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Days 183-189 Saturday-Friday October 20-26, 2007
Antigua & Coban, Guatemala
When we left you last time, we had booked our direct shuttle from Copan in Honduras back to Antigua, Guatemala. The first priority in Antigua was to get some rest as we had been on the go for quite a while. The shuttle trip from Honduras to Guatemala proved to be extremely comfortable and fast. Upon arriving in Antigua, instead of searching around for a place to stay, we headed straight for the Hostal Dia Verde, where we stayed two months ago when we arrived in Guatemala. Considering that most days in a new town involve an exhausting search for accommodation, it was a pleasant experience arriving in Antigua with our hotel room already taken care of. It was also nice coming back to a place we had visited previously and thus were a little familiar with. Constantly having to “figure out” a new place every couple of days can be very tiring.
Our time in Antigua was spent mostly walking around the cobblestone streets and soaking in the colonial charm whilst also taking a lot of time to rest. We did change hotels after the first night because the room that the owner Vera had available for us was just too small for three people. Another reason for the change was to get a hotel room with a TV. The MLB playoffs were in full swing and I was watching the Red Sox make their way towards the World Series.
After a day and a half of the routine mentioned above, we felt it was time to make plans for our final few days in Guatemala. In lieu of dragging all of our backpacks around, we made an arrangement with the new hotel to leave our two biggest bags with them, so that our load would be lightened tremendously. With the baggage situation dealt with, we headed back to the same shuttle company who had provided the pleasant trip from Honduras and bought tickets on a shuttle to Coban, the coffee capital of Guatemala. (Yes I know Copan Honduras and Coban Guatemala are confusing!) More specifically, we booked transport on Tuesday morning directly to a town about ninety minutes east of Coban named Lanquin. Lanquin is a sleepy little town, only significant because it sits near Semuc Chapney, or as the locals call it, “The Eight Wonder of the World.”
The shuttle trip from Antigua to Lanquin took most of the day. About halfway through the trip, it started raining heavily and the weather continued to turn nastier as the trip progressed. About thirty minutes from Lanquin, we started descending down a steep dirt road towards the town. In the rain this seemed dangerous, but our driver proceeded with caution. Finally, after half an hour and a couple of scares on the dirt road, we arrived in Lanquin and got a room in one of the two available hotels in town.
Semuc Chapney is a natural river and pool complex with vibrantly blue water set amidst a stunning backdrop. During our travels around Guatemala, several people have told us just how beautiful Semuc Chapney is, thus cementing our decision to visit this tough to reach place. The rain we encountered on our shuttle continued all night and into the next morning.
After waking up and going downstairs on Wednesday morning, Jasmine and I started to chat with the hotel owner. In traveling with a child, safety is always the number one concern. I asked him, “How safe is the dirt road to Semuc Chapney given the amount of rain that has fallen?” (Or something similar in Spanish) He quickly replied, “Es muy peligroso!” (Very dangerous!) At this point we had a decision to make, given how much we had gone through to get here. Of course, there was no real decision and after thinking for a couple of minutes and realizing that the weather wasn’t going to ease up any time soon, we decided to forego the trip to Semuc Chapney in the name of safety. Without enthusiasm, we caught a shuttle back to Coban where we sat in our hotel much of the day because the rain just wouldn’t let up.
The other activity that we wanted to experience while in the area was a tour of a coffee finca. (Coffee Farm) The lush green hills surrounding Coban are filled with coffee plants as the altitude and climate are ideal for growing the crop. Upon arriving in Coban, we headed straight for Finca Santa Margarita which sits in the middle of the town for a tour. Unfortunately, they informed us that they don’t give tours in the rain and that we would have to return during a “dry” time. We decided to stay another day in the area in order to see if the rain would back off. After all, we didn’t want to return to Antigua having missed everything we came to see.
On Thursday morning, clouds still loomed over Coban, but the prognosis for the day looked better. We walked over to the finca and they told us to come back at 2pm for a tour. With a few hours to kill, we headed out to a local shopping mall to walk around before catching a taxi to the hospital to check into our Hepatitis B shots. Shawn Reece has all of his Hep B shots, but Jasmine and I still needed the final shot in the three part series.
At the hospital, we were referred to a clinic about four blocks away where they were giving the shot. This clinic doubled as a family planning center and is funded by US foreign aid. The Hepatitis B shot ended up costing us about $8 per person. In comparison, in the U.S. we spent around $65 per dose for our first two shots. With this little piece of business taken care of, it was 2pm and we made our way back to the finca for our long awaited tour.
After waiting in the lobby of Finca Santa Margarita for a couple of minutes, we were greeted by our guide Carmen. She is a small Guatemalan lady who spent many years living in the U.S. and thus speaks excellent English. Before starting, Carmen asked us to wear traditional field hats so that we would fit in. The tour through the finca took around thirty minutes, where we saw every stage of the growing and cultivating process. It started in the fields with the coffee plants, (which start green and turn red when ripe) went through a building where the beans are peeled and dried and finally into an area where they are roasted and packaged. The aroma in the roasting area was almost overwhelming. The tour was informative and we learned a lot about the farming of coffee. Before leaving, we were served some of the newly roasted coffee and bought a few bags to bring home to our families. We even let Shawn Reece have his own cup, his first ever taste of coffee!
With the taste of freshly roasted coffee still in our mouths, we headed across town to our final activity of the day, a visit to a church which is especially holy to the indigenous population in Coban. The church sits at the top of a hill, similar to the one we visited in San Cristobal de Las Casas. As we ascended the stairs, all along the way were smoke blackened shelfs where candles are burned during ceremonies. Finally, we reached the top, toured the church and took in the nice view of Coban. The hills, meadows and river surrounding the town are truly beautiful.
After a few minutes at the top we headed back down the hill towards our hotel.
At this point, we were torn between going back to Antigua on Friday morning or staying and trying to get back out to Semuc Chapney. We went over to the shuttle operator and found out that there were seats available for the next morning to Antigua and we let them know that we would make our decision then. When the morning came, we decided at first to go to Semuc Chapney, but Jasmine was getting the sniffles and Shawn Reece was following suit, so after a few minutes we changed our minds and decided to head back to Antigua. I was really sad that we weren’t able to go to “The Eight Wonder of the World”, but we have seen so much beauty here that I really can’t complain. As I told Jasmine, now we have a reason to go back to Guatemala!
The shuttle from Coban to Antigua was another long affair and we arrived back in Guatemala’s former capital on Friday evening with only three days before our flight back to the United States. On the agenda for our final few days was a trip back to the market at Chichicastenango to do some gift shopping and a climb up the Volcan Pacaya which we opted not to do when we arrived, instead leaving it as the exclamation point on our three months in the area! Our next post will be the last from Guatemala and Central America!
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The Coomer Family
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