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Published: April 9th 2016
With only 4 weeks left it is starting to feel like our trip is coming to an end, which is strange, as a 4-week holiday is quite a long holiday (especially for our non-European friends), but if you're on a 6-month trip, 4 weeks is hardly anything. This basically means that we've started thinking and talking about 'real life' again, but not too much and we really want to enjoy every last minute of this great experience. We still have some great places to visit in Guatemala and Belize, before we fly back home. Via Miami, where we'll spend the weekend with some of our Dutch/American friends, which makes our departure a bit less sad...
We've both been looking forward to visiting Guatemala. Not quite sure why exactly - perhaps because we thought it wouldn't be as touristy as some other Central American countries we visited, but instead be more authentic and somewhat similar to Bolivia and Peru. So far, we haven't been disappointed. The country is more developed than we had expected, with good roads and relatively few shanty towns, but therefore also has great restaurants and lodging options. It's definitely still very authentic with a large indigenous population
and what we've seen far has been quite spectacular.
We planned to do the common 'Gringo Trail', which basically means visiting Antigua, Lake Atitlan, Semuc Champey and Flores/Tikal. By the way, 'Gringo Trail' is not a typical Guatemalan term - it's being used throughout Latin America for everywhere the tourist goes. Similarly, there is 'Gringo Food' for typical Western food. Even if we would not do the typical things, we would still be Gringo's, as we're twice as tall as the average Guatemalan person. We flew from Managua to Guatemala City, but travelled immediately to Antigua, as Guatemala City is apparently not worthwhile visiting. Antigua on the contrary is a beautiful city with cobblestone streets and one-story houses with gorgeous courtyards. It's not surprising that it's on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The atmosphere is also very laid back and there are many options for eating, drinking and experiencing culture. It's surroundings are stunning - it lies in a valley surrounded by green hills and from the city you can view three volcanos: Fuego, Agua and Acastenango.
We decided to hike a volcano that's slightly further away though, called Pacaya. It's extremely active with the latest eruptions in
2010 and 2014. Our guide explained us that since then there are 15 places where seismic activity is being measured there was only 1 before, so they know well in advance when to expect new eruptions and we would be completely safe. The hike up was quite strenuous, but it only took an hour so it wasn't too bad. The most annoying bit was all the men with their horses riding along trying to rent them out to tourists. They were quickly forgotten though when we got to the lava fields and even though the lava is no longer liquid or flowing it's still pretty impressive. The lava is actually still warm enough to roast marshmallows!
Antigua has many churches, convents and ruins, many buildings being destroyed by earthquakes. We spent quite some time visiting these places. If we were not exploring, we would just hang out in courtyards, sipping fresh fruit juices. Another nice thing was the climate. During the day it was lower twenties (degrees Celsius) and in the evenings it cooled down till lower tens. Compared to Nicaragua and especially Leon where it was 40, this was a very pleasant change.
Next stop was Lake
Atitlan. I have to admit, I'm not particularly keen on lakes. A lake's a lake, right? Just lots of water, however, Lake Atitlan, proved me wrong, mostly because it's just stunning and surrounded by volcanos, but also because of the hotel we stayed at. It was built against a cliff and had many little balconies and terraces from where you could enjoy the spectacular views. We spent our days swimming, kayaking, reading, eating and drinking (sounds familiar?) and had a wonderful time.
Interesting fact: several years ago, after a storm, the water level in the lake rose 5 meters!!! Nobody knows how that could happen, as there are no open connections to outside rivers, and it remains a mystery to this day. Many houses and hotels had boardwalks built low to the lake, that are now all covered by water, which is a quite interesting sight.
An interesting feature of a lot of the more remote places we stayed at is the communal table. Dinner is served at a fixed time and all the guests sit at the same long table. We like it a lot and usually this leads to nice conversations and exchanging stories with other
travelers, but sometimes it leads to big surprises as well. In this case we shared the table with a Guatemalan born american woman, who had been living in Boston and working in health care for the past 25 years. Although slightly drunk, she was nice enough until someone brought up politics. She turned out to be an avid Trump supporter, very much in favour of repealing Obamacare and keeping immigrants out of the US. All the people at the table, mostly Europeans, stopped talking and just stared at her. At first we thought she was joking, but she was dead serious. If Trump can get this kind of support, who knows what is going to happen...
From Lake Atitlan, we travelled back to Antigua, to stay there one night and then continue on to Coban, from where we'll visit Semuc Champey.
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