As soon as we landed on San Pedro’s deck, I knew it was going to be my kind of place.
The sun was beaming, the waves lapping at the shores and despite the rather bumpy ride over, even our hangovers couldn’t dampen our spirits as we began to stroll up the hill to the centre of town. There was an evident ‘hippy vibe’ to the island as well as a hint of a party atmosphere in the air which told me that this could be a fun place to come back to and perhaps stay for a while.
It was also home to our tour leader, Kaylie, who’d already warmed our hearts to the place with her tales of friendship and island life.
Our first stop on the tour was a ‘cultural lunch’ with a local family on the island, who Kaylie happened to know personally after having lived with them for several months learning Spanish. Theresa, the woman who owned the house was so welcoming that we felt instantly at ease and it was more like a family get-together than a bunch of strangers entering her house.
Firstly we learnt how to grate some corn, the Mayan way (no factory machines here!), before we headed into the hub of the house – the kitchen – to try our hand at making the staple of every meal, tortillas. Despite it looking like an easy task, it was anything but and more than one lump of dough ended up on the floor. Luckily Theresa had made a few extras and so when it came to sit down for our delicious lunch, there was more than enough to go around.
After lunch we tried on some of the local dress which was a fun experience but in the heat of the midday sun, I don’t know how the women wear all those garments! I just wanted to rip them off and jump into a refreshingly cool swimming pool…which is exactly what we did next as we headed down to Zoola’s.
An ice cold pool, music and an amazing view of Lake Atitlan, what better way to while away the afternoon?
The kindness of strangers
After adding a bit of colour to our cheeks, it was soon time to head back to the main street to meet up with the rest of the group and head to our evening destination.
But not before stopping at some jewellery stores along the way. I loved the colourful stones and intricate designs of the handcrafted items, much more beautiful than most factory-produced pieces you see in UK jewellers. When I spotted one bracelet with a jade green stone intwined in a gold swirly casing, I couldn’t resist. I paid the young store owner and tucked my purse under my arm as he fastened the bracelet to my wrist and then it was time to dash to meet the group to jump on a tuk-tuk.
When we reached the tuk tuks however, I reached inside my handbag to find my purse and noticed that it was missing. After already having my purse stolen in Barcelona in the summer and a handbag snatched in London, I couldn’t believe it was happening again and panic set in as I realised how difficult it would be to get new cards delivered to me in Guatemala!!!
I raced back to the jewellery store, hoping that I had just left it on the table but when it wasn’t there I was about ready to burst into tears. Thankfully a man stopped and asked if I was OK. When I explained that I had lost my purse, he called me over to another man. “Is this it?” he asked, as relief flooeded over me at the sight of my beloved Moroccan purse. I was even more surprised to find that all of my money & cards were still in place and thanked the man with a hefty tip. Considering the amount of cash in the purse was probably equivalent to a week’s wage for this man, I was honestly so grateful for his honesty in handing the purse back. Good karma is coming your way, my friend!
Disaster averted, it was time for more of an authentic Mayan experience as we left the touristy town of San Pedro and headed up the mountain on tuk-tuks to our home for the night in San Juan La Laguna. After wandering around some local art galleries and a medicinal herb garden, it was time to meet our Mayan families.
I was a little nervous of this experience as my Spanish is sadly very limited but thankfully I had been paired up with Natalia so I knew I would have a fun night whatever happened. We met Juan, the head of the household who took us on a short tour of the town en route to his house. On the less than 5 minute walk to the house, we’d already run out of Spanish phrases to try out but Juan didn’t seem to mind and carried on chatting to us in a mixture of Spanish and Mayan as we smiled and nodded along.
We then met Florinda, Juan’s wife who was busy in the kitchen preparing the evening meal and so we quickly said hello to their son, daughter and granddaughter before returning to the kitchen to brush up on our tortilla making skills.
When we sat down for dinner, Natalia’s infamous enthusiasm soon came in handy as we attempted to communicate using the universal communication of sign language and our very limited Spanish vocabulary. Despite the lack of dinner time chatter, the evening was enjoyable all the same and it was nice to get an insight into how the Guatemalan’s really live. I have to say, despite their lack of material posessions, they appeared to be happier than most Londoners I meet!
After dinner, the hangovers from the previous night’s antics in Panjachel soon set in and we slowly clambered into bed for what must have been the earliest night of our entire trip.
Back to Antigua and time to say goodbye.
As always, goodbyes are the hardest part of travelling. After a final group dinner in Antigua, it was time to say goodbye to my new-found friends. It was with a mixture of sadness and anticipation that I boarded my next flight to Costa Rica where I’d be embarking on a bit of solo travel for my final week in Central America!