Sunday, December 30, 2007

Finca Ixobel and Christmas

The final stop on our Tikal Tour was Finca Ixobel. (Pronounced Ish-o-bell) In Spanish, (at least here in Guatemala), Finca means ‘ranch’. Finca Ixobel was originally a ranch but is now “an ecologically friendly hotel and campground” with a ranch to help support its activities. It happens to be halfway between Tikal and the Rio Dulce. We have heard about it from various cruisers. Since they have some interesting hikes and activities, we thought we’d stop in and stay for a couple of days.

We had originally planned to stay only for 2 nights, and arrive back on the boat on Christmas Eve (the 24th). But we were having a good time (especially Nicki), and they had a nice Christmas dinner planned, that we extended our stay through Christmas.

The day we got to Finca Ixobel was the employees Christmas Party, and of course the hotel guests were invited. Carole, the American owner of Finca Ixobel, put on a really nice buffet for everyone, there was a gift exchange, and a Marimba Band. We enjoyed participating a little bit their traditions. This was very much like any American company’s Christmas party… all the spouses were invited and everyone was dressed up and uncomfortable. But after awhile the punch was flowing and the music cranked up and it looked like everyone was having fun.

At 10pm the Marimba Band shut down and the party moved to Finca Ixobel’s bar, where a bonfire (outside of course) and a DJ had been set up. We stayed long enough to see the bonfire lit. But as soon as the DJ cranked up, we decided it was too loud and left Nicki with the young people. We could still hear the boom-boom-boom of the music pretty well in our room a half a mile away, though. We were apprehensive this would recur every night, but found that the DJ was a special thing for the Christmas Party.

Finca Ixobel has a nice setup for backpackers. You can actually camp there if you have your own equipment but they also have ‘tree houses’ with beds in them. These only cost $10/nite for 2 people.

They also encourage ‘volunteering’, where you agree to stay for at least 6 weeks and they feed and house you while you help out on the Finca. This arrangement provides a constant supply of enthusiastic young people with various linguistic skills to help run the hotel. It also makes the atmosphere a lot of fun for the hotel guests.

Nicki spent most of her leisure hours hanging out with various kids from all over the world. And it was Nicki who asked to extend our stay at Finca Ixobel through Christmas. Since all the friends we might normally have done Christmas dinner with were all in the States, it seemed a good alternative.

After hanging out with all the backpacker kids, Nicki got seriously bit by the backpacker bug. Before she left for home, she told me “Mom, maybe instead of working this summer, I’ll start in Mexico and backpack down meet up with you in Panama.” This was EXACTLY what I’d been hoping for when I invited Nicki to Guatemala. (I feel that life is way too short to spend it completely focused on “getting ahead”).

Our first activity was a nice relatively easy horseback ride around the ranch. We had a German couple join in our group and each had a 5-6 year old child in their lap on the ride. So we didn’t go very fast. But we did get up to a nice vantage point to see the ranch and the ‘pueblo’ (small town of people working at the ranch) nearby.

The next day, we went on an all day hike to see and swim in a large underground cave system. This was listed as a ‘strenuous’ hike… 2 hours hiking to get to the cave, then 2 hrs INSIDE the cave system, and 2 hours to get back. Seems a little much of both walking and caving, but Nicki and Dave were really excited about it.

As we started on the hike, the weather was great. The walk out was through a combination of farm area and some serious jungle. Our guide was a Guateman who spoke no English.

The first part of the walk was easy—on flat ground on dirt roads. However, we eventually left the roads and went into the jungle. We had to scramble up and down 3 fairly serious hills covered in dense jungle. (Fortunately we had a guide and somewhat of a path to follow).

At the mouth of the cave, we stashed all our non-waterproof stuff, including the packed lunch we brought with us. And we followed the guide into the ‘Underworld’. The water was cold enough to make us gasp as we waded in. We followed the guide through the darkness, wading, swimming, and sometimes scrambling over rocks. We had headlamps and flashlights, and the guide lit a candle and placed it along the rocks as we went deeper into the cave system.

I took lots of pics with my nifty waterproof camera, but unfortunately very few of them came out as well as we’d hoped. The foggy atmosphere in the cave caused ‘backscatter’ when using the flash, and it was too dark to take pics without the flash, and at least once or twice my lens got fogged up too. But we did get a few good pics.

One feature of the cave system is a 12 foot high cliff where you can jump off of into a dark pool below. The guide showed us where to aim with his flashlight, and then did the first jump. Dave, Nicki and I all jumped (Dave and Nicki twice). It was nuts.

It started drizzling while we were in the cave, and ended up pouring before we made it back to the Finca. So the trip back was long, muddy, and wet. But we had a blast.

The next 2 days we lounged around, read books (even Dave!) and recovered from the hiking.

Finally on Christmas Day, when Nicki was sleeping off a very late Christmas Eve with the other kids (partying til 5am!), Dave and did a short climb up the ‘pyramid’ hill near by. This ended up being very tough on the knees, basically straight up and straight down. It had finally stopped raining but was still kind of muddy. But the view was great. And we really needed the exercise after 2 days of lounging and eating.

We headed back to the boat on the 26th. Nicki left on the bus for Guatemala City on the 28th.

See all the Finca Ixobel pics

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