Couple Gringo's in Guatemala...

Trip Start Mar 29, 2010
Trip End Sep 01, 2010

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Where I stayed
El Retiro

Flag of Guatemala  ,
Sunday, April 18, 2010

So going back now a couple weeks.... I believe last time we put key to screen we were on a small boat leaving Belize, headed to the relatively small Caribbean jungle town of Livingston, Guatemala. What a strange little town, with a mix of typical looking Guatemalans and Garifuna people. Garifunas arrived here and elsewhere along the Caribbean coast after their ancestors escaped slavery. So, basically a mix of Hispanics and Rasta's. After checking in at the optional immigration office/store, we got settled into our swank jungle hostel. Spent  a couple days in the town, eating great food and enjoying the ridiculously low price of beverages. Highlight was heading to the private beach, Playa Blanca, with 4 Danish girls. As we all headed into the ocean, one dropped and started screaming as if bitten by something quite terrible... 10 seconds later, we had our second Danish victim... 5 seconds later, a third. Meanwhile Lauren and I tip-toed the hell outta dare! Turns out the Danes were victims of Jellyfish. They all survived.

Next we were given a "secret  tip" by a hostel staff member to visit the town of El Estor up river a few hours from Livingston. After a cool boat ride up the river, we arrived in Rio Dulce. Next we needed to find a ride to El Estor. A friendly local showed us the way to a minibus going that way. One was leaving, but the local reckoned it was too full. The driver didn’t and threw our bags up top.  The door opened and inside was 21 Guatemalans staring back at us with blank expressions. 21 people in a vehicle built for 13 or so... and us. So 23 it was! Always fun to get down and sweaty with some locals for a couple hours...

El Estor was interesting, 0 foreigners, I can say that with confidence. Lots of Mayan people were bustling around the market, fascinated by these two strange looking people with oversized bags on their back and lost expressions on their faces. The point of coming here was to a) see manatee’s in the lake and b) to go into the jungle and see what is making all the noise!!(Howler monkeys).

We hit up the man in town who could take us to see both, Jose. He told us to meet him at the dock at 6am?? WTF. Somehow we made it down there and he was eager to get going, across the lake we went, through some cool jungle rivers, stared at some birds, stalled a few times, listened to the howler monkeys then re-appeared at the end of the lake. He shut the engine off and started to track the elusive manatee (for the record I had no idea what a manatee was till two days before this). 15 silent, slightly awkward minutes later, we heard something, and there it was, a manatee (see picture below of Manatee’s back  out of the water). Not the most exciting event ever, but we saw a manatee none the less. Check. Next up was into the jungle to track down the not so elusive howler monkeys. Pretty cool to be in the jungle, on a river with rival monkey clans screaming at each other from one tree to another. All Talk though.

Ok, enough of that town.  Next up, chicken bus(local bus) to Lanquin.  Seven hours of dirt road, up and down mountains for the entire time. Not sure if it was because we hadn’t done a similar bus ride yet but... it wasn’t bad and really cool to see the countryside and share the bus with locals hopping on and off along the way. Saying that, our heads were rattling for a few hours after.

Anyways. Lanquin. We were dropped off at the hostel El Retiro. Wow, for those who watch lost, it felt like we were arrived at place the 'others’ would live. Amazing layout of huts on a mountainside with a fast moving, chilly river at the bottom. Our hut was unreal. The restaurant was amazing, bar was equally good. We stayed 5 days, met some great people, interesting characters(see bearded Swede) and were surprisingly re-acquainted with our Belize travel buddies, the newlyweds, Sykes and Moll. The reason this place is there is because of the natural wonder of Shamuk Champay. Amazing turquoise pools of water set between towering mountains. That, plus a bit of spelunking and the best rope swing I’ve ever seen, made this place pretty sweet.

But the show must go on. Next up,  Antigua! 8hrs by bus, fun. Starting to not dig these bus rides. Antigua is a great place (p.s Antigua is in the South West of Guatemala, not the island in the Caribbean with the same name). Clean, safe, picturesque, cheap. Lots of tourists, lots of foreign students learning Spanish. Mcdonalds, Burger King(so good), Subway, and a volcano overlooking the town. Speaking of volcanos... we climbed one! It was active, as can be seen by the smoke coming from the top of it. We saw lava, I think.  Something was emitting a hell of a lot of heat. And if you looked close, real close, it was red!!  Lava, check.

So since we gotta get down to Panama City within a couple weeks, it was time to put an end to Guatemala. 18 hour bus ride to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua sounded horrible. Don’t be fooled though, this bus was class. Our own waitress, pillows, blankets, movies. We deserved it. 4 Countries as well, so a lot of time at the borders(El Salvador and Hondurus and Nicaragua). Finally we arrived in Managua at midnight. Which is a horrible time to arrive in this city, says the guidebook.  Guidebook was right.  Along with our traveling buddies, Aussie Will and Irish Mary, we jumped in a cab. Bad cab. All he kept telling us was that this place is really dangerous and we shouldn’t be here. He had hotels that were safe. We went to the hostel out of the book. Closed. Shit. Driver was super duper dodgy. He took us to a hotel. Luckily for us the guy running it spoke English and informed us the guy was ripping us off, and also confirmed that the area we were in was very unsafe. So we flagged down a legit cabbie and spent a romantic evening at the airport whilst awaiting our flight to the Corn Islands...
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