I’m sitting in my kitchen, In Hobart, Tasmania. Justin Jones, the crazy hatted, rum drinking, floppy haired, sexual maven has just sent me a message, reminding me that i’m a lazy bastard (no contest) and that i owe him an article about El Retiro Lodge in Lanquin, Guatemala.
El Retiro will always hold great memories for me. It’s where our crew really came together. Justin and I had spent a month or so on the road together, sharing each others toiletry bags, wallets and women. We met Ruby and a crazy danish girl on the way, and then quickly gained another 3 Canadian ratbags to join our newly formed team of travelers. (The count was now 2 guys, 5 girls – Perfect.)
We only spent 3 nights at El Retiro, but it was world class. The clear turquoise pools of Semuc Champey were amazing, all the postcards and photos will never do it justice. It’s one of those spots you will just never forget, and the memory will always stay crisp in your mind. We spent the day frolicking in the pools, climbing through caves with nothing but candles to light the way, and farting in waist deep water, giggling like school girls.
El Retiro Lodge itself iss pretty awesome. It’s situated in the town of Lanquin, on a huge swath of land, right on the river with a good bar, serving cold Gallo beers. There are loads of accommodation options, ranging from private cabanas to hostel-style bunks. In fact, the dorm is this amazing circular structure with bunk beds arranged along the outside like spokes on a wheel – it’s a really cool, one of a kind dorm. And the whole place has that one-of -a-kind feel, from the strange paintings on the walls of the bathroom, to the sauna! There are loads of hammocks to chill out in, and enjoy the beautiful, tranquil setting. Beautiful place, good rum, cheap beer and decent room prices, and fun people – that’s what it’s all about.
Most people stop here on their standard pilgrimage north to Rio Dulce. They stay few days to chill out among cool people, nice surroundings and cheap booze. It’s easy to stay longer than you anticipated.
But for me, it was all about the crew that assembled in that bar the first night we were there. There was Marc, the cheeky handsome English bartender, Taina, the cute, nerdy geek, Jocelyn (the one with the worst/cutest laugh known to man) Holly – (the princess) and Marie, (the Danish weirdo that we all loved). Add to that a San Fran long haired hippie type and a portly Aussie with a borderline drinking problem and that was us.
All it took us was one night, a cheap bottle of Guatemalan Rum, a few beers and a deck of cards and we were the best of friends. Not knowing that we were all about to embark on an adventure for the next 4 weeks together, laughing, drinking, arguing, seducing cute travellers we met, travelling down rivers in sketchy boats, scratching each others bug bites, holding each others hair back when vomiting, frolicking in waterfalls, tramping through jungles, surfing rivers and playing more ‘Kings Cup’ than you thought was possible.
It all started at El Retiro. That’s the thing about these long trips that we travelers do, it’s not the museums the ruins, the churches or the mountains that stay clear in our memories…. Its the relationships we have, the friends we make and the adventures that we embark on together. And sometimes those adventures all start with a bottle of rum, a deck of cards, and a damn good hostel.