Kayleigh, Emily, and I drove to Xela (Quetzaltenango, Guatemala) this Saturday with Lily (our house ¨mom¨/¨sister¨), her husband Julio, and their two-year-old daughter, Sara. They were so nice to have taken us on their family three-day vacation! We were so lucky to be invited, we obviously snapped up the offer despite the fact that we would miss 4th of July with fellow gringos here in Antigua. (*Not actually a problem in the slightest by the way.)
Julio drove the 5 hours it took to get to the city. We stopped to eat a chorizo (round slice of pig meat in two tortillas) at a little restaurant at the side of the road. The places to get food at the side of the road here are 1000 times better than the options in the U.S. The roads in the U.S. are 1000 times better than the roads here though. During our weekend vacation one pleasant man actually commented on how nothing is free in the U.S. and here everything is free. He has a point. It is very nice that people have more freedom in certain ways such as the height of their house, or the ability to have as many people in a car as you´d like. It is nice that there are not as many strict rules that sometimes feel superfluous. However, I greatly appreciate the flat, safe roads in the U.S., the clean streets, and the security you feel while walking in the streets during the daytime knowing that there is less likely a chance that a crazy man is going to hit you and if one does, someone will try to help as opposed to ignore it because it is the norm. Also, while it is nice that people can get rides from each other by hopping in the back of a truck, it´s probably not as safe.
Back to Saturday- we arrived in Xela around 8pm. Julio, Lily, and Sara went to a quinceñera, while Kayleigh, Emily, and I went to the 3rd Annual Guatemalan Salsa Competition. It was lots of fun. I was expecting a more professional atmosphere, but was pleasantly surprised by the casual atmosphere in which we could hoot and holler. My salsa teacher, Nancy, and her partner, Andrés, were in the competition. It started with ¨amateurs¨ which included a few gringas, proceeded by ¨young professionals,¨ and concluded with ¨professionals.¨ My teacher had the best smile, but unfortunately not the best moves. All of the couples had amazing moves that I would have never guessed were salsa moves since I´ve only seen the basic steps which so far have had strict rules as to where you put your arms and such. The performance was lots of fun with lots of cheering. On the way out a local asked Emily if she wanted to dance and she said no, so when he asked me, I followed the same ¨no¨ response. I kind of regret it. I was thinking of too many reasons to say no at the time. I forgot that it could have been tons of fun to practice my salsa moves in real life (outside of the classroom). I should have just said yes.
The next day we walked around the beautiful central park with Lily´s family enjoying churritos (tomales filled with some meat), atol de elote (a thick corn drink), and arroz con chocolate (a rice-chocolate drink) for breakfast all for about 2 dollars. We then met the family of the quinceñera in San Juan. They were so friendly, offering us café, homemade cheese tomalitos, and a whole tier of the hot pink, vanilla cake. They asked why we did not want to go to the quinceñera which completely shocked me. We had no idea we were welcome. We would have totally gone! Lily and Julio made it sound like we were not welcome. I think we would have been completely welcome. They were so nice and genuine. Hopefully there will be another opportunity sometime, somewhere. There were 400 invitations sent out, 200 guests- 10 of which were actually the friends of the quinceñera. It is definitely a family event.
Later we met up with Lily and Julio´s friends in the central park. They were just about the opposite of the first family. They were equally as nice but in a more subtle, less huggy way. They showed us two of their three businesses: Los Baños (a place where people go to bathe who do not have hot water), and Ropa Americana (a used clothing store). Late that night we attended el circo (the circus) after a failed attempt at seeing Era de Hielo 3 (Ice Age 3) due to the massive long line. It was my first time at a normal circus (I´ve only seen Cirque du Soleil before). It was interesting, but freezing and late (especially for the 2 year old girl). The acrobatics were good and the lions and tigers were exciting, I just wish I had been more awake.
We ate at Wendy´s around 11pm and then spent the night at Roy´s (one of the two friends) house. It was really nice. The family was equally as friendly but different from the first family. They were very talkative, yet it was clear that we were not to explore the house. We stayed in the room we were given. The house was decorated by beautiful artwork done by the mom. I was in awe of her work. I wanted to go upstairs to see more.
On Monday we ate eggs, frijoles, piña, and ciruelas (plums) with the family and then headed to Xelapan- perhaps the best bakery in Guatemala. It was beautiful. They are known for the sheca bread with anis (licorice flavor) in it or jalea (jam) in it. I preferred the cookies and sweet bread though. It was all delicious. Julio and Lily bought about 40 pieces of bread to give to their friends, family, and coworkers.
After Xelapan, we headed up the mountains to Aguas Georginas (natural hot springs). We met a few girls from Israel in the hot springs. They had just finished their two years service to the army. I learned that service can mean more than battle duties. While 2 of the 3 girls went through basic training to teach translation to soldiers, one of the three girls opted to volunteer with the sick for the two years.
We ate lunch at Las Cumbes- a beautiful lodge in the mountains- and then drove to Masatanango, the hometown of Julio. We visited his mother briefly and then his father for a little bit longer. The day was long with lots of travelling, and yet Julio and Lily were so sweet the entire time. I am going to miss them.