Hello all, Dom here again, so I am two weeks into my trip to Guatemala and here is a summary of events so far.
Having been met by Catherine, my fellow volunteer, and Diego from INLEX at the airport I am taken directly to my host family, Claudia and Gricelda in Santo Tomas. Not an ounce of English between this mother and daughter comedy duo and even less Spanish from me, here we go – no entiendo!!!
So the plan is, following my orientation with Diego the following morning I embark on a nine hour bus journey to Tikal. The Maya City which contains over 3,000 monuments and dates from 10th century BC. Which supported a population of over 100,000 during the 8th century AD, its heyday as the most important cultural, ceremonial and economic capital of the Mayan world.
Our tour which is an all inclusive package purchased from Jimmy a tour operator in Antigua, includes an over night nine hour bus to Flores – a sleepy little Island town with friendly inhabitants, a six hour tour of the Mayan City, lunch, an overnight stay in Flores and a return overnight bus to Antigua. All for €160 – not the cheapest we could have found, so shop around, but worth it nonetheless.
As a History student I was truly blown away by the entire complex. From the sheer presence of its imposing temples to the associated history of its ceremonies and human sacrifices. I was particularly moved by the pyramid top view above the jungle canopy – Tikal, NOT to be missed.
One thing that struck me about the first few days was the ease with which it was to make friends with other travellers. From the moment we boarded our shuttle in Antigua, we were all fast friends and would connect with each other for the duration of each other’s stay. A form of unconditional friendship which I have never experienced. It was exciting to be honest. We met travellers from Texas, England, California and Columbia, which is pronounced Colombia as it happens. All of which aided in their own special way to my experience of the trip.
The following day was at leisure in the relaxing town of Flores. Breakfast at an ECO restaurant called San Telmo on the north-west shore over looking Santa Bárbara Island with its Radio Petén Museum and colony of Iguanas. The breakfast is to die for however – The Obama breakfast was top notch. Later a boat ride and a dip in the lake did wonders for the forty degree heat.
Then the weekend was over and following a delayed bus from Guate I am late for my first Spanish lesson with the wonderful Marlene. Oh oh!!! It is a challenging week ahead. I am not good with languages but I plough on, verb by verb tense by tense. I am never going be translating Spanish books into English but after two weeks I can get by, I understand more than I speak which is natural I am told.
My first night back from Flores was my first feeling of loneliness here in Guate. I guess it was the flight over with no sleep, the immediate departure for Tikal and the new friends I had made, that were all now gone, and I was alone with no Spanish, no English speakers and my thoughts – scary. Had I done the right thing coming here – sure I did, well it didn’t seem like it at that point. That feeling quickly subsided to excitement as the week went on.
Four hours of Spanish in the morning is tiring, but my afternoons are filled with chicken buses, colonial ruins and an Irish Bar called the Snug. But before I tell all of the drunken debauchery I have to mention a very important friend of mine. Gloria, the wife of the founder of my host organisation INLEX. She took me under her wing, particularly during the second week of my Spanish lessons when Cat had left for the project. Gloria took me to a history conference in the Archaeological Museum in the city, none of which I understood but it was the only place I had wanted to visit in the very dangerous Guatemala City. Well that and the massive sink hole…and that wasn’t to happen.
Antigua is a beautiful cobble stoned city. With as many tourists and expats as locals, it has an intriguing vibe to it. A very engaging town with lots to do. From the immense ruins and museum complex of Santo Domingo, to the shopping, restaurants and bars, such as The Snug, and if you are looking for a den of iniquity then look no further. It is easy to lose an entire week in this place. I discovered that when, down with a sniffle I decided I needed a hot-whiskey. Where else only an Irish bar! It went down really well despite the fact they had never heard of one and I had to make it myself. But that was it, I was hooked and have become a steadfast local since.
Coffee in Guatemala is reserved for export. Well, the good stuff is anyway, do not expect a gourmet cup. Although, a coffee house known as The Refuge – not to confused with the €4 per night, roach infested hell hole of a hotel of the same name – does in fact serve a mean cuppa java. Two had me bouncing. A relatively hipster joint with barefeet, apple macs, beards and moleskins galore, although it serves me well for the uploading of blogs.
As my two weeks in and around Antigua come to a close, I reflect on my Spanish lessons, my host family and the Snug. I can’t help but feel I am going to miss them. Particularly when a rake is thrust into my hand and I am sent off to sweep the forest, but that’s a story for the next blog. But before I go I must mention my host family in Santo Tomas. Gricelda and Claudia, I did not fully realise the bond between us until I witnessed the tears in Gricelda’s eyes as I handed her a bunch of flowers purchased from a boy on the street. I owe you kisses and hugs and will be back before I leave for my Pepián and to butcher those doing words you so kindly beat into me.