June 1-8, Antigua and June 9-13, Panajachel, Lake Atitlan
If extending a tourist visa past 90 days in Ecuador was more certain than waiting until the day it expires and crossing your fingers, we probably would have just stayed there for two more weeks. Alas, we didn’t want to have to attempt a border run with the kids in tow, and figured we could put our super-improved español to good use in another country. We picked Guatemala because it was mentioned a few times by numerous friends and bloggers as friendly to Spanish-learners and traveling families, and was technically on the way back north to the U.S. (more later on our various mental and emotional states during the culminating weeks of a year away).
We flew from Quito through Panama City to Guatemala City, a place you’d likely never visit if you watched a lot of TV news or read the U.S. State Department website. We’d asked around ahead of time and locals said that Uber was reliable, cheap and safe (compared to taxis), so we called one from the airport and headed toward Antigua (25 miles away) with a nice young guy packed into his dusty little red Mazda3. The traffic was awful on this Saturday afternoon and we were crawling up a big hill on a crowded two-lane road when the car stalled. The driver tried unsuccessfully to re-start it numerous times as the cars behind us beeped louder and louder. Eventually, as Wayne and I were eyeing each other cautiously, both wondering if we should grab our packs and start walking, our driver stepped out into the traffic and waved down a pickup truck in a matter of minutes. The nice fellas in the truck hooked our car up with a rope and towed us up the long, winding hill and then at least a few more miles to the next gas station. Yes, we had simply run out of gas. The driver was apologetic and got us to our destination safely. All was good. Welcome to Guatemala.
Guatemala was noticeably poorer and grittier than where we’d been in Ecuador, even in touristy Antigua. As a UNESCO World Hertitage Site though, the town must maintain it’s distinctive cobblestone streets – we imagined many ankles had been twisted and torqued on these rough roads. Wayne and I still managed to get out for runs and we all did a neat city bike tour. A huge shout out to the U.K.-based gal who wrote this post about where to run in Antigua. Without it we wouldn’t have discovered neighboring Jocotenango or the busy local roads to and from there, teeming with everyday life.
Our dear friend Liz met us in Antigua for our last ten days of international travel. She and I did a fun (and delicious) cooking class at La Tortilla, and with Wayne got to climb high up out of the city on a mountain bike tour.
After Antigua, we set out with a driver for our last international destination – Lake Atitlan. Liz had found us a beautiful home to stay in overlooking the lake and its neighboring volcanoes. June is rainy season in Guatemala, so we were treated to some epic afternoon storms and evening lightning shows.
It was a quiet week of reflecting on the past year (Wayne and I), getting more excited about going home (A&A) and getting some quality time with Liz. We all had good walks and runs to Santa Catarina, a colorful sloping village a couple of miles from Panajachel.
Lively markets and soccer games are mainstays in even the smallest Guatemalan villages
An unexpected bonus of our trip to Panajachel was that we got to visit with another traveling family we had met in Vietnam, who had recently settled in San Pedro, a 30min boat ride across the lake. It was wonderful to get a resident’s tour of this lovely little town, and see how each of the lakeside villages were unique to the indigenous communities that founded them (and the transplants that reside there).
For one of our final international meals, Liz treated us to a traditional Guatemalan dinner cooked by Otilia – she and her husband Miguel manage the property we were staying at. We used our best Spanish to converse with her about her family and the history of the property, as she let us mangle tortillas. The girls may even say it was one of their best meals abroad.
As our time in Guatemala came to an end, we packed our bags for our last international flight of the year. I was sad, the girls were quietly ecstatic, and I think Wayne was reflective. We would head to New Hampshire for our annual cousin summer family visit before going back home to Seattle, so a soft re-entry. So many thoughts and anxieties were spinning in our heads, and we were all a little off. But we were also so very grateful for the time with Liz and getting to experience one more Spanish-speaking country. I know personally, it just made me want to keep going.
Next stop – USA.