Christopher arrived about a week and a half ago and during this time he has adapted incredibly fast (he hops on and off Chicken Buses like a pro) and has experienced so much including collaborating with me on this blog.
I picked Chris up on Friday the 10th, and we stayed in a compound of houses heavily guarded by guys with automatic rifles, etc. Guatemala City isn't known to be the safest place in the world so I opted for safety over being sorry.
In the morning we took a shuttle to Antigua which is a beautiful city but very different from the rest of the country. Antigua is dreamy and fairytale like. I wanted to start Chris' trip here because it is a good "soft landing" for Guatemala. In the shuttle, the driver spoke almost perfect English, and I told Chris this would be the last person he would meet in Guatemala who would speak English. Chris just now reminded me that
this turned out to be incorrect because we also met a British expatriate who ran a hotel at Lago de Atitlan (and made the best fruit salad either of us had EVER eaten, Chris agrees). Thanks Chris.
Moving along.....Speaking of languages, Chris has advanced muy rapido in his Español since arriving. I am so "well pleased" with his progress. It helps to have an instant translator, of course, but even so, good job Chris! Michelle talked me into getting him a formal class here with a teacher, and we put him in school for 2 days, 4 hours each day. The other times, Chris just studies in the "Red Book" which Michelle and I studied in San Cristobal, Mexico. The money was well spent for his classes because Chris advanced mucho in those two days.
Back on track, in Antigua, Chris and I walked around with our full backpacks down streets where tourists sported Georgio Armani sunglasses without a care in the world of appearing flashy. This is the fairy tale I was referring to. The rest of the country is not quite like this.... tourists in other parts take more precautions in appearing flashy and are more aware of thier surroundings.
After getting our fill of perfectly clean streets and beautiful churches and idyllic central parks (not Domino's Pizza), I asked Chris if he was ready for the Chicken Bus scene. I told him what it would entail.....overcrowding, smells of diesel fumes, crazy drivers, and pickpocketers, and he said "yeah, let's do it!". We wanted to take a bus to Panajachel or "Pana" so we found the bus yard, a mud field with buses parked in every which direction. Everyone wanted to be our best friend and tried to steer us to their bus. It was pretty chaotic and we almost got run over by a driver of a bus who tried to park where we were standing. After Chris had a chance to see the spectacle of this bus yard, we stepped aside and reconsidered our decision. I wasn't sure I was ready to fling Chris into the heart of Guatemalan transportation just yet, and so we took a moment to consider our options. We could wait an hour and a half for a shuttle van, or we could enter the world of craziness and leave at that moment. We both decided to go for it and it felt like the right decision. (Keep in mind Chris had just arrived from Orange County and has never been out of the country...keeping it real here.)
We did it! We ended up taking 5 Chicken Buses to get to Pana. The first one was so crowded that people were sitting and standing in the aisles and Chris and I weren't able to sit together. People were leaning into him from the aisles and there were 4 people per seat on a standard school bus seat. Every time I looked back at him, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. This young man was being exposed to the craziest experiences only one day after arriving to this country. I couldn't help but smile at the spectacle. Chris was a good sport and I was really impressed. Good job Chris!
After 3 hours, we descended to one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, Lago de Atitlan, and got off the bus in Pana. We were thirsty and hot and ended up ordering the best ice cream that either of us had ever eaten. My mouth waters now just thinking about it.
The following day, Chris and I took a boat to the next town along the lake, se llama Santa Cruz. Here we lucked out at a really hip hotel that had organic food and huge lunch portions so we ate enough food for our planned 3 hour hike. The consierge at the hotel told me that the trail was still safe (Michelle and I did this same hike 7 years ago) so I felt confident to take Chris on it.
Throughout the hike we were followed by a beautiful German Shepherd who ended up being our protector along the trail (even though we tried in vain to ditch him). We eventually found out that his name was Balto by a woman who was hiking the other way on the trail.
We travelled past 2 lakeside villages, one of which was so remote that it didn't have access roads. As we passed through the villages Balto would attract all the village dogs, and it would become a very loud scene of barking and snarling. Thankfully our dog was pretty mellow, but it did eliminate our chances of slipping through these villages unnoticed.
We arrived in San Marcos to children following us, dogs barking, and people trying to help us find a hotel. I managed to avoid most of the "help", but one particular 8 year old was pretty persistent and I couldn't resist (or was a little too tired at this point). He ended up taking us to the hotel where we were already going. The hotel had good memories because Michelle and I stayed there 7 years ago, and sure enough, everything was the same apart from being under the new ownership of a British expatriate.
After checking in, we went swimming in the lago and Balto, who now apeared to belong to us, followed us down to the water. That evening we had a killer dinner prepared by the owner of our hotel and served by his wife--what a team the two made.
The next morning Chris witnessed the difference caffeine can make and decided that the truth needed to be told........Dad before coffee........Dad after coffee....Psycho beard man!
We hiked 2 km. the next morning and lucked out by catching a shuttle van directly to Xela. Upon arriving in Xela, Chris and I walked through the very busy Terminal Minerva Mercado in order to catch a micro for the center of town. This was another crazy experience for Chris because the indoor/outdoor market there is absolutely nuts. All I told him before turning to enter the market was "stay close" and "keep an eye on your pockets" and then we plunged into the blocks and blocks of craziness called the Mercado. While we were walking through, I pointed out the many children who have to work for their parents at an early age and who don't get the "luxury" of going to school. I think it was a good eye opener for him and I was glad that I knew the Mercado well enough to navigate it with ease.
The following week was filled with studying, studying, studying!!!!! No fun at all except hiking to a volcano with a lake in the crater (Chikabal) and a trip to a beautiful natural hot springs (Fuentes Gorginas). Here are some photos from both........ wait, the camara just died. Sorry, I will post photos of these two great events in the next blog entry.
Until then.......thanks for reading!