Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Summer travels: Las Verapaces (part 2)

Continuing on our journey through Guatemala...Dan and I took a "chicken bus" from Santiago Atitlan to Guatemala City. Waiting for the bus to leave, we saw piles of avocados in the streets of the many avocados!


For those of you who may not know, chicken buses are the primary mode of transportation for many Guatemalans. They are old schoolbuses painted bright colors, and they are notoriously fast. I was so enthralled by the avocados that I did not think to take a photo of the shiny red and yellow one we rode. Dan and I heard various statistics...every month a bus goes off a cliff...on average a chicken bus driver is shot monthly...luckily we heard these stories after we rode the chicken bus. (Also, they are known as chicken buses because one may encounter chickens riding on the bus. This happened to us twice, both times it was a box of chirping chickies.) After three hours of more twisty-turny roads, a miracle drug sales pitch, passing by many coffee plantations and corn fields, with lively music the entire way, we arrived in Guatemala City, and rode the Muni (really!) to the bus station for the first-class bus (former Greyhound) to the mountain town of Coban. Finally, we arrived at Casa Duranta, where the rooms surround a beautiful courtyard garden.

Casa Duranta
Outside our room

Garden at Casa Duranta
Pretty courtyard

While in Coban, Dan and I visited the Finca Santa Margarita coffee plantation. We saw different varieties of coffee plants and tasted ripe coffee berries during the tour...they are sweet! We also learned what cardomam plants look like, crushed allspice leaves to release the aroma, saw coffee beans being roasted, enjoyed a tasty cup of coffee, and even played with a dashchund! The farm also had two pet peccaries, who did a mutual double-nuzzle that was so cute.

Finca Santa Margarita
Shade-grown coffee

Dan and I explored the town a bit, and climbed a great many steps up to the old temple to see the view of the city. There was a large group of local people gathered outside the temple...not sure why, but we felt like we were intruding, so we headed back down the steps. Dan spotted a Logitech logo outside a shop, so he had to get a picture!

View of Coban
View of Coban from atop the steps

Logitech in Coban
Dan and Logitech logo

In the afternoon we went to the orchid nursery just outside of town, Vivero Verapaz...their collection includes hundreds of orchids native to Guatemala. Most of them bloom between November and February, but we did see some incredibly teeny-tiny care barely see the flower! So amazing. There also were several tall pink bromeliads growing on the trees that Dan had never seen before.

From Coban, we took yet another twisty-turn bus ride to Semuc Champey. It was a bumpy ride too, though the views of the lush green hills of the Verapaces were quite lovely. And we saw many, many cornfields in the hills. The Guatemalans seem to grow corn in every available space possible.

We stayed in a cabin at Hostal El Portal, which overlooks the Rio Cahabon. Many of the travelers staying there enjoyed jumping off the bridge into the is a long way down. I wanted to, but was a scaredy-cat. Dan jumped though! The local boys also jumped off, and one little boy named Julio who was selling chocolate was especially impressive...he was so quick and nimble climbing up a tree to get back up to the bridge from the river. Many children in the area sell chocolate that their families have made...we even saw a cacao plant at the entrance of El Portal. I had four round bars during our stay...flavored with cardomam, cinnamon, or vanilla...the chocolate had a slightly grainy texture from the cacao nibs and sugar. So yummy.

Hostal El Portal
Our cabin on the left, bridge in the background

Cacao tree near Semuc Champey
Big pink cacao beans

We heard some other travelers discussing a cave tour the afternoon we arrived, so we decided to join them on a tour of the river-filled caves of K'anba. We were each given a candle, and waded through water to enter the cave. We climbed up and down the rock formations, behind a waterfall, and swam along the way...seeing incredible stalactites and the rushing water of the Rio Cahabon, as well as an occasional bat! It was an unforgettable experience.

The next morning we hiked up a steep, muddy trail to the lookout point, and saw the limestone pools of Semuc Champey, surrounded by the lush green cloudforest...such a lovely setting. The water from Rio Cahabon flows over the pools, as well as through a cave underneath the pools. We walked down to the first series of pools, where we saw the rushing water beneath the limestone caves. Then we made our way through the pools, swimming and jumping from pool to fun! At the end of the pools, Dan climbed down a rope ladder through a waterfall into the cave beneath, but I was too scared. He actually went underneath Semuc amazing!

Semuc Champey
Semuc Champey from the lookout

Fast flowing Rio Cahabon
Fast-flowing Rio into the cave

Close-up of the pools
Each pool flows down to another layer

More pools
Another pool close-up

Dan and I both loved Semuc Champey, and thought the long haul to get there was worth it. We enjoyed the communal meals and meeting fellow would have been nice to stay longer, but it was time for our next destination...the jungle of Peten comes up next!


jenny said...

oooo avocados! the peccaries look cute not mean like your guide said. and the pools look amazing!

snoopyjoanne said...

mmm...i bet the chocolate was delicious! and where is the picture of the daschund?! ;P looks like you guys had an amazing time!!!