We arrived by bus from Antigua to Panajachel, which was pretty easy to reach. In Panajachel we went hiking in a nature reserve with lots of hanging bridges, a waterfall and monkeys!
After two nights in 'Pana' we went to San Marcos, a small and very quiet 'hippie' town known for its meditation courses. We had a nice hotel on the lake and rented kayaks one morning (kayaking is only possible in the morning; the wind in the afternoon is too strong to kayak) and a great restaurant called 'Blind Lemons', owned by a retired American, where we watched American football while eating a burger.
Funny enough the towns near the lake are full of foreigners (extranjeros or 'Gringos') who decided to retire (sometimes very early) here and often started a restaurant or cafe. We had some great Japanese and American food, and found a funny coffee bar in Panajachel called 'Cafe Loco' which is ran by a Korean who makes amazing coffees. When people want a change from tortillas with beans, foreign food is always nearby in Guatemala.
San Pedro, another town on lake Atitlan, is known for its Spanish schools. The school where we took our lessons was la escuela Cooperativa. They offer a combination of private lessons with homestay (staying with a local family) for $200 per week, per person. We decided to take the unique experience and see where we would end up!
Sunday, we went to the school to register and we got picked up by our host family: familia Alejandra, who we called madre (mother). She lives in San Pedro with her husband and two kids, who are normally in Xela, another city in Guatemala attending university. Since it was vacation for them they also stayed in San Pedro. The son loved to talk about football - he likes Ajax :) - and the father was full of stories about his work as a doctor and the development of Guatemala. The family has had estudiantes from the school for over 10 years, and everyone in the town knows them!
The family was extremely friendly. Alejandra cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner for us every day - always with homemade tortillas! They get the corn themselves from the plantations in the mountains, then dry them on the roof and make tortillas out of them. In a few weeks during the dry season, they get all the corn for one full year! The homemade tortillas were DELICIOUS!
The family didn't speak any English, which was a good practice of our Spanish. At the school we had 4 hours private lesson per day, in a beautiful garden with amazing - sometimes a bit distracting - view over the lake. The lessons were in the morning (8-12) and in the afternoon we would chill by the lake, bike to a nearby town (quite a challenge in these mountains and bad roads) or just chill in a coffee place.
Alejandra making tortillas the authentic way
Mais for one year!!
Our teachers.. we spent 4 hours a day talking to them in Spanish last week!
Final days in Guatemala
Our school finished on Friday, so on Saturday we took a bus to Antigua. Another typical adventure was about to happen.. after a delay (probably the busdriver overslept, he was 30 minutes late and we were the first passengers he had to pick up) and filling the bus with passengers in San Pedro and San Marcos, the bus went uphill through the curvy mountain roads towards the highway to Antigua for about 45 minutes. When we almost reached the highway, the engine overheated..
It appeared that the cover of the cooling fluid was gone, and no one had cared to put one back on - so after driving on bumpy roads there was no more cooling fluid. A mechanic came who put about 10 liters of water into the cooling system, but the engine kept denying.. after a delay of almost 2 hours in the middle of nowhere, another bus finally came and brought us to Antigua, where we had lunch with Mario and drove to Guatemala City. And because it was our final weekend in Guatemala, we wanted to end it in style.. we went to a show with Dutch DJ Hardwell this Saturday night! Guatemala knows how to party !!!
Representing the Netherlands :)
After 4 amazing weeks in Guatemala, we will leave to Honduras to continue our travels. Guatemala has been a fantastic adventure, and we can recommend everyone to go there. People are extremely friendly, the nature is gorgeous, the climate is fantastic and the coffee is delicious! Last but definitely not least, a giant THANKS to our friend Mario and his family for their hospitality and showing us their country!