Today we wound up at Fuentes Georginas, a beautiful hot spring on the other side of the Volcán de Cerro Quemado from the city of Quetzaltenango. No one calls it Quetzaltenango except for cartographers. The real name, as far as anyone in Guatemala is concerned, is Xela (pronounced shell-ah). It’s easier on the keyboard too, so that’s what I’m sticking with.
Xela is about as far off the tourist track as you can get and still be in the populated part of the country. The roads in this city were not planned with cars in mind. Not one is wide enough for two vehicles, so the whole city is a maze of one way streets. The buildings seem squeezed in upon each other, but at least they’re bigger on the inside.
I won’t bore you with the details of how we got here, save to say that it involved another two and a half hours via chicken bus, followed by a cab driver who had no idea where he was going. We checked into the Hotel Kasa Kamelot and Lea’s Spanish school (see below), then because we were so stressed from travel at this point we made the best decision of the day and signed up for Altiplano Tours’ afternoon excursion to Fuentes Georginas.
First off, you want to schedule this as an excursion. Even if you’re brave enough to drive yourself in other countries, this is a trip for the professionals. It’s a narrow, twisty switchback road up to the springs through dense layers of cloud (not fog, cloud) with near zero visibility, several washouts, and a sheer plunge into the forest on the valley floor off to the side.
Once we arrived, we had an hour and a half before the park closed for everyone except those staying overnight. (You can rent bungalows.) All the way at the back of the path was a restaurant, a bathhouse with lockers, and the spring, which had been dammed into several pools. Steam off the spring water mixed with the clouds and the rain to create an overwhelming haze. The spring itself is in a crack in the mountain, which makes a chimney for the steam. The water is comfortably warm but not overly hot, perfect for relaxing and not taking your skin off.
And relax is exactly what we did. We really didn’t want to leave. After a day of noisy, jolting bus and cab rides and walking up and down hilly, cobbled streets, a prolonged soak was just what the rain gods ordered. It even stopped raining after a while, and the clouds broke up enough for a hint of blue to sneak through. Sometimes when traveling it feels like you hit that perfect moment of peace and otherworldliness. I think on this trip, this was that moment for us.
This isn’t just a vacation. The reason we came all the way to Xela was so that Lea can attend El Quetzal Spanish School for a week. Here she is signing over her soul. Classes start tomorrow!