After six weeks in Mexico, it was time to leave. I had been tossing up spending more time in Mexico as I had loved it so much but ultimately decided that if I stayed any longer I would have less time in other countries, so after my final weekend being spent staying in the Oaxacan countryside with a family on their farm it was time to book my onwards bus ticket to San Cristobal and then on to Guatemala.
Having caught many overnight bus/train/planes I wasn’t too concerned with the 12 hour bus ride, but unfortunately this one was different. It finally happened, after several years of travelling by myself, I got robbed.
I actually don’t really know how it happened, my day backpack was under the seat I was sitting on which was inaccessible from the back of the seat due to foot rests, or from the side of the seat because of a bar, and I had my feet placed on the bag throughout the night. All that I know is I went to sleep and woke up at some time in the night and my bag was in the aisle, thinking it been moved by the motion of the bus I put it back under my seat and went back to sleep. When the bus arrived to San Cristobal at 6am I checked that I had all my belongings but couldn’t find my kindle, thinking it may have fallen out of my bag I checked under the seats to no avail; eventually I had to get off the bus to grab my bag and when I opened my wallet to get my bag ticket out all my cash was gone, I then realised I had been robbed.
The strange thing is although they took my kindle and cash they left my tablet and phone and credit card in my bag, I have to assume that they thought the kindle was a tablet because why would you steal a kindle?
I had only planned on being in San Cristobal for the day, enough time to organise onward travel to Guatemala, but I now had to organise the travel plus go to the police station for a report in a sleep deprived haze. Thankfully one of the hostel employees came with me to translate at the police station, and in the end I got it all organised and booked my onward shuttle for the following morning to Lake Atitlan.
I have learned while travelling that the buses never arrive when due, time seems to be a flexible notion, and they are rarely a singular bus or even a bus sometimes. So it was that I arrived to Lake Atitlan 3 hours late, via 3 vans and a final boat ride to the other side of the lake. On the journey I made a new friend hailing from Israel and we decided to find accommodation together, after viewing less than savoury options we found a nice hostel overlooking the lake, ate a delicious Israeli dinner (there is a huge Israeli community in Lake Atitlan) and hit the hay.
The following day we decided it would be nice to hike around the lake, however unfortunately the security situation in Lake Atitlan meant that we could only walk to the next town safely, anything beyond that was considered too dangerous as you may be mugged, or worse. So we hiked to the next town over and back, and then took a boat ride to one of the smaller villages on the lake which mostly caters for yoga and meditation retreats. We found that anything that you wanted to do around the lake had to be done through a tour due to the security situation, as we didn’t want to constantly do tours we decided to head to the colonial city of Antigua.
Antigua is a pretty little colonial city about an hour out of Guatemala city, most people go there for a couple of days to hike one of the three volcanoes around the town or to go to Spanish school. My new friend Reut and I had met some people who had hiked Acatenango volcano and had shown us incredible photos of lava exploding out of the nearby Fuego volcano. So Reut and I decided we would hike Acatenango, we organised a trip through a tour that included two porters to carry our camping gear to the top as I knew I couldn’t carry it myself.
We started the hike first thing in the morning and within 5 minutes I wanted to die, we were already at a high elevation when we started so as we continued to ascend my altitude sickness continued to worsen, I just couldn’t catch my breath and had to stop every couple of minutes. However I was determined to finish so several hours later (and many shaken fists at my life choices) I finally made it to the campsite. We set up to camp on the side of the volcano for the night and would hike to the summit in the morning. Unfortunately bad weather got the better of us as the mist descended and we couldn’t continue to the summit the next day, so we didn’t get to see the volcano we had hiked so long for, however I still think it was worth it (even though it was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life). The following morning we returned down the mountain, arriving back in Antigua I have never been so tired in my life.
Two days after finishing the volcano hike Reut, myself, and three new companions decided that we would catch the public (or chicken buses) up to Semuc Champey which is known for its beautiful cascading pools. Although beautifully decorated the chicken buses had a bad rap, however we all wanted to try it and figured we had safety in numbers. We set out from Antigua at 7.30am and hopped a chicken bus to Guatemala city, followed by a taxi ride across Guatemala city we arrived to the northern bus station, next was a pretty nice shuttle to Coban, followed by a pretty terrible and over packed shuttle (the bus was so full there were people hanging outside of the bus) to Lanquin, followed by a night time drive through the jungle on the back of a pickup truck to arrive at our accommodation in the Guatemalan jungle after 12 hours of travel.
We had booked to stay in the open air hammocks, overlooking the river and jungle. Being the magnet for mosquito’s I had brought my own mosquito net, and hung this over my hammock. I was particularly glad for this when on the second night a giant tarantula crawled down the wall next to my bed.
We had come to this part of Guatemala to see the Semuc Champey national park. Unfortunately as was becoming custom in Guatemala the weather thwarted us. It rained so much that the park was closed for most of the time we were there, luckily it opened on the last day but as it had been raining heavily the river was a muddy brown instead of its famous aqua green. Additionally I took a nerve wracking tour through a mountain cave swimming, scrambling and jumping through holding only a candle as a light.
After four nights sleeping in a hammock we decided it was time to leave, the group split with the lovely Swiss couple we had been travelling with heading north and Reut, Thomas and I deciding to head south to Nicaragua. As we had already spent over a week in Antigua we decided we would try to go through as quickly as possible, so we spent 9 hours in a van from Semuc Champey to Antigua, and then the next day rose at 2am to catch a police escorted van (so we didn’t get robbed) to El Salvador, and drove through Honduras and finally Nicaragua arriving after 6 borders, 4 countries and 19 hours on a bus. In 48 hours we did 30 hours of travel. Never again.
I am now in (yet another) Colonial city, Leon Nicaragua. We have been here for a couple of days recovering from the bus ride, and now the cold I have picked up. We will be in Nicaragua for the next couple of weeks, before moving through Costa Rica and on to Panama for Christmas, new years and my 30th birthday!