Offpeakers

Maximize living, minimize annoyances

Author: Terry Binando (Page 1 of 3)

Olympic Mountains

Time to Say Goodbye to Port Angeles…for now

Leaving Port Angeles

Reluctant exits are in a way better than those times you are just glad to be down the road.  When we left New Jersey it was with glee to be on the road off to new adventures.  Our recent departure from the beautiful Olympic Peninsula was much more subdued.   Our year in Port Angeles, Washington was a wonderful experience.

School campus

The yellow/gold building is where Terry’s Multimedia classes are held.

Peninsula College provided challenging classes, new skills, fun activities, and dynamic class mates.  The small apartment we called home with its own ocean view actually came with extensive grounds.  Olympic National Park was a terrific back yard.  With tremendous hiking, snowshoeing, camping, biking, migrating salmon and scenic opportunities. We were never reluctant to go out for our required yard work.   The Pacific Ocean/Strait of Juan de Fuca was our front yard and gave us a chance to wander the coast, investigate tide pools, watch otters and seals, and even complete John’s first Marathon on the beautiful Olympic Discovery trail.

JB crossing the finish line

Under 5 1/2 hrs for his 1st full marathon! Amazing said his wife 🙂

Yes, there were LOTS of cloudy days (from November to March?) but the weather was mild and almost always allowed us to be outside, being neither too cold or too hot. Wanting to be more active, we tried to use the Subaru only one day a week, otherwise relying on our new found biking skills and walking.

Terry and classmates

Terry with her professor and classmates at the College’s Moving Pictures Festival

Through our classmates and the welcoming small town atmosphere we made fun interesting friends who we miss. As we exited Port Angeles, our Dad was kind enough to let us store our U-Haul trailer of belongings in his barn.

Uhaul and Subaru

The U-haul trailer is pack and we’re ready to go.

He also continues to provide an eight acre empire to our cat Milo who loves patrolling his world to control the mice and vole population.

Family

Fun times with our Montana family.familfriends,

While back in Montana we were happy to spend time with family (our nieces and nephews continue to amaze us with their skills and energy) and even utilize new carpentry skills on the back deck (Grandpa is ready for a big party).

Deck

Go to the light!

While we love the Olympic Peninsula, and may return in the future, we left to pursue wanderlust.  We have enjoyed our house-sitting adventures in Florida, Oregon, Washington, and Vancouver Island.  We made great friends with homeowners, neighbors and loved the pets as well as enjoyed new locations.

Collage

Some of our friends from Port Angeles

Next Stop Corn Island

The Offpeakers will now be going for a new adventure.  We will spend the next three 1/2 months on Big Corn Island. This five square mile isle is 50 miles off the east coast of Nicaragua in the Caribbean.  Growing up land locked, we did not feel we could pass up this opportunity to live next to warm (83 F) water and catch up on the diving and snorkeling of which we have been dreaming.  The plan is to use this blog as our trip scrapbook and perhaps share what we learn and special experiences.  We hope you travel along with the Offpeakers.

 

Panama Viejo

Panama 2016

Last year January 12 we celebrated Mr. Offpeaker’s birthday Off-peak style (meaning free or frugal, is there any other way?) in Panama City, Panama. After a restful sleep we enjoyed a sumptuous all-you-can-eat breakfast included with our stay at the beautiful hotel Country Inn Panama Canal Hotel.

Breakfast at the hotel

Our agenda for the day: 1)learn the bus system in preparation for our trip to the Miraflores Locks(Panama Canal) the following day 2)Explore Panama Viejo Ruins (more on this later) 3)Splurge on the birthday boy!

Dressed in our well-worn shorts, shirts and tennis shoes, we took the free hotel shuttle to Albrook Mall the largest mall in the Americas. The megamall happens to be right across the enormous regional bus terminal.

Buses of all kinds waiting for passenger at Panama City Bus Terminal

Public Transportation in Panama City

Taxis are plentiful in Panama City, they are convenient but you have to haggle and agree on the price first before you board the car otherwise you will be fleeced big time. Each ride will cost you anywhere from $5 to $25 depending on distance/destination. But if you’re looking for an adventure and you’re an Offpeaker like us, we suggest the public transportation. For $0.35 cents you can take any buses or the subway train, just make sure you do your homework and keep your city map handy.

Inside the Albrook Mall, it looks just like any mall in N. America.

Finding our way around the mall was easy, there were plenty of maps and directions are in Spanish and English. Once at the terminal, bus tickets are available via vending machine and ticket booths. Buses do not take cash. Finding the proper bus was facilitated by asking people “Donde esta el bus para Panama Viejo?”. Once we found the proper location we follow the queue.

The view of the modern city by bus.

The buses were nice, modern clean and air-conditioned. The ride to the old capital gave us a nice view of the very modern and vibrant city.

By a church ruins.

The Old Capital

Panama Viejo which is in the suburbs of the city, is the old capital of the country. The Spanish established the settlement in the 1500’s and was an important base where gold and silver from the south was sent to Spain. The city suffered a number of fires, earthquake and pirate attacks but it was believed that attack led by Welsh pirate Henry Morgan in 1671 led to the destruction of the city.

Ruins of the courtyard.

We enjoyed our visit to the UNESCO designated Heritage site.  Catching the bus back to the city was easy as there were plenty of bus stops along the way and we just head back where we came from. We have explored the city seafood market and have read reviews that the restaurant in the market is a must. Well we have been there twice already and today the birthday boy wanted to go back there again. The place is simple, but the food was fresh, tasty and reasonably priced. We both love the seafood soup, fried whole fish, yucca fries and coconut rice. Yum, my mouth is watering just thinking about it. We head back to the mall, catch our shuttle back to our hotel so we can hit the pool. Panama City is exciting, fun and full of history. We are excited for we are going to see the historical Locks tomorrow!

 

 

Ediz Hook

We’re Baack!

Wow! It’s Finals week! Team Offpeakers survived our first quarter of being back to school! It is/was everything we had hoped for and more!

Peninsula College

Free coffee and muffins welcomed the students during the first day of the quarter.

Our experiences at Peninsula College proved to be nothing but wonderful right from the start. A picturesque campus with great facilities, combined with knowledgeable and caring staff. What a fun, satisfying and fulfilling experience. We also love that we get to ride our bikes to school!

Bike

We enjoy riding our bikes to school and exploring new trails  around the area.

Since it’s been so long since our last post, some of you may have already forgotten why we are back at school and what we are studying.  John is taking the Construction/Green Building Course and Terry is focusing on Multimedia Communications. Why are we doing this? Because it’s fun, challenging and serves as a preparation for our next adventures, wherever or whatever that may be.

Terry, PASC

Terry enjoyed teaching Facebook to members of Port Angeles Senior Center.

Terry has learned and done so much, she learned how to code using HTML, CSS and bootstrap. She developed and published 2 websites, a personal portfolio and a country website, where she focused on one of our favorite country, Colombia. Please click on the provided link to see her work.

Halloween, PC

The pirate and his sailor girl attended PC’s Halloween dance.

She also learned how to make animation, edit videos, create animated banners, multi-page publications, edit & enhance photographs.  She even took a photojournalism class and her photographs were published in the school’s award-winning newspaper!  Terry’s photography allowed us to become avid fans of our school’s championship women’s soccer team.  All of these on top of volunteering at our local Habitat for Humanity store and teaching Facebook classes at the Port Angeles Senior Center.

The green-builders figuring out the framing for the dog house.

John has been quite busy as well. He is now a member of the Construction Committee for our local Habitat for Humanity. They have built decks, install doors and siding, replaced a window with a slider and painted a volunteer’s home. On Saturday’s John volunteer’s at the Habitat store preparing donated furniture for sale as Terry works the cash register making the sale.  For his construction/green-building program, this first quarter focused on framing work and basic woodworking.  The class also built a media/photographer’s platform at the school’s soccer field and what may be the world’s strongest dog houses!

dog, green building

Ta daaa! They finished this and 4 others…lucky dogs will stay warm this winter.

We are really enjoying our Off-peak life in Port Angeles, which is the headquarters of the Olympic National Park. We don’t have cable so our entertainment nowadays are mostly books and the great outdoors. Our apartment is within walking distance of couple of hiking trails and grocery stores.

From the Salmon cascades near Sol Duc Hot Springs.

We get to walk to the beach almost everyday. A few weeks ago, we got to observe Salmon swimming upstream on a couple of occasions.  We’ve seen family of otters playing in the ocean and on the beach.  We’ve yet to see an Orca, but we will one day.

The school quarter went fast, we are wrapping up for finals this week. And we woke up to a winter wonderland this morning. The whole place looks magical with the fresh snow.

Snow covered Peninsula College looks magical.

Snow covered Peninsula College looks magical. Terry’s Media class is in that building.

It is a reminder that it is the holiday season.  Life goes by so fast, we are happy with our decision to downsize, pursue our dreams and live an Offpeaker life.  We are thankful that you are reading this post.  We hope you are all well, enjoying and  loving whatever you are doing. If not, we wish you the courage to pursue and live the life that you want.  We leave you with a line from one of Eminem’s song “Look, if you have one shot or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted, would you capture it or let it slip?”

 

 

Smith Rock

Remember the first time you visited an amusement park?  From the parking lot you could see the roller coaster.  It looks enormous and so high you feel excitement and fear at the same time, your palms get sweaty, you could feel your heart beating faster.

Bizarro Roller Coaster in New England (photo c/o travel channel)

Bizarro Roller Coaster in New England (photo c/o travelchannel.com)

It had the foreboding look that make you think you should turn around and go see something else yet it somehow drew you in, you just have to go and be on it! The Offpeakers had a similar experience when we followed the strong recommendations of locals and visited Smith Rock State Park.  Not far from Redmond & Bend, Smith Rock State Park is another reason we think life is great in Oregon.

Before the hike.

Before the hike, the impressive rock (should be a mountain!),  Crooked river & River trail behind us. 

The Smith Rock State Parks amusement park is 641 acres of weirdly eroded volcanic rock with the well named Crooked River twisting around and through it.  Our approach past the parking lot had us bouncing with excitement. Amazing views?  Check.  World class Rock Climbing? Check.  Challenging hiking trails?  Check.  Super volunteers and support staff enhancing the park?  Check.

Entrance sign to the State Park

Entrance to the State Park

This is a popular place as 750,000 day users a year enjoy these rugged outdoors but the myriad of trails, bike paths and cliffs seem to suck us all up so even on a busy Sunday, we never felt crowded. We occasionally shared space with people equally happy to be on the rock.  The $5 day use parking fee is a complete bargain.

We saw climbers even before we found a parking spot! Amazing!

We saw climbers even before we found a parking spot! Amazing!

Approaching the area, walking the rim towards the visitor center, we pin balled around looking over cliffs soaring 600 feet over the river. The rock walls were not only beautiful, but it is liberally peppered with incredibly talented rock climbers.  Smith Rock is generally considered the birthplace of modern American rock climbing, and it continues to be a destination and class room for those strong adventurous people that do not need (nor want) a path to get to the top of mountain.

Awesome volunteers at the Visitor Center. If you visit make sure you stop.

Jerry from the Welcome Center. If you visit make sure you stop.

Not all Visitor Centers are helpful, but Smith Rock’s maps, advice, cold water, and volunteers were all terrific.  The Offpeakers were fortunate to meet Jerry, who just may be Oregon’s number one advocate.  Jerry gave us super information on the best hiking trails, views, and where we could hopefully see beavers and/or otters.  We got even more information on the Oregon coast and history of the Brookings district, including interesting background on World War II Japanese incursions in the area.

The uphill trail is visible on Terry's right side

The uphill zigzag trail is visible by Terry’s right shoulder.  Such a fun hike!

Our fun conversation was cut a little short because we could not wait to get on the switchback trails that work their way up Misery Ridge to work our way up, on and around this intimidating outcropping.

Whew! We quickly made it passed the shoot

Whew! We quickly made it passed the Chute and up the Misery, we pity those below us! Hahaha!

From the Visitor Center we dropped down using the The Chute trail to take us down to river level.  Crossing Crooked River we watched people working their way up the steep initial portion of the trail.

Such beauty at every angle! We stop for a breather and to take the scenery in.

Such beauty at every angle! We stop for a breather often to enjoy the scenery in.

Soon we were on their heels, enjoying the fun of spectacular scenery that you have earned through hard labor.  The going was slow and steady with a steep elevation climb.

The group of students in front of us.

The group of fun and friendly students in front of us.

As sometimes happens on these outings, we ended up getting partnered with some outgoing pharmacy students taking a break from Pacific University.  I felt as if we were colleagues on this and peers, but at the top we were referred to affectionately as their “trail parents”.

Our trail "kids'

T with our trail “kids’

If I needed another reminder of our age besides my heaving chest and heavy feet, this was it.  The Misery Ridge trail loop is almost 6 miles long as it weaves up, behind, over and down the main outcropping.

The trail is so beautiful we didn't mind the hard climb!

The trail is so beautiful we didn’t mind the hard climb!

We loved every sweaty dusty step.  The views change, but remain consistently beautiful.  Yes it is a long ways down, but fear kept us careful even as we scanned around to see natural beauty, climbers, and distant snow clad mountains on this glorious day.

You can see Monkey Face in front of Terry

You can see Monkey Face in front of Terry

At the back we see the aptly named Monkey Face, which is an outcropping that bears an amazing resemblance to Curious George except you need to scale a 350 foot column to dance on his head.

On our way down

On our way down

Continuing down we intersect Mesa Verde and River trails.  Down here have close views of the climbers doing very good impersonations of Spiderman.

Can you spot the spider like humans on the cliff face?

Can you spot the spider like humans on the cliff face?

Men and women looked tiny as they worked their way up cliffs that have visible white marks from powder used to dry sweaty hands.

These 2 are on a "beginner" cliff! Looks scary to me!

These two are on a “beginner” cliff! doesn’t look like beginner stuff to us!

Across the river, beginner classes were taking place on cliffs that were still daunting even though they were in the shadows of their much bigger brothers.

There is no bad view on this site?

There is no bad view on Smith Rock only happy Offpeakers!

Smith Rock is a great place to feel the positive energy of the earth and people working together.  Everyone was in excited moods, pushing hard to see and do more.  What a fun experience to work hard yet feel energized at the same time.

what a beautiful place

What a beautiful place, we can’t wait to go back!

While they could have probably come up with a more inspirational name, we fail to imagine a better experience. This is our favorite sight in all of Oregon!  What’s yours?  Please share your favorite spot in Oregon or a time that you were reminded that you have gotten older.  Thank you for traveling with the Offpeakers!

 

Mount Rainier

Moving can be stressful along with hunting for a new place to live.  After the search is over, then there is the waiting game to move-in.  Waiting for ours gave us a good excuse (not that we need any) to go on another road trip and get to know our new neighborhood, the beautiful Pacific Northwest or PNW.  Sometimes referred to as Cascadia, PNW is a geographic region and megaregion in western North America bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west and loosely, by the Rocky Mountains on the east . Though no agreed boundary exists, a common conception includes the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington and the Canadian province of British Columbia.

At the entrance, photo c/o two nice gentlemen on their mormon mission.

At the entrance, photo c/o two nice gentlemen on their LDS/Mormon mission.

Our first stop was Mount Rainier National Park.  The park is known for its crowning jewel Mt. Rainier, the highest mountain of the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest, and the highest mountain in the U.S. state of Washington.  If you’ve visited Seattle and it’s not rainy then you have seen this towering beauty.  Established in 1899 this national park encompasses over 236,ooo acres! There are many activities in or out of the park year-round such as biking, fishing, camping, and hiking to name a few.  Park fee is $25 per vehicle which is covered by our annual Inter Agency National Parks pass.

Yup it was winter up in Paradise

Yup it was winter up in Paradise

It was cloudy and cold during our visit so we did not get to see the glaciers up close.  But the weather did not stop us from enjoying the natural beauty of the park.  After a brief stop at the wintery Jackson Visitor Center in Paradise we proceeded to our first hike at the Bench/Snow Lake Trail.  The park ranger recommended this short and beautiful trail after we have expressed our desire to see some sub-alpine wildflowers.

The trail leading to Bench lake

The trail leading to Bench lake, a bit hard to see the tiny white Glacier lillies

The trailhead is located just a few steps from the parking lot right off Stevens Canyon Road.

Bench lake

Bench Lake

Gradual succession of ups and downs leads us to the first lake called “The Bench” so named because of the surrounding flat area. The trails continues to a flat meadow dotted with white bear grass flowers and glacier lilies.

Snow Lake

Snow Lake

We crossed a stream towards a series of twisty & uphill trail and was excited to finally see the clear turquoise green waters of “Snow lake”.

Surrounding mountain

Tatoosh mountain range surrounding Snow lake.

The lake got its name because it is filled by icy melt from the surrounding Tatoosh mountain range.  It’s fun to see snow mid-July!  We continued and enjoyed the very scenic drive along Stevens Canyon Road towards Ohanapecosh to hike an old growth forest trail.

Canyon bridge, can you spot John?

Canyon bridge, can you spot John?

Along the way we stopped to see the box canyon. From the bridge, 180 feet (55 meters) below we saw water rushing through a narrow slot canyon. We remembered the time we swam the deep volcanic fissure of Las Grietas in Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos.

We felt tiny

We felt tiny by these two!

Grove of the Patriarchs Trail visits an old growth forest.  It is an easy hike through thousand year old cedar, hemlock and douglas fir trees.

by the root of a fallen tree.

by the root of a fallen tree.

We had fun crossing the suspension bridge, enjoying the multicolored rocks visible in the waters of the Ohanapecosh river and sharing in everyone’s joyous spirit.v We felt tiny as well as blessed to be walking through these giant trees.

Lake Atitlan Adventures

The sleepy village of San Pablo on the shore of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala was a welcoming and comfortable home. We did manage to extricate ourselves from the hammocks to explore the surrounding area. One experience began with a ferry trip to the tourist hub of Panajachel.

All parts of the ferry gets used. We get a nice sprinkling of lake water

All parts of the ‘lanchas’ (small ferry boat) gets occupied

Catching the ferry was complicated due to the pier in San Pablo being out of service. This required a walk to San Marcos. While it was a short 35 minute walk, it involved a number of very steep hills. Again we were reminded of the tough, hard working people that live here when we saw the ice cream man pushing his heavy cart back and forth between the cities to find customers.

There seems to be no flat roads.

There seems to be no flat roads.

Just getting myself up the hill all of a sudden seemed much easier. Once we were at San Marcos’ pier, it is not as easy as getting on a boat. You have to determine where it goes and how much is the ride, as nothing is written. In many cases the prices rise for gringos, sometimes precipitously. You can ask the price ahead of time, where you will be quoted a high price. If there are other passengers, you can get in and then pay what they do as you get out. Or you can do what your wife tells you to do. Each of these steps have their own hazards.

The waters can get rough

The waters can get rough

It was an interesting and wet ride to Panajachel. A large number of tiny villages are serviced by the ferry. Kids would travel to school, vegetables shipped to the next community, supplies arrive for small farms, it is a real life line. Once we landed at our destination, numerous parties tried to sell us tours, rides, or souvenirs.

Nature reserve entrance sign

Nature reserve entrance sign

Our agenda was to visit the highly rated Reserva Natural Atitlan (Atitlan Nature Reserve). Leaving the dock, we found a local taxi to take us to the reserve. It was only a little more than a mile away from the dock, so we would be able to walk back now we knew the direction.

The reserve is a thick lush jungle!

The reserve is a thick lush jungle!

The reserve is huge, stretching from the shores of the lake up through the jungle to the mountainous heights. The reserve is composed of fantastic hiking trails that routinely go over hanging bridges right out of Indiana Jones films over jungle streams. Waterfalls majestically roar down the cliff face, creating a wet lush environment for the spectacular orchids and exotic flowers.

There are several hanging bridges...more than the visitors

There are several hanging bridges and hardly any visitors. 

The trails connect the key components of the reserve: the butterfly sanctuary, the snake/reptile area, the botanical gardens, zip lines, and the monos. Anytime you are in a jungle in a Spanish speaking country and you see the word mono, be excited because that is monkey! Early in the day as we were trying to shake each other off of a high swinging bridge, we encountered a gentleman carrying a large box of bananas.

Monkey with banana in hand

Monkey with banana in hand

Of course we had to follow him, and of course he was feeding the monkeys just like the cartoons. And if animated spider monkeys seem to enjoy bananas, then the real ones really are crazy about them. A bonus to the monkeys was a hungry swarm of coatis.

There are so many of these coatis, glad they are not aggressive at all.

There are so many of these coatis, glad they are not aggressive at all.

These cousins of the raccoon aggressively pressed for food. As happy as these animals were to get fed, they were a little annoyed when the bananas ran out. The man feeding the animals warned us of the danger, showing us a scar on his hand. This was a closer view of the monkeys than we had in Tikal. Every time we did see monkeys, it made us think back to watching Tarzan movies as kids wishing we had one for a pet. Once the food was gone the wildlife melted back into the trees.

a few of the butterflies in the mariposario.

A few of the butterflies in the mariposario.

Our journey continued through the paths to the butterfly sanctuary (mariposario). The large and colorful butterflies were on plants, flowers and feeding on slices of pineapple. Terry happily spent a great deal of time enjoying butterflies, studying their actions, looking for new varieties and nice photos. John was unsuccessfully searching for more monkeys or a jaguar.

There are several species of butterflies including this Zebra Longwing.

There are several species of butterflies including this Zebra Longwing.

A recurring theme in these attractions was we were left alone to enjoy the features. Very few or no other tourists and no rigorous supervision. We loved the reserve and only the time of day pushed us away. We still had to cross the lake, which is best undertaken during the daylight.

Indian Nose (Nariz del Indio) is a feature along the Lake Atitlan sky line where the top of a ridge looks like the profile of a reclining face. Viewing the sunrise from the top of the nose is a tourist tradition. We signed up for this guided tour so we could participate and get a different view of the lake we now loved. At the appointed time, 4:00 AM, we were out in the street to meet the guide.  As the minutes rolled by there was no sign of the guide, but the neighboring dogs did not like someone strange in the street so there was constant unwelcome commotion. Finally at 4:30 an old decrepit tuk tuk arrived.

It was dark when we arrived at the chin

It was dark when we arrived at the chin, the lights from various towns looks like stars around the lake.

The driver could not speak English, but indicated we should get in. As we often did on the journey, we took a leap of faith and got in the back seat. A tarp was pulled over to keep out the “cold” night air. As we continually saw, these tough people who could take any kind of oppressive heat become extremely uncomfortable with any kind of chill. Our tuk tuk headed down the road, only a tiny bit of windshield uncovered for the driver to see. It was claustrophobic in the back, and we had no idea how long or how far we were going.

Spectacular sunrise view from Indian Nose

Spectacular sunrise view from Indian Nose

So far we had not been successful in determining if this was our guide or our driver or had this been a bad mistake. 40 minutes later, we stopped in an unidentified village and then were introduced to our guide, Jorge. Jorge is a college student who spoke great English. He was troubled that we were late, we would have to hurry to be up the mountain top before sun rise. Jorge took off, with the Offpeakers trundling along behind him. First we were on the cobblestone street of the village. As we left the village this quickly turned into a gravel then dirt path. Our way was lit with the battery powered headlamps Terry had brought for us. Jorge lighted his way with the flashlight on his smart phone.

The view is spectacular

The view is spectacular

We quickly trotted along through the dark field. Soon we were climbing on steps cut into dirt and mud. It was too dark to see how far up we had to go, just Jorge’s repeated “Rapido” comments. Out of breath, tired, and slipping and sliding on the path, I was not very happy with our tardy taxi driver, blaming the late pick up for this dash. We could hear other parties behind us and ahead. Not everyone has a wife to remind you to bring a flashlight, and some parties were making their way in the dark as they had erroneously thought their guides would supply lights. Our group pressed on, not wanting to give way and we eventually made it to a flat area with a few benches. Whew, I was soaked with sweat and so grateful we were here while it was still dark. After a few gulps of water, I was a bit disappointed to understand that we had arrived at the Indian’s chin.

The muddy trails on our way down now visible in the daylight

The muddy trails on our way down now visible in the daylight

His nose was still a steep climb ahead. One final push got us to the nose ahead of the sun but behind several other parties. We found a good place to see the sun rise in the middle of an interesting mix of languages and home countries. Soon we were swapping stories with young travelers from around the globe. The talk stopped as the first light appeared in the east. Sun rises are normally pretty. Place one over a tranquil lake with surrounding volcanic peaks and it is sure to be memorable.

Sign

Photo op under the Indian Nose sign

It is good to be in a special place at a special time. While it was not an epic sun rise experience, we were glad to have done the climb. Fifteen minutes later we headed down, taking a brief stop for a few photos at the Indian’s chin, and then headed back to the village. The walk down the now illuminated path was much more enjoyable than the climb.

On the background is the mountain, the highest peak is the Indian Nose

On the background is the mountain we hiked, the highest peak is the Indian Nose

Our outings were not limited to just in Lake Atitlan. My broken dental crown necessitated two trips into the fantastic colonial town of Antigua. Antigua, a city of 35,000 was a former capital and retains much classic Spanish architecture as well as ruins of old churches decimated by earthquakes over the centuries.

Beautiful colonial city of Antigua

Beautiful colonial city of Antigua

Antigua is an easy town for tourists to get around, and many of the old comforts/trappings of home. We were told we just had to go to McDonalds. Assuming it was for the free wifi, we went. Gee, this place is nice! It has colonial architecture and a classic Spanish courtyard with a beautiful garden.

Possibly the most beautiful McDonalds! Unbelievable courtyard!

Possibly the most beautiful McDonalds! Unbelievable courtyard!

Best of all the centerpiece of the garden is not the fabulous fountain or landscaping, it is the wonderful view of an imposing volcano! Speaking of volcanoes, we were in Antigua and got our first view of an eruption, witnessing Volcano Fuego expel lava.

We were so excited to have witnessed a real volcano erupting!

We were so excited to have witnessed a real volcano erupting!

Fuego is 7 miles outside of town, but the orange glow lit up the night. Fuego has routine activity, but the mountain is normally covered by smoke and clouds. When Fuego shows fire at night, the town’s bars celebrate with eruption parties up on the open second floor decks. Antigua has a central plaza that is charming a fun place to watch people. Traditional handicrafts can be purchased here, elite consumer goods are available at fine boutiques, and similar looking counterfeit items are available in the town’s market.

One of several beautiful buildings in Antigua's plaza.

One of several beautiful buildings in Antigua’s plaza.

I was certainly happy with my dental care and could not expect a better price than the $265 I was charged for a new crown. I learned that people with extensive dental needs can fly to Antigua, get dental care, stay two weeks, enjoy a nice vacation, and return home for less than just what the dental care would have cost back in the USA. Many of the dentists even studied in the US!

The best part of any outing was the return to our little place in San Pablo. Here we would be greeted by “our” wolf pack of six dogs who all wanted to show us they missed us more than the other dogs.

Our pets in Lake Atitlan

Our pets in Lake Atitlan

It is good to be popular! Our welcoming party was not just the dogs, but happy little children as well. Terry had started the practice of carrying a few candies in her pocket to give particularly cute kids. She of course was now a favorite, but would sometimes run out of sweets. The little ones knew that if she had been in Antigua, she would have gone to the market and there would be goodies.

After almost three weeks, we were sad to leave San Pablo, but anxious to see more. Where have you traveled that made you want to stay?

NOTE: The Offpeakers visited Guatemala in November 2015. Guatemala was the third stop in their five month 10 country Latin America adventure.

Lake Atitlan Guatemala

The world would be a nicer place if we were all able to regularly use hammocks.  For a lot of North Americans, hammocks are just background scenery in beer commercials or hazards portrayed in slapstick comedies.  I have found hammocks, when used correctly, are a magic carpet ride to relaxation, peace, and maybe a little tropical wisdom.

We enjoyed our his & hers hammock

We enjoyed our  his & hers hammock

The hammock itself is not that important, they are all somewhat similar, but the location is key.   Successful hammock enjoyment requires warm weather, a shady spot, interesting background, and handy tropical refreshments.  Relaxing music, like minded company, and a good lazy dog all make excellent companions.

 

Beautiful and mesmerizing lake Atitlan.

Beautiful and mesmerizing Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan, a large lake in the Guatemalan highlands, is a perfect place to encounter, master, and enjoy the hammock.  Picturesque beyond description, the lake is situated a mile high in elevation deep within a collapsed volcanic crater.  Subsequent activity has elevated three newer volcanoes surrounding the lake, one of which is active.  The elevation and cool breezes moderate what would otherwise be a brutal heat.  Our setting is a small but well appointed cottage in a coffee field bordered by towering banana and avocado trees.

A sampling of the birds we see everyday

A sampling of the birds we would regularly see.

We have a large covered porch that houses table and chairs, two hammocks (thank God or there would have been battles), and anywhere up to six large dogs.  There is an epic view across the lake to the San Pedro Volcano, and around us are coffee plants, flowers, and a multitude of gorgeous birds.  This is a rich, indulgent life.  Extravagant hotels and rentals can be found around the lake, especially in the more populated villages.  But you do not have to be rich to enjoy this life.  At $21 a day for lodging and a little more for the simple but fabulous food items from the local markets it is a wonderful Offpeaker way to see a new part of the world and base your Lake Atitlan adventures.

A few of our home prepared meals

A few of our home prepared meals, no wonder we didn’t loose weight, we ate like royalty!

Lake Atitlan is surrounded by over a dozen villages, ranging from sizable towns with thriving tourist accommodations to tiny sleepy villages where you may be the only outsider. The more popular villages have their own reputation and cater to differing crowds. Panajachel is the most visited and the tourist transportation hub. San Pedro is the favorite with backpackers and those looking for a more active night life. San Marcos populated with yoga studios, a health food store, and meditation classes.

That street is uphill...seems like they all were.

That street is uphill…seems like they all were.

Located a brisk thirty-five minute walk away (25 if you are a Weaver!) is the town of San Pablo, our temporary home. San Pablo is really unknown to other tourists. We chose this from an Airbnb ad with beautiful pictures, a couple of strong reviews, and the aforementioned affordable price. There is not a complete road network surrounding the lake. Most intercity travel is accomplished with small ferries that transit the lake, holding 12-15 people (optimally) or 20-35 if the captains get lucky.

 

 

Tuk tuk is spacious

The tuk tuk is spacious for 2 people and their baggages. Usually someone rides by the driver side too.

The towns that are connected by road are serviced by tuk-tuks.  These are the local taxis, three wheeled under powered cycles that cost $1-$3. We arrived in San Pablo from Antigua.  A ride on the chicken bus would have cost us $6 and taken 6 hours.  Our collectivo was $9 and took 3 hours.  It was a relief to arrive as our collectivo van had seen better days.  Our van had not only a driver but an assistant.  The assistant’s primary job was to continually pour additional water into the van’s coolant reservoir.  He started out the trip in Antigua with two 5 gallon buckets of water and had to stop twice to fill these up.

The road leading to our small town nestled near the lake.

The road leading to the small towns nestled near the lake.

Besides the hole in the cooling system, the brakes seemed to be on the edge of failure.  This was bothersome in the city, not noticeable on the freeway, but it reared its ugly head when the heavily loaded van began its descent down the steep switchbacks to the town along this crater lake.  The brakes squealed loudly as did the more vocal passengers.  The driver horsed the big rig around, cursing and honking energetically before each turn.  Right of way always goes to the almost out of control bus.  Gratefully the first stop along the lake was San Pablo.  It was time to find our home.

Initially life in our village was intimidating.  No big stores, no tourist infrastructure like we had seen in other stops.  No other gringos or even hotels to be seen.  Our host’s excellent directions gave us an idea on where to go and we eventually found his home, a large impressive compound just outside of town.  Stuart, a British expat, has built this place over the years with a craftsman hand.

Our bedroom simple, comfortable and surrounded by windows

Our bedroom simple, comfortable and surrounded by large windows facing the lake

The complex comprises a road side restaurant (not yet open), a nice home for his family, and the guest cottage all located on a steeply inclined parcel of coffee, banana, and avocado trees allowing an excellent view of the lake for all. The cottage is great with a nice kitchen and living room with the bedroom and wall size window upstairs.

The views are priceless! We sleep and wake-up to this view!

The views are priceless! We sleep and wake-up to this and chirping birds!

The bathroom has a custom tile job and the treat of a fantastic shower with plenty of hot water supplied by a solar heated tank. The real important place is the patio on the side of the house. This is where we eat, bird watch, and overlook the lake and volcano from the addictively comfortable hammocks.

It's always a good time to be in a hammock.

It’s always a good time to be in a hammock.

Our arrival was punctuated by barks, growls, and howls. A roving mass of six guard dogs of varying size but equally exuberant attitude engulf us.  Outwardly fierce, we are quickly acknowledged as friends.  Over the next 17 days these beautiful animals found their way into our hearts.  Loud and rambunctious, these overgrown pups would clamor from one side of the property to the other to bark and chase at passersby.  We would share a smile and say, “there go our boys!”

Six well-behave dogs.

The six well-behaved dogs love to hang out with John in the porch

Terry includes them in evening plans, where she would bring out treats for all and make six equal portions, making them wait until her cue until they could eat in unison.  As cute as the dogs are, even more so were the host’s adorable and active kids.  These smart and friendly kids were busy with a variety of chores.

Green coffee beans.

Green coffee beans.

The primary chore was picking the coffee beans.  Coffee looks very much like a cherry on the plant.  These turn from green to a deep red as they mature.  It is best if the bean is completely red but not overripe when picked.  Daily the kids would go through the plants and see if the beans that were close the previous day were now ready.

The red ones, like a cranberry are ready for picking.

The ones with a uniform red color, almost red like a cranberry are ready for picking.

It is hard work, made more difficult in the hot sun and steep terrain.  It is amazing how affordable even our premium brands of coffee are when you factor in the significant labor, processing, and transportation that is required to get it in our stores.  Being curious about the process, we volunteered to help one day.  We were slow, and not selective enough between ripe and almost ripe.  Our big contribution was having the kids over that night for S’mores around the campfire and some intense Uno games.

It's fun for the first 13 minutes then it's hard work.

It’s fun for the first 13 minutes then it’s hard work.

By the time we arrived in Lake Atitlan we had been on the road for nearly a month.  We were becoming a little more comfortable with trying our crude Spanish.  It became a fun challenge to work through the open air markets to gather food.

They're only available for a day so they're always fresh

Meat is only available for a day so it is always fresh

Fresh pork or beef was available once or twice a week when an animal was butchered by the road side and portioned out.  Terry would get us meat to grill and then bones to crack and use in soup.  She impressively communicated what cuts she wanted or managed to get her ideas across.  Resourcefulness and self reliance was necessary as the only restaurants in town were two food stands with variable hours and disappointing results.  Primarily we enjoyed the beautiful fruit and vegetables grown locally.

Local trees loaded with fruit but nowhere to be found in the market.

Local avocado trees loaded with fruit but nowhere to be found in the market.

We would often see trucks carrying workers go through town in the early morning Much later in the day, the trucks would labor past heavily loaded with bags of avocados. The Offpeakers love avocados and we would seek them out in the market. Curiously we could not find them. When we asked, we were repeatedly told that people don’t like them here. So we did our best to create new demand.

Jose our fav fruit & veggie monger

Jose our fav fresh eggs, fruit & veggie monger

Our favorite fruit vendor was Jose, who had a wonderful stand in San Marcos. He would expressively describe the wonderful attributes of all his fruit. “Dulce and con much jugo” (sweet and very juicy) were commonly but accurately ascribed to his wares. We would not only venture around for food.

About an hour away is the town of San Juan

About an hour walk from San Pablo is the town of San Juan

San Juan was an hour long walk the opposite direction of San Marcos. San Juan has a thriving craft and art community. There is a cooperative for women that takes home made weavings and handicrafts and helps find a market. Beautiful workmanship could be purchased for just a few dollars.

If we go back San Juan would a fun place to stay

If we go back to Atitlan area, we might stay at San Juan

A lady we befriended in San Pablo is a participant in the cooperative. She runs a small store and while in between customers, she does needle work for baby shoes. Terry did buy a small coin purse. With our small backpacks, we just could not get any more of the interesting and affordable creations.

Handsome and cheap

Handsome Offpeaker getting an offpeaker priced haircut

I also took the opportunity to get a haircut. I don’t know if I will ever get a better deal than the 70 cent equivalent I was charged, but it is a shame to know that a man can get such a cheap hair cut and not look any less handsome.

We had a few memorable outings while at Atitlan, and we will share those in another post. Share your hammock memories and adventures with us below!

 

NOTE: The Offpeakers visited Guatemala in November 2015. Guatemala was the third stop in their five month 10 country Latin America adventure. 

Lake Crescent

When the Offpeakers asked around for fun places to visit near our new home in Port Angeles, Washington, Lake Crescent was mentioned several times.  On a bright morning we drove 17 miles west on Highway 101 to see for ourselves.

Wow! Crescent lake is so beautiful!

Wow! Lake Crescent is so beautiful! Crystal clear cold water.

Lake Crescent is a deep vivid blue reminiscent of Caribbean Ocean water. The color is due to a lack of nitrogen that prevents the growth of algae that obscures other lakes. Crescent is large with a length of 12 miles and surface area of 5,000 acres as well as being one of the deepest lakes in Washington state.

Flowery fields by the visitor center.

Flowery field by the Lake Crescent Storm King visitor center.

This Olympic National Park lake is popular with boaters and kayakers. People drop in for a snapshot and linger, walking along the shore and going out on the pier to marvel at the clear water.

The water is so clear, we can see the bottom.

The water is so clear, we can see the bottom.

Our primary interest was the network of hiking trails leading from the lake. Our first trail was an easy but beautiful hike to Marymere Falls.

Beautiful trail leading to the falls

Beautiful trail leading to the waterfalls

A fast two mile trek, the Marymere Falls trail is one of the most well traveled paths in the region. The trail begins at the Storm King Ranger Stations, skirts the lake, ducks under the highway, and then takes you back in time. Huge moss covered trees and ferns remind you of the heavy rainfall this area receives.

Easy to imagine the time when dinosaur roam in the surroundings

Easy to imagine the time when the dinosaurs roam inside the ancient forest

The air is cool and heavy. The trail beckons you but there is so much to see in all directions. The more adventurous can branch off to other longer trails (Barnes Creek, Storm King), but we wanted to see Falls Creek plummet down its granite course.

One of the bridge leading up to the falls

One of the bridge leading up to the falls

A couple of fun bridges (you can alternatively bound from rock to rock if you choose) later and it is time for a brief ascent up switch backs and stairs. The payoff is a gentle but pleasing 90 foot high cascade.

We made it to the waterfalls

Climbing to the higher viewing area provides more exercise but a poorer photo opportunity. Now that this goal was achieved, we quickly followed the same route back to find our next adventure. We loved the hike and recommend that you include it in your Olympic National Park visit.

Paved bike path near the trail head.

Paved bike path near the trail head.

With this as a warm up, the Subaru took us to the east side of the lake’s East Beach Road in order to hike the Spruce Railroad Trail. The Spruce Railroad trail skirts the northern edge of Lake Crescent. This trail primarily follows the route of a railroad line worked on during World War I. This line was intended to open up new areas of spruce to log to support the war effort. Fortunately the war was ended before the route was fully complete, saving the forest but wasting all the hard work of the construction crews.

The trail

Step lightly Offpeaker!

The workers had even nearly finished a large tunnel through solid rock. While the work did not result in a usable rail line, it has evolved into a nice hiking path. The trail is an easy 8 mile round trip. As this was a railroad grade, there are few hills. The first people we saw on the trail were mountain bikers, followed by people with happy dogs. Several spots on the well groomed route accessed sandy beaches on Lake Crescent.

Near the area where we saw people swimming the frigid waters

Area where we saw people swimming the frigid waters

Just as we were wondering if the water was too cold for bathers, an impressive group of athletes appeared swimming smartly. Dressed in wet suits, this appears to be a normal occurrence as we saw two other (admittedly less rigorous) groups of swimmers.

Devil's punch bridge, we saw 2 people jumping off the cliff!

Devil’s punch bowl is to the right of the bridge, we saw people jumping off the cliff!

Further on, we crossed over a steel bridge next to the Devil’s Punch Bowl. Our timing was perfect as we saw a young lady scale the rock cliff along the lake and, after a big of preparation, jump at least 25 feet down into the mesmerizing blue water. As maybe expected, she surfaced sputtering “COLD!!!!” amid our applause. On our return, a motorboat full of anxious swimmers arrived and tied up at this popular point. Our hike continued. The tall timber shaded us from much of the direct sun.

We almost missed it.

We almost missed this impressive tunnel.

We almost walked right past the tunnel. It is nearly closed on the leading side and situated well above the foot path. A quick scramble got us a the edge of the tunnel and we just had to walk through it on the jumble of fallen rock and remnants of timbers. Much manual labor was expended for this relic. We cheered their achievement and our joy to be enjoying this beautiful area.

Beautiful trail from beginning to end

It’s  a scenic and fun trail from beginning to end

Overall the hike was fun and scenic, just as advertised. If we get active with our bikes this will be one of the early off road trails we will enjoy owing to its gentle grade, proximity to Port Angeles, and fun scenery. Hiking these Olympic Peninsula trails is great to get exercise and enjoy the outdoors. What are some of your favorite hiking areas? Share them with us, we promise not to litter!

Dungeness Spit

A record setting spit can brighten anyone’s Independence Day.  The Offpeaker’s Fourth of July centered around an 11 mile hike on the Dungeness Spit here on the northern edge of the Olympic Peninsula.

Caption here

Sure it’s only 5 miles each way! but nobody mentioned the stones!!

Yes, we are now in the beautiful Pacific Northwest!  If you have visited the area and love the great outdoors, you will understand why.  The Dungeness Spit, named by explorer George Vancouver, is the longest spit (a deposition sand bar or beach found off coasts) in North America.

At the start of the hike...wait, where's the lighthouse?

At the start of the hike…wait, where’s the lighthouse?

The Dungeness National Wildlife refuge contains the spit among its 770 acre holding just outside Sequim, Washington.  The refuge is home to more than 250 species of birds, 41 species of land mammals, a harbor seal birthing area, excellent infrastructure, an operational 1857 lighthouse, and a near constant powerful wind.  This wind, varying in strength from strong to wicked, was our hiking partner the entire day.

You can tell by the smiles that this is at the beginning of the hike :-)

Still smiling so this must be at the beginning of the hike 🙂

Our hike along the spit to the lighthouse would be 11 miles long including the return. The entrance fee is $3, which was waived as we are proud holders of a National Park Service Interagency Annual Pass. For $80, we get 12 months access to more than 2,000 sites governed by 5 federal agencies.

Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?

Now that the Olympic National Park is our new back yard, we needed affordable long term access. An early start was chosen to beat the holiday crowds. With a packed lunch and cameras, we hit the trail. The first half mile goes through heavy ferns and old growth cedar and spruce.

The heavily wooded path to the trail

The heavily wooded path that leads to the spit.

If you don’t have time for the full hike, you will enjoy the short walk and view from a nice platform over the beach. Our arrival coincided with low tide, so we had the maximum width of the spit (maybe 40 yards?) to travel.

The shore birds

Shore birds resting on huge tree stumps.

After the initial mile, hikers have to stay on the north side of the spit, leaving the south side for the many shore birds. We were impressed by the huge stumps and logs that had blown up on the spit. A few imprints in the sand and two cars in the parking lot told us we were not the first on the trail today.

Park ranger ATV bringing supplies to the lighhouse

Park ranger ATV bringing supplies to the light house and a container ship in the background.

A lone ATV passed us, taking supplies to the light house. We were walking along the Strait of San Juan de Fuca. Occasionally we saw large boat traffic heading for Seattle/Bremerton including container and cruise ships. Not many interesting shells to be found, but lots of well polished interesting stones.

John don't want these so T just made a cairn. Not as good as Matt's.

John didn’t want these rocks in his pocket so T just made a cairn. Not as good as Matt’s.

Terry excels at finding the rocks, John is judged to be the better carrier.  Orcas and seals are routinely spotted, we did not encounter any on this day. Although the walk was flat, it was a bit hard on the legs with spots of soft sand and shifting rocks.  About three and half miles in we rounded a long curve in the route and saw the distant light house.

Ya, there is a light house!

Yay, there is a light house!

This encouraged us to speed up and achieve our goal. Hikers are welcomed at the site with potable water, restrooms, and a nice picnic area. The Offpeakers took the opportunity to enjoy sandwiches and empty our boots of sand.

Great spot for a picnic!

Great spot for a picnic!

Although mostly overcast, it made the day special to enjoy the meal under our Stars and Stripes surrounded by coast and the light house structures. The New Dungeness Light House is not very new, having been activated in December of 1857. The Coast Guard removed its personnel in the early 1990’s. Staffing was resumed by a volunteer organization from Sequim.

In front of the light house

In front of the light house, feeling patriotic on Independence Day!

The volunteers maintain the site and host tours. We enjoyed the climb up the tower, but were disappointed that only the official volunteers are allowed out on the cat walk. We did get a nice (and warm) view from the interior of the tower. The old lamp and surrounding trim and railings are just some of the brass that needs continual polishing. If you sign up, you can experience a week long stint as a lighthouse keeper.

The small museum & light house behind us

The small museum & light house behind us

It is not cheap ($375), as the funds go towards conservation of the site. While we probably won’t be marooning ourselves here for seven days anytime in the future, we are grateful to those that do that allow our visit. Refreshed, we prepared to return to the mainland. Instead of warming up, the increasing wind had made it quite cold.

There are more hikers coming and going on our way back

There are more hikers coming and going on our way back

A fast pace (like yours Irena!) soon had us warmed up, where we could share greetings with the inbound hikers. As we search for an apartment to be the Offpeaker World Headquarters in the Peninsula while we go to school, we are enjoying putting downtime into fun outdoor activities. So far we love the area and we will share the special places we encounter. How did you spend your Fourth of July? Do you have a favorite lighthouse? Share with us in the comments below!

Semuc Champey

I think all of us travelers love to see special places, and we enjoy them more if they are not inundated by others. When a site is a little harder to get to, it does not fit into a cruise ship day trip agenda or for people looking a quick visit. Semuc Champey is a unique and interesting view and an energizing swim 8-10 hours from other popular sites. This, like cold Montana winters, keeps out much of the riff raff!

View from the Mirador

The mini-waterfalls and pools of Semuc Champey. This view is from the Mirador

Semuc Champey, a Guatemalan National Monument, is a 300 meter long limestone bridge that covers the Cahabon River. Vivid turquoise water tumbles over the limestone, forming cascading pools set in a verdant jungle. Stunning to view, and even better this place is a natural water park.

The Offpeakers came to the Monument from our stay near Tikal. The 10 hour bus ride allowed us to visit a bit with the other occupants, a couple from France and another from Spain. Surprisingly, we were all over 40, a rarity in the youth dominated traveler scene in Guatemala.

Beautiful lush mountains on our way to Lanquin

Beautiful mountains & rolling hills on our way to Lanquin

The ride through the rolling hills was enjoyable, banana farms and small pastures hacked into thick forests. A brief stop in Copan allowed us to enjoy a late lunch, then two hours to Lanquin. The last 45 minutes over dirt roads was jarring as the vans struts had given up all resistance long ago. Showing up like a James Bond martini (shaken) we arrived in Lanquin, which had the vibe of an old west town.

Natives waiting for their collectivos

Natives with their supplies waiting for their collectivos

Natives were in town buying supplies ranging from groceries, chicks, feed, and fencing supplies. Reservations had been made with the hostel Gringos, and we saw a large truck with their logo parked by the main intersection. We met Golan, who we later were to find out was the owner and founder of Gringos. Golan is an interesting and welcoming host, in his own manner. He has the chiseled good looks, dark glasses and swagger of a bad guy from the Transporter movies. Golan, a native of Isreal, confidently handles a succession of business calls in a variety of languages. As we wait for another bus to arrive before we continue the last half hour to the hotel, we enjoy people watching and seeing Golan hold court.

That's our ride to the hotel. B-U-M-P-Y

That’s our ride. B-U-M-P-Y

Travelers are warned to keep an eye our luggage. This is difficult as we are crammed in the truck out of the sun, our bags are in the back with strangers. Craning around to glance through a small vent, it is a relief to finally head for the hostel which is a short walk from Semuc Champey. The road into Lanquin was a great foretelling of the next 30 minutes. While it is interesting to see the small farm holdings along the river, it is a rough ride. Eventually we do cross the Cohabon River, just before dark. The truck parks 150 yards from the Hostel’s compound. Our greeting committee are three adorable kids wanting to sell us locally made chocolate. I buy two from the little girl who bravely approaches. I soon find out two things: 1) the candy is terrible 2) The normal price is half what I paid. Two dollars poorer, but maybe a little smarter, we follow the path to Gringos.

Some of the pets at Gringos

Some of the happy pets at Gringos

What a neat place! Bright colors, fun music, and friendly people. Now here the natural order had returned and we are Old Timers, but everyone is so welcoming it does not matter. There are friendly travelers from most continents and the hostel’s own cats and dogs looking for love and attention.

Colorful A frame cottages

Colorful A frame cottages.

Our room is up a steep ladder at the top of an A-frame cabin. Very basic, but very comfortable and fun. Power is only available from 8 AM to 10 PM, all provided by generators. Our hungry stomachs lead us to the dining room for a great dinner of a shared Fried Rice platter and Gallo beer.

Volleyball court surrounded by tropical plants & trees

Volleyball court, ping-pong table, hammocks surrounded by tropical plants and Guatemalan mountain. So peaceful & heavenly.

Later we play beach volleyball and meet more of the other guests, signing up for the early morning tour of Semuc Champey. Eventually we head back to our room, ahead of the partying youngsters, intent to be ready for our upcoming adventure.

We start with a short hike to the park. Good walking sandals are a must.

We start with a short hike to the park. Good all-terrain walking sandals/shoes are a must.

The next morning is bright and beautiful. A good breakfast and strong local coffee has us alert and ready to join our guide. Guides are required to ensure safety from the occasional robberies we have read about at the site. Our guide is Esteban is a young man with excellent English who grew up in the area. We are joined by a young college couple from Washington DC. Quickly we cover the ¼ mile walk to the Monument.

Entrance to the park

Entrance to the park, lots of natives at the entrance.

Here we encounter a closed barrier and a large group. Esteban has a brief conversation in whispered Spanish and then tells us he can’t continue. Apparently local leaders are upset that the park administrators are not providing enough economic opportunities and have lobbied to close the park. It seems our guide is honoring the picket line. Esteban assures us he will refund our money to the hostel. We can enter the park to swim in the pool, but he says it would be too dangerous to hike to the overlook on our own. After a quick conference, the four of us decide to proceed, after all we put in some hard travel to get here. We push our way through some glum but not dangerous looking people and follow arrows down a path.

Path up to the river and hiking trail

Scenic and cool jungle path leading us to the river and hiking trail

Whatever the circumstances, traveling down a jungle path with new friends is fun and exciting. It is scenic and we are alert to our surroundings even more than would be normal due to the warning of bandits. The first person we see is a tiny Asian girl whom we cannot communicate with at all, but she falls in with us. Ten minutes later we see the first pool! Just the most intense color of blue. We travel to the upstream terminus, seeing many local kids enjoying the various pools.

Natural pools and waterfalls of Semuc

Natural clear pools and waterfalls of Semuc

Semuc Champey is a course of pools on a natural bridge. Start at the top of the bridge and follow its course as successive layers drop into pools. Take 4-8 foot plunges to the next layer or search and find polished smooth rock slides to zoom to the next pool. Large exotic trees and bushes line the edge, followed by steep cliffs. See large fish swim around you in the cool water that is so welcoming in the jungle heat. A little apprehensive? Follow the local kids as they bravely show off and enjoy this natural treasure.

Gringo enjoying the cool waters of the natural pool in the middle of jungle.

Gringo enjoying the cool waters of the natural pool in the middle of jungle.

The common language around the water is laughter.  The water feels great and we have fun in the top few levels.  After 30 minutes in the water, we see familiar faces, the French couple from yesterday’s van ride.  They had just climbed to the overlook (Mirador) with a guide from their hotel who crossed the picket line. This enterprising man offered to take us up as well for a price. Our quick agreement and $5 each get us moving up the mountain.  The guide is 19 years old and fast.  He is wearing a pair of slick bottomed dress shoes, but he moves like a mountain goat.

Hike up to the Mirador

Hike up to the Mirador (lookout), easy at first then it turn muddy and steep.

Our college age friends keep close to him, we fall behind. Twice they pause for us, waiting for us to almost catch up, and take off.  Forty-five minutes later we arrive at the look out.  Yes we are tired and hot, but boy was it worth it.  Below us the pools seem more like a surreal painting or jewelry rather than a body of water we were frolicking in just a short time before.

Sweaty and tired but so happy to made itto the top!

Sweaty and tired but so happy to made it to the top!

Refreshed by the view and some oranges we buy from an old lady who apparently lives nearby, we then charge down the path that is gratefully bandit free.  Back at the water our sweaty bodies plunge into the water.  With increasing bravery we dive and slide our way to where the river reappears. Such a memorable day, only slightly marred when John cracks a crown jumping from the road bridge into the river below. Not 25 anymore, but sometimes we can pretend and even fake it!

John again! He forgot to take a picture of me :(

John again! He was having so much fun that he forgot to take a picture of me in the water 🙁

A beautiful time at a memorable place.  Just a wonderful lively vibe where everyone gathers back at the hostel in the evening with excited versions of the days events.  What better way to share adventures than with the one you love and new traveler friends!

Have you had a similar experience? Did you discover a destination that you worked hard to achieve? Tell us about your special spot in the wild.

NOTE: The Offpeakers visited Guatemala in November 2015. Guatemala was the third stop in their five month 10 country Latin America adventure. 

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