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John and Mandi

us --> van --> overland
7 yrs and 6 days - end of the road

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Experiencing Experiences, Semuc Champey to Lake Atitlan

Aug 3, 2016
by John

Each place is different for each traveler, as are the experiences we each take away. While there are strong similarities, it is the granular that shapes our opinions. The struggle is looking past the uncomfortable or unfavorable to remain honest. Our personal perceptions can easily mask the true essence of a person, place, or event. Instead of convincing ourselves that we are victims of circumstance we instead must digest the fact of being mere participants in life.

What We Did

Semuc Champey, Alta Verepaz

We arrived at Lanquín much earlier than expected so we decided to grab a late lunch and press on to Semuc, stopping to catch the bat cave on our way back out. The road down to Lanquín was steep and in bad shape, the one to Semuc was much worse so we used 4wd to help control our decent down the rutted rocky narrow single track to the parking lot. Our plan was to overnight in the lot and visit the famous cascades first thing in the morning. We expected the lot to eventually empty but it continued to fill well past the park's closing. Something didn't feel right so we drove back up the road a bit to Posada Las Marias and set up before the rain started.

The next morning while brewing coffee we witnessed over 40 police trucks make their way down to the park. At first we didn't think anything of it but after speaking with some locals we were informed that 3,000 people had gathered to meet the police convoy for negotiations regarding control of the park. Even though we had driven all the way to Semuc, and could possibly wait it out, we decided to leave after being told by several locals that it would be better if we did. Roughly two-thirds of the way back to Lanquín we encountered a blockade of boulders the size of cows. Eventually, after parking with some police reserves, a friendly local convinced us to move to a house and await the police convoy that would be leaving after the negotiations.

Several long sweaty hours later, interrupted by the antics of a pig that thoroughly enjoyed his mud hole and scratching his ass on our tires, the convoy came along and we followed them all the way out through Lanquín to the main highway, as suggested. We gave a Guatemalan law student a ride who witnessed a clash between the police and the locals, he did his best to convey what he experienced. He told us that a house and car were set on fire and that the locals started throwing bowling ball sized rocks at the police, badly damaging his friends SUV, who responded with tear gas.

What we later learned is that 500 police form all over Guatemala were sent in to negotiate and retake control of the park from the local people who took it over in September of 2015, all due to a dispute over an agreement reached in 2005. In the days after the park closing there was an escalation in violence leading to injuries of both police and some local people. After three weeks the park was reopened in its entirety.

We wavered on sharing this but feel it is an important part of travel. While we never felt unsafe or in danger, both the police and locals were exceptionally friendly and helpful, the type of event we experienced can happen at any time in any location on the planet. Even though we never laid eyes on the cascades of Semuc Champey, we will remember it as a wonderful place due to the love and concern that was given to us from two groups who were obviously at odds.

Semuc Champey, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala

The drive in sure was pretty

Semuc Champey, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala

Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades

Antigua, Sacatepéquez

Arriving at the Tourist Police in Antigua we were starting to unhinge from a serious case of road weariness, poor Josh & Jenna were the victims of our delirium. They did their best to help put us at ease, then properly subverted our attention with a massive amount of information on Antigua including a lead for a Spanish school. A couple days later there was a big gathering of overlanders so we all shared stories and peeked at rigs. It was great to finally meet Chris & Jen (theglobetrol), and catch up with Joe & Josee, Beat & Betty, and of course Josh & Jenna.

Eventually, everyone started heading their own ways and we decided to attend Antigüeña Spanish Academy for two weeks, renting a hotel room at Posada San Carlos for the duration thinking it would be a little break. We're not sure how much good school did, we learned a decent bit. We gave it a solid effort and made a new friend Aurora, our teacher. The two weeks flew by leaving us more exhausted than when we arrived. The antics of our host, Carlos, and his two dogs were distractingly entertaining. He and his family are wonderful and a big highlight of our stay.

Josh & Jenna stopped back through on their way to El Salvador a couple days before our planned departure so we had one last dinner together, we expect to catch up to them again eventually. Adding to our weariness is the fact that a gap is starting to build between several of us that have become a rat pack. It's hard to explain the bonds shared by those of us on the road. While we miss everyone back home, we also miss our traveling friends, some of whom are already deep into South America while others are starting to get just outside our grasp.

Antigua, Sacatepéquez, Guatemala

You stop

Antigua, Sacatepéquez, Guatemala

Why is it flesh tone?

Fuentes Georginas, Quetzaltenango

A great hot spring just a little out of the way. We arrived in the early afternoon so we ate a quick lunch then wandered to the main pool we passed on our way in. The water temperature was way too cool for our liking so we asked for directions to a hotter pool which was located down a trail full of switchbacks. On the way down we were already dreading the hike out, but once we stepped into the pool all our concerns just melted away.  A little pricey at $100Q per person and another $10Q to park, $210Q in total to stay overnight, but it had been a while since we had a long soak so we feel it was worth it. We only have photos of the main pool because we forgot to take our waterproof camera down to the lower pool, whoops.

Fuentes Georginas, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

You missed a spot

Fuentes Georginas, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

Always with the rules

Lake Atitlan, Sololá

Josh & Jenna gave us the skinny on which place they thought we would like and they nailed it. It was the same spot recommended by Pam & Randall, a couple we've been corresponding with for some time. At $75Q per night, $10US, Pasaj Cap is a great deal with a fantastic view of Lake Atitlan. We've always expected to fall in love with the lake, based entirely on the descriptions we had been given by friends who are PanAm veterans. What couldn't be conveyed by them immediately overtook us upon arrival.

We have been in need of a rest, a proper rest in a place all our own. We had always planned on stopping for a month in Guatemala but none of the places we visited seemed to fit what we were looking for. We even started changing our projected timeline, believe it or not we do have one, to see where else we might be able to sit for a spell. It was all premature. Lake Atitlan captivated us not only with its beauty but with its serenity. How could we resist renting a place in the exact spot that took our breath away and put us at complete ease. It would have been foolish to ignore our gut, so after three days of doing absolutely nothing in camp we rented one of the onsite apartments for a month. We were only back in the van for a total of four days since leaving Antigua before moving into a place, go figure. Joe & Josee have also rented a place to spend time with family, they arrived about a week before we did, so we have some great friends close by.

Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

Worst campsite like ever

Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

Exclamation for sure!

Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

Stop trying so hard, you're making us blush

Honorable Mentions

While we don't list every place and thing we do there are some that stick in our minds. Weeks later we catch ourselves mentioning them to others or just savoring the memory of the exquisite cuisine we consumed. Here are a few standouts.

Victoria Park, Coban

A city park just at the edge of Coban that allows camping between a playground and the parking for an onsite administrative building. We spent one night before driving to Semuc Champey and two after we left with the police. A surprisingly peaceful place and not horribly priced at $90Q per night, $12US, after the foreigner fees and all.

Café Bohème, Antigua

Our go to for morning cappuccinos, breakfast croissants, occasional freshly baked tarts, and decent WiFi. A tiny place with great ambiance and a decent setting to complete our Spanish homework before attending school. Our favorites were the goat cheese with bacon and the bacon, egg, and avocado croissants, $34Q and $31Q respectively. The grande cappuccinos were only $16Q each!

Café Condessa, Antigua

Bacon and cheese omelettes, not chintzy with the bacon either, and coffee with free refills. The location of our farewell breakfast with Beat & Betty, who were heading to the Guatemalan coast before crossing into El Salvador, and Josh & Jenna, who were leaving for Lake Atitlan. The food and company was phenomenal, we miss all yous guys!

Pappy's BBQ, Antigua

We dropped in to try the brisket, which they were out of, and ended up gorging on really good pulled pork and the freshest french fries of the trip. Coming from the south we feel we have a decent ability to gauge BBQ. At $58Q per plate with two sides, dat shit be damn good.

Samsara, Antigua

A mostly vegetarian place we decided to check out with Josh & Jenna the night before they headed to El Salvador. We liked it so much we ate dinner there again the next night before we left Antigua. Not a cheap place but a welcomed culinary change. The creamy tomato soup paired with the grilled three cheese sandwich was really good and the falafel pita was delicious.

Say what? (6)
Aug 3, 2016 at 04:07 PM
Looks like you guys really enjoy central America, isn't it? :-)
I miss it...
Aug 4, 2016 at 03:59 PM
We are! Getting high into the mountains has cooled us off quite a bit too. VivaLaVida is more than capable of getting you back here, just sayin' ; )
Aug 4, 2016 at 03:34 PM
Aw yes, the missing of friends and family, both at home and on the road. We are having some similar travel woes right now.... with our extended stay in Puerto Vallarta all of the overlanders we met on Baja are WELL ahead of us, as well as those we missed way back at home such as yourselves and Josh & Jenna, among others. While we are loving the climate and colonial cities of central Mexico, we are finding ourselves totally alone at the campgrounds and towns where we had hoped to meet fellow travelers :( We are forcing our way along, lol, of course, but are a bit jealous seeing Pete & Natasha riding out the storm with Sunny & Karin, and seeing you at Lake Attilan with Josh & Jenna as well as Joe & Josee. Hopefully soon a new batch of travelers will be catching up with us! You guys enjoy Guatemala and happy trails ahead.
Aug 4, 2016 at 04:15 PM
Thanks Rhonda!

You should run into other overlanders at SMA and Teotihuacan, possibly Guanajuato too. We spent most of Central Mexico exploring on our own unless we made plans to meet up with others. Once we hit the bottleneck of the Yucatan and Central America we've met a ton of travelers including backpackers running the gringo trail.

There should be a new wave of PanAmers and hopefully some people doing a 1 year loop of North America dipping as far as Guatemala. We met several Germans making that loop trip, we miss all of them too. Before too long you guys will be surrounded by all makes and models deep in travel conversations with many new friends, until then don't take those tacos for granted!
Aug 9, 2016 at 11:19 AM
lol.. well, we made it to SMA and found THREE other overlander rigs... all very nice people, who left this morning! lol.. per management it is simply not the time of the year for this area. Even that unimog that has been here for years is empty of it's owners who are gone traveling. lol... really? We don't bite!

But I"m sure we'll meet others once again. Eating all the tacos we can!
Aug 10, 2016 at 06:54 PM
Ha ha, scaring everyone away then. Must be that big ruckus of a dog you got there ; ) Keep on those tacos, seriously...we really really miss them, really.
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