Monday, June 25, 2012

You Want a Taxi?: Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala

Fourth Port on the 15 Day Celebrity Millennium Cruise:

Puerto Quetzal,Guatemala
Pacaya Volcano Climb

Not the taxi in question when concerning Pacaya, but I just wanted to show what public transportation looks like all along Central America. Although not the greatest shot, each school bus from Panama to Guatemala is uniquely painted and decorated and relatively cheap compared to the price of public transportation around the states. 

 Parking spaces as defined by white stones on lush green grass as opposed to blacktop and fading white painted lines.

The caldera of a former volcano located near Pacaya.

Looks like a weed, tastes like lemon.

My horse, Champion.

Let me preface this by saying that Guatemala is a beautiful country with green mountains and fields of green as far as the eye can see, but the further away you go from the major tourist destinations it's clear that the country is reeling from economic strife. The latter is all the more reason why more people should get out and come to Guatemala, the people are friendly (at least where we visited in San Vicente Pacaya) and the country is beautiful.

Our trip to the base of Pacaya was simple enough, once we got off the bus however, we were bombarded with the local Mayan population insisting that you ride their "taxi" (aka a horse) for $40 round trip instead of hiking up the volcano. We were also greeted and encircled by the malnourished street dogs who were very friendly, but broke your heart due to their gaunt bodies - the next time I go to Guatemala, I'll be bringing a bag of kibbles n' bits.

Once you begin your ascent at a rather brisk pace you realize what you're in for, a steep walk that never levels out and at a clip that will tire you out rather quickly. You do get an occasional pit stop, but not really long enough to fully catch your breath and if you stand still long enough, you'll slowly be encircled by horses and men asking if you want a taxi. I should also add that no matter how many times you say no, they will not falter, and when you say yes, be prepared because before you finish the word you'll be rather forcibly whisked onto your horse by your eager guide. About a quarter of our group ended up on horse back sooner or later and I was one of those who pansied out about half way through the hike - I overheated and the world was a spinning. Although my guide barely spoke English and I had vague recollection of my high school Spanish lessons we understood one another well enough. My guide/ horse wrangler even taught me about some local flora and fauna along the way including one interesting plant that looked like a weed, but apparently when you split back the stem, it tastes like lemon and helps to soothe an upset stomach.

Once we got to the summit, it was time to pay the man if you were only going one way and walk up to the base of Pacaya's cone. Unfortunately on the day that we went there was no lava spewing forth to roast some marshmallows over, but there was plenty of steam rising and an absolutely beautiful vista to look out on. There were also some steam vents were tourists could plop down in for an interesting photo op. We were allotted a decent amount of time to explore the accessible areas, take photos, peruse the Lava Store and look for some pieces of pumice, which littered the ground.

The descent was easy and fast enough and this is where my only complaint with this excursion comes in, as we were told it was time to head back down to the bus, our guides were the first ones down the hill and our group was vastly spread apart. You'd walk and see no one else except for the occasional gruff looking locals in a dilapidated shack. Then once you're down to where you boarded the bus again, the dogs and local children engulfed our group, the dogs looking for food (which I readily gave up some extra turkey jerky I had) and the kids looking for candy bars (we were given them to help keep up energy on the hike) and dollar bills.

Overall it was one of the best excursions, I just wish that we could've hiked up Pacaya at a less brisk pace and that our guide made sure that the whole group was ready to descend at once instead of a long spread out trail of people. I should also add that the lunch offered at a restaurant called Sarita was delicious and definitely try the Jamican Flower drink they offer!

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