When I was here in the late ’80s Guatemala was a country in the bloody flux of civil war. I had come through the mountains and Lake Atitlán and was on the long lowland journey by chicken bus to Tikal. Somewhere on the trip I learned that Finca Ixobel was the hot ticket. There were large palapas to hang my hammock, tree houses, caves, mellow travelers, and, at the time, no price list.
The finca operated on the honor system. Many young folk came on the part of the river of students and seekers headed for Tikal. Of course, while paying guests were always welcome, many of the budget travelers stayed, fed the chickens, did maintenance and stayed as long as there was work and they wanted to stay.
It was a commune with an owner, Carole Devine. There was a menu and dining on the patio, suggested prices for lodging, trips to the caves, horseback riding, meals, and more. But no one kept track of the bill, you settled what you used when you left. I had to knock on the kitchen door and ask who took the money.
I liked the trip to the cave a few hours away. I found extraordinary glasswing butterflies (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greta_oto), whole sections of trail covered by dayglow orange lichen that I have never been able to identify. The cave at the end of the trail had about a mile of underground river that popped out into a distant pool that we had to swim and climb through (led flashlights work under water and are recommended).
Finca Ixobel was the best part of this leg of my trip, since, on my way to Tikal, I caught a killer intestinal bug in Flores from swimming in Lago Peten Itza. As I was swimming the water was pretty clear and I could see flooded houses below and it crossed my mind that shit floats. Fortunately, the owner of the bar was also the town doctor but my time in Tikal was mainly spent on the throne. Carlos
Finca Ixobel Hotel Ecologico (http://www.fincaixobel.com/) today is a beautiful oasis in the Guatemala jungle. Its charm and uniqueness is now famous around the world. The well tended grounds and structures were all built from scratch. How did this all come about?
The year 1971 found two American adventurers, Carole Ann DeVine and Michael V. DeVine, setting out from California traveling through Mexico, Belize and Guatemala looking to buy land so that they could realize their dream of a farm. Carole was a city girl born in California and Mike was a farm boy from Iowa. After months of looking at land in these countries they settled for a piece of land in Petén, Guatemala, measuring 400acres / 162 Hectares.
With their savings they bought the land and started a little farm. The farm had several natural springs which gave them water. They are in continued use today. There was no electricity so in the evenings the light was by candle light. Michael, who studied animal husbandry, was happy tending chickens, livestock, horses, rabbits and other small animals. In those days, the forest surrounding the farm was alive with plenty of animals which was a beautiful thing to see.
Carole, who was once a medical secretary, busied herself in the kitchen baking bread, making jellies and pickles and tried to figure out how to cook beans 100 different ways. She also took care of the garden while looking after their adopted Guatemalan children Maria and Conrad DeVine. The happy couple took care of the farm and raised their children. The idea of having a hotel, restaurant and campground had not crossed their minds.
In the early 1970’s, northern Guatemala was the least developed region of Guatemala. The main attraction was the ruins of Tikal and the capital town of Flores. You had to fly into Flores or Tikal or take a chicken bus over the very bad narrow and mountainous gravel road from Guatemala City. The uncomfortable trip could easily take 20 hours. Sometimes trucks and buses could be stuck for a day or two, so it was not an easy trip.
It was rare to see any tourists, but there were some adventure loving people who dared the Guatemalan jungles. Because of the long trip to Flores and Tikal tourists always were looking for places to stay along the nearly deserted route. Word got out that there was an American couple that owned a farm so people began to stop by to see if there was a place to stay and food to eat.
The tourists who visited the farm noticed that we had rabbits and chickens for meat and eggs and a vegetable garden and they could smell the breads that Carole was baking. They started asking if they could buy these goods. Some people tired of their trip asked if they could spend the night in their camper or tent. Carole made meals for the family as usual and soon people would ask if they could join in and pay for their meals. Word got out and more and more people started coming. One day Mike and Carole decided to put a sign out on the road and start charging.
This was in 1972. As tourism grew so did the demand for better accommodations. What started as just a campground grew into private rooms with shared baths, then private rooms with private baths. Unfortunately Michael DeVine passed away in 1990. His wife, Carole DeVine, and the two children continue to run the business. Finca Ixobel has grown and changed very much since it’s humble beginnings all thanks to the many people from all over the world who have visited us and those who continue to do so. Michael’s passions for the animals, the jungle and the environment have always remained constant on our minds. Carole is involved in many reforestation, environmental and community projects.
What does Ixobel Mean?
From the Mayan Mopan language Ix (Eesh) means place of… and Obel is a wild plant that grows everywhere, recognized by its heart shaped leaves. This plant has medicinal uses by the locals and we use it to make a delicious herbal tea. Ask our staff to show you the plant. So, Ixobel means PLACE OF THE OBEL.
Written by Maria DeVine