On Friday October 20th Matty, Tess, Claire, Sebastian, Caroline, Julia (one of our PLs), and I left Tecpan at 4am to take the long drive and then boat ride Northwest to Livingston AKA the Carribean part of Guatemala. This was planned as our trip for IST or Independent Student Travel.
Claire did an amazing job of booking all of our necessary transportation and hotel stays. It was truly thanks to her research that our IST venture was possible.
So off we went! It was a minor fiasco from the get go. Our driver seemed extremely incompetent. Which is no comfort when you are relying on him to drive you through the majority of the Guatemalen country for 8+ hours. He had no idea how to get around Tecpan and it seemed as though he could barely see at night, slowing down for any minor markings on the road and thinking that steep hills in the road were impossible to drive down. It also seemed as though he had only recently learned how to drive an automatic because every gear shift he made was jerky and pronounced. He seemed to think that the best way to drive through the highways was to quickly and randomly speed up and then quickly slow down. When asked if he could stay at one speed he told he was doing this because he didn´t know the roads and it was for our safety…??? Honestly this ´technique´ made us all feel so much less safe. As we got to the warmer part of the country he refused to turn on the air conditioning in order to save gas… We stopped for brunch (2 hours after he said we would be stopping in 10 minutes) at this dude´s favorite restaurant and it was awful. It was roadside gas station food all made in a small back room and after taking a couple bites of the french fries we had ordered we all felt mildly sick. It also didn´t help that we found a hair imbedded in one of the fries. But other than these (major) issues we made it to Rio Dulce in one piece and relatively on time.
Next was our communication failure with the boat union. We tried to get a better deal on a ride. We were trying to leave as soon as possible and without any detours however the boat captains told us that we could only take the hour and a half ¨tour¨ which would leave in an hour. We talked to everyone and were even told at multiples points in our bargaining that what we wanted was actually possible however, they just said those things so we would buy a ticket and in the end we ended up just buying fair for the 2:30pm ¨tour¨ shuttle. We were so exhausted at that point we didn´t care anymore. The trip to Livingston from Rio Dulce was beautiful and totally worth the long journey and issues we had run into thus far.
That night we had tastey Thai seafood. and we celebrated Matty´s birthday that was that day by going out clubbing to a cute little club that was on the water. It was an odd experience because they were playing all spanish dancing music and it was full of older couples (not your typical clubbing crowd) but I´m glad we went because we got to experience this part of the culture.
Livingston did not feel like a part of Guatemala, other than the fact that everyone would speak mostly spanish, it felt like we had completely traveled to the Carribean and to another country. The population was mostly black and although everyone spoke Spanish the locals all also spoke their native, Mayan based, language of Garífuna which was a dialect unlike any other I had ever heard of. It was hot and humid unlike the cold and windy Tecpan that we had left behind. The only thing that was truly the same was the rain. Everyday it rained while we were there as well, just like pretty much every single day that we have been in Guatemala. The culture was also more Carribean influenced than Spanish or Mayan influenced.
On Saturday the 21st we took a boat to Punta de Palma and relaxed on the beach for the whole day. It was so nice to have a wonderful break from the constant work and learning regimen we had been on for the past two weeks in Tecpan. We read and listened to music swimming a little from time to time. We had also brought snacks with us so we had a picnic for lunch. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with chips and other snacks along with a full, ripe pineapple that was amazingly juicy. As we were walking back to the pier to have our cool boat guy, Eelio (I don´t know the spelling of his name so I just wrote it out phonetically), pick us up to take us back to our hotel, we witnessed the strangest dead fish washed up onto shore. It had a sort of large, tadpole like body that was more flat and triangular at the head. It also had two fins sticking out of either side of its head bent at an angle and looking like they could stretch out into bird wings. However, when we knelt and got nearer to its head we noticed it had a terrifyingly human like face with large eyes a protruding, ugly ´nose´ and a wide, teeth bared jaw that took up the rest of its head. It was the oddest, almost scarring, sight and from then on we called it ´The Manfish´ and it became the running inside joke for the rest of the trip.
That night we ate dinner at a culinary school restaurant that Julia had found while we were at the beach. All of the cooks and wait staff were students at the school and part of the cost of our dinner went to their education. I had a great indian coconut curry. Afterwards we went up this hill and found a little icecream shop for our dessert.
On Sunday (the 22nd) we went to these 7 beautiful waterfalls. All on one hike. The final waterfall was where we spent the most time because you could jump off the top into the water below. I, being very afraid of heights, only did this once but it was totally worth it and cool to jump over and then swim around in a waterfall. The others were far more brave and not only jumped off the waterfall multiple times but also climbed to a higher cliff to jump off from there. Caroline slipped and fell-jumped both times from this higher ledge and scared everyone watching, but she somehow came out unscathed. Leading us to assume that she actually has nine lives. Sitting and watching these idiots risk their lives is where I´m guessing I got most of my ambiguous bug bites because after the trip I counted and I have around 55 bites from various different, unknown, bugs. Directly after this we had Eelio take us to the famous Playa Blanca which was another nice, relaxing, picturesque, beach. We drank out of coconuts and had a barbeque lunch from the restaurant there. This is where I know I got the rest of my bug bites because I could feel them hurting me every time and then becoming itchy.
Before dinner and after coming back to our hotel we heard and strange crash and suddenly more light seemed to be coming through the tiny spaces in the floor boards of our closet in our hotel room. Turns out that section of the floor and the corresponding ceiling for the floor directly below us had gotten too wet and so the drywall had collapsed. Julia had been walking by that part of the ceiling at the time and witnessed the whole thing fall. We ate dinner at the same culinary school place and watched little kids scream and run up and down the docs. That night Claire, Matty, Tess and I hung out in the pool at our hotel and listened to music until late.
The next morning we relied on Eelio to bring us back to Rio Dulce and that trip was still just as beautiful as before but so much quicker which was perfect because we were running late. We met our same, lovely, driver as before at the docs at 11am and asked him not to stop at the same food place as he had before for lunch or dinner. We had a nice sit down meal for lunch and then were stuck in some sort of accident traffic or construction traffic for atleast an hour that slowed us down immensley. We passed the time by listening to many interesting podcasts that Claire and Julia had. When we finally got out of the traffic we quickly ate a Mcdonalds dinner in Guatemala City. By this time it was around 9pm, so I had to call my host family to tell them I would be home closer to 11pm. We finally got back to Tecpan at 11:30pm and when I got home I collapsed straight into bed going to sleep immediately.