We owe so much to Guatemala, for it was her who gave us a taste of true budget travel. In 2009, and again in 2010, we spent 10 days here as a vacation. This is where we saw how far $15 could take you. Both visits to the country blew our minds and we wanted more. From those came our desire to travel long-term one day.
Those first two visits saw us packing in as much of the highlands as we could. We enjoyed plenty of hikes and equally enjoyed sitting on buses for hours, trundling up mountain passes. Those bus drivers race each other out there!
Each visit to Guatemala seemed to have us focusing a large part of our time in her second city, Quetzaltenango. Everyone refers to the city as Xela (shell-ah), for it seems a whole lot easier. In 2009 and 2010 Xela saw a few backpackers, there for Spanish classes and outdoor pursuits. During our year-long trip in 2013/2014 we spent well over a month in Xela and noticed quite the change in tourist volume.
The word is finally getting out, for there are loads of day trips to be done from here. When it is time to move on, one can slink down into the lower elevations where the climate and the people change. Gone is the traditional garb worn by the women, as well as the staunch adherence to spiritual pursuits observed by all. The cool, crisp mornings give way to steamy ones. The sharp, pine-clad hills quickly turn into lush green rolling mounds. All in a matter of mere hours. Guatemala is no one-trick pony.
We can spill so much digital ink just writing about chicken buses in Guatemala, for they are such an iconic force. They are a vital force as well, responsible for the main source of transport for the vast majority of people outside of major cities. People – and goods – are whisked along all day on a schedule that, while not fixed, makes everyday life buzz along.
One is never waiting long on the side of the road for that next bus to come along. Choosing the right chicken bus is a bit of an art form. As mentioned, there always seems to be 10 of them heading to wherever you need to get to; all leaving – or arriving – within minutes of one another. Your job is to pick the cleanest bus with freshest looking paint-job – If the driver has enough for a flashy ride, that driver must have enough for good brakes!
Once aboard the bus, marvel at the flashing Christmas lights that are strung all around and groove out to the music that is delivered to you in decibels that massage your viscera. Listen to that salesman who boards your bus hawking the latest cure for this and that, available in pill form for only $2! THIS is Guatemala. THIS is why one travels!
Thank you again Guatemala, for showing us your highland people with their amalgam beliefs, customs and colorful textiles. Thank you for your gorgeous countryside, rumbling volcanoes, steamy hot springs and cloud-shrouded villages. We love you for your brightly painted chicken buses. You have given us so much and for that you stand alone.
_____ Route South, _____ Route North, _____ Water Route,