San Mateo Ixtatan's valley

In September 2008 as you may probably be aware I went to Guatemala. It was my first trip alone (meaning without my parents) in a poorer country… and I did it. I was scared at first as my friend told me she got robbed when thieves hijacked her bus. You can also read all sorts of comments on your Embassy’s travel comments that don’t re assure you. But in the end, I did go there and it was amazing! I will just give you the details in timely order. I looked for different way but this one is cool and follow my surprises!

Click on any photo to them bigger

First Day:

Song of the trip: Bitter Sweet Symphony by the verve

I arrived Thursday evening at the airport. The guy from the hostel who was supposed to meet me was nowhere to be seen. The other hotel signs holders came to see me all as I was still looking around for my driver…. After my 9 + 2:30 hours flights and my 2 hours waiting at the US immigration in Miama, I succeed understand their Spanish and explained them roughly that I needed to go to Hostal Los Volcanes – very good and clean place. That is when they told me that the guy wasn’t here yet and I will have to wait…. But as soon as the guy arrived, they all showed me to him! Really nice first impression. Then I tried to speak with people at the hostel. They booked me a cab for the day after to go to the coach station, I was able to go on internet (I didn’t have any network there thanks to Orange UK) and talk to my roommate, a 23 years-old-mother-of-onr girl from Nicaragua who was suprised I wasn’t married at 26! OMG!

So good first night.

2nd day:

Song of the day: Riders in the sky John Goodman and Dan Akroyd from the movie The Blues Brothers 2000 – awesome movie. I love both movies and the music is great.

After waking up at 7:30 during a hot night, I took a coffee, and waited for the taxi to come. Again someone really nice waited for me to drive me to the coach station for Linea Dorada: one of the bus company that goes daily to Quetzaltenango (also known as Xela). I traveled for 4:30 hours in a bus next to a young 19 years old boy who was going to Xela to meet his girlfriend’s father to tell him that his daughter is pregnant! sic! I talked to him all the way to Xela and he let me use his phone to send texts to Jenny (my friend who was waiting for me with her father who was there in a spanish school). At Xela, I took a taxi to go to Parque Central (main plaza in each town). I met up with Jenny and her father and we went to the guesthouse (which does spanish school too, go see their site) where we were to stay 2 nights (free coffee (Guatemalan people are drinking the weakest coffee you can find and in yard)). To finish my day, we walked a bit around and then ended up in an Italian restaurant (why?! because my friend doesn’t get to each much non guatemalan food in her village… and I will soon discover that).

3rd day:

Song of the day: Dum Diddly by The lack Eyed Peas

After a long good night, we went out walking, see the city and have breakfast! 😛 On our way to one restaurant, we saw lots people dressed up. On our way out of the restaurant, we saw that kids were parading because the 15th is indepedence day… They were all really nice and we enjoyed the view there…

Then I had to withdraw money so troubles come… My card (Visa Debit at Barclays) wouldn’t work in any ATM we tried (Banrural, Banco Industrial, …). I begun to be worried. After 4 tries, we just gave up and walk to see the kids. Then I saw Bancared. I tried without much faith but it worked. It has been the only bank I was able to get cash during 2 weeks but that is also the one you can only find in cities and they only have one machine everytime!!!!

After that, we decided to go to Fuentes Georginas (more photos on their page), a hot spring in the montains. 1 hour in a US yellow schoolbus full of tourist and here we are, in the middle of the forest, in swimming suit under the rain but in hot water pool! A nice end of day there and a restaurant and a pub with few friends of my friend and her father ended up our evening.

4th day:

Song of the day: Zombie by the Cranberries

After a quick breakfast and walk around the neighborhoood, we decided to hit the road as we had to travel a long time to go to my friend’s place.
We took one of the worst mean of transport in Guatemala: the worldly famous Chicken Bus. They are basically a US schoolbus which after a good service in the US is shipped to Central America where they use it for inter city transport… They start at one point and people hop on and hop off anywhere. If the driver missed your stop, you have to scream ‘Baja!’. The seats are made for 2 kids but we were 3 adults per seats!!! Kids can possibly travel in any position and adults can stand up in the middle, some for more tha 4 hours! The particularity is that they don’t complain. They accept as many people as they can fit (too much of course as they are after the money). Chicken buses are also a religion. The driver are painting them, make the chrome shine, have good stereo (with annoying guatemalan music)… They also have a helper called ‘ayudante’ who takes your bag when it is too big, attach it on the roof and collect money. We traveled 2 hours from Xela to Huehuetenango also called Huehue and then 5 hours between Huehue to San Mateo Ixtatan. If you check on the map, you will see that we can’t have traveled more than 100km but we crossed montains and you have seen the roads. We were between 1500 and 3000 meters above the sea level and it was very cold. On one hole, we jumped at least 30 cm up our seats with my friend. I still remember the pain on my bottom caused by the spring in the cushion. You also have the smell. Not all people wash or clean their clothes so because we were so packed, you could smell nice odors! But it was fun. It is a good experience and when you are in your country you suddenly love you buses almost on time with tickets, rooms for everybody and good roads! 🙂
Between both buses, we just had a look at Huehue but it is not as pretty as Xela and people begin to look at you because there is not much tourists.

5th day:

Song of the day: New Born by Muse

This day was was my first day in San Mateo Ixtatan. I slept in the teachers’ house with my friend who work for the school sponsorized by the Ixtatan Foundation. And this morning was the kid’s festival’s day. My friend went early and I joined them later. There I saw the Mayans of the Highlands. They looked at me as I was E.T.!!! and I was probably him for them as they never see any white people in their village. I also have to say that I was not tanned… and I am not tanner now! 😛

I also discoverd how to was clothes without a washing machine… and it is not easy to wash a pair of jeans with cold water, soap and your hands….

6th and most of the 7th day were just sleeping, walking in the mountains, cooking, reading, holidays stuff but without my camera 😦

7th day evening:

Song of the day: it’s so quiet by Björk

The evening was the election of Miss San Mateo 2008. Each school has elected 3 girls and each of the first were competing for the 1st place for the village. Nothing really interesting here except that you have to wear the typical clothes i.e. a corte (large band of fabric rolled aroud your waist), a faja (sort of long belt that holt the corte) and a top or a blousa. Everybody was lauthing at us… 😛 On the picture, you can see one of the Miss girls and a frien of my friend!

8th day:

Song of the day: Marrakesh Express by Crosby Still Nash and Young

Today is The schools Parade day! The band (la banda) begun to play at 5:00 because they always get up at 4:30!!! and at 7:00, they were all grouped by schools, aligned and ready: dancers at the front and musicians at the back. They were all wearing their more or less customized school uniforms and happy to be there to walk around town to represent their school. At the end, meeting at Las Ruinas, the main place, and then competition between the ands. We learnt at the end that they all win as there is no judge, it is just for parents and friends! 🙂

9th day:

Song of the day: Valparaiso by Sting

Here the trip starts: chicken bus for 1:30 to go to Barillas 20 km away from San Mateo Ixtatan on a shitty road but with an outstanding view in the mountains and then 5:00 in a tubo. The tubo is the worst way of transport in Guatemala. It is basically a pick up truck on which they fixed tubes around the platform for people to stand and to put the plastic protection sheet when it rains. They are used when no other things than 4 wheels can go i.e. on the shitiest road… So there we were, standing on the platform for 5 hours surrounded by 10 or 15 Guatemalans. People again can hop on and off wherever they want. The travel was hard but the view once more time was wicked. In 5 hours we went to Playa Grande 1000 meters down the mountains.

Then we decided not to stay in Playa Grande because it is just an old border town without much to do.

We took a microbus instead (sort of big van) for an hour more to go to Parque Nacioanal Lago Lachua. There we had to hike 1:30 with our rucksack on our shoulders along a really nice but dark trail (it was 6pm but we left at 7am!) to go to the ‘eco hostel’. 2 young guys training to be rangers. They offered us to have our dinner at their place instead of our room (2 beds, 2 nets and no electricity!).

10th day:

Song of the day: Teardrop by Massive Attack

We woke up in this marvellous place. It was amazing and but we decided to stay only the morning as we were heading North and had to get moving. Nevertheless, we had time to look around. It was awesome as this park is not well known except by the locals.

Then we took 3 different microbus, a lancha at Sayaxe (to cross the river), a bus to finally go to Flores and then a tuk tuk to go to the hostel. Again 5 or 6 hours of transport! 😛

11th day

Song of the day: An Audience with the Pope by Elbow

After a deserved night, we were really delighted to be in a touristic area such as Flores. Flores is on a island on the coast of the lake Lago Petén Ixtà int the region of Petén. This is also famous as it is the perfect place to stay while visiting the ruins of Tikal.

It is charming and relaxing. People are used to see tourists and don’t try to sell you their mother! 😉 We had great food there (meaning other than tortillas, huevos and frijoles (mashed black beans)) and took the oportunity to enjoy a moment to do nothing!

12th day

Song of the day: Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy by the Andrews sisters

This day was the big day for any travellers in Guatemala. It was the day we went to see the ruins of Tikal in Parque Nacional de Tikal. This is their history just there in the middle of the jungle. It is impressive and you catch yourself thinking about how great the Mayas were.

13th day

Song of the day: I don’t feel like dancin’ by the Scissor Sisters

And because we love to travel, we moved from Flores and the Peten region, to go on the Caribean coast in Livingston on Rio Dulce. We had to travel 4 hours in a bus and then take una lancha for 1 hour on Rio Dulce as there is no road to go to Livingston!!!

The ride was fantastic on the rio in the middle of the jungle. People were living on the river side and were all fishing.

14th day

Song of the day: Germaine by Renaud

Again on this day, we enjoyed our holidays. We ate great food (fresh grilled fish), spoke to people, enjoy the sun and the heat. Livingson is interesting as it is the only Guatemalan town where you can see dark skin people.

The story says that 2 ships of slaves sank on the coast and the africans arrived in Guatemala swimming away from the boats. They are called the Garifunas. Their language is a mix of creole, french, spanish and english. They have been persecuted but every time backed up by the French who didn’t wnt them to be colonized… They love to meet people other than mayas. We were 2 occidental girls and they knew we were in town. Because we understood spanish, we always had people talking to us whether we were eating or walking.

We went walking along the coast but i is quie dirty as like everywhere in Guaemala, there is no trash!

14th and 15th day

Song of the day: Garifuna Punta by Mohobub

These are my last day. We took a coach deluxe to go from Puerto Barrios to Guatemala City after having taken another lancha to leave Livingston for Puerto Barrios. After 4:30, we were in the capital. The issue is that it is one of the most dangerous city in Central America. We decided to take a taxi to Antigua – 45 km south of Guate and much prettier. We had to bargain but the driver was happy to drive 2 girls as we were unlikely to harm him. He told us that 2 weeks ago, he has been hijacked with a gun 5 days in a row and now only work fridays and saturdays!!!

We had a great time shopping in the markets, have good food, walk and visit. We finished our trip relaxing in a quiet city.

16th day

I had to wake up at 3:30. I took a micro to go to the airport at 4:00. My plane was at 7:00… and this is the end! 😦 Encore !!!


4 responses

19 10 2008
marie edith

eh ben !! j’attends 11th day pour lire la suite
j’aime bien

22 10 2008
La Hermanita

What a suspense ! I’m also waiting for the 11th day ! So what are you doing !!!????

22 10 2008

wahooo !!! 1:30 de marche apres 1 jour de tapcu, respect !!!

22 10 2008

desolee, je suis lente…

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