It was a mixture of hands clapping from the ladies making tortillas, birds singing and laughter. But before I got to this dreamy conclusion, let’s go back to the beginning of my trip. And let me just, once again, put emphasis on the fact that I am a city girl, I grew up downtown Quebec City and since then have lived only in big metropoles.
First day in Guatemala, after a night in a little hostel in the capital, my friend Anna and I head downtown to run some errands. After our first stop, a little print shop with really friendly and helpful staff, we catch the first city bus to get to our next destination. All of a sudden, I sense the mood change, a sense of fright surrounds me and I hear loud and intimidating voices commending all the passengers to do something.. Now, I don’t speak spanish, but I know something ain’t right. My friend quickly pulls out some money from our little pouch that’s hiding underneath her skirt and hands it to one of the guy. Ohhh I get it…the bus is being robbed.. “Welcome to Guatemala..” I think to myself. I see it as a kind of “bienvenue” tax. I mean, quite frankly, I’d rather be in my position than his. I mean we gave him what amounts to about $15 and that’s it. He, on the other hand, has to rob people for a living, it’s his way to survive in the harsh living conditions he finds himself to be. So, really, who’s the victim here..? The rest of the day goes quite smoothly in comparison, and luckily I was able to leave all my belongings at the print shop which explains why they didn’t steal more than a little bit of money.
Now time to depart the capital and head to a more peaceful and calm environment, San Pedro La Laguna by Lake Atitlán. We have quite a ride to do to get there, we choose the economical way of transportation the famous “Chicken bus”. I keep wondering what is this chicken bus all about.. Are we gonna be sharing the bus with a bunch of chickens..? I mean I can picture the whole thing in my head and it seems like a plausible situation considering where I am. Well, no, let me tell you, we aren’t sharing the bus with any chickens. As a matter of fact, we are the chickens. There are so many of us in this bus, they squeeze in as many people as possible, which is where the name chicken bus comes from. The road is long and bumpy, which is apparently only the highway, so I can just imagine what it’ll be like when we get to the dirt road. The night falls, we’re driving down a mountain road, and my friend advises me that it’s better that it’s dark out, since that way we can’t see how steep the cliff beside the road is… How reassuring? She also warns me that she lives in what she refers to as a “rustic cabana”… I don’t know how to feel about this new information. I don’t mind rustic, but it all depends to which extent.
We get to the village safe and sound. I like what I see, it’s lively, people are warm and welcoming and the vibe is good. We get to my friend’s house…. It is very, very rustic.. It is a tiny one room palace made of concrete with a sheet metal roof, the master bathroom is divided in three parts, shower, toilet and sink, All… Outside…. I didn’t know she also had many other roommates, eight-legged creatures that I like to call spiders……… How in the hell am I gonna make it through these 3 weeks? Seeing the look on my face, she promises me that I’ll understand why she lives here tomorrow morning and that it is worth putting up with the “rusticness”. I hope she’s right.
I awoke the next morning with the sun rising…. And boy was she right!! The sight we have is absolutely delightful. She lives literally a meter away from the lake that’s surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, and the sun shining on the water with its pretty orange glow leaves me speechless. Wow, I can’t believe I will be waking up to this every morning!! Check out this video to get an idea…
I won’t be going through every single day I spent in Guatemala, it would be way too long to do, since I like details. But what I can tell you from all the people I met, all the adventures, whether it was going to the Pacific coast and hitch hiking to some removed beach, to zip lining from mountain top to mountain top, to hiking a volcano, to eating street food in San Pedro’s Village, to going on a little cayuco ride on the lake with a friendly fisherman or dancing the night away at a local bar, my trip was amazing and it taught me a lot.
We all have different reasons to travel, most travelers are on a quest of some sort; to experience new things, to let go, to relax, etc. Whatever it is for you, all I can advise you, is to be willing to get out of your comfort zone, be willing to live the closest to the way people live wherever it is you are going to, try to adapt to their way of living and not the opposite. Because truly, yeah the chicken bus wasn’t comfy, sure being robbed sucks and the cabana wasn’t anything near to a “hilton”, but this lasted me three little weeks out of my whole life and for some people it is their everyday reality and still they are the most generous, happy and humble people I have met. They wake up early with the birds singing and share a good laugh while clapping their hands together making tortillas for their families and when you walk by, they look at you in the eyes and wish you a good day with a sincere smile on their face and that my friends, is worth more than a 5 stars hotel. Keep that in mind on your next trip and always.. Travel Smart!!
For the vegeterians: Hummus Ya!
For the food and the dancing: Sublime Bar
For tours & activities around the lake: Asoantur