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Published: February 8th 2011
Before we were packed like sardines.
Slept in a bit today. Finished up the pics. Ate a couple of tacos in flour tortillas, which was different & goodbye Flores, with lighter backpacks after our expensive & heavy package was sent (primarily due to the conch shell Geoff found in Mexico on the beach). Tuk tuk'd to Santa Ilena & got to the bus station. Again, herded by 3-5 guys surrounding out tuk tuk. Geoff said, "guys let us at least get out, give us a minute." They backed up about 1/2 inch so that was nice. We were herded into the oficina where we were told it would cost us 300 Quetzal to get to the city of Coban & that bus didn't leave for 2 hours & wouldn't get us to Lanquin which is where we'd like to end up tonight if possible... We promptly talked him down to 240 Q (=$32 US) without trying too hard & then after talking to a few more non-helpful bus drivers (who kept referring us back to the oficina) we decided to take our chances on heading to the highway & catching a mini-bus out there. The oficinia boss told us that we could get to where we wanted
Crossing the river to Sayaxche
We took the boat instead of the "ferry"
to go with mini-buses but we'd have to switch buses & it would take longer & so on (he did not offer to help us find the bus we needed, even after I asked specifically, everyone needs to make a living, right?). After a brief discussion about it all we decided now is the time to learn the bus system in Guatemala & do so on our own.
Off we went in another tuk tuk who took us to the highway & dropped us off next to a gas station & said a bus should come by within 10 minutes. It came in 5 & we were on our way. Basically our day went like this:
Left bus station at 10:45 am in tuk tuk.
Caught first bus around 11 to La Libertad.
2nd bus to Sayaxche immediately upon exit of 1st bus.
Caught little wooden boat at the end of the road, where there was a river & the road ended. There was a floating ferry for cars. Boat ride lasted 2 minutes.
3rd bus waiting on other side of river to San Antonio Las Cuevas.
4th bus at San Antonio Las
Across the river to our next bus, already waiting.
Cuevas (which was really just a T in the highway with a gas station) to Coban. (We actually changed buses in the middle of the street on the highway, us & a few others).
5th bus in Coban to Lanquin. Arrived at 7pm. Total cost from Flores= $224 Quetzal. We win!
Upon arrival into Coban we were greeted by the taxi drivers who offered to drive us into town for $4. I asked how far it was & was told it was a good walk. Then after about 20 seconds of talking to this guy, another older taxi driver comes up & asks where we're going & tells me that it's super close & easy to walk where we are heading, like 5 blocks. I thanked him & we walked. The taxi driver also offered to take us to Lanquin for $100 US. We passed on that deal. We walked to the bus stop that is dedicated to Lanquin, according to our book. Last bus left at 4pm. It was 4:38. So we decided to walk around & find somewhere to stay in town & catch the early bus out.
After walking around lost (the map in Lonely Planet does not make any sense, to either of us), a kind lady gave us directions to the center of town. On our walk in the general direction she pointed, we walked by a mini-bus who's helper yelled in our face, "Lanquin!" We were dubious but he pointed to the words on the front of the window that said: Coban-Lanquin. We got on & were on our way. This bus ride was the best by far of the day. Least crowded, first & foremost & most beautiful scenery until the sun went down. We climbed into the mountains & then along a valley & down into the valley. It was beautiful. The mountains are like stand alone mounds of land with huge valleys surrounding each mound. It's different than anywhere I had ever seen. Beautiful. The last 11km was completely crappy gravel/dirt road. But our driver managed to barrel down it really fast. I kept thinking about the prospect of flat tires, but we made it unscathed. He dropped us off right down the road from the hostal we were interested in looking at & said adios.
Lanquin is a small village set in these beautiful mountains. According to the guy who walked us up the pitch black road to our hostal, there are 3000 people here. We arrived at El Retiro Finca & Lodge. It's hard to say what the place is like all around because it's very dark now but the rooms are clean, set in palapas on stilts & built next to a rushing river. The bathrooms are shared but sparkle. The bathrooms are super cute. Someone painted Dr.Suess like characters all over the walls & the floors are made of colorful broken tile pieces. The sinks are my favorite. There's a pipe that drains water into a conch shell that then drains into the sink, the sink is painted & filled with colorful stones. It's really pretty. I want a conch shell sink now... After getting settled into our cute little room, we headed into town to find food. Haven't eaten since tacos at 10am. Also didn't have to pee allllll day. I guess I sweat it all out. So dehydrated feeling right now. The town is very small & we passed 2 churches in our short walk. We also passed 2 guys with bibles knocking on local doors & talking with the locals. One of the churches is Catholic, the other a Jesuit church. We ate at the Comedor Shalom & had fantastic chicken, mine stewed, Geoff's grilled. And a really salty salad. Why all the salt? I'm sooo thirsty & dehydrated without the extra added salt. This Comedor, like so many, doesn't have a menu. The server (in the smaller comedores/restaurants is almost always a woman, who is also either cooking the food or helping to cook it) will tell you what your options are. Usually 2-3 choices, almost all meat. Back to our room & to bed. Once we reached the hostal we met a lady staying in a neighboring palapa who was carrying her crying daughter in her arms. Apparently they had just seen a scorpion and cochroach in thier room so when we got back to our palapa we looked everywhere for critters. Funny to think we were relieved to only find a cochroach...
Soooo exhausted from longest travel day yet. Belize was so tiny. Traveling in the larger countries, such as Guatemala, is definitely tougher. More ground to cover.................. We only traveled about 250 km , but it took us about 8 hours. Yowza!
Let me tell you (whoever you are, I find myself talking to myself in my head a lot these days, is that weird?) 8 hours in these mini-buses might be torture but we did it. A couple of the buses charged us the same as the locals & a couple buses charged us more than the locals. No complaints here though, seems fair enough. In all those bus rides & all those hours we did not see one other gringo whatsoever. Not even in Coban where we spent about 30-45 minutes walking around. (Saw gringos at our hostal of course once in Lanquin).
I must spend a few moments discussing the bus system here in Guatemala. I spent a lot of time today dreaming about the wonderful, spacious, comfortable Belizean buses. I should have appreciated them more. Live & learn. There are several types of buses here. The gringo buses (we have yet to ride on, but will likely utilize in the near future) which are a slightly larger mini-van, mostly Toyotas for some reason & I envision them being the most comfortable but don't really know for sure. Then there are the mini-buses that are the size of small vans with roof racks. In these vans, we learned today, it is possible to carry about 32-35 adults & 5 small children. I saw it with my own eyes as I was in a row made for 3-4 people, at the most, but we had 6 in our row. No joke, 35 people on one of these. I think there was a couple kids on top of the van too as well as all the luggage, a bike, bags of something heavy like potatoes, among other things. I thought for sure I would have permanent nerve damage since I didn't have feeling to my leg for most of that ride. Oh, and the aroma in the air of this bus at the heat of the day. Whoa! It's a cross between manure, BO & cologne. Yum! Again, no such thing as personal space. I spent some time under a little old mayan lady's armpit & had numerous people who I practically sat on their lap, or them on mine. When it's time to get on/off the bus you just climb on over, or everyone gets out & gets back in. It was nuts. Thankfully we had breaks in each bus ride where we had a normal amount of space & were able to get blood flow return to our extremities. The last type of bus is the micro-bus which is basically the size of a Vanagon & can hold 4 people per row uncomfortably, as ours did for most of the ride to Lanquin. I was so happy when our row-mate got off the bus! Celebrate! The bus helper guy does all the money collecting & also orders people where to sit & how far to scrunch together & tells little kids to sit in their moms laps & so on.
The other thing we learned is that when you are done with your soda/water/whatever, just throw the garbage out the window. No big deal. We watched it happen all day. It's not hard to imagine that is what everyone does since the roads are absolutely littered with garbage. It's hard to wrap my mind around how every country we've been to so far doesn't seem to value the beauty of their land. Or is it the lack of infrastructure to collect garbage? In some cases, probably, but overall it's just such common practice I don't think it's even given a second thought. It's hard to watch it happen though. I wanted to offer to collect everyone's garbage & take it myself. But, I didn't. It was too hot & I was too crowded.
One other thing I've noticed during our travels is the smell of fire. Whatever wood they use here & Belize & Mexico smells sooo good. It almost has an incense like smell. A lot of people through here & Belize use the wood for cooking, not just to keep warm. The nights do get cool in the mountains. Comfortably cool in my humble opinion. But the smell is soooo good. I love it. I've been smelling it all day today during our journey & even when I was most uncomfortable, I still enjoy the smell of the wood.
Oh, I have to mention how different the Mayan language is from Spanish. Their words have so much shhhhh sounds & chh sounds. It's really pretty & absolutely/completely different than Spanish. And, the way the women dress here is so beautiful. They wear skirts that are colorful & full of sparkles (so I Love them!) & they wear tank tops with a lace like shawl/shirt over the top. All the shawls have a sort of like a crocheted appearance, usually with flowers or leaves as a larger portion of the shawl. The women always look pretty & dressed up. The men, not so much. But that is probably because they work in the fields farming.
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