Adios, Guate!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

We returned from our hike to Taljumulco, the highest point in Central America and said our goodbyes. I needed to find a place to stay and after chatting with a girl from Vancouver, decided the hostel attached to Quetzal Trekkers, Casa Argentina, would do just fine. I was going to meet up with the Vancouver girl and her friend for wine later, but right now, I wanted some street food. Sundays in Xela there’s a market with lots of street food, so I headed out there with a French guy I’d just met named Sebastian. We also chatted with another Canadian named Andrea, this one from Peterborough, Ontario, who was likewise going to Blue Angel for some food, drink, Spanish study, and internet. So Sebastian and I wandered to the central square. I’ve said this already, but I love Xela at night. We came into the square where there was a clown show for the kids, beautiful churches all floodlit, lights everywhere, a market, live music, and plenty of street food. Pupusas, small taco-like bites of deliciousness, and the Guatemalan take on Loukoumades (nowhere near as good I’m afraid) were dinner and dessert and then we joined the girls at the Blue Angel for 10 Q wine and chatted. As we were getting ready to leave, I ran into somebody I hadn’t seen in over a year and didn’t expect to see again.

It’s not like we were close or even friends, but she did recognize and remember me. We had been on the same two-day slow boat from Thailand to Laos (and specifically Luang Prabang) and now here we were, in Guatemala, in the Blue Angel Cafe, sitting one table apart. I had, back then, wandered up and down the boat visiting with all the groups and remembered her and her boyfriend and an older man sitting near the front. We’d chatted for a couple hours on the boat and had also shared the minibus from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng. I’m not trying to attach undue significance to this, but the odds of running into the same person again like this are, to me, astronomical. In one of a zillion cafes in a small town in a small country in Central America. She was leaving for Antigua the next morning but we agreed to meet up there since I had to pass through in order to get south to El Salvador anyway. We finished up our conversation with Andrea and drifted off towards the hostel and the warmth of our beds. I knew it was going to be cold here but man, does it get chilly! I have only one sweater and two pairs of pants (one of which is pretty thin) plus a fleece, so I’m afraid that to non-backpackers I look like a one outfit man.

The next day was a day of recuperation from Tajulmulco and the general business of travelling. When everyday you’re travelling to new places, looking for places to eat, things to climb, photos to take, day in and day out for over a month straight, it can be wearying. Add to that trying to study Spanish, write a blog, and edit/select/caption photos not to mention rather regular socializing, and yeah, I was due. That said, I didn’t just sit around on my day off. First of all, I had to organize the hike up to Volcan Santa Maria for tomorrow, including getting information and hopefully company for the hike. The trail is pretty easy but a little planning goes a long way, and I was planning on going up without a guide. But when do busses start, what about taxis, how much, how long, trail markers, food, water, let’s just say there’s a big of planning. I must be tired as I write this, because everything is devolving into a list of seemingly simple activities. In addition to this planning, Sebastian and I planned to take a trip up to Fuentes Georgina, some hot springs near Xela to emphasise the relaxation part of the day.

We left at 2:00 for the hot springs, 50 Quetzales later, stopping in a small town en route to look around and take some photos. The hot springs were really misty and locals kept spitting in them, but otherwise they were great. Hot, relaxing, and varying in temperature as you neared the scalding hot water pouring off rocks as the back of the pool. We stayed, I met a fan of Frank Black and the Pixies and back we came for an early evening, or at least we tried, after a little 25 Q pizza+coke combo. I think Sebastian and I were asleep by 1:30 AM and we were needing to wake up by 4:30 to catch our 5 AM taxi to the mountain so we could hopefully ascend and beat the formation of clouds over the brilliant view of active volcano Santiaguito. It turned out I had a stomach ache and woke at 3:30 AM but a few pills and that was gone. We were in the taxi, on the way to pick up Shane (from the Tajulmulco hike), wondering if it were possible for the cab to go any slower. Finally, we set off on foot up the base of the mountain. The battle was joined.

The ascent was steeper than Tajulmulco but now that I was somewhat acclimatized (I still got a bit of a headache but nothing serious) it went much easier, too. It became obvious pretty quickly that there would be no morning break in the clouds and worse, no view down of fiery Santiaguito. You’ll have to look online to see what we would have seen with better weather, for when we got to the top, there was nothing to see but the ground below your feet and mist. Still, it was nice to get a morning walk in and as we waited at the top and chatted with some locals, we discovered that we had arrived on a day of ceremony for many, as they prayed for the new year. We were visiting with a small group of traditional Mayans while they waited for one of the younger ones to bring up the offerings from below and they invited us to not only observe their ceremony, but to take part. So sometimes you don’t get what you expect, but you have to be open to the fact that you may encounter something far more special.

First they stacked some incense-blocks and then scattered chocolate and other things on top. Then a small pyre of wood shavings and it was time to light the fire. With the wind, there was a lot of trouble lighting the fire, though eventually Shane and I managed to get it going for them, Shane blocking the wind and I fumbling with his lighter and the kindling. We were each given a different coloured candle, I a green one that symbolized the Earth, Shane a blue one for the sky, and Sebastian a yellow one for fertility. There was also red (blood), white (purity), and normally a black one (hair?). The ceremony switched back and forth from the local Mayan dialect to Spanish, I suspect for our benefit, and we were given energy from the fire, put our candles in, and we were even included in their prayers for safe travels and so on. As this was finishing, spots of sky began to open and offer glimpses of Xela below us. Powerful stuff.

We hung around the mountaintop for the rest of the morning and into the afternoon, watching the clouds go by, snacking on our ham and cheese sandwiches and cookies, and hoping that the clouds below would also clear. Alas, no view of Santiaguito was offered but it was a great day nonetheless, and we enjoyed sitting so high and watching the weather form and break around us. We were back down and in Xela before we knew it, a quick 1:45 descent followed by an ice cream sandwich followed by a chicken bus back into town. We said goodbye to Shane on the bus and went back to the hostel where we met a couple Canadian girls from Vancouver and went out to dinner with them at a local-ish place. They were good fun and really friendly so the conversation moved easily over dinner. They went for a glass of wine with Sebastian at Blue Angel while I went back to the hostel to get warmer clothes and ended up visiting with Andrea for a bit. As such, I missed out on the wine when I met up with them at Blue Angel but that wasn’t a big problem. I hung out with Andrea some more and tried her homemade granola (delicious!) that she had made while we were up on the mountain, watched an old episode of House (she has a TV), and went to sleep.

The next morning, I ran around like a crazy man, trying to get everything together to mail my family their Christmas presents. I picked up the rest of the ingredients I was missing, including a box, and went to a local paper store to get wrapping paper and wrapped the box up neatly. Then, to the post office, where I was told that under no circumstances would they mail Rum. DHL, however, would, so I had to get a taxi to take me there (and wait to take me back). At DHL, however, there was only express shipping, which was more than double the cost of what I was sending home, but I bit the bullet after getting myself a 25% discount. Then they had computer problems. All said, it took a good three hours to get this thing mailed but finally it was on the way to Canada and I was on the way to Antigua with Sebastian. We arrived before 5:00, I without my iPod as it was lifted from my pocket (I felt its absence but thought nothing of it as I usually don’t keep anything in that pocket) and checked into Jungle Party again, where I Skyped Carmen (remember her?) and we met up for drinks. That is, after some amazing tacos at Rony’s (6th St), which are without a doubt the best tacos I’ve had on my trip so far.

We went for drinks at Riki’s, which is a pretty happening place on Wednesday nights for its live music and famous musicians. It was nice to be back somewhere familiar, where you know where to find good food, good drinks, and good times, not to mention hanging out with good people. Carmen convinced me to stay one more day in Antigua, though I was sort of burned out and this wasn’t a tough sell. We went to a local pool the next day and pretty much were the only people around, relaxing in the sun until about 1:00 when Sebastian had to go climb Pacaya. I, on the other hand, went with Carmen to her old project, a home for handicapped children, which put a damper on my spirits. Imagine a room with kids laying and occasionally writhing and moaning on mattresses on the floor. It was very upsetting, even though the kids were being treated well (and better than being on the streets, abandoned by their parents). I spent most of the afternoon afterwards hunting down a cheap replacement for my iPod, found one for about $30, and after another dinner at Riki’s, I was off on the next leg of my adventure: a trip to El Salvador.

Xela Photos

No comments: