It was a nice journey into Biotope, a place that offers people with too much time, a convenient stop between Lanquin (see last blog) and Antigua. I had spent a lot of time researching, trying to find something to kill a day or two, I didn’t want to arrive Antigua too early especially with my friend meeting me there. I asked local Guatemalan people for their advice. It was mixed, between “There’s nothing there” to “You simply have to go!”
The hotel staff took me to the bus stop. Now before you think it’s a bus stop with a stand and people sitting in an orderly queue, no it wasn’t. It was just a convenient place on a busy road where several buses either stop or go slowly shouting out “Tadee!”, “Tah-dee!”, with one arm out of the window shaking up and down to indicate the bus has places for passengers. It took me a while to realise why that bus aide was always opening the windows and hanging his arm out. And later, to realise he was shouting “Taxi”!
The bus went through lots of winding roads up and up into the mountains. I really liked the view of little mountain hills that Guatemala is reputed for. Some of these are volcanoes obviously, but when you are at a good distance it looks like a huge cake with lots of triangular decorations. Really gorgeous.
The bus stopped at a bend in the long roads, the driver looked for me and waved to me to indicate I had arrived my hostel. I got off and they lugged my (flipping!) suitcase off the roof rack. I then waved the bus off, thanking them for dropping me here. And then I walked over the road to the hostel, and within two minutes I realised they’d dropped me at the wrong hostel! I was pretty disappointed!
It was hot, the sun was shining bright and I hadn’t a clue how I would get to my correct hostel! A lady from its reception babbled away in Spanish as if I understood her, I just pointed to my luggage, the name of the hostel on my map and gave a gestural sign to ask her how I can get to my hostel, 2km away!!! She pointed to the road and said that the next bus will take me there.
I stood there like a right lemon, huge suitcase next to me, busting for a pee. I gave up, crossed over the road and hid behind a few short trees, releasing myself. It was sheer bliss although I hoped the babbling lady wasn’t peering out the window.
There was no bus for about 20minutes. A lot of buses in the opposite direction, yes, but not where I wanted to go! Then suddenly this car from the hotel came alive and it drove slowly past me. I had nothing to lose. I stopped the car in desperation, played the poor-me-deaf-guy-cannot-cope card and to my delight, the driver agreed easily. He took me straight to my hostel. Whew!
The Hostel Ranchitos del Quetzal was one of those places that you can easily drive past without realising it. It was hidden on a bend in the road and it was so quiet. I thanked the driver profusely, and looked for the reception. It was clear to me that this was particularly a jungle hostel, a place where people would usually stay for just one or two nights. There was an elderly lady who waved to me, I showed her my phone with a message translated from English – “My friend called you yesterday and you agreed I would stay here for 200QZ”. She either couldn’t read, or the translation was wrong. She just stared at me, as if she’d never met a deaf guy before.
Another guy came along and he also evidently didn’t understand my message. He waved to me to just wait, and pointed to a big car down the driveway. And there you were, the manageress of the hostel. You were in your late 50s, walking calmly with your glasses swinging on your chest held by a chain. You wore a white overall on top of your clothes, I think it means authority in this place? You looked at my phone message and then wrote on a piece of paper “Your message does not make any sense”. I think google translate has had its hey-day (!!)
You continued to write so neatly, with the most flowery handwriting I have seen for a long time. You introduced yourself, and said how it was a pleasure to have me. It was a lovely way to welcome me. I then asked the gold-standard question that every traveller seems to ask these days; “What’s the wifi password?”! You stared a bit, sighed a bit and started writing. I was watching your pad and it transpired that the wifi only occasionally worked. You were also not sure about the password, whether it was with a capital “Q” or small case “q”! I sighed, explained to you how much I valued wifi for my communication with people and forward planning. You thought for a while.
And then suddenly after a few phone calls you wrote that you were going to be putting me in your best room, which has its own wifi. I didn’t expect that, but smiled and wondered why that room would have its own wifi compared to the other rooms in the main accommodation building.
You continued to write in your flowery handwriting style, explaining to me about the local hike from the hotel, about the Biotepe. You told me the opening hours of the restaurant, closing at 630pm which meant I needed to eat early for a change. Some people will laugh at this point as I am well known for eating early.
I asked you about the Quetzal bird, Guatemala’s famous national bird. You shrugged a bit and told me that its usually spotted in early/mid morning but never guaranteed. You have this calm nature about you, and you kept putting your glasses on and off to read. Bifocals would be good for you!
We then walked, me lugging my suitcase over the gravel stones, to settle in. But we walked past the main building to my puzzlement. We walked past beautiful plants and trees, so green. We walked past a stream, and then to this gate. You opened the gate and we walked down a bit to this amazing kind of glass house. It then hit me, I had been upgraded to my own posh house! It was one of those luxury accommodation given to those rich tourists who could afford it. I would only be paying £20.00 for this because of my need for wifi connection as a deaf individual. (Believe me, I hadn’t played the poor-me-deaf-guy-cannot-cope here!).
I was so damn lucky! I looked at you with sheer delight, I smiled. I immediately logged into the wifi and then straight away I called my parents on the iPad, smiling, repetitively saying “Oh my goshhhhh!” I showed them around my new house! You shouted “Hello” behind me to my parents, I turned to you and explained they were deaf too. You were surprised. My niece then suddenly appeared in the video call, she was staying with my parents. You then shouted “Hello” to her too, I turned again, and smiled, telling you she was also deaf. Your face was rather bewildered!
I couldn’t stop gawping at this great house. It had glass walls all round with beautiful metallic leaves designs. The bathroom was luxurious. The bed was gorgeous and there were lovely blankets to use later as it gets cold at night. There was plenty storage made from natural woods. My suitcase was on a varnished mix of branches that became a kind of resting support, a kind of bed-bench. However because it was from branches there were many sharp points around and I hurt my leg a number of times when brushing by! The view from the house into the jungles was just amazing. On the iPad I showed my niece the various huge plants, the flowers and the orchids too. I was just so happy. You seemed to really understand how happy I was, and you hugged me as you left the house, bless!
I later unpacked some stuff, I never completely unpack no matter how many nights I’m staying somewhere, its just pointless! I got ready and left to go on a short hike to a beautiful triple set of water falls near the hotel. You had said it would be an hour and forty minutes journey, it only took me 15 mins! I returned after staring at the waterfalls a bit. There is only so much you can do in a small group of waterfalls, you look at the water falling, you sigh at the beauty and then erm, you kind of either go for a swim if its big enough or you just have to head back. I suppose I could have read a book and chilled out, but the Biotope was calling out to me.
I returned to the house, got my book and water bottle, and headed out of the hostel. Just 3 minutes away was the entrance to the Biotope. The Biotope is a huge forest with its own paths created for tourists. There was a 2km option or a 4km option. I had eaten too many sweets on the bus here, pistachio nuts, crisps too. Out of guilt, I simply had to do the longer option. I was so glad I did. I loved the views, the trees of the forest, the random breaks where you drink heaps of water whilst being on the alert for snakes and other animal life. I was always looking out for Quetzal birds but there was nothing in sight. It was good to see a compost toilet in the middle of the forest, but I didn’t use it. I saw a film ages ago where a snake comes out of the toilet seat in the middle of the jungle, it just scared me big time!
The hike was brilliant and I returned finally, all sweaty and worn out. The path was really good, I would recommend anyone to go and visit this place.
Now I have to admit something here….
As I arrived back to the hostel, thinking about the Quetzal bird, I saw in the information centre of the hostel (where groups often meet to embark an educational trip), on a branch, the beautiful colours of the Quetzal bird. I couldn’t believe it. I walked so quickly to get a photo, I tried to be quiet, and crept over the numerous stones. And then I realised it. It was a wooden sculpture!!!! I felt utterly stupid! Disappointed too. I took a photo grudgingly, and looked in all directions to make sure no one saw me. Here’s the photo!
After dinner I returned to my “house” and then the dark night came so quickly and thundery rain came so hard, so noisy and you could feel the vibrations every so often. I had a long night ahead on my own and read a bit, watched a movie on my iPad, and had a few video calls. I also enjoyed some 80’s music videos on Youtube and started creating a few signed clips for Valentine’s day soon. It was a great night, but it became so cold and I dived into bed with 3 blankets and snugged up. In the morning I couldn’t get out of bed it was too chilly. I lay there with the views of the jungle outside and just smiled at my luck as the sun gradually appeared giving us all warmth.
Later whilst having breakfast you came and wrote, “God Bless you, how are you this morning?” I didn’t realise you had some religion about you. I explained how great I felt and how I loved this place. I couldn’t stop thanking you. I then explained how I enjoyed the Biotope and yet hadn’t seen Quetzal bird. You immediately talked to one of your staff members and he eagerly got a tripod with his zoom camera. You explained he was an excellent bird-caller and he would try his best. As I stuffed myself with gorgeous pancakes and some home made strawberry jam that you made, I watched you, the bird caller, in amazement.
You kept smiling. And of course you kept looking up. It was like a national new fad exercise to get rid of neck lines, by looking up and stretching the neck! I saw you play with your phone a lot, wasn’t sure what you were doing. You kept at it, and I admired your patience. I would have given up ages ago. After my french-pressed coffee (so rare in Latin America, believe me), I joined you. My neck started hurting a fair bit after 5-minutes. I then realised your phone was playing bird calls, really loud bird calls – clever!
We were there a good ten minutes, and I kept thinking how do I give up when you don’t give up. You kept moving from place to place with your tripod. Your camera allowed great zoom function which is why it was being used. My iPhone was so limited in zoom! You eventually shrugged and I walked back to my house to pack up.
I had a quick video call with my parents, telling them about the Biotepe and the dummy bird. They were laughing and then suddenly you, the Manageress appeared outside my house. You waved to me adamantly and did the obvious gesture for “bird”. I quickly ended my video call and ran out, running behind you to the main house. There were some french tourists, all of them and you, the bird caller, looking up excitedly! Yet I couldn’t see a thing! The trees were so green, to spot the turquoise coloured Quetzal requires experience. You helped me and so did the French tourists with their super binoculars. And finally, I saw it. It was such a stroke of luck. I smiled, I felt so honoured, so lucky.
As my bus arrived I wrote more messages with you and expressed my ultimate gratitude. You seemed so happy to know I am happy. You asked me to kindly spread the word about the Ranchitos del Quetzel and I promised to do so.
Life can be so beautiful. I must remember to recognise it when good things happen rather than obsess over little things such as no wifi availability! I mean, just think about it: A lift from a kind gentleman to the hostel, an upgrade to a wonderful house, a beautiful hike, the Biotope then to see the Quetzal bird after encountering the dummy bird. How fortunate!!!