Friday, February 17, 2006

CAMPING - January 2006

Since the weather is so nice here in western Guatemala during the months from January to April (rainy season goes from May to November), we decided to go on a camping trip.

However, camping is not always easy in Guatemala, since so little of the land is public. Unlike the U.S., Honduras or Costa Rica, Guatemala does not have a system of national parks or national forests. To camp, you almost always end up camping on someone's private land. (unless you're in the northern frontier area of El Petén)

In January we read in one of Guatemala's principal newspapers, La Prensa Libre, about a beautiful little lake next to a village on the coastal plain. They were promoting this place as a great place to camp, where you could rent handmade boats similar to canoes, and grill up some dinner next to the shore. We decided to check it out one weekend.

However we quickly encountered one of the ubiquitous problems of driving in Guatemala - the lack of signs. We drove up and down the highway looking for our turnoff, but we couldn't figure out which unmarked dirt road to take.

Finally we asked a police officer, who had to ask several other police officers. Eventually we met a police officer who knew the way; however he insisted on escorting us, since he claimed the area was "dangerous".

So we followed him down the unmarked dirt road, through miles and miles of a huge sugar plantation (pictured above). After the sugar plantation were more miles and miles of dirt road through a gigantic horse and cattle ranch.

Eventually we reached the remote village and the "lake", which was nothing but a wide spot in a large creek. The police escort led us to the "camping area", which was a spot next to the creek where a number of local women were washing their clothes. In addition, a number of pigs were wandering about, bathing in the water, and the entire area had a distinctive odor of pig excrement.

Needless to say, we drew quite a bit of attention, considering we were probably the first white people to visit the area in ages, and we had our own police escort! What's more, Kina immediately drew the attention of dozens of local dogs from the village. Thanks to all this attention, we never did manage to take any photos of this "lovely" site.

After the police escort left, we decided to beat a hasty retreat out of town. It wasn't that we felt threatened or anything; it was just that the place was not anything like what we were hoping for. (Lesson learned: do not trust the Guatemalan newspaper regarding outdoor activities). We really wanted a little more privacy, somewhere that didn't smell as bad.

We ended up driving back up the dirt road about 7 or 8 miles, and then across one of the large meadows on the horse and cattle ranch, where we found a cozy little shaded area at the corner of the meadow.
The meadow offered a fantastic view of the volcanoes Santiaguito (erupting) and Santa María (taller) to the north, toward Xela. Fortunately this meadow was not in use by the cows or horses at this time, and we had a nice, private campfire and a peaceful night's sleep under the stars.

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