Coffee Fincas, River Caves and Carribean beats

Trip Start Dec 08, 2004
Trip End Dec 07, 2005

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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Wednesday, February 2, 2005

After hearing excellent reports of a Coffee finca on the outskirts of Poptun we decided along with Benoit to head south and pay a visit.

Finca Ixobel is owned by an American lady who set it up with her husband over 30 years ago. Set in tropical forests and enclosed by huge cone like mountains it was a beautiful place. We originally wanted to stay in one of the few tree houses they had, but unfortunately they were full and private rooms were too expensive. Our only other option was to camp or hammock it. Now bearing in mind this area of Guatemala has torrential downpours, one of which was unloading itself at the time, our tent didn't seem like a good plan. There is barely enough room for us forcing us to leave the bags outside not a good idea in a tropical rainstorm. Hammocks are great to chill out in for a hour or two but are definitely not engineered for quality sleep or maybe we are just too soft. So we came up with a compromise and erected our tent in one of the thatched wooden round houses meant for hammocks and we had the whole hut to our selves. This whole camping indoors thing is fabulous.

Payment at the Finca worked on an honour system where you help yourself to food and drink and write down what you have in a book. The food was incredible, all of which was either reared or grown on the farm, so the honour system was potentially lethal to the budget. Every night everyone sat together at long wooden tables outside on the veranda to eat and wow did we eat well!

We planned to do the river cave trip the next day, but we were both too tired, so we spent the day looking round the farm. Keith played football with the lads who worked on the Finca and a few of the other guests and spent the rest of the day in agony, it{s been a while. We played ping pong in the afternoon, ate dinner at the house again, and then raced/hobbled to the bar for 9pm, to make sure we were the 1st there, as the 1st three customers get a free drink! Cuba Libres (Rum and Coke) for the Brits!

The next day was the river cave trip. The walk/hike/scramble to the cave lasted two hours passing through farms and almost English style rolling countryside before we broke into the jungle. This part was tough, climbing, scrambling and slipping up and down muddy rocky paths, made even more complicated by the last night's torrential rain. I had a glorious fall, bum first into the biggest muddy puddle I could find, covering myself head to toe in thick mud, much to the amusement of our guide and fellow trekkers. We made it to the cave at about midday, leaving our packed lunches and the fincas resident dog, which had followed us all the way, outside, we waded into the cave.

The guide nimbly hopped ahead lighting the caves with candles, while we scrambled behind trying to stay upright on the slippy rocks. We passed through narrow passages, and big open caverns decorated with some beautiful stalactites and stalagmites most of the time nipple height in water or swimming and bloody freezing. It took about an hour to reach the final cavern, which the guide lit with candles all around. He then showed us a rocky platform overhanging the big pool which filled the cavern! Beckoning us to climb up to it he seemed to be telling us we could jump off it into the pool. This platform was 4 to 5 metres up, which is a big jump when in a dark cave. To make matters even more interesting, with his torch he pointed out a big rock submerged just under the platform which we had to avoid! Eventually plucking up the courage, and not wanting to be showed up by the Germans who jumped off straight away, we followed suit, talk about a leap of faith!

In the corner of this last cavern was a rope leading underwater, we asked the guide what it was for, and he gestured to us that we could swim under. He pointed to us and shone his torch under the water at the cavern wall! It was an underwater tunnel which we could swim through. Taking a deep breath we swam underwater for 2 to 3 metres, grasping in darkness at the rope, and eventually broke the surface in another pitch black cavern on the other side, very scary! We waited on the otherside in darkness for ages and soon realising that our guide wasn't coming swam back, me nearly concussing myself by rising to early and hitting my head on the tunnel ceiling OUCH.

It was a long, wet and tiring walk back to the Farm. We all had a celebratory beer when we got back before going our separate ways for our typically Guatemalan cold showers!

We left Finca Ixobel the next day for Rio Dulce, a town on the banks of the beautiful Lago Ixobel. After surviving 2 hours of spine crunching chicken bus journey and the swarms of hawkers that pounced on us as we got off the bus we found refuge in a riverside restaurant. Lago Ixobel is the largest lake in Guatemala which feeds the river (Rio Dulce meaning Sweet River) that meanders through narrow gorges and eventually out into the Caribbean Sea. The town of Rio Dulce is dusty, unattractive and chaotic with nothing to keep you there other than to get a boat out. The good places to stay are situated around the lake and are only reachable by lancha. After a series of bumbled radio phone conversations from the restaurant we were out of luck, all the hostals were full, apart from one.

We made a rash decision and jumped on a boat for Denny's Beach, which is 40 minutes up river. Let's just say our stay there was brief, one night in fact and that was only because we had no other choice. Denny beach was an incredibly run down hostel on the bank of the lake with nothing else around. The only way of leaving was on the lancha leaving the next morning so we were stuck. That night we entertained ourselves by picking pubic hair off the damp bed sheets yuck and avoiding the swooping bats roosting in our room, which was fun.

The next morning we got on the earliest boat out of there and headed up river through the gorges to the Caribbean town of Livingston. The journey through the gorges was fascinating. As we motored down stream the river banks gradually rose up higher and higher until we were surrounded by the towering jungle shrouded walls of a narrow gorge. We passed open pools carpeted with lilies, small villages of wooden houses stood on stilts on the waters edge and hot springs bubbling out of the rocks. We also passed the dental surgery, a small boat equipped with dentist chair, making its visits to riverside villages.

Livingston is populated mostly by Garifuna blacks who settled there, escaping from slave trade in the Bay Islands, giving it a truly Caribbean flavour. The local music is garifuna, music unique to the African-descent peoples of Central America. Its sounds like African drumming and chanting/singing with a Latino rhythm mixed in, very unique. We went to a Garifuna bar where the locals bring along there instruments (turtle shells and wooden boxes), drink copious amounts of rum and sing, drum and dance into the night.
Our hotel was a big old yellow painted wooden house with a staircase so warped and twisted the steps were practically on a diagonal. It made coming home after a few too many rums interesting.

Oh and we bumped into Benoit again, but sadly for the last time. After 2 days chilling out and absorbing the Caribbean vibes it was time to move on Benoit headed south to Honduras and us west to Coban.
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