From Sunday November 5th to Saturday November 11th was our first Enrichment Week and the end of our time in Guatemala. We spent this enrichment week basically being tourists all over Guatemala.
- Day 1 (Sunday November 5th): Clare and I woke up to the light clicking on outside our room at 5am. I groaned in my bed as I heard Elba-Marina (our host mom) climbing up the stairs to wake us with a lovely, “Neeshtah y Claaarreee”. She stood staring at us though the window of our room until both of us physically got out of bed. We were supposed to meet the gang outside of the PL’s hotel at 6am and had planned to wake up at 5:30, but there was no point in fighting it. Elba and our host brother, Pedro, drove us the short distance to the hotel and we said our teary, final goodbyes. As the sun rose we all piled onto a bus and started driving to Coban. For lunch we stopped at a Biotopo Quetzal (Guatemala’s gorgeous, national bird) refuge. After the yummy lunch, we set off into the refuge and immediately saw a male Quetzal! We were so lucky because many tourists go to that place and never spot one, yet we only had to walk 100 meters to see one. We hiked for 20 more minutes to see a cute, small waterfall and then on our way back we spotted a female Quetzal. Our luck was amazing and I’m so glad we got to witness this beautiful bird that Guatemala is so proud of. We reached Coban in the afternoon, had some time to explore it and then ate dinner at the hotel restaurant. Our hotel was so big and intricate that that night we played a fun game of sardines. We kind of freaked the hotel staff out though by going all around the large hotel spread out and looking in potential hiding places. So we weren’t able to play after that night.
This is what a male Quetzal looks like for all that are curious (I wasn’t able to capture it at all on my camera so here’s basically what we got to see):
- Day 2 (Monday November 6th): We spent our entire day at Semuc Champey. The beautiful teal swimming pools with natural waterslides and a river flowing under the swimming hole rock formations. I tested my fear of heights by hiking up to the viewpoint and taking in the amazing view of all of the pools in their entirety. Well worth the 40 minute rigorous, vertical hike. On our hike down we spotted some monkeys swinging from tree to tree.
This is not my picture but, here is what Semuc looks like from the Viewpoint:
- Day 3 (Tuesday November 7th): We had a free morning so I took the time to shower and basically just have some personal time. After lunch I set out with some friends and went to a piercing place in Coban where I got my second and third lobe piercings done. We ate in Mento groups for dinner at different restaurants and the place Peter took us was very good traditional mayan food. It also had a cool shop inside and so I bought myself a nice looking ring with a grey jade stone in the middle.
- Day 4 (Wednesday November 8th): We drove all day to the cute lake town of Floris. On our way we listened to some cool podcasts. One of them that really stood out to me was by Alternative Radio and it was called: “The Country That Elected Trump”. Overall very thought provoking and I 100% recommend everyone give it a listen if that sounds like something they would be interested in.
- Day 5 (Thursday November 9th): After breakfast we had the morning to explore Floris morning so our tour guides took us to the small island part of the town where Meg and I got matching “Guatever” bracelets. We then went to the old Mayan city of Yaxha, pronounced Yosh-ha, after lunch and gained a passenger name ‘Hero’ (I think?) as our Mayan ruins tour guide. As soon as we entered the park we heard the roar of the “Jurassic” howler monkeys long before we spotted them. We walked around the old town learning about Mayan city rivalries and how most ruins are only 15% excavated because so much deforestation would have to go into totally unearthing it all. We also got the chance to see Spider Monkeys with their long limbs and tail casually climb through the branches above us. The main event, however, was being able to watch the sunset while sitting silently atop of one the taller Mayan pyramids:
- Day 6 (Friday November 10th): I woke up at 2:30am to be “Human Alarm Clock” I knocked on everyones door to make sure they were up, packed, and ready to go by 2:50am. We loaded the van with all of our stuff, checked out of the hotel, and drove to Tikal. We arrived at 4:15am and started hiking in the pure darkness with only our flashlights and Hero to guide us. Along the way Hero kept telling us to watch out for poisonous snakes as he led the way sweeping his flashlight back and forth across the ground in front of him. We saw tarantulas the size of my hand, heard some grumpy monkeys, and, of course, made sure to be on the lookout for snakes. At one point I felt something odd flop onto my left foot. I quickly flicked it off and stepped down with my right foot I immediately heard a crunch. Freaking out I shined my flashlight down to my feet to see a terrible sight. A poor frog had hopped on my foot and then been stepped on. I saw it’s poor body flopping feebly on the trail and I briskly shined my flashlight away from it. Not wanting to see anymore. Everyone around me was freaking out because they thought I had run into a snake or something and I had to sadly inform them that no… I had just committed murder. Truly devastating. We then climbed rickety wood stairs, still in the dark, careful not to touch the railings because we were told that poisonous tarantulas could be sleeping directly on the other side of them. When we reached the top we were finally able to see that it was another, tall, pyramid giving us a clear view over all the treetops. The scene lit only by the stars and the moon. We sat there for about an hour and a half watching the sun rise over the ruins and above the clouds slowly revealing to us all that we couldn’t see in the dark. The ruins were the Star Wars view. We were seeing exactly what George Lucas saw as he filmed his shots for scenes of the rebel base in A New Hope. And it was breathtaking.
After that we quickly ate breakfast in a restaurant in the Tikal park and set back out again to do more exploring of all the pyramids in the hot daylight. This time without the fear of snakes or tarantulas, because the park was starting to become heavily populated with tourists and these animals had would have gone back into hiding by now.
After that we ate lunch outside of the park, said goodbye to our amazing tour guide and set off for Rio Dulce. We got there that night, had dinner at the hotel and went to bed, exhausted.
- Day 7 (Saturday November 11th): Breakfast was at the hotel at 9am instead of our usual 8am because of the tiring and long day we had in Tikal just the day before. Afterwards we boarded two boats and took tour to Livingston. We saw a massive Iguana resting high in one of the mangrove trees. As we got to Livingston we passed our IST hotel and due to our IST group’s recommendation we all ate lunch at our favorite Livingston restaurant. While waiting for the food to be prepared I bought a nose hoop from a cute handmade jewelry vender. We had the afternoon back in Rio Dulce to chill and pack because the next day we would be driving all day to Guatemala City. Where we would then fly out for Thailand on the 13th.
Ending our first core country with a fulfilling enrichment week was the perfect farewell to our first two months. A fitting close to the first chapter of my TBB experience. Although I do wish we weren’t constantly on the move and perhaps would have benefitted greatly from more down time, most of the activities we had the opportunity to experience were definitely worth the lack of rest they required. Now that we are no longer in a spanish speaking country I have to catch my natural instinct to respond to everyone around me in spanish. Odd to think I have not been in my home country (other than the LAX airport for around three hours when flying to Bangkok, but that doesn’t count) for over two months now. Even stranger to realise that I have now officially been out of the country longer than ever before, and I still have 5 more months to go!
Thailand? Show me what you got.