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Published: July 10th 2010
(Day 826 on the road)
After a few weeks in Guatemala now I have to say that I am properly impressed. Of course by the beauty of the country, but even more so by the honesty of the people and the absence of hassle. It is by no means standard that in a poor country like Guatemala tourists are treated equal. Despite how much I love Asia for example, the omni-present foreigner pricing and rip-offs
there are one thing I can really do without, and which make travelling much more tiring and troublesome than it needs to be at times.
In contrast, how refreshing it is to travel across Guatemala! Of course there were a few instances where people have taken advantage of us, but for the vast majority, we have been charged the normal price for everything from bus rides to items purchased at the market or in shops. In the beginning, I was naturally suspicious of every price quoted, but after a while I realised the prices given here are indeed the local ones, and that there was no need to bargain for every little thing. It is amazing how much more enjoyable this makes travelling in any one country!
Lake Atitlan, Tino and I made our way to Quetzaltenango, or Xela as it is commonly referred to, in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. Despite the pouring rain during our arrival (it is raining pretty much every day here in the afternoon) we found a lovely and cheap place to stay, and soon set out to explore
Whilst Xela is nice as such, the true beauty lies in its surroundings. This is volcanic land, and countless hot springs and saunas beckoned to be sampled by us. We started with a visit to the awesome sauna at Las Cumbres, 10km or so south of Xela. Whilst Tino was naturally weary of the branding as "eco'-sauna ("eco" here in Central America typically meaning just charging higher prices to environmentally aware foreigners), this however was truly an eco-sauna if I have ever seen one: They have built the sauna right on top of the outlet of hot steam from the earth's core. To regulate the heat in the sauna, we could simply decide how far to open the stone vault with the hot steam. It was heaven!
The next day we tried some of the hot springs in the area (in
the aptly named village of Los Banos), but only after a visit to the unreal area of El Palmar Viejo (El Palmar Old). The city was evacuated in the 1990s due to a volcanic eruption, and has remained a ghost village ever since (the citizens now live in El Palmar Nuevo). Today, the jungle has reclaimed most of the former town, but one remarkable feature has endured: The village's former church was split in half by a massive mud slide a few years ago. Now the two parts of the church are separated by a thirty metre wide river. Quite a sight. Infinitely better than watching some locals throw the rubbish from their pick-up truck into the river way below, where the garbage was piling up. Very nice.
And then it was finally time for the world cup again. For the first semi-final, Tino went up a volcano, whilst I watched The Netherlands enter the final. And the following day, the semi final between Germany and Spain, yes! But oh, what a sad day. After Germany's good performance in the world cup so far hopes were high, but in the end Spain proved too much and won deservedly. What
At least the atmosphere in the bar we watched in was great, with a surprisingly large number of Guatemaltecans supporting Germany. Plus of course these crazy Spanish-speaking commentators here are unbelievable: There is always two of them, and they literally talk non-stop during the entire game. Whenever one one them runs out of stuff to say, the other takes over instantly. With these enthusiastic commentators, even the most boring game sounds like a dramatic world cup finals match! If only I could understand what they are talking about.
After the game, and with somewhat low spirits, I left Quetzaltenango for Chichicastenango (a lot of cities here end in -tenango, meaning "place of"). Chichi, as it is known, is mainly famous for its colourful bi-weekly market. We spent a fascinating morning there, with lots and lots of great picture opportunities - I simply never tire of watching the local people here in their traditional dresses. I especially like the style where the women wears a type of folded blanket on her head. I can only assume that it is for sun protection. It sure makes for an interesting sight!
Next stop: Semuc Champey (Guatemala).
To view my photos, have a look at pictures.beiske.com
. And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon
(and most other online book shops).
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