When traveling, there are certain dangers that one is exposed to whether perceived, real, within your control, without your control or a combination of the four. These inherent risks are part of the experience of travel, when putting yourself out of your comfort zone and hoping that the experience will be favorable and one that you can live to tell about. The travel gods and goddesses have taken a watchful eye over me these past 3 months, and I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to do and see all that I have. However, my luck finally ran out.
The moment will continue to rewind and play in my head for days and weeks to come. It’s like the Brady Bunch episode where Marsha is coming outside to the patio, and Greg and Peter are throwing the football around. You remember what happens. The football toss is just out of the grasp of Peter, and it slams squarely into the nose of Marsha. What results is a big, purple puffed up nose and all hopes of her big night at the dance (or some event) is ruined. And then she has nightmares as the scene plays over and over again.
The moment will replay in my mind like a Jean Claude Van Damme movie, where he does some kind of super triple somersault kick into the groin of the bad guy, and you see this one action replayed in slow motion, in different angles, with different sound effects, for like 2 minutes. The same action shot over and over, just from different vantage points. Just to get the point across. And so it is with my mishap that brought me home earlier than I wanted to.
Like I said, I have been pretty lucky thus far, surviving and able to share my experiences of…
- Sustaining almost 5 weeks of my Survivor-esque food of tortillas, black beans, eggs and cup o noodles.
- Struggling through frustration on trying to pick up the Spanish language at my school, Sakribal.
- The ferocious pack of dogs chasing me down on my bicycle. I’ll never forget how scared shitless I was with that one!
- Overcoming the sudden shock, disbelief and disdain over my rental bike being stolen — but then finding out it wasn’t.
- The hard hike up Volcan Santiguito through sweat, ash and dirt.
- Stumbling up Volcan Tajumulco after a night of food poisoning, eating nothing for that day, being dehydrated and trying not to shit in my pants. And then rubbing life back into my frozen left foot when attempting to enjoy the sunrise atop the summit.
- 5 days via El Mirador, with all my mosquito and tick bites and plenty of sweat and blisters and heel burn on my feet.
- Eluding detection of the meandering swarm of bees as I awoke in the morning on top of Temple El Tigre in El Mirador, and then later that evening escaping harm from the approaching lightning storms from the same vantage point.
- Getting stuck in the middle of nowhere, despite the fact that I left as earlier as possible to avoid being stranded in a one road town. What should have taken a 7 hour journey to my ultimate destination ended up taking 30 hours to go a total of 300km, or about the same distance of Portland to Seattle.
- All those countless rides on the chicken buses, with the crazy drivers screaming down the mountain curves and passing slower traffic by gunning it and swerving in the last second to avoid collisions with oncoming traffic. Every single day the newspaper Prensa Libre has some grisly full page color photos of the latest bus crash and casualties.
- Same with the chicken buses, is riding in the back of fully loaded pick-up trucks, the last time with a standing motorcycle secured with rope, alongside 4 other people with our packs.
- Temporary electrocution in San Pedro trying to adjust the showerhead. Most of the showers here in Guatemala are only heated by electricity, so be careful and don’t do like I did.
- And most recently, the panic of a near drowning in the river pools of Semuc Champey. I am an awful swimmer when it comes to awesome natural surroundings like this, I was so ecstatic to have my feet back on the solid ground of Earth and dirt and rock.
So, what happened? Here’s the extended Director’s Cut, complete with commentary and never before seen deleted extras for all you hardcore fans out there.
- EL MIRADOR RETURN -
Ah, civilization. The sweet comforts of modern luxuries. Kirk, Markus and I reserved a week earlier to spring for the best hotel in Flores, the Hotel Casona de la Isla. 3 comfy beds in our air conditioned room, with cable TV, private bathroom and toiletries!! Time to clean up and then head for the outdoor pool overlooking the lake, and enjoying cocktails and snacks! The following pics are all shrinked into thumbnails so that the page loads faster, if you want a closer look you can click on them and a larger photo will appear (I haven’t figured out how to reduce the size though so it exactly fits the screen). Also, if you place your mouse curser over the thumbnail, a short description of the picture will appear after 1 or 2 seconds…
Following sunset, we set off to a fancy dinner with our new friend, Dave from England. Dave is quite a friendly lad, and shares 2 quick stories. #1, when in Mexico City, avoid taking the cabs, as it is well known that the driver may take you to a section of the city where his friends are waiting to rob you. #2, when in Shanghai, China, he was at a bar having a drink when he was suddenly surrounded by 6 or 7 of the locals. The main guy stated that Dave was to buy drinks for them all. When Dave refused, he was subject to the not so pleasant introduction of having his head bashed into the table. They took off with about the equivalent of 50 US dollars, and Dave lived to tell about it.
Jerry, the girl at the top of the picture above, is from Norway and hiked Lago Atitlan with Markus and me. She happend to be in Flores the same time we were there. She’s one tough cookie, I could see her playing a kick-ass Marine in the movie “Aliens.”
After dinner, we went bar hopping to Mayan Princess, and then to the lakeside cafe “La Lunada,” where we were treated to the very loud chorus of frogs, watching a guy with a long, skinny boat with motor and flashlight, spear two fish in the water, and where I watched our 20 Quetzel tip lift off and flutter from the table on a wind puff that carried it over the railing, and down into the lake where I watched it float away into the darkness.
Markus and Dave continued on to find a local dance club, and Kirk and I retired back to the room, but found that the front door of the hotel was actually locked. So we went around to the back, scaled the wall and railing to the pool, and minutes later we were back in our room, hard asleep in our beds. And unfortunately for me, with a stow away tick.
So here I am with a tick attached to my stomach. I go to the reception desk and try to request some tweezers. I play charades, and she offers me a paper clip, and then a stapler, and finally she realizes what I need after I mimic plucking my eyebrows. But she doesn’t have one. I locate 2 British gals eating the restaurant and ask if they have any. Nope. Across the street I go to the convenience store. None. I am sent to a Papeleria. None there either. And then directed to a variety cosmetic store. Jackpot! I return to the hotel, where Kirk and his expert hands of dexerity carefully extracts the tick from my body.
Check out was at 1pm, and after settling our bill, we walked across the lake on the bridge to Santa Elena, where we enjoyed lunch and then treated ourselves to Sarita Ice Cream before I bid my farewell to them and caught a minibus to Poptun, and then onto Finca Ixobel (finca = ranch/farm/estate, some open to overnight guests). When in Santa Elena, you must go to Restaurante Mijaro, where I had the VERY BEST limonada (similar to a slurpee, but made fresh and by hand). I can’t help it, I have to throw in this picture:
- FINCA IXOBEL -
Stayed 2 nights at this wondeful little hideaway, along the Gringo trail from Flores to Livingston. The finca is well known as a necessary stopover because of all the recreational and relaxational activities that you can participate in. Horseback riding. Hiking to the nearby hill for a view. Book exchange. Magazines in different languages. Swimming in the pond with a small water slide. Hammocks. Stilt cabins. Lounge chairs. Board games. Internet. Bike rental. Big, comfy dorm rooms. Chupapas for sleeping in hammocks. Cottages. Evening outdoor bar complete with fireplace, darts, hammock, music and dancing. Restaurant. Hiking to a river cave. Inner tubing on the river. Hiking to a limestone cave. Everything is on the honor system. You write down what you use or eat or drink, and you settle when you check out. In the evening, they offer a delicious dinner buffet with vegetarian options. It was a little on the spendy side, but very good all around. I spent my day just lounging, walking around, reading, and taking in a hike to the limestone cave. Pics of the Finca…
- FRAY BARTOLOME DE LAS CASAS -
I left early Sunday morning to get to Lanquin, home of the Lanquin Caves and close to Semuc Champey. I caught a regular bus to Modesto Mendez, and then a microbus to Fray. This is considered a backdoor route, because the roads are unpaved and can get muddy and slow. At one point, my microbus/minivan managed to squeeze in 27 passengers, quite the tight fit for the 3 hour bus ride. I managed to get into Fray just after 1pm and thought that there would be a bus to Lanquin. Unfortunately, the next one wouldn’t be until the morning. So I was stuck. Stranded. And I hate that feeling of not being able to go anywhere. Because it was Sunday, not many places were open. 3 Internet cafes were closed, and all the comedors were no longer serving lunch. I was starving and settled for a cup o noodles from a tienda, and they were nice enough to fill it up with some hot water. I also managed to secure a room, and walked the entire town in 15 minutes. At least I was able to find a Sarita, and treated myself to a double scoop of ice cream. I’m soo addicted to Sarita helados. I spent the afternoon in the plaza, watching an impromptu futbol match. Later the rain swept in during the evening as I tried sleeping in my cockroach infested room.
- LANQUIN AND SEMUC CHAMPEY -
I was told that the Lanquin bus would leave at 7am. When I arrived to the bus area, I was told that it wouldn’t be until 9am, then 10:30am, then 11am. Which time was it? I didn’t want to hang out in Fray for that long, so I wagered a gamble. Take a Coban bound bus and get off at the junction towards Lanquin, surely I would be able to hail down a bus towards Lanquin once I was at the junction. The total distance was only about 40km, so maybe one hour or 90 minutes is what is should have taken, and then another hour if I was able to hail another bus. So, two hours, maybe three, tops. Unfortunately, it ended up being a 6.5 hour journey.
I took the wrong bus to Coban. The guy on the bus said that it was going to Coban, but he failed to inform me that it took the northern route. By the time I realized my mistake, it was too late. So I rode all the way into Coban, and then caught another bus to Lanquin. The driver of that bus managed to convince me to ride all the way to the end, to Semuc Champey, because he said it was much more beautiful and I would enjoy myself more. So I took his advice. In retrospect, I wonder what would have happened had I not listened to him, and instead spent my night in Lanquin? Or perhaps the end result would have been the same, a fated destiny already predetermined?
I, along with 6 other travelers, were dropped off 1km short of Semuc Champey at Las Marias, a cool backpacker hangout with dorm and private rooms, camping area and bar/restaurant. I signed up for a dorm room, and feeling my hunger twangs in my stomach, ordered up a plate of simple nachos (ie chips with beans and a little salsa sprinkled on it) and chatted up with the crazy gals Rachel and Ruth, or R&R as I call them.
- THE INSTANT REPLAY AND MOMENT I¨LL NEVER FORGET -
“Fucking WICKED” is how Rachel would describe the tour. Advertised on the main board was a tour to a river cave, everyday at 9:30am and 3pm. Since I didn’t have anything else to do for the afternoon, I though this would be a great way to spend it. R&R signed up, as well as two girls from Columbia.
Please note that this tour is not your typical, run of the mill standard ”safe” adventure for the regular tourist. This is a real excursion to satisfy the most demanding thrill junkie, a tour that has only been offered for 3 years and is not in any guidebooks or tour guides. There is a brief description of the tour on the board, but it doesn’t go into great detail about it. Had I known what the trip actually entailed, heck, I’d still go, but without the unintended consequences.
Las Marias was opened not too long ago by a Guatemalan fellow, who purchased a large tract of land along the river bank, which also included a cave that extends almost 3 miles into the mountain. This is privately owned land, and 3 years ago he started offering tours of the cave with a guide, his late 20-something son (another guide, 22 years old, led my group). What he has managed to come up with is nothing short of incredible, and puts the more well known Lanquin caves to shame (I ended up not visiting the Lanquin caves, but I spoke with a professional caver and he basically said that after doing the Las Cuevas de K’an Ba cave, I wasn’t missing much by not going to the Lanquin Cave).
We start out in front of the hostel by walking the dirt road that leads up to Semuc Champey. 10 minutes later, just short of the yellow bridge that takes you over the river, we do not cross as we continue along the banks on a foot path to the check in shack. Here, we leave our inner tubes and our clothes and trade in our footgear for temporary shoes that we can borrow. I decide that my sandals are good enough for the excursion, while Ruth decides to do it barefoot. No cameras are allowed unless they are waterproof — this is a tour where you will definitely get wet! Thus, I have no photos of the cave or the rest of the tour, so I hope my words will allow you to imagine what I experienced on that Monday afternoon of March 27th, 2006.
We hike up another path adjacent to water flowing down the hillside, to the entrance of the cave. There is a pool of water at the cave entrance, which flows down the hill and to the river below. Our guide, who speaks a strange tongue of Spanish (even the two Columbian girls had trouble figuring out what he was saying), hands each of us a long stem candle and lights it. He is equipped with a headlamp and a lighter tucked away inside a ziploc bag, which he secures under the strap of his headlamp.
With our candles fully lit, we step into the water and wade into the cave, which is completely dark except for the natural daylight at the cave entrance. The outside temperature is warm, but not hot. The water however, is cool and quite a shock to the body as you wade in and the depth reaches your knees, then your hips, then stomach and up to your chin. The whole time you raise the candle above your head, so’s not to extinguish the only lightsource you possess.
The guide goes ahead of us, and we swim deeper into the cave. I am not that great of a swimmer, and I find it awkward to swim kick with my sandals on and with only one hand wading through the water. At one point I feel one foot slip out of my sandal, and I stop to try and adjust it, as I do not want to lose my revered Nevados sandals!
The tour description never said anything about swimming, but I am game. I have a guide, and 4 others to rescue me if I happen to succumb to the water’s darkness. We reach a spot in the cave where we can get out of the water, and at this point, the cave entrance is completely out of sight, and all we have are our candles to light the way. We continue on, gingerly feeling our way on the watery rocks. It is quite slippery, and more than once I use my free hand to help guide me along the slimey wall.
Time for another dip and swim to the next section of the cave, and then up a steep incline where we spend a good 10 minutes examining a small area with many fascinating stalactite formations. Next, it is down a different route where our guide helps us place our feet on the best route markers down, and then into the water again for another swim and careful hike on top formations, where the water flows are just above our ankles. We are now about 25 minutes into our tour, and we reach a waterfall above us. We pull ourselves up from the swim onto the side wall. Here, in the strange Spanish he speaks, our guide gives us two options.
#1. Scale the secured ladder to the top of the waterfall, where we will continue on to the next section of the cave. The top is not too far from the ground, maybe 10 feet total.
#2. Take the secured rope, and swing across the gap through the waterfall, and then once on the other side, pull yourself up on the rope and climb up to that top section.
Our guide proceeded to demonstrate option #2. He takes the rope, swings right through the cascading gush of water, and once on the opposite of where we stand, he gives a Yi-Ha yelp as he scrambles up the rope and waves to us from the top.
Rachel goes first. This New Zealander claims that she was a national champion for rock climbing and has climbed all over the SW United States, so this would be an easy one for her. I watch her disappear through the waterfall, and then she ascends the rope with little struggle.
Ruth, the “I hate sports, but love Adventure Thrills” Britian goes second, and in less than a minute she joins Rachel and our guide at the top. The two Columbian girls are ahead of me, and can’t decide which route to take. In my excitement, I decide that I should go next. Ladder or rope? That’s an easy one, rope!
I make my way around the two, and step next the waterfall. I spot the rope on the other side. It is a large step to the other side, but one that I can make. So I lunge towards the other side, manage to grab the rope, and then take the huge step back to my original position, using the rope to swing me there. Now is time to experience the thrill of swinging through the waterfall and climbing up the rope to the upper level! Ready, go!
I swing. Tight grip on the rope. It is dark. My candle is being held by one of the Columbian girls. And although it is dark, the other candles give a little light, and I can see torrents of white water crashing down around me. I remember looking up, and my face getting a good, strong dousing of water. And then I realize something is amiss. I try to pull myself up on the rope, through the waterfall, but I am confused. I am not on the other side. I am in the waterfall. I am able to stand on some piece of rock, and then the moment of shock hits me.
With one free hand, I reach to feel my face. It is bare, naked. My face no longer holds my eyeglasses. They are gone. Slipped right off in the falling water. And now my vision is totally obscured, and in a hopeless attempt of “this isn’t happening to me”, I reach down near my stomach and shorts to feel around for my glasses. They just slipped off and landed right there! They are not gone, they have somehow miraculously stayed close to my body and all I have to do is feel around for them, recover it, and get back to the safe zone so that I may put them back on again. Idiot! They are not there, somehow attached to my body! They are gone, gone, gone. And down in the deep pool of crashing water below, probably swept further away by the water’s current downstream. The moment where I realized they were gone is what keeps playing in my head. The horror of it, my SIGHT is gone.
Somehow I make it back to the safe zone, and call out to the Columbian girls that I lost my glasses. Immediate concern and pity for me. What is very very very ironic, is that just before I took my leap of fate, one of the girls offered to hold my glasses for me. “Nah, it’s okay” I told her. Serves me right, I suppose. I quickly scale the ladder, the first and only option I should have considered. To the top, and I tell R&R, and the guide. But the guide doesn’t really seem too concerned. I can’t see. I’m pretty much blind. And I’m in a dark cave. The Columbian girls take the ladder, and hand me my candle. All I see is a blurred and fuzzy flicker of orange.
I’m in shock. Is this for real? Are my glasses really gone? What should I do? There’s a flight or fight mentality that is ingrained in each of us. But in this case, which is it…did I fight or flight? I decided to continue on with the tour, without my glasses. If they are gone, then they are gone, and I have to continue with my fight. Or is it the other way around? Is the TRUE fight determined when I decide I will not accept my fate, and I will fight to try and find my lost glasses, and the TRUE flight is forgetting all about them and not bother to fight? Does that even make any sense? I can’t decide which of the two I decided on at that moment, but the fact remains I lost my glasses, and I decided to stick it out and finish the tour. After all, I am in a dark cave, what can I actually see?
I pushed on. More swimming. More careful walking on slippery rocks. And more swimming. Some candles go out, but we are able to relight them with burning candles. I am proud to say that my candle never went out. We reach the end of our cave segment, a deep pool where we watch our guide scramble up about 20 feet high, and then cannonball through a kind of natural “hydro-hole” into the deep. He stays down for a while, and we call out to him. He is the guide, and he knows the cave. He mysteriously appears behind one of the girls, kind of like a magic show where the magician disappears from the exploding crate and appears in the back of the audience. Our guide gives another one of his famous Yelps of Excitement. Then Ruth goes up and does the feet first dive. And then Rachel. But somewhere along the top, Rachel has second thoughts, and carefully makes her way back down the easy way.
This marks the end point of how deep we are to go into the cave. Now, it is time to backtrack. The girls are helpful and tell me where there are some unseen obstacles. I am the slow one in the group. Swim. Climb. Manuever and negotiate the tricky terrian under my feet and wet sandles. Soon, I find myself back at the waterfall. We each take turns doing down the ladder. And press on towards the entrance. It is maybe 20 yards from the waterfall when I can finally step into the middle of the water and feel the sandy bottom. The water is just above my chest. Maybe my glasses flowed in the water all this way and settled to the bottom? I fruitlessly feel around the bottom with my sandals. Behind me, the guide has taken it upon himself to dive down into the waterfall pool and with his headlamp, search for my glasses. We wait. For 10 minutes he searches unsuccessfully. Well, I wish I could say it was 10 minutes. More like 1 minute, maybe even a full 90 seconds. He emerges from the water and walks towards us, and I am hopeful. Did he find them? It seems like he is holding something in his hand. He is…. my glasses? Please? No. They are not. It is the ziplock bag containing the lighter. Seems that he, too, lost it on his initial ascent up the rope. Well at least he found what belongs to him. Me? Not there. Or maybe they are there, just sitting at the bottom of the pool, waiting to be found.
More swimming. More candles go out, and we relight them. Then we come to a section that I am not familiar with. The water flows down, into a little crevice. And the guide explains to us, and R&R then explain to me, that we are to go down into the crevice rushing with water, and proceed under the water to the left. Whatever you do, don’t go towards the right. At this point I’m a little more than concerned. This is supposed to be safe, right? We never signed any waiver release form, so there can be no danger, yes? But then again this is Guatemala, and this tour is from some private land owner not affiliated with the national park or anything of the sort. I guess what freaked me out is that I only received second hand instructions. I had no clue as to what I am supposed to do when I go left. Is there an air pocket to breath in? For how long do I swim? Our candles are useless, we’re completely submerged under water. How do I find the end, especially since I cannot see?
I was not going to go first. Fortunately, R&R went first. It was a little scary watching them step feet first into the crevice, and then with a push down and to the left, get sucked into the water. Next, my turn. I followed the hand motions of the guide on where to place my feet, and then my body. “Izquierda” he emphasized to me, which means “LEFT.” I was now in the water, about to plunge into the little hole and follow the flow of the water to the left. No hesitation, I just had to do it. And so I went with a big deep breath, for how long I needed to hold it, I knew not. I felt the rush of water surround my limited vision, and scurried in the water towards the left. It was less than 5 seconds later when my head emerged to air, and I could make out the faint flickering of a candle. R&R were at the end, and the open flame candle that I peered towards had already been placed there as a guiding light for our party. The two Columbian girls followed me, and then the guide. As soon as we were altogether again, wading in the water, the one and only candle flame flickered out.
We were now surrounded in pitch black darkness, except for the headlamp of the guide. We each still had our candles, and our guide took out the ziplocked lighter to try and light them. But the water had penetrated the flimsy plastic membrane of the bag, and the lighter was of no use. We now absolutely had no fire, no flame, no light for each of us to carry as our safety net. Getting out now rested squarely on our guides shoulders.
Through the translations of R&R (mostly Rachel though) and the Columbian girls, the plan was to follow the guide’s light while we swam in the water. There was no touching the bottom and walking out. It was mostly swimming, with a few breaks of rocks or a ledge to hang on to or rest your foot on. And following the solitary beacon of light on our guide’s head. It was maybe only 10 more minutes from the time our candles went out before we spotted the cave entrance, and back into the fading daylight. We were all very happy to reach the mouth of the cave, and though we were tired, cold and relieved, we were all pretty gung ho about the entire experience.
But our tour was not over. The river cave exploration was only part of it. Next, we continued up the mountain for another 10 minutes of hard walking to the viewpoint, where we could see the river below us. Making my way up wasn’t as hard as I thought with my blind vision, but going down was a totally different story. My depth perception is horrible, simply because everything is a big blur and my vision is like 400/600. I can make things out, but only if they are really really close, like 6 inches away from my face. Everything else is just out of focus. And so on the hike down, you can fill in the blanks. I slipped and fell. But not down the mountain. Just on the path. I caught myself with my hands, but suffered a nice little puncture wound on my right palm for my troubles. It hurt. And so for the remainder of the climb down the slippery and sometimes muddy trail, I had to hold on to the hand of one of the Columbian girls. She was my seeing eye dog, and I the newly incapacitated blind person.
Back at the bottom to the check-in shack, we hiked along the banks to a sitting rope swing tied up to a large branch over the river. We each took turns taking the big SWOOP over the river, and back along the bank. Further along was another swing, with even more rope to get us further over the river. I had no problems with this, though I wish I could have seen better the view around me.
To cap off our tour, we walked even further along the bank and to the river’s edge, where shoreline allowed us to hop into our inner tubes, and make the 20 minute journey back to Las Marias. But my afternoon of fun wasn’t over yet. Because somehow, and I don’t know how this could be, but I ended up on the slow innertube. Which sounds ridiculous, because the river is the same speed and logically if we all start out about the same time, we should flow down as one group. But the group I was with eventually flowed ahead of me, and then really ahead of me. Umm, I can’t see. So as daylight turned to dusk, I squinted ahead to see any bobbing shapes that resemble people on innertubes. And then I hear “Izquierda, izquierda”, which means I need to paddle towards the left to avoid the rock and the fork in the river. Great, just great. I’m in the back of the pack, I can’t see, and I don’t want to miss the turn off to the hostel and end up flowing down the river to who knows where.
But that, fortunately, is not how this tale ended. At about 6:30pm, I did find the landing zone, got out of the water, and back into the hostel where I took a cold shower, because that’s the only one offered (no electricity will do that). And then I had to recollect myself and figure out what to do in my blinded state of affairs.
- GOGGLEMANIA, THE NEW FASHION TREND EYEWEAR BY E’TAN (Edwin Tanedo) -
There are certain bits of travel advice that every guidebook preaches, such as have a copy of your passport numbers, credit card numbers, emergency contacts, prescriptions, etc. This includes eyeglass prescriptions, or better yet, a back up pair of glasses.
I have to admit that when I packed for Guatemala, I didn’t allow myself enough time and did a pretty haphazard job of it. I’d be fired if there were a job out there that I was hired to do. I didn’t have my eyeglass prescription, it is somewhere at home in some folder in my file cabinet. And my back up pair of glasses? In my eyeglass case in my bathroom drawer.
Fortunately my only saving grace was a pair of prescription swim goggles from 2000. Unfotunately my only saving grace was a pair of prescription swim goggles from 2000. There is a reason why swim goggles are worn under water. My swim goggles have a very old prescription in them, and I wish that I could say that my eyesight has improved in 6 years, but they have not. So wearing them I could see slightly better, but it is not the type of prescription that you would want to settle for.
A few things going against any kind of plan for wearing the goggles full time.
#1 – wrong prescription, already covered
#2 – they are quite ugly and loud and they scream “ATTENTION HERE PLEASE”
#3 – they fog up / steam up every 2 minutes, which requires me taking them off and rubbing them with cloth. The swim tip is to spit in them and they won’t fog up. Well, maybe that works in the water, but that didn’t work OUT of the water.
#4 – the suction around my eye sockets is quite annoying, and no matter how loose I got the rubber straps, they were still too tight for my noggin.
#5 – things just don’t seem real, my peripheral vision is obscured by these white plastic frames that limit what and where I can see and give me a distorted view of reality. It’s like I’m watching a movie in a vacuum, all my other senses are thrown out of whack and I end up getting headaches.
7pm. Dinner time. For 30 Quetzels, you get a plate of pasta, mashed potatoes, a piece of chicken, and 2 pieces of bread. Talk about carbo-loading. I sat at the table with R&R, and 3 other girls Amy, Stephanie and Renee. Me and my goggles. I quickly earned the nickname “Fishface” by Rachel. We had quite the fun night, and not too much at my expense. We all hung out, danced to some Trance / Rave music from Ruth, and then spent the last 2 hours into the early morning with Belgiums, Guatemalans, and three from Holland talking circles about politics –namely Bush (very heated subject there, all the foreigners I met that night hate him and so did my fellow Americans), terminology of African-Americans vs. Blacks, and other topics where no one would score any points. At any rate, here you go, laugh if you want, Fishface below.
After a night of rest, I decide to go back on the 9:30am tour, to go back to the waterfall and scrounge around the bottom and hope to find my glasses. But the main guide won’t let me. Says it is too dangerous for me to be plundering around there with no lightsource. I don’t blame him, especially since I am not a great swimmer. My guide from yesterday is leading the 9:30 group, and he is told to try and look for it. So I wait around, end up talking to an older Britian who has lived in Guatemala for the last 25 years and who actually mapped out the cave. He brought 3 professional cavers with him on this morning, and they were spending the day spleunking the entire cave, an out and back.
When the guide returns, I am hopeful. Amy, Renee and Stephanie said good karma will come my way. Would I luck out? Could I rip off these silly swim goggles once and for all? My eyes widen in anticipation and he draws near. Alas, the answer is no. He couldn’t find them.
It is one thing to get an answer, it is another thing to discover the answer on your own. I wasn’t satisfied. For all I know, he could have done one dive underwater, felt around for 2 seconds, resurfaced and say that he looked. After all, he didn’t seem too concerned with my dilemma yesterday, and as an added bonus, I was told that before the start of the tour, he should have offered me the glass strap holders that were hanging out right there at the check-in shack. I’m not blaming him or the tour for what happened, it really is all my fault. But I wanted to be the one to look, I wanted to be the one with the final answer, because the only person you can trust is yourself. But in this case, I had to take his word for it. I had to trust and believe that he looked as hard as he could. Renee, Amy and Stephanie weren’t quite too sure about his efforts. But what can I do? He did his best (or so I am still trying to convince myself), and the area where I lost my glasses was quite deep, dark and who knows where they actually ended up. As some form of consolation, later in the evening, when the 3 professional cavers returned, one of the guys confirmed that finding the glasses in that deep waterfall pool was at best slim and none. So at least I had a professional opinion about the whole matter. But nonetheless, I had to really face up to reality. No more glasses. No more sight. Well, at least with those glasses. Now, it is just me and my lovely goggles.
For the afternoon, I hike up to Semuc Champey, where I have my near-drowning experience, worthy of a separate post. Then it was back to the hostel, dinner, and an early bedtime.
- ONWARD AND BACK HOME EARLY -
I wake up at 4:30 am, and with 8 others, board the 5am microbus to Coban, where R&R and myself manage to catch the 8am directo bus to Guatemala City, where I make the necessary arrangements to come home earlier than I wanted. Go home? I have to. I mean, really, how am I supposed to enjoy the rest of my trip with swim goggles on? SWIM GOGGLES for crying out loud!
I suppose that I could somehow manage to find an optometrist and have my prescription faxed over, but it seems more hassle than I am prepared for. My prescription is in some file folder back home, and coordinating the whole effort seems too complicated.
And how about having my back-up glasses shipped over? Well, seeing (ha, that’s funny, ’seeing’) that a package was mailed out in early February and I had yet to receive it, that didn’t seem like a good plan. Maybe, maybe I would receive my back up pair in say, um, 2 months?
Then again, another option I could try is to just find an optometrist and have a brand new eye exam and get new glasses made, but according to the old caver guy, that would set me back around $200 – $300. That blows 1-2 weeks of my travel budget right there.
My other option was to go ahead and try out that laser corrective eye surgery, but to do it here in Guatemala? I am not that crazy and adventurous.
And so it goes. The only logical choice was to get back home. I am not going to wear my freakin swim goggles for the next 2 months! And thus, with disappointment, but also with some excitement, I arrived back home this past Wednesday night. Back to the cold. Back to some clouds, a little rain. Back to the city. Back to my familiar stomping grounds, back to comfort, back to my friends and back to the ease of living.
Back home to Xela.
Xela? You didn’t think I’d actually come back to Home Home, Portland, did ya? Just because I can’t see? Just because of my one setback with losing my glasses and with it my vision? Ha, you all know me better than that! I am Mr. Stubborn, Mr. Hard-headed, that’s me, don’t be a hater! Come home, Portland-Schmortland, nah… I still have time left to play down here, I can’t come back now.
So there, I’m not back in Portland, April Fool’s!! I had to slip that in one day ahead of my favorite day of pranks and practical jokes. Everything else in this post is absolultely true, but coming home? My temporary home is Xela, Quetzeltenango, Guatemala. I’m not due back to Portland until end of May / early June, or until all my money runs out (and had I elected eye surgery or a new exam and glasses, I definitely would have been coming home within weeks with that blown budget!!).
So what exactly did I do? I went back to Guatemala City. Frantically searched all over Zone 1 for an optometrist lead I received from the old caver. When I couldn’t find it, I tried to catch the 1pm bus back to Xela. But when I arrived at the bus station, the bus wasn’t to leave until 2:30. With the limited time I had, I managed to find an optical store. And in my sorry and broken Español, I was able to explain my situation to the optometrist, and convinced him to do this: take out the plastic lenses of my swim goggles, and put them into the cheapest frames he had. 30 minutes later, and I had a temporary pair of cheap and funky looking eyewear. Not as fashionably loud as the blue frame swim goggles, but more subtle and not drawing much attention. These glasses are not the ideal, but I can put up with this for another 2 months until I get back home to my brand new glasses. So, the new me, sporting the new cheap frame look…
So that my friends and family, is my story of how I arrived back home to XELA, a few days earlier than I wanted to. And upon my return, I was ecstatic to learn that the 3 packages sent from the states months ago had finally arrived to Sakribal.
So, a big thumbs up THANKS goes to Jonas, Amy and Adam for the wonderful spread of good cheer sent in a box full of gourmet delights! And since I’ll be doing a 6-day trek in a few days, those Powerbars will sure come in handy! And rock on Beavernation, supporting my school with the Beef Jerky…
And thanks also to Lisa for sending my replacement card reader so that I can actually post these pics, and to Jeff for being an awesome roommate and keeping all the bad guys away from my really really cool personal smoothie blender. And mom, I know you were probably convinced that I did fly back home, sorry to give you a little April Fool’s, but you know that I’ll be back home in a couple of months.
Fishface signing off for the weekend, check back Monday for an entirely new (and shorter) post about my last few weeks!