The Road to Neon Rivers

Published: September 14th 2009
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**Hello friends and family! I am writing from my new apartment in Placencia, Belize, and hoping to spend some time catching you all up on my latest adventures! *Latest* starting...six months ago! I have a lot to share with you from underwater, in caves, and even some new countries visited! I think of you all often, and hope you are happy from head to toe! I hope you enjoy the stories and I will see all of you sometime very soon!**

The Rio Dulce adventure dropped us into the town of the same name, at the mouth of Lake Isabel. Still known by its old city name, Frontera was the Guatemalan city that I was expecting and our first taste of this colorful culture! The vegetable stands were full of lush colors and monster size onions, tomatoes, and melons! The street food vendors were infusing every corner with smells of fried chicken or tamales. There was one main street through town, and although it was very busy, each of the trucks had time to slow down for pedestrians and there were many friendly waves (and hoots and hollers of course!) The city was exciting, but our jungle lodge resort was a short boat ride away and had a pool, so we headed there right away. Our dorms were an awesome two story lodge with our bedrooms on the top floor and a kitchen and huge patio downstairs open to the jungle. We met a few lovely people in the café bar (mostly from asking everyone if they had an iPod charger--later we figured out how to hook my iPod to the British charger to the Israeli converter into the wall and it worked!) and had everyone over to our patio for a bottle of Belizean Rum and Sprites. As usual, everyone had a unique and intriguing story, and we spent the night swapping travel stories and dreams of the future!
The next morning we enjoyed a picnic breakfast and then lounged by the refreshing pool as the sun faded in and out. As the afternoon weather cleared up, we went exploring around our hostel and took the rope swing bridges through the jungle. After about a kilometer of bridges, we stumbled out into a beautiful green countryside full of cows! Whoa! The Brits kept insisting that we took a wrong turn and ended up in the English Countryside. We followed the dirt road through the hillsides, and after about an hour, found ourselves all the way back into town….what a great surprise loop! We got supplies and some food, wandered around, and then trekked back the way we came before sunset!
Our third day on Lake Isabel, we hired a boat tour to take us to the Castillo and Finca de Paradiso hot spring waterfall. We got on the boat just as the skies were dark and ominous, and our boat driver outran the storm the entire way to Finca. He dropped us off on the black sand beach, and pointed out the pathway that would lead us into the jungle. We were crossing wide green plains farmed by cattle ranchers, and approaching broad green mountains that stretched as far as we could see. After a 45- minute hike, we finally reached a river and followed it into the mountainous jungle until it opened up into a natural water park! The waterfall was much larger than I anticipated - about 25 feet high and very wide! A short hike to the top took me to the hot spring source of the falls, and I could see and feel the steam and heat just standing next to the small bubbling creek. The volume of water flowing from the spring was so impressive! I couldn’t believe that small hole in the ground was pumping out enough water to fuel that huge waterfall! We climbed back down the falls and jumped into the cold river basin in order to swim under the hot water and explore the rock formations surrounding the pools. I was so excited to have my new waterproof camera - although it kept steaming up because of the severe water temperature changes!
The next morning we woke up very early to catch the long bus ride to Antigua. After an entire day of travel, we finally arrived to this quaint Guatemalan town that sits in the shadow of a volcano! I LOVE VOLCANOES!!! Their perfect conical shapes are so mesmerizing, and this town had the perfect peaks in view from almost every street! The cobblestone streets were filled with people celebrating the Semana Santa (preclude to Easter Week celebrations) and the bright Catholic floats were literally floating down the streets - as they were carried on the shoulders of hundreds of men in purple robes. We had to hike around to quite a few hostels until we found a few beds at the Jungle Party Hostel! It was a colorful, well decorated, friendly place right in the center of town, and a great home base for us. Antigua is stacked with a variety of restaurants and bars and shops - it was such a treat to have OPTIONS! Thai food, Indian food, Italian eateries, and of course more street Fried Chicken! Our first day of exploring led us directly to the never-ending marketplace. Although I’m not a shopper, the sheer volume and variety of products kept me browsing and interested! After about an hour of electronics, art, and vegetables, we found the rows of assorted used clothes that went on for about a mile. Most of the clothes I held up to laugh at, and then ended up buying them all for less than a dollar!
On that day, the nearby Pacaya Volcano had starting erupting, so we made sure to book the next tour to hike the volcano and get in on some hot lava action! It was recommended to us to take the afternoon tour, allowing us to see the sunset over the red-hot glowing lava, so at noon we boarded the short bus with a bag of marshmallows and went on our merry way! It happened that some fun Swedish guys from our karaoke search party the night before were also on our bus! We arrived at the hot charcoal gray trail head and were all offered the option to walk or ride horses. We all wanted to do the hike, and started up the trail of volcanic ash. It was different from any other hike I’ve done, since the ground was always sliding and dusty, and to add to the torment, the horsemen would taunt us the entire walk up the volcano with cries of “Taxi?” After about an hour, we came into view of Pacaya, and could see small patches of orange embers, and next to those tiny persons the size of ants! Pacaya was shooting out perfect puffs of smoke as we ran and skidded down the side of the mountain in a cloud of dust! We had to hike up the newly formed conical side in order to get up close and personal with the lava flow, and on approach the first thing I noticed was the immense HEAT! I was absolutely mesmerized by each push, turn, and crackle of this ancient melted rock! It was hard to look away, but when I did, it was to scan the approaching cloud floor below us and cone tops in the distance…a 360 degree panorama of epic proportions! Noa and I soon got out the marshmallows, and stuck them on the end of our walking sticks for some ultimate roasting pleasure. After watching the flow progress down the volcano, we skipped up the next few ash ridges to check out the source of the neon rivers! Of course there were no exploration rules or ropes, so we were able to stand right above the source and practically melt our shoes just to get a little bit closer to this natural phenomenon! Over the time we were there - probably just over an hour - the flow volume increased noticeably and by the time we were hiking back down the mountain, the glowing ooze had spread to form wider and new streamers! I definitely stopped and looked back for one more mental picture of my first Live Lava experience - being close to something spewing from the core of our earth was something I wanted to do for a long time!
The next morning we boarded an early bus for the picture perfect Lake Atitlan. This lake was formed about 85,000 years ago when a huge volcano blew its top off in a spectacular fashion! Since then there has been continuing volcanic activity along the crater edges, where three more cones rise from the shores! We made our home in the small village of San Pedro where we were thrilled to find food and drink of all ethnicities for a fraction of sane prices! There was so much to do in this small place, but most travelers were there to take the super inexpensive private Spanish lessons! (I will be returning there later this year to do the same thing!) Since I was only there a few days, I focused on yoga with a really incredible different teacher every day in this amazing outdoor all natural area shaded by huge old trees! I also indulged in the cuisines from all over the world - huge French omlettes, delectable lemongrass Thai soups, and even a proper English Sunday Roast Dinner at the pub!
My fabulous two weeks in Guatemala came to a culmination at the Festival Atitlan in the nearby village of Santiago. Our friends Dave and Rune had a great idea to dress up for the festival, so I donned my new loud and proud outfit from the Antigua market, wore some eye makeup, and got ready to dance and party! I definitely was expecting….well, you know what happens when you have expectations! It was five food booths, a face painting lady, a few artists, and one stage! But everyone was dancing and drinking beer, wine, or mojitos (the only drink options!) The music was eclectic yet entertaining, and we were meeting interesting people to the left and to the right! I glow stick danced with someone older than my grandma as well as a giant Quetzalcoatl, and as the night went on, the costumes and persons got more elaborate and fascinating!
I was sorry to leave this magical place, and in complete awe of my tour of Guatemala! What a treasure! I had a brilliant 33 hour bus ride back to Placencia the next day, and it started with a hour of twisty-turvy tiny roads up the sides of the massive volcano! I took that small collective to Antigua, and then shared a bus seat with a young Japanese guy learning Spanish on our way to Guatemala City. He spoke no English, so we conversed the entire way in our rudimentary Spanish and had a great laugh! Next I took a night bus to Flores, and finally crossed back into Belize early the next morning. I wasn’t paying attention to the bus route, and missed my stop in Belmopan, so had to hitchhike back to our capital city to catch the trusty school bus back down the peninsula! Phew! Despite the length, it’s a journey I look forward to making again sometime real soon!

Additional photos below
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14th September 2009

WOW! WOW! WOW! Volcanos!!!!!
How FUN! You are brave!!! I would never in a million years be brave enough to get that close to an active volcano. So awesome that you are having so much fun exploreing the world and especially tasting the food every where you go. That is one of my favorite thing to jealous......yet so happy for you.

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