Our plan to make it to Parque Nacional El Imposible before dark seemed reasonable enough. Distance-wise, it wasn’t far and the border crossing into El Salvador went smoothly, leaving us plenty of daylight for the trek. Between the four of us we had three maps and a handheld GPS. The fact that the road to El Imposible was in a slightly different location on each map didn’t phase us at all. It wouldn’t be the first time we used a less than mediocre map (or, no map at all) to navigate Central American roads. We’re experts, we thought. Besides, even if we got lost we had twelve weeks of Spanish class between us – we could easily use our new skills to ask for directions from the locals.
We departed Antigua early in the morning with plans to hike Volcan Pacaya. Well under a half day’s drive from Antigua we planned to get there early enough to hike to the summit before the clouds set in. Fast forward 3 hours and a number of U turns later we still had no idea where the hell we were. As we lovingly discussed with each other how we would revise our plans we decided that our chances to summit were quickly evaporating. Instead of waiting around to hike the following day we followed our standard break glass in case of emergency procedure. When all else fails and we continue to be grumpy, we move on. For us, a change of scenery will almost always reverse the flow of karma and result in a change in mood. We decided to make our way to the black sand beaches of Monterrico on Guatemala’s southern coast.
Antigua is a “can’t miss” stop on anyone’s route through Guatemala. It is a beautiful colonial city, known for its crumbling churches and towering volcanoes, both being somewhat related. Antigua has paid the price for its beautiful skyline with various earthquakes throughout the second millennia. Like other colonial cities in Latin America, Antigua’s streets are lined with single story buildings roofed with clay tile shingles and pastel colored facades. Its charm attracts wealthy tourists both domestic and international, which in turn attracts business. Antigua is packed with high end restaurants, fancy hotels, and clean little markets where you can buy Kashi, something I doubt you could find anywhere else in the country. The presence of all this wealth puts Antigua in stark contrast with the rest of Guatemala. Although on the surface it may not feel as authentic as a small mountain village, it is Guatemala none the less, and without having to go to too much trouble, we were able to discover plenty of authenticity throughout the city.
We were both annoyed when our alarm went off at 4:50 am on our first Saturday in San Pedro. Sleep weighed heavy on our eyes and we wanted nothing more than to roll over and ignore the incessant beeping. Still groggy, I forced myself out of bed and began preparing our packs for the day. We had to hurry if we were to be on time meeting the rest of the group. Once Zach was up, we had a quick breakfast of corn flakes, which Rosario had set out for us the night before, and ran out the door. Pedro and the others were already waiting for us when we arrived.
During our time in San Pedro, the school arranged for me and Zach to live with a local Guatemalan family. After nine months of living in the van, our new home felt luxurious. We had a large, private bedroom, hot showers on demand and three meals each day provided for us. Our host “parents”, Rosario and Pedro, were a young couple of Mayan descent who spoke both Spanish and Tz’utujil, but very little English. Not poor by any means, they make a modest but comfortable living and work extremely hard each day for what they have.