These are a few of our favorite things: Guatemala
We were excited to get into Guatemala. We missed (making attempts at) speaking Spanish, and we had heard they had real mountains. After the hot and humid coastal regions of Belize, we were ready for little higher altitude. Guatemala gave us some of our most overlandy experiences to date, and was the first country we've really settled into one place for an extended period of time. We really enjoyed the slower pace since it allowed us to work on projects (like our Spanish) and to meet TONS of awesome people. On top of that, we didn't just meet awesome people, we were able to spend time getting to know them, fellow overlanders and local Guatemalan's alike. We loved the ever present volcanos, nearly vertical agriculture, and immaculately dressed Mayan's who welcomed us to their home. We also had our first visitor since Taylor's sister Chyanne hung with us in Mexico. For this visit our neighbor of the world and great friend Eva flew into Guatemala city, where we met her with the smallest Uber car we've ever seen. We originally intended to drive her all over the country, but she too was mesmerized by Lake Atitilan and we found ourselves simply passing the time drinking coffee and exploring the local villages. We wrapped up our time in the country with a 3 night stay in Antigua, where we were quickly adopted into a hostal family and explored the cobblestone streets while gawking at the crumbling Spanish architecture.
Days in the country: 50
Miles Driven: 608 (130 LESS than in the tiny country of Belize..)
Hours of Spanish classes: 97
Consecutive days not moving the truck: 36
Vegetarian pizza parties attended: 1
Bottles of wine consumed: If we knew the number, we wouldn't have the guts to admit what it was
1. Favorite town: Antigua, purely for the incredible architecture and the beautiful landscape! The people were also pretty cool. If the beer had been cheaper we’d probably still be there!
2. Favorite meal: Our friend Paulis celebrated his 33rd birthday while we were at the lake, and to celebrate our friends Gabby and Sandro and Paulis’ girlfriend Gahzy all made incredible homemade veggie pizzas! Then as an added bonus, Pierre the owner of the campground invited us to continue the party at his infinity pool overlooking the lake. It was a meal that turned into a 12-hour party and was a total blast!!
3. Most unexpected thing: After finding an abundance of available street food in both Mexico and Belize, we were curious to see what Guatemala would have to offer... FRIED CHICKEN and FRIES! WTF Guatemala, fried chicken is everywhere and surprisingly good. And they know how to fry some fries, we never had bad ones in all of Guatemala!
4. Favorite encounter: Meeting our amigo nuevo, Guillermo, in Yaxha and getting the night tour of the ruins, including the lightning show from the top of the pyramid. This experience was within our first couple days in the country and was fodder for an entire blog worth of stories.
5. Most useful local word/phrase: We learned as soon as we crossed the border that the Spanish in Guatemala is quite different than the Spanish in Mexico. Most useful phrase was when we figured out that when people said “¿Que’tal?” they were just asking us how we were, not for a “Quetzal”, the local currency. That saved us a lot of money...
6. Favorite drive: Driving the 300 miles across Guatemala from Flores to Lago de Atitlan took about 15 hours over two days and was the most entertaining and beautiful driving we have done on our whole trip!
7. Best free experience: Camping on the beach at El Remate for two nights at the local dock and swimming hole. We were a bit of spectacle after two nights, but it was a lot of fun meeting locals and watching families come down to swim together at all hours of the day and night.
8. Most frustrating thing: Super weird, but Guatemalan chairs are consistently the most uncomfortable chairs I have ever found in my life!! Seriously, it's like the country has an anti-sitting campaign and they all came together on this issue to build chairs that simultaneously give you low back pain while cutting off circulation to your legs!
9. Favorite experience: The five weeks we spent camped at Pasajcap were unforgettable. It was so wonderful to stay in one place for a while and get to feel like locals in a completely foreign place. We made incredible friends, studied four weeks of intensive Spanish at an incredible school, and basked in the incredible vistas the lake had to offer.
10. Best thing about the country: Going away from the standard answers of the food and the people (which was definitely true!), I would say it was meeting so many other overlanders for the first time. We met other overlanders at every turn, from all over the world and all walks of life. It was so wonderful to explore together, connect over travel stories, and to just share in this incredible experience together.
Favorite Picture: This was our view for 5 weeks, out our door and from our chairs. We sat here for hours drinking coffee (or beer) and just staring at this view. Believe me, it never got old!
1. Favorite town: Santiago Atitlan. Of all the towns around Lake Atitilan Santiago felt the most authentic to me. The largest of the lake towns, Santiago felt like a regular, working, Guatemalan city with a refreshing lack of gringos. Plus, it’s where Maximon lives.
2. Favorite meal: Taylor made butter chicken and while she was cooking I invited every overlander in camp.. it turned into a potluck and a great night of accented conversation. Stories of adventure from all over the world around Indian food and bad Guatemalan beer, all under our awning with the volcanos looming in the darkness behind us.
3. Most unexpected thing: Realizing I’m in a land where it’s much more common to see Land Rover Defenders than full size Chevy trucks..
4. Favorite encounter: Meeting Nadine and Sergio of Viva-Panamericana for a third time on our trip, this time in camp at Lake Atitlan. We were lucky enough to share the anniversary of their 365th day on the road with dinner and wine in our camper during a rainy-season downpour. We shared travel stores, talked politics, and reminisced about our home countries. (Switzerland sounds pretty inviting..) We first met in Baja 7 months and thousands of miles ago, I’m sure we’ll meet again a little farther South down the road.
5. Most useful local word/phrase: Buenos Dias. This basic Spanish greeting took on a bit more importance as we made the morning walk into town for language class each day. The locals habitually greet each other as they pass, it’s considered rude not to. We made the effort to acknowledge everyone we met along the road, engaging our temporary neighbors with our limited Spanish. It paid off in broad smiles and returned salutations every morning and each time we passed a new friend in town.
6. Favorite drive: Descending the steep switchbacks into San Marcos Del Lago. After a long two days of rough mountain driving the steep and narrow drop into the lake turned out to be remarkably easy. We simply put the truck in low gear and watched the lake slowly come into view.
7. Best free experience: Camping along the shores of Lake Peten Itza in the village of El Remate. The view was beautiful, the people friendly, and the price free. This spot next to the public swimming dock was the Central American campsite we imagined before setting off on our trip.
8. Most frustrating thing: A surprising lack of street food. Of course it exists, but compared to Mexico and Belize it was remarkably difficult to find. We spent several evenings wandering neighborhoods in search of nice ladies selling something delicious from a cart, only to wind up disappointed and sitting in a restaurant.
9. Favorite experience: Definitely studying Spanish. It was really great to feel like we had a purpose and something to work towards. The teachers and staff of San Marcos Spanish School became our friends, as well as mentors and a bridge between cultures. The language skills they provided have already changed the way we travel. We’re more confident and open in our conversations with Spanish speaking locals. Our everyday transactions go more smoothly, and overall we’re simply more comfortable interacting with others.
10. Best thing about the country: The Guatemalan highlands. The friendly people in colorful, handwoven clothing, the sound of the local Mayan languages, the looming volcanos, and of course the excellent climate created the perfect vortex- we spent nearly six weeks among the clouds.
Favorite Picture: I didn't want to use this one, because it actually has me in it, but it's the image that comes to mind when I think of enjoying Guatemala. The smiles on our faces show the kind of joy only sharing something you love with someone you love can bring. We really enjoyed having Eva visit us and the weeks we shared have been a highlight of our trip for me.
Here's our map of the camps we stayed at in Guatemala. Our extended stay at the lake and our unexpected change of plans to return home caused us to leave much of this beautiful country un-explored. We definitely hope to return one day for an even more in depth visit.