(This blog is more about a range of people rather than just one person, different from previous blogs)
It was a long journey into Lanquin from Flores, where I had previously enjoyed so much tranquility on this island which took twenty minutes to circumvent. The journey in the van included a mad driver who never seemed to understand that passengers need toilet breaks! I had to nudge the German guys sat right next to me with their long legs and strong accents. I asked them to nudge the driver, to tell him I was busting for a pee. I didn’t know the German for that, but usually just pointing to your crotch works! Later on the van had a flat tyre and we all immediately had similar facial expressions, I will leave it to the reader to imagine.
I walked down the road whilst mad driver was being Mr Mechanic. I saw this hut with loads of watermelons. I asked the lady sitting outside if I could buy one. She looked pleased and picked a huge one. I protested initially for a smaller one, but then thought about it and bought it and asked her to cut it in slices. I walked back to the van and shared them with everyone. They loved it. It only cost me a pound. Compare that to the price for a mini bag of 8-10 teeny slices from Marks n Spencers!
We drove through mountains and mountains to reach Lanquin, which is the nearest village (rather than town) to the famous 300m limestone water bridge of Semuc Champey. About 3kms before arriving into Lanquin, you hopped into our van. You had broad shoulders, a huge face and a loud voice. You then talked, rambling on and on for about 10minutes. I didn’t have a clue what you were on about but I worked out from the visual cues that you must have been trying to sell tours and hostel packages. I ignored you, admiring the landscape from the windows. We stopped at a garage for some purchases, you approached me and I could kind of see it all over your face; “He’s a foreigner and I want to make money from him”. I just disregarded your promotions and said I had my own plans. I was relieved you didn’t bother me after.
I had spent ages on Booking.com and AirBnB trying to work out where best to stay in Lanquin. I noticed several reviews on some of the main hostels being “Wild time”, “Amazing music and disco”, “Crazy staff who are wild” and purposely avoided these pluralistic settings where you find yourself almost nerd-like when you’re the solo deaf 42yr old traveller who cannot really understand much in groups, especially with long-legged Germans! 😉
El Hostal Lanquin grabbed my attention, it seemed so sweet and the reviews loved the manager, such a kind lady who talks with you and helps with various things. I did cringe at a few of the reviews where apparently they get all 6 guests (its only got one bedroom with six dorm beds) to play a game with giant dice as an icebreaker. The thought of it brought me back to ice breakers from my youth work days with deaf children who didn’t even want to participate! Thankfully, writing this on my third day here, we still haven’t played it. Phew!
You, the manager, were such a warm person. You had already emailed me a few times, reassuring me that my bed was ready for me and that you understood I am deaf and would help me out. You saw me get off the painful truck – we had all got off at a central point in Lanquin to then be shepherded into several trucks to different hostels. These trucks have metal bars in the back and people literally hold on to the metal bars as the truck manoeuvres over endless rocks and pot holes. Its not comfortable a ride! When I saw you and indicated I am deaf, you immediately recognised me and took me in. You showed me around the hostel, the chill out areas, the communal kitchen and the toilets and showers. It was simple and cosy enough. We then went into a long chat about my options to go to Semuc Champey the next day. I loved your advice and tips, always to save me money from local people trying to make a buck.
I realised over the next few days that you effectively run the whole hostel yourself, cleaning, making breakfast, checking people in and out, taking all the phone calls. I also realised you spend hours in the hostel, especially to keep the security strong. I wondered when you get a break and leave the premises. You practically live in the hostel 24/7. I saw you chatting away with various visitors, the reviews regard you well for helping people practise their Spanish.
I did see you looking really tired every now and then, somewhat miserable. I could only assume that you must be really fed up and how mundane the job must be at times. You did smile at me every now and then and we occasionally had moments of affection where your hand rested on my back or my hand on your shoulders. I liked you, it was rare to find someone like you who isn’t really interested in my money but in making sure I had a good stay.
Two Swiss guys were sharing the bedroom with me. They were disappointingly not friendly, I think it was a mix of surdophobia (fear of deaf people) and a lack of good communication skills. I have come across this type almost daily on my travels and have always refused to be paranoid about it. Its their problem. I do make an effort, for example when I learned they were off to Antigua in the morning, I immediately told them about a recommended guide who takes you up a volcano overnight. They were thankful, but that was it. No conversation at all.
The next morning it was raining hard disappointingly, and the manager advised me to go to Semuc Champey the following day. I was kind of gutted and upon checking the weather forecast, rain was predicted for the next day too. But I had to listen to her advice. I asked her for ideas as to what to do instead, she suggested a chocolate making experience, but also to relax and read a book too. It was rather grr, but I have been lucky for a long time weather wise over the last six months; the occasional rain has to be accepted.
I headed out for a walk and passed shops, more like wooden huts, selling similar items in each. There were also internet shops, and a couple of clothes shops too although its items were clearly all second hand. It was a village for sure. I saw a barber shop and thought why not. I have been keeping a list of where I’ve had my haircut, e.g. Libertad, La Paz, Suchitoto.
This barber shop was less than half a wooden hut, with one shaver, one mirror and a few basic tools. You were short in height and your hair was typically all gleaming. I don’t think they sell Brycleems here but its definitely similar to whatever you were using. You acknowledged me and I explained to you, just like I have to all barbers on my travels – number 1 on the sides to get rid of the grey stuff, and to only clip a bit of my top, I’m bald enough as it is! You proceeded with wrapping toilet paper around my neck – this is how poor people do haircuts. I could see you were rather nervous, probably because I’m a Westerner and also deaf. The job was done well and I paid you 2pounds and left feeling afresh despite the constant rain.
I then headed to the Chocolate experience, which basically was chocolate plants in a garden made into chocolate for home purposes but also for tourists to come and visit for a couple hours and understand the process. I loved it! You came and fetched me from my hostel, you were clearly native Incan, dark-skinned and wearing only a thin vest. You proceeded to show me different types of coffee plants and rambled on in Spanish, I didn’t have a clue what you were on about! You then took me into your garden and we admired some of the growth. Then your wife thankfully arrived with two photographers behind her. She knew English and certainly understood how to communicate with me. We went off and left you to cook lunch for your kids. Your wife and I engaged with a young employed teenage girl who showed me how to make chocolate paste. She continually couldn’t believe I was deaf and kept wanting to involve me, showing me everything I was doing wrong with my cocoa beans! The two photographers asked permission and took photos, it transpired they work for a map company where photos appear as you hover over a map app. This could be my claim to fame, me making chocolate paste in the dripping rain!
Later on in the afternoon after having watched a couple Netflix series (Sex Education, so funny) and napped a bit, I walked around to find some coffee. I failed miserably. Well, to be precise I was searching for proper coffee, none of this instant rubbish. It was virtually impossible. Shop owners and restaurant managers looked at me weirdly as I gestured how proper coffee is made like a barista. You would think after all the Guatemalan coffee we consume in UK they would understand what I meant!
I gave up, and headed to this hut where they sold fruit juice amongst other things. There were no adults in sight, just a group of brothers and sisters, approximately aged between 8 and 13yr. You, a girl of about 10yr waved to me and asked me what I would like. I pulled up a stool and felt quite good to be with young people again, but I was equally concerned that you guys were not at school etc. I have read various articles about how foreigners should try and avoid paying anything to kids in the mountains as it makes them flunk school. However mountain farm life is hard and I didn’t think these kids were bunking off school. Actually two of your siblings were doing some homework in a couple of books as far as I could tell. I proceeded and ordered watermelon juice. You went to a freezer and brought out a bag of frozen pieces. This is how you do juices often in El Salvador and Guatemala, you put frozen bits into a blender with either water or yoghurt and Bob’s your uncle.
I enjoyed my juice but further, I enjoyed your younger brother who clearly understood I was a sign language user and created many signs with me to the laughter of you all. Your eldest brother (13yr old) had enough and chased him away. I asked how much my juice was, you held up both hands to indicate 10QZ (1 pound). I paid and thanked you, walking away. Your siblings waved to me, asking me to come back at once. The eldest brother looked sincere. I wasn’t sure what was going on. It turned out that it should have been 7QZ and you gave me 3QZ in change. I felt uncomfortable in taking such a measly amount and told you to keep it. Bless you!
Later in the evening I headed to a burger/pizza place, the only restaurant in town I reckon! You, the kind chef who works here are helpful but you keep talking to me in Spanish. You just keep talking and talking even though I made it clear I was English and Deaf. This has happened a number of times across my travels. I think its cultural maybe! I ordered a burger and whilst reading another chapter in my book, it arrived and I was gobsmacked, just look how huge it was! Thank goodness I didn’t order any fries!
The next morning I quickly dashed out of my bunk bed to see what the weather was like. It was dry, a little cloudy but definitely dry. I was pleased and headed off after breakfast to find a ride to Semuc Champey. A little while later, a truck passed me in the other direction and promised to be back in 5mins, probably to pick several other people up.
A different truck came by and there were seats available, I decided to hop in and forget the other truck. You, the driver, then started to suggest your own elevated prices and I threatened to walk out. You backed down and we drove off with another 3 in the back. As the journey started to climb into the mountain range, you changed the gear to 4×4, but it failed. We started slipping backwards and I have never panicked so much for a long time. It would only take a simple turn of the wheel for the car to drive off over the edge into the mountain floor. I was petrified! You didn’t have any fear in your face at all. You held the car stationary by pressing the foot brake, but you didn’t hold up the hand brake. I asked you about this and you innocently told me that the hand brakes didn’t work. I was so alarmed! We waited ages for another truck to come by. And lo behold, it was the first truck I had disregarded! The ticket guy looked at me with an accusing expression!
At Semuc Champey the rain poured on and on, and I was determined not to give in. “Remember Tyron, its warm and you will get wet anyway at the waterfalls!” The heavy dripping continued for 10mins as I sat in the visitors centre, a euphemism for public toilets and 10 picnic tables with a noticeboard.
By some magic it all stopped and it was good to go and hike up to the mirador. As I climbed each slippery step, hobbled over this rock and that rock a million times, I met you both. You were around my parents’ age and had very fair complexion. You were enjoying the view of the wonderful water bridge, and I offered to take a photo of you both. You looked amused, and you soon realised I was deaf. We continued to walk to another view point, followed by a lovely dog the whole trek.
At this view point we were confident to introduce each other. I asked where you guys were from. “Seema” was all I could lipread, my hearing aid in my bag to avoid the constant drips of water from various banana tree leaves. “Seema?” “Yes, Seema”. I shrugged questionably. You both seemed surprised I didn’t know where Seema was. You then suggested “Europe” with a surely-you-know expression. Seema, deema, ohhhh, Denmark!!! We laughed. Seema indeed(!) We continued to trek together and I felt much more safe walking with you both rather than alone in these slippery steps and stones. I purposely walked behind you both so that you could fall or slip before me!!
At the pools it was a glorious sight and we quickly got changed. We could lock our stuff in wooden storage cupboards with a padlock and key for only 20QZ. We hobbled carefully across more rocks into the pools and I had my iphone with me to take some photos. Obviously I was going to struggle with the phone and balancing myself in the pools. I then saw you, a guard with a life jacket on. You were a kind of lifeguard employed by the national park. I pleaded with you to take my phone and look after it, I later asked you nicely to take photos of us.
You were very kind and helpful, your eyes were particularly interesting, a kind of blue tint and perhaps a little cross-eyed? As I headed out to the next pool I realised I wanted another photo, but it would be too much to carry the phone over. As if you knew what I wanted, you offered to walk over and take photos this side of the pool. It was brilliant. I then asked for a few particular shots, but you struggled to understand. And at one point you took a selfie of yourself by mistake, goodness me! I gave you a small tip as I left the pools to return to the village.
At the village I returned to the burger pizza place and had a great feast whilst it rained even more outside my table window. It got so dark and cloudy with heavy rain drops and yet I smiled to myself – despite the weather over two days I’d had a great time here!