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Semuc Champey

30 Jul

Or, one of the most beautiful places in the world (in my opinion).

Hidden in the Alta Verapaz, the central region of Guatemala, Semuc Champey is Kiche Mayan language for ´the place where the water goes in and comes out´ – well that is the literal translation. We walked miles along the river, then hiked to a viewpoint where we could see the pools below:

Then this being Guatemala, rather than the more safety conscious UK, we walked into the pools, then climbed down the waterfalls and jumped in the deeper water. Later on we went down the river in rubber tires, then went caving, using candles for light. Candles and water dont go that well together so we did alot of the caves in the dark. We climbed up a waterfall, then swam back to the entrance of the caves – one of the places where the water comes out of the mountain.

It was the best thing I have done since getting to Guatemala!

Palapas and sunshine

28 Jul

After a couple of days in Antigua, a pretty colonial town full of language schools, we left the highlands and travelled north to the centre of the country. We had heard from other travellers that Lanquin, a tiny village 2 hours from the nearest town, was a must-see. We arrived and found our hostel, El Retiro. The dorms and cabins, wooden structures with palm roofs, were layed out next to a huge river which was flowing so fast that I was scared to get in and swim! Luckily you can also go down the river in a ´tubo´ – a huge rubber ring.

After a few days of what has felt like endless bus journeys we`re stopping here for a couple of days – we´re not the only ones, I have just met a woman who has been here for four weeks and is staying for another month!

Thinking of visiting some caves at a place called ´Semuc Champey` – literally translated as the place where the water enters and exits. Apparently the water enters one side of the mountain, goes through the caves and exits at the other side. Hardly any of the caves have been mapped, but you can walk through the ones that have – the water comes up to your shoulders!

Anyway, back to the hammock!

1 pair of converse and some skinny jeans…

24 Jul

…do not help anyone to climb a volcano. Managed it though, and was rewarded with an amazing view of a lagoon in the crater (photo to come).  

 Meanwhile, tonight there is a Mexican reggae group playing at the hostel, and they are soundchecking at the moment. Sounds cool, but we were up at 4.30am to climb the volcano, so I´m dying for some sleep. Earplugs all the way I think.

Tomorrow we leave the complicated world of couchsurfing in Xela behind and head to Antigua, another town surrounded by volcanos, but this time live ones, which I won`t be climbing!

Couchsurfing in Guatemala

23 Jul

Yesterday we crossed the border into Guatemala. We left the rain and comfy transport behind, and by midday we were on an old American schoolbus which had been painted silver with go faster stripes and covered in religious stickers, both inside and out. Most of them with inspiring but slightly scary messages like, `God, please guide me on this journey and keep me safe.` I mean you`d hope that it wasnt just faith alone keeping them from crashing!

When we finally arrived in Xela, after various buses and combis, we went to find our host for the night, `Jimmy.`

If you haven`t heard of couchsurfing before, basically it is a website (www.couchsurfing.org), and a community, where you can offer a free bed (s) to travellers, or share skills with people passing through your area. There is no money involved, but at the same time people aren´t encouraged to take part if their only aim is to save pennies on accomodation. It is a good way of meeting people local to the places you are visiting and to see another side of the country where you are travelling.

Now,  we had emailed Jimmy last week, and he was kind enough to offer us a place to stay for three nights. We turned up and found out that he actually owned a hostel and that we would be staying there for free – sounds perfect right?! The one tiny problem is that Anna and I are English… and with that comes the worry that even though someone is offering something for free we don`t want to feel like we are imposing! So yesterday we spent most of the evening worrying how much we should hang ut with our host, and how much we should accept for free. He offered us coffee, drinks, use of the internet, laundry, everything we could need, but I felt really guilty as we didnt have anything to offer in return.

In the end we came to a compromise – we spent the evening having drinks with him and the other couchsurfers, two Spanish girls who are filming a documentary, and tonight we`ll go to watch his family´s traditional Guatemalan theatre group at the hostel, but we have done our own washing and bought our own breakfast and coffee. This way we get to accept his hospitality but not take advantage.

Even though I love the idea of couchsurfing, and the fact that it is based on trust and mutual understanding between people from different cultures and countries, it isn´t just the freeride you imagine it to be – you only get out what you put in!