I took the boat from Panajachel to San Pedro and then to San Juan. Again I was the only white person on the boat – I’m getting used to this now. I later found out that my picture had been taken on the boat and posted on the San Juan launcher (boat) Facebook page with out me knowing. I must be famous.
After a choppy, boat ride on which I got slightly soaked the boat got to the rural, beautiful mountain village, San Juan. I was trying to get to a school I found on couch surfing where I would volunteer and stay. I walked around with my huge backpack following signs to a Spanish school. Walking up hills, through narrow alleys and along pedestrian paths, I came to a locked gate labeled as a school. I managed to get around it through a gap in the fence and ended up in a building site. I couldn’t find anyone to speak of. Then some dogs started barking and running at me. I clearly was trespassing in the wrong place. I retraced my steps and took a tuc tuc to the said school address and walked up a forested path to my new home for the next three nights. It was a modest house constructed with wood, stone and a corrugated iron roof. The family welcomed me with open arms – 3 daughters, 1 son, two parents, 2 puppies, 1 dog, 1 kitten and a handful of chickens and hens roaming around causing havoc in the kitchen. The home was next to the school and had a few bed rooms with a bathroom and kitchen area. I have never stayed in a home like it before. It was very different to Western houses – a typical, simple Guatemalan home overlooking the mountains. While it didn’t have WiFi, hot water or indeed running water showers, it was beautiful and served the purpose of providing a safe secure place to live in.
As I arrived there was a new years day celebration occurring in the church, so I went along to watch it. People were dancing in ornate, traditional dresses and wearing face masks. The performers were very talented and danced all afternoon.
I joined the family for some traditional meals, including chicken, tamales and Jamaica (traditional fruit juice).
The next morning I helped the youngest daughter washing the dishes. Outside, up some stone stairs and next to their roof they had a washing sink. It was the most beautiful place I have ever washed dishes. I really enjoyed the task overlooking the dramatic mountains.
My new friend was washing some maize (corn) getting ready to take it to the local machine to crush it to make tortillas. We walked the maize to the shop where you can pay 10p to get it crushed. Next you kneed the dough into circles ready to be cooked.
The school was on holiday and so I had that day to myself, I walked around the small town of San Juan. Ladies and girls wore traditional dresses, which were handmade, elaborately detailed and stunning.
I visited hand craft shops and watched a demonstration showing how the clothing is made. The processes is extensive taking 5 days to make one scarf. It was very interesting to see how everything was made from natural plants – both the wool and dye. Then I had some lunch with a fantastic view.
Full from my nachos, I walked to San Pedro – a neighbouring village on the lake. It was slightly more touristy but still beautiful. Many hippies congregated there smoking and drinking. I was pretty pleased with my choice to stay in a traditional family home rather than a party hostel costing £2 a night, full of all walks of life.
The next day, it was time to get my volunteering hat on. We were joined by another couch surfer from Canada and set to work cleaning the school for the new year. We broomed dusty asbestos and hosed down the rooms with water. Then put the chairs in the classrooms. The school was for the poor children in the area. It was extremely basic, small and simple. Just three classrooms with extremely retro, broken looking computers in one room. I would love to revisit one day to help teach some English. Unfortunately, this time it was the school holidays.
That afternoon we took the boat to another neighbouring village named Santiago.
Again it was traditional, beautiful and unique. Here even more handcrafts were sold. Such skillful designs and unique patterns. At the end of my trip I will buy some, hopefully there will be some just as stunning in my last destination (wherever that may be).
By my third night I was ready to move on. So the next day I hoped on another chicken bus – which was packed as normal. I stood up precariously holding onto a bar. It would be so illegal in the UK the way the buses work here. Then I was lucky enough to be able to squeeze onto the back row for the last hour of the ride. However, this was still not 100% ideal. I got off the bus at Xela terminal and after walking around checking out various hotels I found one with a private room, TV, WiFi and hot water for £7 a night. What a luxurious bargain – I knew I was going to treat myself to these amenities but did not for a minute think it would be cheaper than some of the basic hostels I have stayed in.
After walking around the hotel I realised it was not the nicest area. All the tourists stay in downtown and here had a eery but local vibe. While I prefer seeing true Guatemala culture away from tourists I do not appreciate strange men following me and others starting and calling after me as I passed them. It was pretty uncomfortable. Nonetheless, the area was super busy so not totally dangerous, plus the hotel is super safe and comfortable.
Tomorrow I hope to hike a volcano nearby. I have read some blogs about how to get there and it seems pretty manageable, just one chicken bus. Keep posted for how it goes.