Some will say that we’ve done Guatemala all wrong. Staying less than 2 weeks, keeping to the major cities and tourist centers in the country’s south west, feasting on pizza and french crepes… You would be right.
Guatemala was the place our health was beat down, and it was also the place we healed and repaired. Our spirits were lifted, waking up to volcanoes out our bedroom window. Meeting friendly locals and people who have relocated from elsewhere on the globe, all eager to show us why they’ve chosen Guatemala as their home.
We spent one night in Huehuetenango, about an hour from the Mexican border. Travis’ own personal hell. Well, that’s unfair considering he never left the hotel room. Amanda wandered around town, buying water and apple juice for the sick young boy Travis was reduced to. Poor guy. He was OK enough to be in the car for a short drive the next day.
We arrived in Quetzaltenango, or Xela (pronounced Shay-la) for short. We stayed in a wonderful guesthouse with large rooms, a private bath (necessary in our situation) and shared kitchen. Marieke is a young expat from Holland and her Casa Renaissance is highly recommended. Despite Travis’ weakness, we shopped at the local Xela market and were able to visit at least 4 square blocks of the city. As the second largest city in Guatemala, we know we did not do Xela justice. Amanda came down with a 24 hour bug while we were there, but her immune system karate chopped it like a champ.
Next stop was the beautiful Lago Atitlan. We stayed in the small town of San Pablo La Laguna, away from the tourist center of Panajachel. In San Pablo, we were welcomed by Stuart and his Guatemalan wife, Elena and family. Stuart was born British and grew up in Windsor, Ontario. He’s been in San Pablo for 23 years and is the only gringo in town (known affectionately as Estuardo). The rest of the town assumed we were related in some way, as all gringos look alike.
Stuart rents out a rustic wood cabin with the most incredible views of the lake and volcanoes beyond. Seeing volcanoes for the first time, some smokey and active, is awesome. The property is surrounded by coffee and banana trees, with a few Mary Jane sprouts hiding here and there. Travis was happy just to have a bed to collapse onto and quick access to the bathroom. We were gifted some coffee that was picked right on the property we stayed in – heavenly, first thing in the morning.
Stuart bakes bread and pizza out of a wood fired oven on his property, the tuk tuk drivers all rave about it – he’s made quite the name for himself. Now, what is a tuk tuk, you ask?
San Pablo is a 10 minute tuk tuk ride to the next town, where you can catch a boat out onto the lake. We visited the larger town of San Pedro La Laguna, which is dominated by yoga retreats, juice bars and language schools. Travis thought really highly of the place.
Arriving in Antigua, first order of business is to have Travis see a doctor. He’s been better than when he first got sick, but is still incredibly weak and tired. For $25usd, he’s seen at a private hospital, in a jumble of line up here, wait here, go up to the 4th floor and someone will come for you… The result? Doctor is 80% sure he has contracted E.coli. He prescribes the same antibiotics that we already have in our first aid kit (Cipro) and we are kicking ourselves for not having him take them sooner.
So Antigua is the town where Travis becomes himself again, slowly but surely. He begins to talk of burros and of how many cat sightings there have been today. He sings ‘Highway to Health’ to the tune of AC/DC, and we know we’ve got Travis back.
Antigua used to be the capital of all Central America, back when the governing territory stretched from southern Mexico to Costa Rica. Surrounded by the volcanoes, the terrain is unstable and earthquakes have plagued the city for centuries. Old shells of buildings and churches remain among new, brightly colored buildings. It gives the city an unmistakable look.
Language schools are very popular and the city has an vast selection of international cuisine. Wanting to boost Travis’ probiotic intake, we set off in search of sauerkraut and kimchi. German, Korean, Indian, French, Italian – all restaurants are not only available but highly recommended and popular. This is how we ended up having the most delicious crepes in the middle of Guatemala. Homemade pesto, and chicken for Travis, pear, goat cheese and spinach for Amanda. Finished off with coffee ice cream and homemade chocolate.
Speaking of chocolate, we learned about cocoa trees and how the Maya were the first to use the cocoa bean to produce a chocolate like product. The Spaniards brought this to Europe and the rest is history. With Travis feeling better, we went in search of a chocolate bar and for Amanda, a hot chocolate with cardamom extract. Sooo yummy. As was the young Guatemalan guy serving. Que suerte.
We’ve stayed mainly in the western highlands and the climate has been sunny, cool and comfortable. There is so much more to Guatemala on the north and eastern sides. This is all on the itinerary for our trip back north, early next year. We can’t wait to return to the land of colorful chicken buses.