2. Guatemala? More like GuateBUENA!

23 Apr

Hello, adventure-loving blog readers! It’s Helen (sometimes aka’d on here as Bel, Bella, Hen) here to blog about all things Guatemala! Guata-fun surprise! With a loose itinerary of what we wanted to see in Guatemala for the next few days, we picked up our rental car and (after very carefully detailing every single scratch and dent it had on a piece of paper) hit the road!

We could not have been happier with our rental truck! It was a big and sturdy 5-speed, with 4-wheel drive and air conditioning, and it had the most ridiculously good fuel economy of all time. We were blown away. It was also the perfect place to let our birds fly.

“Wow! You really get a fantastic view of the birds back here.” – Sammi

 

We were off to the races! The roads leaving Antigua were gorgeous: Wide and paved, with a very clear speed limit. The birds weren’t the only ones flying, am I right? I’m wrong! As it turns out, Guatemalan roads have massive speed bumps every so often to keep you (me) in check, even in the middle of highways. They would often appear out of nowhere and the first few took us by surprise. Sammi was in the back seat and squeaked every time we hit one. It was a learning curve (or a learning bump), if you will.

We made the 4 hour drive to Salama through winding, narrow, mountainous roads with only one brief scuffle. Every time we passed through a town, our stop-happy, bird-loving passenger in the back seat would request a stop. “You two really should see the birds from back here. You’re not going to believe it. OOOH! Is that a town?? Pull over!!” However, parking in the towns proved to be tricky with our massive truck. We made a few futile attempts to stop at adorable towns (one of which had an outdoor, public foosball table — my dream scenario!), but we couldn’t seem to make the parking happen. It was like a duller version of “Speed” where we still couldn’t stop but for very different reasons. It’s a bad analogy because we were super safe. Not like poor Sandy and Keanu. #dodgedthatBullock #sweetReevlief

We stopped at the first restaurant we saw with a parking lot. It wasn’t exactly what we hoped it would be. After ordering nachos, fries, and guacamole, we were surprised with what came to the table.

Not our dream chip to guac ratio.

 

Not a macadamia nut in sight.

 

We made a few more stops for ice cream, of course, and fuel. As the driver, I was alarmed. Back in the States, Bam (Sammi) and I both drive adorable, matching, manual Mini Coopers (We told you in the last blog, we LOVE matching). They’re fuel-efficient and adorable. After driving a beast of a truck up and down mountains, through winding roads and villages, for 4 hours with the air-con blasting the entire time, I was worried that the fuel gauge had barely moved. I started to talk about the gas tank as much as Bam was talking about the birds. “Just a fuel update from the driver, we still have a full tank. Seems like something is off because we’ve been driving for hours.” Having a science teacher in the group — shout out to Patrick, aka Dr. Marti — we decided to conduct an experiment. Pull over at the next gas station (that has ice cream, claro) and fill her up to see if the gauge is wrong. What we learned is that you cannot pump your own gas in Guatemala (gracias a todos), and that the gauge was dead on. This beast of a truck was barely using any fuel as it hauled us up (often in 3rd gear) and down mountains. We were amazed. We celebrated over ice cream and stretched our legs.

Pro Tip: Here’s something I’ve learned from traveling with Sammi over the years. The availability of ice cream is a pretty good (and delicious) indicator of how developed a nation is. Keeping ice cream cold requires a lot of electricity. Transporting ice cream to sell at roadside stands/gas stations/etc. requires vehicles with the ability to keep the ice cream cold in transit and the infrastructure to easily move ice cream about the country. Ice cream in Guatemala was available everywhere; we were on a mission to try as much of it as possible. Bam took over driving and from the back, I have to admit, the birds were stunning. Patrick, our faithful navigator, was in the front seat directing us to Salama.

Roadside views

 

We arrived at Salama right as the sun was setting and it was beautiful. However, it was a much more bustling town than Antigua had been and, once again, we really struggled to find parking. Here’s a fun twist: we also really struggled to find a place to stay. Everywhere on maps.me no longer existed (Pro Tip: When you travel abroad, download the country’s map in maps.me. You’ll be able to use GPS without an internet for WiFI connection. It’s terrific but be warned: The hotels aren’t always where they say they are in Salama.) Eventually, we pulled over and I hopped out to ask someone in Spanish if they knew where any hotels were and sure enough, we were about 50 feet from one. Huzzah! Patrick and I left Sammi in the car (with the doors locked) and walked the 50 feet to check out the hotel. It had no identifying marks on the outside to let us know it was a hotel, but it was real! And they had a parking lot! Musica a nuestras orejas!

Hidden but private hotel parking with a sign you can’t see after dark

 

Upon checking in, we immediately noticed something odd about our hotel room’s bathroom. We had to go through the shower to get to the toilet. Bold design choice.

Hello from the other side.

 

We were happy to be parked, situated, and checked in to our hotel before the sun had finished setting. The night was young! We went exploring Salama and found more gorgeous churches and, you know it, delicious street food in the town square.

Small business owner

 

In the town square, we sat and enjoyed our street food which was 10/10 delicious. Salama had the best street food in Guatemala. There. I said it. As we sat, we were surrounded by stray dogs, interested in a wee bite of the goods. You can feed them (it’s hard not to want to) but reminder: Don’t pet them.

Our guide book had told us there would be comedores all over the country, where you could stop and get a hot meal for a good deal. We love a good deal. They were essentially diners or small restaurants that were often on the side of the owner’s house that featured a fixed menu of exactly one meal. Salama was the place to try it. Upon entering the comedor, we were nervous. The entire restaurant was full of hungry police officers and Bam and I were the only women in the comedor who weren’t working. Initially, we were nervous. But as it turns out, Guatemalans are polite and welcoming to foreigners. At the comedor, we learned that it is tradition to say “Buen Provecho” (Spanish version of Bon Appetit) to everyone at your table at the start of a meal. We also learned it’s traditional to say it to anyone you see sitting down, enjoying a meal. As the police officers started to leave the restaurant, they all passed our table and said “Buen Provecho!” respectfully to us.

You’re under a restful watch.

 

“I have an idea,” said Patrick. “Every time we have a meal together, let’s say ‘buen provecho’ no matter where we are in the world.” Such a cute idea but I’d say we’ve managed to nail it for < 1% of meals outside of Guatemala. Let’s raise those numbers, people!

“Cause you’re once, twice, three times a meal.” The Commodores at a comedor.

 

The next morning, we explored the Salama under the sun! It was a beautiful town with exciting energy. We walked the streets until we saw what we’re always looking for, delicious street food. We found the perfect spot for breakfast. It was an adorable stand run by a father and son and it was bustling! We got in line and ordered what everyone was having (but he happily made one without meat for me) and sat down with the locals to enjoy it. A business man sat next to us and gave us a smooth “buen provecho,” reminding us of the pact we had made and forgotten the night before. We ate and people watched until the cutest scene unfolded before us in Spanish: The business man asked the boy to put salsa on his breakfast and the boy accidentally spilled it all over the man’s trousers. The man laughed and good-naturedly joked in Spanish “I meant on the meal! Not on me!” The wee boy laughed, blushed, and handed him some napkins. We all laughed together. It was such a sweet exchange.

 

Best breakfast spot in Salama. “Sin carne, por favor?”

 

As we wandered through the town, we saw the cutest Gallo hats at a stand. We told Patrick he needed to get one because it was the day before his birthday #birthdayeve and they were so cute on him! Obviously, Patrick knows there is no better present than MATCHING your besties, so we ended up getting 3 matching, though individualized, Gallo hats. #welovematching #happyalmostbirthdaypatrick #weareteacher #wearebirthday

 

Matching in the sun. That is what we are.

 

We made it back to the hotel ready to check out and hit the road only to find our truck surrounded by motos. It was an adorable problem. After waiting for about 3 minutes, perplexed about our next move, the motorcyclists came one by one and took them away as if summoned by our confusion. Gracias a todos.

Stuck in the middle with you.

 

And just like that, we were on to our next stop, a hike to a waterfall outside of Salama. We spent half an hour driving up and down the main street of a tiny town looking for the trailhead. Every time we asked for directions, we were once again told it was in the opposite direction. Were they all telling the truth again? Were there multiple trailheads? Kids were chasing after our truck, offering to be our guides on the hike for money. We were nervous. Our guide book had warned us that Guatemalans are untrusting of white people around their kids, afraid they would take them home never to be seen again. After asking a few more adults, we finally found the trailhead and encountered an interesting Dutch couple, Alexander and Katarina, who had just finished the hike. They had just made their way to Guatemala after traveling for 18 months all over the US and Mexico, while living in their van. They warned us about bandits, telling us to keep a few small bills in the front of the car and hide everything else for when we’re inevitably stopped by bandits and told we cannot pass without giving them money. That would prove to be the biggest PRO TIP of the trip. Generously, they gave us a tour of their home, which was a converted van, and showed us all of the features. It was incredible.

Depending on the weather, they had option to sleep on the roof in the tent rather than in the mattress in the back.

 

All you need is love. (And a mini kitchen with some bonus storage and filtered water.)

 

Before we said goodbye to our new Dutch friends, we asked them a few questions about the hike. How long did it take? What was the difficulty level? Was there somewhere to swim on the way? They said the most challenging part was not missing the entrance to the trail that leads to the waterfall. “There’s a horse trail and a human trail. It’s a left with a tiny bridge. Make sure you go left.”

We began our hike meticulously evaluating every possible left turn. “Is this it? Wait, is this the horse trail?” Patrick, thankfully, chose our left wisely and we found the tiny bridge! It was a stunning hike with gorgeous views. We spent our hike playing a fun game idea in honour of Patrick’s pending birthday. As he was turning 36 the next day, he kicked the game off telling us what he had done on his 35th birthday, then 34th, then 33rd, and then 32nd. At that point, I shared what I did for my 32nd birthday (as I was a few days away from turning 33) and then Sammi jumped in for the round of our 31st birthdays. Once everyone was in the game, we took turns for each year as far back as we can remember. I think we only got to 18 before we made it back from the hike. Try this game at home!

Hike views

 

Trailblazers

 

You must be the horse trail.

 

Best friends! 🙂

 

Guater-fall-a

 

All together now 🙂

 

With the hike completed, we were onto our next mission: Find the perfect place to wake up on Patrick’s birthday. And spoiler alert: BOY DID WE!

Stay tuned,
Bel

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