Guatemala’s greatest asset is its people

Guatemala has so many great elements to it, but the highlight of our trip (if you’ve read my other stories you may notice a common thread) was the people.

Every country has exotic “ethnic” foods that are critical to a good vacation. There is always beautiful, unique scenery and “traditional” entertainment. But the make-or-break element always seems to be the people.

If you had read the Canadian Government’s travel warnings about Guatemala you would have thought that everyone there was at least a criminal, and most likely a violent one. The amount of weaponry we saw in the first hours on the ground also gives this impression.

But it couldn’t be further from the truth — at least the truth we experienced. The people were exceptionally helpful, and never once did I feel threatened or at risk.

Hector was the groundskeeper at the home we rented for our second week. We stayed in a very small and isolated town called Lanquin, which we arrived at after a two-day journey on Christmas Eve.

We had been told that the food to eat in Guatemala was tamales. But they wouldn’t be selling them in Panajachel (the town we were leaving from) until we were on the road, and wouldn’t be available to purchase in Lanquin (yup… it’s that small).

Hector knew we wanted tamales, so he invited us to his home where we ate them with his extended family on Christmas Eve, before they went to church. What a welcoming gesture, and the whole family was similarly hospitable.

Venicio was the front-of-house manager at the Hostel/Restaurant we stayed at after Lanquin. You may expect some level of service from a person in such a position, but to put our chosen level of accommodation into perspective, we paid about $8 to stay the night.

Venicio immediately came and helped us with the translation difficulties we were having, asked about our plans, and when they started to fall through, he made a few phone calls and had us back on track within minutes.

On our last night in Coban, we were trying to figure out if what we had been given at the pharmacy was an anti-nauseant, as we had hoped, or something else.

We asked Venicio and not only did he take back the antibiotics we had mistakenly been sold for our young daughter, but he arranged to take me to a 24-hour pharmacy (a security window in a concrete wall I would never have found) and get what we were looking for.

Gael and Anna were among the first people Ben and I met on our trip. They were the son and mother that we stayed with while Tammy stayed with another host family. Anna spoke no English, but Gael did. Between the two of them we got a great opportunity to learn and practice our Spanish, and a good understanding of the country, its history and how the Mayans fit into it. It was Anna and Gael that invited us to the small Mayan ceremony for the end of the 13th Baktun (Oh no, the end of the world…).

I haven’t the time to tell you of the hospitality paid to us by Daniel in Antigua, or our driver for two days between Panajachel and Lanquin, or the guide at the coffee plantation who tandem zip-lined with Emily for the first of her runs to get her over her trepidation, or the passport guy at the airport, or the vendors in every village and market (except that one in Santiago who was not nice to Tammy at all).

Suffice to say, I look forward to visiting with as many of them as I can, and meeting new friends, at the first opportunity. Guatemala is definitely a country I want to visit again, with a people whom I want to know better.

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