One of my favourite aspects of travelling is meeting the people who live in the country. That's why a highlight of our recent trip to Guatemala was visiting a small community, to see their school and have lunch in a farmhouse.
Before leaving the city of Antigua, where we'd stayed for two days, we asked our guide, Fidensio, if we could buy a couple of soccer balls to take as a gift to the school. He arranged for us to stop at a stall in a local market on our way out of town, where a local businessman was selling soccer balls and other goods. After making our purchase, we drove about an hour out of Antigua along winding roads, finally pulling onto a dusty lane. We watched as farmers planted and fertilized their fields by hand. Horses are expensive, and the farms are small enough that the work can be done manually.
The village was Xetonox, and our first stop was the school. Classes were held outdoors, where five rows of desks were filled with hard-working middle school students. I'd told Fidensio that we didn't want to visit a "model school", where visitors are paraded through on a regular basis, and we were pleased that this wasn’t the case. The children seemed genuinely excited to meet these odd visitors who spoke little Spanish and brought a couple of soccer balls with them.
Although the language barrier meant we couldn't speak directly with the kids, they enjoyed showing us their schoolwork. We loved communicating through smiles and laughter: two of the girls were thrilled to show me the pictures they'd drawn and stories they'd written, while my husband, Andrew, bantered with the mischievous boys in the back row. They were particularly amused when he counted "uno, dos, tres" before taking their photos - maybe it was his Canadian accent?
Waving goodbye, we drove a few minutes further along the road. By North American standards, the farms were basic and the houses compact. When we arrived at the farmhouse we'd be eating lunch at, we were greeted by our hostess, Mrs. Vicenta Sepet, and invited inside. We sat at a table in a small room next to the kitchen, with religious pictures and calendars adorning the walls.
When Vicenta brought us our meals, I asked Fidensio if we could say grace. Given the sacred atmosphere in the room, I thought she might appreciate it. And sure enough, when we were finished, the first thing she asked him about us was "Catolico?"
Our meal was the best kind of simple, delicious food made by an experienced cook. A huge stack of tortillas accompanied our plates of rice, vegetables and chicken. Vicenta also served bowls of broth, which we ate with the other food as a kind of deconstructed soup. It was more food than I could possibly eat, and yet in this small, welcoming home, surrounded by fresh air and green farmland, I loved every bite. And I felt we’d been given a priceless opportunity to spend a few hours seeing how Guatemalans in one small village studied, worked, and lived.
I traveled with Wildland Adventures on their Highlands of Guatemala Tour
Check my blog Of Muses and Meringues for more stories from my travels.