First days in Guatemala

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Martin and I crossed the border into Guatemala at Ciudad Cuauhtemoc/La Mesilla less than a week ago. First impressions of Guatemala: a country of staggering beauty, impossible vistas and sky high peaks. A mini Switzerland in the heart of Central America but perhaps not as pristine. It is certainly more prone to natural disasters with a history of hurricances, volcanic eruptions and landslides, evident from the terrain.  

Cycling in this country is a feast for the senses with the roadside lined with chopped firewood, coffee beans spread to dry, women weaving traditional style, smells of cocoa and we finally get to see the famous ‘chicken buses’ of Guatemala.

And so the chicken buses … they are the main form of transport around the country. They are usually multicoloured or yellow, with flashing disco lights, religious edifices and given names like ‘The Jesus of Nazareth’. We were warned about these buses on the road but we are more likely to be knocked out by the fumes emanating from them than to be run over by one! 

Our first main destination in Guatemala was Quetzaltenango aka Xela,  (the names are a mixture of Spanish and Mayan), an interesting town located high up in the mountains and surrounded by volcanoes. It is the second largest city in Guatemala and it became our base for a couple of days. We had read about some natural baths in the mountains around Xela, Fuentas Georginas, prior to arriving and decided to pamper ourselves following some big climbs in the hills. One of the highlights for me since arriving in Guatemala has been our visit to these baths. 

A day in the Fuentes Georginas baths …

From Xela we catch a chicken bus to the mountain town of Zunil and from there a pick-up truck (picture of Martin in the pick up truck below) brings us to Fuentes Georginas. It proves to be an exhilarating ride to the pools through a road with switchbacks with coffee plantations on either side, corn on the hillside, potatoes on the plateaus, as well as the perfectly shaped cone of the Santa Maria volcano ever looming….all from the back of a pick-up truck! The clouds begin to fall from the surrounding mountain peaks as we ascend and  arrive.

Fuentas Georginas consists of several pools of varying degrees of heat set into the mountain side. The baths are enveloped in a constant haze of steam which continuosly wafts from the pools at a hot, but bearable temperature without the smell of sulphur usually associated with natural baths. We find ourselves in thermal bath heaven. The fresh mountain air is a welcoming contrast to the invigorating heat of the baths. I was aware of the funny looks from the locals at our strange tan lines from the bikes!

It was also nice to see that there were more locals than foreigners frequenting the baths and Martin and I managed to practice our Spanish with a really nice local family. People come to the baths for many reasons – relaxation, medicinal and to avail of the natural minerals from the rocks. We had our very own mud mask from the mineral infused surrounding rockface.

A landslide destroyed the pools some years ago but they were ‘re-built’. It is truly a natural paradise and we bathed in earth´s version of a hot tub: all for the price of less than a price of a latte in the UK!

The following day we set off on the PanAmerican highway (which stretches from Alaska to the south of South America….almost continuously), towards San Pedro on Lake Atitlan and climbed through a pass at almost 3,000 metres, a record for us.

We arrive at our destination, San Pedro on the shores of Lake Atitlan, shortly before nightfall and discover a lakeside paradise set at the foot of the ‘dormant’ San Pedro volcano. The locals live up from the lake in the "Mayan village" and the ‘gringos’ hang out in the tourist mile on the lakeshore, a clear divide. It is perfect for us right now. We decided we like it so much here that we have invested in a 5 day Spanish course which we started today at 8am in a perfect setting, a beautiful organic garden! We have one-on-one tuition and already feel we are making progress. The school also supports projects to support disadvantaged children locally. In the afternoons we are free to do our thing and already have plans to visit a coffee farm, hike up a volcano, visit some local lakeside villages accessible by boat and of course to do our Spanish homework! I think Martin may even be writing some of the next entry en espanol! Watch this space ..

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