I am a proud

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Earth Lodge cache hunt with the National Tourism Police – Antigua, Guatemala

I flew from Quito, Ecuador to Guatemala City, Guatemala on a COPA flight. This was my first trip to Guatemala and it was a pleasant surprise. I somehow thought this country would be just like Costa Rica. It is different in many ways, having its own unique landscape, Mayan and Mestizo culture and lots of pine trees. I don’t see many pine trees in Latin America so this was a nice. My taxi was waiting for me at the airport and brought me to the city of Antigua, about an hour from the capital city. He brought me straight to the home where I would be boarding. I’m staying with a widow lady and her 30-year old son. The folks I stayed with were pretty insistent that I not go alone to the two places I wanted to go to in order to find the caches. They told me that the country has a National Tourism Police that are there to protect and accompany tourism. On Saturday morning I went on a jaunt through the small city to find this special police group. After asking around I finally found them. Oficial (kind of like lieutenant) Francisco Velasquez Castillo, a gregarious, friendly man, received us without any waiting and immediately became our friend. He explained the way their service worked and I right away contracted them to accompany me. It was inexpensive. Actually the cost of taking taxis to the sites I wanted to visit would have cost about the same. Never have I had armed bodyguards when I went geocaching. There is a first time for everything I guess. Up pulled Agents Freddy and Saul, each on their own motorcycle. In no time I was on the back of one of the bikes with a loaned helmet, my swag bag and hiking stick under my arm. We took off up the hill to look for the first geocache. We were in search of Taste the Nature....!!! (GC1B1FR) above the nearby town of El Hato. These agents had never seen or hear of a GPS. I turned our trip into an educational adventure. We stopped along the road and asked some Mayan women if the road curved down the hill anywhere. It looked like the GC would require a significant descent and I thought maybe we were on the wrong road. They told us to look for the “gringos” who had a lodge further up the road to see if we could cut through their property to get down into the valley. As we followed the road it turned and did get us close to the GC. We parked the bikes beside the road and I had Saul take the GPS and lead us to the GC. We somehow missed the entrance to the lodge so we were following the needle. We came to a Mayan farmers land and ask permission to cut across. He and his family were very friendly and pointed the way. By this time the dogs were barking at the lodge below. The Earth Lodge is a small and simple affair. We met Drew and Briana and some of their customers. I told them what we were there for and they gave us permission to look for the cache. Drew said that he only knew the general location of the cache. Saul took us to the GC and we started the search. We looked everywhere but to no avail. The cache page said it would be an easy find so I’m convinced that it wasn’t there. Some of the lodgers came down and helped us look. After about 45 minutes I called the search off because we needed to move on to the next cache. By that time Freddy and Saul were into geocaching. We walked back up to the small lodge and Briana, with her “Tree hugger” t-shirt, was serving up cokes to Oficial Francisco and his machine gun toting driver. I was surprised to see them there. I had told Francisco about geocaching and he was very interested. We had talked about the potential benefit of geocaching to the tourism industry in Antigua and he was enthralled. He had called one of the agents to see where we were and had hunted us down. As we shock hands he showed me an old Garmin model GPS that he had purchase some years before. He wanted to know how to use it. We had a short lesson right there. He sent the Freddy and Saul on ahead and told me that because the road going to the next cache was rough he wanted to drive me in the police 4-wheel drive truck. He knew that I had recently had shoulder surgery and was kindly offering to help out. We had a great time visiting as we traveled back through Antigua towards the second cache. I’ll tell more about the second cache, Agua Box (GC10DKC), in the next installment of Andean Trekker.
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