Monday, August 30, 2010

Latest from Guatemala & Belize

Chapter 1: "Welcome to Paris...dise...."
Hello family and friends. We'll start with the red-eye out of SLC... we refer to it as "The Midnight Meat Plane, to Georgia" (...a superstar, but he didn't get far!). At any rate, do not fly out of SLC at midnight -- there are some strange folks up that late... the giant "Justin Bieber" look-alike, and the mean ol' lady who demanded the window seat because she had "some sleepin' to do!!!" (at the incovenience of everyone around her). Naturally, the four of us gawked for four hours from SLC to Atlanta.

We arrived to Belize City around noon and it was hot. Had we had the foresight, we would have never stepped one foot out of the airport. Ever.

First of all, there is absolutely nothing to see in Belize City, at all. Though, we still walked around looking for it in broad daylight.... that was until Mama Cleo spread her arms like a mother hen gathering her chicks, pleading with us "Don't go no furder down dat way." We were going that way because the signs said "dat way to da church" (which, according to Lonely Planet Guide was the only thing worth seeing in the city). Apparently, we would have died if we went to see the church, so we didn't. So, we headed back to the hotel, which seemed like a fine idea because we felt we had been "exploring" for several hours... only to find out when we got back to the hotel, it had been about twelve-and-a-half minutes since our plane had landed. We are finding that time moves at an "unbelizeably" slow pace down here. We thought today was Friday, of next year, but we realize it's only Tuesday and we are so happy!!!

So, still not yet clued in that Belize City is apparently the most dangerous city on the planet, we waited until sundown and went out again, because it was two degrees cooler then. When we got outside to go on our nightime stroll around the city, we were immediatly warned by the only other person we saw on the street to "Be careful!!!!" (Said in a voice you only hear in horror movies right before something really bad happens!) We just said "thanks" and moved along. Fortunately, on our lonely stroll we noticed a cute little stray dog that accompanied us, wasn't begging for food or anything, but just joined our little pack and guided us through town -- we decided she was our guardian angel and named her Meriweather (this may have been a reincarnation of Mama Cleo from earlier in the day). We were glad she was with us because, even though we only walked one block and then back, we were on the brink of death/assault/kidnap/std the entire time!!! Little kids threw rocks at us from inside a church -- the same church that another man invited us to attend earlier that day by screaming over and over at us "Get the 'freak' inside that church!!!!" (though, he did NOT say 'freak") The reason we kept leaving the safety of the hotel was because we needed to eat! But, we found there was really no restaurant we dared to eat at in the whole city... (and, for those of you who know us -- we really don't have very high standards to begin with)

After about 12 hours in Belize City (that felt like seven days), we had survived a night and high-tailed out of there on the first boat to San Pedro (Caye Ambergris -- Island made famous about 20 years ago by a Madonna song... "la isla bonita"). We arrived in San Pedro, were dropped off on a sandy beach and we looked at each other and said, "Which way should we go???" (because, of course, we had no idea where we were, no reservations, and just a general idea of what we might do for the next couple of days). We ended up at "Xanadu Beach Resort" because we liked the name and it reminded us of that 1980s movie with Olivia Newton-John. After checking in, we walked past the pool which overlooked the gorgeous ocean and palm trees and one man, holding a margerita up in his hand, in what he probably thought was a well-planned line in his head, and with one wave of his hand, yelled, "Welcome to Paris!!! ...dice...." We immediately knew this was the place for us, and we checked right in. None of us said a word about it, until we were halfway down the beach... then, compared notes, and decided he was a drunk French man who forgot where he was. Welcome to Paris! ...dice.... But, he wasn't kidding! It was Paris...dice!

Our hotel, though perhaps on the expensive side, even for the low tourist season, was worth every penny. It included snorkling gear, bikes, and kayaks... Not to mention our giant room/condo with huge deck over-looking the sea. So, within the first four hours of being there we used ALL of the free stuff provided (which, in our defense, in Belize time, it felt like fourteen days). The first thing, we checked the snorkling gear and ran to the end of the dock and jumped in... Well, Eli and Uncle Will jumped in and snorkled for an hour while Megan and Krishelle were still convincing themselves that it was safe to get in the water. (and, Megan adds, "I had to breathe -- I couldn't breathe.") So, about Megan and that snorkle.... when she had finally calmed down enough to listen, I explained that she could go under water and the contraption at the top of the snorkle would keep the water from rushing in... to which she said, "Oh! So, I can breathe when I dive down under water????" She was so excited... the other three of us gave blank stares to each other for a few minutes trying to understand how anyone could have gathered that from what was just said.... She figured it out and within no time was 100 yards off shore, but then in about two seconds was back on top of the dock because she "saw 10 really big things" (which upon later inquiry turned out to be about the size of a baseball -- according to her hand measurements when she explained her fear... of course, 24 hours later she jumped into the open ocean along with a bucket of chum and spooned several sharks and stingrays larger than her... we'll explain later...)

We turned in our snorkle stuff and checked out the kayaks. Within three minutes, Krishelle and Eli had capsized in ten inches of water (flipflops, towels, bottles of water floating around everywhere -- it was a mess). After they got upright, we paddled out into the open sea and then looked at each other and said, "Do you really want to paddle all the way to the reef, because that looks far?" Naturally, the answer was "No." So, we paddled back to shore and rented a golf cart. By the way, when we turned in the kayaks the lady told us it was 3:30 p.m. (we were a little embarrassed because we'd only been at the hotel for 90 minutes).

The only real way to get around the island is on bike, foot, or golf cart. We drove the golf cart as far north as we could on the main road, which was a dirt road that was mostly submerged, with the occassional iguana crossing. We found, in the middle of nowhere, a little restaurant made of bamboo on a little lake, full of crocodiles, and we ate on a landing over that little lake. Probably the best food we've had on this trip, served by the coolest ladies we've met, too (and, that's saying a lot, because the people of Belize are probably the nicest, friendliest people we've ever met on any of our trips around the world -- even in Belize City, which seems ironic if it's supposed to be so dangerous). Unfortunately, we didn't see any crocs, but we did see a sign telling us to follow Vanessa and Cheri on Facebook to get the latest "gossips" from the restaurant. When asked if this "gossips" included details on the latest fights between Vanessa and Cheri, Vanessa said, "If Cheri and I got in a fight, dat would be dee end of it tall." We're not sure what that means, but think maybe one of them would end up with the crocs.

We turned in the golf cart, wound down and went to bed. Then, Monday morning rolls around and we'd figured out a plan for what to do that day (Monday). We started by watching Megan get her hair done in corn rows.... This was after breakfast where she asked the waitress if the hashbrowns and refried beans would be mixed together or if they could keep them separate for her. To which the waitress responded by slamming her breakfast down in front of her and saying "Hashbrowns, and beans separate on the side!" (and then laughing hysterically and walking away.... the rest of us have continued of course to make fun of her at every meal she orders... "is all the food just mixed together in a blender???" .... we are not sure why she even thinks these things, but we're happy she does). The corn rows are a disaster.... more later on this...

We checked out the bikes from the hotel (the one last "free" hotel perk). We road into town and looked like the typical awkward American tourists -- walked into a souvenir shop, stood in front of the a/c, didn't buy anything, got on our bikes and road back to the hotel to begin the snorkling tour.

Alphonse and Snagglepus picked us up on the dock to head out on the snorkling tour. We went out to deep sea that ended up being about four-feet deep in most places. We listened to instructions for about 30 minutes and pretty much understood that the four of us were to stay on his right-hand side in the water and the rest of our group on the other side (this was if we wanted to see anything good). Before we jumped in, we could see sharks swimming under the boat.... but, we jumped in anyway because we were instructed to do so. We thought we would just be snorkling around the boat, but there was a big ol' current and you had to paddle like crazy to stay with the group... Then, the hurricane began! We felt these stinging pelts on our backs and when we looked up, we realized we saw no boats, no other snorklers -- just 100-mph winds, waves, and pouring rain. It was safer face-down in the water. This is the point at which Krishelle and Uncle Will realized we had lost Eli and Megan, who had gone off chasing and petting a sea turtle as if at Disneyland in some controlled environment. Eli and Megan stuck their heads out of the water and realized they were alone, as they clung to each other and said their goodbyes. They found a boat and tried to swim around it in every direction, but kept slamming into it and getting sucked under. Meanwhile, Krishelle and Uncle Will had a whole "who should stay with the group and who should go find them" conversation -- Krishelle was going to stay with the group and Uncle Will was going to be 'search and rescue' in the open sea (where none of us has any business being). As Krishelle and Uncle Will said their goodbyes, we spot four frantically-kicking panicked fins kicking through the waters at hyper-speed. We knew it was Eli and Megan because we could see the corn rows and purples beads at the ends of them! From that point on, we were linked at the elbows the whole time, except for when the moray eel appeared and we all split at lightning speed in four different directions (the typical "save yourself" moment!). Of course, an hour later, we were chasing 300-lb 10-foot-long sharks, and holding and petting them, with the help of the snorkling guide.

The snorkling tour was about two hours of swimming behind this guide... much like an underwater pioneer trek, but without the camp songs. We were exhausted, because we kept running into people and them into us (it was awfully crowded for being miles from land, in the middle of the ocean, in low-tourist hurricane season). Upon comparing notes later, we each, at least once during this initial two-hour snorkling expedition, had considered drowning because it just seemed like the easiest way to end this snorkle tour. It was going on FOREVER!!! (for anyone who knows us, we do not like to feel trapped or like something is going to go on forever... like the Egyptian museum). So, we eventually swim back to the boat and get in, only to be told we are now going to the second stop on our snorkling tour.... to which many of the passengers groaned as they each burped up a cup of salt water, and immediately started making excuses as to why they couldn't get back in the water (this included everything from headache to broken snorkle gear....). We eventually motored over to an area called "Shark Ray Alley" because of all the sharks and sting rays you get to see. The guide talked about how we would get to hold and touch the sharks. Then, when we got there and started putting on our gear, Megan had a 'beans and hashbrown' moment and asked why we were getting in because wasn't the guide going to just bring the sharks into the boat and pass them around so we could take pictures??? We were all too exhausted and sick to make fun at that point, so we just rolled our eyes and jumped in... and Megan followed.... yes, Megan, who 24 hours earlier had been afraid of ten tiny baseball-sized fish, had now jumped into the middle of shark-infested waters right after the guide dumped in a bucket of chum (and this is no lie!!!). Krishelle wasn't going to get in, but eventually she did, but mostly just to avoid having a one-on-one with the only other person in the boat who said she had a headache (but, we know she was actually just scared). I don't think any of us would have gotten back in the water -- there were sharks EVERYWHERE!!! LOTS OF THEM!!! Including the one Krishelle landed on when she jumped in (like she was jumping off a second story old west saloon onto her horse -- like Zorro). The funny part was -- it didn't even scare her... she just said it felt like sandpaper. We were far too exhausted by this point to care about being eaten alive by sharks. Plus, the snorkling boat had the worst gas fumes ever, so you we were completely taking our chances with the sharks just because the air was fresher. We all held the sharks and got underwater pictures with them, and stingrays, too. It was absolutely magical and we are so glad we decided to get back in the water. There are really no words to describe how beautiful it was -- a once-in-a-lifetime experience and worth every bit of hassle or sea-sickness!

We went back to the hotel, changed, went out to eat (where Megan ate lobster -- there are lots of "firsts" on this trip!), then back to the hotel. Uncle Will fell to sleep immediately on the couch. The kids went to the pool for a bit and found that there are crabs living in it, after one scurried across the top of Megan's foot (to which she flew 15 feet into the air and screamed loud enough to awake everyone on the whole island -- she's afraid of a little crab, but she'll jump into the middle of chum-saturated shark-infested water). Krishelle and Megan went back to the room and fell to sleep (it was 8 p.m. by now, you know), but Eli went out because there was no way he was going to bed at 8 p.m. (cuz he hadn't been to bed before 8 p.m. since his last sleepover at Aunt Diana's house when he was 9 years old). In the defense of the other three of us, it gets dark around 6 p.m. So, Eli wandered the beach until he ran into a reggae concert and limbo'd up to it. He was by himself for a while until a lady who he named Shaneekwa sidled up to him and said, "You looka lost and lonely, and I'ma lost and lonely, too." She had bleach-blonde hair and 15-inch heels, to which Eli responded "No thanks -- my friends are just over there..." He later saw her making out with an older man at the bar. He made friends at the concert, as they were crammed into a little space escaping hurricane-force winds and rain, with some people who told him to NEVER go to Belize City because it's so dangerous.

The next morning, we got on a boat back to Belize City. About two minutes into our boat ride, we realized we had gotten on a refugee boat and hoped we were really heading to Belize City. About two minutes further into the ride, the gas fumes got so bad that we were sure we would end up on a 60 Minutes episode about the Belizean ferry that exploded en route from San Pedro. Obviously, it didn't explode, but Megan is convinced we almost tipped over once.

Next stop, the Belize City bus station to catch a ride to San Ignacio (launching point for Tikal, cave tubing, and some other jungle-type stuff). We hopped on the first bus we saw in Belize City because the bus station was the WORST we've seen in our lives and stinkiest. We thought it would take 90 minutes to get to San Ignacio but when we asked we were told "four hours -- it is sixty-two miles ju know". Thank heavens it was not four hours because the man sitting next to Uncle Will had pink eye and was eating something that looked like it might have been chicken about six months ago, and it was getting everywhere (all down Uncle Will's legs).

When we got to San Ignacio a taxi took us to a hotel in the middle of some mountain about 3/4 of the way back to Belize City and it felt like a Central American version of the Bates Motel. So, we had him drive us back to San Ignacio and find us another hotel... We are staying at "The Plaza Hotel" .... run by grandma and grandpa! YOUR grandma and grandpa! Who live upstairs, downstairs, and pretty much everywhere in the hotel, because it's basically just one big creepy maze of a house. We checked-in in their living room and then grandpa showed us a room, but grandma was showering in that room and yelled at us, and grandpa was watching "Mr. Ed" and we have to walk through their kitchen to get to our room which looks like a genie bottle because there are three beds and they are covering every square inch of the room and grandpa kept telling us to put our bags in the bathroom because there is about one foot of floor space in the room which is taken up when the door needs to open..... We are paying one night at a time and are quite sure we will only be paying for one night... although, the grandpa did earn points with us when we were walking down the street next to a man who was screaming at us in criole and the grandpa stuck his head out the balcony and made the crazy sign (spinning finger around his ear) and pointed at the man so we would know... (as if we hadn't figured that out already)

We better go now... grandma and grandpa are waiting up. We love you!

Chapter 2: Why would they put lake on an island?
Hello, again, family and friends. Last we left you, we had just checked in to grandma and grandpa´s crazy hotel/house/hostel/someplace-we-never-want-to-stay-again... LOTS has happened since... First of all, after walking the town looking for a restaurant (which we seemed to do a lot of in Belize), we stumbled across what we thought was a restaurant, only to find out it was a little store run by an American hobbit selling ¨underwears¨... he told us he only occassionally had pastries and then looked at his watch and told us he didn´t know who could possibly be open at 4:30 p.m. for food. I think we were more confused than he was... we really felt we had stumbled into a Tolkein novel or were on a hidden camera show. Luckily we found a place to eat where we were hassled by ¨Feliz¨ -- a free-lance tour guide and quite possibly the most religious human being who has ever walked the face of the earth (details to follow)... by the end of our meal we had signed up for what seemed like was going to be a 17-day ultra-adventurous jungle excursion with promises of snakes, jaguars, white-water rafting, and no-strings attached.

Knowing now what we would do the next day, we went back to Hotel Grandma/Grandpa to cram ourselves into the four-by-four square room, where we had to sleep in spoons to fit.... BUT, before we went to sleep, we heard Megan whimpering and beads started to bounce off the tile floor. We looked over and Megan explained that she was trying to do a surprise for us -- a surprise of taking out her corn rows a short 24 hours after they had been put in, because they itched, burned, were falling out, and quite frankly looked like the head of an old naked Barbie long ago forgotten at the bottom of a 1980s toy pile. So, we all gathered around to undo the damage which had been inflicted on Megan´s head on the shores of San Pedro Island. Three hours later, a giant chunk of blonde hair lay on the bed (looked like someone shaved twelve Troll dolls).

During the undoing of the hair, there was a shark special on TV -- which we were very happy to be seeing AFTER our shark-snorkling/spooning experience of the prior day. We´re pretty sure none of us will be going back in the water (not even in our own bathtubs). During all of this we started talking about our shark excursion when Megan informed us that ¨there are a lot of things about those fish I didn´t need to know.¨ When we asked her what exactly, she said, ¨Well they pointed out all these beautiful fish and then told me all these TERRIBLE things about them!!! Like changing their sex!!! That means that all the pretty girl fish can also be men! GROSS!¨ Quite sure that Megan had a different snorkling experience than the rest of us we asked for more clarification and she explained that she has always just associated pretty fish and animals with girls and the ugly ones with boys... Her whole world has been shaken.

San Ignacio was hot! The room was well-equipped with fans and A/C, and thirty dirty sheets per person for a cover (grandma must still be doing laundry in the river...which makes sense because we think she was born in 1825, and she yelled a lot at grandpa -- probably still mad at him for turning her shower into a Broadway show when he led all of us in to meet her while she was naked). Anyway.... Feliz picked us up the next moring in his friend´s tin can on wheels to haul us into the deep dark jungle...

We found out along the way that Feliz, who was sitting in the very back on the floor because there was no where else for him to sit, has a lot to say and that he was going to say it all that day and none of it was about the tour we were on. We did learn a lot about soccer, team work, sobriety, house building, service, the Amish, the river system in Belize, and more than we ever wanted to know about Central American Evangelical Missionary Songs. So, by the time we got to the jungle we were ready to climb into a deep dark cave and die or do anything he asked so we could get the day over with fast! The first thing on the agenda was to go cave tubing (which Megan wanted to know if we only got to go once or if we would get to take our tube back to the top and go again, like it was a waterslide at Raging Waters), unfortunately Feliz was not a very good planner and after driving for three hours to get to the caves, they were closed and the only life found at this tourist spot were giant army ants which immediately started feeding on us. Felize ran around in circles for a while, then disappeared into a hut, then came out with four innertubes and explained that it ¨looked¨ like it was probably going to be safe for us to go afterall (even though the caves were closed because the water levels were too high and they weren´t sure we could get through without scuba gear... but, Feliz informed us that he prayed and with faith the waters receded enough for us to scrape through... Then, we began our one-hour walking trek through the jungle carrying our tubes, in our flipflops (because Felize failed to mention we would need shoes to hike through the jungle and rivers with sharp jagged hidden obstacles and very strong currents), and we unfortunately made the mistake of telling Feliz we´re religious as well... cue Evangelical Missionary songs. All verses. En espanol. Interrupted by Evangelical missionary sermons and the occassional side-hug and wink. Hallelujiah.

Finally we got far enough into the jungle, and four-thousand ant bites later, we were at the place to enter the river and disappear into the unexpectedly long, dark, horrific, bat-infested, hidden waterful, multiple-death-trap-corridors (but only one being the right one) caves, gushing with 90 mph waters. Though, never fear, we had four partially-inflated innertubes, and four flashlights (one which was still sort of working by the time we got to the cave entrance). Feliz had us get into the river one at a time and then cling for life to the perfectly smooth moss-covered slippery rocks in order to prevent being sucked into the cave, separated from the others, and lost forever (had this been Raging Waters, this part is the equivalent to the top where the worker holds onto you before letting you shoot through the tube). Felize got all four of us in and had us hook feet under armpits of the person in front of us (as you can imagine, none of us wanted anyone´s feet in our armpits, even though we are all related, we had been walking around barefoot in the jungles for about a week). Felize was in the front so he could paddle us out of harm´s way -- occassionally he would look very scared and would start a panicked paddling into the dark (because it was soooo dark in there) and that would freak us out so we would all start paddling, too, to try to help... except for once, when we noticed Megan was paddling the opposite direction... When we asked her about this later she told us she didn´t want to go that way because it looked scary (which nothing looked like anything because our flashlights didn´t work and it was just pitch black everywhere and the water was so high our heads were about scraping on the roof of the cliff). The cave tubing was cool if it was about one-tenth as long as it was... Naturally, after about 30 minutes, the fear innappropriately wore off and Eli started singing that song from Willy Wonka where that horrifying boat is flying down that terrifying chocolate river (¨is it raining, is it snowing, is a hurricane a-blowing....the river must be flowing because the rowers keep on rowing!!!!!¨). Then, we got out right after almost being sucked under the part where the water was definitely too high... at which point Feliz told us about a lady who had just drowned there because she didn´t get out in time.

So, we were back on dry ground, once again being eaten alive by ants and Feliz passed out two sandwiches to each of us that his wife had made, we think in her church. Megan ate all eight of them, because Krishelle, Eli and Uncle Will would not eat them because they violated the following rules: 1) They were made in someone else´s house, 2) There was an unidentified mayonaisse-ish substance on them, 3) Unidentifiable slab of mystery meat, 4) Everything was damp, 5) We didn´t want to feel like we owed Feliz anything. Megan ate them all because she was starving and she said they were delicious.... though, she is now the only one of the four of us who needs Immodium (true story). However, we´re not sure it was the sandwiches -- it could possibly be traced to the public toilet seat/ledge she sat flat on in a rainy Guatemala city around midnight... the place smelled so bad we could smell it across the parking lot but she ran in, no questions asked... and, apparently, no one has ever taught her how to squat when you use an unfamiliar bathroom. We told her we will practice with her later. In her defense, she had been holding it for all nine hours of a miserable bus ride through Guatemala and it was a dire emergency.

After the cave tubing extravaganza, we were marched over to the zip lines. Not much to report here, other than it was really cool and well worth it, but Megan is probably the reason it costs so much -- she caused a lot of manual labor to be involved by getting stuck half-way through every zip line because she was a little premature on the brake... even though the ´braking´process was the majority of our lesson and how to NOT brake too soon becaused then you back up the whole process as you hang above the jungle and wait for someone to come and fish you in. There were seven zip lines that you go on to get through the canopy and she got stuck on six of them... so, our zip line tour lasted about five times as long as it should have, but the views were nice.

By this point of our day with Felize we were ready to go back to grandma/grandpa´s for some homemade cookies and milk, or perhaps some pastries at the ´underwears´ store, but Feliz had a different plan which involved the Belize Zoo... which, we were excited to go to before we ever flew down here, but we´d seen so much wildlife and jungle by now, we just wanted to sit somewhere and ponder what we were really doing down here and why. Between Evangelical serenades we drove to the zoo... Megan hadn´t said two words for about five hours, then all of the sudden there was a shriek from the back seat that said in English, ¨DON´T HIT IT!!!!¨ We noticed a dog sitting in the middle of the road about 100 yards ahead. The driver slammed on the brakes and we all flew forward... the driver, who already looked confused just in general, now looked confused and terrified... Megan explained that she was NOT going to be part of any animal massacre.

We get to the zoo and immediately started looking for the exit sign. It was not at all what the guide books say, except for the part where monkeys are roaming freely... there were signs everywhere saying basically that if you touched a monkey it would likely be the last thing you ever did... however, Megan walked up to the first big black monkey she saw, wrapped her arms around it, named it, and put it in her purse. The monkey protected her later when she was saying ¨here kitty, kitty¨ to the jaguar and putting her hands into the cage. We saw jaguars, crocodiles, birds, etc., etc., etc.... most of the same stuff we see at Hogle Zoo, except for the giant guinea pigs (Tapirs) which we had to stop Megan from climbing in with... Though, all in the all, the zoo was cool but we´d skip it next time. Zoo´s are just sad...

That night we were on the move again. Not interested in another night with grandma and grandpa, or across the street from the Hobbit´s ´underwears´shop, we high-tailed it for the border. Basically, we walked right into Guatemala, passing a 12-year-old immigration kid who stamped our passports in an open field and told us to have fun. We took a three-hour van ride to Flores, an island on a lake in northern Guatemala. It´s a very quaint village on an island, on a lake... after a while of walking around, Megan inquisitively asked ¨Why would they put a lake on an island?¨ All of us individually tried to figure out how this could possibly make sense and each came up with the same answer -- it didn´t. So, against better judgement, we asked for clarification. Megan pointed at the lake and said, ¨Well that´s the ocean, isn´t it?¨ We explained that were a good 15-hour bus ride into the mountains from the ocean. We then wondered what the lake was that she had referred to if she thought that was the ocean. (She is still trying to explain her logic to us, as we type.... it still makes no sense.)

The next day we went to Tikal and, of course, didn´t go on a tour... and, of course, still wore our flipflops to hike through the jungle and up thousands of steep, narrow stairs to the tops of giant, cascading pyramids, where we were told two tourists recently slipped and stumbled to their deaths. The ruins are very amazing and very, very, very worth making the trek! These ruins are smack dab in the middle of virgin jungle and are still quite buried with lots yet to unearth. The jungle is thick and high and you can feel like you are lost in there or actually living a scene from the Jungle Book. Being the low tour season, there aren´t many people wandering around so the animals are thick! You see and here all sorts of monkeys, wild cats, and other things just through the bush... The howler monkeys make a horrific sound and when they started, Eli said, ¨What the Jurassic Park?!?!?!?!¨ And, then, we ran for the exit, which was about four miles away...

The next morning we were on the move again. We caught a bus to head to the beaches on the Pacific side of Guatemala, but so far have only made it to Antigua, where we have found the rainy season that we were promised... and, there is a volcano within eyesight that we can see spewing smoke and ash. More details on Antigua, volcanoes, and interesting bus rides in our next email. Though, Antigua feels more like somewhere in Spain than Central America -- it´s beautiful here!
Chapter 3: Well THAT explains all the Spanish
Hello, again, family and friends... from Quetzaltenango (a.k.a. Xela -- pronounced ´Shella´ -- where Adam served his mission). Every town in the northwestern part of Guatemala ends in ´nango´and so we feel very lucky to know where we actually are... we´ve passed thru Chulatenango, Huehuetenango, and a place we´re pretty sure was called Chimichangatenango. It´s all very confusing, so we didn´t get off a bus for two days because we were never really sure where exactly we were... but, then, we saw a sign saying 12 kilometers to Mexico to which Eli said, ´Well that explains all the Spanish.´ We are exhausted and fried and have sooooo many stories to tell about the last five days, but this internet cafe is about the worst, slowest technology we´ve ever experienced so you´ll only be getting the cliff notes in this email.

A few days ago we decided to leave Antigua for the beach -- a beach that the Lonely Planet guide assured us was another little piece of ´Paris...dice...´ So, thirteen bus rides, a few up-chucks out the window, and some very questionable cab rides later, we rolled into a town called Tilapa (a.k.a. Hell on earth) during what was certainly the biggest rain storm on record since the time of Noah. The beach town we intended to get to was only accessible by boat, we were told, so our only option for shelter was the one hotel that doubled as the town prison. It was WAY overpriced at $6 per night. The mattresses were made out of straw, the toilet had no seat and was in the middle of the room, and the shower was a bucket of water with cockroaches swimming in it. Additionally, an array of insects and animals you only see on the Discovery Channel ran across the dirty concrete floor, walls and ceiling all night long. When the power went out, we were kind of relieved, and terrified (relieved that we couldn´t see the room anymore, and terrified that chupacabra had come through the open window -- cuz there was no screen or bars or anything -- and that one of us would be missing once the lights came back on). So, we lay in bed wide awake all night, moaning for the heat, laying on top of the one sheet they gave us for a blanket, scared to death of bed bugs, and we put on every piece of clothing we had so our skin wouldn´t have to touch anything. There was a pig that kept visiting our rooms. Megan got bit by a cat. Uncle Will got up no less than 50 times during the night to investigate gunshot sounds and blood-curdling screams, while Megan was on his back like a piggyback ride because she was so freaked out. Eli took three hours to build up the courage to use the toilet and he only had to go number one and he kept
saying aloud ´I´ve done worse things...I´ve done worse things...i´ve done worse things...´ Because the rooms were so small and the toilet in the middle, Krishelle just sat there and covered her eyes. We have all grown much, much closer over the last few days.

So, the second the sun arose, we had our backpacks on and were walking down the road to nowhere in particular. We accepted a ride on an outboard motorboat through croc-infested waters to get to the one hotel on the beach that the Lonely Planet Guide promised was ´nice.´ We have several bones to pick with the Guatemala Lonely Planet Guide. So, we felt as if we had just left a prison… but, when we got to our new hotel, it was as if we had just been transferred to a Maximum Security Prison, in a third-world country… something you´d see in an episode of Locked Up Abroad on the National Geographic Channel. The people were nice, so we decided to give it a whirl… plus, it was $4 a night, and we had a beach view! We immediately put on our swimming suits and walked to the beach and tried to find a place to spread out our towels in between all the driftwood… this beach appeared to have never been visited in the last two decades, so that seemed promising… except that the foam in the waves was brown and not white. During beach time, the following wonderful things occurred:

1. Uncle Will, a fairly seasoned bodysurfer, face-planted it quite forcefully into the bottom of the ocean and now wears a beautiful scab above his left eyebrow.

2. Eli lost his bathing suit in the waves – the Lonely Planet Guide did warn against the unpredictably strong rip tides and no lifeguards within 100s of miles.

3. Megan and Eli did an interpretive dance of the entire vacation (we have this on film for those interested in seeing it later – they will charge you $5 a viewing, and it´s worth it)

4. Megan developed strong bonds with several stray dogs, one which we are positive had a severe case of pink-eye (this less than 24 hours after she was convinced she had rabies from the stray cat that bit her hard enough on the hand to draw blood)

5. Krishelle worked so well on her tan that her back looks like it´s at stage three of the beef jerky-making process

6. The currents were so strong that we were all tossed and turned against our will so many times that we are now afraid of the ocean

After our day on the beach we went back to the hotel/cinder-block prison and were served fish for dinner, with the heads, eyes, gills, fins (the whole shabbang) still intact. The site so gruesome that we almost opted for starvation; however, we were so hungry that we ate every bit of those fish… We spent the remainder of the day lathering in aloevera, calamine, Neosporin, and downing any form of pain killer we could bum from strangers, and avoiding stray dogs and pigs (except for Megan, who wanted to adopt one or two or three). Then, nighttime came and we were really happy because we thought it might cool off a bit…. Wrong. We think it got hotter. Megan kept Krishelle up the entire night flipping the light on and off convinced that there were bats flying around in their room, and lizards in her bed. Krishelle just moaned and humored Megan, because she had experienced this same thing a few years ago when Bridgette (Megan´s older sister) put her through the same thing night after night on a similar trip through southern Mexico.

We had initially planned to stay in this beach town for the remainder of our trip to work on our tans… But, we lasted 24 hours and decided to high-tail it out of there and never go back! Ever! And, to never, ever, ever recommend it to anyone. It was perhaps the biggest hole we´ve ever visited. Walking out of there was so hot that if your foot slipped a quarter inch off your sandal and touched the sand, you were immediately convinced that the burning fires of hell were one inch beneath the sand. The locals weren´t even walking around during the day it was so hot. And, by locals, we mean, all four of them who lived in this town. Enough said about that place – it was called Tilapita. Don´t go there…. Ever.

So, we decided to head back into the hills, which is why we are now in Quezaltenango. It´s a beautiful mountain town of about 140,000 people. We spent the first five hours here wandering from farmacia to farmacia to find the right concoction of pain killers and anti-anxiety drugs to permanently kill the part of the brain that contains memories… we never want to think about Tilapita again. We then had a meal that would have seemed sub-standard on any other day, but after eating in Tilapita, this meal seemed like a feast for royalty! Of course, two hours later, Megan barfed it all up, in addition to everything else she´s eaten since she was 13. If you can believe it, Megan was the one on this trip who got dehydrated first…. And, this is why… On the way to Tilapita, she almost wet her pants on the bus, so on the way back, without telling us, she opted not to drink anything at all for about a day… Eli took the opposite approach, terrified that he would dehydrate (like he did on our trip to Egypt where he passed out on the plane and nearly caused us to divert to Madrid), and he drank everything in sight. After a few hours on the bus, he leaned forward, on the verge of tears, and begged Uncle Will to plead with the bus driver to stop so he could get off and pee. The bus driver just mumbled and kept driving for about another hour, until there was a traffic jam on a mountain pass and then Eli sprang out of the bus and pee´d on the tire, along with another passenger… We are all so shameless and immodest by this point of our trip. Well, Eli pretty much has been quite an exhibitionist since he lost his swimming suit in the ocean and has been walking around in his underwear ever since. Megan still wasn´t saying a word about having to pee, which was unusual and we should have picked up on that, but we were all so focused on keeping Eli from peeing inside the bus, which he was actually considering… So, we finally arrive to Quetzaltenango and get a taxi and told the driver to take us directly to the nicest hotel in town which he immediately pulled up to the first Hostel full of stinky backpackers to which we all, in unison, screamed ´NO!´ from the backseat and he drove on, as he told us that he had been an illegal alien cutting lawns in Beverly Hills for six years and that he crossed the border near Nogales using one of those ´human traffickers´ that we hear about on the news… It was all very enlightening, but we didn´t care because he was our ticket to a nice hotel, we hoped…

So, we finally get to the Hotel Bonafiz, which, according to our Lonely Planet Guide is actually the nicest hotel in town and it´s probably true and it costs about $80 a night and is worth every penny, except for the constant noise that begins at about 3 a.m. every day as they are trying to get the swimming pool repaired…

After we checked in, we went to dinner and ate like pigs and it was so good (as mentioned above). Then, we walked back to the hotel and all sank down into our beds and then looked at Megan who suddenly looked like the living dead and said she was just really tired… Then, the uncontrollable shaking began, which Eli immediately recognized as the tell-tale signs of severe dehydration (which he has experienced in every country of the world he has traveled to). We force-fed Megan about 78 gallons of Gatorade and water until the puking began, at which point we started all over with the force-feeding of liquids. Rest assured, the next morning, Megan was back to normal and has already taken a walking tour of the city with Uncle Will, looking for gallons of aloe vera to fill baths for Krishelle and Eli who are looking more and more like beef jerky with every passing moment.

No worries, seriously. Everyone is fine. We are sooooooo tan, but fear it may all be left behind in one big pile of flakes when we leave on Saturday. We are having a BLAST! We are laughing our heads off at every turn… except for when the Evangelical preacher got on the bus yesterday, during Eli´s near pee-his-pants experience, and yelled at us about heaven and hell for two hours and then wanted some money (we didn´t contribute to this guy because he was just annoying), and then he blessed everyone on the bus, individually, by laying his hands on each person and saying ´Bless you.´ except for when he got to Krishelle he laid his hands on her and said, ´Bless the woman.´ She got a special one… Everything is just a little strange down here…

Everything is so beautiful and green, green, green. And, honestly, the people are perhaps the nicest we´ve ever met, with the exception, perhaps, of the people of Belize. There seems to be a direct correlation between poverty, humility, and niceness in the people down here… For as many warnings as the Lonely Planet Guide gives us to be careful and safe, we are experiencing the exact opposite. We love these people!!! Granted, we do not love their infrastructure (or lack of it).

We´re heading back to Antigua today for a couple of days of final souvenir shopping and stuff… Can never believe how fast these little adventures go by…