Overland miles: 3909 Tacocount: 53 Days without Sodas: 8
As regular readers will know, our most recent stop has been the Guatemalan town of San Pedro La Laguna where we’ve been learning Spanish and living with a local family.
To help you all get acquainted with the place we’ve called home for the last few weeks, we’ve compiled the first in a series of three handy A-Z guides covering everything you could ever want to know about life in San Pedro, so without further ado here’s part one: letters A through H…
A: ATITLAN, LAGO DE
San Pedro is one of 14 towns on the shores of Lake Atitlan in the Guatemalan Highlands. The lake is the deepest in Central America and surrounded by volcanoes so we’ve had spectacular views of cloud-topped peaks by day and twinkling lights from the towns on the opposite shore by night. The only downside is that we’re in the middle of the rainy season, but we’ll tell you more about that later…
B: BUDDAH BAR
We normally try and avoid any bars or restaurants that are too international but Buddah Bar has become an exception to that rule, along with the Jovian’s favourite The Alegre, (which we’ll cover later). Quite a few Guatemalans head to Buddah in the evening to play pool, there’s often live music, plus they do a mean curry. And not the type found in most British restaurants that are swimming in ghee and artificial colourings. The cook here rustles up Indonesian and Thai inspired versions with delicate flavours that are easily on a par with some of the curries we’ve had back home.
C: CO-OPERATIVA SPANISH SCHOOL
We’re going to spend a lot of hours here – 80 in total – getting our heads round the Spanish language, so it’s nice that it doesn’t remind us of the drafty corridors, freezing pitches and sadistic / plain weird maths teachers of yore. But classes still start brutally early – at 8am, a plethora of insects try to put you off your stride and homework tends to come in portable filing cabinets. Nevertheless, the Co-operativa came highly recommended as one of the best schools in San Pedro and we’re really glad we chose it. As the name says, it’s run as a co-operative so the teachers have a share in the school and receive a fair wage. A proportion of student fees goes towards helping some of the poorest local families and we were lucky enough to see this in action when our teachers took us out to meet some of them to drop off packages of food.
D: DRINKING COFFEE
As Jovian has said, we’ve been trying to hunt down coffee that isn’t served with a mouthful of grainy bits at the bottom of your cup and luckily we’ve discovered a couple of good brews here. Most afternoons have seen us studying with fellow students in the town’s cafes and abusing their free wi-fi connections so we’ve become well acquainted with the best spots in town. Unfortunately this habit hasn’t been so good for our waistlines as most cafes do a mean line in freshly baked cakes and it’s proven very difficult to resist temptation!
We experienced our first terremoto here in San Pedro, measuring 6.5 on the Richter scale. It’s incredibly difficult to describe adequately what it’s like to have the earth shake beneath your feet. Weirdly, at first it felt as if I had a dog underneath my chair wagging its tail incredibly vigorously but as the movement became increasingly more intense, we realised what we were experiencing. Luckily it was all over in less than a minute and we were some way from the epicentre but coming from a country where seismic activity is about as frequent as a hot summer, it was a still a pretty out-there experience.
F: FELIX, MARIA Y JOSE
Maria and Jose have been our host family since we arrived on a very rainy Sunday in August. We’d heard scare stories of students being fed a diet of rice and beans, in houses where there are more students than family members, but we’ve had completely the opposite experience. Maria has prepared an abundance of food for us every day including some delicious traditional Guatemalan dishes. They have welcomed us into their family, helped us to improve our Spanish at meal times and encouraged us to teach their seven year old son, Felix, a few English phrases.
We discovered this was the name the locals call the streets of bars, shops and restaurants nearest to the lake. San Pedro is one of those places that attracts ex-pats and there’s a definite conglomeration of tourist-friendly businesses here. Jovian has been able to realise a long-held dream of a local pub where the barman knows both his name and his usual tipple, and where he gets to watch his team (lose) most weeks (sorry Jove!). [This is just a temporary blip and the Glorious Blues will prevail – Jovian] And they even do a Sunday roast though it’s nowhere near as good as a home-cooked one.
Or, to give them a more PC name, ‘long-term travellers’. San Pedro’s cheap prices and constant fresh supply of visitors mean it’s catnip for hippies, mostly weather-beaten travellers from Mexico who sell an array of bracelets, rings and beaded goods on the street corners, earning just enough to get by and to keep them in gasoline for the occasional bout of fire twirling. There’s also yoga classes, masseuses and even a health food store here, though we’ve never seen anyone in it. The main benefit to your average visitor (or at least doesn’t have a penchant for buying lots of tat) is that there is some really good veggie food around. When your diet is based on the Guatemalan holy trinity of meat, rice and tortillas, you really appreciate the opportunity to indulge in a veggie meal, so we’re making the most of it before we move on to our next stop…