It's a long haul to Antigua from Flores, so we made the decision to break it up and so we stopped in the small, central Guatemalan town of Cobán. There isn't too much going on there, although it is a nice enough little town. The main reason people come through, however, is it's proximity to Semuc Champey, which is an amazing National Park hidden deep in the Guatemalan Highlands.
We had all intention of going out there for a day trip, but when the time came we both decided that we were sick of organized tours for the time being and that a chill day kicking around Cobán sounded more our speed. So, we gave Semuc Champey a miss even though it is supposed to be amazing...
The way we figure it: you gotta save some things...that way you always have an excuse to come back!
We ended up staying at a nice enough spot in Cobán, Casa d'Acuña. The place is known for their restaurant which is great and is situated in a beautiful garden/courtyard space. We ate dinner there the first night, and, more memorably, we ate desert there both nights. They had a serious selection of homemade pies and cakes on display...Chocolate Cheesecake, Banana Creme Pie, Carrot Cake, Red Velvet Cake. We settled on the Blackberry Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream. Dude!!!! So good. Haven't had anything like that in a long, long time.
On our full day in Cobán we busied ourselves with all the activities the town had to offer. First, we hit the coffee plantation for a tour and tasting. It was a quick, but fun and interesting little tour. We walked the plantation and learned about the different types of Coffee Tree that they grow. We tasted coffee berries fresh off the tree and then spit out the seeds which are the part that would be roasted, ground and used to make coffee. We continued to the drying area where all the beans are sun dried and then sorted. We ended in their small roasting room where they roast and package beans for domestic consumption. The beans for export are left raw and then roasted by the coffee house or coffee brand when they get to their final destination; mostly USA, Canada, Germany and Switzerland. The smell coming out of that roasting room was ridiculous and just when I thought I couldn't stand another moment without a cup, the hostess brought us out two tall, piping hot cups of freshly roasted and brewed coffee.
We spent several minutes in their tasting room savoring our cups of Joe and playing with some of the old antique stuff they have kicking around in there. The plantation that we visited was established in 1888, so they have all sorts of cool old stuff in there: old phones, old sewing machines, cash registers, etc.
Now that we were properly caffeinated we were ready for out physical activity for the day. There is a National Park, Parque Nacional Las Victorias, that butts right up to town that is full of hiking trails and the like. We wandered up and just sort of plunged in. We ended up walking for about 2.5 hours. There were no signs and the map at the front (just like the map in front of the caves from the other day) was totally useless. So, yeah... We pretty much just walked aimlessly. It's a beautiful park though and seeing as it's sort of in town, we figured we couldn't get too lost.
Eventually, we came around the backside and found some civilization. We followed our noses into town where we found the market place in full swing. We had some badly needed snacks of fresh mango and hot off the grill 'elotes' (corn on the cob) which was very well done and then covered in lime juice and salt.
At first we thought the corn wasn't as good as we'd hoped as the lady had cooked the thing to within an inch of its life and it tasted more like popcorn then like corn on the cob. But, it grew on us...fast. Before we were half way done we were hungrily grabbing the corn cob back and forth. Lastly, we bought a few avocados, tomatoes and a lime which we combined with a loaf of fresh baked whole wheat bread from the restaurant at our hostel to make some delicious open faced sandwiches for lunch.
We hit an internet cafe for a few minutes before passing the rest of the afternoon at a chill little café where we had a nice glass of red wine and sat out an intense afternoon rain storm.
As dinner time approached we walked through the Plaza to have a look at the street food offerings which began to set up shop about 5pm. If you've been reading the blog with any regularity you will know by now that I am a sucker for street food and so I set out to sample a few of the better looking offerings. I had a cheese pupusa in preparation for our impending jaunt into El Salvador, followed by a Churrasco (local specialty- essentially grilled meat, and thick, fresh tortillas with a few sides) and finished with a steaming hot Tamale drowning in hot sauce. All for $3, yes I was a happy camper. Gina, bless her little vegetarian heart, had a few bites of the pupusa, but otherwise watched patiently as I indulged...as vegetarianism rarely translates into street food, at least in this part if the world. (Parts of Asia were a little better)
We rolled back to the restaurant at our hotel and got G some dinner. To be honest, we don't remember what she ate for dinner since it was only a pre-cursor to the real thing we came for which was another slice of that Blackberry Pie with a scoop of Vanilla.
Yup, you got that right: 2 nights = 2 slices of pie. That's what's up!
While the pie, bakery, restaurant and service at Casa d'Acuña was all superb, the hostel itself was not without it's issues. For starters, there was a scheduling conflict which resulted in us being stuck into a 2 bunk bed dorm (by ourselves at least) instead of the 1 double bed room we'd reserved. It wasn't a big deal, but to their credit, the guys in charge took the initiative to offer us a complimentary breakfast as a 'mia culpa'. We appreciated this immensely since we're used to getting stiffed with zero apology or effort to make things right...(see, many instances in SE Asia).
There are 2 other things worth noting regarding our accom: 1)the bathroom sink was right across the hall and I've never heard a louder paper towel dispenser in my life. 2) The water in that part of town was out for most of the time we were there. This meant we went 3 days without a shower, which included the 3 hour hike and morning run! Yep, pretty ripe.
Our last morning, as I mentioned, we got up and headed to the stadium we'd discovered on our hike the previous day and ran laps for a few miles, then settled in for our complimentary breakfast before packing up and heading to the public bus station to catch a bus for Guatemala City where we'd transfer to Antigua.
All in all, Cobán was a great little lay over destination. And, dude...worth the stop just for that freakin' pie...