Thursday, May 3, 2012

2012 April 11 - 30 with Sophia

April 14th

Sophia and I are leaving today for San Marcos ("my" San Marcos- yup, again!) after having spent 3 days with a sweet couple that are friends of Sophia's parents' best friends. Their names are Valentine and Amilia and they are very kind and have been generous from the first minute we arrived.

On Wednesday morning we took the lancha to San Pedro because Sophia had heard that there was a chicken bus we could take from San Pedro to Xela. We grabbed some things on our way out of town- I really wanted a pair of leather sandals so I bought those for 150 Q. 

My new sandals.  They have long strings that are supposed to wrap up your calves (like on my right leg), however, to get them to stay up you must wrap them very tight, which a) looks unattractive, b) is very uncomfortable and c) is usually largely unsuccessful, resulting in them falling down anyway.  Hence, most of the time I wear them like they look on my left leg.  Thinking of altering them so there are "backs"... more to come on this...
It turned out that we had missed the last direct bus, though we didn't know that so we ended up waiting on the side of the street for like an hour and a half before we finally asked enough people and determined that there was, in fact, NOT another direct bus for Xela!  We ended up taking a microbus ("collectivo" in Mexico) to Santa Clara, where we caught another microbus to get to the highway, where we were supposed to catch a bus for Xela. A bus came and the attendant said it was going to Xela so we jumped on it, even though a guy on the side of the road said it wasn't the right bus. Directly after getting on the bus we called the family we were going to be staying with, which was really entertaining because our stuff was flying all over the bus as it whipped around the corners and I couldn't hear a word that Valentine was saying. It was pretty hilarious. It was Sophia's first time on a chicken bus and the look on her face as I was trying to speak to him was priceless. At one point the look on her face became even more incredulous and she pointed over my shoulder while mouthing "oh my god!"; I looked behind me to see the attendant climbing onto the roof WHILE talking on his cell phone- of course the bus the bus was still swerving around the corners at breakneck speeds!

We had to take one more chicken bus to get all the way to Xela (because that jerk attendant lied to us!) but we finally got there and Valentine picked us up from the terminal. It was pretty late by that time (around 5:30) so we just came back to the house and chatted with them for a few hours before calling it an early night.  Valentine and Amilia both speak mostly Castellano so it was an excellent opportunity to practice!  

Our first day there we went to the mercado and then visited some of Valentine and Amilia's family.  I swear, Sophia almost kidnapped their grandson, who was about 4 or 5 and had the cutest voice I have ever heard. Then Sophia, Valentine and I went for a run- well, first the three of us, at an incredibly slow pace (even for me!) because Valentine is like 62 and Sophia and I were a little afraid he would have a heart attack!  But after Valentine dropped out Sophia and I ran a bit more- her much faster than me, of course.  Still, anything is better than nothing!

Sophia payed for all of us (Sophia, Valentine and Amilia, their daugher Rosaria, her two children Andrea and Juan Pablo, and me) to go to a circus that night. It was pretty cool actually- one of the clowns was a really good dancer and he was also the arialist for the silks. I thought his routine was awesome. There were two boys that did acrobalance that were amazing, and there was also a juggler who was pretty good as well but most of the rest of the acts were mediocre, including basically all of the animal acts- the vast majority of which involved the trainer (who Sophia and I are pretty certain was intoxicated!) making whatever animal run around in a circle.  Though, there were goats that jumped from platform to platform- pretty sure goats in the circus are a first for me...
Intoxicated (?) animal trainer and goat!
The next day we went to Fuentes Georginas, a hot springs about half way between Xela and Coatepeque. We packed breakfast and after we finished soaking in the springs we ate there before returning home. The drive was beautiful, like always in this region, and the pools were very nice, though more touristy than I like.

Just some of the beautiful views on the road to Fuentes Georginas!
That afternoon we went to the mercado again because we wanted to buy some cocao to roast for snacks, and we also wanted to try to find a few other small items. Sophia wanted more crimp beads for her feathers (in her hair) because she's worried they are going to fall out, and I decided to try to get some feathers to put in my hair. I'm sad I didn't get those while I was in Boulder! But, they are like $10 or more there and here I was able to find some feathers for like 15 Q, and Sophia bought a ton of crimp beads too, which I will use a few of to try to secure the feathers in my hair. They are bigger and won't look as cool as hers but that's ok... I also bought some beads that I hope to use to make an anklet, one of these days!  Fun crafting days ahead!!
Chicken came straight to Valentine and Amilia's door!
Sophia had made plans (the night before) to go talk to the circus people some more so I went with her to do that, although the guy spoke really good English so it turned out to be unnecessary for me to be there. Anyway, it sounds like she might try to meet up with them and travel with them or at least work with them for a week or so at some point in her journey after she finishes her time in El Salvadore (where she has to get an MRI because she somehow messed up her shoulder like 6 weeks ago).  After that Valentine and Emila took us to the central park area, where I had already been with Fernando and his family but it's a pretty area so it was nice to walk around a bit. I ended up seeing Ruby (from San Pedro) there so that was pretty crazy! Her and Kate and Justin are hiking Tacamulco today and staying there overnight.  Jealous!  

We returned home and chatted for like 2 hours with Valentine and Emila over coffee/tea and a not quite ripe mango. I don't know why but I did NOT feel great last night and I actually ended up having diarrhea and then vomiting pretty violently. But, once that was done I took two probiotics (a girl in the dorm I was in at Hostel del Lago had left a ton of them) and now I feel ok.

Time to pack my bag once more, and then we're off for San Marcos! Wheee!

Later that day...

In San Marcos now!! How I love it here! It is amazing how much it really does feel like home to me. Sophia loves it here and the family really seems to like her. SOOO nice to see everyone again, though I think people now really won't believe that I really DON'T intend to return here for something like a year or so!  Tomorrow there is a 10 K race that almost everyone in the family is running in, and Sophia and I are joining- I can hear gasps of shock from all of you who know me well!  I am less than excited about it for multiple reasons... my foot isn't fully healed from having stepped on it a little wonky a week or so ago, my shoes tend to give me blisters after about 4 miles, and my digestion is still a little abnormal from whatever was up a couple days ago and running always makes me have to "go number 2"...

April 16

Did ok in the race, though I realized later that I cheated and cut out like 1 K! oops! Actually, I'm not sure why I say I did ok because it was actually awful and basically my idea of personal hell.   Felt like I was going to die/crap myself for most of the race but managed to finish (ish) so I guess that's good...  Sophia ran super fast and finished in the top 10 or so of the women, and though she claims she ran so fast because she had to go to the bathroom from the very beginning I suspect it has more to do with the fact that she is pretty competitive and couldn't help but think she could win!

From left to right, Marco with baby Adrian, Otto, Fabiola, me, Diana, Sophia, Mimy with Variela on her back, Angelica (a friend of the family, Mario with Leito, and Leo.
After the race we walked to San Pedro and checked out the mercado for a couple hours, where we ended up running into Patrick. Sophia bought some stuff for souvenirs and I bought an orange belt for the bag I'm making out of a coat I bought in the packa in San Pedro la Laguna. We also bought a bunch of groceries and when we came back to San Marcos we made a pot of pericon and spent most of the rest of the day in the cafe being crafty- toasted faava beans, made cacao balls and veggie chips.  Yum!

Today I got up early for my boarder run (I may have mentioned but I decided to renew my visa again since I am so close to the Mexican boarder and my most recent stamp was only good until May 10th) with Patrick and Sophia decided she wanted to come with us. She can't go into Mexico because it's on the travel warning list and the Watson restricts travel to those countries so she stayed in Malecaton while Patrick and I went to the boarder. Which is a little funny because Malecaton is possibly one of the more dangerous areas in Guatemala- Patrick told me that there is a joke that like 90% of the people there are into narcotrafficing and the other 10% are thinking about it!  Though, I guess Lago de Atitlan really is much more dangerous in terms of what you're likely to encounter, as the narcotrafficers have very little interest in tourists...

First encounter with corrupt Guatemalan boarder officials! They offered to allow us to come back in the same day for 200 Q each; we talked them down to 50 Q each- basically paying a 40 Q bribe since we would have had to pay 10 Q for our stamp anyway. Considering that we would have easily spent that much in Tapachula we considered it a pretty good bargain.

Back in San Marcos Sophia and I went for a walk on part of the route for the race (where we discovered that I had somehow cheated and cut out a bit- perhaps 1 k?  Sophia keeps saying 2 K but I can't believe that it was any more than one...) and threw the frisbee a bit (she is super into ultimate frisbee) before returning to the cafe for more craft time!

April 18th

Awesome day yesterday, despite the fact that the weather didn't really comply with out plans! It ranks pretty high on my list of "best days since leaving the US".  We met Patrick at 8 at the terminal and took a bus to a little town a couple of km from San Pablo, where we transferred to a microbus that took us north for about 40 minutes (though it was literally probably about 3 miles- the road was awful!!). We convinced the attendant to let us ride on the roof so we enjoyed unobstructed views of the countryside while the locals gawked at the crazy gringos. Sophia had Patrick and me in stitches talking about how her sits bones were being shaved down with every bump!  :D

"My sits bones are being shaved away with every bump"
"Hehe!  Did she say 'sits bones'?" :D

We walked for about 30 minutes through tropical rainforest (this area is south of San Marcos by a fair amount so the weather is much warmer) to reach our destination- a 180 meter (? I think that's what Patrick said?) waterfall, which was much larger in volume than I had expected considering that it is the dry season- it must be truly amazing in the wet season!

Sophia and Patrick worshiping the waterfall
We decided we had to go into the pool at the base of the falls, despite the fact that it had clouded over and started to rain and the thought of the cold mountain water wasn't as refreshing as it might have been had the sun been shining strongly! It wasn't as cold as I had thought it would be; still, we only spent about 5 minutes in it before deciding to head back down the mountain to the hot springs that I hadn't even realized were part of the package until we passed them on the way to the waterfall.  

We spent a little more than an hour soaking in the hot springs, where we spent much of our time clustered around the hot water inlet because the rain was unrelenting and was cooling the pool off pretty significantly. We probably would have spent a good deal less time there but the thought of leaving the hot water to walk through the rain, which at times was seriously a torrential downpour, was not encouraging!

Patrick went back to San Marcos and Sophia and I went on down the mountain to San Pedro to go swimming at Nuevo Jeruselum, the pools I went to with the family for Christmas. We spent about an hour swimming around down there- the only people in the pool as it was still raining and only crazy gringas swim in the rain!

Thoroughly drenched, we returned to San Marcos, freezing our asses off on the bus for the last 30 minutes or so once we reached higher elevation. We changed out of our wet clothes and spent the rest of the evening being crafty in the cafe. My bag is coming along quite nicely, I must say!

April 20

Wednesday we walked to Agua Tibia just because it's a beautiful walk, but we didn't plan to swim because I remembered the water being much colder (which it likely was because it was winter when I was here before).  Afterward we went for a run with Diana that was nearly an hour long! Go me! I felt remarkably strong and actually somewhat enjoyed myself for seriously about the first time ever on a run.  PS people, in case you haven't been paying attention that would make the third time I have gone running in one week, and the second time for almost an hour!  

I finally got my Lake Atitlan blog post uploaded later that afternoon from El Balcon (cafe with wifi here in SM) and in the evening Sophia and I packed dinner and tea into a mercado bag and went to a futbol game- not exactly “my cup of tea” but she really wanted to go so I agreed.

The game was pretty lame in all honesty- I haven't seen all that many soccer games in my life but I don't really remember ever seeing so many people rolling around on the ground pretending to be seriously injured. Maybe it's a Guatemalan thing? Or perhaps I just haven't been paying attention- totally possible. After about 15 minutes Sophia and I decided to make our way up through the throngs to the uppermost tier, where we sat on the edge of the stadium. Sophia was very concerned that we would fall, or perhaps be pushed (lol) off the edge. : D

The most memorable part of the game, other than several shocking yet humorous attempts to head the ball where improper head placement resulted in the player getting smacked in the face and subsequently flung to the ground from the impact, was number 30- possibly the shortest Guatemalan I have yet seen- and that's saying a lot! He and several other players warmed up for at least 15 minutes (in a very serious manner!) before he finally was put on the field. I had high hopes of him being a secret weapon for our team (Marquense) but alas, he was not the all-star player I imagined him to be and the game had an anticlimactic finish, tying 3 to 3. What kind of stupid sport allows the game to finish in a tie? How lame!

Slightly disappointed, we returned to the cafe and crafted until like 2 am! ugh! but yay!

The next day Sophia woke early to go to a Zumba class, which I briefly entertained the idea of attending solely for entertainment value but decided to opt out of because following the movements of an instructor was more than I could commit to at 7 am. I am pathetically incompetent at these types of activities and usually end up looking more like a fish out of water than a person with anything resembling true coordination. I was happy to hear that I didn't miss much- though Sophia said she was surprised that a man was leading the class!

We went to San Pedro mercado and bought a ton of stuff to get crafty with, in the kitchen and elsewhere...  We are planning to toast some coconut and make more cacao balls, and I bought fleeces to make a blanket for the family, then Sophia spent a large portion of the day writing while I went to El Mosquito mercado and bought more crap I probably don't need, including three pairs of earrings! Silly. I also bought yarn to make a hat for Mimy. I returned to the cafe, had a late lunch and went to the San Marcos mercado to buy mangos for the dinner than Sophia and I planned to make that night (fajitas with mango guacamole- yum!).

Sophia had a google chat date with some friends so she went to El Balcon after dinner and I just chilled in the cafe, working on my bag- it's coming along!!! I continued to work late into the night, while Sophia continued with her writing and Mimy and Diana deconstructed and reorganized the kitchen late into the night! Love it!

Only other thing of note is that I found MORE earrings I HAD to have.  They have feathers and they honestly aren't that great but I bought a bunch of them because they will be perfect for Burning Man and they were only 10-15Q each (like $1.25 - $2!).  I'm leaving most of them here in SM with a box of my other things that I haven't used or don't want for a while, and I'll get them on my way back to the US. 

April 21

Yesterday was a pretty chill day- Sophia and I had a lazy morning in the cafe and then went to Agua Tibia to swim. I played around for about 30 minutes but just wasn't really feeling it and the sun was shining so I couldn't resist laying out a bit. Sophia continued her workout and ended up working out too much and feeling pretty crappy for a pretty significant portion of the remainder of the day.

Mimy had nearly 60 people come for dinner last night, and again for breakfast and lunch today. Sophia and I helped out a lot last night and this morning but there were too many people involved at lunch so I helped for like 10 minutes and then left. I am having an irritable day for some reason today and don't even want to be around Sophia, who I normally love being around. Not sure what's up- likely hormones!

So, I'm typing this as I sit in the internet cafe downloading episodes of Game of Thrones (the HBO mini-series made from a series of books written by one of my favorite authors- George R. R. Martin)! I can't wait to see it. I forgot to mention that Sophia is about as in love with those books as I am. It's so awesome to meet other people who read the same type of stuff I do. Also, it's a little funny and makes me feel like I am somehow “one up” on people since I first read Martin literally nearly 15 years ago. Silly.

The same people are coming to the cafe again tonight and for breakfast in the morning... maybe lunch too? It's crazy. Good for Mimy and the fam but it sure is hectic and the kitchen is more of a disaster area than it usually is, which is saying a lot.

April 23

Sophia and I had planned to leave today but when I came in to our room last night after staying at the cafe until like 2 finishing up with cooking random things and trying to finish Mimy's hat Sophia woke up and we chatted for a bit (she's remarkably cheerful when woken in the middle of the night!) and decided to leave one day later because we both had a bunch of stuff we still wanted to complete. So, new plan is to leave tomorrow in the morning for Nebaj.

Drying strawberries and coconut in the oven
Yesterday there was a parade that lasted for at least 2.5 hours, and it started at least an hour before it arrived to the café! The first part involved a procession of all the “queens” from the different departments- apparently the winners of beauty contests, from what I could understand from a brief conversation with Leo- not something that highly impressed either Sophia or me!

Just like in the US, they start young.  So sad.
Speaking of sad, not sure what was up with sad apple girl...  :o(

"Danza del Viejo y la Vieja":  The dance of the old men and old women.  lol!

How we felt at the end of the parade, and we weren't even in it!  Can't imagine walking/dancing for ... 4? hours!
Actually, the entire parade was impressive if you consider the amount of money spent on it... These people have so little yet they drop hundreds of Q on outfits that will probably only be worn one time. Not to mention the cost of fuel to drive for 3.5 + hours!

Mimy's students constructed a float that was seriously awesome.  The front of the truck was made up to look like a bungalow and the back had a waterfall (a picture, but then there was a pump system set up with actual water!) and an alligator made out of egg cartons. Very cool.

After the parade we mostly just chilled out in the café but we did go to the fair briefly. We were going to go on a couple of rides but Sophia started feeling really terribly so she took a nap while I worked on miscellaneous things. Late night at the cafe drying beet chips and making cacao balls and a weird biscotti type thing with cacao, a bunch of seeds and nuts and some fruit that actually turned out pretty good. Worked on Mimy's hat until 2, when I finally admitted that I didn't have enough yarn and, even if I did, it would take me all night to finish...

Now I am back in the internet cafe, downloading more Game of Thrones!  I am being somewhat productive in that I am working on Mimy's hat too...

April 26th

Tuesday we got a late start out of San Marcos (didn't finish Mimy's hat- sad!  But now I just have another reason to return!) because it took longer for us to get prepared and then Sophia had to mail a couple packages, which in a normal world wouldn't have taken very long, even with the inescapably long lines I always manage to encounter in the US. However, this is Guatemala! Although there were only two people in line ahead of us it took us nearly an hour to mail the packages, and the delay had very little to do with our ability, or lack thereof, to communicate our desires. I can't really explain what took so long but I can say that the clerks were some of the most diligent I have ever encountered. Sophia was sending a small packet and a large box, and I am not even exaggerating when I say that I'm pretty sure they weighed the box at least 6 times, on two different scales. The amount of tape they used to wrap the box would have put my Aunt Jaci to shame! On the plus side, we didn't have to pay for the tape- thankfully!

Anyway, we finally made it onto the bus around 11 am. Transferred to a microbus at Los Encuentros, another camioneta (chicken bus) at Chichicastenango, and another microbus in Quiche, drove through highly variable terrain and saw the jaw-droppingly amazingly beautiful vistas I have come to expect from Guatemala, and finally arrived in Nebaj around 6:30 or 7 pm, I believe... Total cost: 50 Q.
Really crap picture of really amazing sunset!
There were two other gringas on the last microbus and although both Sophia and I were like “go away gringas!” when we first saw them we ended up deciding that they were probably pretty cool people and we should stop having a negative attitude so we asked them for a recommendation on where to stay and they directed us to Popi's hostel, a scant 2 blocks from where the microbus dropped us.

Popi's was ok but I can't say much more than that. 30 Q got us each a dorm bed, a towel and a bar of soap- both of those are new to me! Sophia's bed had sheets but mine did not- not a huge problem since I have my sleeping bag liner. What was a problem was that I didn't realize that there was an extra blanket on the top of the bunk next to me so I attempted to make due with my single blanket. Additionally, the mattresses were terrible! My camp pad is 100 x better. So, I had a very restless and uncomfortable night- waking about every 30 minutes to shift positions and shiver until I fell back to sleep. I nearly climbed into bed with Sophia several times but it was too much effort- honestly if she had been in the next bed over I would have done it but she was all the way across the room from me and we were both on top bunks so it was too much effort- which is just stupid because then I might actually have gotten a decent night's sleep! Or, if I'd known about the damn extra blanket!

Anyway, we decided to stay one more day in Nebaj because it seemed like a pretty cool place and we also heard that the microbus departed at 4:30 and couldn't imagine waking up that early after such a long day of travel the day before! The next day we spent a fair amount of time walking around town and shopping at various places. We both bought a ton of different things from the local women who had made them so that was really nice and made us feel like we were really spending our money in a good way.  We got to see several women weaving and that was incredibly cool.

Sophia bought a ton of stuff and ended up needing to send another package, and we shipped my three extra things in her box; she'll bring them to Colorado with her when she moves there and I'll make a trip to grab them at some point (I have several friends/cousins living there so I'm excited to have one more reason to visit Colorado!). I bought a shirt and two shawl type/table runner things that were just too beautiful to not buy. One of the ladies we bought stuff from invited us to her home to bathe in her traditional Mayan bath, so we purchased fruit from the mercado to make a fruit salad and we also bought some of these hard little sweet biscuits that everyone here likes to dunk in their coffee. Sophia was needing some alone time so she went for a run and I returned to the hostel to start cutting up the fruit, after stopping by the post office to pay the clerk some money we owed him since we had only had 100 Q bills (no one ever has change so you always feel terrible using a 100 Q bill anywhere besides the grocery store!) when we tried to send the package. I also figured out where we needed to go to catch the 4:30 am microbus.  Ugh!

We had dinner with the Mayan lady, Tina, and her family. Much to Sophia's surprise (and mortification!) the meal was comprised almost entirely of items that she couldn't eat (because she is gluten intolerant, and doesn't really eat sugar). We spent a lot of time inconspicuously shifting pasta from her plate to mine! Also, they ruined (in Sophia's eyes!) the fruit salad by putting honey on it! So, of everything that they served, Sophia could only really eat the tortillas (which are not her favorite thing!) and the "boxboles ("bosh bolays"), these interesting little packets made by wrapping the tortilla dough in guisquil leaves, boiled for about 10 minutes and served with a tomato-based sauce. For me, an ok meal. For Sophia, a culinary nightmare. :D

Slightly uncomfortable moment when one of Tina's daughters asked us to look at all of her work- more beautiful weaving and craftwork but a) we had already bought hundreds of Q worth of stuff from her mother, b) we had already sent everything off in the mail and c) to me it felt slightly contrived, like we had been invited because we might buy more shit or feel obligated to buy shit, which we did. We bought three bracelets for 10 Q each!  Not much but we wouldn't have bought them at all if not for feeling like we HAD to...

After dinner we drank a couple of cups of coffee (which Sophia could drink, since we asked them to make it without sugar- in Guatemala you get really strange looks when you make these sorts of requests, as nearly every Guatemalan I've met uses about 2-3 heaping spoonfuls of sugar with each cup of coffee!) and then it was time to bathe.  My understanding of traditional Mayan baths was that it was a thing where the people of one gender would sit in there mostly unclothed and just talk while the sweat cleaned them. Tina's bath was different from the sauna I used at Earth Lodge in that it was just a small room with a wood fire burning inside of it and a large pot of water placed above the fire. There was a large pot of cold water in the other corner, and between the hot and cold pots was a third pot for mixing the water to your desired temperature; you were then simply meant to bathe yourself with the water. After showing us how to use it Tina left us alone in the room, much to my surprise as I had been expecting this to be a social activity!

Sophia and I just sat there for a minute, slightly stunned. Neither of us was particularly interested in taking a bath; we had said yes to the invitation because we thought it was going to be some cool new experience, not just the two of us sitting in a small, smoke filled room splashing water on ourselves.

We decided to just sit in there for 10 minutes or so, but then realized that we should remove some water so it looked like we'd used it! Also, we felt bad that they had heated all this water and we weren't using it, so I ended up washing my arms, legs and face while Sophia sat in the corner and chatted with me; then she washed her face so it would look like we had both used it.

Back at the hostel we called it an early night since we had another long day of traveling ahead of us the next morning!

Woke up at 4 am and caught the microbus, which didn't end up leaving until 5. Six hours later (and 50 Q poorer) we arrived in Cobán, driving through some of the most beautiful countryside I have yet to see in Guatemala, and I've seen a lot of amazing terrain in my time here! The forest was more of that perfect mix between Hawaii and the Bighorn Mountains that I just love- range after range of mountains, deep valleys between plummeting 1000s of feet. Absolutely gorgeous. Lonely Planet had said that the views on this stretch of road were unparalleled and they were absolutely correct. What they neglected to mention was the terrible shape that the road was in! In some places we were literally driving slower than I could walk, and one time we had to detour around a GIGANTIC landslide. Still, amazing.

Picture of the massive landslide, taken out the back window of the microbus.  
Our transfer in Coban was speedy and relatively effortless- caught another microbus to Lanquin, 2 hours, 25 Q.  In Lanquin we got harassed by a kid whose family runs a hostel here in Semuc Champey and decided to stay there- Hostel El Portal.  It's a beautiful place, if a little pricey- though not terrible and all the places here in the area have inflated prices due to the proximity to Semuc Champey, and this one is within walking distance.

Tomorrow we are going to Semuc Champey!

April 28th

Semuc was amazing, of course. We started the day with the 1.2 km hike to the mirador, which was basically almost entirely stairs and supposed to take something like 1 hour 30 minutes but we arrived to the lookout site in 13 minutes. :D Clearly the signs are like the ones I encountered in Zion, where they list the worst-case-scenario time you can expect the hike to take!

Semuc Champey from the mirador
A sign near the mirador indicated that there was another way down, which I confirmed with one of the guides. Always a fan of not seeing the same terrain twice, I was elated to learn that the other trail led to the highest pools of Semuc Champey (difficult to see but in the upper left portion of the above pic- very small).

There was a bit of yellow caution tape at the top of the first pool, so of course we had to investigate what was on the other side. I'm sure many people end up missing out on it, which is a shame because the tape basically marked what is the uppermost side of the limestone bridge that IS Semuc Champey. At this point 95% of the water dives beneath the turquoise pools in a great rushing torrent, flowing through subterranean passageways to emerge hundreds of meters later at the lower end of Semuc Champey.

Looking upstream - 95% of the water is going underneath us to the left!
Natural "infinity pool"
Where the water goes!
Yay!  Solitude!  And incredible beauty all around!  :o)
We chilled out there for an hour or so before heading down to explore the rest of the pools. Snacked on more of the same stuff we've been eating for days now- red peppers and carrots, faava beans, pumpkin and pepitoria seeds, nuts from the granola we planned to make and never did, veg chips and other miscellaneous items. I snorkeled and explored for about 20 minutes before one of the ranger guys came and told me I couldn't use my mask in there because it could contaminate the pools with seeds from Lago de Izabel, which I have never been to. After about 20 minutes of trying to understand why the problem was specific to my mask, and to explain to the rangers why it made no sense that I could us my fins but not my mask, I finally gave up. Anyway, fun day in any case, filled with more beautiful nature than I could possibly imagine.

Semuc Champey- most of the water from the river is directly beneath us here! Ah, perfection!

Not a good pic of the river but a pretty cute pic of us!
Today we packed up our things and stored them in the reception area while we went to do these water caves we'd heard about, which turned out to be pretty fun. It was just Sophia, me and two other girls in our group, which was pretty nice as we ended up seeing several other really large groups during our time in the caves and we were able to move quickly with such a small group. Our guide's name was Carlos and he was super funny- must have asked me about 10 times why I didn't want a boyfriend! : D We used candles to light our way and there were multiple places where we had to swim with the candles- fun! There was a place at the last pool where we could climb up like 12 feet or so and then jump into the pool, and another place about halfway through where we could climb up a waterfall using a rope. Very cool. :o)

Back at the hostel we gathered our things and made our move to the hostel we're in now, a little place about ½ K north of Lanquin called El Retiro. It's a really great little place with tons of little thatch-roofed bungalows and lots of wonderful little hang out areas, plenty of hammocks. 

Pretty view of the river from the back of the pickup on our way to the other hostel.
Two boys who shared the back of the truck with us.
Sophia enjoying the beautiful views
Basil, Lily and Sophia.  Sophia and I originally met Basil and Lily in the Popi's hostel in Nebaj, and they later stayed at both El Portal AND El Retiro!  Apparently we are meant to be friends, though I didn't ever get contact info- hopefully I see them again on my travels!  :D
Our room, Luna, is a loft room that you have to climb a ladder to get into, with two single beds and a thatch-roof, with screen that looks like ag netting beneath it that does nothing to keep out the bugs, especially because it has many holes in it!  It's about 50 feet from the river and it's pretty perfect.

We had intended to go to the Grutas de Lanquín (big cave where thousands of bats fly out every evening) today but decided we didn't HAVE to see it, since we'd seen one cave already and really only wanted to see the bats fly out but would have still had to pay like 35 Q. So, chill afternoon by the river, both of us reading in our hammocks.

Our chill spot by the river
Pretty almost sunset
We had both intended to buy dinner but we missed the cut-off time and the kitchen was closed so we ended up splitting the “all you can eat” buffet between us in a not so surreptitious manner that resulted in us getting in trouble. oops! Feeling suitably chastised, we slunk to our cabin with our tails between our legs to watch an episode of Game of Thrones and read our books.

April 30th

Chill morning yesterday reading our books (I finished Hannibal Rising, by Thomas Harris, which I had traded my Belize guidebook for at El Portal- not the best book I've ever read but definitely an easy, fast read) and doing stuff on the internet, then a brief dip in the river at the hostel (making sure to check out the little surfboard thing they have set up there, which was ok but would have been pretty awesome with more water flow!) before heading into town to catch the microbus to Cobán. We had hoped to check out Zephyr Lodge (another hostel that we'd heard great things about from multiple people) and possibly have lunch there on our way out but somehow managed to walk right past it so we decided it wasn't meant to be. Bought four coconuts, one of which we ate immediately- the other three we saved to toast (toasted coconut is THE BEST snack EVER!) at Tanya's, another of Sophia's friends that we are staying with in Coban...

I will continue writing about my time with Sophia in my next post, as this one is already ridiculously long!

All photos in this post are thanks to Sophia, as were many in the previous post, with the exception of a handful that I thieved from another traveler named Melony, and a couple that I grabbed off of various friends' facebook pages (Mady, Courtney, possibly Kate...).  Thanks guys!!  XOXO!!

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