Even after three weeks, I still feel like Guatemala is a mystery to me. I found it less straightforward to love initially than Mexico, but it did grow on me dearly. I visited many lovely places with truly exceptional adventure and natural beauty where I was oh so happy, yet feel like I barely scratched the surface in getting to know the real Guatemala, whatever that is.
Guatemala attracts a different kind of visitor: the longterm volunteer, the Spanish student, the intrepid traveler. Only occasionally did I meet someone who was on “holiday”. But on the flip side, I met a number of gringos who visited, fell in love with the country, and stayed. Property is cheap and tempting to buy. A number of my dorm various companions were considering succumbing or had already. Guatemala is where I began to see fellow travelers repeatedly in different places; such a treat to see a friendly face unexpectedly.
Unlike some who come to volunteer or study with a home stay, I stayed on a true blue gringo trail. I hit the major spots and virtually everywhere the tourist zone was very segregated from the local population. Most hostels were self-sustaining ecosystems so it was easy to hang back inside. For me, this started out in Xela because of safety concerns but quickly became a habit. Perhaps too much so, breaking me off from a more “authentic” experience, yet it led me to meet and spend a lot of time with some fantastic fellow backpackers. Who’s to say that isn’t just as important to my experience?
At least in Mexico I branched out to eat dinner more often. In Guatemala, lodging was CHEAP, but food was expensive. Embarrassingly, I ate virtually 100% gringo food—burgers, pizza, etc—the whole time I was there, often just at the hostel bar with my friends. One exception to the gringoness: Guatemalan tipico breakfasts of eggs, beans, avocado, cheese, and tomato. Yum… I am going to take that home and incorporate into my life for sure.
|The staff at the Black Cat Hostel in Xela forever endeared themselves to me by packing up my tipico breakfast just in time for my shuttle ride. They knew how to scramble an egg!|
I leave feeling itchy in my soul and unfulfilled. I deeply enjoyed my time in Guatemala, but was it enough? Did I take advantage of the opportunities I had there? What else could I have done? Who else could I have met? Did I adventure enough? Should I have participated more in a volunteer project? Do I need to go back? I guess that is the crux of the place—it gets under your skin, calling like a siren for you to go deeper and stay.