Standing by an ATM, I realised that the man stood behind me casually has a big chunky metal gun shoved down the front of his jeans. This was my first taste of Guatemala. His yellow-shirted fat belly nearly concealed it but he almost definitely wasn’t trying to hide this weapon. I hit cancel as quickly as I could, took my card and walked confidently back to the bus past the machine gun wielding guards. Being able to eat is overrated anyway *sigh*. Five hours to Antigua.
We landed on the cobbled streets of Antigua in the late afternoon sun. Instantly happy I explored the streets with bright red walls, flowers hanging from every building, ladies carrying armfuls of vibrant textiles, stunning historic yet decaying buildings on every corner. Antigua sits within huge green mountains with two huge volcanos on the near horizon. Roof terraces are everywhere so even within the city centre you can feel close to nature and people watch from the skies. Even stepping out of my hotel makes me smile as there’s a salsa school opposite, with its doors flung wide open so you can watch the lessons in full flow.
Too nervous at first to give salsa a go in the sweaty lively clubs, despite many locals offering to teach me, I had a lesson. Well a whole group of us had a lesson and it was hilarious. I’m still yet to unleash my new found salsa dancing skills onto Latin America but I’m feeling slightly more prepared now.
Moving on to Panajachel was interesting with chicken buses being our chosen mode of transport. 4 buses and 4 hours of the toughest core workout, hanging on for dear life in the tiniest aisle which meant you can only put one foot in front of the other or in my case I had to stand with one foot on top of the other. Crazy latino music plays and you literally bounce your way to your next stop. Our bags were scattered to make room for more and more people and we arrived with only one passport missing.
Panajachel is an odd place. It’s geared up for tourists with an overflowing street of market stalls but it seems to have attracted much older western audience. Yeah it’s quite pretty sitting on the edge of Lake Atitica but it’s an odd choice to spend your hols here. The fabrics woven and sold here are distinctive and most of the locals wear traditional dress. Similar to Tibetans, the women wear long plaits in their black hair with material integrated into the hairstyles. Their skirts reach their ankles and have intricate patterns along on the seams.
We took a small boat across the lake to San Juan, ready to meet our Guatemalan families. San Juan is a beautiful place, full of art and textiles. The families that live on this island are all part of a co-operative to sell their work and make sure the originator receives 95% of the profit. Herbs and plants are grown to create teas and potions. After my last home stay I was quite nervous about meeting my new family but there was no need, what with 18 of them, at least 7 of them kids it was one of those money can’t buy experiences. I instantly fell in love with the naughtiest boy, Christian, aged 7 he was clearly in charge of this massive family. He wowed me with his ability to climb a pole with the ease of a howler monkey, so I retaliated with a headstand on their cold stone floor. We became inseparable throughout dinner, showing each other weird tricks we could do with our limbs. I had no idea my double-jointedness would come in so handy. The three storey house had lots of rooms with curtains instead of doors but the top floor was my favourite with no windows. The family ate, cooked and completed their crafts up here, the view was incredible overlooking the lake and volcanos.
We gradually made our way up through Guatemala heading to Belize and spent a few nights at Rio Dulche and Flores, both pretty but not a lot going on. Before making the border crossing to Belize I spent the morning checking out Tikal’s Myan ruins. Interesting for sure, but ruins aren’t really my thing and the humidity made my brain deactivate. I started to question whether I had some kind of attention deficit disorder as I tried to concentrate on the enthusiastic guide’s words but they wouldn’t sink in. I perked up when he chatted about the impact of the full moon on growing and cutting crops and natural materials. Apparently timber chopped during a full moon stays strong for years but if you get impatient and cut it down early during a new moon it will rot and get destroyed by termites. Absolutely fascinating – I need to learn more about the moon and it’s magical ways.