• devon

Flores, Guatemala to Caye Caulker, Belize

After three weeks in Guatemala, at the end of rainy season, some sunshine and beach time is welcome. The last few weeks have been spent navigating muddy streets, off and on rain storms, mosquitoes, blackflies, and outrageously humid conditions. Don’t get me wrong, Guatemala has been a worthwhile experience, but we are ready for a change (and Rose can’t donate anymore blood to the insect populations of Guatemala).

We stepped off the ground in Flores, Guatemala, at 5:00AM, and the next time we would plant our feet on the ground we would be in Belize - our second country in Central America!

The border crossing between Guatemala and Belize is easy to navigate. You can't cross with fruits, veggies, or nuts, so be aware of that if you have a phobia of travelling without food on hand at all times, like Rose....

Immediately after crossing the border, it is evident that Belize is a more wealthy country. It is marginal evident at first, but as you get closer to Belize City it is clearly evident. Peoples lawns are mowed (also, people have lawns), homes are taken care of, the streets are well signed, and road rules are similar to “Western” countries. The final destination of our bus was the marina where the ferry boats take you to Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye. The ferry terminal is modern looking and organized. Also, the ferry boats are new, well kept, and have life saving equipment onboard (which is a luxury that is generally overlooked in Western countries). Not to mention, nearly everyone on the boat is white and around middle age or older; my first impressions of Belize was that this is clearly going to be a different experience from Guatemala.

A quick boat trip (45 minutes) to Caye Caulker, and it was time to get into beach mode! Thirty degrees (celsius), beautiful tropical water, and palm trees - time to whip out the sunny’s and throw on the swimsuit! In anticipation of the sunshine in Belize, we had bought sunscreen in Guatemala, which is a necessity for me to survive in direct sunlight, but it cost us $27 CAD for 500ml. A ridiculously expensive price for sunscreen. To put this in perspective, our accomodation cost us less for a night in the touristy town of Flores, Guatemala. To add insult to injury, we also had to buy contact lense solution which cost nearly the same per milliliter. That being said, this was the only time that I felt like we were being blatantly ripped off, and it was buy a supermarket, not a shady tour operator or street vender. This really says a lot for the people in Guatemala. There is normally always room for negotiation with street vendors and tour operators, but we never felt like people were trying to scam us, which isn’t the case for many countries you travel, so kudos to the people of Guatemala for honourably dealing with, often naive and vulnerable tourists.

We were delighted with Caye Caulker from the moment we stepped off the boat. This may be partly a result of where we were coming from, but it is also just a chilled out, beautiful place to put your feet up. Also, and most importantly for us, our laundry would actually dry here. After trying to dry out our clothing and shoes for the last few days in 100% humidity, everything had developed a shall we say “travelly” odour…

We had about 10 hours to spend on Caye Caulker, before we would disembark on a three day sailing trip down to Dangriga, so we had to make the most of it! Caye Caulker is small so we walked to the split (where the Caye was “split” by a hurricane in 2007), where we spent the afternoon bobbing in the beautiful tropical water. This had a slightly “all-inclusive” feel, which we aren’t partial to, but in this instance felt very enjoyable. Later we rented bikes and cruised the Caye, and then went to Maggie's which is an AMAZING locally run restaurant that does seafood. An incredible dinner of conch fritters and a local lobster dish was indescribably delicious. The following morning, we went to the local bakery and loaded up on baked goods. All of them were also AMAZING. It leaves me wondering whether I’m just incredibly happy to be eating something other than tortillas for every meal, or if the local food on Caye Caulker is all tear jerkingly incredible…

  • rose

Updated: Sep 6

San Pedro, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

There is an amazing sense of community in San Pedro. The population is around 13,000 people, and yet everyone seems to know each other.

Recently there was a sudden death in the community. My Spanish teacher explained some of the traditions surrounding death and grieving in San Pedro. The first week, the family is visited by friends and family. For the next 1-2 months, close family members and friends take turns bringing food, going for walks, talking with, and supporting the family. The family is visited by these relatives and friends at least 3 times a day! There is a community sense of duty and obligation after a loved one dies. No one is left alone or has to grieve on their own. Sometimes, tragedies happen. As my Spanish teacher says, "es la vida". I get the sense that the people of San Pedro feel reassured knowing that when it is their turn to go, their family will be comforted in the same loving way.

The access to medical care in San Pedro is challenging. Most Maya women deliver in their own home, with the help of their mother and sisters. Family is the core principle in this community. Grandparents, siblings, and cousins, all live close by. Our experience has been that mealtimes are spent together as a family. Our host family’s abeula (grandma) comes over for dinner most nights. She lives about 50 meters away. Often the family's 4 year old niece can be found in their kitchen or playing with their kitten.

Last week our school visited some families in the community. We brought food and ingredients for cooking. Some of the tuition money from the Coopertiva Spanish School goes to helping these families in need. Our teacher translated for us as they only spoke in Mayan; if it were not for these donations, their family would not be able to afford to eat.

We are thoroughly enjoying our time in San Pedro, and the more we learn about the community here, the more we appreciate its value.

  • rose

Updated: Sep 6

San Pedro, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Life around Lake Atitlan is probably as laid back as it comes. We spend the mornings walking around, exploring a nearby town, or studying at one of the local cafes. In the afternoons we take Spanish Lessons. Lucky for us, our teachers are excellent! Not to mention, super patient. It has been challenging but rewarding to learn a new language.

Highlights of the last week include:

1. Playing soccer, or "football" as they call it here, with a bunch of local Guatemalans and students from the school.

2. Climbing Volcano San Pedro and enjoying the view from a rope swing.

3. Celebrating Anita's birthday! I guess it's tradition here to shove the birthday girl/boys' face in the cake after we sing happy birthday. We are thinking of bringing this back to Canada..!!

As we gear up for our second week of Spanish lessons, we are thinking about how impressed our family and friends will be when we can carry on a conversation en espanol!