So I’m cheating a little here, because I’m not actually in Central America. I’ve found my notes from my trip two years ago (see? cheating!) and since I didn’t have a blog back then I thought I’d share my experiences now.
This trip was really a precursor to last year’s sabbatical in South America, though I didn’t know it at the time. It reminded me of how much I love this kind of travel (how could I have forgotten?!), reassured me that I’m not too old for backpacking (never!), and gave me a much-needed break from PowerPoint (ahhhh!).
The choice of Central America was mainly the result of trying to match affordable flights for my friend Annie, who was coming from London, and me coming from Geneva. That’s how we ended up with arrival in Guatemala, departure from Costa Rica. Having booked the flights, we were very relaxed and didn’t really plan anything, until suddenly, as the trip approached, I began to think that maybe we needed a rough idea of how we would get from Guatemala City to San José in two weeks. Yep, four countries (albeit small ones) in two weeks. So of course I consulted my Lonely Planet and realised that we would need to make some choices and move quite quickly if we were ever to make it home. I ended up with a table with five different options that could be mixed and matched to see as much as we could within the framework of certain deadlines. Doesn’t that sound like fun?
(It would be remiss of me not to mention at this point that I actually flew to Florida first, to run a half-marathon dressed as a pirate. But I’ll come back to that later.)
After meeting up at Guatemala City airport, we headed straight out to Antigua, a UNESCO Heritage Site located between three volcanoes about an hour away from the capital. Originally one of the colonial capitals of the Spanish Empire, it was abandoned after an earthquake in the late 18th century and became known as Antigua Guatemala.
So in Old Guatemala we spent our first night, the following morning enjoying a “traditional Guatemalan breakfast” consisting of omelette, black bean purée, avocado, fried plantain, cheese, and toast, and then a wander through the colonial streets.
From Antigua we took a bus out to Lago de Atitlán, the deepest lake in Central America. We had heard great things about this lake, promising to be a really beautiful location with a choice of small towns around its shores on a scale of all-night parties down to yoga and meditation.
You may indeed need meditation when you come straight from a Northern European corporate environment to be faced with the slow pace that seemed to be the norm here. Timetables were more like guidelines, really, and you have plenty of time to practise deep breathing exercises as your bus drives around town forever picking up more passengers than you could possibly imagine would fit into the vehicle, or you wait in a little lancha that you hope will eventually take you across the lake to your hostel.
I adapted quickly, though. And here, at Atitlán, I found peace.
For many months after I returned to Geneva, when things got to be too much, I would just close my eyes and journey back to Atitlán. Lying in my hammock, looking out over over the lake and the surrounding mountains.
And at night, the stars. Oh how I love the stars.
Next week: the Tikal ruins in northern Guatemala.