The Best Way to Cure a Hangover

I knew, stated, and confirmed that I would come back to Xela one day. As much as it was predictable that such thing would happen in the span of July, my last month in Guatemala, I had no idea it would be only after three weeks of living in San Juan.

Las Fuentes Georginas

Dreams do come true, I tell you! After only commenting on a picture of beautiful Las Fuentes Georginas (quote-in-quote “WHERE IS THIS PLACE?!”), Marina, my friend who decided to share this NGO internship in Guatemala experience with me, had her way to convince us to spend a day in this gorgeous natural spa. It just so happened to be the weekend of my recently acquired friends’ birthday, and guess what? He lives and throws parties in Xela exactly. We packed our backpacks lightly, put away some money for champagne and Quetzalteca (local white rum that has an image of traditionally dressed Guatemalan woman as a logo), made sure our swimsuits are ready and took the infamous chicken bus to Xela (Quetzaltenango).

Quetzalteca

The problem was, the drivers here just want to pack anyone and everyone inside their vehicles, so instead of explaining to us we’re boarding a bus to Guatemala not Xela, they just rushed us in and assured everything’s going to be alright.

Except it wasn’t.

Instead of just sitting uncomfortably for 3 hours, we ended up hanging out on the side of a “highway” not of out of our own choice and changing buses 3 times before we got where we were supposed to be. Then I realized I don’t know the city as well as I though I did, and we walked forever before reaching our very first and very important stop: Xela Pan. Now, literally it just translates to Xela’s bread, but goodness! This bakery offers quality pastries (real éclairs!) for half a dollar. I’m sort of glad I had to move to San Juan – otherwise I might have ended up twice as heavy as I usually am.
Two of us split three of those delicious, creamy mood-lifters, and partied the rest of the afternoon and night away. In the rhythm of salsa, of course!

The very foggy spa

The next day started with a perfect (but scary, since it was incredibly foggy) 20min drive to the Hot Springs, followed by very hangover-friendly relaxation. The weather might not have been the most desired, but feeling the cold rain on our faces while soaking the rest of our bodies in comforting hot water felt incredibly freeing. It very well might have been the first time ever since we started interning that no one thought about work, at least for an hour or two.  With all the skin hydration and wrinkly fingers, we ate tortillas like one should in Guatemala and drove back, a little less tense about the road and actually… anything else, really.

Too bad that on our way back, all the relaxation faded away as soon as we heard “Buses to San Pedro don’t run on Sundays”. Perfect. Three bus-switches later, we just went for a tuk-tuk (aka rickshaw) lift and fell onto our respective beds. Sleeping after that weekend was even more delicious than the Xela Pan éclairs. Especially because I most surely dreamt of them.

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¡No eres gringa!

Parque el Calvario, Xela, Guatemala

Assimilation is not that difficult. Proficiency in Spanish helps indescribably, but more than that it’s the people around. I’ve been constantly impressed by their willingness to teach, learn, exchange, and have fun with us foreigners. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the city of Xela for a week or three months – they will treat you like a great friend after a mere introduction and make sure your impressions of Guatemala stay positive as you leave. They sneakily plant in you a craving to come back, too. I’ve barely arrived, but am already falling for Guatemala and Xela itself, and am seriously wondering… “when will I come back here?”
Now, from someone who wants to visit a new country each time she leaves her home – wherever it might be at the time – it’s a huge compliment. A huge mystery, too. The vibe here seems clinging and drawing you in, the community appears so small and so available, but at the same time so diverse and dynamic. No wonder people genuinely want to be a part of it.

I arrived on Wednesday, and within a few hours I was enjoying the stories from other students sharing their much-longer-term impressions of the city with me over a cup of hot chocolate. During a salsa class I met a guy who had a Polish friend, and of course I insisted he introduces us, so my Saturday night was set. On a Friday, a few of my fellow students were sharing home-made pizza, so I joined eagerly only to make a lot of friends from all over Guatemala studying in Xela, who showed me both the local cantinas (small, local sort of “bars’), and hidden art galleries and museums. One of my self-proclaimed guides went as far as to say I’m not even a gringa.
“Your Spanish is good, and you’re not from the States!”
As weird as that statement was, and as much as I disagreed with it, his words still made me feel a little proud of myself. I will never be taken for a local, but if someone who gets to know me can at least see past my tourist self, I’ll take it.

As soon as I’m satisfied with my situation and network development, I have to leave. That experience, however, definitely makes me much less anxious about being in San Pedro for 6 weeks. I know that I will find other ‘vagabonds’, and soon enough my dear Brazilian friend will join me in the effort of gaining job experience and having a successfully relaxing and fun summer.

After seeing the loveliness of the Guatemalan life (especially on a Sunday, where all businesses besides those selling ice-cream and street snacks close, and whole families stay on playgrounds with their overtly energetic, smiley children) I can’t wait for more!
With a single kiss on a cheek for both a hello and a goodbye, I’m leaving Xela.