Guatemala: Wizards & Waterparks
Guatemala has so far felt quite different from the rest of Central America. Firstly, the indigenous population here is much more visible, in fact about half the people we see walking around are dressed in what I would say is the traditional dress.
The women, are more often than not dressed in woven textile skirts and intricately embroidered tops, their hair worn in two long plaits with bright coloured cloth plaited in. For the men this means cowboy hats and embroidered cowboy shirts. It's a look only possible to pull off effectively with the lined, worn, smiling faces of the older Mayan men, although maybe Mikey could get away with it.
The other big difference is the altitude. So far we have only stayed in three places, the lowest of which was still over 1500m. Currently we're at 2400m in Xela, (officially called Quetzaltenango but that's way too long a name for the bus jockeys to shout). The bus jockeys are some of our most valued members of Guatemalan society. Not only do they have voices loud enough to allow you to hear where their bus is going over a noisy intersection and forty of fifty bus engines, they also have the strength to lift two heavy backpacks onto the roof in less than the time it takes for the four of us to climb aboard. We're still braving the camionetas (at last I have the correct terminology for the chicken bus which still have yet to be seen transporting any chickens). The journey by camioneta usually takes twice the time of a tourist shuttle bus but costs ten times less. They are pretty entertaining as they always have loud music pumping out, anything from Latino samba to Stevie Wonder.
We´ve had varying success with them so far though. The first one we took was direct to our destination and the second one involved four bus changes on route. Let´s hope tomorrow´s (with sickboy) is relatively direct!
Without a doubt, up to this point we had been lucky; bar the odd bout of tummy troubles in Indonesia, none of us has been ill in over a year, until now. I guess it had to happen at some point and it was always somehow more likely to happen to the littlest of all us littluns. Poor Otto has been under the weather since Friday. In an attempt to rule out Malaria, Dengue, Zika and brain eating Amoebas (and my hypochondriac paranoia) we took him to the hospital this morning and turns out he has nothing more exotic than strep throat. A short course of antibiotics has begun and hopefully our travels can get underway again before the roadblocks planned for Wednesday.
So what have we been up to in Guatemala? We´ve so far had a great time in Antigua which is a city so well preserved it almost feels like a theme park version of Central America. Even the McDonalds and Domino Pizza are well hidden. The advantages of this are it is beautifully clean, very photogenic and packed full of lovely coffee shops. There´s even a discreet rooftop bar where we spent sundown watching one of the encircling Volcanoes expunging plumes of smoke. We visited Santa Domingo atop one of the hills which is a hotel/restaurant/art gallery full of interesting exhibits where I fell in love with a painting for $750 - no, I didn't buy it!
From Antigua we took the direct camioneta to Pana on Lake Atitlan where we spent 4 nights in a room which felt a bit like a treehouse, all wooden and rickety and remarkably cosy. Here we met some awesome people (other guests as well as staff at Iguana Perdida). We swam in the lake, despite the altitude and the chilly air. The kids had a ball with all their new playmates and new toys and didn't want to leave and we had a great time huddled around campfires setting the world to right and talking time travel and teleporting with The Wizard! The lake has quite a big mystic community and the Wizard is a very convincing prophet! Certainly, teleporting would have been preferable to the four changes we had to make on the camioneta from the lake to where we are now, Xela.
Xela is a much underrated city which although it is cold it's got plenty about it, good nightlife and the most fantastic bakery, Xelapan! We arrived here on Wednesday and had a couple of active days before Otto got sick. Firstly we took a trip to Xocomil (pronounced Chocomeal) a massive waterpark which kept us all entertained: as usual Jess and Mikey broke all the rules and went on a height restricted crazy double tube ride which kicks you out heading up a quarter pipe, before you head backwards into the drop pool. Meanwhile, Otto and I enjoyed the lazy river, the boy still loved it (remember, how much the him and Felix loved the one in Bali?)
On Friday, we went for a more sedate and much warmer bathing experience at Fuentes Georginas, a thermal springs in the shadow of Volcano Santa Maria. It was a beautiful setting and the waters were hot enough to take the chill off the mountain air. Although I suspect, the sudden hot and cold temperature changes probably didn't help in Otto´s fight against infection; it was after the baths that he fell ill. Not much to report since then, it´s been quiet time for the travelling Newitts, watching a lot of movies and catching up on laundry, calling folks back home and updating the blog. Hopefully next time I write, Otto will be back to his normal crazy self and we will be headed from here northwards towards Flores.
Till next time, friends and family, take care.
Hi Sarah, I'd say you'll be fine with taking a two (or nearly two year old). We didn't travel the route from San Cristobal as we crossed over from El Salvador but we met others who had. Some of the journeys in Guatemala can be slow but we bussed everywhere and it was all fairly pleasant. My one main reservation about travelling through Guatemala compared with other countries in the region is there is well travelled route which is quite a party route. if you happen to land in this route you can feel like its impossible to get local busses as lots of people are going via overpriced tourist minibus. It may take a while to search out the route via a local bus but it's worth it otherwise it can be fairly expensive to travel around. And be warned it is more expensive than Mexico. To be honest we much preferred Mexico and El Salvador and Nicaragua to Guatemala but that said Lake Atitlan and Antigua were both very nice. Hope this helps !
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Kelly and Mikey (but mostly Kelly). We sold up in the UK to travel with our two littluns for a year or so. If you want to know more click the about us!