The van life we’ve come to know and appreciate had led us to the charming town of Antigua, where we decided to stop and recharge our human batteries. After finding a spanish school for Matt and a volunteer opportunity for Sarah at the Earth Lodge, the transition to stasis was quite comforting and an exciting new development.
Matt moved in with his host family for 2 weeks with a wonderful host mother named Maria Elena to continue learning Spanish, and Sarah hit the ground running while volunteering using her Spanish and customer service skills. It was the first time we’d been apart for this long since early on in our relationship, and although we were both a bit nervous and uncertain at first, it ended up being a great experience for both of us.
While Matt studied at the school, we were able to park Koru safely for an entire month in Antigua at the spanish school. This was a huge bonus for us, because the cute colonial city has minimal parking. 🙂 Following the home-stay, Matt moved in with Sarah at the Earth Lodge where we had a nice private room and meals in exchange for volunteer reception work 5 hours a day, 6 days a week.
Matt began commuting to Antigua on the local “chicken” buses costing a little over $1 a day, while getting to practice spanish and to experience a taste of local life. It was often an adventurous and frightening experience in the re-purposed US buses. A lot of the drivers here have zero fear on roads which is always interesting because there are occasionally landslides that fall onto the highways. Oh Guatemala….
While attending the school, we had some great opportunities to go to locations around Antigua to experience some of the local culture. We were able to taste different fruit wines at a local winery, which was right next to a small chocolate factory which to this date has been the best chocolate we’ve ever tasted.
We were also able to experience the Dia de Diablo (Day of the Devil) on December 7th. Every year there is a “controlled” burn of a paper-mache devil, usually representing the local mayor as a joke. This year happened to be a special one because the newly elected mayor was a woman, and for the first time it was known as Dia de Diabl’a’.This ritual represents getting rid of the bad things from the year while looking forward to the upcoming holidays and new year. As you can see they chose to include 2 paper-mache representations of our president elect to add the annual inferno.It was a really fun and festive night, and included the expected and unexpected fireworks common in Guatemala (sometimes they don’t shoot straight into the air, but rather towards the crowd). We had a wonderful night out with some new friends from the school while celebrating renewal for the upcoming year.Guatemala is full of outdoor adventure and we were able to find some climbing with another Earth Lodge volunteer near Lake Amatitlan. Our day was wonderful back on the rock while exploring an area that few tourists visit these days. Unfortunately Lake Amatitlan is very polluted because it is a catchment area for Guatemala City and surrounding areas. Very few actions are taken to properly treat the sewage and waste water draining into the lake. Political corruption has also held up any efforts to clean the lake and bring the once bustling tourist life back into the small town along the lake.
As Spanish classes for Matt began to wind down, he began to help the owners of Earth Lodge build an outdoor kitchen and eating area for a local Montessori school in Antigua. The kids will soon have a space where they will watch and learn how to cook the meals that they eat every day. It is a great concept to keep kids aware of the food that they eat, and they’ll walk away with important cooking skills. Matt was very honored to be a part of the construction process for such a great project.
During our time at the Earth Lodge, we were reminded of the raw power of nature living on the side of a mountain in Volcano country. The wind was not joking around on some days, and with heavily vegetated hillsides, we twice found ourselves without electricity due to blown down trees. One day we had to take it into our own hands to clear the road to get to work. Guatemala’s preferred tool for almost everything is the machete as Don Drew shows us in the photo below. The little town of El Hato, where Earth Lodge is located, came together and had the road cleared in an impressive 30 minutes.Parking the van safely along this trip has always been a priority. Luckily during our 6 weeks in Antigua, learning and volunteering, we had one month parking at Matt’s school, but the other days were split between parking at the Earth Lodge, a friends house, and at the tourism police station. Antigua has an amazing situation where all overland travelers can park and stay for a maximum of 5 days free of charge in the fenced and gated police station space. It was great meeting other travelers there and seeing some really cool rigs, including the first fellow VW Syncro from Switzerland!
Christmas time is a huge celebration here in Guatemala. On Christmas Eve families join together, enjoy a large meal and stay up until midnight when everyone enjoys fireworks of every shape and size. Viewing the celebration from high on the Earth Lodge hill was a quite an amazing sight. Grace took an amazing photo which captures a piece of the magic from the night.Earlier in the evening we celebrated with a blindfolded cookie decorating contest and family Earth Lodge drinking fun leading up to the midnight spectacle.
After Christmas, we were very fortunate to meet up with our friends John and Theresa again, but this time in El Paredon where they had just built a beach house. It was incredible driving from the high country at over 6000ft to sea level in a little over 2 hours. The diversity of Guatemala’s landscapes and climate are simply stunning.Surfing, coffee, epic breakfasts and exploration were the themes of the stay at the beach. We plan to return in February and spend more time in this amazing small town beach spot. We returned from the beach to the Earth Lodge for the New Years celebration. There was a trio of overland bikers who were guests for about a week at the Lodge. It was great to exchange stories and also celebrate with them as two of them became engaged!! The crew of guests and employees made the night an incredible New Years we’ll never forget. Now our time in stasis has come to a close, and we couldn’t be more excited to get back in Koru and hit the road again. We are excited to see and explore more great places in Guatemala for the next few weeks. Our travels are taking us back north to Mexico to explore the beautiful lands of Chiapas and Oaxaca. We can’t thank the fine people of the Earth Lodge enough for such a great experience.
Drew and Bri, the owners, who provided us a great place to live and work while exploring Antigua can’t be thanked enough. The epic nights of playing darts with Will and Dre to the almost daily grind of Settlers of Catan kept us on our toes. The great day climbing with Ian and days crafting our little hearts out with Grace and Ellen were unforgettable. Bryan schooling us on wellness and diet awareness, reminding us ‘you gotta be hungry’ if you want to accomplish anything worthwhile in life. Danny and Donald showed us how good life in Guatemala can be, with their new baby on the way.The many hikes and runs to the Mirador, where one day we got some local kids excited on exercise. They had no idea what a pushup was before this experience.
So many good times with unforgettable, inspiring people!Our time spent in Antigua and the Earth Lodge was refreshing and fun. From delicious coffee at almost every corner to mind blowing sunsets behind the volcanoes, its charm and aesthetic will not soon be forgotten. Until next time Antigua….