Relaxing in Antigua

Trip Start Aug 23, 2006
Trip End Apr 15, 2007

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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Friday, September 15, 2006

We rolled into the bus station in Santa Elena, and hoofed it to the Hotel Santander, a fleabag little place frequented more by Guatemalan's than backpackers, and settled in to the relative luxury of two double beds, a TV and our very own bathroom. A bit gritty compared to the tourist mecca of Flores a short walk away, but cheaper and we're all about cheap. As an added bonus, no scorpions. Which might explain the cockroaches...

Anyway, we were up at stupid o'clock the next morning for our shuttle to Tikal, the most famous of Guatemala's Mayan ruins. It didn't disappoint. Tikal is huge, with 15 minute walks through the jungle from temple to temple, and plenty of wildlife to entertain you along the way. The temples themselves are amazing, standing above the jungle canopy and providing fantastic vistas. Karen climbed all of the temples where it was allowed (what can I say, the girl is crazy for temple climbing), while I skipped the last one. My knees just aren't as springy as they used to be.

The surprise bonus at Tikal is the wildlife. Toucans, monkeys, besotes, there's just so much going on in the trees. We seemed to be the only ones to see a toucan, and we were treated to a troop of besotes (think long nosed brown raccoon) coming down from the trees and foraging for lunch right in front of us. It was pretty incredible.

The next day we jumped on a bus to Coban. Rather than a retired school bus or Greyhound, it's a new Toyota mini-bus. We boarded with 6 other backpackers and a mixed bag of Mayan and mestizo locals. I can't speak for anyone else, but given the condition of the bus, I thought the ride would be much more pleasant than the last. If anything though, this driver made our last seem timid. Constantly blinking away sleep, he had us rocketing down Guatemala's two lane country roads, passing anything stupid enough to get in our way, stopping only to add more passengers to our already overloaded bus as we alternated between roller coaster thrills and actual terror. A couple of hours into the ride the Irish couple behind us started mixing vodka with their Orange Crush to smooth out the adrenaline spikes and Karen quickly accepted their offer to share. Throughout it all, the local passengers chatted, napped, ate, and basically didn't bat an eye.

Having survived yet another Guatemalan bus journey, we ended up in Semuc Champey, where we swam in crystal clear pools and explored a cave and underground stream. Caving was exceptionally cool. Imagine swimming an underground stream and climbing waterfalls while holding a candle out of the water. Everyone loved it, despite coming away from it a bit bruised and battered.

Having seen and done everything there was to see and do in Semuc Champey, we headed for Antigua, an amazingly preserved Spanish colonial town that is one of the absolute jewels of Guatemala. Cobblestone streets, colonial architecture and with three volcanoes as a backdrop, it's a beautiful place to be sitting out the Independence Day celebrations. We've hooked up with friends made at Semuc Champey and are taking a couple days to relax.

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