Chicken bus and couch surfing in Chimiltango

Waking up in a bed in Antigua – regardless of the fact that my mattress was in the middle a three bed bunk story, was so pleasant compared to my prior night in the tent. I had a quick last mooch around the lovely, jolly, lively town before checking out of the hostel. I hauled my backpack on (which doesn’t seem to be getting any lighter) and walked along several streets to the market, where I found a chicken bus to take me to Chimaltenango. It was very easy, the minute I ducked behind the bustling market I found all the buses available, I was approached by a driver, my heavy bag taken and placed on top of the bus. These chicken buses are old American school buses that have been converted into Guatemalan public transport. They are cheaper than the private tourist shuttles I have been taking and to be honest provide the same level of comfort or to put it bluntly discomfort. In addition, it was more of an adventure sharing the bus with Guatemalans rather than tourists. I was lucky enough to get one direct bus to Chimaltenango – it worked out perfectly. Apparent, the overriding aim of chicken buses is to cram as many people on as possible. When busy on each two person seat three adults squish on and as many children as possible.

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Now you may ask why was I going to Chimaltenango – a gutamalan suburban area with not much to offer tourists? Well, I had kindly been offered a place to stay through couch surfing (a global website where people with a spare couch, bed or room host travelers free of charge and show you around their area. This way cultures can be exchanged and friends made). I have never done this before but decided it was time to take a break from the tourist, gringo (white people) trail and experience true Guatemalan culture.

I arrived early to my couch surfing organised meeting point (outside a  supermarket under a busy bridge). So sat down and watched the cars go by. I had no idea what my host looked like as the pictures online were of groups of people. Each time a stranger came near I hesitantly smiled and wondered if they were my host. Some time later a lady approached me and sat down, she was very keen to practise English with me so we exchanged some English and Spanish words. I explained in poor Spanish that I was waiting for someone who I met online. Luckily she let me use her phone to call my host to see where he was. He confirmed he was on his way. After getting off the phone we realised that my new friend actually knew my host and had been on some motorcycle trips together.

While the bus stop was busy, hectic and noisy my host’s suburbia family home was in a gated, beautiful, tranquil area with a backdrop of stunning distant mountains. I met his hospitable wife, lovely daughter (14), cute son (7) and of course their amazing husky dog, I felt right at home immediately, thanks to the family’s ambience and kindness. We chatted about culture, movies and music before going out for some food. The main square was lit up in bright green and red flashing Christmas lights. The main tree gave us a music and light show. Children, families and friends were sitting and walking around the square. It had such a friendly, safe vibe. I tried typical Guatemalan sweet Christmas delicacies – circular donuts dipped in syrup and a warm sugary drink with cinnamon and some other ingredients, rather like mulled cider. It was great and made me feel very Christmasy.

Next we followed a parade put on for the passing of a statue ofJesus. People dressed up in multicoloured, elaborate, ornate costumes lead others holding candles and wearing veils down the main streets. Everyone stopped on a side road to watch a firework display. Then a boy in a box ran around in the middle of everyone. However, this was not just an ordinary box, attached to it were many fireworks which he set off as he ran around. It seemed very dangerous, I have never imagined or seen anything quiet like it. I was later told that this was tame, they used to get much closer to the citizens, burning the unfortunate ones who could not run away fast enough. This tradition was fascinating and such a site to see.

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I slept so well that evening and woke up to a traditional Guatemala breakfast. It was fantastic, we had, eggs, beans, tomato bollanase salsa, cheese, cooked bananas. The family were so hospitable, teaching me and showing me all about their culture and cooking me the tastiest dishes.

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We went to the supermarket and local market to get in some things for the family’s new years eve celebrations. The market sold fresh, organic vegetables and meat sourced locally. It was seemed more organised than other markets I have visited. I loved seeing all the traditional, hand crafted outfits worn by tradition citizens. While out I was treated to a sweet drink, made from ice, syrups, fruit and lots of sugar. It was divine. It was rather like a slush puppy. It was made in front of me by a street vendor. He made an elaborate concoction of all kinds of sugary, colourful liquids.

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We had another tasty home cooked Guatemalan lunch called chicken and coke. It was great, chicken, salsa, vegetables, salad, tortillas and a drink of coke. I really enjoyed it. Sylvia is an excellent cook.

That afternoon we visited a local park with a lake you could go on a peddle boat on. It was a lovely little place and fun to do some peddle boating. We ate some meat tortillas with guacamole and salsa there too.

After dinner we went to a barbers to get their sons hair cut. It cost a grand total of £0.88 for one hair cut – what a bargain. I really got a sense of everyday family life in Guatemala.

Before leaving the following day I was treated to more food – delicious banana and Nutella pancakes.

I cannot thank Marco and his family enough. I had an incredible first couch surfing experience. They treated me with lots of traditional food, fun outings and a great time. I felt part of the crew and thoroughly enjoyed my stay. I would recommend them as hosts to anyone visiting Guatemala.

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