We entered Guatemala on the Holy Friday of Easter and immediately felt better about leaving Belize early. Unlike the border town of San Ignacio, there were no shortage of open shops, places to eat or people on the streets. However, another problem arose because of the holiday – public transport was non-existant at the time. The taxis offering rides at customs did not look trustworthy, so we decided to hitch-hike again.
After getting our hands full of some local Quetzals, we walked at least 5 kilometers unsuccessfully stopping cars. Scorching heat and no shade was too much to bear until we gave up and accepted a ride from a random local. Entering the National Park of Tikal after 3 PM allowed us to stay overnight in the camping area where we rented a few hammocks. A deck of cars, couple of beers and a nice fire were the ingredients for an easy evening.
Staying overnight 17 kilometers deep into the Jungle of Tikal is a different experience in itself. Surroundings come to life slowly – from the greenish blinking firefly in the grass to the scary roars of Jaguars all around you. Even a few steps inside the Jungle in search of wood makes you shiver and hope there aren’t any eyes following your steps. Once I am asleep, not many things can wake me, but my friend was afraid even to get out of the hammock the whole night. The next morning we had one of those breath-taking moments, while enjoying amazing views of the endless Jungle from the Temple IV. It was perfect weather to explore one of the largest archaeological sites of Maya civilization, which is believed to have had a population of up to 90,000 inhabitants in the glory days.
Next stop was youth hostel in Flores – a tiny island on the Lake Peten Itza. Meeting fellow backpackers is bound to make you drink more beers and share awesome stories. I treated myself to some tasty and cheap food throughout our stay, while topping it with more puffs of the green stuff. Our decision on the next destination was influenced by other travelers from hearing stories about this place, called Semuc Champey.
The whole journey to the town of Lanquin took 9 hours, quite a trip, considering the fact that we drove 256 km. Funny how Google maps label it as a 3,5 hour ride. Just so you know, central Guatemala has a few mountains, combining it with crappy roads and way too many speed bumps, oh, our shuttle managed to run out of gas as well. However, everything was forgotten from the first sight of our new place. The Zephyr Lodge is located on top of the mountain, with the river flowing at the bottom and the picture perfect scenery can be soaked in from the bar, room, patio or even a shower (!).
The first night started gazing at the stars and the “reversed” Big Dipper with a guy from US and a girl from Birmingham along with the shared spliff of peace. The morning hike took care of the hangover remains, a swim in the natural pools of Semuc Champey washed all the sweat and an expedition to the underground caves made for the perfect day. Four nights in the hostel were plenty of time to party hard, achieve the world-class laziness, smack beers tubing down the river, test out hammocks or continue promoting Lithuania as a travel destination.
After another 9 hour ass-torching ride we reached Antigua – the most touristy town in Guatemala. Having breakfast with the volcano in the background or admiring the architecture of Spanish Baroque were not the worst ways to spend time. We also met at least 10 people from our previous hostels, confirming that we are in that same Gringo Trail. Antigua is perfect for a day trip, but if you are not planning to climb any volcanoes around, enroll in Spanish lessons or party hard(er), there is not that much to do. Add to being way over the travel budget and two nights sound about right with the last destination in this country looming.
Lake Atitlan is an actual crater of a Volcano and is considered one of Guatemala’s true gems with mountains, other volcanoes and settlements creating one-of-a-kind environment. The town of San Pedro is a tiny rendition of Amsterdam (or Vancouver) for another specific matter. Even though we didn’t hit the weather on the spot this time, there were plenty of activities for the three days. Boat rides around the lake, random hiking/climbing, benefits of the sauna or horse-back riding combined with frozen chocolate bananas or to die for. Since the sky wasn’t gracious enough to give us at least one clear day, we decided to move down south, skipping a few other things. After a quick introduction to the Pacific ocean in Monterrico it was time for another coastal town in El Salvador.
The original plan of an overnight stay in El Tunco was broken up instantly. A simple hostel at the heart of town, steps away from the beach and a whole bunch of cool people. From locals to Aussies, crazy Germans or chilled out Americans. Quite a few first times too – hitching a truck, riding the waves, jumping waterfalls or making out with Salvadorian chicas. I would lie if I said my leg was never shaking before getting airborne from a 15 meter waterfall to splash into the water. I would also regret if I would not push myself that extra step in moments like these. Lots of fruit for breakfast, smoothies with rum, beers overlooking the waves, getting smacked by the pacific waters and flipping the crazy switch for Saturday’s fiesta loca. Saying the four days were just entertaining would be a vast understatement, at least.
We left El Tunco by sticking out the thumb once again. A few rides in the back of a pick-up truck, arriving in Honduras in total darkness and the tale continues…