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Erica's Travel Adventures


GUATEMALA | Saturday, 5 January 2013 | Views [790]

Sunday morning we left for the infamous Irtra, the hot spot for Guatemalan Jews for Christmas.  It is a humungous series of hotels and restaurants with two swimming pools, a small bowling alley, mini golf, a spa, raquetball courts, and massive green fields and palm trees everywhere.  Before we started the 3 hour drive, though, we stopped off at the Farchi’s close friends’ café.  Their daughter and son also went to camp last summer so I met them before.  Not only does this family own a café, but they own the entire mall it is in and a few others just like it.  The café had fantastic pastries and cookies covered in frosting with a caramel-like cream filling.  I ordered a traditional Guatemalan breakfast with beans, eggs, cheese, and green sauce.  It was delicious!  After breakfast we got on the road (but not before stopping 5 minutes after we left for an impromptu bathroom break).

Let me tell you a little something about driving in Guatemala.  There are no rules.  Everybody pays for their driver’s license rather than taking the test, and kids start driving illegally as early as 11 or 12.  David drove our car at quite a speed through the highway battling with other drivers to pass trucks.  It was quite the experience.  We drove past at least 4 volcanoes and could see the craters of some.  Oshi pointed them out as we drove, explaining which were active and when various eruptions occurred.  We also passed acres and acres of sugar cane.  I haven’t gotten to try it yet, but I am very excited to!  When we finally got to Irtra it was very crowded!  We had to wait in the parking like for about 30 minutes while David and Oshi checked us in.

We walked into the hotel and straight to the large suite on the end of the hallway.  Oshi’s mom, sister, brother in law and nephews and niece shared one suite and on the opposite end of the hall Oshi, David, Ari, Dani, Cara and I shared another.  There were two bedrooms and a living room.  Dani, Ari, Cara and I settled into our room and Oshi came in to tell us to go explore and that she would see us for dinner at 7:30 and again at 9:30 the next morning to leave for the water park.  The 4 of us headed to sit by the pool and grab something to eat.  We spent a few minutes in the water, but it was freezing so we walked around and Dani showed us Irtra.  Poor Dani had to use a wheelchair because it was way to big with too many hills for her to use crutches, but she was a great sport.

After our walk we went back to the pool area where what seemed like the entire Jewish community was sitting (luckily I had already met most of them at Shabbat dinner).  It was Dani’s birthday, but she insisted we not make a big deal out of it, even though it was her 16th!  But we all sang happy birthday and had some really good cake.

Cara and I decided that we had to try out the water slide before dinner, even though the pool was freezing.  Even though the slide was presumably for kids, I was pretty impressed so we figured once more wouldn’t hurt.  The couple in front of us in line overheard us talking and asked if we were American.  We talked to them for the next few minutes and learned they were from the east coast visiting for a wedding.  I told them we had a friend from camp also in Guatemala for a wedding, but that I had no idea where.  Cara told them her name at the off chance it was the same wedding.  It turns out, our friend Aly is their niece.  Only Jews could randomly run into each other in a foreign country.  They brought us to Aly and we couldn’t believe we were all there!  She told us our room number so later that night we could come by her room and play cards with her and her cousins.

After our run in with Aly, we went back to the room to shower and change for dinner.  Oshi told me there was a girl about my age at Irtra with her parents and bored.  I was excited to have some company my own age!  We were going to have dinner with her and she would be around for the next couple of days.  Dani and Ari wanted to have dinner with their friends and between the conversations in Spanish and English, Cara and I got confused and went with the girls to a Thai restaurant rather than the Mexican one with their parents.  We misunderstood that Orly, the girl my age, would be at the Thai restaurant when she was actually at the Mexican.  Once we got to the Thai restaurant, the girls and their friends decided they would rather have Mexican (the joys of traveling with teenagers).  It worked in our favor, though, because we got to eat with Orly.  She is amazing and I had a great time with her!  She is a junior at Columbia University and was home for winter break.  Her mother was born in the U.S.A. but grew up in Guatemala and her Dad is Israeli.  They were all so nice, and Orly’s mom was quick to assure me that if I ever needed anything in Guatemala I shouldn’t hesitate to call. 

True to our word, after dinner Cara and I went to Aly’s room to play cards.  Her cousins and brother were fabulous, and we had so much fun meeting them!  We played a game called liar’s poker, which l had never played but really enjoyed.  We said goodnight to Aly and her family and figured out that we were all going to be at the water park the next day so we would try to find them. 

 We spent Christmas Eve at the water park, which is about a 30 second train ride from the hotels.  I’m pretty sure we spent more time waiting for the crowded train than actually riding it.  The water park had a ton of slides, a small wave pool, and a really nice lazy river.  Cara and I rode a fiew slides and went around in the lazy river until we ran into Orly and her parents.  We hung out in the wave pool for a while and then David brought us to the back of the park where we realized we were missing out on 75% of the fun.  One slide, referred to as the toilet bowl, spits you out into a big basin where you swirl until dropping into the rest of the slide.  Another gains momentum until you go up a ramp and then down again.  The craziest one we went on, though, David dragged us on.  He and Orly’s father had already been a few times and decided we couldn’t miss out on all the fun. 

Let me explain this slide to you.  At first glance, one might think it’s just your average closed in slide with a steep drop.  Wrong.  The slide, in fact, begins as a free fall.  You climb 5 million stairs to the top.  Once there you can really see the terror that will unfold.  Two slides run at the same time.  One person stands in each capsule where bystanders (like David) watch to see your face as you realize you are standing on nothing.  A kind voice counts down 3-2-1 and then the floor slides out from under you.  Your eyes bulge out of your head and your stomach falls 10 times faster than the rest of your body.  You can only scream for so long because your body goes into shock.  After about 7 seconds you hit the slide and swoop around until, finally, you can breath fresh air and sufficiently pick your wedgy.  It was quite the experience.  Once was plenty. 

 Cara and Orly and I did one more relatively calm slide and decided we had had enough slide excitement for the day.  We did a few laps around the lazy river and headed back to the hotel.  The rest of the evening was very relaxed.  The park itself closed by 4:00 because of Christmas Eve.      In Guatemala, Christmas Eve is a bigger deal than Christmas day so everything closes early.  On Christmas day, though, the restaurants, parks, etc. were all open until regular hours.  Anyways, after a nice dinner, Dani, Ari, Daniel, Tami, (2 of Dani’s friends) Orly, Cara, and I went back to our hotel room to play cards.  It was a lot of fun and we tried to play in Spanish so that I could practice. 

 On Christmas day we woke up and had breakfast by the pool before boarding the train to the amusement park.  We were greeted by clowns asking to take pictures with us, much like Disneyland.  The park was relatively not crowded because of Christmas but it was definitely not just the Jews there.  We got through the rides pretty quickly and hardly had to wait in lines. 

 Sidenote: Irtra is used as a government incentive to work and pay taxes so employees are all given large discounts at the park.  Some of the rooms can be purchased for as little as $10 per night with these incentives and entrance fees to the parks are waived.  It is a great way to reward Guatemalan employees and allow anyone, regardless of income bracket, the opportunity to have fun and relax with their family and friends.

 We went on all of the typical park rides and the whole time we could see the volcano in the distance.  It was beautiful!  We ended the park with a magic show and lunch at an Italian restaurant.  Then we tried a few typical Guatemalan foods like corn on the cob with mayo and ketchup and parmesan cheese (not delicious).  We also had the hot corn drink again (not rice, I stand corrected). 

 That night we went to the spa because Dani wanted a massage for her birthday.  Cara, Ari, and I hung out in the Jacuzzi, which was very nice.  After, David showed us how to play a similar game to liar’s poker with dice.  We were all pretty tired from the day so we showered and went to sleep.  That was our last day at Irtra before we headed to Playa Likin (the beach)! 

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