I am cycling to raise money for the fantastic UK based chaity Macmillan Cancer Support. Big thanks to everyone who has sponsored me so far! Justgiving is a quick, easy and secure way to donate online. See my other fundraising page, specific to the Macmillan organized part of the trip

Sunday, 19 September 2010

lovely lostness in lanquin

Wow, such a long time since I was last online, have been happily lost in the valley of Lanquin for the last month, painting again yay, and slowing down to a lovely even deeper level of peacefulness, camping under the shade and rain shelter of the trees alongside the river that sweeps through past El Retiro hostel, where the heavy afternoon rains and dodgy electricity make it virtually impossible to get online, great to be free of the web, apart from worrying the couple of folk back home who seemed to think I´d disappeared completely! The toilet door quote from where the wild things live fits perfectly (correct title han lily amelie?).
and second wow, what a lot of things have passed in this last month where to start, maybe with a list again seeing as there's been so many new things I don´t know where to start and yet at the same time how slow lazy and relaxing life has felt...
so hmm, newness, new things...

loads of new people for sure, especially Israelis who made up about 80% of the hotel guests and was fascinating experience for me to learn a bit about their country... for example how they have compulsory national service for men 3 years and women 2 years and they are proud to do it... also that an Israeli stamp in the passport means you cannot travel in Muslim countries so many people choose not to stamp it. Along with the Israelis El Retiro is a really busy hostel in general, each day from about 4pm on confused backpackers spill out from shuttle buses and are bombarded with cries of all the hostel choices, a cattle market Josue the bar manager calls it. Many of them filter into El Retiro, and the majority are gone in a day or two after doing the tours to the famous Semuc Champey pools and caves. But then you get the longer term folk, the artisans and slow travelers like me (! after tumbling into Lanquin (me and panniers came flying off Peggy on the rocky downhill , and with three punctures on the back tire and a bleeding elbow I took a lift for the final 5km into the village, propped up on top of a pile of sacks in the back of the truck with some very amused but also sympathetic local folk!)

so after that dramatic entrance the first person I met was German artisan Verena (who I´d seen in Antigua when I met her ex Larry who was trying to hook me up with painting a mural there) . Verena is an inspiration, shes been traveling in the Mayan world for 5 years, between Mexico and Guatemala, living from her beautiful jewelry. She read me my Mexican Mayan sign, which turns out to be different to the destroying houses one, in this I am Akbal, night, and apparently my guide is also Akbal night, meaning that I lead myself... perhaps why I am ok about coming off on my own on a trip like this, perhaps also why I find it so hard to make decisions and go round in confused circles sometimes?! Along with Verena I met her little trilingual-in-learning 3 year old son Juni, otherwise known as Mowgli for his confidence in nature espenially in the river, he became a good playmate, always up for a swim, him in his mismatched patched orange and blue swimwings, we´d float down the river fropm the mini ´beach´Verena had cleaned up down to the more obvious bay, often to shocked looks from other tourists who´d still be debating as adults whether it was safe enough to enter the river at all.

Then there was Jane, the filmmaker from New York working behind the bar who celebrated her birthday while we there and taught me a satisfyingly new version of rummy, and we chatted about the art of being mindful. Not rushing, taking the time to feel and experience everything you do rather than rushing through every action. A really interesting chat that seemed to have a big impact on me. Lying under the tree branches feeling the breeze, listening to the sounds of the workers hammering away and calling to one another building the new bar, hearing the river, feeling the squelch of the cold mud betweeen your toes, feeling the chill of the water slide over your skin as you enter the river slowly slowly in the sweaty heat of the day. Seems so simple but I think coming from such speedy cities (London, New York) where we try to cram so many things into one day that multitasking is a way of life and by the time it comes to bedtime we are on such full speed from the day it is hard to sleep, to be mindful and do things one by one and take the time to appreciate and really experience them has been something new for both me and Jane in this trip

Milan is another artesan, originally from Montenegro, meeting him I learnt another little piece of European history, since I hadn´t known of the country before. He´s been travelling in Latin America for 10 years, and inspired me with his tale of camping on one of the tiny 3 family San Blas islands off the coast of Panama for a month. According to Johnny Milan speaks like an Argentinian, and a few weeks after Milan had left Argentinain Sebastian turned up on a bike and proved Johnny right, the accent and intonation was the same. Another artesan, who already knew Milan and Verena, Sebastian gave me my first taste of matee, a relaxing Argentinian tea, and got my feet itchy to move again when he left a week before me heading for the coast. I was also re-inspired on the cycling front by a cool couple from LA, bike couriers who had come down to race in Panahacel on bikes they'd built themselves then gave to local kids with talent, they were also amazing graffiti artists back home, I was left gobsmacked by the photos Marcius showed me on his i-phone, and itchy fingered to learn spray can when I get home.

new paintings and language; lots of munkey, fish and frog bubbles, flad insect tubes and water eagles...the reason I ended up staying at El Retiro so long was that I got work (paid plus free camping, wicked) decorating the bathrooms and toilets behind reception. I worked with Johnny after he came from Coban a few days after me. Being around day in and day out we gradually got to know the local workers, who work incredibly long hours maintinag the hostel and its rambling grounds. They are mainly Mayans and speak Quechi between themselves so I took the opportunity to ask Alex to try and teach me a few words, although to me the language is very very hard... based in unfamiliar click sounds. I did manage to learn two phrases, masa ak chol (how are you?) and us bantiosh (fine thanks) which made some of them laugh when I tried using it.

more newness... new games...Verena was up for learning poy and Johnny used to do fire spinnning so got us started with our home-made-from-hakky-sacs-poy and then a few different folk passed through who gave us extra tips, Aussie Nigel showed me how to use the juggling clubs to practise the wrist movements without the whacking yourself in the head part and Julio from the bar was pretty nifty too; in the last week a lovely family turned up and the dad, Daniel, who was also a juggler, strung up a tightrope (interestingly in Spanish the word for this is the opposite, cuerda floca, loose rope) between a couple of trees and we gave it a go... I've got to admit the only way of either me or Verena getting across was by holding the other´s hand for balance

and more playing... vine swinging in the river... once I´d made sure my bikini was tied on tightly enough to resist the strong current (I saw one girl loose hers completely and many others stuggle to keep theirs on) I was able to make it across the rope that spans the river and up into a u-shaped hanging vine to surf the water; tubing, or branch dodging in big rubber rings floating down the river.. I didn´t do so well on the branch dodging part, Benmjamin, worker, guide friend and hostel clown found it very funny.

What else? More parades and costumes, one that I saw and another that I missed for the day of Central American independence on 15th September. Walking up the long steep slow hill to the town centre and Comdor Semuc the evening before for food we saw a lot of kids with flame torches, apparently one flame is carried all the 60km way from Coban to Langquin, and then the 30km further to Cabon in a relay.

Hmm.. and what else? Walked to the famous pools of Semuc Champey within a day or two of arriving, a good couple of hours or more and then up to the mirador to look down at the pools, a hugely sweaty and beautiful for the eyes exertion that made jumping into the water of the natural pools very welcome. In this last week I´ve joined up with the tours to the caves: the exhilarating water filled ones at Semuc that you pass through carrying a simple wax candle, at some points swimming one handed, at others jumping from a rock or crawling round a waterfall;

and the mud and batpoo filled ones in Lanquin itself which Macca took us through, where you get to oogle odd forms in the rocks (like cloud gazing except because there are signs for the oraganised tours and artificial light I reckon it might have been better with only a couple of folk and torch to really let the imagination fly) and then watch hundreds of bats fly out into the night. It seems surprising that they come so close but without touching you at all, though because of echolocation I suppose its not unexpexcted. Back at the hostel I´d noticed it hanging onto the rope over the river at sunset one night cooling off between sauna sessions (had my first proper saunsa experience here, if you dont count the volcano steam in El Salvador, and its fantastic in a glass-bottle-wall hut on the edge of the river, and apparently I like it hot!)

The bats are also popular with one of the two sister cats who live at the hostel, she sits on the riverbank at night hunting them. Between the cats, the dogs and the ants it is difficult to keep any food for long camping. Even hung from a nail high up out of the way of the nasty biting fire ants the dogs will jump up to nick bread! This storing of food was a never-properly-solved issue for the month. (There was a lot more wildlife there that wasn´t involved in the food wars...beautiful butterflies, cockroaches and the occasional scorpion-looking-but-non-venomous alacrans, a snake behind the bathroom and lots of tiny lizards) The other camping related issue was navigating the mud... almost every afternoon the intense heat was followed by torrential rain and despite wooden-plank-paths and a entrance´mat´it was an acrobatic challenge trying to get into the tent at night in a clean way. For the final week or so I ended up sleeping every night in the hammock, strung up in my mini under-the-stairs home beneath some dorms where Peggy was keeping dry along with my stuff, reading by candlelight and from where I had a beautiful view of the changing colours of the sky whenever I´d wake during the night. Last night, my final sleep there, the moon was on its way top being full again, leaving the grounds well lit and the sky tinted velvety navy.

After a lot of debate and info collecting about the rockiness of the different road options to get out of Lanquin I ended up taking a collectivo this morning all the way back to Coban to restart my cycling route from there. I have eased back into the saddle with a very short day, about 30km, arriving in Tactic to a busy market and an unusual statue of a scholar and teacher in the Central square. It started raining as soon as I´d emerged from the hospedaje, so I´ve been sat here catching up on the world of the net ever since, a real contrast to the earthy-watery-grassy world of Lanquin. I am headed towards Rio Dulce and Livingston on the Carribean coast to stamp my passport seeing as my 90 day visa for Guatemala ran out 7 days ago... the 10q (about 1 pound) a day fines are adding up, but the cash I made doing a couple of logos for the hostel in my last days there should cover it as long as there are no back hander dodgy fines on top... fingers crossed. For now I´ll enjoy getting back into a rythym with Peggy... yay!

big love x
(will put more photos up soon)

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