Sometimes you stumble into an eye opening, life changing situation that maybe you needed thou weren’t expecting. I tried to back out of this one, then convinced myself to stay and was more then happy I did.
From couchsurfing Uncle Joe's 3bedroom house set between the ocean and the lagoon, complete with a fully stocked bar and Joe insisting to taking me and the Danish guy out for dinners and happy hour in Belize. To very rural Guatemala reality sat between two small towns on the cusp of thick jungle and a corn and bean field.
The house is a stitched together casa of cement, scrap wood and old advertising signs. Complete with pit toilets (one was ok, the other required a T-shirt over the mouth or holding my breath while I was in it), a string for electricity that ran two bulbs in one house, no electricity in the other (the one I'm sharing with the grandma and oldest 16, we have curtains between us to divide up the space) my bed is god knows how old and it literally cocoons me in the squeaky springs. I usually wake up to the cat eating whatever spider or lizard it killed under my bed before it crawls up on my biker pants and goes to sleep. A fire burns round the clock outside for the stove that feeds this growing house of three kids, two adults, grandma and quite often and Uncle I don't like (he tried to guilt me into buying bread off him then pushed Jehovah on me and insist I take my hat off when he was at the table.) There all Jehovah thou they keep it to themselves unless your interested. The dad even whist me away when he saw the Uncle getting to me, ha good save! Along with a number of others that roll through for a meal including a small family who's dad sold there house to build another thou he got side tracked buying a motorbike, beer and some other bad choices so for now they are homeless and this family feeds them.
The family is EXTREMELY nice; the 4yr old and 10yr old pretty well accosted me the first hour and forced me to like them. The 10yr old knows English well as he was half educated in Belize while his Dad worked there for four years, we hung out, went swimming and he showed me every animal within 10kms of his place. He loves animals and this earth floor open door home regularly has a 1/2 coyote 1/2 dog named Crispy, black rabbit named Rovin (Robin), 18 small ducks, 2 big ducks, a bunch of chickens, a rooster (they have a ladder for them to walk into up into a tree to the chicken house), some doves, ohh and they built a small fish farm across the road. I will say for 30 Adolfo the dad is on a small mission. The dug out fish farm about fifty feet across has roughly 2000 small tilapia growing in it and a few half pound ones, Adolfo also teaches how to make and sells coconut & avocado oil. Food around the property of roughly 200ft x 100ft includes the small duck and chicken farm, planted mango, banana and plantain trees and he has started to clear and plant two separate corn and a bean fields. He has about eight more acres to slowly slash and burn as his little farm grows. They use the "slash and burn" method that is basically leveling protected and unprotected jungle across the planet to plant the food crops. Basically you ruin the jungle and kill off the habits of animals, upset the eco system and pollute the air in exchange for human crops. However when it's the only shot you have to feed your family and your not educated about the environment or because you've never traveled more then the distance of your village so you assume there is endless jungle then it's a bit easier to see why they feel avoiding family starvation is more important then why North America thinks they should "stop the destruction".
Adolfo took me on a very proud tour and showed me all the work he had done, whenever he has any money he spends it on improving the farm. Currently he was saving up to pay the 300 quetzal per hour ($60) for two hours to hire a backhoe to dig out another fish farm to keep the bigger fish in.
The Mum is constantly cooking, dishes and laundry, Spanish lessons for tourists, as well teaches at the school a few hours a day. School starts at six am, with breakfast for the kids for free, she said school is subsidized by various church groups from all over the world. They get really excited when tourists stay at the house where we pay 65quetzal ($12/day) for a bed and three typical meals that always include corn tortillas and usually beans with a small mix of maybe an egg (if they chicken laid) or a bit of leathery meat. I was however shocked to see the kids polish off 2-3cups of coffee at dinner and one or two more throughout the day. Really Adolfo why does your four year old drink two cups of coffee over dinner? Adolfo explained that if the families are too poor to give there kids formula when they are little they usually fill them up with coffee as it at least has more substance then just water and they defiantly don’t have milk. He said the coffee in Guatemala is very weak unlike N.America and there isn’t too much caffeine so the kids just get used to drinking it. They laughed that I never had a cup and the Mum would always make me some fresh tea from the peppercorn leafs for me to drink. Last year was the most people ever that came for Spanish lessons, ten people in total. Thou one stayed for 5months! The others a couple weeks and I planned one night based on my initial shallow view of the place, thou once I settled on if this is how they live every day I could learn to like it over several.
I guy named Steve from Alberta came once (they laugh as my voice reminds them of Steves), he planned for one night & spent two weeks. Before he left he bought them a cell phone, usually if someone emails on couch surfing Adolfo rides his bike ten minutes to town to pay $1 for internet to reply to people that don't always show up, he rode his bike to town to meet me and I followed him in 1st gear on my motorbike back to the house. I showed him how to share a map on WhatsApp and that proved to be a game changer for both him and potential guests that we’re trying to find the place.
Someone else had set them up the couch surfing account (usually free, thou it asks for the 65quetzal donation on there page) & set them up an Air bnb account, thou it's never worked for them and has always been trouble. I spent most of a whole day trying to change the Spanish Air bnb and couch account so they could use it & made it more clear about the accommodation along with better photos to avoid the bad comments from people who came and didn't know what they were getting themselves into then left. Its certainly a lot if it's not what yr expecting & they don't know people are not used to this way of life as this is the only way they know how to live. It was a bit of a mental struggle to figure all there Air bnb’s, couch surfing, emails etc all out in Spanish thou once I did in an hour they had 2x Air bnb bookings, I replied to both and made sure they were clear about the place. One cancelled the other booked 3weeks!
As for the motorbike it looks like a huge plane around here and has been called that a few times. All kinds of people came over to have a look and take cell phone photos and sit on it. It was fun thou it always turned to how much it cost and then all kinds of money questions. I had originally told Adolfo the truth about the price of the bike so I had to tell the same to everyone else. I enjoyed exactly ZERO of the money questions as didn't want to lie, thou it's incredibly clear my life is completely out of their reach and no one was ever spending $4000 on a motorbike (however that’s a smoking deal when I got it in Canada). From there it spiraled into “you have a cell phone, a camera, a lap top, another camera, where are you driving?” It was like I was being interviewed for a crime as mouths casually fell open. Someone had left a Las Vegas Bellagio hat here and I was trying to explain how much a room is there for a night, they said “Ohh so it's only for music and movie stars?” Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh here's where we try to avoid lying again...
The Mum said if only she could somehow could get a computer she could help teach Spanish to the tourist’s a lot better. Electronics here are about twice as expensive and twice as crap those of USA/CND. So they asked if they could come back to Canada with me, they asked more then once. I said I'd see what I could do about a computer, I dunno if I can do much. Thou a truck full of tools and electronics would go along way around here.
I went to church the last night, they didn't ask thou I knew they were going (they go 4-5x per week) so I just said I’d come and they were delighted. A 200ft by 100ft cement building, purple on the inside with pink drapes from the roof & an unusually loud sound system. There was lots of hand clapping, singing and prayer. Adolfo prayed for about one hour (actually, at the front on his knees head on the upper pier during all the action) the second hour he was in on all the yelling at god, praying for others and as one of the church leaders we stayed after while he talked with a small group giving another speech. Everyone shook my hand and the guy who did the most yelling at God into the mic said something about me and Adolfo's family. I maintained the usual blank look on my face that one gets when they don’t know the language, well aside for the ten minutes or so where my mind was drifting and all I could think about was that scene from Super Bad where the kid is always drawing dicks and eats the pages when he gets caught. Hahaha I giggled to myself for bit in the house of the lord.
The last day I bought them a few groceries then helped make tortillas and tamales from scratch; pound the corn flour, stuff with meat, make a tomato sauce, wrap in banana leafs and steam, both I was terrible at. These ladies where working circles around me and the grandma went back and fixed all the ones I made! They we’re however enjoyed by all at the dinner table while the usual parade of ducks, cats, dogs, chickens, and rabbit strolled through the house.
Of the days I was there I was instantly part of the family and felt like I’d known these people for years, they we’re completely unconcerned by my background, race, the fact that I might be financially better off then them, my religious point of view (they asked why I didn’t pray at church, I explained God was my Amigo thou we don’t talk. The ten year old was very clear to me that God was my friend and I should talk to him often) or anything else that might be a barrier when being taking out of your typical comfort zone.
I think if you never had material possessions, you don’t expect material possessions, and you’re not aware of a world you might be missing, that you’re simply happy with the world you have. They don’t see a bottomless supply of advertisements saying what they need, they don’t watch television programs of people that have an excess of everything and they don’t read magazines that explain they should be a certain size or look. They have their family and for the most part are responsible for all their own food and anyone including some guy who rolls up on a very bazaar motorbike from a place that’s always first referred to as “Muy Frio” is welcome to enjoy it with them. I can honestly say this is not reflective of where I was 7000kms ago…
If you're headed near Tikal or Flores in Gutemala here is the family couchsurfing listing CLICK HERE
. For the Air BnB listing CLICK HERE