Week one in Guatemala……….

Well, it’s Weds now. I’ve been in Guatemala for 8 days. I’ve been sweating for the vast majority of that time. It’s hot a humid here. I’m writing this from the home of the owner of the raft company. It’s a simple home, but the location is tough to beat. I’ve got the sound of the Lanquin river about 6 feet below me and two feet behind. The view is of some undeveloped mountains and the loudest sounds, other than the river, are some sprinkles of rain on the tin roof and an amazing variety of bird calls. There is no internet at the house, so when I’ve finished writing this update, I’ll put it on my thumb drive and hike the steep 10-15 minute walk to the village of Lanquin, Guatemala.

I think when I last updated was Saturday or Sunday. I’ve sort of lost track. We were still in Coban, waiting on the raft guide and the truck to be fixed. That afternoon it became clear the truck wouldn’t be fixed, so Maarten (the owner), Iris (Maarten’s Girlfriend) and I caught a mini-bus from Coban to Lanquin. These minibuses are sort of interesting, they are small Toyota and Nissan busses, mostly in surprisingly good shape, and they pack them completely to the brim with people. No personal space allowed. But it’s a cheap and seemingly safe way to get around.

Andrew, Iris and Myself at El Retiro

When we arrived in Lanquin, I was shown my home for the next few weeks. It’s a tin-roofed raised platform, with 4.5 foot walls on two sides, one side 1/2 walled, and one nearly completely open. It overlooks the river and the supports posts are just inches from the waters edge. It’s got a chair, shelves, and an air mattress. I added mosquito netting, which I’m quite glad Kim convinced me to pack. She’s a good wife. It’s very rustic, but pleasant enough. It’s hot here, well into the evening, so the open walls are actually a blessing.

Kim calls this my Plank, but it’s more than that.
My view from my bed.

My little house is adjacent to, but not part of, a popular backpacker destination, El Retiro Lodge. We base our operation and sales out of the restaurant/bar at El Retiro. It’s also the closest food, yummy and almost ridiculously cheap. It is quite a happening spot, and very, very popular with a young traveller crowd. It’s remarkable, many of them are travelling for months and months, or even years. Many have been to some remarkable places, and have a vague plan for the places they’ll visit in the coming months. It’s quite addictive. I’ve had very few conversations there where I didn’t think “Dang, I’d like to go there.” The whole experience of being here makes me want to travel more.

You can imagine that combining a large number of young travellers and cheap drinks (happy hour, held several times each evening, brings 2 mixed drinks, each with 2 oz. of alcohol in them, for 4 oz. total, for the equivalent of $2-3.) creates a bit of a party atmosphere, and you’d be right. It does get a bit crazy in there from time to time, but not really in any kind of obnoxious way. Mostly just some fun dancing and drinking and lively conversation. The crowd is really global, but predominately European (especially British and Irish it seems) and Isreali, with a healthy dose of Americans. It’s quite fun to watch a British bartender and a Guatemalan bartender dance wildly behind the bar to an Irish jig.

Carlos and Joe dancing to an Irish Jig

Each evening we head over there. I often get my dinner there, but we’re also there to answer questions and get people excited about rafting.

El Retiro at night.  I need to take some daytime photos of the lodge. Ít’s pretty.
Andrew scouting in the Jungle

Ok, back to a chronology. So we all arrived in Lanquin on Saturday evening, and the plan was for Andrew (the raft guide) and I to kayak the Lanquin river to learn it. I was excited, and woke up pretty early the next morning. As I went about getting ready, I stepped on a rotted-out wooden step in a staircase, and it broke. I fell, hard, bruising my arm and tweaking my shoulder. Damn. It hurt. A lot. When I did it, I honestly doubted my ability to paddle, maybe for the entire trip. I rested that day, took some medicine. Surprisingly, I woke Monday morning feeling about 80% fixed, so Andrew and I went paddling. The Lanquin run starts at El Retiro, and is only 45 minutes or so, but the bottom 2/3rds are fun, continuos Class III+ paddling, without much break and with some fun bigger waves. Good stuff. Andrew and I caught a ride back on one of the local transportation options, a pickup truck with the bed crowded with maybe 15 people. We put our boats in the bed, and stood on the bumper with 3 or 4 others, like firemen. Sort of wild.

A Guatemalan shuttle rig. We rode standing on the bumper.

I was over at El Retiro that evening, and a group was forming shortly before dark , to go see the “bat cave”. We walked there about 45 minutes before dark, and entered the cave. I’m not a big fan of being underground. In fact, I hate it enough I avoid parking garages when possible. But I wanted to see the bats. We walked back into the cave, on some incredibly slick guano covered trails. I saw one or two bats. After 10 minutes, it started to pick up. Like watching a flash flood, one became 10. 10 quickly became a hundred. A hundred rapidly became a thousand. They were leaving the cave to go hunting for the evening. Thousands and thousands of bats. They’d fly so close you could feel the air move, but their incredible echo-location skills meant they never bumped you. Incredible. Very cool. It was just amazing to see. We moved to the entrance of the cave, and watched as they flew and turned to go hunt. Eventually it turned dark. I ended up slowly walking back, enjoying conversation with a British couple that had been part of the group.

Murcialogo is spanish for bat.  not sure I spelled it right.  Hard to get photos of fast moving bats, at night, in a cave.

Tuesday we took the bar staff paddling in the morning, with Andrew guiding the raft and me being safety kayaker. This was mostly to get any issues worked out, and to get the staff excited about the rafting so they could help sell it. The trip was mostly smooth, though I had a bit of an issue at the end with a 1/2 imploded skirt while being side surfed in a surprisingly sticky little hole. All in all, still lot’s of fun. That afternoon we had our first regular clients, a group of Israelis. Good fun, and back to El Retiro. Alli, a Scottish bartender, was leaving the next morning, so it was a bit of party to send her off, and I stayed out a bit longer than maybe I should’ve.

The Bar staff from El Retiro in the raft.

Today was a short day, we only sold one trip this morning, so we were done working by lunchtime. Had a late lunch at El Retiro, and now I’m writing this email. Shortly, I’ll head to town, pick up my laundry. (shirts are only good for a day here, if that. I’ve been sweating nearly continuously since arriving. Going through lot’s of laundry. But a bagful costs just $3 to have done, so it’s not too bad. ) Maybe grab a Frutas Coco on my way home in lieu of dinner. Love those things. Tonight I plan to avoid El Retiro a bit, and maybe get an early nights sleep.

Tomorrow we are not signing up any clients, and Andrew and I are going to kayak the Cahabon river, to familiarize ourselves with it so we can hopefully begin leading trips on it on Friday. Good stuff.

It’s fun down here, but I do find myself surprisingly homesick. I miss Kim a lot. I can’t wait for her to get here so we can explore some more of Guatemala together. Even just being here would be much better if she was with me. I also miss some simple things, like my tomato garden, and knowing our peach tree must be just falling over under ripe peaches right now. I’m a little tired of having muddy feet. It’s impossible to stay clean.

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3 Comments

  1. The truck picture is my favorite!

  2. Wow, that is so cool! I love the place you are staying in!

  3. Anonymous

    I agree, the truck ride on the back had to be super! I’m so glad your shoulder is ok. Be careful! And keep the updates coming. I miss traveling!

    Jen

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