Published: April 3rd 2012April 1st 2012
Their pants are on fire. Gotta love the outfits of the Todos Santos lads.
Ever seen water defy gravity? The spurt of hot water from our shower head was today trying awfully hard not to land on our flesh and retreat back to where it came from. Following 6 or so days of sporadic, frigid bird baths, our bodies were well and truly on the soiled side of squeaky clean. The water, which felt like the tears of God himself, eventually did its job, forcing the swarm of flies to retreat and find another suitably filthy body to pester.
Quetzaltrekkers, as the name suggests, is a company organising guided hikes throughout the Guatemalan highlands. They have an array of options but the one that best accommodated our haphazard timetable was a multi-day scramble over the Chuchumatan Mountains from Nebaj to Todos Santos. The trek is a bare bones no frills affair up, up and up to a tick over 3800 metres, lugging a 15 kilo backpack. Of course as we all know, what goes up, must......... The up part was tough on the heart and legs, the down part brutal on the joints. A common thread of conversation revolved around whether we preferred the up or the down. That's a little like asking someone
Had to squeeze in this shot of our last night before leaving for the trek.
you're about to torture if they'd prefer the rack or bamboo sticks under the fingernails.
There was a sense prior to step off that we may have been a tad delusional in our ability to cope with the job ahead. One hour into day 2, pitch black at 5am, trudging relentlessly up an acute trail to catch the sunrise, I peeked a glimpse at a particularly stressed looking wife. The mission was taking on water but at the point of no return and with no safety net in terms of pulling out, on she slogged. By day 4 and 50 or so klms later, the little soldier would not have been out of place in battle fatigues, rifle slung over the shoulder and trudging through the mud of the Kokoda Trail.
The sleeping conditions didn't provide relief at night either. The first bed was tooooo hard. The second toooooo soft. But the third bed - was the ground, which was where we found ourselves most evenings.
At this point I can hear plenty of readers questioning , "why bother"? Granted, conquering Everist is now off the bucket list but this travelling game isn't all about sunshine, lollipops
Sunday market day.
and Coronas by the pool. So why? On one hand, there was a masochistic sense of satisfaction as we hit the tape in Todos Santos. On the second hand, we also managed to slog through some inspiring scenery. On the third hand (remember this a team effort giving us a few more hands) we experienced Mayan life far removed from guidebooks. The trail passes through a string of indigenous villages, many still self subsistent and well outside the electricity grid. Life relatively unaltered for eons. Modes of dress and languages would transform with each day. The gold standard in the fashion stakes are the men of Todos Santos. Virtually every male resident sports red and white striped pants, a very snappy shirt plus a panama like hat adorned with a blue ribbon. If one indigenous group is going to prevent its culture from becoming nothing more than a museum piece, this is where you'll find it.
Our group was also given an insight into the dirty years of Guatemala's 36 year civil war via some heart wrenching anecdotes from one particular Mayan elder. Geronimo opened a vein on a few tragedies from the early 80s. Cutting a long story
short, it was a fair bet that if the Guatemalan army rolled into town during that horror era, the day was only ever going to end in tears for the locals. Watching similar events unfold on a 2 minute snippet on SBS news back home and the usual line of response would be something like, "my god that's tragic. Would you like a glass of red with dinner tonight darling"? Hearing the graphic tales first hand drove home firstly how fortunate we are to live where we do, and secondly how selfishly flippant we can be at times.
Removing the halo and back on vacation, an observation, if you will. Our trek guides were a group of very amicable Americans in the 23 - 25 year age bracket. They were fun and lively but provided a window into the tangent that the vernacular of American youth has taken. Follow the script please.
Guide 1. "I like went to like the like supermarket like the other like day and I like bought this like toilet paper that was like soooooooo soft".
Guide 2. "Oh.......My.........God. That is like sooooooooo coooooool".
Reminded me of that old joke:"How many Americans
One of the downsides of this town is the alcohol problem.
does it take to change a light globe"?
Answer - 50. One changes the globe and the other 49 share the experience.
Any Americans reading this, feel free to come back hard with a touché or two. Let me give you a hand.
"How many Australians does it take to change a light bulb"?
None. If you leave it long enough, eventually someone else will do it.
Today also brings the end to Guatemala and another piece in the jigsaw puzzle of what makes this nation tick. At this point I'll bring Burch back into the equation and relate a couple of his observations over the last month. Burch reckons there are 2 sure fire career options for long term employment in Guatemala. Firstly, speed bump construction and repairs. This is the speed bump capital of the world. Not just run of the mill garden variety speed bumps but steroided up monoliths that Superman would have trouble leaping over. On the outskirts of Antigua there is one so large it had a guy with a taco stand halfway across it.
Secondly, tuk tuk repairs. I'll take that one specific step further and narrow it
Locals chewing the fat, watching the foreigners arriving into town.
down to tuk tuk shock absorber replacements. Tuk tuks are a practical means of travelling short distances but the roads they need to endure mean that Burch has a savvy entrepeneurial idea on his hands.
What do you think Penny?
Today is our final day in Guatemala and suffice to say I have made it through the 6 day trek, carrying all our gear plus various parts of the kitchen ( oats, refried beans, tomatoes , etc etc). Burch only had to carry the "spice kit". Really, how heavy can salt and pepper be!! The trek was 6 days of walking bliss ( I lie, it was lots of ups at altitude and lots of down in donkey manure) plenty of banos natural (bushman toilets) but the one thing they have on the Guatemala treks you don't experience anywhere else in the world are the temascales....a hut not much bigger than a dog kennel that has been fashioned into something resembling a sauna. They are dark and smokey and really hot and extremely effective on tired muscles at the end of a long hiking day. I would add a photo of the three of us in our first temascale but I think I might have popped out of my swimming costume . With a lot of giggling by the three amigos we struggled to see in this dark chamber and for the first 10 minutes had more soot and dirt on us until we found the three buckets containing cold water, boiling water and the third to mix to the desired temperature and throw over yourself. Given we had no access to clean water to wash ourselves for the days while we were trekking I found the temascales quite nice. Gary on the other hand was undecided. I think it gave him flashbacks of chewing smoke in his hay days as a fireman. That could explain why he and Burch kept tossing large amounts of water on to the coals which nearly comatosed the three of us.
So what did I really think of our adventure thus far in Guatemala? Well I think our transport probably best expresses it:-Planes; mini bus; chicken bus; tourist van; launch; kayak; speed boat; utility truck; ( I need to add with a freshly painted metal bar cabin that we now have on our clothes and hands); tuk tuk; taxi and finally our last means of transport was the cattle truck, minus the cattle fortunately this particular day. Guatamela is pretty resourceful in terms of supplying transport, basically if it moves, and you can hail it down, for a small outlay you can go from point A to point B, can't say it will always be comfortable.
A final note, why are the chicken buses so named! Even the locals refer to them as the chicken buses. Is it because they are usually full of chickens ( we only saw turkeys on our buses), or because you are packed in like battery hens, or because the drivers play chicken with every other vehicle on the road particularly around blind corners and cliff faces, or because the conductor climbs all over the roof and side of the buses spruiking for business, packing luggage on the roof and running to catch up to the bus as it takes off without him!!!! Whatever the reason, the chicken buses were an entertaining transport option.
Good bye Guatemala.
Ps. Recalling a particular Seinfeld episode, Penny shall henceforth be known as Nip. I'll try and convince her to include the photo but I'm not confident.
Pps. I forgot to mention that Gary was a big hit in the local village as he returned from the temascal to our humble shared room. He had to pass the sheep, pigs and the local families, dressed in a very small pink towel not much bigger than a hand towel wrapped around his waist more like a mini skirt as it was not covering much. I can still hear the women giggling behind the curtains.
Pps. We're having trouble with the blog site and so this edition is very light on photos. Sorry.