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10 Realizations While Backpacking Guatemala


backpacking guatemala realizations

In reality, it’s only been a couple of weeks since I started backpacking Guatemala, but I feel like my time here has been intense and full-on and immersing. My eyes have been opened on numerous occasions while figuring out how this country works. Here’s a quick list of some of my most interesting realizations.

1. Chicken Buses Aren’t for Chickens

Seriously, there are no chickens on these buses. If you can’t take whipping around mountain roads at high speeds, then these old-school American buses aren’t your best bet for getting around Guatemala. I had my first experience on the way to Chichicastenango last weekend, and honestly, I’m not excited about taking another this weekend to Xela (Quetzaltenango).

2. I Can Actually Tan

After thinking for the past years I’ve become allergic to sunlight, I am actually getting something resembling a tan during the past couple of weeks backpacking Guatemala. The sun is definitely stronger down here than in the Midwest!

3. Hot Water is a Luxury I Miss!

In Chichi, I decided to splurge and stay in the nicest place in town for a change. It was a much needed break from the basically camping lifestyle I maintained in San Pedro. When I discovered that hot water was coming from the tap in the bathroom, I immediately grabbed my two dirtiest shirts and proceeded to wash them in the sink until they had reached a clean unseen since arrival. It’s the little things!

4. There are places in Guatemala where you don’t listen to dogs bark all night.

Guatemalans definitely do not spay or neuter their pets, meaning stray animals roam the streets at all hours of the night, sometimes barking or meowing profusely (I later learned this type of meowing that sounds like a cat dying is actually mating noises). I didn’t realize how much of a problem it was until staying at the nice hotel in Chichi and didn’t hear a peep all night. Wow, that place was totally worth the money!

5. Bartering is Hard Work!

Chichi is known for its huge Sunday market where even the streets, not just the plaza, fill up with stands. I decided this was where I was going to get most of my souvenir/gift shopping done, so I hit the markets hard. Let’s just say I was exhausted after only a few hours of haggling with merchants and turning down wandering peddlers. Only after this experience did the Quiere pan lady in San Pedro not bother me quite so much.

6. Pana is Actually a Cool Town with Electricity!

My only previous experience in Panajachel was without electricity. I decided to give it another try the night before heading to Chichi, and I’m very glad I did. Pana is a completely different, bustling, and inviting town when it has power. Definitely not one of the best places to visit in Guatemala, but I thoroughly enjoyed my stay this time, especially since this is a bigger town than San Pedro with more options.

7. It’s Winter Here

No matter how hot I get during the day, there’s no getting past the chilly nights. I made sure to buy a hat at the market last weekend.

8. Leg Muscles are Vital

After having to walk up and down the hill of San Pedro every day, and squatting over sketchy toilet seats, one sure does start to be thankful for thigh muscles.

9. I Actually Packed Quite Well for This Trip!

There are a few things I brought that have come in handy more than once.

  1. Collapsible cup. I use a collapsible cup (like this one) to share beverages, drink free pure water available at hotels, and to help rinse my toothbrush since we can’t use the tap.
  2. Medicine. Immodium, pepto, and decongestants (for flights/mountain rides) have all been worth every penny.
  3. Multi-tool. I’ve used my multi-tool to peel fruit, clean my nails, and open liter bottles of Gallo.
  4. Scotch tape. I’ve used scotch tape to tape things in my journal, post notes around the dorms, and to fix torn money that wouldn’t be accepted otherwise.

10. It’s amazing how so little can help someone so much.

I bought 10 tortillas yesterday for 2 Quetzales, after which I was informed that money would help feed a little boy or girl for 3 days. We get about 7.5 Quetzales for every US dollar – you do the math.

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2 Responses to 10 Realizations While Backpacking Guatemala

  1. hashimotogirl January 16, 2008 at 10:20 pm #

    Great Post! Yeah Pana is a lot of fun! It has a nice mix of everything. Chichi is cool too – I remember learning that those church steps are where the women do a ritual where they ask for a good and sober husband. Pepe looks like one of the roosters in your photo – good thing he wasn’t born in Guat!


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