Guatemala part I - Semuc Champey, Xela, Chichi and Santiago Atitlan


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Published: March 3rd 2016
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Morning lightMorning lightMorning light

I woke up early in the mornings because of the time difference between Europe and Central America. The good part about this is that I got to enjoy the fabulous morning light

Semuc Champey, Xela and some other nice places





The first place I went to in Guatemala was the Maya site Tikal. Tikal is a spectacular place and I have decided to dedicate an entire blog entry to it. I will put that one up later on. Here in this the first blog from Guatemala I have collected photos I have taken in a few other places.



First I am going to write a little about a small place called Semuc Champey. Semuc Champey is a popular tourist destination thanks to a series of natural pools located in a former riverbed. At some time the river found its way through cracks in the rock. The cracks grew wider and wider and eventually became a cave. More and more water flowed through the cave which made it grow in size. Eventually the cave was large enough to swallow the entire river. So the river simply disappears in one spot, goes through the cave for a while and reappears again a few hundred meters downstream. Above ground the former riverbed is still visible, however isn't dry. There is a set of beautiful all natural pools there and that is
Sunrise over Semuc ChampeySunrise over Semuc ChampeySunrise over Semuc Champey

Another photo shot early in the morning
what the fuzz is all about at Semuc Champey. It is a truly remarkable place so its popularity is, if you ask me, well deserved.



I stayed in a hostel a few kilometres away from the actual site. I signed up for a tour including transport to and from the pools, entry fee, a cave tour and a few other things. We started with the cave tour. The entire group walked a few hundred meters into a cave and the only light we had was candles. In the cave we swam, we waded, we walked and we climbed. At one place we climbed up a waterfall inside the cave. That was fun! At the deepest point we came to in the cave is was possible jump from a ledge into a small pond. I thought that jump looked a bit dangerous so I decided to skip that part.



After the cave we could try a swing. I thought it looked safe enough. The swing started from an elevation and continued out over the river. There the person on the swing was supposed to let go and jump into the river. I have jumped from
Semuc ChampeySemuc ChampeySemuc Champey

There is a set of beautiful all natural pools at Semuc Champey and that is what the fuzz is all about when it comes to this place
swings hundreds of times as a kid. Back then I landed on hard surfaces like sand or grass. This swing was somewhat larger than the swings I tried 30 years ago but then if you land on water it is not a hard surface so what can possible go wrong. Well, I have a video of me doing the jump in the river so you can actually look at it yourselves.







It doesn't look dangerous, does it? I didn't attempt to make any silly stunt, but when I let go of the swing I lost control of the jump and I began to rotate forward in the air. But still, I land on water what can possible go wrong? More things can go wrong than you think. There is one part of the human anatomy that is particularly sensitive to pressure changes, the eardrum. When I landed I smashed the right side of my head in the water. Water pressed into the ear and the sudden pressure change was enough to pierce a hole in my eardrum. This has happed to me once before so I knew that I had an injury and
Semuc ChampeySemuc ChampeySemuc Champey

The pools are popular. It is a truly remarkable place so the popularity is, if you ask me, well deserved.
I also knew how to deal with it. The injury itself is not dangerous. The eardrum heals by itself in a matter of a few weeks. The problem is that when the ear drum is pierced like that dirty water enters the ear and that is sure to cause an infection. I immediately left the tour and went to see a doctor. I did get an infection and it was such a nasty one that the first antibiotic was not able to deal with it. Not until I a few days later went to see yet another doctor who prescribed me another, considerably stronger, antibiotic was I cured.



Since I was forced to leave the tour I missed out on the visit to the pools, the very highlight of the tour. Instead I had to go there on my own the day after. It was OK but being there without friends and at the same time having an ear infection killed much of the joy with it…



After Semuc Champey I went to the city Quetzaltenango, or Xela as it is often called. Xela is located in a valley and in the vicinity there
The riverThe riverThe river

The river and the landscape at Semuc Champey
are several volcanoes. I would have liked to hike up one of the volcanoes but it wasn't possible this time. You see, my pierced eardrum wasn't my only health issue. I also had a knee injury that made it impractical to walk longer distances. I got this injury from running. I guess the combination of being a middle aged man and have running as the preferred form of exercise is a bad one. I could walk, I could even run a little bit in spite of the pains in the knee. It was just that I wasn't quite up to a more than five kilometer hike in rocky and steep terrain. Mostly because it would neither be comfortable nor enjoyable. But part of the reason was also that I was a bit afraid that my knee might actually give up on me altogether. It would be so darned embarrassing if that was to happen far from the nearest road. I mean, I can't even imagine the humiliation if they would have to bring me out with a helicopter.



So to be on the safe side, the volcano hike was out of the question. Fortunately there are other
The river disappears into a caveThe river disappears into a caveThe river disappears into a cave

So the river simply disappears in one spot, goes through the cave for a while and reappears again a few hundred meters downstream.
things worth seeing in and around Xela.



First of all, Quetzaltenango itself is a place worth visiting. There are a lot of nice buildings in the town and from what I understand many of them are from the 19th century. So I did some walking around and enjoyed the architecture.



A nice half day trip from Xela is the Fuentes Georginas, a spa constructed around a natural hot spring. The spa is located some way up in the mountains overlooking the surrounding landscape. When I visited the spa it was foggy though so I didn't get to see any of the views. But instead I managed to take a cool photo of a tree in the fog.



On one other day I went to a place called San Andrés Xecul. It is a small village, not far from Quetzaltenango, where the main attraction is the local church which is decorated with statues and painted in bright colors.



I have to mention the Christmas decorations they had in the church. It would have been just another baby Jesus and Joseph and Maria in a stable scene if it hadn't been for
Cave tourCave tourCave tour

On the cave tour the entire group walked a few hundred meters into a cave and the only light we had was candles.
a somewhat unusual addition - a Ferris Wheel. I would like to know exactly what they were thinking when they added that…



The main industry in San Andrés Xecul is production and dying of yarn. In several places in the village there are newly dyed yarn hung up to dry on the roofs of the houses. I asked at a few places if I could get entry to the roof to take photos, because the colors were amazing. But they all said no. Well, one asked for money but I refused to pay as much as they asked. I tried to negotiate it down a bit but had no success. So the only photo I have was taken from a distance with a telephoto lens.



I also visited Chichicastenango, a city known for its lively market. The market was interesting but not photogenic. So I have only posted one photo from there and it is not even a good one.



Both Quetzaltenango and Chichicastenango have interesting cemeteries. I went to both of them and took a lot of nice photos. I also took several good photos in a cemetery in Antigua
Cave tour - the waterfallCave tour - the waterfallCave tour - the waterfall

In the cave we swam, we waded, we walked and we climbed. At one place we climbed up a waterfall inside the cave. That was fun!
during this journey in Guatemala. I have decided to put those photos in a separate blog entry, a blog entry I will publish a few weeks from now. I think those photos are worth looking at.



The last place I am going to write about here is Santiago de Atitlan. It is a small town on the shore of Lago Atitlan, a picturesque lake surrounded by several volcanoes. Santiago de Atitlan is where I spent New Year. I was probably very lucky that day because I think I was the last person to find accommodation in the town that night. Everything was booked out except one bed in a private home where they rented out rooms.



Santiago de Atitlan was a nice place to spend New Year. It is a place where there are a lot tourists and that means there are restaurants and cafés that are open even on New Years Day. That's good because my kind of New Year celebration is to eat good, drink nice coffee and just have a good time in a relaxed environment.



Yes, that is right. I actually have to mention yet another Christmas decoration before
QuetzaltenangoQuetzaltenangoQuetzaltenango

Evening at Parque a Centro América
I quit writing. The church in Santiago de Atitlan had such a tacky one that I just had to film it. Will I go to Hell for thinking this is hideous?







This was all for now. In the next blog entry I will write about what I did in the last couple of days I spend in Guatemala. I'll throw in a little cliffhanger here at the end. In the next entry I will write about a thing I saw which was so spectacular that it will make it into my memoirs if I ever decide to write them.


Additional photos below
Photos: 26, Displayed: 26


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QuetzaltenangoQuetzaltenango
Quetzaltenango

There are a lot of nice buildings in the town and from what I understand many of them are from the 19th century. So I did some walking around and enjoyed the town.
QuetzaltenangoQuetzaltenango
Quetzaltenango

Building in Quetzaltenango
QuetzaltenangoQuetzaltenango
Quetzaltenango

Lots of nice architecture. All you have to do is walk around and enjoy it
QuetzaltenangoQuetzaltenango
Quetzaltenango

Municipal theatre
QuetzaltenangoQuetzaltenango
Quetzaltenango

Pasaje Enriquez - a beautiful but somewhat rundown arcade as seen from Parque a Centro América
Fuentes GeorginasFuentes Georginas
Fuentes Georginas

A nice half day trip from Quetzaltenango is the Fuentes Georginas, a spa constructed around a natural hot spring.
Tree in fogTree in fog
Tree in fog

When I visited the spa it was foggy
San Andrés XeculSan Andrés Xecul
San Andrés Xecul

The main attraction in San Andrés Xecul is the local church which is decorated with statues and painted in bright colors.
Christmas decorationsChristmas decorations
Christmas decorations

The Christmas decorations in the church in San Andrés Xecul included a somewhat unusual detail - a Ferris Wheel. I would like to know exactly what they were thinking when they added that…
A smaller churchA smaller church
A smaller church

A smaller church in San Andrés Xecul decorated in a similar way
Corn being driedCorn being dried
Corn being dried

It's just corn cobs being dried. Nothing spectacular
Dyed yarn hung up to dryDyed yarn hung up to dry
Dyed yarn hung up to dry

The main industry in San Andrés Xecul is production and dying of yarn. In several places in the village there are newly dyed yarn hung up to dry on the roofs of the houses.
Washing stationWashing station
Washing station

A washing station where the locals do their laundry
ChichicastenangoChichicastenango
Chichicastenango

The market in Chichicastenango was interesting but not photogenic. So I have only posted one photo from there and it is not even a good one.
Volcano near Santiago de AtitlanVolcano near Santiago de Atitlan
Volcano near Santiago de Atitlan

Santiago de Atitlan is a small town on the shore of Lago Atitlan, a picturesque lake surrounded by several volcanoes.
The church in Santiago AtitlanThe church in Santiago Atitlan
The church in Santiago Atitlan

Other than the views over the lake, the church is the most interesting site in Santiago Atitlan
The church in Santiago AtitlanThe church in Santiago Atitlan
The church in Santiago Atitlan

Decorations in the church


3rd March 2016
San Andrés Xecul

Love it! Some ppl may find it tacky but I love it ;o)
7th March 2016
San Andrés Xecul

I didn't find it tacky either
Just like you I liked this church and I didn't find it tacky. Unusual but not tacky. Thanks for the nice comments /Ake
3rd March 2016
The church in Santiago Atitlan

I love the streamers!
3rd March 2016
Quetzaltenango

Agree. The architecture looks fabulous!
3rd March 2016

Good one. I'm not much of a nature nut. I prefer man-made attractions LOL Would rather see an old church than a waterfall ;o)
4th March 2016

Semuc Champey
We are heading to Guatemala next month and will be visiting a few of the places you've written about here. I enjoyed looking at your photos and can't wait to see these places for myself. Hope your eardrum has healed (it sounded painful!) and the infection has cleared.
4th March 2016

There is more coming
I have four more blogs written but yet not published. There might be a place or two of intrest for you in them too. /Ake
4th March 2016
Cave tour - the waterfall

Caving in Guatemala
If you ticked off the places you've been caving in the world...how many would you have swum, waded, walked, climbed a waterfall and got down and dirty? Guatemala...bet you can't think of any others!
7th March 2016
Cave tour - the waterfall

On caves
I like a lot of things and, as you had figured out, caves is one of them. In a way it would be easier if I had just one interest, such as golf or hiking or diving, because it would be so much easier to plan a trip then. Now there are so many things I want to see and do so I have to manage to squeeze all of it in somehow.
4th March 2016
A smaller church

A proper adventure!
Love those colorful, little churches, and I adore tacky decorations. In Spain and here in South America, I've seen lots of neon Jesuses and whole plastic soccer teams joining Mary and Joseph in the creche--wild imaginations! The hot springs and the natural pools both look fantastic, but so sorry about your ear infection. How lucky that you knew to get it treated because I would be completely clueless about that. It's tricky traveling as we age--I've always enjoyed how you and Emma entered marathons as you travel. Now, your knee and my lungs give us problems when we just want to hike--bummer. But it sounds as if you still had many fine adventures. What could your spectacular thing be that we have to wait for your next blog?
7th March 2016
A smaller church

Soccer team in a Christmas decoration
I would have loved to see a soccer team included in a Christmas decoration. That would have looked so funny. Thanks for the comment. /Ake
11th March 2016
Cave tour

Guatemala
Glad you are getting the most of our your trip. Sorry to hear about your ear but happy you had it taken care of quickly. The Mayan Ruins are always a joy to visit.
12th March 2016
Cave tour

Thanks
Thanks for the comment. Today or tomorrow I will post another blog entry from Guatemala. Hope you feel like reading that one too. /Ake

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