I’m very grateful for my first night in Antigua, having made the trip from Mexico. I catch up with an old friend who introduces me to the local salsa school ’Salsa y Más’ and the teachers and regulars. William, a regular has become one of my best friends, there is free salsa most nights in Antigua, if I was free I was there if there wasn’t salsa we would find somewhere to learn and practice. My salsa is still very basic but I can happily dance a song away, in fact, I may love Salsa and have found a new hobby that I pursue.
I never really had any great expectations for Guatemala, it was a country you go through on your way to Costa Rica but I was so wrong. I’d looked at Antigua as a stop for few weeks as it has some of the best and cheapest Spanish schools but my friend Evelien who I’d met in Tulum comes though and the amazing Matiox hostel has a volunteering space available. I’m happy to take the position and settle for a few weeks with Christmas and New Year within 2 weeks. I think I’m staying 3 weeks but this quickly turns into 5 weeks and I’m very happy for the time, experience and my Matiox family.
My first week was simple starting Spanish school immediately, that first weekend also became my first curry night. I’d cooked up a curry for myself but as always when frying onions, garlic and a little spice the whole place smells amazing, the Australians took an instant liking to the smell and after a beer, we arranged to cook up a fresh one on Sunday. It was my first time cooking for a large group but after some clever thinking, use of pots and available space I manage to cook chicken curry, chickpea curry and rice for 14 people. Go me!
Hostel curry night turned into a real success story of my trip, a combination of something I enjoyed doing, great food, new friends, and making some money on the side.
Whilst in Antigua I climb the 4000 meters high Volcán de Acatenango, it’s a 2-day hike, 18 Km with the first being a 6 hours uphill hike, it’s not very interesting, pretty and after 2500 m altitude the air gets thin and breathing becomes very difficult. The irony of my travel is to stop concentrating on the destination and enjoy the journey, but this hike is not about the journey but the destination, an amazing view of an active volcano erupting every 15-30 minutes.
We arrive at the base camp (3500m) with the unreal view of an erupting volcano and an amazing sunset. Once the sunsets it gets very very cold, we sit around the fire toasting marshmallows but by 9 pm the hike, thin air and cold are really getting to us, we call it a night and try to get some sleep. Sleeping in the cold and a sleeping bag is an interesting experience, most people add more clothes and really felt the cold but I’d heard the fewer clothes you wear the better the sleeping bag works so I chose to sleep in my shorts and a woolly hat and I am so hot I find it hard to believe that people are cold, my real issue comes with the thin air and blocked nose making it impossible to breathe. I manage a few 20minute sleeps before we are awoken at 4 am for the sunrise hike to the summit.
I come off the mountain on Christmas Eve, the biggest day of celebrations in Central America. I manage to grab a quick shower and 20 mins sleep before I’m up and cooking another curry for the Hostel Christmas Family Meal. It’s a great evening that starts with food and finished with a lot of drinks around 3 am.
Between the curry nights and the bar work I earn the name ’Don Nari’, most mornings when the beer is delivered I instantly stock the fridges up (you never want to serve warm beer), I spend a few mornings doing some jobs, defrosting the freezers and most of my bar shifts are pretty busy. I like Don Nari but not as much as ’Narito’ which I’m starting to use more and more everywhere I go.
Working in a hostel is an amazing experience and you get to meet so many different people but all this contact with different people is draining, there is never a moment to yourself, even your days-off people are asking you questions or just want to chat.
After 3 weeks in the hostel which have included Christmas and New Years I’m ready for a break, I set off for a 2-day break in Semuc Champey, it’s a day travel to get there and it has very little to do, perfect! On the first day, I do all the tourist attractions, the cave tour and the lagoon the second day it rains and I spend most of it with my headphones in, not speaking to anyone but I take a chocolate-making workshop which I find really interesting and you get a decent amount of chocolate. Be careful how much chocolate you eat, it contains a Theobromine, similar to caffeine, eat enough of it and you will be a little wired, eat a good amount and you have 6 hours of being very wired. It’s a pleasurable experience, not at all jittery but something I wasn’t expecting or mentally prepared for. I enjoy the feeling and crack through some Spanish revision.
Upon my return back from Semuc, I find Emma and Lilly are going to this absolutely stunning location… Lake Atitlan. I take up an invitation to join where we also meet up with Cassy who’d met in Tulum, she’d taken more time in Mexico and decided to travel on for longer rather than returning home, it’s always good to catch up with friendly faces and travel a little more. We re-arrange my shifts and the next day I’m back out of the door. We have an amazing time, wine, sunsets, good food and plenty of laughs.
Throughout my time in Guatemala there’s a strange sadness that creeps in and out, I’m still not sure what it is. Spending Christmas away from home is always strange but no matter what I do I’m unable to understand it. Hopefully, this is something that will clear over the months.
I’m super grateful for my time at Matiox Hostel and it’s sister hostel Somos, simply the best hostel ever! From the day I walked in Mely, Sophie, Mario and Andrea make me feel welcome and at home, as they do with all their guests, add on to this we have an amazing team of volunteers at both hostels. I’m sure we will stay friends for a long time and I can’t wait to catch up with everyone in the future but like all good things they must come to an end and after 4 weeks together 1-by-1 we start to move on.
My next step takes me to Honduras, a country with civil unrest and the most dangerous capital in the world…apparently.