Well Guatemala is proving to be a great point of entry to Latin America. As soon as I touch down in Guatemala City I am struck by how relaxed and chilled “La Gente” are. No looking stressed and generally pissed off about the prospect of going on their holidays, everyone wears big smiles and acknowledge you with a “buenos dias” or just some old school eye contact and a grin.
The taxi driver who takes me to the bus depot, Adrian, speaks no English, but he asks questions which he knows won’t challenge a tourist like me with minimal Spanish credentials. He speaks slowly and listens patiently for my responses. I surprise myself with how much I’d remembered from my lessons well over a year ago and having not spoken any for the same time.
Adrian provides the perfect confidence boosting conversation I needed to dive head first into getting this language nailed down. Learning the lingo is my biggest goal of the trip. Maxing my surf skills comes a close second. If I return to England not able to converse in Spanish I should at least be a shit hot surfer!
I find myself at the bus depot waiting a short while for the bus to Quetzaltenango (Xela). The journey thus far has been straight forward. I slept pretty much the whole 11 hours from London to Mexico City, waking only to eat and to watch the first 40 minutes of Eddie The Eagle (what a legend by the way). And slept again for the two hours to Guatemala City.
The bus journey is four hours and I’m scheduled to arrive at Xela at 14:30. The bus crawls up the windy mountains. This meandering pace is a pleasant relief from the suicidal bus drivers of Sri Lanka and just generally all drivers across the globe. It’s a welcome change to actually feel like I’m not going to meet my death on foreign roads. I take this as another sign that the “Guatemaltecos” are super “tranquillo.”
The views are pretty spectacular too. The mountains and volcanic landscape is covered with lush green jungle or farm land cultivating fruit, veg and corn. The sky is blue and the sun is out and I’m getting a great feeling about this country.
As the bus ascends higher into the hills and my ears start to pop the clouds roll in and drops of rain form on the windscreen of the bus. I can no longer make out the landscape. It’s bleak out there. The bus driver takes every bend an extra 10 miles per hour slower now just to ensure that there are no fatalities. I like his approach. I can sleep in the knowledge I will wake up alive at the end of the journey and not dead in some ravine.
Just as I nod off I hear a massive bang, a bit like we have been shot at. I jump out of my seat. Typically no one seems that bothered. I don’t think we have been shot at. These people are chilled yes but I’m sure if there was someone shooting at us they’d loose that relaxed exterior.
It turns out the rear wheel has blown out. The roads are riddled with big pot holes. The driver cruises for an hour or so at 5mph until we arrive at a tyre repair place on the side of the road. I reckon they do a cracking trade.
This takes about another hour to fix. The locals on the bus are still chilled. No one asks the driver how long this is going to take, they just accept it and get on with being non phased. I’m learning lessons from the Guatemalans already.
We arrive a couple of hours behind schedule. No problema. I go about finding my accommodation for the night. Lonely Planet and trip advisor big up Casa Renaissance. Xela is a small city with a population of just 167,000 and the city appears to be set up in a grid just like NYC.
Casa R is situated on Avenida 13 and Calle 9 zone 1. The bus depot is at Avenida 12 and Calle 6. Not far to walk then. I turn down the offer of a taxi and start to walk. It them starts to rain. Just a light drizzle. It becomes noticeable that few of the streets actually have street names on them.
Eventually I find my way to av13, street 9, but there is no sign of Casa Renaissance. It then twigs that I’m in zona 3 and not zona 1. I need to walk straight back along AV 13 to get to zona 1 where the street numbers start going back up to 9. I spend the best part of an hour walking around Xela centre in the rain trying to find the hostel. Let’s hope they actually have space for me.
Luckily they did but only for one night. Not such a problem, I want to do a home stay as part of my intensive Spanish course. The owner of Casa Renaissance very kindly arranges for me to go and check out one of the language schools, El Portal, nearby. All looks and sounds good. She then arranges a homestay for me. The total cost for 25 hours of tuition per week plus homestay inclusive of three meals a day is Qu1200, that’s about £120. Pretty good value I think. I sign up to start the following day, Saturday.
Casa Renaissance is nice and spacious. The owner, a Dutch lady, is helpful and friendly. I go for dinner at Sabor De La India based on the fact LP has it listed as being vegetarian and vegan. I’m not quite sure how I am going to be able to keep up my veganism in Latin America but when the opportunity presents itself I wish to continue with it. I had the vegan thali. It was massive and damn tasty. Three veggie curries, rice and a green chapatti. With a bottle of water this was qu66. Not bad for the size and quality of the food. Decent booster on the sauce too! The photo below is the Fish Nandu and parratha. Slipped off the wagon big time here but it was my final feast in what is now my favourite Indian restaurant in the world!
I start school the next day. My profesora seems nice, she is very smiley, always giggling and laughs at almost everything I say. At first I thought it was maybe a nervous laugh but as the days roll by I think it’s just the way she is or my Spanish is so bad she is in a constant state of entertainment.
We move on to regular and irregular verbs, most of which I’ve done before but am very grateful for the opportunity to do again as I have forgotten most of them.
The class goes by really quickly. I’m excited to continue this intensive level for the next week and possibly the week after. I really want to get stuck into this. Before I start surfing my days away it’s my goal to get up to a level where I can converse much more naturally.
My first class was a big success mainly because I did not think I would be able to concentrate for the full 5 hours. I’d struggled previously with a 90 minute class in London.
After class I was met by Berto. A wirey, pale and very un Guatemalan looking man. He looked to be in his late 60s or even 70s. His English was non existent and his Spanish wasn’t much better either. Or he just didn’t understand my bad Spanish. Conversation was next to non existent. I assumed this man was my Homestay host. I worried during the 20 minute walk to his house that I’d set myself for another Sweden esq situation, long lonely nights sat across a dinner table unable to converse with an old divorcee. We walk the few blocks to the casa. I try and make conversation with Berto but it runs dry. Comments like, “hay es mucho trafico hoy” do little to stimulate Berto into much more chat.
We arrive at the house and I meet who I assume is Berto’s wife. Her name is Pati. However it appears Berto doesn’t live in the house so I’m not sure what relation he is to Pati. I discover this whilst telling him his wife is a good cook, “tu mujer es una cocinera bunena.” He laughs and then leaves once he’s finished watching me eat every last scrap on my plate. A little bit awkward but I really liked the food so was kind of concentrating on that rather than conversation anyway.
The food whilst basic was really nice. Potatoes, sautéed vegetables and this strange maiz thing. There was a cracking spicy sauce which I lashed on everything that added a real kick to the dish. I’d put down in my application form that I was vegetarian so this took a little bit of explaining to my host. “Me Gusta comida, pero no como carne.” “I like food but I do not eat meat.” She seemed OK with it. Probably makes me a cheaper lodger and thus maximises their profit on me. Everyones happy.
There are three small children in the house. Julian, an 11 month old baby boy, Javier, a four month old little boy and Pilar, a two year old little girl. The two youngest are asleep, Pilar is very shy and doesn’t say much. She seems very unsure of me. Maybe it’s the beard. My own three year old niece hates my beard enough to the point she does not want to cuddle or hug me. Maybe I should just get rid of it if it’s makes me look that scary to kids.
However, like most small kids, Pilar starts off shy then turns super chatty and really good fun. She starts teaching me Spanish by picking out various items from the wash bin. “Pantalones” she says as she picks out some trousers. She goes through a few items. She is really cute. Very smiley and always laughing.
I go to my room to do some study and she follows me in and starts chatting away. I wish I could give her more chat than I’ve currently got. She leaves and a few minutes pass when I hear a mans voice and Pilar in hysterics. I’m guessing this is the dad. I walk out into the corridor and the two of them are embracing each other laughing and playing. It’s very sweet to watch. I introduce myself to Pilar’s dad, Sergio.
Sergio’s wife is not too far behind. We also greet each other with the same pleasantries. Sergio lets on he speaks English, I kind of wish he didn’t tell me that but I try to refrain from speaking any English to him. They sit down in the kitchen and have their lunch. “Almuerzo”. They both ask me lots of questions very slowly. I have to ask them to repeat themselves a few times but little by little I kind of get the gist of what they are asking. I get my notebook from today’s class and try to ask questions around the verbs which I’ve been learning today.
They are really patient with me and I like chatting to them.
Pilar is an absolute comedian as well. She reminds me of my little niece Erin. Full of beans and so keen to please and make people smile and laugh. I ask her if she loves her little brother Javier. “Pilar? Quieres tu hermano Javier?” She kisses him and then tells him she loves him more than a dogs tail! When she said this in Spanish I wasn’t sure what she had said, it was a longer sentence than I expected and there was a reference to “cocho” in there. I thought dog was “perro” but I’d heard this term used before for a dog. Sergio confirmed what she had said. I’m laughing hysterically myself now.
Both mum and dad work Monday to Saturday so I guess I will be seeing a lot of Pilar, and Javier next week.
I sit down for dinner with Pati and little Julian (not quite sure whose kid this is at this stage). Julian up to now has spent most of the time sleeping or drinking milk. But at dinner he springs to life and is a little dude. We play a game of throwing the fork on the floor. He finds this very funny and he continues with this game for about 30 minutes. He’s found his voice now too. I’d not heard a peep out of him before now but his lungs are big and he likes shouting his gobbledegook.
I’m absolutely knackered, I think it’s a time zone issue. Guatemala is seven hours behind England so I’m looking at 2am English time when I’m eating and playing with Julian.
I take myself off to bed at about 8 and read some of my Spanish notes. I nod off waking up at 11am with the door wide open and the bedroom light still on. I’m still really tired and know I can go back to sleep easy.
I like my home stay, the bed is really comfy and the room is quiet. There is also enough room to fit my yoga mat down and do some practice.
I wait for the for morning rain to stop and go for a run. I make a note that the house number is 0-60. Off I go down a big hill towards the main square. Central Parque America. I swing a right and find a nice long stretch of quiet road and do some interval runs. I am blowing out of my arse big time and my heart rate is getting into zone five. How am I blowing so hard? I then remember we are 2600 metres above sea level. That’s enough altitude to make the air pretty thin. I do eight of these and then call it a day. I start to make the run towards home.
Xela is made up of a simple grid of Avenues and streets. It shouldn’t be hard to find your way anywhere! But I appear to get lost at every turn. I head in the direction I came from. I think I’m on the right track. I find a 0-60 property but it doesn’t look like my homestay. I try the key just in case. No it’s not mine. I realise I did not take down the avenue number. I am completely lost.
I run back to Casa Rainaisance and get the owner there to call my Spanish school to ask for the address of my homestay. Avenida 8 is the missing information I require. I start my run back and am still pretty bamboozled. I find another property with the address 0-60. Again it doesn’t look like my house. I try the keys anyway. To no avail.
How can I be getting this so wrong!
Eventually not stepping off avenue 8 I find my house. Not so difficult after all.
I shower. It’s a hot shower thank the Lord!
I then go on a mission to find wi-fi so I can work out directions to walk to Walmart. Sunday is Madre’s day off, there is no food provided so I want to stock up on fruit and veg rather than smashing a load of cash on eating out.
So far I don’t think Guatemala is that cheap. A bottle of shampoo cost me £3.50 yesterday. A meal out was £7 and petrol looks like it’s about £2 a litre. There is a McDonald’s in the town square. When I ran past it earlier this morning it looked like a meal was £4 to £5. That’s not too dissimilar to London is it.
On my walk I stop off at a trainers shop, they had some nice blue vans in the window which I like. The guy tells me they are QU700. That’s £70! This is ridiculous. How the fuck does anyone in Guatemala afford anything. It’s London prices!
On the way to Walmart I stop off to watch a game of football at a sort of football stadium. There was not a blade of grass on the pitch, it was barren. There must have been about 30 people in the stand watching. The standard was poor. Most of the players were heavily overweight. Not sure if football is a big deal in Guatemala but it doesn’t look like it from what I’ve seen today.
I do my thing in Walmart and get the hell out of there as quick as possible. It’s a fair price but I’m sure with a little effort I could find a local farmer selling fresher produce at a fraction of the price.
I stop off outside the zoo for an empanada. It’s vegetarian and it is fit as fook. QU5 = 50p. This is more like it! Shame it’s deep fried. Can’t live off those sadly.
The zoo is in a sorry state of disrepair, no idea what animals live in there but it reminds me of a really shit Butlins.
Spanish school has started well. The five hours classes are not a problem for me to concentrate through for the entirety and I feel like I’m making quick progress. I talk lots and my tutor makes very little correction to what I’m saying. This is easy I think.
However, as the hours unfold I have this familiar feeling that I think my tutor might have fallen for me. Not again! Basically after day three of studying I’ve got about a 99% success rate on everything I say. My sweet giggly tutor barely ever corrects me. But when I’m outside of class I reckon I’ve got about a 1% conversation conversion success rate. She’s started to wear more makeup to school and the clothing is getting less. The weather has improved dramatically though so that might explain the clothing but I’ve seen these signs before and it’s not conducive to my learning. I’ve signed up to two weeks of intensive studying and whilst I do feel like I’ve improved loads I’m just not sure whether what I am saying is actually correct.
On a major plus note we walked to possibly the best bakery I have ever set foot in in my life. Bake Shop! It’s only open Monday’s and Friday’s and you need to get there for opening time at 10am to get the best and freshest merchandise. Given the smells and sheer delights which surround me I go weak at the knees and give in to temptation monumentally. Generally I’ve been pretty strict with my diet, following veganism as best I can and cutting out refined sugar. Bake Shop is no place for such fads! Fuck that, I’m going balls deep with this. A massive chocolate cookie is bought, a strawberry yogurt and some granola. Diary and sugar abound!
The sun has been out for the last three days which is a relief because the first few days were quite bleak. It’s a colourful city with brightly coloured colonial crumbling walls throughout. But in the rain and darkness it’s true glory does not always shine through. However, with the sun beaming this place comes to life. At last I can actually see the mountains and the giant Santa Maria Volcano towering over the city. I’m inspired to climb it now. I didn’t even realise it existed for the first three days, I couldn’t see It through the clouds and mist.
I’ve found an unreal yoga studio at an unreal price. Qu50 for the week. That’s £5 for 7 classes if you go every day. I’m staying for two weeks so I pay qu100. A tenner for 14 classes. I want to do all 14 just to see how bendy it gets me and what improvement I see in this period of time. It helps that the classes are brilliant too. It’s the hardest classes I’ve done. It’s Hatha yoga which means very little to me but the postures are held way longer than anything I’ve done before. Quite often I have to come out of downward dog and get into child’s pose just to have a breather. Might be the altitude thing again, I’m not sure but it’s a mega work out and after three straight days I’m feeling stronger and more flexible.
I’m enjoying my homestay. Everything is set up nicely for me here. The home stay has a proper old school washing machine, well it’s not a machine, it’s just a sink and they hand wash their clothes. I’ve no problem with doing this, I just don’t have much time in between school, eating, yoga and sleeping so I went in search of a Lavandaria (dry cleaners). I stumble across one as i stroll around the city centre. I walk in and ask the lady working there “cunato cuesta por un lavado?”. As I ask the lady I place my left hand down on the washing machine to my left, it runs fuck knows how many volts through me and I jump in the air. I fall to my knees and look up as if to say what the fuck has just happened and the lady and everyone else in the shop are laughing! I start to laugh too. To get up I use the washing machine to my right for leverage, I get blasted again. More laughs all round! It’s only qu15 for a load I eventually get told. Love the fact that there is absolutely no warning at all that these machines will electrocute the shit out if you if you go near them. The contrast to England is meteoric! I like it! I actually felt pretty good after my double electrocution. I like the risk factor involved in what is a pretty boring chore, I will take my threads there to be washed.
Every cloud has a silver lining and this little incident lead me to an incredible cafe catering for vegans. Mandarina Is the name. It can be found at avenida 13, calle 7. The owner kindly talked me through her whole vegan menu. Every item gets me salivating. I smashed a peanut butter cookie.
As I walk home I also discover Al Natural at av9, c6. This is ram packed with health foods. It’s not cheap, qu35 for a bag of granola without sugar and salt. But it’s good stuff so I am happy to pay good money for it. I buy a jar of peanut butter. “Mani sin sal, sin azuca.”
Bake Shop, Mandarina, Al Natural and the incredible Indian restaurant, Sabor de La India, cover everything I need food wise in this city.
The city is full of tiny Mayan ladies selling their hand crafted wears. The range is impressive as too are the bright colours and intricate detail. Maria who is extra “pequeña” caught me at school one morning and sold me a very nice white shirt for QU250. I think I’ve got a good deal, it looks sick and the price seems reasonable for a handcrafted garment of this quality. I get home and show Pati. She asks me if its for my girlfriend or my mother or my sister. I say no, it’s for me. She laughs and tells me it’s for women. She then asks me how much I paid so I tell her the price. Her face tells me I’ve paid over the top big time. Not to worry, I like it and think the money has gone to a good cause. I bump into Maria in the street the following day, she greets me with her big toothless smile and she gives me a cuddle. We are like best mates now.
My homestay does not have wi-fi and I do not have 3G which I like. I am not spending idol time doing the usual crap I do on my phone like scrolling through the same apps looking for any snippets of entertainment for my little brain. I really hate the amount of time I lose to doing absolutely nothing of importance on my phone so it’s a real pleasure to be rid of it. However, the Internet is a useful tool and I’m not a complete zealot. I need this thing to help organise my next footsteps. So I go and sit outside McDonalds and use their wi-fi connection which is pretty strong.
As I’m sat down on the curb outside doing some research/ accidentally sifting through Instagram looking at shit I don’t really need to be looking at, another little Mayan lady comes up and sits next to me and starts to try and sell me some very pretty table clothes. “No, no quiero, gracias.” She persists, pulling out an incredible array of table clothes. “No necisito, no tengo casa, no tengo mesa, no necisito, muchas gracias.” She stops trying to sell me her fine merchandise and we have a nice little chat about the area and my travels. Miekel is very interested in my story and asks lots of questions. We have a really nice conversation. She understands my Spanish and I understand her. Up until now my listening has been pretty bad but this convo was good and I’m starting to pick up much more as every day passes. I’ve also made another Mayan best mate. Miekel tells me she will see me at school on Monday, “hasta lunes” and chances it one last time with “compras un mantel?”. I like her persistence!
Over the next few days it dawns on me that little Julian does not leave his pram, ever. Pilar does not get to play outside, there is no garden, and Pati spends her whole day in the kitchen preparing food for the three grandchildren, her 3 daughters and their husbands, her husband, David, and me. The kids don’t really have toys, Pilar plays with a pair of scissors, Julian with pots and pans. They seem happy though. Just as happy as any kid in England who is spoiled rotten which expensive toys and games no matter what the occasion. These children whilst having literally nothing are happy. It just makes me sad to think that they don’t get to play outside, something I always took for granted. I ask Pati if there is a park for the kids with swings and slides. She says there isn’t. My tutor confirms this.
There is a little tienda over the road from the house so I offer to take Pilar to buy an ice cream. Pati and Julian come too. It was like the kids had been taken to Disney Land! No exaggeration, Julian was beside himself! Pilar blinked at the sun light like she’d be locked away in solitary confinement for her whole two years of living. It made me happy and sad at the same time.
I had this discussion with my tutor the next day. I’m not sure why Julian can’t at least be out of his pram crawling about. Maybe he has a problem with his legs and he’s mildly disabled? I’m not sure. I can’t ask that question. He’s well fed and a healthy looking little boy but his limbs quite literally will never develop if he spends all day sat in his pram. So I decide to get him out and like the previous day when we went for an ice cream he was over the moon. Lots of noises I’d not heard before and arms and legs waving all over the place. We played with a ball in one of the bedrooms where there is a bit more space. I don’t think there is a physical problem with him other than he just doesn’t get the opportunity to grow whilst being stuck in the pram.
Pati works tirelessly all day every day. The parents of the kids work Monday to Saturday and come home late. Without Pati I don’t think they could have kids. I offer to cook a traditional English meal for the family during my stay so she can have a rest one evening. A bit like my mum when my brother and I offered to cook Christmas dinner one year to let her chillax for once, I’m not sure whether this went down well. I’m going to cook bangers & mash, I think they’ll like it.
I had my first good conversation with David, Pati’s husband and the grandad to the kids, after a few kind of awkward nights where my Spanish just wasn’t great and I couldn’t understand him very well. It’s a bit embarrassing when you talk like a Neanderthal and forget all your verbs. “Tennis good”, “sauce spicy”, “volcano big”, you get the gist. Well after two days of this I managed to actually speak properly to him and we had a great chat about the location of Bake Shop and everything they sold. David likes his food just as much as me, I can tell that from his rotund belly! He’s a taxista in the city so he stops off at Bake Shop quite regularly it transpires! He kindly tells me where I need to go to get the bus to San Marcos where I’ll start a small trek to Laguna Chikabal the next day.
I got the ‘Chicken Bus’ from where David had mentioned (zone 3, avanida 15, Calle 6), it took about 45 minutes. Whilst everything else other than the washing machines have felt safe here, the chicken bus was not. Not quite Asian standards where the whole family, farm animals and kitchen sink get loaded onto the moto, there were people hanging off the side of the bus as it raced around the tight lanes and into busy streets. If you found yourself at the back of the bus it was almost impossible to get off because of the number of people squeezed in.
Anyway, I arrived safely. I started my walk up to the main entrance which was quite steep. A jeep type thing pulls up beside me and an America guy winds down his window and asks me if I’d like a ride to the entrance. I can’t refuse that offer, the road ahead looked heavy going for the start of the trek.
I sat in the boot of the jeep with Carlos, a local tour guide with one of the agents (MonteverdeTours) who’d I’d already discussed doing a bigger trek with. He recognised me from when I was in the office the previous day. I didn’t recognise him with his hat on. We spoke a little in Spanish and as my brain started to overload we switched to English and Carlos was keen to tailor a load of treks for me. We got on really well, we talked about football and cycling, he had a mountain bike tyre hanging round his neck. It was hard to make out who else was in the jeep but I counted another five people including a lady with the craziest tightly curled blond fro.
We got to the entrance and we all hopped out. I met the American properly, Carl, Tores a German lady with the crazy hair, two young Mayan women who I shamefully can’t remember the name of, and Carlos’ brother whose name has also slipped my mind. (I need to sort this name thing out!)
At the start of the walk is a small village where you need to pay an entrance fee of QU25, £2.50. There wasn’t much there other than some accommodation for sleeping over night and a lush green football pitch, sat in between corn fields and farmers plots of land. It was pretty idilic.
As the jungle cleared the Laguna became more visible. The morning mist was burning off and with the sun rising over the top of the volcano it added a quite eery feel. It was strikingly beautiful with a perfect mirrored formation of the opposite side of the Laguna.
Laguna Chicabal is a sacred spot which has seen many Guatemalans make the pilgrimage every May to thank the Lord for providing light and water. Facing east there is an alter which the pilgrims would pray to as the sun rises. On the west facing the Pacific Ocean they would give thanks for water. Water is life after all. Without it the world as we know it would not exist.
Sadly, in the last ten years the people of Guatemala have taken on a religious transformation and turned their back on Catholicism and have adopted a more Anglican form of Christianity which means they no longer need to make sacrifice and pilgrimages to sacred Lagoons in dormant volcanoes. The alters round the lake are still in place but according to Carlos, the guide, it is no longer visited as before.
As far as I can tell it sounds like as the people’s lives have become more modernised they have adopted a religion which allows for more convenience in how they practice their beliefs. Why make huge time and energy sacrifices when you can just do a quick prayer at home in front of the telly.
We finish our picnic breakfast and the clouds start to roll in at about 9am. We head back to the car, I take a different route back to check out the “mirador” (the observatory) but the clouds have descended and there isn’t a view of the lagoon from above for me. I walk on and make it back to the village before the others.
A young lad working at the reception kicks a heavily deflated ball over to me so we start having a kick about. The others finish the walk shortly after and Carlos joins in. I go in net and manage to keep everything out. Until, one of the Mayan girls steps up and unleashes a thunderous toe punt that dips and swerves. I didn’t see that coming, I’d underestimated her. I give her another go. She’s quite far out, certainly outside the area, this time she dribbles in at me, she’s got close control, I come out to narrow the angle, she strikes with her trusty big toe and it sneaks in the near post! The hatrick is on! I’m not letting her score three in three against me, I’m serious about this, it’s not happening. As I come out again to cut her options down she somehow lifts it over me and under the bar! Hatrick complete! Everyone is howling, me included. She then fists pumps me as if to say “no hard feelings.”
We make a stop off at Bake Shop and the smell of freshly baked goodness hits my nostrils and I’m a gonna again! I want to purchase the contents of the whole shop!
I say to the hatrick hero, “tengo una problema, quiero todos.” (I have a problem, I want everything). She responds with “tengo una problema, quiero tú”. Wowzas! Mayan women are forward. We all start laughing, baker included.
I get dropped of at a junction near to town where I can catch a bus back to mí casa. I say my goodbyes to everyone and thank them for a great day. As I walk off Hatrick hero calls out to me and I turn round, she is shouting something at me. What I’m not sure. She then gets out the jeep and walks over to me and points out my rucksack is wide open. She does it up for and then gives me another fist pump. I don’t think she is the most traditional Mayan I am going to meet along the way. A nice end to a great morning.
I go home and present David with the Bake Shop goods. A big grin engulfs his face. A little bit of me wonders whether he’s had a little stop off their already today!
I spend the afternoon studying/ playing with the kids.
I have yoga later with Kevin, the American yogi. This will be my third class with him and my fifth class back to back. I have never had a harder ninety minute session than with Kevin. It’s brutal. The poses are held for what feels like an eternity. I’m dripping with sweat after about ten minutes. I get this weird nervousness excitement energy before his class. Similar to when I know I’m going to do some exercise which is going to push me to my limits. Yoga has never been like that for me before. I really enjoy it and have seen big improvements in strength and flexibility in a very short space of time.
The following day I go to school and have a great lesson with a different tutor. We talk about football predominately. He cracks me up because he wants to demonstrate everything and is up and down off his chair improvising shots and the like. He tells me about his knee injury, he demonstrates how it happened whilst playing football. He’s due an operation next year. His knee keeps popping out of place. It’s grim! He just laughs it off. I feel a bit queezy.
I am going to watch the local professional team play later in the evening. Xela are playing at home against big rivals Comunicaciones. I get to the ground about an hour before kick of as advised by my profesora. I was almost the first in the stadium. Never mind, I got prime pick of the 7,000 seats. The stadium is old school. It’s ringed by fences. We are penned in like chicken!
The game is pretty poor, but I enjoy the atmosphere and the passion the fans have. I always come away from watching foreign football thinking how crap the atmosphere is at English grounds. Yeah the attendances are big and the stadiums are full but the atmosphere is shit! Certainly no fireworks, “bombas” or Pepsi Girls parading around pre, during and post match just in case the game isn’t entertaining enough.
We start the trek at about 1am by the time we get to the start of the trail. My guide is Filax, not Felix he tells me.
He speaks a little English but not much so the trek turns into a pretty good Spanish class at the same time.
The trek up the volcano is really cool. It takes us about four hours to reach the top. We stop at several spots on route to look out over Xela and the surrounding cities. In the darkness the city lights sparkle and it looks incredible. I’m happy I’ve made the decision to do the night trek and to make sunrise. The night-scape is something I’ve never really seen before and I like it. It reminds me of Christmas back home randomly. Think it’s the twinkling lights. It reminds me of our Christmas tree.
We stop not just to marvel at the light show but to also slow our pace down. Apparently the top is very exposed and consequently windy and bloody cold. Beneath the canopy of the tress and thick vegetation the trek up so far has not been too cold. I’ve not had to don my hat and gloves. All’s going well.
We arrive at the top from the east side at about 5am. We walk straight over the top to the west side to take shelter from the wind. We have about 45 minutes to sit out before sunrise. Hats and gloves on now, we look down at Volcán Santiaguito. Santiaguito is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It erupts up to twenty times a day. I sit there looking down at the smoke rising from its depths hoping for an eruption and some heat to come off it. It’s bloody freezing.
There’s an electric storm out at the Pacific Ocean so this provides some nice visuals to distract my brain from thinking about how cold it is. Time seems to stand still. I check my watch thinking it must have moved on at least thirty since I last checked. No, it’s about three minutes since the last time I looked. Filax sleeps for about 30 minutes. I’m exhausted and would like to sleep but worry I’ll miss the sunrise, a possible eruption or just freeze to death. I pace about occasionally walking to the other side of the volcano to check out the view. It’s so windy though I retreat back to the west side which has good shelterage.
Gradually the sun rises and the sky becomes more colourful. By 6am sunrise is at full bloom at the sky is lit with a beautiful array of colours mixing between layers of clouds. To the south is an incredible view of seven other volcanoes and Lago Atitlan. It’s a magical view. I think of my niece who has a mild obsession with volcanoes and natural disasters. I’m looking forward to writing to her about this little adventure. She’ll be very impressed.
We spend about an hour at the summit post sunrise, I take a million pictures from all angles until I can’t feel my hands anymore. There was no eruption of Santiaguito sadly but I feel blessed with an incredible electronic storm and breathtaking sunrise.
We descend quickly getting warmth back into our vital organs. By 9am we’d reached the bottom and it was scorchio. I was now in shorts and a t-shirt.
I got dropped off at my homestay and literally slept for 24 hours. Think I might have picked up a fever or something because I went off my food and just felt exhausted but a day later I was fine and ready to crack on with school and the next trek to Lago Atitlan next weekend.
Spanish edition to follow soon……
Here’s a few more pics from Guatemala so far;