I think this is the first time I really write anything about my stay here in Guatemala, except for an entry about where to go next, and it will be impossible to really go into details about these weeks in one entry without bore you to death, so I will just try to convey my general impressions of Guatemala and will try to catch up with specific entries about the different parts of my trip here later on (but don't count on it as I seem to be getting more and more behind every day that passes, but I guess that's what happens when you're having fun).
So, what have I've been up to here? Well after a 'prison-like' night in Guaté (Guatemala city - why on earth does most countries here find it a good habit to name there capitals 'city of xxxx country'?) and 2 freezing cold, slightly odd-feeling weeks studying Spanish with the best teacher ever (well, she's actually in competition with my great Cuban teacher) and volunteering with a group of 11 super cute orphans under the ages of 6 years old in Xela (Quetzaltenango), I went on a 3-day hike from Xela to Lago Atitlàn. Did I mention that Xela is situated at 2'300 meter, and that we started with a 2h step uphill road? Well, it was a tough experience, but so worth it as I went with the best group of hikers and guides ever. Organised by Quetzaltrekkers this is one hike really worth doing!!
My original plan was to stay 1 day only in San Pedro (one of the villages at the lake) - well, actually my real original plan was not even to go to Lago Atitlàn - but I loved it so much and the atmosphere there was just so relaxed that I decided to stay on one extra day enjoying the beautiful lake surrounded by volcanoes. To be honest I could have stayed there for a several weeks, but time was pressing on, so I jumped on a bus to Antigua. One of the most recommended places to visit in Guatemala as it is a quaint little place also surrounded by volcanoes, including one really impressive huge triangular one, I didn't take to it. Having planned to stay a day and a half, I changed my mind in the bus already and when I found out that there was a possibility to move on to Tikal (or rather Flores, the touristy island close to Tikal) the same night, I booked it and moved on.
Flores was ok, while Tikal was amazing! If anyone plans to go there, I would recommend to spend the night before in one of the few places at Tikal itself as you can catch the sunrise and will be there before and after most tourists have left. Although, one of the advantages of travelling at this time of the year, in the low season, is definitely that there are not that many tourists around (other advantages are that you can get cheaper prices for a lot of stuff and you never have to book in advance for anything). So walking around Tikal we (the Dutch girl I had met the day before and I) hardly saw any other tourists. But we did see a lot of monkeys to my great joy!
Having been recommended to visits another 15 or so places, I decided to make a few last stops on my way out of Guatemala, and headed to Rio Dulce to a cool place called Casa Perico where the jungle river vibe got to me and I somehow whizzed away another day. My final stop, where I am writing this, is Livingston - a really cool feeling Garifuna city where today they were celebrating the second day of the all saints day (the first day, yesterday, are to celebrate kids, and today was to celebrate adults). Knowing that the next two days will be very tiring I'm just taking it easy this evening though instead of heading out into town for some good dancing.
So as usual, I just start writing and never seem to stop and if I'm not mistaken I have still not gotten to the actual wrap-up of this country experience. Oh well, I guess if you tire of reading you can just stop ;)
What then are my general impressions of Guatemala? To be honest, arriving here I was feeling rather apprehensive as person after person kept sending me negative information about the security situation in the country and right before coming about the landslides that had hit the country badly during the last rain season. And my first night spent in Guaté did nothing to help me feel less insecure. Nor did my first few days in Xela when I heard story after story about people having been robbed at gunpoint, or even some girls that were abducted for a night and raped (oh by the way, this reading is not for sensitive mothers!). Following on all these stories, I spent a few days being scared of shadows and feeling like I was in a movie when a pick-up drove by with blasting Latin American hiphop and 5 dark-looking guys in the back staring at me. The only thing missing were the big guns. And the fact that it was 4 in the afternoon, the sun was shining and I was eating an ice cream on a bench in the most popular parc in the middle of the city. Mind trick?
I did however love my Spanish classes with my wonderful teacher Susan, I loved spending time with the kids although it was sometimes heartbreaking and I met loads of really cool and nice Guatemaltecas. And slowly started to relax. Still taking taxis home if going after 8 in the evening, but feeling more and more relaxed, and actually enjoying the place. After I moved on and started seeing more of the incredible beauty of this country, and staying in safer places where you can go out without having to worry every second, I fell more and more in love.
I would definitely recommend coming here. If I could re-do my plans I would allow myself even more time here. Probably not that much more time in Xela, but for sure a lot more time in San Pedro and in Livingston, as well as for seeing even other parts that I have heard a lot of good things about but have not been able to visit.
The people here are more timid than in Cuba and less aggressive in the streets (although more aggressive when it comes to crimes). The once I have gotten to know better have been extremely nice and trying their best to make my stay a positive experience. And people will help you finding your way if you look lost. The large majority of people are very kind. And luckily for me, so far I have had the great luck of only meeting nice people (touching wood as I speak).
And the beauty of the country is breathtaking! Really, stunningly, breathtaking. I regret not having climbed one of the volcanoes when I had the chance, but my bad cough would not allow it. But I am so happy that I decided to go on that long trek. The best hiked 47 kilometres of my life!
And did I mention that it is cheap here? I complain when I have to pay 4$ for a room.... Yep, this is a great place to visit and I have loved my stay here, since even in Xela where I was cold, sick, and partly terrified, I still had a great time learning Spanish 5h per day with a great, fun teacher and working with the sweetest, most impossible, but cute kids for another 4h per day. Only wish I could stay longer – but I thought that about Cuba as well. Can anyone see a pattern?