fallen in love with this beautiful, friendly, lush, natural, welcoming country... Just in time to be leaving!
Things with volunteering absolutely ended on a high note. During our last week we spent a bit of time with the children, and completed multiple crafts and played bingo with the adults and elderly. Momma, ever the teacher, was in her element planning the crafts we could do! The crafts were featured on the big tree...
Our final day we assisted at a Christmas event that included church visits, lunch, and the blessing of a nativity. It was another case of falling in love with the people and the place just before having to leave. After goodbye to our Spanish teacher and our final dinner with our host family, we were already talking about how we want to return someday, hopefully to astound them with greatly improved Spanish!!
We made the most of our third week in Antigua by taking in the cities churches and ruins...
La Recoleccion Ruins..
And the Capuchinas Monastery ruins...
Our final weekend in the Antigua area we headed off to climb Volcán Acatenango. This was the big climb that I had managed to convince Mom we neeeeeded to do. After a few weeks of preparatory exercise and purchasing additional necessary gear, we were ready. We made the journey with the most fabulous group, lead by guides who are brothers living in a village at the base of the volcano, and they truly made our experience unforgettable. The climb was hard, approximately 1500m on the first day. We managed a decent pace as a group (my Mom is a superstar for sure!) and reached the base camp in around 4 hours. The climbing through about 3 or 4 different microclimates was amazing, corn fields, forested and jungled areas!
The base camp is on the side of Acatenango with a perfect view of Volcan Fuego, the adjacent volcano that is the most active in Guatemala. It delivered booming eruptions as we were climbing and the puffs of smoke were visible as we reached camp. As darkness falls, the red hot lava spraying into the air and coursing down the volcano side creates an absolutely fantastic display. Which my camera obviously cannot capture so we'll have to stick with the smoking pictures..
After reaching camp, as Mom and I lay in our tent for a little while, I started shaking uncontrollably though I wasn't cold, and began to feel hints of joint pain and nausea. I finally came to the realization that my old friend altitude sickness had come to hang out again, though we are definitely not friends on speaking terms right now! When I was lying in a tent in Peru, feeling like I was dying, all I could think was that I wanted to be home where my Mommy could take care of me. Silver linings for the second round! I took approximately 6 types of drugs, including extra altitude pills, declined one of the guides offers to come up and get me, and managed to sleep through the night to attempt the final morning climb. I have no hesitation in saying it was the hardest 450m of my life. Reaching this summit view was the sweetest reward imaginable!
A trip highlight of a sunrise!
We did it!
The views on the way down from the top were also spectacular.
We got to run/slide down some of the volcanic rock.
And then continue the steep return back to the base of the volcano. It was a tough, amazing, beautiful, rewarding 2 days with a great group...
When we finally left Antigua (sad face), we headed north towards the Guatemalan jungle and Lanquin. It was a long, bumpy bus ride to finally reach our eventual destination, Greengos Hostel/Hotel, but it was worth it..
We spent the next full day enjoying all the natural beauty that Semuc Champey has to offer. Starting with the views of the beautiful pools (where the river runs underneath)..
And then swimming in those same pools..
Felt like swimming in paradise.
Followed by an afternoon exploring caves. Which are hard to take pictures of, given their darkness and the fact that we swam and walked along by candlelight..
Finished the day off with a big rope swing and float down the river (with beer delivery from a young boy. Somehow a beer tastes so much better when you're floating down the river and a young guy swims out to bring it to you on a tube!!)
And finally.. We come to our last Guatemalan destination.. Flores and Tikal. We stayed in an amazing hotel on Isla Flores, loved the area and the adorable island.. But the warm fuzzies kind of end there. The town is a tourist trap if I've ever seen one. For the first time in 3 and a half months of traveling, I encountered a salesman/tourist company that was basically out to take advantage of tourists and lying about what he was selling you. Everything worked out ok but we didn't have quite the tour of Tikal, or following trip to Belize that we were expecting. We headed to Tikal for a sunrise that never materialized. Making the 2:30am wake-up kind of hard to swallow! Apparently in the last month, they have seen one sunrise in the park.. Gotta love that they keep selling the tours though. In the words of the Aussie sitting next to me as we stared into the foggy morning "well I'm actually really upset, I was expecting this brilliant sunrise, a spiritual moment with all the colours lighting up the sky and the temples in the background. And instead I can barely see the tree right in front of me!". Buuuuut we still had a beautiful tour of all the ruins in the park..
The day greatly improved after lunch with a newfound British friend who got us out of an earlier cash bind (due to the shotty tour company again). Our new favourite Guatemalan restaurant chain is El Pollo Campero (which always makes me think of Los Pollos Hermanos on Breaking Bad). This place is like KFC on steroids it is so good. Please everyone go to Guatemala just to eat there!
Aaaand just like that, our time in Guatemala was ending. We had one last night in Flores before an early bus to head to a new country... On to Christmas in Belize!!