The Guatemala Highlands, by Shona
01.02.2015 - 02.02.2015 27 °C
The few days that followed our visit to Tikal were rough. Ironically, as we travelled higher into the rainy Guatemalan Highlands things started to go downhill. Despite rockslide remnants that sprung up behind switchback corners, our easily distracted kamikaze minibus driver somehow delivered us safely to our next destination. We were some of the lucky passengers... others hung to the roof rails in the rain! But the tarp that covered the bags on the roof of the van didn't work very well and we arrived in the crossroads mountain town of Coban, Guatemala with bags full of wet clothes. It was cold. Not 'Canada in January' cold, but the temperature inched toward freezing at night, our things were all wet and there was no heating in our hotel. We huddled under blankets and tried to stay warm while our clothes were at the laundromat but things began to unravel... Mirren was inconsolable after seeing a run-over dog. Ailsa threw teenager-worthy stink-eyes in everyone's direction. Fraser refused to stop bouncing. Norm and I began to bicker with each other. We all started to show signs of homesickness and/or boredom. Something weird was going on... this did not feel like the first part of our trip.
At dinner Norm tried to order a local dish but it was not available so he took a chance on the unknown menu item listed just below. When our meal arrived he quickly declared his inedible. Not possible, I thought. I have witnessed him eat unmentionables at Dim Sum in Chinatown and fried ginea pig in Peru. The man can literally eat any meat... But not this dish. He said he thought he saw an eyeball in it. The kids rolled their eyes and told him not to be rude or to waste food (ooh, karma!) but when we got back to the freezing hotel that night a Google search showed he had unfortunately ordered pig head and menudo (intestine) soup. Yup, it was official. Our travelling luck had run out. We had lost our mojo.
As soon as all our things had dried out we decided to get out of Dodge! If we changed things up, we reasoned, then maybe our luck would improve. We headed out to the legendary picturesque river spot called Semuc Champey which the guidebooks called the prettiest spot in Guatemala. At this point in our travels we wanted 'pretty'.
The long journey there was an adventure in itself, the last part of which was a 9km, one hour long, bone-jarring upright ride in the back of a truck. The kids loved that! In our last minute scramble to change our plans we had booked accommodation at the Utopia Eco Lodge. I know, I know... the name itself was a red flag. It's like naming a baby boy Caesar or Napoleon or even Fabio!! Such high expectations from the name alone... Utopia! Besides, this 'Eco lodge' was going to cost us a mere $6 each for the night. I braced myself for disappointment.
How wrong I was to doubt this place. It was amazing! The young international volunteer staff could not have been more welcoming. There were vistas to view, board games to play and other travellers to chat with. But the best part of the lodge was that it was an hour-long tube ride down river from Semuc Champey. Yes please! We quickly found our little cabin, threw down our bags, hopped into the back of the pick-up truck again and bumped our way to the park entrance.
Semuc Champey is unbelievably stunning! I have never seen anything as beautiful! We had the most amazing day there and then floated home on our tubes in time for a delicious family-style vegetarian dinner. Not surprisingly Norm did not complain about the lack of meat!
What a perfect day. And I got to spend it with my most favourite people in the world. Floating along in my tube I tried to freeze the moment in my mind as we meandered over gentle rapids back to Utopia. Ailsa, soon to be 11 years old, and Norm and I were witnessing her final few months of real childhood. Mirren, 9 years old, and so curious and compassionate. And Fraser, six years old, and desperately trying to keep up with his sisters. What a gift to be able to spend these precious days together. Maybe we hadn't lost our mojo or our travelling luck - only our perspective. As it turned out, 'Utopia' was the perfect name for this spot... THIS is why we travel!