Hiking in the Cuchumatanes near Nebaj: lessons about the horrors of the Guatemalan civil war

“I was 2 months old when I lost my father. He was killed by the army.”

We haven’t yet properly met, only exchanged names and pleasantries when Francisco, our ever-smiling guide, drops a bomb on our path. A muddy path at that, because we have just set off for a two-day hike through the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes, the highest non-volcanic mountain range in Central America. We have left Nebaj, the biggest city in the Ixil Triangle, one hour earlier on a chicken bus that dropped us off in a village so small that it surprised me that it is even on any chicken bus schedule. Continue Reading →

Back to school: learning Spanish and falling in love with Xela

Waking up early, rubbing the sleep out of your eyes while shovelling in your breakfast, flying out of the house just a couple of minutes before eight to sit half a day behind a desk repeating sentences in Spanish. True, these are not the first things that come to mind when we think about travelling. In Guatemala, however, that is the way. On the second day in this wonderfully diverse country, a boat tour seller called Mario tucked a little yellow card in my hand- a flyer for a Spanish school in Xela. I wouldn’t have ever thought that one day I would enter the very same school asking for information. But life and travel is fun in this way that you never know what will happen next. Continue Reading →

12 hours in Tikal, Guatemala: a plunge into the world of the Maya

15:50

Anete and I sit on top of the second highest pre-Columbian structure in the Americas – Temple IV in Tikal, aka the Temple of the Double-Headed Serpent. Our gaze is directed eastwards, where a couple of stone colossi stick their necks out of the jungle. Minutes earlier, we’ve stared a spider monkey straight into the eyes. A couple of Olive-throated parakeets skim over the canopy. We remain on our throne for an hour – not speaking much, solely admiring the view. Anete tries to meditate, I climb up to the highest step of the staircase to check if the view gets even better. Any minute now, we’re expecting a group of tourists to join us, but they never arrive. We have Tikal all to ourselves. It’s a magical experience, a highlight of our trip through the land of the Maya. What a difference a day makes. Continue Reading →

Laguna Lachua, Guatemala: paradise on earth or unpleasantly smelly water?

Two pots of water are reaching boiling temperature in a dim hut. Five pairs of eyes are fixated on the pots, waiting hungrily for the first bubbles to emerge. There’s us and there is a Guatemalan family, smiling shyly. The Guatemalan mother opens a spaghetti package, throws its content in the water after which the package flies into the fire. Tom’s eyes grow big as plates: “No, don’t throw the plastic into the fire.” Two Guatemalan women look at him, then at each other. The father speaks some English and explains them in Spanish what Tom has just said. They all laugh. Continue Reading →

7 Things to do in Antigua Guatemala – a gem of a city in a country of cheap junk

The streets are dusty and charmless. Chicken buses squeeze themselves through the hospital corridor-sized streets of busy markets, whilst bus boys shout out destinations. Hawkers sell cold, mushy fries and breaded chicken, individual candies, fruits in plastic bags and bottled drinks that are kept cold in an ever-melting ice bucket. There are so many taco stands that you wonder if people eat anything else. At least they have a choice between beef and chicken. Music blasts through speakers at eardrum rupturing volumes. Shops don’t sell anything but Coca-Cola products and dozens upon dozens of different mini packages of corn chips. There are a million pharmacies and hardware stores, but not a single bookshop, nor a café where you can drink a non-instant coffee. Trash lies on every street corner. Continue Reading →