This is going to be long. I might start all of my travel posts like that, but this is different. This has everything to do with the personal nature of this post. My mom is from Guatemala, my dad is from California, of German, Irish, and other European decent. I lived in Guatemala when I was 5 and 6 years old with my grandma and two uncles. My family went back to California after a visit, but I did not. To this day, there is still some confusion as to how this was all decided, but I did one year of school there, and learned to speak Spanish, and forgot how to speak English. I have not been back to Guatemala since 1986.
As you might imagine, this was a reunion of sorts, which included myself, my partner Shawn (I’m sure I’ve mentioned I hate the word boyfriend, because we are too old for that), and my mom, who has gone back regularly every couple of years. I barely traveled in my twenties, due to lack of funding if you will, and only started delving further into the our giant planet a few years ago. I finally decided it was time to make the proverbial pilgrimage back to the motherland, and I wanted to go with my mom so we could have the full family experience. My uncle Carlitos was kind enough to be our driver for the duration of the trip, so that’s how we got around.
Our first stop was of course my grandmother’s house, where she lives in Guatemala City. Carlitos still lives with her, as does her domestic assistant and family friend Epifania, who was also around when my mom was growing up.
Going back was so crazy, because I remembered so much of it so vividly. I remembered the exact layout of the house, the pila in the backyard, which is what they use to hand wash clothes, and the garden, which was now overgrown due to my uncle Jorge having a major green thumb. We arrived late at night on Saturday, and everyone stayed up to greet us and offer us food, including mangos. After going to bed, we all got up the next day, and the first thing I did was ask to see some old photos, which they had so many, it was overwhelming, and exciting. I have just a couple to share with you, and yes that is me looking very excited for whatever it is that is happening there with all that blue eyeshadow and pom poms. Just above that inexplicable insanity is my parents on their wedding day. They actually got married in Guatemala, however many years ago that was now, but more than 35!
After a thorough trip down memory lane, we had breakfast or lunch, depending on how you want to look at it, which consisted of black beans, hand made tortillas made fresh daily, yumm, pacaya, and fruits. This is what we ate almost every day. Haha! Guatemalan's are very simple when it comes to food, but it might just be my overly health conscious grandma as well. The photo just above, is of Carlitos when he was young, and my grandpa Alberto on the left. Just above that, are pics of my young grandma, looking very cute! Below, brunch, and grandma present day in her dining room.
Finally we head out to Lake Atitlan, a well known lake about 3 hours from Guatemala city, and surrounded by 3 volcanoes. It’s an area that is known for the women who weave traditional mayan textiles, which is one of the things many people love about Guatemala. The textiles are truly amazing, and it’s really fun to see the similarities between different styles around the world, from India to Africa and beyond. The work they do is all done with natural dyes, and processes, and make for truly beautiful designs.
This lovely young woman was so cool, and showed us how her and her collective work from cotton to final product. We loved talking to her, and supporting her business, and I hope to be back soon! The next morning, we were lucky enough to catch the cutest parade of the local kids, who were celebrating marimba day, which is the national instrument of Guatemala. They are all wearing their traditional clothing, and obviously having a very good time.
After spending a couple of days in Lake Atitlan, we decided to head out to Zunil, a remote mountain village just outside of Quetzaltenango, with volcanic activity, lending itself to be a natural steam bath destination. This is definitely not a huge tourist destination, but it was truly fascinating, as we got to see how the locals live and farm. The farming blew me away, and the area is known for being a great growing climate. It’s also very high in elevation, so there was a ton of low hanging fog, which added to the mystique.
We stayed in a nice hotel overlooking the valley and steep farms, and the hotel is known for having private steam rooms in your hotel room. They are natural, and come from the volcanic activity all around the area, so it’s pretty lovely. Upon arrival we got a chance to see the local market, and purchase a few items my mom was excited about. Once we got to the hotel we had lunch, which was great, because they had one of the traditional dishes known as Pepian. It’s not the national dish, as they don’t have one, but it could be if they had one. It is essentially a stew, that is somewhat similar to molé, and has an array of veggies and meat. This dish is extremely delicious, and I highly recommend you try it if you get the chance.
After wrapping up our spa day, we headed back to Guatemala City, but not without stopping in Quetzaltenango, and saying hi to my mom’s cousins who live there. I would definitely go back to check out this city, it was rather charming, and one of the young girls in town was filming a little TV spot, and I asked her if I could photograph her and she said yes. Something to know about the indigenous Mayan people of Guatemala, is that they do not like to be photographed, so it’s very important to ask permission before doing so. Child trafficking is also an issue in Guatemala which contributes to the desire not to be photographed, so proceed with caution and understanding. The only people I photographed, I asked directly or had an interaction that allowed me to know that is was ok. Otherwise, I just took large overall photographs to capture the scene. Almost everyone I asked, said no! Haha!
We finally got back to my Grandma’s, and even they don’t want to be photographed, they obliged, since you know it had been 30 years since I had seen them! I had to share just a few.
Once again, we set out for our next destination, which was Antigua. The former capital of Guatemala, but was destroyed three times by earthquakes, so they moved it. Now it’s just an awesome historic town, that is a UNESCO heritage site, and a favorite among travelers.
We only got to spend one night there, since our trip was unfortunately short, but we made the most of it by going on a little food tour given by some friends of friends who moved down there a few years ago. It was a great way to get to know more about the city, and see some hidden gems that we would not have otherwise seen. We highly recommend getting a tour from them if you’re in town. Here is a link to their website Antigua Foodie Tours. PS, the secret garden action in this town is crazy, including this amazing flower called, the Jade Vine. It is a turquoise flower guys!! What????? Discovering new and different Flora and Fauna are one of my most favorite parts of traveling. I always take in the plant life, just as much as the people, the food, and the culture.
Since this was such a run and gun trip, I left the food tour knowing I wanted to take some more pics before we left at Sunset. I was so glad I did, because there is so much beauty to see here, and I couldn’t leave without catching just a few more shots. Also, I promise, I’m not trying to get Shawn in a beer commercial! Haha.
The last leg of this trip was all about going to my uncle Jorge’s house in Cuilapa. This might have been the highlight of the trip. He and his wife put together the most beautiful lunch for us, I LOVED seeing his home, and his life. He really is obsessed with plants, but especially orchids and cacti. He is also an incredible painter, and showed us all the types of orchids he has in his garden. He took us up to his studio, and showed us some of his work, and book collections, and educated us about different Mayan Gods. After an insanely large lunch, his wife Wilma kept bringing out more stuff, including all kind of different fruit for us to try, which was amazing. One was the caimito, the purple and white one, which is known as milk fruit, another fruit rendition I’d never had was naranja con pepita, which is essentially oranges with ground up squash seed, like pumpkin seeds, but different. That was truly another level. I am definitely sad, I did not take more pictures of his garden, but there just wasn’t enough time with all the eating and catching up there was to do. P.S. That pineapple below is the best I've ever had!
Thanks for coming on this journey with me, I know it was long, and now that it’s done, I don’t really have any travel tips, other than letting you know that the main tourist destinations in Guatemala are Lake Atitlan, Antigau, and Tikal, which is where the Mayan Ruins, are. You should definitely go if you get the chance, but I’ll save that for another time! Also, eat all the fruit!!!!