Antigua to Xela took 3 shuttles and about 3 hours. We could have made the trip via chicken bus (like the two pictured above) but they’re known for pickpockets and robbery, and not speaking Spanish would leave us at a significant disadvantage if anything went wrong.
Once in Xela, I mailed some postcards since I didn’t know when I’d next find a post office.
And Clay attempted to get over the shock of so many early mornings and crowded buses on ‘vacation.’
We got some pastries across from the post office, and then headed off in search of a rock climbing wall that Stove Guy at Earth Lodge had told us about.
It was in a sports complex, with guards and signs promoting the Guatemalan olympic team. We had to ask 3 people, knock on an unsigned door, and get let in by a janitor, but we found it. It was a few walls in a basketball court, and from what we gathered was only to be used with a trainer. The mats for the bouldering walls (whose angles could be adjusted via ropes) were old mattresses. It was kind of disappointing, but also exciting because you know whoever built it did it out of love for the sport.
We walked back and tried to find lunch, but the first place we tried was closed on Mondays, and the second was non-existant. So we had lunch at the hostel and then walked down to QuetzalTrekkers for our pre-trip meeting.
QT is an entirely volunteer-run trekking organization based out of Xela. They support two local charities – one, a school for kids who don’t have access to schooling where they are from, and two, a housing/dormitory group for those kids who wouldn’t be able to attend the school without living in the city (and who were too poor to do so). Volunteers must speak intermediate Spanish, and commit to at least a 3 month stay.
We learned details about the hike – some of which you can read here – and got any gear we were missing. Since Clay and I had come for a tropical vacation and not multi-day hiking, we had to borrow rucksacks, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, rain gear, water shoes, hiking boots for Clay, and large water bottles for both of us.
Because there’s a lot to cover, and I’m exhausted, I will say that the hike was 45 kilometers over mountains on ancient footpaths. We carried all our own water and nearly all our food, and were out from 6:30am-5pm both of the first two days.The first night we slept in a small town’s community center. Our group was 3 guides – two Americans and one local, all under 27 – 2 brits, 4 Israelis, 2 Dutch girls, 1 local who spent 4 years in the US Navy, Clay and I, and a French/Mexican girl who grew up in Kenya. Everyone got along really well.
The following picture is our group at breakfast at the QT office on day one. After that is my journal entry from the end of the first day, and then a selection of photos.
“5:45am. Sandwiches from guard. Walk to QT. Breakfast. Pullup bar of wood and rope. Walk to bus. Chicken bus. Long hike up. Lunch of veggie sandwiches. Wood bridge. Finish in small town. 3 beers. Kids with fireworks. Temazcal w/ English girls. Almost burnt leg with hot water. Performance. Crazy wind while sleeping.”
Walking to the bus for a 30min ride out of Xela.
This local put us all to shame before we’d even begun our trek.
Our goofy guide, “Santi” Santiago, who’s done the trek 20+ times.
The most common site on our trek was locals carrying firewood from their heads. All ages and genders, too.
(This picture is payback for the one above it).
Performance by a local family.
And where we slept for the night.
Day one was long, but fun. No showers, but we did have a toilet before bed, and the Temazcal helped a bit. The wind sounded like it would take the roof off, though I was told the next morning that it was really common when groups spend the night. The next morning we were up at 6 to pack up and start again.
I agree with Clayton. This is a vacation?