Guatemala Pt.1 / by Kenneth Benson

Guatemala pt. 1

We entered Guatemala today, again doing our border crossing in the mid day heat, when will we learn? Another country away deeper into Central America. The process was semi painless and took about an hour.  It is nice to be in a Spanish speaking area again, we missed it. Belize felt like this strange interlude, beautiful but a little weird.. This border crossing has come with a lot of new emotions and thoughts. For the last several days we have gone back and forth about how far to take this trip and when we should return. It seems that daily we go from wanting to go all the way to the end of the pan-am highway, to wanting to turn around after Nicaragua and spend some time camping in southern Utah. The truth is there is natural beauty everywhere and in our little adventure-mobile we are game to find it. We are currently sitting at the edge of an amazing lake near the ruins of Tikal, watching the dog swim and imagining ALL of the potentials.

Not every day works out as planned and generally it has something to do with the kid, the dog or the car. This time it was the dog. We didn’t get to see the ruins of Tikal. The ruins are actually about an hour drive from where you pay your entrance fee, unlike others we have visited. This meant that Kohbi was banned before we even got to the parking lot. Normally we would have parked and found a shady place to tie her up for a few hours but it wasn’t possible at this site. So it was back to the lake for us where I proceeded to tear out the annoying bumper ferring on the front of the van and inspect the electrical wiring of the secondary battery that has been vexing me for a few months now.

We left El Remate and headed south toward some reputable caving. Our first day in Guatemala we discovered a leaky tire and prior to leaving the lake I put on the spare, so our first stop was to get that repaired. After that we hit the road for a 3 hour journey to the Calendaria Caves. Shortly after leaving town we made a wrong turn and our GPS re-routed us back country through about 20 miles of pot-holed gravel roads and past the city dump. After rejoining the pavement an hour later (Vega lolled to sleep) we discovered the next turn sort of impassable due to the construction of a new bridge and a tractor trailer carrying a front end loader, high centered on the alternate route. We found our own way on a dirt road around some homes that luckily rejoined the road we wanted. After another hour of driving the GPS announced to us that we should board the ferry. Say What!

As we came over a hill it was clear that yes the road ended and we needed a ferry to cross. We waited our turn and and crossed. It wasn’t until we had left the banks of the river that we remembered we had let the dog out to swim and none of our whistling and yelling could convince her to make the swim across the river to meet us. To top it off Vega peed her car seat. Devon had joked with me when we let Kohbi out not to forget her but… Anyway the kind people of Guatemala realized what had happened and boarded Kohbi on the next passenger ferry headed toward us. Quickly we were reunited and on our way again.

Next camp was further south near Chisec. We stopped here so that we could take a tour of the Candalaria Caves. The tour was a 2 hour tube ride through a cave system under the karst-like a landscape. Unbelievably Vega was amazing, floating in cold water and utter darkness, swarmed by bats and surrounded by stalactites that looked like giant vampires hanging from the ceiling, she sang songs and giggled at her echo.

The next day we took the van on a little adventure. We drove from Coban to Lanquin.  The majority of the road was paved to varying degrees but the last 11k was gravel of even more varying condition. The van ran like a champ over some pretty tough terrain.  The main draw of Lanquin is Semac Champey another 9K away, an incredible area of natural beauty filled with tourists :) Semac is part of the “backpacker” route so there were a bunch of 20 something travelers from a bunch of different countries. It is a strange thing to travel for hours through very rural areas and tough roads only to run into a town in the middle of nowhere that is filled with kids on break from this or that, Bob Marley blaring in the background.We felt slightly out of place and kinda old.

Seamac is was gorgeous even if a bit crowded with other tourists. Multiple pools of varying color great for swimming.

We spent the majority of the day there and even snuck in the dog.

After Lanquin we headed back into Coban, stocked up on necessities and found a great little Comedor that had some soccer on (Liverpool vs. Seville). Just outside of Coban we visited a coffee farm.  This one farm was part of a cooperative with 4 other sites across Guatemala. These sites are mainly educational sites offering agricultural education to young adults. This specific farm was coffee.  We took a tour of the farm and learned more in an hour about coffee than I did in 2 years as a manager of a coffee shop.  I got to taste the fruit of the coffee bean right from the plant. It looks like a cranberry, you peel away the pulp to reveal the bean inside that is encased in what they call “miel” which means honey. It looks just like a coffee bean but the bean is almost white and there is a gelatin like layer around the bean that tastes amazingly sweet. We saw the coffee plant in all of it’s stages and the harvest process as well and then sat a drank a cup. After that we parked in a secure parking area at a decent hotel and fell asleep to the rain.,,,,,,