Guate was everything that I hoped it would be and more. Well lets face it whats not to love about a country with place names like Chichicastenango, Quetzaltenango, Huehuetenango and San Martin Sacatepequez. Thats just for starters. Add on a chain of department stores called Bolocks; a brand of bread imported from Mexico called Bimbo; a chemists in Cabon which looked suspiciously like Gonorrhoea and loads of stores called Ebenezar and you can see it was a laugh a minute. Loved it, loved it, loved it.
I spent the first few days in Antigua a UNESCO listed town full of elegant colonial houses, beautiful churches and pretty amazing ruins. It also had some of the best chocolate cake I have ever had. It was so good that this cafe became a bit of a regular haunt and I seemed to be able to eat a slab a day without too much trouble. Mind you my justification for such excess was that I needed the energy to climb my first Central American volcano - Pacaya - a spectacular and very active volcano. So active that you had to keep moving on the lava flow as it burnt the hairs on your legs. Who needs waxing!
Headed west to Lago de Atitlan a stunningly beautiful lake surrounded by 3 volcanoes. Whilst it has several traditional Mayan villages many of the settlements have been taken over by the bongo-bashing, bongo-smoking crowd with its attendant yoga and meditation retreats plus the requisite organic bakeries and such like. There is only so much New Age stuff a girl can take so after a few chilled days I headed up to Xela a place seemingly far more rooted in reality. Having said that I couldn't quite work out why the central square sported a mass of mock-Greek columns? Had a couple of side trips out to Laguna Chicabal a lake set in the cone of a volcano and the hot springs at Fuentes Georginas which were a lot of fun.
Turned north towards Todas Santos high up in the Cuchumatanes mountains. Not only was the scenery stunning but the clothes the men wore made it a very memorable place. They had red and white striped trousers, black woolen breeches and pinstripe shirts with a fancy collar. John Galliano eat your heart out!
Here my map reading skills finally deserted me and I ended up having to retrace my steps back via Guatemala City in order to head north to the town of Coban a town set high up in the mountains at the heart of the coffee and spice growing region. It was a long day with a few bus changes along the way but it was worth it. The guide book describes Coban as a little subdued once the rain settles in which must be the understatement of the year.
Living in Cuenca I thought I had got used to rain but Coban takes it to a whole new level. Mind you it had some great cafes and bars to chill out in and yet more chocolate cake to sample. All in the interest of market research you understand. It also had some great street food. Probably not a good idea with my stomach particularly when the woman spat in the bag to open it up to put my burrito in but it seemed like a good idea at the time. Given that I had a whole meal for about 30p it seemed churlish to complain. Mind you a week later when everything imploded on me I began to regret this somewhat rash behaviour.
North East of Coban was Languin with its bat infested caves, the beautiful pools of Semuc Champey, the hostal El Retiro and white-water rafting. It was an action packed few days and despite getting tipped out of the boat and then being dragged back in by the short and curlys before the next set of rapids it was a lot of fun, seriously! Less fun was the trip back to Coban in the dodgiest camioneta ever. It proceded to break down twice and resulted in them having to glue one of the windows in en-route! The delights of traveling on the cheap.
Last stop in Gaute was the spectacular Mayan ruins of Tikal with its 5 enormous temples over 60m high. Accompanied by screeching howler monkeys we saw the sunrise over Tikal which was an incredible experience. Bloody marvelous! It was a great way to end the trip before heading across the border to Honduras and the next adventure!