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Just me, my backpack and I Adventures and lessons on the journey of life!

Quetzaltenango, the crazy city in the hills!

GUATEMALA | Monday, 13 May 2013 | Views [1863]



San Marcos was hippyville - think yoga, meditation, drugs, dreads and ´spiritual enlightenment´.

Next stop Quetzaltenango (Xela), a big town in the mountains.

Volcano climb to watch another volcano erupt, with a local dog joining us for the trek.

Spanish study! Learning lots, loving it and finding it challenging and rewarding!

Partying! lots of partying with students, lots of fun and late nights.

Crazy, frequent use of fireworks. ALL THE TIME. DAY AND NIGHT. FOR ANY OCCASION.

San Marcos


So Erin, Sam and I got the little boat off to San Marcos to do a bit of exploring, having heard it was a really nice little town. Not sure I agree but it´s certainly a strange place. There a zillions of hippies who have moved in and turned the place into a large centre of meditation, yoga, spiritual readings including tarot etc as well as the ever present smell of marijuana. Think loads of people with rasta dreads, lots of piercings, minimal personal hygiene and no shoes. Okay, not QUITE that bad, but it certainly is a very hippy town. Instead of the usual chanting of someone trying to sell you food by the road you'll hear “tacos? tortillas? biscuits? space cakes?”.

There aren't many options of things to do there if you don't want to get in on the yoga, meditation, spiritual healing etc, so basically we wandered around there for a while, ran into a few people we'd met along the way who had been sucked into the hippy lifestyle then got the boat back to San Pedro.

A last night in the bar included running into a guy I'd met in San Cristobal playing in Buddha Bar, one of the local bars, more drinks than I should have had, and yet more farewells to some fabulous new friends before Erin, Sam and I had to get up early for a shuttle to Quetzaltenango, known by all the locals as Xela (pronounced Shailla).

We discovered our shuttle had been overbooked in the morning and ended up having a private car drive us to Xela. A small piece of luxury when you're used to being packed into a tiny mini-bus with 16 other people on small uncomfortable chairs for a few hours on bumpy, windy roads with no suspension.

On arrival in Xela we found a place to stay - Hostal Don Diego, and went off to find food. Xela is a reasonably big city, second biggest in Guatemala, but quite spread out so it doesn't seem too busy. It has a lot of beautiful colonial buildings, especially in Parque Central and bumpy, broken up cobblestone streets. You have to watch where you're walking ALL the time to stop from falling into a pothole, or worse a metre deep hole that would be an O H & S nightmare in Australia. There is a good atmosphere, friendly people and as with everywhere else in Latin America, stray dogs (or Choo Choos) everywhere. A lot of them trot around happily wagging their tails and most aren't as thin as I've come to expect. A lot of the women here wear traditional dress, which includes elaborate long embroidered skirts, embroidered tops and a scarf kind of thing draped over the shoulder (possibly also a scarf kind of intertwined in the hair too). The outfits are all VERY colourful and quite beautiful. It can be really funny sometimes the contrast in what they're wearing because they might have the full traditional dress then a baseball cap and sneakers, or a sparkly spandex top to go with the skirt. Little things like that are what I find really interesting when wandering around watching the people and goings on in a different country. In Xela it´s also worth mentioning the climate. It's about 2500m elevation here in the hills. In the morning, it's usually freezing, lunch time hot and sunny, afternoon cold and raining and freezing at night. I've had a cold for a week because my body is so confused about what the weather is doing (okay and I keep going out late too....).

So anyway, on our second day in Xela, we got up early to do a climb to the Mirador on Santa Maria volcano to see the neighbouring volcano - Santiaguito - erupt. Our guide picked us up and when we got to the base of Santa Maria, we were greeted by an awesome dog named Pinto, a female blue heeler/kelpie looking dog who then joined us for the walk to the Mirador. I loved Pinto. She was 6 years old and EVERY day met up with whichever group was first to make the walk up to the lookout. The walk was reasonably steep but not too bad and took about 1.5 hours to make it to the lookout. As we made ourselves some food up there (tortillas with avocado and chilli sauce - so good, thanks Sam & Erin!!) we heard a deep rumble (that I think was like dinosaurs moaning - because of course I know what they sound like) and the volcano started to emit a massive cloud of ash and smoke. It was pretty incredible watching the cloud grow and apparently we got quite a good eruption. We waited after that and got another one that I thought was like the volcano was just burping, then got another good one later by which time we had been joined by a group of about 20 people including armed guards. After that we made our way back down the volcano having been abandoned by Pinto for other tourists who had more food to offer her than we did.

I did some investigations about good Spanish schools in Xela after that and found just down the road a school called Celas Maya, one of the most highly recommended schools in Guatemala and decided that when Erin and Sam moved on I was going to stay and study.



I’ve been studying for about a week and a half now, learning a lot and finding it really exciting to learn a new language. It´s amazingly hard but so exciting when things start to click in and you start to understand what people are saying. There are a lot of great students here, many who are american doctors and need Spanish for their many latin american patients and various other foreigners who are studying for different reasons. I’ve been staying in a homestay, having my meals with the family (though mine is a bit different because it´s a bit more like a bed and breakfast so I haven’t been integrated into the family like some people are) and also been embracing the student lifestyle and going out to various social occasions.

I went to some thermal baths, which was basically a swimming pool with lukewarm water sourced from the underground springs (pretty average but nice gardens around the pool).

I also visited Chichicastenango where the largest market in Central America is. It was pretty enormous, with stalls including almost anything you can imagine. Lots of clothes, jewellery, blankets, shoes, food and whatever else. One interesting thing here that I haven't mentioned, is that in Guatemala, they LOVE fireworks and firecrackers and use anything at all as an excuse to let them off. Weddings, funerals, birthdays, religious occasions, mother´s day, whatever, you hear them ALL the time. In the markets, there were little processions walking along where a tiny little old man who would have to be at least 70 would have an enormous drum on his back that someone else was beating, while some other guy carried a big elaborate offering for the gods and a little boy in front of them would put down a tube, light it and you would have an ENORMOUS incredibly loud explosion right beside you that sounded like you were being bombed and meant your stomach was sent off somewhere in the distance. It scared the CRAP out of me more than once.  But here, it´s TOTALLY normal.

So believe it or not I hardly bought anything in the markets, but the guy who came with me bought loads, including a hat that acted like a beacon for the vendors who followed him around and wouldn't take no for an answer when they were trying to sell him something. It was really funny. In the food sections, not only are there loads of fruit and vegetable stores (with millions of flies all over everything) there are meat stands with all manner of revolting things for sale, all covered in flies as well for good measure. Yuck. No wonder you get sick here if this is where the stores get their meat!

Other social occasions of late have included a party at one of the local trekking companies (Quetzaltrekkers) where everyone added fancy dress clothes to their outfits from a massive pile on the floor, and I was also lucky enough to meet a pilot who may well be flying me to Utila! Ohh my own private flight!

On Friday it was mother’s day here and as mentioned before they use fireworks for EVERYTHING... A lot of the mothers had fireworks set off for them at any time after about 1 am. My teacher at school had fireworks for his mom that he set off at 5am in the morning, as well as a mariachi band that wandered into her room playing music. So weird but totally normal here. Personally I think my mum would kill me if I set off firecrackers for her at 5 in the morning and had a bunch of strange guys rock up in her room playing loud music.

Now one of the absolute highlights here of late was last night - The football. I’m going to do that as a separate post though so those of you who are interested can read it separately!

Yay! Chat soon!


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