Sarah and Jamie Take on Guatemala: A Long-y but a Goodie!

Jamie and I returned a few hours ago from an awesome Guatemalan adventure!

We were a little nervous about whether or not we’d have fun because Saturday morning was comprised of crappily sad goodbyes with Haley and Niki. But let me backtrack for a minute. After saying goodbye to my family on Friday morning, I flew from Belize City to PG in serious style. The plane stopped in Dangriga and Placencia before heading to PG, and when we landed in Placencia, every passenger got off except for me! Which meant that I pretty much had my own private flight to PG! I felt like the president much feel on Air Force One. When I arrived in PG, I reunited with the girls, all of whom I had missed excessively over the week! It’s crazy how close we’ve all become, and I’ve become accustomed to having Niki run into my arms like an excited little kid after we’ve been separated for a week! We had an awesome Friday night of fun and not-sleeping, and then a somewhat gloomy breakfast, made gloomy by the impending departure of our beautiful Haley! We walked to the airport together for Haley’s 9:20 flight, and after tears and hugs, Niki, Jamie, and I watched her plane fly away to Belize City. It stunk. About an hour after we returned from the airport, we had to repeat the process again, this time saying goodbye to Niki, who was headed to spend one last night with her homestay family before an early Sunday morning departure for the USA. This goodbye was also ridden with tears, and it also stunk.

As Jamie and I walked back to the bunkhouse to prepare for our Guatemala departure, we questioned whether we’d be able to have fun after having lost 50% of our posse. Being the two old fogies of the four of us (sorry, Jamie, but I’m grouping you with me!) we wondered if we’d be able to keep things awesome. I’m happy to say that we did very well for ourselves. Here’s the story of our Guatemalan adventure! It began with a 1 PM departure from PG with Captain Memo (yes, Memo, not “Nemo”) and a group of about 20 other passengers. The majority of the passengers were Garifuna, and they seemed to be family members, which isn’t too surprising as our Guatemala destination, Livingston, is the Garifuna hub of the country. The boat we took was about the size of the terror boat from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” and since Jamie and I were two of the last to board, she ended up in the back of the boat while I sat in a middle row next to a large Garifuna woman. About three minutes into the ride, we started to encounter some pretty serious waves. About five minutes in, it started feeling like we were on an amusement park ride. I was actually enjoying the ride—taking photos, staying nice and dry, and smiling up at the beautiful blue sky. Meanwhile, those on the left side of the boat were getting soaked, and the woman next to me was freaking out! Every time we went over a bump, she would scream and grab my hand, and the bumps pretty quickly become so frequent that she was just holding my arm—and later my leg—continuously in a quasi-death grip. I couldn’t stop laughing at the ridiculousness of the whole thing. Jamie and I were a little nervous about whether going to Guatemala would be worth the $40 USD cost of a round-trip there by boat, but the boat trip itself made me feel pretty pleased with our decision to make the trip happen!

Two of the main screamers on our boat ride to Livingston

When we stepped off of the boat at Livingston’s dock, I was immediately taken in by the sound of Spanish being spoken by just about everyone, and the wonderful Spanish signs and posters and people! As weird as it may seem, being in a Spanish-speaking place has come to feel like something of a homecoming for me, and it was refreshing to be immersed in it again in a way that I hadn’t been since my time in Peru.

Bienvenidos a Guatemala!

Jamie and I made our way up the hill to the immigration office, stopping to check out a few shops on the way. After getting our passports stamped, we decided to stroll along the main drag a bit and see what we could see. We only made it about twenty feet when we were greeted by a Garifuna man who introduced himself as Felipe. He asked us where we were from, and told us that he had been educated in Belize and also in Chicago. As we spoke, he occasionally waved to people passing on the street, many of whom seemed to know him by name. Jamie and I took this as a sign that he wasn’t a murderer, so when he said, “Follow me, and I’ll show you the real Livingston,” we followed without too much question. As we walked behind Felipe, he told us about the continuing presence of prejudice between the Garifuna and the Latina people in Livingston. He explained that the town was essentially divided into sections, some of which were Garifuna and others of which were Latino. He brought us into one area of houses and then actually brought us into a house, where a woman named Josepha was seated in bed. Felipe explained that Josepha had been unable to walk for seven years because she’d been paralyzed during a hurricane that hit the area. It was around this point that we began wondering if Felipe’s “friendly tour of Livingston” was actually going to be a “friendly plea for cash money.” Meeting Josepha was interesting. When I greeted her, I shook her hand, and she was very reluctant to let my hand go. It reminded me of some of the nursing homes I’d visited in Peru, where it was clear that some of the patients were starving for the simple touch of another human being. I wish I could have done something more to help Josepha, but it’s at least comforting to know that her community is one that makes a habit of caring for its elderly and incapacitated. Felipe’s next stop was a home for young children, mostly boys, who I believe were orphaned. The kids were super cute, and Felipe gave them all candy and high fives. They were super cute, and they were very excited for Jamie and me to take their photos, which we happily did! As we left the kids, Felipe made his official request for financial support for his organization, which he described as a very grassroots group of people devoted to caring for each other in old age and dire circumstances. While I wanted to support his work, I didn’t want to give him money because he had no paperwork to prove the legitimacy of the organization and Jamie and I both kind of felt like he tricked us into following him around town for an hour just to try and get our money. It was frustrating, but also kind of hysterical, and we finally managed to escape using the legitimate excuses of hunger and thirst.

One of the beautiful children we met during our walk with Felipe.

Our next stop was a restaurant called La Buga, which we found on a side street as we went in search of lodgings. We stopped in and discovered two girls who had been on our boat from PG, and who were as conspicuously blonde as we were! They invited us to sit, and we ended up getting along swimmingly and sharing our unique stories about how we’d ended up in Guatemala. The girls, Jess and Shonnee, are both originally from Utah, and they met while working as waitresses on a train in Alaska. Um hello, so stinking cool. They then decided to travel to Guatemala together to teach English, but ended up not being that happy with the experience, so they decided to backpack through all of Central America. They’re two countries away from covering all of it, and Jamie and I are both officially super jealous! Shonnee will be heading back to teach special education in Utah in about a month, and Jess will be headed somewhere to be determined. Also, interesting sidenote about Jess: she’s a pretty seriously talented hairstylist, and actually styled hair at NYC Fashion Week! She’s going to be going to school for her bachelor’s degree soon, and I told her that I would die happy if she would send me her papers to edit, which she quickly agreed to do. Which means that I will be editing the papers of a celebrity hairstylist. WHAT up. Anyway, meeting Shonnee and Jess made me feel very inclined toward a backpacking trip. It’s really awesome that they carry their lives essentially on their backs, and don’t always know where they’ll be in a day or two, or where they’ll be staying, or what adventure they’ll be having next. I am contemplating how I can make this happen, and who I can make it happen with! Oh, and if you don’t believe the whole “celebrity hairstylist” thing, here’s Jess’s website: Yep, I met a famous person. (I told her that I would brag about how I met a famous hairstylist, but she was very humble and I had to creep on/google her to find proof of her awesomeness!).

La Buga, our restaurant of choice!

While hanging out with our new amigas, we dined on some great food and margaritas, all served by Mayan teens, who staff the restaurant where we ate. Apparently, La Buga is a special place because 100% of the profits that they bring in go toward promoting education for Mayan children in Guatemala. Made my chicken fajitas taste even better!

After our leisurely meal, Jamie and I headed to Casa Rosada, where the backpackers were staying, and which I’d read about online prior to leaving Belize. It turns out that it’s pretty much the coolest place ever. For $8 USD each, Jamie and I got ourselves a little double bungalow with mosquito nets (my new favorite thing—I feel like a queen in her boudoir) and fans and access to a shared bathroom. The Casa also features beautiful flowers, a gorgeous outdoor seating area, a dock right on the water with hammocks, and an honor code system for eating and drinking (whatever you eat/drink, you record in the “honor book” and it’s added to your bill at checkout). Jamie and I got ourselves settled in and then hung out on the hammocks, where I forced Jamie to tell me her life story by telling me a life-defining event for every year of her existence. (I love making people do this.) It was really nice to get to know Jamie so much better, and I’m only further convinced of how fabulous she is and further delighted to be her friend! In addition to her passion for global public health, Jamie has such love for her family and such strength of character and spirit! When she leaves Belize, I will officially cry my eyes out because our little “group of four” will be gone except for me! Luckily, she leaves just four days before I do, so my suffering will be short-lived. 🙂

Out charming bungalow at La Casa Rosada!

Oh, and I don’t know where this fits into the chronology of things, but at some point during our Saturday, I bought two pieces of sweet coconut bread, and they were ridiculously delicious and I plan on finding a way to make it back home. So far, my only successful find is the following recipe—if anyone wants to try it out and report back, I’d love to hear about it!

After a much-needed night of rest (Jamie and I were both still catching up from our lack of sleep on Friday night), we woke up and ordered ourselves some banana pancakes from the Casa Rosada cooks. The pancakes were so, so yummy, and served with fresh fruit and frozen fruit shakes. For any Lancaster lovers out there, I’d say that these pancakes rival the ones from Wish You Were Here as far as overall deliciousness goes! We were very, very satisfied with the Casa Rosada on all counts!

Best. Breakfast. Ever.

After breakfast, we headed out to do some shopping, but ended up slightly sidetracked by another encounter with our new backpacker friends. They were in need of some translation assistance (Did I mention that they’re backpacking through Central American without being able to speak Spanish? They’re seriously an impressive pair). I happily helped them by going with them to a local travel agent and helping them to figure out the best way to get to their next destination, an island off the coast of Honduras called Roatan. Although my Spanish is pretty dismal, it’s definitely a far cry from no Spanish, and I love being able to help people, so this was not so much a nuisance as a highlight of the day!

After another goodbye with our amigas, Jamie and I headed for the ATM, where we tried to decide how much money to get out in the Guatemalan currency of quetzals. 1 US dollar equals 7.5 quetzals, which for some reason confused the dickens out of me, but I ended up withdrawing the equivalent of about 30 US dollars. Jamie got out even less, and I was very much convinced that we would not have enough money to buy anything of substance with such a small amount. I ended up being pleasantly surprised by how far 30 dollars can go here—good instincts on Jamie’s part! We went to several little touristic shops, and at one we purchased matching bracelets from a Colombian man, and then each got a henna tattoo (because we are that stinking cool). I also bought t-shirts for my brothers featuring the local cerveza, Gallo. Brian’s shirt says (in Spanish), “Save water. Drink more beer.” I find that slogan abhorrent in every way, but all of the blue shirts said it, and Brian looks good in blue because of his blue eyes, so I sucked it up and bought it anyway. (Just for the record, though, I think that we should save beer and drink more water. Way more sensible.)

My Henna awesomeness

Our shopping also involved a pretty brazen attempt on my part to purchase a bag, two bracelets, a big straw hat, and a baby’s dress (for Andrea’s granddaughter) for the completely reasonable price of 150 quetzal (like $20 US). Unfortunately, the saleslady was having none of my haggling, and refused to take less than $37 US, which I wouldn’t have given her until pigs flew. I tried the Peruvian “walk away and let them chase you” tactic, but it was sadly ineffective here, and I ended up returning home without the items. This was probably for the best, but I was annoyed that my bargaining efforts had failed.

After we’d completed our shopping, we checked out of the beautiful Casa Rosada and decided to stop by La Buga again, where we AGAIN ran into our backpacker buddies. We shared a table for the second time in two days, and got Jess to tell us the stories behind all of her tattoos while we drank Coca Colas and iced teas. After lunch, the four of us decided to get some ice cream at Heladeria Sarita (yes, that means Ice Cream Sarah, and yes, I consider it an ice cream shop named in my honor), and I tried my first Magnum chocolate ice cream bar, which was pretty stellar. I imagine that I’ll eat one again soon if I can find such a thing in Belize.

We said our final goodbye to the girls after our ice cream date, and then Jamie and I headed back to the migration office to get our passports stamped and catch our return boat to PG. When we got to the migration office, we handed in our passports, where the man behind the desk stamped them and took down our passport numbers and names. He then informed us that we each owed an 80 quetzal exit tax. Neither Jamie nor I had expected to have to pay a departure tax, and we were not pleased. We started to walk to the ATM to get out the necessary money, but when I went to take out the necessary $16 US dollars, the machine refused to dispense money to me. We considered leaving without paying the tax, but then decided against it after considering that we might get arrested or jailed. Not sure of the best course of action, we returned to the migration office and explained our situation to the man behind the counter. Turns out that he’s pretty much the meanest guy ever, so he was entirely unsympathetic and told us to go to a different ATM because he wouldn’t let us leave Guatemala without paying the dumb departure tax. We were pretty disgusted by Mr. Meanie, and we decided to head down to the dock and see if we could find Captain Memo and get him to help us. He was, of course, on Belizean time and nowhere to be found, so we decided to take one more crack at a different ATM machine. To my disgust, the machine worked, and I presented the nasty man with our money without telling him that his suggestion about a different ATM had been correct. He was a pooper.

Officially legal for departure, we made our way down to the dock to wait for Memo, who had told us on Saturday that he would be in Livingston to pick us up by 3:30 at the latest. Having heard stories of people not getting on the last boat back to Belize, I was a little concerned when it came to be 3:45, and then 4, with no sign of Memo. As we waited, two separate groups of Guatemalans asked to take pictures with us, which we found hysterical. It made me feel like I was back in Costa Rica when everyone wanted pictures with me because I was so blond and pale. Thankfully, Memo showed up a few minutes after four, and we boarded our little steed of a boat for another bumpy return to PG. This time, the boat only contained Memo, his first mate (some teenager boy), three Guatemalans, Jamie, and me. Apparently, the number of passengers does not affect the wildness of the boat ride, and the return trip was just as bumpy as the way there. Even though Memo gave Jamie and me a tarp to put over ourselves, we were soaked by the time we got to PG. Some of the waves that we went over were truly over five feet tall, and we got a decent bit of salt water in our eyes and mouths. In spite of getting soaked, the ride was fun, and we returned to PG to our beautiful, beautiful welcoming committee of one, Andrea!

Alive and in one piece, back in PG!

I’m glad to be back in PG, but I am really hoping to make it to Guatemala once more before I leave Belize. I know there’s a lot more of the country that I’d enjoy seeing, and if I can get Jamie on board, going back is a no-brainer! The weekend was great, and definitely a wise time to do something adventurous, as it kept our minds off of our dearly-missed Haley and Niki. More on those two hooligans soon!