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2011 Travel Diary
No Photos 25th Apr 2011
My birthday on a volcano, and getting to Mexico

I have been really lazy about blogging. I would say that I am sorry, but I'm not. Sometimes I just really don't feel like writing, or I only feel like writing in my personal journal. Oops.

But anyway, here are some cool stories of the past 10 days:

1. I went hiking in search of quetzals (really amazing bird) outside of Coban, which sounds pretty tame, but entailed living with a Mayan family. Now, I lived with a Mayan family in Nebaj, but this was different. Well, the corn and beans were the same, but in order to get to this aldea (village), you have to hike out. Yeah! So you ride buses for 2 hours out into the hills and then hike for 2 hours out to their house. No electricity, save what they can get from a foot by foot solar panel they purchased using money they get by hosting foreigners. Definitely only fire heat, dirt floors, etc. And to get anywhere is almost straight up or down a hill. The scenery was amazing, it was tranquil and quiet and the moon lit up the ridge at night. Absolutely beautiful, and also a very cool cultural experience. I was miserable, physically. Freezing cold the whole time and the food was really difficult (my body is used to vegetables other than corn and beans). So it was a great experience because it was difficult and different! AND on the hike back out (at dawn, no less) a quetzal flew directly over the group as we walked. A male quetzal, that is, perfectly silouhetted against the sunrise. It was incredible, and even though I couldn't even dream of getting a photo, I will always have that image of that bird in my mind, its amazing tail streaming behind it as it flew.

2. After that, I met back up with Phil, as we had a chance to meet who we thought were relatives in Antigua. Turns out it was the ex-wife of our grandfather's cousin, so not exactly related, but still tied to our family quite strongly, and she knows lots of our family in Guatemala. So that was really cool to meet Olga and to see a different side of life in Guatemala (as her family is fairly well-to-do). Antigua didn't really do a lot for me - it was the heart of Semana Santa, so it was crawling with people and a bit busy/touristified for my taste. Beautiful city, beautiful setting, and amazing food though. Just doesn't feel a bit like you're in Guatemala.

3. After Antigua was Xela. This was a hard place for me to go, because this is where my fellow Bonderman fellow passed away in February. I had all sorts of plans to go visit the school Alena had been at, but as I was there during the holiday days of Semana Santa (Holy Friday, etc.), everything was closed. I admit, I felt a little guilty being there and enjoying it, so I ended up being in a bad mood most of the time. It was unfortunate, but I guess I didn't really expect it to be so hard to be there.

4. The last thing I did while in Xela boosted my spirits. It was on my birthday (April 24th) and Phil and I got together for one last hurrah before I headed to Mexico. It was my 25th birthday, so I suppose it is special (birthdays, meh). Originally I had wanted to be back in Chiapas for my birthday (the place I fell in love with last year in Mexico), but Philip raised the idea of summiting Volcan Tajumulco on my birthday. Um, yes please! Tajumulco is the highest peak in Central America at a whopping 4220m. That's higher than Mt. Kinabalu, which I climbed in Malaysian Borneo. Of course, I had to do it. Let me tell you about this fantastic experience (yes, I am addicted to climbing mountains now).

First of all, we did this climb with a guide service called Quetzaltrekkers. I HIGHLY recommend these guys, if you ever happen to be in Guatemala looking for a guide service. They are a nonprofit (I believe Guatemala's only one) tour service, basically, so all the guides are volunteer. This results in no local guides, but the organization works so closely with locals that it really doesn't seem to matter. All of the food is bought from local stores (homemade JAM and peanut butter, too!), the gear is donated, we ride the public transportation, the whole shebang. It's more like a group of friends going hiking/camping than a guided thing. This way, all of the "profits" from the trips can be used to their maximum ability to fund the nonprofit. So, what does the nonprofit do? It funds a school for kids who have access issues to schooling as well as a home for kids who, well, don't have one. They just started collecting donations for a new home, as well, with more beds. So, it's a good organization.

Now, the trip: On Saturday (the 23rd), we caught a pickup truck to the bus terminal at 5 am. We rode a public bus to San Marcos, where we ate breakfast at a local comedor. Then, we were hustled onto another bus that dropped us off right at the base of the volcano. We hoisted up our packs and off we went, up, up, up. Now, this hike isn't really that hard (4 hours of hiking and about 1000m elevation gain), but you start the hike at about 3000m. That's HIGH. And if you aren't used to altitude, it's HARD to breathe, talk, whatever. So for some people it was pretty hard, others a physical challenge because of nausea, etc.

Once we made it to base camp, at about 4000m, we ate lunch and set up camp. It started to rain almost immediately, so we ended up sleeping most of the afternoon in the tents to avoid the rain. We woke up, made dinner (mmmm pasta), and went to sleep. We had to wake up at 4:20 the following morning to summit at dawn, after all!

So, on my 25th birthday, at almost precisely the time I was born, even, I summitted the highest mountain in Central America and watched one of the most spectacular sunrises I have ever seen. There were clouds everywhere, so we just poked out of them and could see maybe one or two other peaks in the distance. To the north was a huge thunderhead, lightning flashing all over the place - it was really cool! Then, we took a nap on top of the volcano in our sleeping bags, which we had brought up with us. We hiked back down, made breakfast, and then started the trek back.

All in all, it was just freaking amazing! I met some amazing people - Gerti and Daniel from Austria and Dani and Avi from (currently) NYC - and it really revived my travel happiness again. Just in time to finish up!

*****

And so, here I am, finally in Mexico, where this whole thing really started, and with less than two weeks left on this grand adventure. I can't even begin to tell you what is going through my brain, but I do know that I am both excited to come home and sad that this went so quickly. It feels like yesterday I was being greeted by my mom's friend Lisa at the airport in Singapore. I miss my family so much, and seeing Phil was such a good soother for that, but man I can't wait to see you all - friends too!

My sister is already planning a get together on May 13th, so mark your calendar because we are going to have some fun that night, okay!!!

See you all soon! Photos coming soon, when I'm in Oaxaca (Wednesday sometime)......MUCH LOVE!



Next: Oaxaca
Previous: Nebaj, Guatemala



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