Sunday, October 16, 2016

Earth Lodge, Guatemala

Yup! That's a volcano erupting!
Just outside of Antigua, (close enough to arrive in the back of a pickup truck) is the Earth Lodge. And, although the statement is bold I venture to say that it was my favourite of all the amazing places that we've stayed in our 2 months in Central America. It just has so many things going for it that it would be hard to compete with. First, the setting is spectacular. There is a variety of cabanas, tents, dorms and 2 treehouses. The opportunity to sleep in a treehouse would be a highlight in its own right, but in reality, its just a tiny piece of what the Earth Lodge has to offer. All of the accommodation options are awesome, and have their own unique features. There are small private cabanas with private terraces sharing a bathroom draped in hanging orchids, a 2 level house with a tree growing through the middle of it, and tents on platforms with double beds in them. All this on 40 acres of oak forest where the owners have planted 390 avocado trees.

From all of these cabanans, and especially from the common area, you have an absolutely breathtaking view. A deep valley surrounded not one, not 2, but 3 volcanoes. One of which, Fuego, is exceptionally active. Assuming its clear, you get to watch Fuego erupt about every 15 minutes ALL DAY LONG. It's insane.

Ok, so a spectacular property with fabulous views. What else, you ask? Well, only one of the most
important consideration: food! The food is simply amazing.. My favourite thing on the menu was the Grilled Cheese with avocado and pesto. Oh My. Gosh- it was unbelievable. Everything we ate at Earth Lodge was delicious. Breakfasts, smoothies, sandwiches.... Every night was a communal dinner inspired by Meg, the chef. It always varied, bu thankfully there was always an avocado inspired aspect, and it was always exceptional.

Yoga in the mornings with sweeping views of the valley and volcanos? Why not? Follow that up with
hiking to Hobbitanago, a new resort where they are building hobbit huts, for an afternoon beer and board game- you can't go wrong!

Even with all these amazing things, our favourite part, as always, was the people we met.  Especially my new favourite person, Katie from Ireland.

Overall, Earth Lodge is an unforgettable place just to 'be'.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Devil Burning, Antigua Guatemala

Yup- the devil is in there- loaded up with firecrackers and doused with gasoline!
'Hey!' the receptionist at the recommendable Yellow House in Antigua, Guatemala greeted us as we returned from lunch on Dec 7 last year. 'Are you guys going to the Devil Burning tonight?'  Whiplash. 'Umm.. the whaaaaat?' I ask. 'The Devil Burning,' she confirms. 'Yes, Yes, we are most certainly, definitely, 100% going to the Devil Burning tonight.' I nod. 'What is it?'

And this is one of the many reasons we loved Antigua. This wasn't the first surprise festival that we'd have the great fortune of attending during our time in Antigua... and seriously.. who doesn't want to see the devil burn? What else are you going to do on a Monday night?

Monday, October 10, 2016

Hiking Pacaya

Volcanos, clear skies, roasting marshmellows on hot lava and shopping at the worlds only store on an active volcano?! I'll let the pictures do the talking for this most beautiful of ways to spend a morning...

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Antigua, Guatemala

Ohhh Antigua! How I loved our time there. The only bad thing about it was that it was the last stop of our trip and therefore I didn't have time to record all my loving thoughts before it was back to the grind of real life... This story will have to be told in pictures:

ps. Definitely stay at the Yellow House

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Hotel Kangaroo & Finca Paraiso

We arrived in Rio Dulce (also called Fronteras) by shuttle from Semuc Champey. It was a long, uncomfortable day on unending, unpaved roads and we were very happy when it was over.

Our hostel, the Hotel Kangaroo, is on a small tributary off the main river a short boat ride from town. A quick call from the office at the main dock (just under the big bridge) and a boat was on its way to fetch us. A boat ride to a hostel. I was going to love it here, I could tell already.

Gary, Hotel Kangaroo's proprietor was super friendly and a great story teller.  At evening gatherings he regaled us with fascinating tales about this time in Guatemala over the last decade or so and how much the country has change over the years. From gun toting to yachts, we could have listened to his adventures for days. Wherever your next destination after Hotel Kangaroo was going to 
be, Gary would figure out how to get you there. Evenings spent sitting around, eating lemon pie and drinking Gallos while Gary sorted out everyone's travel plans for them for the following day will forever bring a smile to my face. Graciella, the other half of Hotel Kangaroo's proprietorship, is an amazing chef and we really enjoyed chatting to her at the bar.  Mexican food..Ozzie burgers... homemade chili oil...oh my.  

Our favourite day trip from Hotel Kangaroo was to Finca Paraiso aka: the hot waterfalls. I have no idea how this place isn't busier than it was. (Go first thing in the morning) First, it was a spectacular setting. The water casacades into a small, cold pool surrounded on all sides by lush jungle, rocks and tree roots that climb the rocks. The roots double as a climbing ladder that you scale to the top of the waterfalls- where the most amazing thing happens- the water is hot! Again, the recent flooding worked to our advantage, cooling down the normally scalding water at the top of the falls to the most perfect temperature for lounging. We were lucky enough to visit the waterfalls with the most perfect accomplices for this aqua adventure: Ash and Bi, an Aussie/Brit couple who were partaking in one of
our favourite pastimes: long term travel. We got along really well and enjoyed spending the day with them. After soaking in the hot pools at the top of the falls, some of us wanted to delve deeper into the possibilities surrounding us.  Some of us followed a local guide back through the jungle to a special mud puddle to scoop up some exclusively organic exfoliating mud and slather ourselves in it. Some of us got a little far ahead of the guide and slathered ourselves in the wrong mud. To which the guide (when he caught up) made a panicked, disgusted face and told us to wash it off- quickly. Which some of us did. Some of us got left behind, almost fully submersed in the natural, relaxing hot water pools as the perfect, clear water rushed as it rushed over our faces, necks and shoulders, awaiting a courier to deliver this exceptional mud from the correct mud puddle and slather it on from the comfort of our personal hot pool....  All of us considered the excursion to be a success- regardless of what mud we slathered on ourselves. I could have stayed up there forever. Sitting in a hot private mini pool right at the brink of the falls, like an infinity pool surrounded by the thick jungle... sigh...but there was more to explore down at the base of the falls.

Some of us were even brave enough to jump from the top of the waterfalls down into the cold water below. The water at the bottom was super refreshing while the waterfall was super hot. It was a rare phenomenon. It was a pretty spectacular massage to tread under the water and allow the hot water to beat down on your shoulders. You can even swim behind the waterfalls and sit up on a rock in a little grotto were a whole bunch of bats were going crazy all around you. Seriously, this place has everything!

Prices for  Finca Pariso: collective from town Q15, Entrance Q10, tip Q10 (tip was for a "guide" (term used loosely), who showed us how to get to the top of the falls, where the "proper" mud was and watched our bags while we swam) 

Shout out: To the group of travellers that happened to be at Hotel Kangaroo while we were there some of whom we were lucky enough to meet up with again, in classical backpacker fashion: You were awesome. Hopefully we'll share dock beers, tall tales and travel tips again one day! 

Monday, October 03, 2016

Hotelito Perdido, Guatemala

This little gem of a hostel (Hotelito Perdido) turned out to be one of our favourite places in Guatemala. Beautiful thatched roof bungalows dot the riverfront property hidden amongst impressive, thick tropical gardens. Colourful birds and butterflies frequent the many flowers and there are many fantastic places to sit, relax, and enjoy the nature. There was even a rare monkey sighting! Hotelito Perdido is in a protected jungle. Their power is solar and they have a very small impact on the surrounding environment. This is obviously good for the environment but also allows guest to feel quite connected to the jungle around them. Its a small, intimate spot with only a handful of cabins and some dorm beds.

When we visited, Hotelito Perdido was flooded. There had been torrential rain nonstop for 4 days the week before, plus rain every night since, and no one, including the locals, had ever seen the water as high as it was. As mentioned in the previous post, Federico, the boat Captain could push his small launcha almost all the way up the (normally) walking path because of the water levels. The dock was entirely under water and the bathroom of the cabin closest to the river was flooded!

In normal circumstances, we learned from Juan, the affable manager, that there would be lots of great places to sit and wile-away the afternoon. There are hammocks on a covered part of the dock and lounge chairs on another. While we were there a hammock house was being built right on the water's edge, which I can imagine would be a lovely place to swing the day away. The space could also be used for yoga, if you were so inclined. The private bungalows all had beautiful wide terraces with chairs and hammocks on them as well. We loved our time at Hotelito Perdido, water and all, but I can only imagine how much we would have enjoyed getting cozy in all these other spaces sans fishes.

We were at Hotelito Perdido in late November and the weather was perfect. Juan, thought the morning was a bit chilly at about 20 degrees, which makes me very happy not to be there when he would consider it hot. It was humid and the moist air definitely made drying things difficult. And, since J and I had tipped our double kayak in a very unfortunate, embarrassing (J: we weren't actually embarrassed) incident, we had a whole lot of things that were both muddy and wet.

You can rent double kayaks for a very reasonable Q50 per half day. From the hostel, it is about a 1.5 hour paddle down the quiet river to a waterfalls. Well, the waterfalls itself is apparently up a very, VERY muddy path, that we didn't quite successfully traverse on account of the aforementioned mud and my lack of interest in continuing to sink/fall clumsily into it. Plus, J was bitten by a spider that we realized was definitely, probably, maybe starting to effect his mental state. Or maybe he's just always a 'stick-in-the-mud.' (Pun intended). All these excuses to distract you from the fact that I'm really just a whimp who doesn't like mud. Unless its that kind of 'healing' mud from a sacred sink hole or mysterious cave with a whimsical name that you get all slathered up in so you can look all adventurous and cool on facebook. That mud is acceptable. Otherwise slippery, bug filled jungle mud that tries to suck you in with every step, like this mud- makes me cranky. Thankfully we had the
pleasure of sharing this misadventure with an amazing couple from Montreal (blog). Stephan and Chantal are an inspiring, newly retired pair who live a fantasy life split between their cottage and travelling (aka: our dream life). Spending time getting to know them was one of our favourite Guatemalan memories and certainly influenced how much we enjoyed our time at Hotelito Perdido. Chantal and Stephan travel slowly and like to rent an apartment with a kitchen if they're going to stay longer than a few days. In our opinion, this it an ideal way to immerse yourself in the community while still having your own space. We hope to one day follow their example, travelling slower and staying places for longer. Thankfully, we get to look forward to following their blog when we're back home and they're still living the 'dolce vita' here in Central America!

In fact, in addition to Stephan and Chantal, all the staff and volunteers of Hotelito Perdido itself were
a treat. Friendly, helpful and funny, we were lucky enough to share this jungle gem with people who significantly enhanced our time there. And then, there was the food. Oh the food! It was delicious. Homemade bread featured strongly on the menu, which is a-ok with me, who's love of gluten rivals only my love of chocolate. It was soft, tasty and served with your choice of garlic or roasted tomato butter. Oh la la! Dinner was family style (Q70pp) and changed every night. The first night was a Spanish omelet (which turns out is made with potatoes) accompanied by a variety of yummy sides. The second night was chickpea patties with a wine and onion sauce and a whole different variety of flavourful sides. Breakfast was between Q25-Q35. We liked the eggs, beans and roasted tomato option which came with, you guessed it- homemade bread (Q35). The portion was huge. There is no way you'd be hungry anytime soon. Lunch was a variety of delightful, thick sandwiches (Q35), which, had we been hungry enough at lunch time, were big enough to share. The coffee was really good (Q10) and the beer (Q15) kept refreshingly cold in an icebox.

Being smack dab in the middle of the jungle comes with more surprises, some more welcome than others. A monkey swinging through the trees at the water's edge- amazing. A ginormous, hairy poisonous looking spider lurking in our cabin for 2 nights before J finally points it out- not so joyous.  Hotelito Perdido staff sending you emailing you photos after you've moved to the next town of  super-sized spiders solely for the entertainment value of your freak-out: hilarious.