Guatemala

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Te Chirrepeco

As a lover of tea (especially chai), I was pretty ecstatic when Krista mentioned a cinnamon tea grown on a local cooperative in Guatemala. At her suggestion I asked our lovely host mom, Sonia, if she might be able to tell me where to buy Te Chirrepeco, and she was quick to tell me that she would buy and prepare it for Tom and I. I tried my best to dissuade her from actually buying the tea but she refused to listen—and every morning till the day we left there was piping hot cinnamony-goodness waiting for us!

This little box makes twelve cups of tea and costs about twenty cents. All that’s required is to boil some water with a few cinnamon sticks, add a few leaves and let it steep for a while. Not only does it taste amazing but, according to the cooperative website, some of the health properties include:

1. Strengthens mental capacity
2. Increases energy
3. It eliminates the bodies absorption of heavy metals like lead and mercury
4. Helps to reduce cholesterol levels
5. Contributes to the decrease in uric acid and much more

It is an absolutely divine tea and great for cold mornings in Xela. If you are interested if buying some I believe you should be able to order it here.

After 5 weeks of serious Spanish immersion in Xela, Guatemala we headed south to the colonial city of Antigua. Excited to be on the move again we packed up Marlin, said goodbye to our lovely host family (there were even a few tears) and set out.

Antigua was just what our Spanish laden minds needed. We chose to stay at Posada La Merced, a small hotel owned and operated by Gail, a lovely woman from New Zealand. She gave us a great room and let us use her parking space while she was out of town.

Despite the fact that our Lonely Planet gives Antigua a bit of a ho-hum review we both felt it was definitely worth the visit – it’s not the cheapest place in Guatemala and three to four days is more than enough time to get a feel for the area.

Climb Pacaya
Seriously…you get to see real, hot, flowing lava after a pretty painless hike (around 2 hours up and maybe 1.5 down). This is one of the coolest things to see in Antigua, take the afternoon hike, watch the lava as the sun sets and then see the red hot liquid rock flow down the volcano as you hike down at night. Wear good shoes or risk melting your soles and bring a walking stick, you will want the extra support, or you can rent one on the volcano.


Climbing Pacaya from Kels M on Vimeo.


Walk the City

Well-kept haciendas, immense churches and stunning ruins can all be found in the ancient city of Antigua, a true photographer’s paradise. The city is small enough for a well-organized traveler to see quite a few ruins and museums in one day or, for the more low-key wanderer, take a few days and enjoy the city’s cafés and restaurants in between. Don’t miss Casa Santo Domingo, a luxury hotel created around a former convent, which housed the order of Santo Domingo de Guzmán. The hotel design incorporates the ruins in creative and innovative ways. It costs 40Q to visit the grounds and explore the galleries, both Tom and I were very impressed with the use of raw ruins juxtaposed against modern museum techniques. The sprawling grounds are beautiful and immaculately maintained; we had limonadas in the garden and relaxed in the tranquil setting.

Chilling in Casa Santo Domingo

Chilling in Casa Santo Domingo


Eat at Café Condesa

Best Breakfast Ever.

Best Breakfast Ever.

Yum.

Needing a break from 4 weeks of Spanish immersion we decided to get out of Xela for a weekend. Seeing Lago Atitlan seemed like the way to go and, for once, we traveled without Marlin. We caught the direct chicken bus to San Pedro from the bus station at 2pm though there are buses which leave at all hours – you just have to ask around. Sonia, the best home-stay mom ever, was appalled that we were skipping almuerzo (lunch) and packed up a tasty meal for us which we devoured on the bus.

Chicken buses are not the most comfortable transport but they are the cheapest way to get around Guatemala. There are tour companies that offer direct transport (with probably more comfortable seats) all over Guatemala but they charge you for it. It costs $14 USD/person one way to San Pedro whereas taking the chicken bus was only $3 USD/person one way. Personally, I don’t think the private buses are worth it as you take the same bumpy roads. Save the cash, experience typical Guatemalan transport and stay in a nicer hostel.

During the Vietnam war, Lago Atitlan (particularly the town of Panajachel) was a place where war-dodgers fled to avoid conscription. Once the civil war in Guatemala started most foreigners left the area while the battle for human and civil rights raged for nearly thirty years. In 1996 the hostilities ended and the Lake slowly returned back to a tourist destination.

Lago Atitlan

Lago Atitlan

The lake is beautiful. And it was warm! After freezing in Xela we were pretty excited to be in flip-flops and t-shirts. We spent the Friday night in San Pedro, a popular hangout for the bohemian set. Marijuana and coffee are the main crops and we were approached by more than one young guy trying to sell ‘the lake weed’. We did see signs for pretty cheap Spanish classes, about $55 for 4 hours a day, 5 days per week and accommodation is relatively inexpensive. Personally I think it would be a bit boring after a week or so but there were a number of bohos who looked like they had been there for a long time.

Boat Trip on Lago Atitlan

Boat Trip on Lago Atitlan

The next day we took a boat over the lake to the esoteric San Marcos. The small community is home to mediation courses, reiki, yoga and many other holistic therapies. People come here to complete courses in new age theology which last from 1 to 3 months, or just to participate for a few days. The most famous center in San Marcos is called, Los Piramides, a place where you can take the Moon-course or the Sun-course, both which end with compulsory periods of silence. We had a look around and wandered into their herb garden, in the shape of a pyramid of course, where just about every type of medicinal plant is grown and they can be purchased in the small store for fairly hefty prices.

Las Piramides

Las Piramides

Astral Travelling sounds interesting...

Course Options at Las Piramides

Lakeside in San Marcos

Lakeside in San Marcos

We had to head back to Xela on Sunday and were lucky enough to catch a bus. On Sundays the bus leaves at 8am, we had been told 10am, and when we reached the bus station we were told there were no buses to Xela. Luckily, we met some people from Xela who knew the route back. We grabbed the bus headed to Guatemala City and then switched buses where the road meets the main highway to Guatemala City. Turns out the bus to Xela wasn’t in the best condition as the seat Tom and I had was broken and had slid forward making it a tight squeeze for two long-legged gringos!

Tight Fit on the Bus

Tight Fit on the Bus

Driving in Central America seems to have more to do with adrenaline and divine intervention than it does with other mundanities like being able to see where your going or who’s going to run into you.

If you own a car here tinting your windows is pretty much obligatory—in fact it’s so standard there’s a verb for it polarizar (to polarize). Not wanting to miss out on the fun, under the excuse of making it harder to see our gear and because we’re not allowed to at home, we took the $45 hit and put some shades on Marlin… just to fit in.


Xela’s Superchivos

Xela happens to be home to the craziest soccer fans in all of Guatemala, or so they say. Keen to check out a soccer game in Central America we attended two games in the last few weeks and enjoyed them immensely.

Of course we wore the team colours!

The best part was sitting in the La Curva Diabla (The Devil’s Curve)–where the serious aficionados (fans) reside. A brass band, drums and a sea of red jerseys help support the Xela-Ju Superchivos (Super Rams). Add in a tonne of swear words and offensive (yet really funny) cheers, an element of danger and you find yourself in the midst of football madness. And since sport fans can get out of hand the on-site crowd control in Xela consists of military soldiers and riot police on the field!


Xela-Ju’s Superchivos! from Kels M on Vimeo.

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