Xela (pronounced Shela), come to find out, is the second largest city in Guatemala. I had no idea. As we hit the outskirts of the city, it quickly became busy and very industrial. The historic part of the city is actually very nice. It is much quieter (then the rest of the city), has a nice central park and plenty of things to see. The old buildings are quite different from those in Antigua. They haven’t been maintained as well and you get a lot of newer buildings in the mix. The streets are paved instead of the cobblestones of Antigua.
I had booked into, what looked like, a very nice, cozy hostel, Casa Seibel (9.5 – Hostel World / 9.1 Booking). It was right around the corner from central park and close to everything (except the bus terminal 🙁 ).
When I arrived, Jenny, the manager, showed me around. It was quite nice and the rooms were very comfortable. My dorm room had 6 or 7 beds. There was a very nice courtyard to sit outside and enjoy the flowers and sunshine. The kitchen was also well equipped.
Central park is bustling with people, the usual food vendors and lots of students. One thing that I hadn’t seen before was the mango flowers and there were several vendors who sold them. They are mangoes cut into flowers and topped with chili sauce. Very nice! Everyone should try one.
In the evenings, there are stalls with colorful umbrellas at the end of the park. They sell all types of food and drinks. In Xela, I noticed a bit of a change from other parts of Guatemala. They like their tacos, tostadas and enchiladas…. getting closer to Mexico, I guess? It was a nice change, as I was a bit tired of rice and beans or just beans and something. Every evening, I would go down and get one of the options and have a nice hot cup of, what tasted like, oats or barley, with chocolate, milk or plantain. It was a very nice way to warm up in the evening. (be warned, Xela can get very chilly in Jan and Feb!)
On my second day in Xela, I decided to go to the hot springs, Fuentes Georginas. The bus to Zunil left from right around the corner to Zunil, cost Q5 or $.75 and took about 20 minutes. Once you arrive at Zunil, there are tuk tuks that will take you up the mountain.
They asked for Q50, but I was able to bargain them down to Q40 ($5.50). The total trip up took about 20 minutes and was a beautiful drive. You pass through so many farms and fields, with local farmers hard at work. Gorgeous views of the mountains in the distance as well.
We arrived at the entrance and a man asked for a fee of Q60 ($8). I paid and we went into the park. Everything was lush and green. I walked back to the hot springs and took a look around. There were a few locals swimming in the pools.
No foreigners, at that point, but it was still early in the morning, so very few people. I went ahead and changed, swam in the warm waters for a while, then sat out in the sun to dry (I’d forgotten my towel and they wanted $10+ for one at the entrance!). The place started to fill with people around noon and clouds started to roll in, so I got dressed and headed out.
I decided to walk back, as it was only about 10 km (no need to worry, as cars or trucks will pass and it is safe). I would try to get a ride for a portion of the way, then take an afternoon stroll through the farmlands. I walked a couple of kilometers, through fairly dense clouds (top of the mountain is a cloud forest!), and then someone picked me up. He took me another 5 kms and dropped me off on the side of the road. It was such a beautiful area.
Everything was green and lush, with a patchwork of fields going down the sides of the mountain. All I could hear was the wind, birds and sprinklers watering the fields. It was so quiet and peaceful! I stopped on the side of the road for a couple of tacos and continued down to Zunil. In Zunil, there is a large market for the farmers to sell their vegetables in bulk, so I stopped in to take a look. Not far from the market is the bus stop, so I boarded a bus and went back to Xela.
The following day, I just relaxed at the hostel, got caught up on a few things, wrote in my journal and in the evening had tostadas and a hot drink at the park. On Thursday, I hit the road, once again, to Huehuetenango. I caught a collectivo to the bus terminal (Q2) and then asked around for the bus to Huehuetenango. There was one that was just about to leave, so I jumped on and away we went.
The ride should take about 2 ½ hours, depending on traffic and the number of stops along the way (Q20 – $2.50). They took their time getting out of town, trying to pick up as many people they could along the side of the road. We finally got to the outskirts of town and for some reason, I started to think about what I would need to enter Mexico. First thing that came to mind, a passport. I reached down in my pants pocket and…. nothing. I had left my passport, computer and cash in the locker at the hostel. I immediately jumped out of the bus, walked over to the other side of the road and caught a bus back into town.
I ran back into the hostel, embarrassed, grabbed my things and headed back towards the terminal. It was a loss of about an hour and a real pain in the ass! I knew where the bus rounded the corner in town, which was much closer to the hostel, so avoided the bus terminal this time. I just stood on the corner and the bus came within about 15 mins. Now, I was back on track, totally pissed off at myself for being so forgetful…. again. (It’s not the first time I’ve left things in a locker at a hostel!)