Friday was my graduation day. Very weird to be done with school, and overall, the graduation was a little disappointing: normally we have lots of music and interesting presentations by graduates, but both of the guitar players weren't in attendance, so no music, and one of the more somber teachers started the ceremony before we were all ready, so we didn't even do any singing or anything WITHOUT guitars, which we certainly could have done. I was thinking about singing, but with no accompanyment, I didn't feel quite up to it, so I didn't. So it was all a little flat. My friend and most recent teacher said a number of very nice things when handing over my diploma, which was nice, and the coordinator gave me a t-shirt in recognition for all the translation and other help I've given around the school, which I had hoped for (the t-shirt, not necessarily the recognition, as I already knew it was appreciated).
We didn't stay late, since we were leaving early Saturday -- left Xela on the 8am bus to Guatemala, then caught the 12:15 bus to Cobán (with extremely good timing between buses, all in all), arriving in Coban about 5. The ride was very pretty -- I'd done about the first half of it on my way to Honduras, but then we headed north through a dry, deserty river valley, where it got HOT. I knew Cobán would be hotter than Xela, but I wasn't prepared for that! Fortunately, we then climbed out of the valley into cooler, green hills.
In Cobán, we got a hotel room in a gorgeous old mansion on the corner, had dinner at a nice place with interesting food, and hit the hay pretty early. Our hotel also was a tourist center running packages to Semuc Champey and the caves of Lanquín, and they were looking for 3 people to fill out a tour on Sunday -- how convenient! So we did that, and I'm glad we opted not to go the "we'll catch a bus" route, as it was a long day even with all the ride, etc, stuff arranged.
Semuc Champey was gorgeous -- the drive was about 2 1/2 hours, very foggy, but getting warmer as we descended into a green valley. At Semuc Champey, there are lovely blue pools in limestone, under which a river flows -- you can walk up slippery rocks to see where the river goes under. Pretty amazing. It turns out that the day before we were there, a 15 year old girl had drowned in one of the pools -- I'm glad we didn't know about that until AFTER going, and even gladder we went on Sunday and not Saturday.
The Grutas de Lanquín were also pretty amazing -- a huge cave system, most of which hasn't been explored, but we were able to go pretty far back. Lots of neat formations, and it's always interesting to get way into the earth like that. Apparently, it's neat to hang out there at nightfall when thousands of bats make their exit, but then you have to spend the night, and we already had a hotel :)
Monday, I slept until 10. It was delightful. Later, we went to Vivero Verapaz, an orchid nursery. The fellow who showed us around was very nice, and some of the flowers were really amazing! There was one variety with a particularly nice smell, and I wish I'd written down the name, darnit. Orchids are wild, for sure.
The big bummer of the time in Cobán is that my dad and I forgot our fleece jackets on the bus from Guate. It does solve my problem about whether or not I'll bring it back to the US or leave it here to free up space for purchases, though.
Tuesday, we had a leisurely breakfast, caught the 11am bus to Guatemala (yay for fancy pullmans with good a/c!), then a camioneta (chicken bus) from Guate to Antigua, where we were hustled (but not badly) by someone who showed us to a hotel that's nice, but a tad noisy. Hot water showers, though, so I'm content!
Today, we spent a long time trying to find a music museum which is not in the location where Lonely Planet says it is (that's the old location) nor the location where Rough Guide says it is (that's a private home. oops.) Fortunately, in our wandering, we ran into the owner of the museum, who told us how to get to it, so we did. Very cool, if a tad windy and dusty in some areas. We also toured a coffee museum and got to see some of the typical traje explained by region (although I've already seen a lot, so that was less exciting for me.) We did a "nature walk" which mostly wandered through coffee bushes. In neat news, the coffee berries were ripe, so I picked some, and we peeled and ate them. Very interesting. I'm wondering if it would be possible to grow a coffee plant in a house, just for novelty :)
Tomorrow, we meet my brother in Guatemala, and Friday, we're on to the lake for a few days. In the meantime, we battling what is likely to be giardia (okay, just one of us is battling it) and pondering our shopping strategies between the inconvenient placement of xmas and elections on the calendar (okay, just one of us is pondering shopping strategies).
It's an interesting challenge/adjustment to be travelling WITH people for a change. On the one hand, I have to consider other people's needs and desires in my plans. On the other, I don't have to do EVERY little thing myself. I'm surprised how difficult it's been to get used to. All you all waiting for me back in the states should probably thank my parents for breaking me into a more all-inclusive view of things before I head your way :)