From blue to green

Published: April 13th 2010
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Lago Atitlan, the last days...

Another "must see" reachable from the Atitlan region is the traditional market of Chichicastenango... From what I read on the Internet before our departure, I figured out it was another tourist trap rather than an authentical market for local people. Deciding that Guatemala was full of beautiful and coloured markets, we decided against following the other travellers to Chichicastenango, and try Solola instead. Good choice (I think), we had a great time in Solola on our daytrip there. First of all, it was our second experience with the famous chicken buses of Guatemala... Crowded, noisy and smelly (thanks to the multiple vendors coming into the bus to sell their fruit salad or cold beverage), it is like riding roller-costers. The roads are narrow and steep, the ravines are impressive and the driving VERY frightening... Solola is located at a high altitude (in comparison to the villages at the shore of the lake) and lives through its market, which takes place twice a week. In the crowd which invaded the streets of this little town, we met almost no travellers. Only women with huge package on their heads, selling meterlong textiles in all colours, offering to sell living poultry and so on. A really authentic market with and for local people! We simply loved it, although trying to make our way through the crowded alleys was a little exhausting...

The last evening at the beach was one of the magical moments of this trip : just sitting there, eating fried peanuts from a street vendor, and witnessing the blues and pinks melt into one another with the volcano as a horizon... A truly magical place.

From blue to green

The third part of our trip took us to the Guatemalan jungle. Northward, destination Coban, mid-way between the capital and Flores. The original comfy shuttle leaving Panajachel changed after only an hour into a local bus with 15 seats, but crowded with 30, a strange animal in a cage, loads of backpack and latin music so loud that you couldn't hear your neighbour speaking... Nice experience, we arrived in Coban by nighttime after ten hours of crazy driving and the ears full of rhythmic music. We checked into our guesthouse only to wake up early the next day for our excursion to Semuc Champey.
Semuc Champey are a serie of natural pools so blue that your eyes get lost in them. On our way there, we stopped to hike the grutas de Lanquin, the only warm caves in Guatemala. The place is so hot that you could almost see the rocks steaming, and their wetness certainly makes the stroll a little complicate, especially when our guide suggested we climb a few meters up, lifting our body between two walls. After coming out of this all dirty and soaked in perspiration, the pools of Semuc Champey were heaven.

Back to the city

Whereas all our co-travellers were continuing their itinerary northward, to Flores and the Tikal ancient site, we only had a couple of days left and decided to take a look at the capital city. Looking backwards, we probably would have given more credit to Coban and stayed a little longer there, because two whole days in La Ciudad was far too long. Guatemala Ciudad is almost deserted from tourists, with reason. There are not many wonders in the town, apart from a few museums (very expensive) and ancient buildings. The overall climate is full of fear, much more than in the tourist areas. Weapons are everywhere, political meetings are not a rare thing and people are clearly less used to see strangers than in all the others places we had been. Local people even advised us against taking public transportation, as we were sure to be mugged, assaulted and so on, so we relied on taxi. We ran out of money very quickly and spent our last day only walking around and discovering Central American TV in our hotelroom. Of course, I do not want to make a completely negative portrait of La Ciudad : the center is nice to see, you can walk pretty safely by daylight, but the capital clearly has less to offer than the other places we have been to.

What we learned about Guatemala

Christian fate is clearly very present in this country. An astonishing thing for Europeans like us, who are used to see deserted churches. Christian Churches still are the center for the community in most villages, and the megaphones on churches are a sign of this importance of masses, as muezzin are in Muslim countries...
Now that we have travelled through Asia, Europe and North Africa, I can say that Central America clearly has a security problem. Every little shop (even groceries) has bars to prevent thieves from entering the store. Weapons are widely used to protect banks and other administrations, and the police is everywhere.
As in most developing countries, supermarkets still are very rare. People buy their food mostly on markets, which are at the center of villages and communities.

This trip, although it was too short for my likings, was an incredible experience. Guatemaltecs are very welcoming, especially when you talk to them in Spanish. After my experiences in North Africa, it was also a relief to see that women were not ignored or downgraded compared to men. Guatemala has a lot of natural wonders to offer, and the reminiscences of ancient Quechua and Maya Cultur are everywhere.
We only regretted to miss Flores and Tikal, but this will be for another trip, maybe as a continuation of a trip to the Yucatan peninsula.


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