Week of November 30, 2003
After Tikal, we found a wonderful little town called Flores to stay the night. Flores is built on an island on Lago De Peten Itza and squeezes in about 2000 inhabitants. It is thought to have been one of the last major functioning Mayan ceremonial centers as it was not overtaken by the Spanish until the late 1600's. Unfortunately, all the pyramids, temples, idols, etc. were destroyed as the Spanish soldiers thought these to be representative of "pagan" creations.
From Flores, we decided to check out a recommended place called Finca Ixobel. What a wonderful place! It is a combination youth hostel and eco-tour center. Accommodations range from basic camping to open-air huts to dorm rooms to private bungalows. Finca Ixobel is situated on 400 acres where a well-fed spring meanders through and the horses wander freely. Much of the restaurant's food is cultivated from the finca and nearby farms and the "hostel" itself is run primarily by volunteers. If you speak English and Spanish, volunteer opportunities may be available for free room and board.
I wanted to stay at the Finca Ixobel because of their famed cave trek which includes body surfing/swimming through the cave. Well, we excitedly signed up for the trek and we now know what it is really like to be to hell and back. The supposed six-hour tour stretched into a nine-hour treacherous slosh through ankle-deep mud - you know the type of mud, that which makes that pleasant sucking sound each time you have to extricate your lower limbs from the quagmire.
Not to mention the last 200 feet of a steep slope that was extremely slick and was marked by many a butt that inadvertently found their way to the mud. Unfortunately, my knee was rebelling and my shoes became useless, so I scrabbled down the last 200 feet barefoot by clutching Gerson's arm (and whining very appreciably). Of course, once we all collapsed on the rocks at the entrance to the cavern, we forgot (almost) about the horrible previous hours and looked forward to the "stroll" through the underground river.
Now, to back up a tad, along our path, we ran into some locals that were trying to separate their Land Rover from the mud. When a 4x4 is buried in the mud, you know the conditions are not conducive to travel. With the several locals, the muscle of our group and some excellent driving by a certain author of this website, we finally tore the Land Rover from the mud's grip.
Ok, back to the cavern. We entered the temperate water and the view of the various limestone formations (stalactites, stalagmites, etc.) was fantastic. However, that enjoyment was soon dulled when we learned that we were going to trek one kilometer (.62 mile for you metric challenged) in and one kilometer back. Now add a swift current to combat, many hidden sharp rocks to slip on, several river crossings to knock you over, multiple rock faces to shimmy across, low overhangs to hit your head on and you have our next two hours of this adventure. All to be climaxed by climbing up onto a precarious limestone bridge over an underground waterfall and actually being able to jump the 25' down into the cool pool below.
Getting back to the finca was another exhausting three hours and made worse by the fact that we completed the last hour in complete darkness, but for a small headlamp that Gerson carried. We stumbled into the "hostel" with one thought - a hot shower (ok, two thoughts, a hot shower and a cold beer). (I will state that had the conditions been "drier", this trek would have been a definite highlight of our journey - so wait until the middle of the dry season, do not go at the beginning!).
We almost stayed another day but alas, we wanted to continue further into Guatemala and preserve our remarkable memories of Finca Ixobel intact as they were. Since we were heading south, we offered a ride to three travelers going in the same direction. We ended up staying together in Rio Dulce and enjoyed a cut-throat game of Mexican Train (a dominoes derivative).
Gerson could not pass up a chance to visit yet another ruin, so
off to Quirigua (Key-ree-gwa) to inspect some extraordinary intricately carved
stelae - gigantic sandstone monoliths up to 10.5 meters/30+ feet tall.