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Posada "Las Marias".

ACCOMMODATION

sunny 25 °C
View CENTRAL AMERICA: Guatemala-Honduras-Nicaragua 2005 & ISRAEL - all around on vanessa's travel map.

Feb 4, 2005

From cold and rainy Nebaj we rolled downhill, passing the abyss filled with fog, criminal Coban and tiny Lanquin. In night jungle (comeon, it was 7pm!) we were proposed to continue the trip with unnkown amigos, who look like pirates ... sounds adventure, isnt' it?

:) :) :) :) ACCOMODATION- Posada Las Marias
Allright, enough drama!

Amigos were ok and got us to Posada Las Marias, that situated right outside of the waterfalls and caves of Semuc Champey. It appeares later that the boss of pirates was owners of the camping.
We arrived weak-illuminated place. The 1st thing we seen was a group of youth sitting near the long table. It was lunch time.
We had options:
dormit for 4 ppl - about Q25/pp/night
private room for two - Q70/room/night
matress or hammok (in the yard) - Q10
- all with shared bathroom, with no hot water.

The Las Marias property consists of a main patio area where the check-in desk is located and few bungalow-type structures where the guests stay. Each bungalow has two rooms on the ground floor with four beds in each room. It also was one large room on the 2nd floor, under the roof - big company, looking like hippies, already slept there. They were about 10 + 1 newborn baby.
We took the private room for two (I think it was the only double-room in Las Mares) right under the hippies.
Our "private" apartment was small and clean. The double-bed was very good - probably the best that we ever had during our trip in Guatemala. Shared bath and lack of hot water didn't surprise, but lack of electricity in the room was weird. The funny thing that shared rooms ( for 4) were lightened. They used self-made electricity (generator) and it came twice a day - at the morning for breakfast & at the evening - till 1am.

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Probably things a bit changed since then, if you want it in details - try the link below. I found this blog very useful.
http://www.igougo.com/journal-j64066-Guatemala-Ten_Enlightening_Days_in_Guatemala.html#ReviewID:1329532.

I have seen also some very bad reviews in tripadvisor.com written by American and Australian tourists.
I would not like to comment their experience, I can only report for myself -
I had a great time in Posada Las Marias, i absolutely liked it there!

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Feb 5, 2005, Sat

MORNING IN LAS MARIAS
The night was rainy but very warm.
Las Marias is farm-style camping. Great location - 1km by feet to Semuk Champey and even less to the cave. These two are definately the main attractions there. Las Marias is so isolated, that you completely dependent of their service. You can buy from them water, snacks, basic things, alcohol, etc. They serve food for reasonable price. You can find more practical info, includes transportation in the web.

Posted by vanessa 02:21 Archived in Guatemala Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Semuc Champey

Sacred water, yellow bridge and naked robbers.

sunny 25 °C
View CENTRAL AMERICA: Guatemala-Honduras-Nicaragua 2005 & ISRAEL - all around on vanessa's travel map.

After breakfast we went to Semuc Champey

:( NAKED ROBBERS

The way to Semuc Champey was short and pleasant. Flat road, some plantations on the way, green river aside, tropical scenery and very warm day. This pastoral idyll was suddenly corrupted: group of children appeared from the bushes aside the road. All of them were completely naked and look plump and and pretty happy. They surrounded us as a tight ring and begun moaning and begging as trained chorus:"Quetzaaaaaaal, Quetzaaaaaaal, Quetzaaaal..." (Quetzal is a local money, for those who don't know). It was completely unexpected and we were paralyzed for a while. The smallest kid already was pulling the bottle of water from Andre's hands. Looking around we mentioned a very nice village in distance about 100m from the road: houses between fruit trees, good smell of cooking from the oven. Naked robbers did their daily income from tourists.

Begging is a real problem here - mostly it's children business. Groups of children appears from no-where when they see "a white moron" and attack with accuracy of expirienced psyhologist. They are professionals and it's almost impossible to stay indifferent to their moaning. But if you just open your pouch - it probably will be the end of your trip! You will see more and more children appear around you ... until you'll give all your money and probably your equipment too.

When we were preparing to this trip i received a very good advice: "bring with you sweets and small souvenirs and give to little beggers instead of money". It worked and i'm happy to recommend it to followers. You see, life is really hard there, and sometimes begging adults or children are badly need your support. If you feel like sharing and able to do - that's great! The thing is that too many beggers doing this using a naivety of tourists as cash-machine:"you have it and you must give me". Most of backpackers had worked hard to make this trip possible; and then they travel at very slim budget - sometimes in need to choose between sleeping outdoors or inside, go 6 hours in the chicken-bus or pay a double price for 2 hours in the minibus, to have a lunch or to pay the transport instead. Travellers, that I met in my way, were very kind, they lived with open heart and open hand, but no one enjoy to feel being used.
Oh, enough about it!

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:) :) :) :) SEMUC CHAMPEY

Again i feel speechless to describe wonders of Guatemala.
Semuk Champey means sacred water.
Spectacular! Awesome & awesome!!!

Imagine mountain picks, fully covered with rain-forest, and green waters of Rio Cohabon that falling and running in the crack between steep walls. There is a 300m limestone bridge. Under the bridge the Rio Cohabon thrashes and spins down a terrifying tunnel, luckily for those how might otherwise have wished to try swimming down the tunnel a sign warns all of the danger. Water that running on the land is spilling on stone terassas (natural, but looking like human-built huge steps). Water created natural pools, filled with crystal water – stream is getting slow there. Pools are shallow enough to be warm and bathing is allowed. It’s the place of complete relaxation and peace: warm pools, small waterfalls, big butterflies and forest around.

Part of bathing visitors were foreigners, but it also quite popular with locals. Natives family had a picknik in the shade of ceiba tree near water. For lunch they had a bowl of wrinkled cucumbers. My later recearch showed that it probably was chayote - we didn't taste it there.

After bathing we interested in the forest that climbing on hills at both sides of the pools. The forest was muddy after storms, but we couldn’t miss the pleasure to enter jungle. At the beginning we followed the trail, but parts of it were destroyed with water. There we were continuing on our own. We didn’t panic as we could see (sometimes) the river and the pools from the hill.

In the way we met a group of people, looked like a commune something. They hold a newborn baby and big plastic sack with some dozens of boiled eggs. Black dog of medium size followed them. Later, when we returned to Las Mareas, we found they were our neighbours. They slept at the upper floor of our hut. There was a huge attic, and they had electricity. Everybody, including the dog, deftly climbed the ladder leading to the attic. They O-o-O-oMm-M-Mm-m-mmed several times a day in impressive unison.

We paid Q20 for entrance Semuc Champey (in 2005) and we were asked where are we from. First we thought they were just curious, but then we mentioned that they manage journal with statistic data. How cute.
There are price in 2010:
Entrance fees are: Q30 (nationals), Q50 (foreigners), Q10 (children), parking (Q10), camping (Q35. per tent).
Semuk Champey is open every day of the year from 8am-6pm.

You can find even more information in the Oficcial Site of Semuk Champey:
http://www.semucchampey.com/en/semuc-champey.html

Posted by vanessa 07:15 Archived in Guatemala Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

K’anba Caves

Las Cuevas de K'an Ba

sunny 25 °C
View CENTRAL AMERICA: Guatemala-Honduras-Nicaragua 2005 & ISRAEL - all around on vanessa's travel map.

MORNING
It was no rain tonight, but morning is cloudy. Humid and warm - forests are all around.
We didn't sleep well last night, our neighbours - S. American teens, managed active night life: first they had fun and it last till 4am, and then they begun intensive packing - for early leave with 5:30 shuttle... thanks God!

:) :) :) :) K’ANBA CAVES

It appeared that the landlord of the Posada Las Marias is also an owner (!) of the cave nearby (Oh, yes, it's possible only in S. America!) and they can take us there "on our own risk" for a little fee of Q30. Great!
All that we knew about the cave - it's 7km long stalactite cave, which created with stream of River Cohabon's water. We were said to dress for a walk in water, so we did.

THe guide - short and muscular indigena guy, one of The Family, spoke only Spanish. Oh, yeah? Never mind - we waived. We can manage. We were international bunch of 5 or 6 and didn't know each other before. We received candles (it's complete dusk there, folks - you are inside the rocks). As we entered, we lit our candles and the felt water at our feet slowly rise. The water came from our ankles, to our knees, to our waist and up to our chest ... then, he turned to us and said, “You must swim now, make sure you don’t put out your candle.” Nothing beats swimming in total darkness, with only a candle to light your way!

The first hall was spacious with low stalactite ceiling, it turned into the system of narrow slippy corridors where water got deeper. We were going against the stream, but it wasn't that strong. Soon we reached the wall. Rope ladder was leading into the dusk. We got up to the next level. Then passed in couple of tunnels and woooow.....it was a waterfall inside the cave! Great! What now? Now we climbed up with knotted rope. No, you can't with candle - you need use both of your hands. Gimme your candle, I will hold it. Yes, you climb through the waterfall, yes, yes, inside, against falling water. But it's short! (all this in Spanish)
wow, wooow... what a thing!
Then there were few more rooms, pools, stalactite formations and river-corridors, I'm not going to fool you with excessive detail. And then we arrived to oval hole, actually to oval pool,surrounded by rocks. We were suggested to jump into the pool from the rock and our guide did it first - to show how to do. He mentioned that we'd better jump directly into the center (the bath was not that big), because rocks all around are very sharp. Oh yeah, that's right - alike shark teeth! To add here the element of darkness, weak light of candles (low oxygen), no sabemos español and fact that you are no-where, about 2 km deep inside the mountain, which is in jungle, hours away from civilisation and about a day-ride to the closest hospital. But it's not what you are thinking about a while before you jump. You climb on the rock,and staring into the black water - trying to guess how deep it is. And for any freaky reason you are concerned it may be cold. But it take just a couple of seconds and you jump!
Oh, man!!! Oh it's damn cute thing to do!!! I loved it, I really loved it very much and I jumped more - the second time was not scare already. It's so fun!

We were lucky - guy that took us to the cave was extremely fit and skilled in his job. It is great responsibility - to take people who you don't know to extremal situation and he really cared and tutored us by the best way. Probably we were a cool groop (no one was hysterical or complained), but he also entertained us in the way: dived in one room and appeared in another place, kept candle lightning under the waterfall, etc.

When we were done with jumping, he explained that here we turn back (uuuuuffff!!), we were in about 2km deep the tonnels. The cave continues deeper for another 5km, but it becomes dangerous there and it's only for speleologists with equipment and prof. skills. What ever. We supposed to return same way - it's no emergency exits there. We passed a waterfall, going down with the same rope, and we met another group. We were wet, brave and full with adrenaline, but people we met looked anxious and frightened. Their guide seem not familiar with the cave and look scared himself. Guides had a short talk between them and decided to exchange the groups, we were almost at the exit so a "new" guy went with us rest of the way (really exactly same that we entered). But before he did, we received the last present from "our" guide. Instead of going trough the wide passage we were asked to squeeze through a narrow gap. The water was gushing down a tiny hole in the wall, and the guide cheerfully beckoned us down towards it. Now, jumping into the dark pool seem a joke compared to diving into the drain pipe. Amusement reminded the toilet - the same pressure and total uncertainty about the landing. If you forgot - it was darkness there. "Pipe" had curve shape and was filled with running water - so no any chance to know how long it is and what to expect at the end. I took a deep breath and just jump into it. Yahooo-o-o-o!!! It was like riding a roller coaster! The pipe ended in the water, need just dive under the rock and here you are, near the rope ladder we were familiar with!
The cave was brilliant, but day didn't finish with the end of cave adventure. We entered the cave like strangers and left it being a team. We were all wet and felt excited and happy. Then we hiked up to through jungle to the mountain pick - for fabulous view. Thousands words are not enough to describe this pure beauty of green mountains cracks and grand river running between.
Sounds like the end? No, it wasn't!
We went downhill to the river. Our hostel was located downstream. We sat down in the tubes and floated down the river. Inspite of strong stream and rocks - the float was very relaxing thing. We made a break near the yellow bridge. It's very old 9m bridge that leading to Semuc Champey. We were suggested to jump from the bridge to the river. Water is deep there, it's safe. Two of us did, others did not - after jumping in the cave bridge didn't attract. The river brought us directly to the hostel. We are moored to the shore and before the final step on the dry land we had fun, jumping into water from trapeze swing, tied to a tree above the water.

  • I have read in someone's blog: "this part of the world laughs in the face of health and safety". Oh, yeeees! I agree! And I love it!!!

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CALCULATION for 3 nights in "Las Maries":
Total : Q570 = 80US$
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
Accomodation for 3 nights: - 70x3 = Q210
Transport (minibus to Coban): Q60
Food for 2 days: Q.230
Others (Semuk Champey & caves) 40+ 30= Q.70

Posted by vanessa 10:35 Archived in Guatemala Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Lanquin - Coban - Sayaxche

Another day in the road


View CENTRAL AMERICA: Guatemala-Honduras-Nicaragua 2005 & ISRAEL - all around on vanessa's travel map.

Our last night in Las Mareas passed, I awoke at 2am and couldn't asleep. Shuttle came before sunrise. It was 5am but no day light - mornings are cloudy there. Minibus run in the jungle. In some time road became better and first buildings of Lanquin appeared. Village was in night sleep yet, no lights and no sounds. The first one who opened and already worked was а butcher shop (Oddly enough, given the fact that the locals almost do not eat meat). Some early customers crowded around the butcher, in diffuse glow of lamp.

:-o :-o COBAN


Coban isn't a place you wanna visit, even I heared about lovely folklor events (?) there, still I doubt it can be a nice place to stay.
First we passed in Coban in the way to Semuk Champey but it was very short - happily we got a minibus to Lanquine almost immediately at arriving to the city.
Now we had to visit Coban for few reasons:
1st we need cash - mean need bank,
2nd we were with no internet connection for a few days in Posada Las Mares - so internet cafe was must to visit too,
3rd - the shortest way to Tikal went via Coban anyway.

Coban is quite big city, with population abt 85,000. It was founded in 16 century and later, towards the end of the 19th century, it was developed by German coffee growers - so it supposed to have German influence but it is not visible.
Most of the year it is either rainy or overcast, dank and chill.
There are: bus terminal, few stadiums, market and supermarket too, few photo shops, bank, internet cafe, the old bridge crossing the river. The bridge is narrow and two-way traffic is not possible. The problem is solved by using a traffic light that regulates the movement by shifting between transport currents. Central Square (must element in every settlement in C. America) and Municipality Building, both, worth additional talk, but a bit later.

At arriving, when we just stepped out of the bus, we were immediately warned.
A white lady of golden age touched my arm with her thin dry fingers:
"Actually is not too safe here," - she said with a low voice, "You'd better be careful with your bags and your wallets. Hide your money into your shoes!".
Wow, what an introduction!

Internet Cafe
The only Internet Cafe in the city - at least it was in 2005. So, no competition. But it was very cheap and had good connection. Very effective visit indeed.

Bank.
A security guard at the entrance.
Face-control - and we are allowed to enter.
Inside: There are few girls in folklor skirts are rustling papers. A short swarthy clerk quickly scores banknotes with sausage fingers. (His neck is hidden inside the collar of very white shirt and it seems that the ball of head is growing straight from the collar). There are almost no visitors and we are done very soon. We received wads of Quetzals for our $$$ and now we have to shove small portions of them into different places. "Actually is not too safe here". We are quite indifferent to own safety, but we noted that faces on the street were really criminal. So we'd better be careful (don't put all your eggs in one backet). Packed with cash money we getting out to the street.

Coban Central Square
Most of city "activities" (internet, supermarket, bank, cafes, municipality, etc) are concentrated around the Central Park/Square. It makes sence.

Here is incredible number of shoeshiners and all of them have job - even the shabby lumpen cares to have shiny shoes.
They only work with black wax, but seems no one cares. Red shoes are polished with black wax too. To a mirror shine. But only a bottom part of boots, that peeking out from under pants, tops are left alone.

Farmers in high hats sit on the benches in solid pose, meantime the shoeshiner is doing his work.
There are also crooks with traces of life on their faces. They shooting around with their eyes, sometimes manage conversation in a low voice and then exchange something compact. Packed little. It's not looking entirely innocent. Not my business sure.
Remarkable loafers, dressed like gentlemen, are playing cards in the square or reading newspapers or just discuss news.
Charming. Not kidding, I really think it's charming - it's so pure "the wrong place 2b there" that I almost applaud.

In addition to the human croud, there is a large population of black birds on the square. They are similar to crows, but they are much more elegant: they have sharp subtle beaks and evil yellow eyes. Birds are walking all around the square: on the grass and between the benches, with no fear anything and anyone. Their brilliant-black plumage and bloody audacity immediately evoke associations with the Mafia.

It's still early morning and we are the only white trash there and we are visible like under zoom. We decide to have a breakfast before we are taking a ride North.

Breakfast
This is a little cafe right on central park - look simple and clean, with rustic wooden chairs and tables covered with oilcloths. Food was fresh and OK and coffee was good too. From behind the glass street looks quiet and friendly. We already almost emptied coffee-cups when we heared shots. Oh My God, here it comes. Being ready to every possible scenario, we were not looking for trouble. We are peaceful fellas. Shooting last for some time and then subsided. Soon we seen the participants through the window. On closer inspection, they were children in festive dress. They came from the church and behaved, trying not to stain the dress. It looked like there was a confirmation or other fest. There were no shots, but fireworks. Guatemalans adore fireworks and never miss an opportunity to launch a petard or two, even in the daytime.

Coban Municipality
Remarkable!
Municipality of Coban sits in colonial palace - grandiose and disrepair.
The walls of the hall painted in grass-green color. Hall decorated with portraits of the founders. They all are different sizes and shapes, most are colorful and some black & white. I could not find two identical frames. Portraits hang at different angles, as if the wind was walking inside and crooked them. Actually, it's a reminiscent of a novel of Marquez "The Autumn of the Patriarch" (El otoño del patriarca). I was looking for WC and found the police office - it set right under the stairs. The office consisted of a dilapidated table and shaky chairs. All this was protected with solid metal bars. I kindly greeted the sad policeman in the cage and he pointed me in the direction of the toilet. Toilet happen to be outside of the building, as it were, with entrance from the yard. A dirty hostel was a logical continue of the WC. Yes, you got it right, it was situated at the backyard of the Municipal Building. Half-dressed man were sleepily wandering in the yard, keeping in hands soiled towels - apparently waiting their turn to the shower.
...yeah, impressive.

We left Coban with overloaded minibus. It's quite good and direct road between unforgetable Coban and Sayaxche.
SAYAXCHE - is our next stop in the way to Tikal - one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centres of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization. Landscape in the window was changing from cloudy mountains to flat swampy valley. There were villages, surrounded with banana plantations and corn fields. The way was four hours long.

Posted by vanessa 12:33 Archived in Guatemala Tagged way road coban peten lanquin sayaxche shoeshiner Comments (0)

Sayaxche !!!

here it comes...


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:) :) :) THE RIVER

Beautiful. It called Rio De La Pasion. The name talks for itself, isn't it? In the point where La Pasion makes a sharp turn, exactly on the pick of the curve, the town was built. At least for me - it begins from the dock. The dock is full with long narrow boats - they bring staff from Mexico. Being correct - there is no dock, but rather boats came ashore on the river's edge.
Then there is a vehicle transport ferry - exactly same like it was in movie "Waterworld" with Kevin Costner, if you remember. Ferry is a wooden raft of primitive construction: logs, fastened together & outboard motor & the thatched roof - from sun, from rain and from all adversity (touch wood). There is no bridge to cross the river and ferry is extremely in demand, powering the diesel trucks and buses across the river. At night, the traffic continued, with lights sometime glaring from the vehicular ferry through our hotel room window. Launches, that frequently the passengers.

:) ACCOMMODATION

Our hotel was right on the waterfront, so we sat on the balcony, watching the ferries traffic back and forth all day and night. This is quite a spectacle, and it's favorite activity in this lazy town ( kidding! ). I watched pedestrian traffic fill-up the launches on the opposite shore and then power their way across. Once, I witnessed a goat loaded onto the launch, and then watched it unload below the balcony. Farther in the distance I could see also ferry periodically made it's crossing.

Hotel "GUAYACAN" came in two parts at two sides of the road. One looked like nice but cost Q150/night (for double-room), crossing the road it was hospedaje (hostel), where it cost half - Q35/ person. We took hospedaje. Room was basic, with shared bathroom and cold water. The room was very small and quite unequipped - there was not even a nail in the wall - to hang clothes, but there was a window (!), a bed and shaky whether stool or table of unknown purpose. The long gallery (I called it balcony above), encircling the entire building, was notable. It was sutable for enter/ exit the room and also supported wonderful views. It was a street market under the balcony. There were garlic braids, tomatoes, cabbage and naranjas on sale. Spectacular!

Afternoon, when market finished, the view became even more exciting, because I could see the street-life better. Along the street with continuous traffic (venichels were going to/from ferry) , huge Mexicans played cards and drunk wine. They were boatmen, who come there for business and stay for a night or two before return to Mexico. Comandante del hospedaje - talkative dude with a pock-marked face, explained that they are the majority in our hostel. Boatmen were really big guys with calm flat faces, silent as a rock. They all were equipped with massive knives, hanged on their belts. Sitting on low shaky stools, very close to rickety tables, covered with oilcloth, Mexicans sipped wine and intently exchanged cards with their huge hands. Do I sound fascinated? O yes, very much so! I loooove this kind of places. But it supposed to be a hostel description! So, except of us and Mexicans there lived two more foreigners: French girl - Sonja and other lonely traveler from somewhere Europe - thin and tall like a stick. He was a very shy person, but he didn't mind to communicate with us. Unfortunately we had too short time there for making connections, so it only happen a small talk, nothing else. Also a bat lived under the roof - we could hear her making voices.

:) mmOOOOOOOOOOOOuuu - - -

It was evening and already dusk. I staid alone in the room, unpacking.
Here is comes: unexpected, loud and shocking - like in horror movie.
Creepy moan broke the night to pieces.
mmOOOOOOOOOOOOuuu - - -
It was so sharp and so loud that sound like somebody shouted right into my ear.
I freezed, listening.
The moan stopped as suddenly as it begun.
Oh My God! What now?
And then it came again, same prolonged and strong and terrible voice. Damn!
I have to know what is it! I pushed the door and jumped out, onto the balcony.
Under the balcony, directly against my room door, somebody parked a lorry. A cattle lorry.
The platform was full with zebu. Their muzzles were almost at same height аs the balcony, that's why it sound so loud.
Each 10 minutes they were madly buzzing, like a chimney.

The night was warm. Milky fog hung over the river. Our night sleep was accompanied with sound of boat engines, sighs and heavy moves of zebu in the lorry, horns from the river, the rustling of tires on gravel. Occasionally dogs barked. In the morning cock awoke and contributed to the orchestration. Bravo!

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Feb8, 2005, Tuesday. 5AM
MORNING IN SAYAXCHE

The morning came with the cook. It was too early and still no day light. Incredible variety of sounds was heard from the street. There were sirens and working engines of vehicles, dropped onto the ferry, monotone voice of carrier repeating the direction, ansamble of cattle lowing and cries of cock. We planned to see Ceibal Ruines and it was a reason to stay in Sayaxche for additional day.

Posted by vanessa 14:22 Archived in Guatemala Tagged boats market river sayaxche Comments (0)

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