Jamie is an Aussie and a former aerospace engineer. He’s lived in Europe as well as Honduras (teaching at a bilingual high-school), where he fell in love with Central America. Jess is an archaeologist from Los Angeles who, as part of her studies, worked on sites in Chile and Guatemala. Together they are traveling from Mexico through Central America, using Jess’ photography skills and Jamie’s writing to inspire and educate people about this part of the world. Please enjoy this week-in-the-life of Jamie & Jess of Adventures with Cloud People in Guatemala!
This post was originally published in 2010. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.
Adventures With Cloud People: Day 1
I awoke early, keen to do a quick hike before we had to leave the incredible town of Todos Santos Cuchumatan, in the North-Western highlands of Guatemala. I decided on trying to get to Tuicoy, a small village above the main town. My lungs burnt and legs ached as I climbed the steep, muddy and rocky mountain as quick as I could, since we were short on time before we had to depart. Locals passed me making their way down to town, some carrying sacks of potatoes, or firewood. They were excited to see a gringo on what is not a popular tourist trek, and all of them stopped for a brief chat.
“Where are you from?”
“Australia”, I would reply.
“Is that part of the United States?”
I arrived in Tuicoy a couple of hours later, and had a lengthy talk with a guy called Magdaleni. He owned a potato farm, which backed onto his small wooden house. He posed proudly in front of it for me and told me of the troubles they have in Tuicoy finding water during the dry months.
I ran back down the mountain to Todos Santos, slipping and sliding in the mud. We packed our stuff up quickly and jumped on a mini bus for the first part of the journey back to Huehuetenango. We were the only ones on the bus not in traditional dress. Todos Santos is one of the few places in Guatemala where the men haven’t converted to the normal slacks and a shirt.
By the time we got to Huehue, I needed a beer. We were excited that the hotel had cable TV; it had been a while.
We discovered that Huehuetenango has some Mayan ruins situated on the outskirts of town, so decided to check them out. Zaculeu is a small site, but interesting in the way it was restored. The United Fruit Company (infamous for its exploitation of several Central American countries and their influence within politics) had performed the restoration in the 40s, and apparently done a very bad job. The structures are covered in concrete, meant to resemble the way they were back in the day.
On our way out, a drunken man insisted on telling us just how good Spain was at soccer. Alcoholism seemed to be a problem in this area. It was a common sight to see men swilling from plastic bottles of super potent alcohol early in the morning. By afternoon they could barely speak.
We watched more cable TV.
Crazy chicken bus day. We returned to the bus terminal in Huehuetenango that is next to a slaughterhouse and market. This terminal is nuts. People everywhere trying to sell fried chicken, drinks, wonder drugs and newspapers. Divers beeping, workers yelling, dogs running, drunks dancing. I never used to like these places, but now I love them. The colour and action is absorbing, and I find it intriguing to observe the daily going-ons.
One of the many vendors that boarded the bus was a man who proceeded to read the news from the daily paper. The major headline was about chicken bus drivers being killed all over the country. Not a good thing to be hearing before a probable chicken bus journey of five hours across a major span of the country. Drivers are killed when their company refuses to pay a ‘protection’ fee to gangs. It is an ongoing problem in Guatemala, and one that the government desperately needs to address.
We bought some slices of mango in a plastic bag and, as is the way here, had them smothered in chile and salt. Delicious.
I was scared shitless by the driving. Hitting huge bends at warp speed, the driver leaned himself into the corner bobsled style seeming that if he didn’t lean, the bus would topple over. The guy in front of me slept with his head on the window, I had no idea how. We changed buses twice, each time it was an immaculate operation. Our feet barely touched terra firma before we were speeding off in the next bus, crammed in like sardines. Jess was lucky enough to talk with a man who had an abundance of black hair flowing from his ears. A Mayan lady was next to me, her baby strapped to her back with a cloth, sleeping. Eventually, the baby crawled out and started rubbing the back of the lady on the other side. We finally arrived in Antigua, happy to be back in a place where we both lived for quite a while, and where we both have friends. It was also where we met! Needless to say, we had a few drinks.
See also: Where to eat, play, and stay in Antigua
A day of appreciating the beautiful city of Antigua, its great coffee and food, and hanging out with old friends. We both had spent significant amounts of time here in the former capital of Guatemala, and something about it becomes addictive. It is filled with churches, most of them in some sort of ruined condition, owing to earthquakes. The high volcanoes surrounding the city topped with their wisps of cloud make it a photographer’s dream.
Many people arrive in Antigua disappointed by the influx of tourists in the city, not seen in other parts of Guatemala. However, its beauty makes it a natural destination, and it also makes for a great base to explore the rest of the region.
Other than reconnecting with friends and re-exploring the city, nothing else productive transpired. Night time came, and it was time to hit the bars. After a long time away from any type of drinking, it didn’t take too long to feel the effects. We went home early, a little embarrassed, and I spent some time in the bathroom.
Hung over, again another unproductive day ensued. Jess’ friend from back home arrived, and we devoured crepes, falafel and bagels, uncommon delicacies in Guatemala.
I did some reading on what some local friends had been telling me: that a growing number of people are discontent with the 1am closing time (standard across Guatemala) for all establishments. There had been talk that the time would change to 10pm! The effect on restaurants and bars could be catastrophic. However, the disrespect shown by some, peeing in the streets, yelling drunkly at all times of the night, and so on, in residential areas gives them reason to be upset. Hopefully things will get sorted out before any rash decisions are made.
We strolled around the markets for much of the day. The artisans available in Guatemala are unique, especially the intricate textiles. The traditional dress, still worn in many towns around the country, consists partly of colourful woven tops for the women, known as huipils. The same patterns from the huipils are now used to make bags, purses, and many other articles that travelers can pick up as functional souvenirs.
The market of Antigua is a good place to seek out these items, since people travel from around the country to sell here. Of course, a Central American market would not be complete without the mobile phone chargers, pirated movies, shoes, hair products and soccer shirts, and there is definitely no shortage of any of these items here. Along with the bountiful fruits, vegetables and meats, as well as a second-hand clothing section, the market makes for a great mix of tourists and locals getting their shopping done. Only adding to the excitement here is that the bus station is directly behind the market. A steady stream of the converted American school buses flows in and out of the muddy parking lot.
We had decided to do some volunteer work at an animal shelter just outside of Antigua, to commence in a few days time. Prior to signing on the dotted line, we wanted to make sure we could be of some benefit to the organisation, AWARE Animal Shelter, so took the time to go out there and have a tour. The shelter is a short way off the highway between Chimaltenango and the capital, about 45 minutes from Antigua. The dirt road that leads to it is littered extensively, and huge ruts would prevent all but the most rigged out four-wheel drives from getting through. We were super impressed with the shelter, which houses around 300 dogs as well as cats, rabbits and a chicken (whose name translates to ‘Soup’). Some of the dogs have machete wounds, and a lot only have three legs, evidence of the cruel treatment they receive. We talked with some of the employees at the shelter, as well as some other volunteers to get a sense of what lay ahead for us. Now we can’t wait to get out there and begin some work, hopefully a promotional video since the organisation relies on donations to feed and medicate the animals. We made it back to Antigua just before the daily deluge of rain, ready for yet another delicious meal.
Jamie & Jess have plans to volunteer with Animal AWARE for a few weeks before adopting another eco-tourism volunteer project on a coffee farm. After that, plans get a little hazy, but they have at least another couple of months in Central America, and still plenty to see. They hope to continue their travels to other destinations, if they can ever rid themselves of the Central American addiction! You can follow their journey at Adventures With Cloud People and on Facebook.