Jungle adventures

After watching the adventures of El Hobbit (the Hobbit) in Guatemala City we were ready for an adventure of our own and headed into the jungle, more precisely Semuc Champey.

Bridge

We stayed at Utopia Eco Hotel, a big cabin with some smaller cabins around, 3 km outside the Semuc Champey park in the middle of the jungle. They have only been running for 6 months and the very good reviews on TripAdvisor led us to try it out, in stead of choosing one of the more classic places, such as El Portal (just outside the park) or Zephyr Lodge (in Lanquin). It was a nice place, but it must be said that we didn’t have quite the amazing picture of the place as most of the TripAdvisor reviews at the time of writing. We paid a premium price for the private riverfront cabins with hot water (more than twice the price of the next option), and the cabins were nice but the water was barely lukewarm and the furnishings were minimal. Also the food was only vegetarian and not always that good, but okay. It must also be said that we were unlucky with the weather, which probably influenced our experience.

Tread careful

Photo kids

On the first day we went for a “Indiana Jones” like hike across some old rope bridges and slippery slopes. We met some very nice locals, most of them very curious and giggly about us white weird tourists, and got really dirty in the mud.

The next day we went for a guided tour to Semuc Champey, which included a cave, where we swam in the water and climbed ropes with only a candle as light, a jungle trek to look out over the park, and finally swimming and sliding in the pools. All in all it was an awesome adventure and our guide was very good at taking care of us.

In the cave

Waterfall climb

Waist high water

Semuc Champey pools 1

Smile

Steep

All alone with the pool

Slide 1

More pictures of Semuc Champey and the rest of our travels in Guatemala can be found here.

Above the clouds

Question: What do you do when you when you have a serious case of altitude sickness and laying in fetal position in the dirt at 3772 meters above sea level, and 3 hours from civilization?
Answer: You toughen up and walk down, step by step..

A looong way to go

After recommendation from some Norwegian friends we chose to go to Xela and climb the volcano Santa Maria, Guatemala’s 4th tallest volcano at 3772 meters above sea level, and the neighbor to Volcano Santiaguito, an active volcano that erupts every hour. We chose a 2-day trip with Altiplanos, spending the night on top to see both the sunset and sunrise (cost: 450 GTQ per person).

Guide Daniel

We had a good guide, Daniel, who spoke English, and although it was a tough ascent, we managed to get to the top in 4 hours. On the way up we met two police officers who told us about some bandidos who had robbed a Guatemalan family earlier in the morning, luckily for us we didn’t run into them.

We had packed three meals, sleeping bags and plenty of warm clothes, as we knew that it would be a cold night. When we got to the top it was clear skies (we were above the clouds) and hot enough to lie down and get our tan on, while Daniel pitched up our tent and started cooking dinner.

It was absolutely quiet on the top and the view was spectacular, as a sea of clouds covered the surroundings and only briefly revealed the majestic landscape beneath. Unfortunately Santa Maria is also full of trash, as people can’t seem to bother to take their bottles, bags of chips and other wrappings down with them, which took away some of the serene feel.

Yoga session

Zen

Last sunligt

Not long after the clouds surrounded the top, and the sunset we were looking forward to was only visible for a few seconds and behind some layers of clouds. When the sun set the temperature fell quickly and we put on all the clothes we had.

We were not the only ones on top as there were some Guatemaltecos who had come to pray and sing throughout the night. We talked to one who had come 7 days ago with his mother and had stayed on the top to pray and sacrifice for God (they’re Catholics). Needless to say he was looking forward to going down the next day.

On the edge

The night in the tent was freezing cold and we realized we should have brought some long wool underwear and thick wool socks. The combination of the cold (-5C), hard ground and singing religious Guatemaltecos resulted in not much sleep. We got up around 2 am and 4 am to view the amazing night sky, surrounding cities and erupting Santiaguito, and also got up around 5 am to see the sunrise, which was spectacular.

Eruption

Obligatory light painting

Unfortunately, while Mathias was running around like a yo-yo taking pictures of the stars and the sunrise (it was a photographer’s heaven), Tuva got a bad case of altitude sickness during the night and was really sick (dizzy, headache, nausea and no energy) when we were going down. She toughened up and we managed to get down with a lot of breaks. Mathias also got a minor case of altitude sickness, but nothing serious. In retrospect we see that we could have mitigated the risk of sickness by spending some more nights in Xela to get used to the height (we only stayed one night) and taken some medicine against altitude sickness.

We survived the cold, bandidos and altitude sickness; all in all it was a once in a lifetime experience, both good and bad, and despite the troubles we’re glad we did it!

Cold night

Cozy

First sunrays

Above the clouds

Xela

More pictures from the volcano and our travels in Guatemala can be found here.

Random relatives in Guatemala

What is the chance of running into a random relative in a random small town in Guatemala? And what is the chance of that relative actually knowing that you are relatives, and seeing family similarities with you and his grandmother?

That is exactly what happened our first night in Santa Cruz la Laguna by Lago Atitlan. We had booked a night at a hostel called Arca de Noe, but the staff left suddenly without telling us how to turn on the water heater. We went to the neighboring hostel to ask for help when we bumped into 4 Norwegians, one of whom turned out to be the third cousin of Tuva’s mother, and the owner of Villa Eggedal. He was so thrilled to meet us (or mostly Tuva) that he offered us to stay with him for a few nights.

Knut-Erik and Tuva

Villa Eggedal

Stairway to heaven

Turns out Knut-Erik went to Guatemala for the first time 32 years ago and now lives 3-4 months each year in his villa in Santa Cruz la Laguna. He has built up this lovely property the past 20 years and also has some apartments and guest houses for rent. We were lucky enough to borrow an apartment with a fantastic view of the lake and its surrounding volcanoes. It was a big step up from Arca de Noe.

We were told that Arca de Noe used to be one of the good hostels by the lake, when it was run by its previous owners, but since new owners took over the place last year it has been going downhill really fast. It was a weird experience, and we’re glad we met Knut-Erik so we could stay somewhere else.

For people visiting Lago Atitilan we really recommend staying in Santa Cruz la Laguna, as it is a quiet and relaxing place to stay without too many hippies and party peeps, compared to San Marcos or San Pedro la Laguna. We also recommend Villa Eggedal for longer stays, or hotel La Iguana Perdida. It’s really easy to get around the lake using water taxis costing from 10-20 GTQ, or Tuk-Tuks between some of the towns.

Serenity

Waiting for the boat

Stars over the lakeSee more pictures from Lago Atitlan and the rest of our travels in Guatemala here.

Ruins, volcanoes and such

Antigua is a small town with cobbled streets in the middle of three big volcanoes. It used to be the capitol of Guatemala until three big earthquakes in the late 18th century ruined much of the town and they decided Guatemala City was a safer place. There are still remains of the old city with several ruins scattered around town.

Antigua is called the backpacker central of Guatemala, and not without reason. There are more hostels and Spanish schools here than in any other town in Guatemala. It seemed that not only backpackers come to Antigua as there are also quite a few more upscale hotels.

The tourism in Antigua has increased the property prices so much that many of the Guatemaltecos need to move out of town to find property and houses that they can afford. Still, we found the town to be quite charming and spent 10 relaxing days there without doing very much.

Here are some of our highlights:

  • Villa Esthela is a little, cheap hostel with a great roof-terrace and nice staff. It’s a little outside town, but the distances in Antigua are all quite small
  • Spanish Academy Sevilla
  • El Frijol Feliz cooking school
  • Por Que No? – a nice, little bar run by some lovely owners
  • Monoloco – Best. Nachos. Ever.
  • Cerro de La Cruz is just a small walking trip (no need for police escort during the day, although a lot of guidebooks say so)
  • Visiting some of the many ruins after the three big earthquakes in the 18th century
  • Walking around and looking at the town and its people
  • The Artisan market, where you usually can haggle the prices to 20-50% of their initial quote

Cerro de la Cruz

Iglesia La Merced

Little secrets

Iglesia San Francisco

OrigamiMore pictures from Antigua and the rest of our Guatemala travels can be found here.

 

M&T = Two Happy Beans

To spice up our trip we did a 3-hour cooking class at El Frijol Feliz (aka The Happy Bean) where we learned to cook some of Guatamala’s typical dishes.

Chopping and posing

We learned how to make chile rellenos (vegetables, chicken and chilies fried in egg batter), frijoles volteados (refried beans), tortillas (corn flour), tortitas de papa (fried potato mash) and rellenitos (fried plantain-mash with chocolate and beans(!) inside).

Chile Rellenos done

The cook was a 50-something cheery Guatemalan woman who only spoke Spanish and her favorite words were “No, mas!” when Mathias asked if he was done chopping onions. It was a bit trying at times, however the manager was frequently there to explain to us the details in English and fill up our glasses with beer and wine.

Cooking Guatemalan food

There was a lot of food in the end, and we left very stuffed, with some rellenitos to share with our amigos in the house. All in all it was a nice experience, although a little pricey ($90 total), and we left with some yummy recipes to bedazzle our friends and family back home in Norway.

Dinner is served

Spanish Academy Sevilla in Antigua

We did 5 days of Spanish classes in Antigua, Guatemala, to help us in our further travels. We chose Spanish Academy Sevilla because of the good price/value and we have to say that 20 hours there has done a lot for our language skills! We still need to work on a lot of vocabulary, but we can get along pretty well in further ventures in Spanish-speaking countries.

Spanish Academy Sevilla

Tuva’s teacher was Elvia (pronounced Elbia), and she has been giggling a lot at Tuva’s many attempts at using French words in Spanish sentences.

Tuva learning Spanish

Axel

Mathias teacher was Axel, and probably the most important thing Mathias learned from him was the chords to Chan Chan.

Chan Chan

The school also provided homestay. We stayed in Casa de las Rompecabezas (house of puzzles – directly translated it is “Broken head”) with Chiqui and Lico. The name of the casa is because they love puzzles and actually have framed 80 big puzzles in their house. In addition to our room, they had three other student rooms where we met Kathy from Canada, Beth from Wales, and Claudia and Kylie from Los Angeles.

Chiky

Lico

We’ve been really happy with Spanish Academy Sevilla, and would absolutely recommend it. It’s also possible to combine the Spanish school with voluntary work with children, as the LA girls are doing, but unfortunately we didn’t have time now.

Just ruining it

On our way from Cancun in Mexico to Antigua in Guatemala we decided we’d stop by Tikal, the place of maybe the most famous Maya ruins today. We are not big ruin-buffs, but we figured that these were worth the trip.

Temple I

Fun fact: Tikal actually means “echo”, and the way the temples are built they give a very peculiar echo, similar to the sound of a Quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala. (pretty cool for acoustic geeks)

We went early in the morning (woke up 4:15) to beat the crowd and see the sunrise. We beat the crowd, but were a bit unlucky with the weather and didn’t see any sunrise, just grey clouds.

Above the treetops

Luckily our day was not ruined by the weather (get it?). We spent the entire morning there and the ruins were enormous in person (completely different from the ones we saw in Tulum). You can walk among them for several hours and even walk on top of some and into others.

It was a great experience and highly recommended. We stayed in the nearby town of Flores, which was a nice and not too expensive place to keep as a base.

The rest of the photos can be found here.

Tuva the explorer

Tiny Mathias