Quicksand Cobàn / Que dia es hoy?

Coban Travel Blog

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Quicksand Cobàn / Que dia es hoy?

My conception of time has fully eroded, the names of weekdays some vestigial cranial accessory. I remained in Flores for nearly one week, leaving the tranquil island on the morning of my seventh day, a week expired spent shooting hoops and playing futbol with local teens on the town-center court, exploring Santa Elena's panaderias and market with Canadian co-hosteler Killian, running circles around the island (evaluating posted daily dinner specials) or huffing exhaust straight out the only highway into Santa Elena. One productive run revealed a cheap seaside diner where I enjoyed a traditional Guatemalteca soup, Pepián, a rich tomato- and onion-based broth filled with hunks of carrot and green pepper, rice, and a roasted chicken breast. My remaining daily hours were spent promoting my favorite banana bread baker, who beamed when I deemed her pan de banano "el mejor in Flores," a quote she cited the next day, settling my debate between yet another hunk of banana bread or a slice of fresh pan dulce.

I followed a fun crew of girls to Tikal, the famous Mayan ruins, at 5am, led by a pair of Germans to whom Renè had introduced me, Lisa and Lucia, and superchill Spaniard Lu. (The Guatemalteca ticket vendor laughed when we purchased our roundtrip shuttle tickets, a lone American guy with five non-gringo girls.) Tikal's monolithic pyramids and temples tower above the jungle, the terrifying shrieks of Howler monkeys, impossibilities from creatures so minuscule, tearing through the lifting haze as slivers of sunlight sneak past obscuring stone monuments. We visited the central plaza and nearby main sites, choosing to relax overlooking treetops rather than trudging to outlying temples, the seedier Tikal districts, including one the girls affectionately dubbed the "rape temple" based upon Lonely Planet's warnings.

Climbing cloudward to unrailed vantage points tested my willpower and sweatglands, but I successfully navigated the highest towers; the highest with a cruel interpretation of the word staircase, a sequence of narrow steps that rises fifty plus meters while creeping forward maybe two. Safety standards won't permit ladders to be positioned so steeply (though ladderwise one must scale and descend)! (In fact, every Tikal tourist I've talked to since, including Barry who visited years ago, has recalled, "Oh, you mean the tower with the ladder.")

The quivering, lightheadedness and torrentially sweating hands didn't begin until I was atop the monument, seated a few feet from the sheer face of certain death, my back attempting to tunnel into the stone wall. None of that detracted from the stunning panorama, and I was content at least my final vision would be so magnificent and serene. Our descent was precipitated by a guide-led group beginning their climb, in numbers sufficient that, should we remain, at least one person would fall from the overcrowded lookout. When I touched down on earth with a soft step instead of a thunderous crunch, I gushed with arterial enthusiasm to everyone within earshot my new and profound affinity for terra.

I'd discovered Jackson was in Antigua (also, I'd worded extremely poorly an offer of seat exchange to the hostel's middle-aged british employee during the nightly movie: "Do you want to come inside me?") and it was time to move on...so I headed opposite Jackson to Rio Dulce, a river through the Guatemala's coastal jungle swath near Belize and Honduras. When the chicken bus parked in dumpy Rio Dulce town, I forewent plans to spend the night and followed my British escort, Becky, to the main dock, arranging a lancha onward to Livingston -- an isolated, culturally diverse hub downriver known especially for its Caribbean influence. Latins, Mayans, and Garifina, black Caribbean slave descendents share Livingston with tourists, and Betsy and I crashed at the highly recommended Casa de la Iguana. To my pleasure, Renè was camped there too, still trying to shake a messy stomach bug.

In Livingston I made the obligatory trek through the town, jungle and coast, Belize stenciled on the horizon, to Los Siete Altares, a series of spellbinding freshwater waterfalls cutting through untamed jungle. Our tour guide, Francis, was an Air Jordan adoring treat, recognizing immediately NC as the birthplace of His Airness. Francis was hilarious and informative, quick to joke with me about all the curvacious women sauntering along, exchanging dap to celebrate the healthiness of many a passerby, shapeliness ensuring "she´s eating her yogurt." Daps were also exchanged when we agreed a girl wasn't eating her yogurt. Noteworthy as well was a meal of Topado, a soup of sea delicacies simmering in coconut milk and spices, swimming with shrimp, mussels, crab, and a whole fish, boiled but otherwise unshelled and unmolested. It was a welcome departure from tortilla framed tastes.

After a few days with the bugs and Garifuna and the threat of malaria, I decided to embark for Lanquin and Semuc Champey, essential Central Guatemala. Rather than spend a night in drab Rio Dulce township to catch an early morning direct shuttle to Lanquin, I snagged a lancha to Puerto Barrios hoping for a bus to Cobán, where I could find transport to Lanquin. At the bus station, in the panicked moment I realized the particular busline's routes were all direct to Guatemala City and that my random arrangements of spanish vocabulary would be insufficient to mine the ticket seller for information about how and where to change buses for Coban, concerned a miscommunication could prove suicidal, I was saved by three Spanish-fluent Italians, Paulo, Gilberto, and Jenny, the former two who speak conversational English. And just happened to be from Cobán.

They conversed with the ticket attendant then led me across the street, where we hitched a ride on a chicken bus to somewhere, endured two shuttle rides playing Central America's third favorite pastime, "How many people can we cram into a fifteen passenger van?" and presto! Cobán. Gracious and accomodating to Mother Teresian extremes, I was offered a night in their spacious and charming abode: five spacious rooms, a restroom, and a covered, open-aired dining and lounging area behind a metal doored and barred exterior, down some muddy, rutty street. I intended to leave the next day, but I'm still there something close to a week later. Between the encouragement to speak Spanish, delicious home-cooked meals (and the occasional take-out churrascos as well), and the tall-standing marijuana plants, I don't think they resent my extended stay.
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photo by: chunfucius