I originally decided to make a stop in Poptun because I wanted to find some Mayan ruins off the beaten path. I found a website that mentioned Machaquila, “a small Guatemalan village several kilometres from a ruined city of the Mayan civilization bearing the same name,” which is walkable from Poptun.
I took a bus to Poptun and grabbed a room to unload my stuff, get my bearings, and make some archeological adventure plans. Turned out the “several” kilometres mentioned in my piss-poor research would have been more accurately described as “many, many dozens.” Unless I rented a vehicle of some kind, I wouldn’t be playing Indiana Jones on this leg of the tour.
No big whoop. I decided to stay an extra day in Poptun anyway, and went to pay the front desk for my extension. The super-friendly old guy and smiling kid happily agreed to prolong my stay, but then started firing off words in Spanish that all but escaped me with the exception of Machaquila and river.
Hmm, did this guy have an inside track to some shuttle bus or tour to the ruins I sought? I asked him several times to repeat his words more slowly in hopes my feeble brain would grasp more insight, but it proved fruitless. I eventually asked him to write down what he was trying to explain, as this strategy worked previously for me to get the gist of a more complicated conversation. Whatever words I didn’t understand, I’d filter them through a translation program later.
My request for written enlightenment turned out rather strange. As I thought I was gleaning wisdom into his note, he suddenly began crossing out all the words and locations I was familiar with. By the end, only 3 words remained:
Hotel Finca Ixobel.
Hmm. Interesting. I really had no idea now what the hell he was trying to tell me, but I thanked him graciously, and went back to my WiFi-capable lodging.
A search revealed a potential paradise. Only 6 km south of where I was, an eco-friendly resort and restaurant lay somewhere off the main drag, nestled in tranquil and lush jungle surroundings. Horses, river caves, lagoons, tree-houses, hiking trails, camping and pyramids…. starting at 55 Q a night? Am I reading this correctly? That’s about $7.50 American, depending on the day’s exchange rate.
Okay, calm down, deep breaths Mikey, this seems a little too fantastic to go ape-shit about without a reconnaissance mission.
The sky was promising rain, but I donned my hiking shoes and headed south. To follow the main drag would involve circuiting the airstrip, taking me a couple kilometres out of my way. The map I referenced was rudimentary, but I knew where I wanted to go — I was sure there would be some shortcut to bypass the (possibly) defunct airport.
When in doubt, emulate the locals. Following the frenzy of scooters and motorcycles, I discovered a small wasteland crossing the airfield — a crater-filled moonscape the locals used to access another village I was unaware of.
As the rains began to fall, I found myself in another new world, devoid of all the fuss and commotion of Poptun. A stroll through this little ‘burb brought me back to the main drag, only a kilometre or two from my destination. I made note of every scarce fruit vendor or store I passed, knowing supplies would have to be brought into Finca Ixobel, lest I chose to dine from their restaurant, which I assumed wouldn’t be financially sensible.
My Tilley hat repelled the rain beautifully, and I located directional signage to the hotel — another kilometre west down a dirt road. Excitement was building.
The rains came down harder, but I barely noticed. The longer I walked, the more the jungle took over. I never would have guessed such an abundance of conifers in this area. I felt like I just discovered the tropical version of my old cabin home back in Canada. Cool! But warm…
I arrived as the rain stopped. Sopping wet, I fumbled with my prepared phrase to request a room reservation, when Luigi informed me we could discuss plans in English. Ahh, nice to be able to articulate more than a Spanish Hulk once again.
The 7-bed dorm was indeed 55 Q a night. Camping was 45. The rest of the unique housing options were too pricy for my liking, but the dorm turned out to be one of my nicest rooms yet. The most expensive of the tours, the River Cave, was a paltry $15 bucks American, well within my budget. There wasn’t much need for a reservation, as I think only one other room was occupied, but I made him take note nonetheless that I would be back this way by noon the next day.
After one more fun and frenzied night in the chaos of Poptun, I packed up for new stomping grounds. A 3 buck cab ride was a sensible decision to transport my 45-pound pack, also allowing me to discover an even shorter route to get back to town. Stocking up on fresh fruit would only entail a half-hour walk at best. Excellent.
So welcome now to Finca Ixobel, my paradisiacal home away from home, even though I’m technically homeless. The grounds are amazing! My dorm is beautiful and I have it all to myself — feelin’ like a spoiled Canadian brat again. I can’t believe this place isn’t rammed full. Screw the tree-houses, I have everything I need right here. The outdoor heated (luxury!) “jungle” shower is 5 steps from my room, and there’s a common area with toilets and more showers 15 metres away.
Smells of fresh baked bread and cinnamon rolls are constantly wafting into my sleeping quarters. The first trail I hiked down led to a natural lagoon that was soon to become my new sanctuary. I discovered several soursop and coconut trees along the trail, eventually asking Luigi sheepishly if wild foraging was permissible on the grounds, which he happily confirmed. There’s breadfruit here too, but it’s not in season (insert mega-sad face emoticon).
I haven’t pulled out my machete yet to make a coconut run, but as I eyed a massive soursop the squirrels were digging into, their combined weight dropped the uneaten half of ripe fruit directly to my feet. Can you say boo-yeah!!! Whatever that means…
I have much to explore yet, but I’m settling in quite happily here. It’s a perfect place to soak up the best of this country’s beautiful nature, while writing wacky material for books and blogs.
I just wrote a post about paying attention to messages from the universe, and the inspiration for it came from that old guy at the hotel in Poptun. I still have no idea why he was mentioning Machaquila and Finca Ixobel in the same breath, but it was enough to prick up my ears to ultimately allow the discovery of this hidden gem, the cheapest and most stunning stop of the journey thus far.
But that was more than just lucky guidance from an ethereal benefactor. I had to be a willing participant to uncover the cryptic roadsigns placed before me. Perhaps my angelic tour-guide knew that a single word would be enough to get my attention, perhaps not. Either way, my gratitude goes out to the Universe for having allowed me to find this treasure.
It’s about time for breakfast here. Papaya splits have become a recent fave of mine to start the day, but there are other novel, ripe, and delicious fruits waiting to be found on my next walk.
I uttered these words in a previous post, but they’re definitely fitting again:
When we stop paying attention to the signs on Life’s Highway, it’s damn easy to miss our exit.
I may have said that more eloquently last time, but whatever. There are too many happy birds chirping here for me to worry about plagiarizing my own quotes, although that would bring new irony to the expression “sue me.”
Ha. What a stupid way to end a post.