Nice sunset view as we pass over London, England, on our way to Albania.
Where are Kevin and Ruth now? Shkodra, Albania.

Where are Kevin and Ruth going next? Hiking the Peaks of the Balkans, June 13-24!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Our Six Day Trip with Quetzaltrekkers. (day 1)

Here's the first installment of our six day excursion with Quetzaltrekkers. We're going to give you updates twice per day for the next few days so that we can get caught up! I hope you enjoy it!

This is a six day trip, but the first and last days are travel days. So we knew we would be doing four straight days of hiking, and that we would be doing a total of about 60 kms (37 miles) over those four days. We had read about this hike on the Quetzaltrekkers website, and when they said this hike would get you "well off the beaten path", they sure meant it!

We were up at 6:00am Tuesday (Feb. 19th) morning. We had to get all of our things out of our room and safely stored in the little blue car. Then, a little bit of last minute internet usage before meeting at 7:15am for a group breakfast.

Some of our group, getting to know each other. We would be spending a LOT of time together over the next several days, in VERY close quarters.

All meals are included in the 1,100 quetzales ($149) price per person for the six days away. Breakfast was a choice of two different types of omelet as well as plentiful fresh fruit and coffee. Don't drink too much liquids though. There may not be any bathroom breaks for a while!

After breakfast, they gave everybody whatever gear they might need for the trip. Even hiking boots if you needed them! Of course everything is used, and may not be the best quality, but it will get you through the hike.

When we were ready, at about 8:15am, we had our first bit of hiking to do. We had to get from the Quetzaltrekkers office in the Casa Argentina hostel, to the main bus terminal here in Xela. It was about a 35 minute walk.

The main bus "terminal" in Xela.

It's not really a bus "terminal". It's really a huge parking area, and it's a bit of a zoo. Literally! Besides being very busy and sort of unorganized, these buses really do take anything besides people to their destination. Our "chicken bus" as they are called, really did have boxes of baby chickens sitting in the rack above our heads inside the bus! Whatever won't fit inside the bus, gets put on top of the bus! 

We had to take the first bus from (A) Quetzaltenango (Xela) to (B) Chichicastenango and then transfer to a microbus to get to (C) Nebaj. Total distance was about 190 kms (118) miles) and it was going to take almost six hours to get there! Our bus left at around 9:00am.

Scenery along the way.

Unfortunately, we didn't have very good seats for taking pictures. We were crowded into this old school bus with three or four people in each seat, and others in the aisle. There was some amazing scenery, but no decent opportunities for picture taking. Besides, we were all pretty busy simply hanging on for dear life!

These chicken bus drivers are nuts. There's no other way to describe the driving skills. And let me tell you, they are skilled! To have gotten us to our destination safe and sound without going over a cliff warrants mentioning!

What is this guy carrying?

He's carrying fuel. I think it must be rocket fuel that they put in these old buses. Anything to get you to your destination a little quicker! But seriously, we had just pulled over to the side of the road and our driver went running across the street and into a little shed. Then we see him carrying back two big jugs of fuel. He put the fuel in the tank, and away we went. Too funny!

We stopped in the city of Chichicastenango to change buses at around 12:00 noon. We had to get on a "microbus". These little Toyota vans have four rows of seats that have seating for three people per row plus the driver and two more people in the front. So, 15 people. Even then, they're probably overweight. Plus, they have little homemade seats that fold down to include 4 more people. So make that 19 people! Oh, what about the people who don't have room to sit? Sure, load them on, we'll find room for them. And when the room runs out, we'll put them on the roof!

We had 24 people inside this little van at one point. And 2 more on the roof where all of our gear was!

There were 15 in our group, plus some locals. Packed in like sardines!

Here's our microbus stopped at a snack break. Picture 24 adults inside the van, plus two more on the roof!!!

It was a very twisty road with fantastic scenery. Too bad it was so difficult to try and get pictures. It was a little uncomfortable, but really not so bad. It was more fun just watching how they do things around here. What an entirely different culture and lifestyle. 

Did manage this one shot along the way.

We made it to Popi's Hostel in Nebaj (pronounced Nay-Bah) at around 2:30pm. I never did take a picture of our room. We were separated into two different rooms, and five of us were directed into one room on the lower floor while the other ten headed upstairs to another room. Ruth and I were in the smaller group on the lower floor. There were three sets of bunk beds, and one of the lower beds seemed to be already in use.

Our guides Ollie, David, and Lindsey got a late lunch ready for us and then we went and walked around town. Not the most photogenic place, but interesting nonetheless. As Ruth and I were walking through the central plaza, a local woman stopped us and asked if we wanted to see her artisan shop. She was really nice, and said it was only a couple of blocks away. Okay.

Ruth, with Magdelana and her daughter Vicky. Magdelana makes all of these goods by hand.

We had explained that we didn't want to buy anything despite the very cheap prices, but we thanked her for showing us her goods. 

Made our way back to the hostel where they had made us spaghetti with a choice of sauces. They had asked in advance about allergies, and Ruth and one other girl required gluten free, so they had made them a steamed veggies and a vegetarian burger plate.

Group dinner. Minus Ruth who took the photo!

We were actually having dinner by candlelight. Turns out this would not be the last time we would be having dinner by candlelight! After dinner, a couple of local gents came in to the common room and played us some music for a couple of hours!

Some local tunes!

We went to bed before the music ended. Tired, plus we knew we were going to have our first hiking day the next day. Problem was, we couldn't sleep. There were some guys in the common room drinking and talking and making too much noise. Then, it got worse!

One of the guys was the guy who had the bed in our room. He came stumbling in half drunk. Or maybe fully drunk, not sure. Either way, he got up about three times, supposedly to use the bathroom, and made a lot of snoring noises in between. I would have thrown something at him, but didn't figure it would have done any good. I hardly slept at all, and I was more than a little upset that the hostel allowed one guy to disrupt part of a regularly paying group.

Either way, we were looking forward to our first day hiking! We were called for breakfast at 7:00am and headed out the door with our heavy packs at around 8:15am!

Stay tuned for day two!


  1. That picture of everyone in the bus makes me feel bad for you guys! I would never last in there for long. You must have the temperment of a saint.

    1. Yep, it was pretty cramped in there but that is just the way things are done here. Quetzaltrekkers do these treks to raise money for a local charity here in Xela and try to keep the costs down so they use local transportation, unfortunately when there is a large group we take up most of the bus.

  2. I agree with RV AJ. We've traveled pretty uncomfortably in in Belizesn chicken buses and in collectivos in Mexico and Guatemala, but never quite as packed in as it appears you were. And I just wouldn't be able to share a room with strangers (particularly loud and rude ones). I hope the hiking makes the hardships all worth it. Looking forward to the next installment!

    1. Yep, it was just a tad uncomfortable but people did get on and off throughout the ride. The only time we had a problem with our room mates was at that hostel and this guy wasn't in our group. Everyone else in the group was great and it sort of added to the experience. The trip was definitely worth some of the hardships.

  3. What a bus ride! oh my.... and were those handwoven rugs in her artisna booth?

    1. Everything there was handmade. There weren't really rugs persay as they weren't heavy enough. There was also tops/ponchos, purses, bags, tablecloths, runners and placemats. What was handwoven are done on backstrap looms. I wanted to get a picture of one in use but some how we never did achieve that goal.

  4. All we can say is "SUPER WOW!" Clicked on all the photos to make them bigger so to take in all the details. What an awesome way to travel and to enjoy and learn about another culture! We are too old to do that anymore and didn't have the guts when we were younger. We really enjoy riding along in your back pockets though. Can't wait for the next part - carry on!!!
    B&C in PA

    1. Glad you are enjoying the hike with us from your chair.

  5. Yikes!!! Can;t wait to hear day 2, I think???

    1. You will be exhausted from the hike by the time we are finished with the post, you will have felt like you did the hike with us.

  6. Funny, think about all the money the U.S. and Canada spends on rules and safety. People still have accidents. Here we are more carefree, not to say things don't happen. But we don't destroy a country with silly rules. How many of us grew up without seatbelts, played with mercury, ate dirt, etc.

    Looks like this was a good hike. I know a little of Guatemala, and it appears we may need to venture across with an rv in the near future.

    1. It's funny how culture is so different. Have you have taken a city bus during rush hour, people are squeezed in like sardines and you can hardly move. Only difference is that you are only on the bus for a short time.

      You and Juan would love it here. The roads that we have been on so far have been in great shape just very twisty, windy and very, very steep uphill and down.

  7. 6 days with a large group like that, packed like sardines - you got to know each other really well I am sure! Not my idea of fun but then again I am known more for being someone who loves the outdoors, finding off the beaten path places, or going when everyone else isn't :)

    However, may have been worth it for the hike!

  8. Trust us this was very off the beaten track. Most of the communities that we hiked through are places that don't normally see strangers, foreigners or otherwise. We slept with local families and ate in their homes. This is about the only trekking group that does this route and they only do it twice a month. Quetzaltrekkers is a very unique trekking group and the guides are totally volunteers that raise money for a local school and hogar. We are do not normally like group activities but this one was certainly different and totally amazing. The group was interesting as we had people from around the world and when we hiked we hiked more or less at our own pace so we weren't always with the same people. There were two nights were we all slept in the same room and other than being in the local buses never felt like we were packed in like sardines but locaal buses are like that.


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