I’m one-week in. 6 bug bits, a cut up foot and only a slight sunburn. I would say I’m doing pretty well.
I began what my Nana is calling Paigee’s Big Adventure in Antigua. I began with a friend Thomas (who also took all the photos of Antigua that you will see) We met while I was working at the mezcal bar, Cuarto Ardor. As I’ve talked about before I’ve met a lot of special people on this trip and I would add him to that list. He’s also French. Interestingly I’ve only come in contact with 3 people from France during my year in Xela, and all of them I’ve met in this bar. As the owner of Cuarto once said to me “I guess we like the Frenchies”.
I’m really glad to have started this trip with a friend. Leaving wasn’t necessarily easy for me. I knew this wasn’t a goodbye but more like a see you around—but this feeling of prematurely missing my Xela community wasn’t easy for me to shake. Especially leaving this little guy, Widman.
Talking about him is kind of just an excuse to show the world this beautiful baby I’ve fallen in love with.
Continuing… we started in Antigua and had a fabulously bougie time. We drank fabulous wine and ate wonderful food. Some of my favorite places to eat in Antigua include: Saberico, Frida’s and Luna de Miel.
On our first day we explored the city a bit and ended up La Antigua Galeria, a quaint and impressive gallery. I enjoyed talking with the gallery owner about an upcoming exhibit in which the artist has painted Toros, or bulls. The toros indicate the freedom fighters of Guatemala who are working to fight and protest against systems of injustice within their society. I enjoyed learning a bit about the political aspects of the piece. The night ended perfectly with a bottle of wine and a few hands of Uno at Cucuruchos Boutique Hostel.
The next morning we were off to one of my favorite places in Guatemala a macadamia farm in San Juan. Valhalla, named after the Viking heaven, is truly a place for the gods. This small farm 15 minutes outside of Antigua is the epitome of tranquility.
We began with macadamia pancakes, I went for macadamia and dark chocolate while my man friend went for bananas fosters pancakes. Both were fabulous. We then spent an hour chatting away about how luxurious the farm was. Next was a tour where learned about the history of the farm and how the macadamia nuts are processed. We finished with a free nut and chocolate tasting. I’ve been three times and every time I say I will return for a macadamia oil massage. One day.
O and did I mention you can find Guatemala’s most photographed bathroom here.
We spent the rest of the day getting stuck in the rain and walking around the city. Getting on the bus knowing that I wouldn’t be back in Xela for a while wasn’t an easy thought, but it was much easier with a friend. So thank you for that gift Thomas.
First stop on Paige’s sola viaje (actually sola) was Semuc Champey. This is a place I had heard a lot about but honestly thought that it might just have be a hyped up tourist trap. But honestly it was even more incredible then I could have even imagined. Definitely worth the 9 hours it took to get there—this isn’t me being sarcastic, it was actually that great. I stayed at Isla Verde in Lanquín. For a little less then $6 a night this Guatemalan run hostel was perfect. Set amongst the lust green forest this hostel is great for a budget traveler like myself. I called it in early that night given that I was exhausted from the long journey along rocky roads but not before meeting Rosalinda who sold me her homemade chocolate.
The next morning we took off, by way of pick up truck of course, to Semuc Champey and the K’anba Caves. This was a day packed full of adventure and a lot of time jumping off of things. Our tour guide Carlos, as known as Dracula, was truly amazing—his last name means bat in language Maya and therefore he took up the nickname Dracula. We started off in the caves. We followed him through an intricate tunnel system following one another by candlelight. At times we swam through 2 meters of water paddling to keep our candle from burning out. In other moments we were walking through underwater waterfalls and jumping off rocks inside the cave—as I alluded to earlier I did a lot of jumping off things that day.
After we exited the caves we flew into the air by way of rope swing. I’m not sure what I enjoyed more, flying into the river or watching other people flail their way into belly flops. After flying through way of rope swing we had the opportunity to fly yet again by jumping off a bridge. Though it was a bit scary, I was proud of myself for taking the plunge.
Here are two very unimpressive pictures that prove that I did indeed jump.
We then went into Semuc Champey itself. We began by walking to the mirador where we could see the famous natural limestone bridge with its turquoise and emerald green waters. By the time we reached the top I was sure that I would never stop sweating—it was incredibly hot but never the less it was worth every drop of sweat.
Then my favorite part, swimming in the pools themselves. After a long day of hiking, jumping and running around, it felt amazing to relax in these natural pools. Little fish peeked at my feet as I floated along the natural waterfalls. It was truly picturesque.
I finished the night by taking Dracula’s recommendation and ate at Shalom, a local eatery whose menu of the day varies. The rest of the night was spent on my hammock by the river. The perfect way to end a fun by exhausting day.
Cobán Day 1
While most of the people I met took the more traveled route to Flores, I decided to check out Cobán. I began my time there by being thrown off the bus on a random street corner. Confused I decided to follow the advice of my handy Lonely Planet guide and ended up at the cutest café—Xkape Koba’n. It was the perfect place to take a breather and eat some incredible indigenous-inspired food. I even returned back to this artsy café in the afternoon for dinner.
They were so kind and helped me to find Casa Luna. This cute hostel was clean, affordable and laid back. The perfect place to crash for night.
After getting settled in a bit I went to Orquigonia– an orchid farm located about 15 minutes from town. It was there that I took a tour of the gardens and learned about the history and preservation of these delicate beauties. Most of the orchids we saw were miniatures, but I am told that December is the best time of year to visit.
Cobán Day 2 y Ranchitos de Quetzal
I allowed myself to wake up naturally. Rolled out of bed. Packed up my things and went to breakfast at Xalab’e. An old dance show played on the TV’s as I ate my delicious and reasonable priced breakfast. Afterwards I made my way to La Estación—a coffee shop I had passed by the day before. It was there that I encountered a group of student who kindly welcomed me into their coffee tasting. I sat in the back listening to the owner talk about the coffee of Cobán. The different types of filters and coffee makers. The reasons why some coffee was more smooth while others were bitter. He talked with passion and excitement. His name is Pepe and if you’re ever in Cobán I would put this place at the top of your to do list.
I then spent Q20 and took a Monja Blanco bus to Ranchito del Quetzal. This beautiful little hotel was a bit out of my price range, about Q200 a night (about $35), but worth the few extra dollars.
This was my first time on my trip where I was truly alone. I spent breathing time walking along the carved out trail on the edge of the hotel. The sound of rushing water and birds surrounded me. The trail ended at a beautiful pool where two waterfalls converged into the river.
Here is a nice picture of me falling trying to take a self-timed picture from my phone.
I went back to my room where I took a hot shower and appreciated my Paige time—or should I now called myself Elisabeth like I’ve been telling everyone else. I spent time focusing on my body and what it needed. In this moment a lot of macadamia cream, bug spray and tiger balm. I spent a few moments taking care of myself, focusing on the areas of tension in my body. My shoulders already tired from the weight of the backpack. My feet cut up and bruised from the adventurous journey in Semuc. This time to listen to my body was indelible.
Before writing this post I took a tour of the green house and laboratory where Juan Pablo, a handsome and gracious Guatemalan man showed me more orchids. I would have never expected this region to have so many orchid preservationists and enthusiasts. I learned about his work of cultivating and classifying orchids.
I ended my night by eating some wonderful potato soup and writing this post. Here is a picture of where I spent a lot of my night reading and writing.
Quetzal Watching and My Trip to Nebaj
I got the call at around 6:10. It felt a little similar to what I imagine a baby arriving may be like, ok maybe not that dramatic, but really it was that exciting. I jump out of bed. The Quetzal is coming the quetzal is coming! A man in the poncho knocked on my door and we quickly run up a hill where he directed me to look up. As I looked up I see a faint figure of quetzal high up in the trees.
Here is the picture of what I wish took in that moment
Here is my almost as impressive photo
The whole morning the others guests and I chased Quetzals. But I can now understand why the Quetzal is so difficult to find. I wouldn’t want anyone interrupting my paradise. On my way out I shared a few kind words with Juan Pablo from the farm. He gave me a postcard of a Quetzal with his email on the back—he must have somehow known I am a sucker for a letter.
After a magical 24 hours of watching quetzals I spent a very unmagical 8 hours traveling to Nebaj. At one point I involuntarily put my backpack (literally my whole life) on the roof of the bus. I don’t think I have been that stressed out in my entire year in Guatemala. I was reminded that I was no longer in control at that moment. Everything turned out fine but never the less I won’t make that mistake again. Now I’m in Nebaj and I will be a student yet again. This time learning more about the history of the Nebaj region while improving my Spanish.