My time at the La Iguana was great. It really is a beautiful spot and I spent my days working behind the bar and doing reception, yoga classes, swimming, kayaking and just chilling. The owners of the hostel had a friend in the US visiting Guatemala so I had my card sent to his place for him to bring down with him. Unfortunately it missed him by a day, so he kindly arranged for his brother to have my card couriered to Guatemala. So after 2 weeks working I needed a break (!) and also to renew my 3 month visa, so a trip to either Mexico or Belize was on the cards. Given I had to come back to the Lake to collect my card from DHL, Mexico it was.
I set off relatively early on Sunday morning (after the cross dressing Saturday night, so 9.30am was a pretty good effort) with a guy from the hostel, Greg, and we jumped on our first chicken bus
. The direct shuttle was ridiculously expensive so we decided to do the chicken buses all the way to Mexico. This was certainly going to be an adventure that I was glad to have a buddy for. We got kicked off the first bus after only 20 mins at Solola and had to change to another to Los Encuentros. This bus was packed so we were standing in the aisles bouncing around trying to hang onto all of our stuff. At Los Encuentros we were ferried onto another bus, we weren't quite 100% sure if it was the right bus as the driver was saying "Si" to all of our questions. This bus was a bit more luxurious than a chicken bus but we got as far as Xela and had to change to another, so we are now on bus no 4 headed for Huehuetenango. At Huehue some bus drivers ran off with our bags, so we followed them and ended up on another chicken bus, this time headed for the border town of La Mesilla. The chicken buses are hot and sweaty, difficult to sleep on as the chair only comes up to your mid-back, you bounce around, and the drivers go so fast around the bends that you could have a great game of Corners, although I had to close my eyes at some of the leans the buses were doing. We arrived at La Mesilla and got a tuk-tuk (who also squeezed on a drunk local and took as the 'back way' to drop him off) from the bus station to the border. We were hot, tired and hungover, but we made it into Mexico 5 buses and a tuk-tuk later. We hailed down a mini-bus for the 4 mile crossing over no-mans land. We bought our next bus ticket and sat down for some delicious Mexican food. The buses are considerably more luxurious in Mexico with comfy, reclining chairs and air conditioning. Another 2 buses and we made it to San Cristobal by about 9pm. What a marathon of a day.
San Cristobal is a beautiful, Spanish colonial town, with lots of colourful buildings, impressive churches, cool bars, cafes and restaurants about
. After settling in the hostel we went for a late feed to a nearby Tacqueria and had some absolutuely delicious tacos. So simple, but so delicious with tortillas, meat, fresh coriander and onion and the all important hot sauces. The next day I wandered around town with Greg, through the local markets which are so vibrant with colour, smells and activity. From chillis to women with live chickens for sale and walking around carrying them by their feet to the friendly man selling dead chickens including their heads and feet in their separate piles. We stopped for lunch at a busy comedor in the market for some more tacos, and at less than 50c a piece we ate to our hearts content with the locals.
The Chiapas region of Mexico where San Cristobal is located used to be part of Guatemala back in the 1800's, so the indigenous people here are Mayans and wear similar clothes to those in Guatemala. After saying adios to Greg who was on his way up to Cancun I headed out to some "nearby" Mayan ruins at Palenque, which are about 5 hours away. I meet a girl on the bus I had met in Antigua during Semana Santa. Central America is a small place - you see the same travellers all over the place. We stopped along the way at some pretty waterfalls and enjoyed a swim, then got to the ruins at about 2pm, when it was ridicously humid. We are soon dripping with sweat, and the heat combined with not much food is hard going
. The ruins are impressive and set in the jungle, similar to Tikal in Guatemala.
I meet a good bunch of girls at the hostel and spend the next couple of days in San Cristobal with them. There are loads of things to do around San Cristobal and one day we head out to a nearby canyon and go for a boat ride spotting monkeys, birds and crocodiles! We get to see them up close which is very cool. Another day we go for a horse ride to a nearby village called Chamula. The town of Chamula is very interesting - it has its own separate police force and military. The main attraction is the local catholic church, that is unlike any other I have been to. The locals practice a combination of Catholic and Mayan rituals inside. There are statues of saints all around in wooden cases dressed in clothes. They also have mirrors in their cases which are meant to deflect evil. The locals come in to pray to the statues, however, the praying is done with a similar idea to that of San Simon in Zunil. There are no pews inside the church, instead they cover the ground in pine needles. The locals stick candles to the ground with wax in front of the statues and the different coloured candles have different meanings. They also bring in Coca Cola and other soft drinks and a cane sugar based spirit called 'Posh'. After they finish their prayers/chanting, they drink the soft drink - when they burp it is meant to rid the body of any evil spirits, and then they shoot the 'Posh'
. Visitors are allowed in the church, however you are not allowed to take any photos as the locals believe this takes away their soul. We go into the church and sit on the side and watch the goings on. It is incredibly interesting to watch. There are some women with their kids lighting so many candles and fueling it with the 'Posh' that it looks like they are about to start a fire. One woman is wailing away. There is a family going through a ritual with the candles, chanting, soft drink and Posh that we watch from the beginning. They don't seem to mind us observing. At the end when they are all shooting the Posh, the father comes over to us and offers us some - it is horribly potent! How considerate and accepting of them to offer us this and include us in their little ceremony. Another ritual which we were hoping to see, but don't get to, is the offering of a chicken, where a family will behead a chicken inside the church. We enjoy the horse ride back to San Cristobal, although I can tell I am going to have some bruises and sore muscles the next day! A really interesting day - and finished off with a taco - just perfect!
The next day it is time to head back to Guatemala, where hopefully my debit card will be waiting for me. I have managed to pick up a tummy problem and unable to hold anything in - my stomach and Mexico really don't mix. A bunch of us from the hostel take up the entire shuttle
. It is much cheaper from Mexico and the ease of the one bus option was too tempting. A long bus ride later and I am finally back in Panajachel where indeed I am able to collect my debit card from the DHL office - joy! - shortlived when I found out it cost $86 for the courier - ouch! I take a group of 8 of us to the La Iguana where I end up spending a couple of relaxing days while I wait for my tummy to get better. One morning the cleaners find my debit card in a garbage bin on the other side of the hostel. It turns out someone has been through my backpack, found my wallet and dumped it in a bin when they didn't find any cash in it. Thankfully all my cards were in tact, however I nearly managed to lose my debit card before I had even used it - unbelievable!
So the time has finally come to say goodbye to Guatemala! What a fabulous 3 months I have had here - tomorrow I set off bright and early for Honduras, where some ruins, more lakes and diving off some Carribean Islands await :-)