A few of the wonders of traveling are getting to see and experience new and foriegn lands, people and food. One of my favorite things about traveling though is when you see something so familiar to you but its so out of place or different you have to stop and stare. A good example of this was drinking a coke (which I do everyday) out of a plastic bag so the vendor could keep the glass bottle.
I grew up in Indiana which I tend to defend often as not being a flat drive-thru state full of farms and Republicans. It helps that I can mention Indiana voted for Obama in the last election which maybe gets Indy´s name out of the Bible Belt section of America in many foriegners minds. That being said we do have alot of cornfields and cows. But all throughout Guatemala there have been cows grazing on the steepest mountian sides. Corn grows everywhere here, even on rocky mountainsides. To see a huge lush green mountain side with corn growing almost all the way up it stirred my senses.
Maybe my favorite 5 minute span of my trip so far came three days ago when I first arrived to El Retiro Hospedaje in Lanquin, Guatemala. The hostel is a mini hostel resort if that makes any sense and the best place to stay when coming to visit Semuc Champey. It sits next to the river in an idyllic setting and only costs $4 a night.
I arrived here at 9am and drank coffee with the travelers turned staff members there to earn money along their way. It started to rain and soon after I heard the most Thunderous Roar of thunder I´ve ever heard in my entire life. It boomed and rolled through the mountains echoing and getting louder for 20 seconds. I was so excited as if it was the first time I´d ever heard Thunder. Five minutes later Lighting STRUCK down with Vengenence and Fury. It sounded like bombs cracked open the mountain next to us with a series of three or four loud strikes, one of which sent my jaw to the floor and me into utter awe of the sounds. Feeling excitement in realitively familiar things on the road usually surprises you and adds a bright spot to your day.
Thirty minutes after the Mother of all Sound Storms, I went tubing down a river for 45 mintues and avoided such obstacles as fallen trees and cows crossing the river. All while floating between steep mountain sides full of more cows and corn.
Later at night I had one of the most incredible experiences I´ve had when it comes to obvserving animals at the Lanquin Caves. You go in the evening so you can sit at the mouth of the cave when the bats wake up and leave for the evening. The bats started leaving here and there at first and then 15 to 20 every few minutes. After 20 minutes of this now there were hundreds of bats flying directly at you and swooping up and over or around you. They literally come withing 2 feet of your face at a rate of about 10 bats per minute not including the other 500 that fly by at 3 to 10 feet away. Its an incredible display of how well their sonar works. I would walk back and forth from one side of the mouth of the cave to the other where most of the bats flew and no matter how fast or slow I moved the bats always flew around me.
I wish I could have captured it better but these shots were the best I could do. The guy in the photo above was right next to me. I took this shot of him and his of me was all black in the background. This is always happens. The bats were literally flying past you so fast you couldn´t tell if it was a shadow or a bat but using a flash captures a brief instant. Just remember all the bats you see in these pics flew past in a split second and were instantly replaced by hundreds more each minute.
The night ended with a traditional Guatemalan buffet, getting a fire twirling lesson (pic is of the instructor, not me unfortunately). I´d always just wanted to see someone do this and so when he handed the chains to me and told me to give it a go I was shocked. But then again this is Guatemala where you stand 12 deep in the back of a pickup truck, women carry their babies with them on the backs of motorcylces and you´re allowed to get so close to lava you can poke it with a stick. These things just wouldn´t be allowed most places.