It’s safe to say once we arrived into San Pedro (after an extremely bouncy boat ride where I was 100% convinced my bike and panniers would slide off the top and into the lake) that we were a little disheartened with the place. Our initial impressions were ‘oh my gosh what on earth are we going to do for two weeks?!’ Coming from living in London where it’s never properly dark, there are always people around and the local shop is open 24hrs a day we were a little skeptical about spending two weeks in such a small town. It will have been the longest we had stayed still in seven months and the prospect was a little daunting. After a quick coffee (confirming that the local brew was very good) we headed off to school in order to meet our new family for the next fortnight.
We had opted to study with Community Spanish School for two weeks, four hours a day of 1:1 lessons and staying with a local family. Meeting the family for the first time was daunting, they definitely knew a lot more english than they let on but had obviously been well drilled to speak with us only in Spanish. This meant a LOT of google translate was used during those first few days. We were also the only students with them which meant we really were thrown in at the deep end trying to communicate apart from sneaky conversations in english to each other. Our family, Lili and Felipe had three daughters, Conchita (12) Chayito (4) and Maria-Susanna (1), they’d been hosting for six years so Lili and Felipe where pros at speaking slowly, super patient with our miserable attempts at spanish and great at sitting through what must be their 8000th very basic ‘hello, how are you’ conversation.
Lily was a wonderful cook and an awesome mum. She literally never stopped and it gave me a completely new appreciation of what it must be to be a housewife, especially when thing like washing machines, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners and ovens just don’t really exist in the same way in Guatemala. All of the cooking was done on a stove, when I say stove I mean a sort of hot plate over a fire. All laundry was done in an outside sink (which for San Pedro was a luxury in itself as many people did their laundry in the lake). It was off to the market nearly daily to buy fresh ingreedients cooking everything from scratch, sweeping, moping, looking after children, her husband plus a couple of extras, and I thought cycling 100k a day was tough – Wow!
Filipe is a mechanic and the house was right next to his garage, he is clearly one of those guys who struggles to sit still and LOVES fixing things. Whenever we (cough, Herb) had our (mainly mine) bikes out and was trying to mend bits or oil chains he was there standing over completely interested in what was being done. Every single time Herb was trying to fix something Filipe would take a look, scurry off and reappear with the exact tool necessary. This included fixing my dynamo light which had been broken since Mexico, welding my mudguard back together and replacing broken spokes. He also took the time to take us out to his family farm up in the mountain, there they grown maize, coffee and avocado trees. It was absolutely beautiful and who knew avocado’s grew on actual massive trees!?
The girls were also pros at hanging out with oversize mainly mute playmates. Conchita took a week to warm up to us as I guess being twelve she’s way too cool for us and the last thing she wants to do it make small talk with new foreigners, however after a week I felt like we had a mini breakthrough and she would happily come and hang out with us in our room (we made a point of always leaving our door open so we couldn’t be shutting ourselves away and promoted more interaction with the family). By the end Conchita was great with helping us with homework, a pro with the selfie stuck and also taught us how to use boomerang properly – oh youth!
Chayito was without doubt the princess of the house, she didn’t care that our Spanish was dreadful and would happily chat to us for hours on end. Everything was ok as long as Chayito was getting attention, she loved to sing and dance and we would listen to her two favourite songs ‘Megan Trainor – All about that bass’ and ‘Martin Garix – in the name of love’ on repeat. It is quite funny hearing a 4yr old who only speaks Spanish sing in perfect english. Chayito was my measure at how much my Spanish was improving, by the second week I would definitely get the gist of what she was trying to say to me and she would even correct my Spanish when I was trying to talk, which at least meant she understood what I was trying to say, even if it was wrong.
Maria-Susanna was a little cutie who seemed to prefer boys, the most chilled out 1yr old I have ever met she loved Herbie and Stu (another student who stayed with us during the second week) and was already well on her way to singing english songs perfectly.
Alongside the homestay we were also studying 1:1 Spanish for 4 hours a day, I was learning with Francisco who, the same age as me was clearly (or in his mind) the local casanova. During my time at school the number of girlfriends he had varied between three and six and a lot of my learning was based around trying to remember each one and which town they lived in. Now, that’s a bit of a lie…. I had a great time learning with Francisco, I feel he got the balance right between having a laugh and structured learning. He even managed to cope when I cried. Yes I cried, right in the middle of a Spanish lesson I burst into tears. There was something I just couldn’t get my head around and it felt like I knew no Spanish at all, I got frustrated, angry and felt really dumb. Unfortunately for Francisco when I get frustrated and angry tears usually follow pretty quickly, luckily for Fransisco I felt so bad about crying that I bought him donuts (don’t tell Herbie, if this were a common occurance I’d owe him a lot of donuts).
Also while in San Pedro we quickly realised that Friday night was party night. There are loads of Spanish schools in town which means lots of travellers, where there are travellers there is a Friday night pub quiz, where there is a quiz there is alcohol and where there is alcohol you jump off the pub balcony into the lake, twice. All in all San Pedro was a town of studying hard and partying hard, we ended up loving it so much we stayed for an extra week to a) have more Spanish lessons b) cross our toes to see if our tent would arrive c) go to another Friday night pub quiz.
Being in once place for three weeks was great to have time off the bike, we made some school friends who are travelling in the same direction who we hope to bump into again and Loz even managed to forget just how horrendous it is to cycle up a mountain. It’s one of those places that we would definitely go back to and somewhere it would be very easy to live, we read in a guidebook that San Pedro is the kind of place where you plan on staying for five days only to wake up one morning and realise you’ve been there three months. Pretty much hit the nail on the head. While there we met two Irish ex pats living there who loved it (also cycled from Canada to Panama) and made their money on Etsy selling traditional Guatemalan clothing. Unfortunately they only ship to the US and the panniers are already full so Loz wasn’t allowed to buy anything 😦 If however you are in the US you should definitely check out their online shop Maya Chic Guatemala.
On our penultimate day in San Pedro I offered to go and refill the 5 gallon aqua pura bottle, somehow forgetting just how heavy and awkward it would be to carry back. While struggling down the road with such bottle a young boy (about 12) ran over to carry it for me. He was with his mother, aunt, siblings and all his cousins, during the short walk home I surprised myself being able to have a conversation with the mums, ok it was only about where I was from, where I was going and who’s children belonged to whom but I felt like it was a major breakthrough. The older boys among the children took turns at carrying the water right to my door while I managed a basic conversation in Spanish, Clearly after three weeks of lessons even despite the tears Francisco had managed to teach me something.
We left San Pedro keen to get back on the bike but feeling like our three weeks of school hadn’t been for nothing. We now have some time to catch up as we have visitors coming for summer holidays and we need to make it to Chile!
*Unfortunately our tent did not arrive and according to tracking is currently floating around in the Guatemalan postal system, however we are keeping in contact with the school who will notify us as soon as it arrives and Fedex it on to us wherever we are.