Sorry for the delay in posts. We are currently on the Oaxacan coast in Zipolite and we have discovered that internet is a little unreliable here (especially when it’s an overcast day) so I haven’t been able to do any writing. Hopefully I can remedy that over the next few days. Look forward to some posts on Xela, as well as locations on the Pacific Coast of Mexico.
Furthermore I have been a very irresponsible travel blogger who hasn’t thought about the size of my photos before uploading them (rookie error). So I am now in the process of stripping out all my photos from past posts and reloading smaller sized files so I can continue showing you in photographic format all the stunning places we are visiting.
After arriving by chicken bus in San Pedro la Laguna on the shore of Lake Atitlan we walked down the hill to find our school and home for the next four weeks.
Reaching the lake we were very surprised to see tourists everywhere and the familiar sounds of English spoken frequently. This was obviously a town which was very much on the tourist trail of Guatemala.
We meet our host and the owner of the school, Rene who showed us around. After settling into our room and having a much needed lie down after the bouncing bus we headed out to see what S.P had to offer.
The main streets fitted our initial impression exactly and the restaurants, bars and cafes were all targeted at tourists and came complete with English menus. After heading up to the main town and getting a little lost in the side streets we still hadn’t found any cheap local eateries and the weather was looking threatening.
Making our way back to the street running along the lake, we later learnt was called ‘Gringolandia’ for obvious reasons, the sky opened and we rushed to take shelter under a shop front. We had our jackets with us but they were no match for the torrential rain. The steep street quickly turned into sizeable, muddy river and after attempting to wait it out for about 40 minutes we gave up and ran to a nearby restaurant dodging between shops offering shelter. The restaurant was reasonably priced for being in the tourist area and the food was equally okay. We wouldn’t eat out much during our time here and barely ever in Gringolandia again.
The next day our classes started. At this school we again opted for the morning classes which stated at 8.30am. This was mainly to get us (me) out of bed for the day as we knew that otherwise we would waste the morning. This school had individual classes so we met our teachers and sat looking out over the lake in the sunshine and started learning more Spanish. The school was a large house on the hillside across the road from the lake and was four levels high so all the students had the best view while learning (or attempting to learn) to speak a new language.
I won’t go into detail of what we did each day, or even each week as we ended up staying for a month and didn’t really accomplish anything very touristy. We did however meet a lot of great people and drink a lot of beer and rum. Having a bit of a sweet tooth I like to make shandies from beer and lemonade and I introduced my teacher to this as well.
The first week we ate often at the only local comedor we managed to find. It was by far cheaper than anything we found down in the tourist part of town. At Q20 each for a huge plate of food we couldn’t go wrong. The decision was easy; either chicken or beef and included rice, salad, tortillas a massive heap of guacamole (YUM) as well as a drink. I really enjoyed the Guatemalan tortillas as they were a little thicker than the ones we had been eating in Mexico. Although Tom found them too small for adequately wrapping food in.
On the subject of food my favourite part of my school day was our tiempo de refaccion or snack break. The snack differed each day and over the course of the month we had tostada, fruit salad, banana loaf, chuchittos (similar to tamales) and steamed plantains as well as other things.
After the initial week of eating at the comedor we started shopping at the market and cooking each night. The produce was good and we always eat well when we cook for ourselves. Our main expenditure over the month was probably alcohol, mainly beer of which we would buy a Guatemalan brand called Brahva, but we did branch out and buy some rum as well.
After a week of revision our Spanish started improving and we learnt past tense and finally little future tense. This means that we now know present tense as well as four past tenses and three future tenses. That’s a lot of conjugations to remember!
Our time at the school ended up being a bit of a holiday from our holiday which is why we tended to chill out after completing our homework each afternoon with a beer and tasty food.
During our time in S.P I made myself a souvenir. A shop below the school sold locally made, hand woven, traditional fabrics but would also teach you the method in a class where you could design and make your own scarf. First I was able to pick my colours from a selection of hand spun and naturally dyed threads. They were all so unique and beautiful I don’t know how they got them so vividly coloured. After picking the colours (which was the hardest part) I strung them around a table with poles on it to measure out the thread and set them up to be put onto the loom sticks. After this the teacher set up my waist loom, which is the traditional method of creating belts, scarves or small textiles, and demonstrated how to start weaving. They make it look so easy. I struggled through about 12 hours of weaving to complete my scarf. I feel that I did OK, there are a few patches of rookie mistakes but overall its lovely and will be a great keepsake.
Another touristy venture we did was to visit a local chocolate factory. Our first issue was finding it, this required asking many locals as we walked down a dirt street away from the town. Eventually a helpful local man walked us to the door of someone’s house. This was the ‘factory’ and I don’t think we would have found it otherwise because there was no signage. We were ushered into a room that smelt like deliciousness. There were two pots of liquid chocolate in there which were making me drool. The son of the owner ran through the process of how they make the bars from the cacao to the wrapping stages and gave us some tasters… They were all natural with one variety sweetened with local honey and the other with cane sugar, both were amazing. Interestingly (and with a little bit of pride) I noticed that the dairy they were using was New Zealand milk powder. After drinking up the smell for a while we picked out and paid for too many bars of chocolate in different flavours, what fatties we are!
I will note that we still have some remaining chocolate almost a month on from then.
On the walk back we bypassed one of the docks. From here we could see a little more of the lake and mountains as well as some partially submerged buildings. Since the towns in the area were built the lake has risen and fallen multiple times and these houses and shops were obviously built at a time where the lake was significantly lower. They give an eerie look of an apocalyptic ghost town, like you would see on a video game, but interesting none the less.
Our final week passed by uneventfully as we drank more beer and rum, tried to finish learning future tense and got creative with our dinners to use up all our food (making some delicious meals I must say).
On our final school day we were able to attend the inauguration of San Pedro’s new soccer (football) field. All the teachers and students piled onto the back of a ute (probably about 20 of us in total) and headed up the hill. The game was between a semi professional team from Guatemala City and a local ‘selection’ team. San Pedro loves it’s football and we were told that there are approximately 48 teams in a town of around 5000 people. Obviously the Guatemalan team won but the locals did themselves proud with four goals scored. This caused cheers of “Mi abuela puede jugar mejor que este” or my grandmother can play better than that, to the opposition goalie. Overall a really fun final school day and a different experience.
The next day we packed up our bags which had exploded as per usual and chilled out before our early morning departure.
At 8 am on Sunday morning we were sitting on the chicken bus waiting for departure when a familiar face climbed onto the bus. An Australian girl we had met briefly in Oaxaca had finished her two week tour as well as some other solo travel and crossed paths with us again. Friendships happen so much faster while travelling as you want to talk in English or more likely to just have a chat from someone who isn’t your significant other or non romantic travel partner. As we were all headed to the same place we would spend a lot more time with her over the next week.