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Another Twist In The Road: Home A Little Earlier Than Expected

Friday, March 31st, 2006

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.




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…


Taking a refreshing dip as the sun sets, right after my swim in the lake.

Watching the setting sun over Lago de Peten Itza

Another shot of the hotel's pool area.  Nearby is the restaurant and outdoor bar.


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.

Dave, from Britian, enjoying 3 weeks in Guatemala.

The whole gang for a fancy dinner.  Rum shots on the house were offered afterwards!

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.

The lakeside cafe bar, the unintended lighting effects courtesy of my camera.


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.

The Tick, full of my blood and feasting for the last few hours while I slept.


Plucked from my body!  Size comparison with the tweezers.

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:

My wonderful greasy and huge burger and fries and limonada at Restaurante Mijaro.



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…

Accomodations vary from dorms, camping, cabins and sleeping in hammocks.

Hammocks overlooking the pond.  The bar is near the thatched roof structure in the background.

Enjoying the Limestone Cave.

Cave dwellers include this bat.

...and this spider, the biggest of which I've ever seen outside of captivity.  This sucker was HUGE!

Hiking back to the Finca, the whole trip lasted almost 3 hours.

I shared my dorm room with a guy from Israel, 2 from Canada and another from Guatemala.

The main lodge for Finca Ixobel, complete with plenty of tables, chairs and hammocks.




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. 

I pulled my bed away from the wall so the cockroaches would stay off me as I slept.




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.

Hospadaje Las Marias, set across the road from the river.

Typical accomodations.  Dorm room on the bottom, or for less $$, the

The River, where we inner tube downstream from the cave and back to Las Marias.




“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. 

My face. 

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.



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.


 Modeling the new look.

Hanging out with R&R

Ruth checks out her selection of music CD's as the beer bottles are empty and more must be ordered


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.



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…

My cheap plastic frames.  Total cost, $30.  Old lenses, but a temporary fix for a temporary problem.


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…


My food care package...I love the Beaver jerky, nice touch!


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!

One more thing

Friday, March 24th, 2006

Wanted to give a shout out to Nicole and Amy, both celebrating birthdays this weekend.  Feliz Cumpleanos!  And more cool stuff about ticks…

Ticks are the leading carriers of diseases to humans in the United States, second only to mosquitoes worldwide. It is not the tick bite but the toxins or organisms in the tick’s saliva transmitted through the bite that cause disease.

Ticks are arthropods, like spiders. There are more than 800 species of ticks throughout the world. They are responsible for carrying such diseases as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, babesiosis (Texas fever), ehrlichiosis, and tularemia (also transmitted via rabbits), as well as Colorado tick fever and Powassan (a form of encephalitis).

In addition to disease transmission, ticks can also cause tick paralysis. This condition occurs when neurotoxins in the tick saliva make you ill; cause paralysis of the body; and in extreme cases, can stop you from breathing in extreme cases.

Two groups of ticks are important to humans because of the diseases they can transmit:

  • Hard ticks have a tough back plate or scutum that defines their appearance. The hard ticks tend to attach and feed for hours to days. Disease transmission usually occurs near the end of a meal, as the tick becomes full of blood. Some of the more common hard ticks are these:
    • American dog tick
    • Wood tick
    • Deer tick (they carry Lyme disease)
    • Lone star tick
  • Soft ticks have more rounded bodies and do not have the hard scutum found in hard ticks. These ticks usually feed for less than 1 hour. Disease transmission can occur in less than a minute. The bite of some of these ticks produces intensely painful reactions. Two common soft ticks found in the United States are the Pajaroello tick and spinose ear tick.
  • Outbreaks of tick-related illnesses follow seasonal patterns as ticks evolve from larvae to adults. They hide in low brush to hitch a ride on a potential host. Ticks require a “blood meal” to grow and survive, and they are not very particular upon whom or what they feed. If these freeloaders don’t find a host, they may die.
    • Once a tick finds a host—such as you, your pet, a deer, a rabbit—and finds a suitable site for attachment, the tick begins to burrow with its mouthparts into exposed skin. Tick mouthparts are barbed, which helps to secure them to the host.
    • Often the tick secrets “cementum” to more firmly anchor its mouthparts and head to the host. Ticks may secrete or regurgitate small amounts of saliva that contain neurotoxins. These nerve poisons cleverly prevent you from feeling the pain and irritation of the bite. You may never notice the tick feeding on you. The saliva may contain a blood thinner to make it easier for the tick to get its blood meal.

Okay, now I’m really going now, hopefully I can find internet access at my next destination, I doubt it, but check back next Monday for my Tick update!  Yeah, right on man, ticks SUCK.  (another bad pun intended)…

HATE is such an angry word

Friday, March 24th, 2006

After 5 days of hiking over 100 km through the hot, sweltering jungle of El Peten to see the ancient preclassic Mayan ruins of El Mirador, and after over 100 mosquito, tick and flea bites all over my legs, face, neck, wrists, arms and hands, I can say that I have almost survived this trek. But I am not out of the woods yet, pun intended. I guess this would be a good time to say that guides have gotten a bad rep over the last 3 years because they did not bring enough food and water supplies for their clients, or in some cases, they pull out their machetes to demand more money or whatever. Just a few weeks ago, an American named Eli related this story to me about a group that experienced the guide from hell. So during day 2 when Markus, Kirk and I were being driven hard through the jungle at a demanding pace and all of our things were on the mules behind us on the trail, we had a momentary thought of “We are in the middle of nowhere and we don’t have any of our supplies with us.” But now back in civilization, I am glad to report that we made it back safely and our guides were excellent and we were well taken care of.

After wearing the same shirt and same pants for 6 days (but I did change my socks and underwear!), the stickiness of my body sweat combined with sunscreen and inspect repellent spray and repellent lotion, made for one dirty and smelly guy. Combine that with 2 other dudes wearing hiking shoes for that period, and when you take us together as we take off our shoes and socks in our hotel room after our excursion, LOOK OUT, biohazard zone! We found the best hotel we could in Flores with AC, a pool, hot showers and cable TV. We’re splurging and we deserve it. I had my scoop of chocolate ice cream last night, and my pancakes this morning. All seems pretty good.

But there is something I just have to say. There are not many things I hate in this world. That is such a strong and aggressive word, “HATE.” But I can now say that after one week of putting up with this, with passion and full of scorn, I declare war and HATE towards mosquitoes and ticks. The ironic thing is that this is the best season to hike El Mirador, as the rainy season just brings them out in droves.  But I still have had my fair share of these blood sucking agents of disease and marks all over my body.  And unfortunately, despite being back in luxury accomodations, we didn’t quite manage to rid ourselves of all jungle creatures.  As I type this I am keeping a close eye on my little friend, TICK, attached to my stomach and getting bigger and bigger.  I tried to drown it out in a hot shower and now after spending some time on the internet, it shows that I should remove it as soon as it is discovered.  Well great.  I thought it would just have its fill and detach itself from my body when it is full.  Man I wish I knew more about this things BEFORE it happens.  So I’m done with this internet, I’m heading back to our room to see if I can find some tweezers.  Sheesh.  I better not get some stupid disease or infection or tick paralysis.  I’ll be back in Xela in another 8 days and should have a full detailed trip report about El Mirador.  Or maybe you’ll see me back in Portland sooner because I’ve developed a severe reaction to whatever I’m carrying in my body.  Maybe this is some super undiscovered new breed species of tick and I have little ticks traveling all throughout my body and I’ll slowly transform into a tick.  Wow, too many horror movies I guess.  Okay, I’m outta here, me and my little friend TICK, which I HATE.

Sunday market trip to Chichi

Monday, March 20th, 2006

While I am spending the week hiking to the Mayan ruins of El Mirador north of Tikal, please enjoy some pics of previous weeks in and around Xela. A big thanks to my bud Yuhwen from Chicago, who has generously let me use her card reader to upload these photos. Check back each day as I’ll have other photos and trips posted to this blog.

Today is a recap of my visit to Chichitenango, home of one of the biggest crafts and vendor markets in Central America. Every Sunday and Thursday the town is transformed into hundreds of vendors and stalls selling everything from livestock, food, fabrics, masks and other crafts.

On one Sunday I had signed up with my school, Sakribal, to go with a maestro and another student, Chelsia, to the market. We were supposed to leave at 7am, but by 7:15 when no one had shown up, I decided to go on my own. Fortunately the day before, I ran into another acquaintance from another school, and she had mentioned that her school was also going. So I figured I could try to find her and hitch a ride…


I stowed away on this bus with students from Xelas Maya. On this week they had almost 100 students in the school, and about 40 took the trip to Chichi.


Bus stop with a view.


Another view of the countryside around and below.


Walking through the market to the Mayan ceremonial ground. I was accompanied by 6 other students and 2 maestros from the school. Otherwise there are independent guides hanging around the town offering their services to tourists for a small fee.


Hiking up to get to the ceremonial site.


The ritual site for Mayans, combining Christian beliefs with indigenous ones.


Offering alcohol and other gifts.


Lots of handcarved masks.


The place can get very crowded, watch your pockets and wallet!


Offering beautiful materials.


More beautiful fabrics for scarfs, blankets, ponchos and more.


Rows and rows of vendors.


Hot sweet milk with rice for only 25 cents.


I also tried a local meal… fried chicken, fried papas, salad, tortillas, beans and a gaseous (soda pop). Not bad for about $3.


A shot from the street.


One more look at the colors of the fabrics before heading back on the bus and back to Xela.

Explicit Photos

Saturday, March 18th, 2006

> You are forewarned. Do not scroll down if you are
> easily offended or just had something to eat, or are
> about to eat something. Very very very very
> explicit photos, Rated X for Xtreme resemblence to
> something you shouldn’t eat!
> A few weeks back in my first homestay, one of my
> blog posts decribed a breakfast that I received that
> was basically a bowl of frijoles negros, boiled
> platanos and cream. One or two bites and I could
> take no more. So when my host mom wasn’t looking
> (which is easy to do because she rarely ate with me
> — actually, she NEVER ate with me at breakfast), I
> found a plastic tumbler and and dumped the food
> stuff in there. I took it to my room to smuggle it
> out later, but it ended up being two days later. Oh
> where, oh where could I dump this beautiful
> breakfast? The pics need no explanation, here they
> are without further ado.
> IMG_4477.JPG
> IMG_4480.JPG
> IMG_4528.JPG
> IMG_4529.JPG
> IMG_4530.JPG
> IMG_4531.JPG
> #img7#
> ———————————
> Yahoo! Travel
> Find great deals to the top 10 hottest

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Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Friday, March 17th, 2006

Hope you have at least one piece of green on today, cause today is the time to celebrate St Patrick’s Day! It’s not a big deal down here in Guatemala, but it is important to at least acknowledge St. Patrick on this Friday, March 17th. For those that have been raised in the public schools or on the Star Trek version of the history of St. Patrick, you have been misled by the corporate marketing machines of McDonald’s, General Motors and Enron.

Saint Patrick is not named after ESPN anchor Dan Patrick. And he is not named after Volcano Patrick, only biggest volcano on Jupiter that has yet to be discovered because he haven’t managed to land a man there yet. Saint Patrick is named after his father, Saint Patrick Luis the Terrible IV. A renowned and legendary pirate known the world over, his son, SPLT V took up his father’s trade and carried on the family name and tradition as his forefathers before him.

However, one day the political climate changed and with it, the the old days when Vikings traded salts, pelts and oil for currency had moved on to a more streamlined and efficient means of economy. SPLT V soon found himself out of work when an embargo was placed on foreign built ships. The pirate collective, once his friends and close brotherhood of warriors, chose to reject any of his efforts to maintain ties. So, with his Japanese built vessle, he sailed around the world 6 times with his family, before finally ending up in modern day Guatemala.

Here, he met the local natives and introduced the exotic spice, “canela”, to add flavor to their mosh, eggs, frijoles negros and cup o noodles. Word spread about this incredible condiment, and since Ebay had not been invented yet, rulers from nearby villages and from further away sent their representatives to negotiate with Saint Patrick on setting up trade routes and exchanges. Saint Patrick really enjoyed his new found status of acceptance, and instead of retorting back to his old pirate ways of plunder and pillage, he shared in his wisdom and skill with no need for favors returned. Unfortunately, the collective heard about his generosity and were angered by this. Why would a pirate go soft and have a change of heart? With that, they set up a bounty on him. Years of eluding bounty hunters finally caught up to him, when Saint Patrick was captured by the most famous hunter of all, Jango Fett. The discovery of these new lands made headlines in Europe and other populated
areas, and consequently, opened up the possibilities for other kings’ explorers to claim land for their rulers. As an unintended consequence, these lands were soon overrun with other conquerers such as Spanish conquistador Pedro Alvador. So although Saint Patrick is known around these parts for intruducing cinnamon to the locals, he is also known as the man who brought in the foreign invaders, and thus, any celebration for him is not done with big fanfare or in the honorary tradition of other countries.

Well, maybe in another parallel universe anyways. Please check back each day beginning this Monday at 12pm as I’ll have entries actually related to my travels posted to this blog, but in the meantime, enjoy your personal celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, whether it be with green beer, a viewing of the classic “Leprechan 5 in Space” or indulging in Shepard’s Pie, Irish Dancing and music at Kell’s.

 Postnote:  for some reason my entries for next week may post all at once over the weekend and may not pop up each day at 12pm as planned.  If this happens, just pretend that each entry has appeared at 12pm each day.  Or if you are just so super bored at work or whatever, you can read them all in one sitting.  I should have interent access again next week on Saturday to post my trip report from my hike to El Mirador.

Traveler Profile: Meet David

Thursday, March 16th, 2006

I hung out with the Yale TGIF’s (Thank God I’m a Forester), Caroline and Bridgid in San Marcos, and after dinner we chatted with a fellow American, David.


David is a middle aged guy from Colorado, and has spent the last few weeks in Guatemala, Honduras,  El Salvador and Nicaragua.  The following are this thoughts and may or may not be the truth, but they are his feelings about the people and places he has traveled to.  Pretty fascinating guy, so I thought I’d share with you the most striking parts of our conversation.


– When he travels, he tries to keep his feet washing to a minimum.  Whether or not  he changes his socks every other day, or every other week, I do not know.  He does this so that when he is in a crowded bus or train compartment, if he wants some privacy, all he needs to do is take off his shoes.  The putrid odor of his feet are usually enough to get people away from him.  I am not  going to include his picture, so just in case you run into a traveler with really horrible foot odor, you might as well as him if his name is David.


– He doesn’t care much for India or most of the people.  He says folks that travel to and through India either love it or hate it.  He believes their society is corrupted by money.  You can’t trust anybody because they’re just trying to rip you off or take your money.  Kids, mothers, fathers, men, women, pets, cows and everything else in between poop and pee in public everywhere.  Sanitation is a huge problem.  (Sidenote:  my friend Shirley once told me  that there is a certain smell about  India that you can never forget…could it be the public bathroom odor she is referring to?). 


– David adds that he knows a guy who manages a factory in India.  They make radiator caps for cars.  The failure rate is 6 parts per million.  Million.  But the the European automobile manufacturers rejected a shipmet because of the high fecal bacterial count once the boxes were opened.


– More India.  Electricity is not reliable, so refrigeration is a problem and you should probably eat vegetarian when you go there, since the chances of eating spoiled meat are high.


– He recounted an experience with trying to use the public buses in India.  Another Swiss guy was stuck in some town for 3 days, as transportation officials stated that all the buses and trains are full.  But David discovered that it is all a sham.  This particular town had this thing going where they steer all the foreigners and tourists away from the public transportation and towards private cabs and similar services.  This way the charge will be higher and everyone gets a kickback.


–  He doesn’t like dogs because they won’t leave you alone.  He prefers cats.


– He had his bag slashed in Guatemala.  On the bus.  His bag was in the overhead rack and they still got to it.  They didn’t take anything important, but he did have to spend some money to fix his bag and jacket.  He is the 5th person I’ve met that has had his/her bag slashed.


– Out of the four countries he has visited, he feels most unsafe in Guatemala, especially walking around at night.  He prefers to hike volcanoes and go to the natural areas without a guide, just on his own, but in Guatemala it is just about mandatory because of all the armed robberies that have occured on mountain trails.  He also says that in El Salvador, there is not one tree left in the  entire country (I’ve heard this from many people).


– In Phoenix, his brother puts the legs of his baby’s crib inside glass jars.  That way, scorpions can’t climb up the glass and into the crib.


One of the greatest aspects of traveling is meeting other fellow travelers, swapping tales and stories and seeing what makes them tick.  David is certainly one character that I had a fun evening with.  For those of you that have been to India or have lived there, feel free to respond.

Photo Tour of more Food

Tuesday, March 14th, 2006

While I am physically and mentally restoring my senses at the lake, please enjoy the following photos. Food is always on my mind, especially since I survived my first month on little to eat! But now that I am at the lake, I have carte blanche as far as what I care to eat! More tomorrow!


My stash of candy from home. When this was taken, I had alread eaten half of what I brought. Today, most of them are now extinct. Only one Take 5, one BabyRuth and the gum remain. Conservation efforts have been slow as the Bush administration believes that we’ll find more of these gems somewhere in Alaska, but we’ll just have to exploit, er I mean explore, it more.


The fresh icecream man!! For 1 Quetzel, or about 20 cents, I can get my wafer cone made fresh. I described this in a previous post, so here is the proof. It is totally portable and he can push it practically anywhere, but he’s main spot is in front of Parque Central.


The magician at work.


Tricks of the trade. He has his big metallic cylinder, which is placed on top of ice. He pours in some liquid cream and some flavoring, then takes about 2 minutes to swirl the cylinder around the ice, which freezes the sides and then freezes the liquid into a smooth ice cream.


For another Queztel you can upgrade to a waffle cone.


During our 30 minute morning break from classes, a local lady comes in with her home cooked food. Everything from tortillas with eggs and black beans (gee, where have I seen this before) to hamburgers, empanadas, cakes and more.


We hang outside in front of the school on the tiny sidewalk. Right on schedule our fruit lady is there every morning at 10:30.


Across the street from Parque Central are numerous food vendors selling a lot of great fried foods.


Corn on the cob! But just be sure that you let the lady know not to SMOOTHER it in mayonaise and mustard before it’s too late!


This vendor rocks, he has his system down and watching him perform his taco making ability is reminisent of Tom Cruise in “Cocktail” doing all those fancy bottle tricks. Okay, not as good but it is still fun to watch him make the tacos.

Renewal at Lake Atitlan

Monday, March 13th, 2006

I am dirty, grimey, tired, sore, and I’m loving it. I just enjoyed a huge serving of Indian food for just over $3. Fabulous soup, wheat bread, salad, rice, steamed veggies, mashed potatoes and a small glass of fresh lemonade. My body needed it. All the starch and the veggies. Because once again, my stomach was afflicted with the “Rejection” bug for most of the morning today.

Great, great hike. Beautiful weather all 3 days. Saturday’s highlight was cramming into a small sauna sweat lodge and dousing myself with cold and warm water. Sunday was a chicken feast at “Don Pedro’s” home. And today was a swim in the lake after all that hiking. I am definitely tired. Decided not to go back to Xela today. If I did, then I would have signed up for the full moon hike up Santa Maria for tomorrow evening. But my body needs a rest. And what better place than at Lake Atitlan?

Tonight I am in San Pedro. I fit in perfectly well here, because I am so dirty and have little money. Many of the gringos and foreigners here come here for the Spanish schools, the cheap food, cheap booze, cheap accomodation and because you can be unshaven, unclean and not have showered for a few days. I fit that description, so I guess this must be my place. A few months back I paid $9 to store my backpack at the Amtrak Union Station in Chicago for 5 hours. Here, for $2, I have a basic room with a bed and a door for my overnight rest. For $5 more, I could have upgraded to a more luxurious dormitory at another place, “Hotel Mikaso,” right on the lake with a rooftop terrace overlooking the whole area. But I need my $5 to treat myself to a good old American breakfast tomorrow — at a Thai restaurant. After breakfast, the plan is to take the lancha (small motorboat) across the lake to San Marcos, the spiritual and yoga capital for this area. But with the full moon on tap for
tomorrow, I’m a little worried about getting a room, since many month long workshops and such begin according to the lunar calendar. Maybe next time I’m down here I can try that out.

Woke up this morning at 4:10, where we packed up our bags and started hiking on the road at 4:40 under a setting moon (is that the right word? set??) and as the stars faded away to reveal the beginnings of dawn. We made our way to a viewpoint, where we had hot tea and started cooking oatmeal. And waited for the sun to climb over the peaks and fill the sky with light. Our view was over the lake just above San Juan Laguna, and after we had our fill of breakfast and the warmth of the sun, we hiked over to another viewpoint, and then down down down to San Juan. Many in our group developed blisters and hot spots on their feet. Fortunately I came away unscathed, except for sore leg muscles and shoulders. But I am definitely tired. And need to get back my step in time for next weekend, as Markus, Kirk and I plan to get to Tikal in one day/night, and then hire a local guide to get us to the El Mirador ruins. That’s the plan anyways.

And my plan is to bid y’all a good night. Check my page tomorrow, as I’ll have some pics of my favorite subject, FOOD, from prior weeks in Xela. Time to go relax now, although the food and accomodations are cheap, internet is expensive!!

A Weekend Hike

Friday, March 10th, 2006

I’m off early tomorrow morning for my weekend hike, my last week of school has gone by very fast and I’ve enjoyed staying with my new family and hanging out with my friends from school. Wednesday night was clubbing night at the only gay bar, dancing to the likes of Queen, Culture Club, Cyndi Lauper and I can’t remember the group that sings Y-M-C-A (is there any gay dance club that doesn’t play that song?). Then it was up to Kokolocos for merenge (sp?) and a different kind of flava. My stomach ache has gone away and I am ready for tomorrow’s hike? I spent this afternoon checking out a local art exhibit, and I thought I’d share some of the pieces for this weekend. There are a few other pictures sprinkled in there as well. Check back Monday for another post, I may or may not stay at the Lake as it looks like hiking El Mirador may be sooner instead of later. Enjoy the weekend!

The art exhibit is from the “Escuela Humberto Gravitar”. A private art school with students of all ages, these pieces are watercolor, acrylics, oils and other medium formats.












Chinese buffet restaurants are everywhere in the world. This one we found charges you more if you DON’T finish all the food on your plate!


This is the religious time of year, and this march from the church featured little boys and little girls carrying the showpieces.