Tiny bugs-they look like mini ants-are scurrying across my iPad screen…I have given up trying to squoosh them and have decided they are a minor distraction while enjoying this cafe on the island of Flores, Guatemala. I can’t say if Guatemala crossed my mind much before I arrived here almost two weeks ago. With Central America at the onset of my itinerary, it seemed like as good a place as any to serve as a gateway to other adventures. I planned to be in and out of here in a few days, but have found myself truly enjoying enjoying the culture, geography, and people of this beautiful place. The bugs…like the cool showers, homemade tortillas, colorful weavings, and beautiful landscapes are all part of what makes Guatemela a place so different from home.
People ask me a lot of questions about living out of a suitcase…usually about what I carry and how I plan my trips. While I consider the items that I pack carefully…holding every item in my hands again and again to see if it is worthy of being carried for so many days, my specific itinerary develops as I proceed with the trip. My extended time in Guatemala is an example of how the people I meet and experiences I have shape the adventure better than guidebooks and travel websites. My aunt, with what she might call minimal consultation from me, laid out a master plan covering the globe, which gives some timeline, but leaves me with a sense of “winging it” each day.
Last week during the orientation at Spanish school, I met a new friend named Shona, and over the weekend, we traveled together to Lake Atitlan and Chichicastenago. We both liked the idea of traveling with someone new and sharing rooms gave us a chance to upgrade our hotel to include the elusive hot shower. One of the great things about Guatemala is the extensive organization of the local travel agencies and tour guides. There are small offices everywhere, and for reasonable prices, they will book shuttle vans, hotels, and tours around the country. Our ride to Lake Atitlan included a group of six lively people with conversations about religion and politics filling the van. It is always fascinating to me how a specific group of people share intense moments of fun with the full understanding that they will never see each other again. It was a great ride with moments of spirited debate and kindness.
Lake Atitlan is beautiful. Being surrounded by volcanoes feels intense. They are beautiful, but a little scary to me. I know people pay attention to all that, but I have visions of elementary school science experiments, where the lava just starts spewing and charging down, that make me slightly nervous when I am climbing or surrounded by them. The clouds hovering gently on top of the volcanoes in the morning, and covering them by mid afternoon made the ride from town to town an incredible sight to enjoy from the lake.
The villages around Lake Atitlan are all accessible by boat, and while close geographically, their unique personality traits make them seem miles apart. We visited Panajachel, San Juan, San Pedro, and Santiago Atitlan and personally I felt like we didn’t have enough time and would return to each spot. I quickly learned that Shona is not only a great shopper (she made me buy those things at the market) but also a great travel companion and person. I have been very conscious about buying anything because frankly nothing seems worth carrying for weeks, but when she offered to return home with my purchases and mail them to me, I was sold on the fun of shopping together.
In San Juan, we visited a place where women were weaving with yarn dyed with flowers and seeds. In Santiago, we stopped at a house where a local family had an altar to Maximon. It was hard to understand the story there, but the garage-like area was filled with a large statue of this local folk saint and people sitting around drinking beer and smoking cigars as offerings. It seemed like some kind of exclusive mancave to me. Then, it was back to Panajachel for an evening enjoying our lakeside view and a walk around town.
I tried a new food item that I think I can master in the kitchen. We stopped for a grilled cob of corn. Instead of butter, it was taken off the hot grill and rubbed with a lime dipped in salt. It was really delicious,and easy so I will add it to my plan for future recipes I can make.
After Lake Atitlan, I returned to Antigua for a few domestic hours of laundry drop off, saying goodbye to my host family, and planning my week that includes a trip to the Mayan ruins in Tikal, a few days in Flores, and meeting Shona again for a weekend in Rio Dulce. Then, it will be time to say goodbye to Guatemala and hello to Belize…a few beach days will be nice.
I have to get moving. There is a big soccer game playing here between Barcelona and Madrid. I think it’s an important and big game because the restaurant owner keeps jumping up and down and yelling. Then, he walks over to me, explains what is happening in Spanish, and seems to want to better response than I know now to give. Buena…muy bien…and mucho bueno can only take me so far here.