The Migrating Butterflies of Las Marias
Greetings from the land of the Quetzal after being incommunicado for so long! But my hiatus is well justified, having been absorbing the sun (sol) and soul of this natural paradise for the last couple weeks. Semuc Champey is a natural park 2 1/2 hours from Coban in central Guatemala by a mostly gravel and dirt road through one of the most stunningly beautiful areas I have ever seen (I know I say that every blog, but I really mean it this time!). And I have had some of the most memorable experiences of my life there.
After Antigua I had been contemplating my next move. I almost didn´t come here. I was debating either the pacific coast down at Monterrico or the forest in the highlands. Green Turtles or Green Trees? I know, tough life decisions. If you know me, you´ll have predicted that the trees called me once again. I almost always go for the trees. As fun as the beaches/playas are, they don´t have quite the same effects like the depths of the forest and ancient character of the mountains. My french friend Geraldine had been traveling around northern Guatemala and she had been to Semuc before and loved it. She was nostalgic, so we decided to meet up at Las Marias, the quaint little hospedaje with cabanas and hammocks along the Rio Cahabon.
The area has everything you need to do nothing (great verb I learned in spanish…huevonear, from huevo the word for egg, conjuring the image of a hen just sitting waiting to lay an egg) or for having fun.
The two main attractions are the pools/pozas and the Kan-ba caves. The multiple-layered turquoise pools are gorgeous and you can lounge around or swim or explore or jump off the side cliffs. If you have monkey bones you can also scale the tree overhanging one pool and jump from there.
The caves trump any I have been to before. Unlike many caves these are not lit up nor are there walkways. They are very primitive. You enter with only candles, wading in the river, and hope that the crazy-fun guide Maricio knows what he is doing. So we swim with one hand and with the other hold the candle above our heads, we climb a rope up through a waterfall, we slip and bang up our feet and thighs, we fall through a small tunnel through which water rushes and you can´t see anything but people disappearing but you go in the belief that you will survive because you have to. After a couple hours you reemerge from the caves at the top of a waterfall and then go down to swing over the river and then tube from the rapids coming out of the bottom of the pools back to Las Marias, jumping off the 25 foot bridge if you need more adrenaline. Not too bad for 30Q or $3.50!
Anybody reading this contemplating staying in Lanquin and going to the caves there, don´t. It is worth the effort (vale la pena) to go further on down towards Semuc. The Lanquin caves don´t compare. Here it is close and the walk is quiet and beautiful. You´ll see black and yellow birds and hear many more (of course, including the ubiqitous roosters).
Las Marias itself is a rustic little ¨resort¨. It has electricity only 4 hours a day in the evening from a gasoline generator. There is no internet or phone or hot water and the food is monotonous. The rooms are basic and in need of some basic small improvements. But despite all this (or because of all this!) it was a wonderfully magic place to huevonear.
I have met some amazing and dynamic people the last couple of weeks: Evie from Brazil under the laughing full moon who writes Portuguesa stories and thinks it is okay that I have drank so much rat milk and tells me there are 10,456 Manuels in Brazil; crazy-fun Sabina from Israel who asks what do the birds have? no, not hair but feathers; the masculine Israeli guy who pantomimed the feminine aerobic instructor–and he wasn´t even drunk; the Spanish guy Marcial and Spanish girl Belen who taught us the game Burro; chatting and playing cards with the soft-spoken intelligent anarchist hitchhikers from South Dakota and London; dancing with Greysi from the small town of Flores looking impossibly cute with her hat and the coconut gifts; passionate and expressive Juliane from Berlin with her japanese craziness, her loco¨kuta-kuta-pa¨ and her compilation of world body language including stick it up your ass in Turkish; the Montana guy who pantomined a dead possom; Hannah from Barcelona and Maine who shared a wonderfully profound quote in Catalan about love that changed my life; and also getting to know the Guatemalteco staff at Las Marias; soft-spoken Hugo who showed me how to eat chicle gum off the chicle tree and identify different birds and trees in the backyard of Las Marias (all 5.5 manzanas of it); Mateo with his funny laugh of an insane child when he gets excited playing spoons; Hermann the tatooed bus driver whose ‘wife’ is his bus for whom he just bought new shoes (tires); and of course Paco…poor, wonderful, terrible, tormented Paco, who will be the subject of my next book, the soft-spoken romantic Guatemalteco carpenter who keeps tarantulas and eats scorpion poison, who conquers the foreign girls with his easy charm and laugh while trying to conquer his sordid past that weighs so heavily in his heart. I will remember you all.
Mostly I have seen people just passing through, one stop, one flower, along their interesting lives and travels like migrating butterflies, but I have also seen humans learning from each other; I have witnessed hearts healed and have seen hearts bruised on the sharp rocks of disappointment. I have heard the sounds of dreams and true selves being born, some like a torrent rushing out of a cave into the light of day, others subtle like the swirling afternoon butterflies dancing to an unheard rhythm and others with wider movements like the bats that swoop in at dusk to catch the mosquitoes that fall from the sky with the cool evening air and yet still others that are like the melodious singsong of the local tinamu bird, still, evasive, but content.
I actually left a week ago to go back to Coban but then I was overwhelmed by the force of a stunning sunrise and of the clouds of dawn dancing in the valleys of the green mountains and decided to go back, so I immediately turned around and ended up spending another week playing andlounging on the edges of the posas.
But this is also when I began to discover the tainted tattered edges of paradise exposed, so I began pulling to see what I could find. It is not hard to fall in love with Guatemala, but there was something in the air about this place. But like all magic, it is not necessarily illusory, but it is temporary.
Thursday began with a sour taste in the air. By afternoon the excited black birds roamed from tree to tree restlessly. ¨That means a hard, dark rain,¨ I was told by Juan Carlos, one of the owner’s sons. ¨They know before anybody else.¨
I can´t really talk too much about this on here, but after these last couple days at Las Marias full of the drama of a telenovela and a final emotional and surreal night without sleep full of deaths, births, raindrops and revelations, I made myself climb out of there, with a lighter heart and soul but my back heavy with my pack and my mind heavy with the new wisdom attained after the dew of one too many mornings at marias, and jumped back onto the gringo trail.