7 julio 2013 domingo
As the sun makes a permanent entrance on the summer stage, hard-working Americans browse the travel section in their favorite bookstores. Perhaps you have already lined up some adventures for this year, but if not, there is still time for an escape to exotic lands! So I have two strong recommendations to pass along…Guatemala and the state of Chiapas in Mexico.
Of course, I am partial to Guatemala which has been my adopted home for these past 900 days or so. If you have followed my blog at all, there have been photos and descriptions of various sites in this Land of Eternal Spring. So I will take a moment to add one more site: Semuc Champey in the department of Alta Verapaz. Well worth an exploration!
Paty, a Guatemalan girlfriend, and I headed there for yet another birthday celebration at the end of April. The 7hr van ride from Antigua winds through mountains, then dry desert land, and finally ends in the selva ( jungle). Lanquin is a small town that boasts a variety of hostals, some stores, and van rides to the natural pools and caves of Semuc Champey or north to Tikal. Lush greenery brushed against the pickup as we headed to Semuc, with our first stop the cave with an underground river. Paty, a nonswimmer, donned a life jacket, and the guide handed each of us a lit candle as we waded into the cool water of the cave’s interior. Candlelight bounced off the walls which had some formations, but the beauty was in the silence of this underground world. At times, we climbed narrow ladders to reach another space, and yes, we did have to swim at times…a definite challenge holding aloft a burning candle. Paty thankfully received a tow from the guide because I had no extra hand to help. After 1 ½ hrs we reached a deep pool where the brave could climb a wall and splash-dive into the dark water below. No thank you! We then waded our way back to the cave entrance, emerging into the sun.
A quick body adjustment as we departed the cool interior of the cave to the bright sun and humidity outside. Trekking up to the mirador or lookout point, we paused to drink. Enterprising Guatemalans had set up food sales at strategic points with success in enticing thirsty visitors with their drinks and fruit. At the mirador we were able to gaze down upon the turquoise pozos or natural pools which looked very inviting as we wiped away the sweat. Our group of young 20 somethings fairly ran down to the pozos but we brought up the rear with a more leisurely pace . A magical set of pools beckon the sweating visitor to enter, and we offered no resistance to the invitation. Finally our guides signaled time to leave so we piled into the back of a pickup truck for the bumpy ride back to Lanquin.
That night we treated ourselves to a delicious barbeque dinner at the Zephyr Hostel which is located on a spur of land overlooking the river and jungle…indeed a 5-star meal!! Paty was worn out from the day’s adventures, but I mustered up a bit of energy for dancing at our hostel…dodging the bolo (drunk) who got exactly one dance with me until I figured out his inebriated condition! As I solo danced out of his sight, my fellow hostel companions applauded in appreciation and I raised a cautionary finger to my lips for them to be silent….I was hiding out from Señor Bolo.
Backing up in time to the end of March, I headed just across the border to the state of Chiapas in Mexico to celebrate Semana Santa or Easter week. Another considerable trip of 7-8hrs from Quetzaltenango, Guatemala up to Huehuetenango to cross into Mexico. Distances are not that great but travel is slow, especially with all of the speed bumps erected by communities to control the velocity of traffic on the Interamerican highway. The creativity award goes to the children who sold cut fruit and other treats as vans and buses crept over dirt speed bumps which the kids themselves had erected!
The infrastructure of Mexico is definitely a notch or two above that of Guatemala, with wide well-paved roads and sidewalks. And yes, capitalism seems to have a firmer grasp, with a Sam’s Club and other American chains. In the afternoon we arrived to San Cristobal de las Casas with its brightly painted colonial architecture…and eclectic mix of nationalities. A refreshing break from the dominance of American tourists and residents one usually finds in Antigua, Guatemala…lending to a much more cosmopolitan atmosphere. Evening entertainment included swishing skirts and foot tapping from Mexican folkloric dancing and window shopping on lively pedestrian streets.
A fantastic side trip is Palenque…site of an important Mayan city with a spreading complex of pyramids and other buildings in the jungle. Choose the morning to avoid the afternoon heat and humidity. Those irregular and tall stone steps will indeed tire you out but provide a fantastic view…let your imagination wander back to the time of Mayan warriors and maidens. I eavesdropped on a few tour guides providing interesting and juicy details. From prison cells to stone beds for married couples…thank goodness we now offer more comfort on the latter.
Borrowing from Wikipedia now: The Palenque ruins date back to 226 BC to its fall around 1123 AD. After its decline, it was absorbed into the jungle which is made up of cedar, mahogany, and sapodilla trees, but has been excavated and restored and is now a famous archaeological site. Palenque is a medium-sized site, much smaller than such huge sites as Tikal or Copan, but it contains some of the finest architecture, sculpture, roof comb and bas-relief carvings that the Mayas produced. The most famous ruler of Palenque was Pacal the Great whose tomb has been found and excavated in the Temple of the Inscriptions. By 2005, the discovered area covered up to 2.5 km² (1 sq. mi), but it is estimated that less than 10% of the total area of the city is explored, leaving more than a thousand structures still covered by jungle.
After I finish my Peace Corps service in November, I will return to that Mexican jewel, San Cristobal de las Casas and the state of Chiapas for more adventures…photos of the Canyon del Sumidero which is near San Cris has caught my eye, so I will glide by boat along the river through its steep canyon walls. So there I have given you some travel ideas for now or the future. Disfrutelas. (Take advantage of them!) Life is short, so pack your suitcase or backpack and head out to see the natural and manmade marvels of this world.