After Finca Ixobel, I wasn’t really sure what to expect when we got to Rio Dulce. Manatees, kayaking, eco-lodges, sounded like our kind of place. As we hiked to Rio Dulce’s famous hot spring waterfall, we encountered Guatemalan children along the way. Given that I had only studied Spanish for two weeks, it was no surprise that they seemed disappointed when I handed them mangoes from my bag. We reached the hot springs and jumped in. A strange mix of hot water from the waterfall and cold water from upstream, the water was refreshing and relaxing at the same time. We swam to a cave behind the waterfall, enjoying the water…until we started to feeling small pinches, like mosquito bites. Not paranas, but little tiny fish were trying to nibble our legs. Freaked out Becka jumped out of the stream and not surprisingly, Danny climbed the waterfall to jump into the pool below.
Crossing another hot springs off the list, we decided to head to Livingston the next day via boat. Of course that night was a torrential downpour of what seemed biblical proportions. Debating the boat ride to Livingston, we stood on the dock trying to gauge the weather. All of a sudden we heard a gasp from below. Two river otters peaked there heads out of the water, shook their noses at us and disappeared. If they could do it, so could we. An hour and a half later down the river, we found ourselves on Guatemala’s Caribbean coast. Completely different than the rest of Guatemala, Livingston has a Garafuna population of Africans that crashed on the coast hundreds of years ago. The area around Livingston has a island feel, complete with palm trees, Caribbean patois and I’m sure if we looked hard enough Rastafarians. 🙂
Heading south, up next was Lake Atitlan for a few days of relaxation. Really, we needed more relaxation after hot springs and waterfalls. Just the joys of travel! Panahachel (aka Gringotenango – place of the gringos) was little more than an extremely commercial tourist trap, so we quickly headed out of town and took a hike around the lake. Cautioning us that it is dangerous and people get robbed, the tourist office advised us to hire a guide for $40 U.S.D. Right, no way that was going to happen. Hiking through the little towns along the coast reminded me of Cinque Terre in Italy. It was just as beautiful and although the hills were steep, “En Serio” (Seriously) Becka said at each uphill climb, it was just as fun. We arrived safely in San Marcos late in the afternoon and headed back to Panahachel in time for happy hour.
One item remained on our must-do Guatemala list, hiking Volcan Pacaya. One of the most active volcanoes in the world, Volcan Pacaya lacks the safety measures of the Western World so you can actually go right up to the lava. Booking a volcano hike in the afternoon during rainy season may not have been the smartest thing we’ve ever done, but we’ve definitely done worse. Not letting it dampen our spirits, we bought trash bags from the local kids and fashioned ourselves rain ponchos. Climbing the mountain the rain came in sheets, eventually creating mudslides. We gave up trying to stay dry and as we picked our way through the intense fog we could feel the waves of hot steam hit our faces long before we could see it. Walking in gravel of volcanic rock the guide pointed in the distance and we saw a river of lava. Inching closer (two steps forward, one step back), with no barriers, no ropes, nothing to prevent us from reaching out and touching the hot lava except for our common sense, we got as close as we dared. We may have actually been closer to lava in Hawaii, since we could see it flowing under the ground, but here the river of lava was completely above ground and from several meters away we could feel the heat and the steam. It was like being on the Discovery Channel… except for the rain. Like true discovery channel hosts, we inched closer to the lava and watched it flow like molasses down the volcano. Unlike Hawaii where the lava entered the ocean, creating new land, the end of our lava flow was lost somewhere in the storm. Two other RTW travelers, Tracy and David pulled out marshmallows, a frying pan and eggs. It might be pouring rain, but they were going to feast. Pulling away some hot rocks, they fried eggs in the rain and promptly enjoyed a soggy but delicious egg sandwich while graciously proving us with all the marshmellows we could stand. Victorious, we headed back down the muddy path which was now more of a mud slide than anything else. Definitely one of the coolest things we’ve ever done.