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Tales from an intrepid viajero in Latin America Despite promising myself that I´d never be so self-indulgent as to write a blog that´s exactly what I´m going to do. Welcome to the blog that I´m writing while studying Spanish and travelling in Latin America over the next 8 months

100% Explorador - Uncovering The Laguna Brava and other treasures near the Mexican border

GUATEMALA | Monday, 9 March 2009 | Views [2785]

Following the Extreme Adventure to the crater of Volcan Santiaguito, I spent last week exploring the "virgin territory" (as Don Eduardo likes to call it) of Guatemala that is near the Mexican border in Huehuetenango. Don Eduardo (owner of Kaqchikel tours), who I´ve come to know through our mutual friend Marvin, is trying to uncover new places to take tourists on treks and has heard that this "virgin territory" is extremely beautiful but hard to get to. Don Eduardo kindly invited me to go with him and his guides to explore the area a bit for a few days as they try to find new places to visit. Afterwards, I spent a few days staying with Marvin who is living in Huehue for a few months to re-open his mum´s petrol station.

Monday 2nd March

I turn up at Don Eduardo`s house a 4.50am with slightly aching limbs following my escapades at Santiaguito the days before. I ask Don Eduardo where the other four people are and get the following response - "Amil, you´ve been here nearly four months and you still haven´t got used to the hora Chapin (Guatemalan time)".

We leave at 5.50am once everyone has bothered to turn up. We are six in all - Don Eduardo, 4 of his guides and me. It takes 4 hrs to get to the gas station where we are going to meet Marvin. He´s the only one who knows the area - as far as Don Eduardo and his guides are concerned we may as well be in Kalahari desert.

Marvin tells us that there is a place called the Hoyo Simarron nearby. It is essentially a big, circular hole in the ground which is between 300 and 500m deep (I´m not that good at judgint distances). At the bottom of it is a forest with a mini-lake. It is a fairly impressive and scary site. This being Guatemala and "virgin territory" there is no kind of fence that prevents people from falling into the hole if they slip too close to the edge. Saul seems particulary scared and runs away from the edge as soon as he looks down into the cenote. We spend some time clowing around near the edge of the hole and drop rocks into it. It seems to take the best part of 30 secs for any rocks that we drop to reach the bottom.

Marvin informs us that he reckons the place that we need to explore a bit is the Laguna Brava. He describes it as a combination of "Lake Atitlan and Semuc Champey before tourism arrived there". We go to a small village which is the starting point of any trip to the Laguna Brava. We are told that we need to take a guide with us and are not allowed to take photos of the Laguna. Some elder in the village tells us that "some Gringo claims he owns the Laguna and would be very annoyed he found out that people were going there". Don Eduardo tells him that we wouldn´t dream of doing anything so disrespectful as we want to take groups of tourists to the Laguna to appreciate its beauty. We are told that we should go on horseback as it is a "difficult hike for 3 hrs through a bunch of mud" and your guide will be going on a horse". Don Eduardo replies that we are "experts and guides" so we won´t be needing the horses. The crowd gathering around us give us the "don´t tell us that we didn´t warn you look". We are all set to go but I somewhat disconcerted when I see our guide swigging away at some cheap looking Mexican guaro and his drunk friend collapsing on the ground.

We set off and the people from the village aren´t too wrong. It is very muddy and slippery - we slide all over the place as we begin the descent to the Laguna. Saul falls over onto a rock and gets a deep cut. David is next to lose his pride as he falls over in the middle of wishing good day to some locals in a house we pass.

About an hr into the hike, Don Eduardo gives Saul, David and Me our mission. "Guys, run ahead through this mud and take a bunch of photos of the Laguna and the surrounding countryside. The rest of us will keep the guide and his horse detained by going at a normal pace." Oh great. Not only is it completely slippery and muddy but now I´ve got to run to down to the Laguna Brava to take photos. We set off running and discover that we actually fall over less when we take less care over where we are going. What is supposed to be a three hour hike takes us just under two hours. The Laguna Brava and the rivers around it are incredible. The laguna itself is a combination of blue and turquoises surrounded by verdant hills. There are small waterfalls in the rivers around the Laguna the water is so fresh you can drink it. David, Saul and I dutifully and sneakily take all the photos we can before the rest arrive. When Eduardo arrives I´m surprised to hear him ask me to take his photo...

Amil: "Ummm, I thought we weren´t allowed to take photos Don Eduardo."

Don Eduardo: "Don´t worry. The guide said that we can take all the photos we want for 20Q. This is Guatemala." Doh. I forgot. Todo es posible en Guatemala.

We set up camp and decide it is time for a swim in the lake. We ask our guide if there are crocodiles etc. in the lake but he assures us that they were all killed a few years back. Only David, Marvin (another of the guides) and I are brave enough to venture into the freezing water.

At 6pm we begin to make dinner preparations. Dinner is a churasco with lots of tortillas, guacamole etc. I now realise why our rucksacks were so heavy. When Don Eduardo and his guides go camping they don´t scimp on the food. The brought 3kg of tortillas, 3/4lb meat for each person and much more. I ask Don Eduardo why we didn´t take any of these luxuries to Santiaguito. He tells me that luxuries are only for when the guides go on expeditions - "the pasta and mush is for gringos". Nice to know that I´m part of the inner circle.

The evening is spent listening to scare stories from our guide and ghost stories from Eduardo. Apparently, there are Jaguars and snakes around the Laguna. There is absoultely nobody around the Laguna - just us and nature. At around 10pm David needs the toilet but is too scared to venture off on his own. Everyone decides that strenght lies in the group so we decide that a "group toilet trip is in order". Time for bed. I start to hear some very strange sounds near to me in the middle of the night. After a bit of worrying, I figure it is only Saul snoring.

Tuesday 3rd March

After an early morning stroll to capture the various shades of blue that make up the lake, Saul and I prepare breakfast. It consists of a wad of tortillas (3kg is a lot to get through in a day) and egges. Everyone seems to stare at us we take out breakfast. We are many tortillas short. I discover that the Guatemalan equivalent of "who ate all the pies" is "who ate all the tortillas". I´m relieved to discover that everyone is blaming Saul. It appears he ate half of them while warming them up. Don Eduardo tells us that the next time we come to the Laguna Brava we need to bring kayaks so we can reach the other half of it - the path stops half way around the lake and he doesn´t really fancy bumping into stray Jaguars in the woods.

We pack up camp and decide that any adventure of Kaqchiquel isn´t really complete without a challenge. We have a race back up to the village. It usually takes 3 hrs to get back up the muddy, steep hills. Saul and I manage it in 90mins. Marvin turns up to pick us up just as we reach the village. Apparently, Marvin´s wife has banned him from drinking so this is an opportune moment to have a few beers while we await the rest. The rest turn up 30 mins later and David doesn´t turn up at all. It appears he´s gone to the wrong place so we have to go and find him.

On the way back we stop off at a large rock in the middle of nowhere, which is apparently quite famous. We all try to climb to the top of it. Only Marvin and I reach the top and start to goad Don Eduardo and his guides that only the guides from the "Escuela Utatlan" can reach the most difficult places. The smiles are soon wiped off our faces when we have no idea how we are going to climb back down. I´m about to suggest that we call the British Embassy to send a helicopter when I find a route which is probably doable. Marvin and I make it back down without too much drama.

We return back to Marvin´s gas station. I say goodbye to Don Eduardo and the guides as I´m going to be staying with Marvin for a few more days. The rest of the week is spent with Marvin on the gas station and doing barbecues in the evenings by the Rio Azul. It is basically a river with sky blue water due to the minerals that flow underneath it. The rest of the week passes by rather uneventfully but is pleasent nonetheless. However, as Don Eduardo says, "with Kaqchikel tours there are only adventures and extreme adventures"... 

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