How life finds a way, clinging precariously to mountain-tops and thriving in places thought inhospitable!
In the morning i discovered my sleeping bag (which i had used on the beach), had coated the concrete floor of my barren cell-like room in a fine layer of sand. Craving a hot shower for respite from the cold mountain air, i flicked the power switch on the shower water heater before attempting to turn the tap on and electrocuted myself. Not a pleasant thing when one is naked and standing in a puddle. It wasn't long before we boarded another chicken bus, this one in the direction of Quetzaltenango, nicknamed Xela and Guatemala's second largest city.
The following morning, we caught a bus to San Martin Chile Verde, which rests in a valley surrounded by steep hills. In the crater of a volcano looking over the town, there is a lake sacred to the modern Maya, reached by a two hour hike. The locals used every space possible for growing their crops, all the way to the top of the steep hills - it was quite a sight! We hiked through the town and up the first very steep hill, and were soon puffing from exertion, while the altitude was making things more difficult - Xela itself is at 2300m and the volcano tops 2700m....
After an hour, we crested the first 'hill' and came across a ranger station. The climb to the Mirador (lookout) was even steeper and took another 30 minutes. But we rewarded with an amazing view of the crater lake of Laguna Chicabel. We descended almost 700 steps to the edge of the lake, and gasped as clouds flowed over the rim and across the lake, occasionally bathing us in mist. Mayan people made offerings to the almost ice-cold lake with flowers and drew shapes in the volcanic sand on the shore. It was a place of peace and wonder, and after eating ravenously and trying to meditate for a bit we made the trek down to the ranger station to catch a bus back to Xela.
Saturday morning saw us leave for another beautiful place - Fuentes Georginas, a set of natural hot springs in the mountians. Xela meanwhile, was crammed with people paying their respects to El Papa (the Pope) who had just died a very public death on CNN. In Zunil, the town at the foot of the volcano, we caught a pickup for the springs. Standing in the tray of the pickup, we bumped through the cobblestone streets, before making the ascent. Hanging on for dear life on the edge of cliffs we entered the clouds, and as visibility dropped to 20 metres, we swerved to avoid the chicken buses overtaking on blind corners.
Words cannot fully describe the beauty of Fuentes Georginas, tucked in a narrow cleft high in the mountains. Steaming pools are fed from boiling water escaping fissures in the rock walls as verdant greenery (some with Jeremy-sized leaves) covered every inch of the surrounding cliffs. We swam in the pools, stood under hot water dripping off the rocks and scrubbed our faces with volcanic sand in this paradise within the clouds. We rented a bungalow for the night, and as night fell, an amazing sight appeared. Fireflies, glowing green, flashing on and off like mini-lighthouses, floated silently past as creatures stirred in the undergrowth nearby. We lit a fire in our bungalow and sat around it that night, drinking beer and sharing a cuban cigar.