Lake Atitlan

Wow! Full disclosure, my visit to Guatemala was pretty rapid-fire and based purely on pictures I had seen of friends visiting the area. I knew I would have a little time left after my yoga trade ended in Nicaragua, and I wanted to be able to "check off" another country while I was in the area. I am sometimes guilty of being a checklist traveler; I even have a scratch off map that I keep updated every time I go somewhere new. This is a silly way to go about things--there's so much depth of experience that can be gained by staying in one country for longer amounts of time--but it is the way of the Enthusiast and it is the way of me.

I planned to spend an extra week heading to the island and coast of Nicaragua, and then found a one-way flight from Guatemala back to the U.S. Initially, I tried to beg my Guatemalan roommate to meet me that week, but she had some January work travels to attend to. I couldn't shake the idea of going, and the international flight price was right-- Interjet is a real legitimate airline with real cheap Central American flights-- so I scrounged up some credit card points to help me get to Guatemala and there I went.

Antigua was a lovely stopping point, but magical Lake Atitlan had been calling me to it, so I decided to make the 3-4 hour shuttle-then-boat journey there, which was reasonably bouncy but not so much that I couldn't eat Pringles and a chocolate bar and think that everyone else needed to settle down and enjoy the views. The small girl in front of me got sick two times, and while I wish I were the type of person who, when a child gets sick near me on the bus, thinks "Aw, poor sick child", instead I am the type who wonders why a person decided to bring their family of four on a windy, bumpy shared shuttle bus when every single member gets horrendously carsick, and when that person also needs to periodically change and feed their baby all across the seat next to me. Anyway, compassion; I am working on it and the lake was a good place to do so:

Lake Atitlan

The shores of the crater lake look like what I imagine parts of Italy look like. Tiny towns are built into the hillside, and the only sane way to travel between them is by very efficient and entertaining boat taxis. You could spend a month or more visiting each of them and uncovering the gems in each one. I only had a day and a half, so I went to the one for the yogis and spiritual-minded community, drank some golden milk turmeric tea and jumped off a platform into the chilly waters. Jumping from high places into lower wet places is a favorite of mine, so it was a very delightful day.

San Marcos Guatemala nature preserve

Hola Antigua

There comes a point in any backpacking trip when the obligatory introductions get really worn out, and you just can't bring yourself to listen very hard to where people live and how they got here and where they were before this and where they're going next since you know it's all going to blend together anyway, and you'll probably forget everything five minutes into the conversation. It was a nice change when, at one hostel in San Juan del Sur, we agreed to skip that stuff and didn't even learn each other's names until two days into the visit. We still shared plenty of stories and joked a lot, and our time together seemed to offer a deeper and more enjoyable connection than when you're talking just to talk and your consciousness feels like a floating alien presence watching your mouth go through the motions of trying to detail how long each bus ride was or how many days you spent in which part of the country.

Antigua, Guatemala

Guatemala has been like that, too. Once I've stopped looking up and tripping over stone streets long enough to go into a place, everyone I've talked to has felt like a familiar friend. I've noticed that here, versus in Granada, the expat community seems to be a bit younger and more in favor of befriending locals. I enjoy seeing this blend, where foreigners have come to fully participate in the culture rather than create their own separate scene. Antigua's parks and plazas make it feel European, but the colors, crafts, and markets remind of the indigenous peoples who were here long before. The air is fresh and crisp, and there's a whole bunch of beauty to breathe in.

Cerro de la Cruz Antigua, Guatemala

Namaste Nicaragua

Getting out of Nicaragua turned out to be a very Nicaraguan experience. It took about 40 minutes to check out of my hostel because it was the receptionist's first day, and she had to do a lot of reconciliation between a paper notebook and the computer system. I didn't mind too much because I was recovering from a multi-day stomach situation, so I was just existing in a fog while waiting until the next time I could sit down again. I lugged my backpacks and yoga mat over to a different hostel to catch the airport shuttle, happy to sink into a new seat for a couple hours. Unfortunately, after leaving on time at 9:30am, we had made the journey out of town and then back again to pick up a new rider, so by 10am we were on exactly the same street as where we had started. There was a man from Toronto sucking on a lollipop while yelling at the bus driver to let him off so he could get a taxi instead and a Spanish couple telling everyone to shut up, "¬°Dale gas!", and get a move on. It was all quite a sight to see.

Since the only shared and affordable shuttle left at 9:30 and my flight wasn't until 4:15pm, I had a lot of time in the Managua airport to feel sick and poke at a soggy Subway sandwich. Then there was a flight where i had the whole emergency exit row to myself and I used electronic devices the entire time even though they told me not to and didn't tell anyone I was sick even though the safety pamphlet told me to. Later, a talkative taxi driver rolled me through a new Central American city with more reminders of the comforts of home, like how someone had peeled off the "Mc" letters in the golden sign so that it only said "Donald's" which I thought was funny in an ironic way.

Cobblestone streets told me that we were in Antigua, and I was dropped off in a much nicer hostel than any in which I've ever stayed. One of the very friendly desk employees showed me my capsule bed (in three stories of bunks!) and the bathrooms, including a (hot!) shower. Then he took me up to the rooftop terrace where it was dark, but I found out the next day that it looked like this:

Hostel Cucuruchos, Antigua, Guatemala
Hostel Cucuruchos, Antigua, Guatemala

There was a lot waiting for me here.