After 3 trips around Flores, (some to the same hotel twice) our mini-van finally left at 10 AM (an hour later) with 10 other tourists. At a gas station, a large steer hog tied in the bed of a pickup truck, complained by kicking violently when they put a cooler in with it. Guess they were off for beers and a BBQ. After we got to the highlands, the harrowing ride at breakneck speeds and tire-squealing turns, was only broken up by a quick stop for the driver to empty his bladder and one Israeli girl and a small boy to empty the contents of their stomachs. Although Lanquin is before Coban, the road is paved to Coban and then Coban to Lanquin, so we had to stop first in Coban – thankfully ridding ourselves of the loquacious and pompous American anthropologists.
Seven hours later, we arrived in Lanquin. Although El Retiro is high on everyone’s list of places to stay, its open air palapas are very cold (according to guests we met) and the walk uphill to town a grueling one. We decided to stay in town at the very pink Rabin Itzan – where a wonderful in-room hot water bathroom and very friendly owners (who provided much needed hot water for our French coffee press) was worth the $20 per night. Our first day in Lanquin, we made our way (about 7 miles) into the highlands to Semuc Champey National Park on the back of a truck for 10 Quetzales. Here in Guatemala, it seems that anybody with a van or pickup will take you to their destination for a small fee – just jump on board while its moving or not. It is pretty efficient and there is rarely an empty spot because the diver will circle around town until the truck is filled to his satisfaction – so 7 miles may take you 1.5 hours, but it beats walking and dodging trucks on the narrow dirt road.
After spending our 50 Q’s($7) each (Guatemalans pay 30), we spent the afternoon hiking along the cascades, swimming and diving – Cynthia couldn’t resist making a leap off the mountain side into one of the pools. The area was beautiful: water cascaded into lovely blue pools and at the end of the trail the river crashes spectacularly into an underground cave.
Waiting in the “parking lot”, we hopped a van back to town and hiked 20 minutes to the Grutas de Languin – which we dubbed the bat cave. The 30 Q non-national price pp was well worth it if you arrive 4:30 PM, or later. The cave is not that spectacular, and the 45 minutes hike through the dimly lit, extremely slick “path” (due to the large amount of bat guano that covers the floor and walls) is treacherous, but the bats pouring through the opening about 5:45PM is well worth it. Actually, telling kids that the mud they’re so proud to have smeared all over them is bat poop is also worth it.
Standing at the small entrance, we witnessed an amazing display of navigation as thousands of bats streamed past us, some turning on a dime at the last second – so close you could feel the wind from their wings. We tried to capture some pictures, but the video (6Meg Wmv file) should give you some idea of what we experienced. We walked back with flashlights – stopping and watching any vehicles: they weave about to avoid craters in the road and are not always aware of your presence, so unless you want to be a hood ornament, step off to the side and let them pass.
The next day we stayed one night in Coban at the very reasonable and clean Posado Don Pedro (same block as the revered Casa D’Acuna but with bigger rooms, private too, and only 40Q pp/night). Two blocks away, we took a 30Q pp English tour of a coffee plantation – right in town. Amazing what you’ll find behind the walls in Guatemala. Our guide took us through the process from growing, picking, processing, drying, roasting and grinding. We thoroughly enjoyed the tour and the cup of coffee afterwards. Next we are off through the highlands and down to Panajachel on the huge crater lake, Lake Atitlan.
For more pictures of this adventure, see the picture gallery.