Today TraveLinkSites makes it’s way to Guatemala and the fabulous couple that make up Traveled Earth. Ashley & Mike are currently gallivanting around Europe but we thought we’d go back and ask them about their time in this gorgeous Central American country.
Over to you guys…
1. Could you briefly introduce yourself, your site and your experience travelling in Guatemala?
We’re Mike and Ashley Lenzen, a couple from small-town Saskatchewan, Canada. Saskatchewan is a praire land, flat as the ocean and with bitterly cold winters. In July 2011, we quit our jobs, sold our house, and left home on a one-way ticket to Cancun, Mexico. We have been travelling without an itinerary ever since. Our blog, Traveled Earth, chronicles our journey and adventures, offering travel advice and tips along the way. While we have grand ambitions of traveling around the world, we got a little “stuck” in Central America for the first nine months of our trip, spending 3 months in Guatemala.
2. What made you choose this country and what were your first impressions?
We chose Guatemala as a starting point for our travels because it has lots of cheap Spanish language schools. Some of our travel friends recommended a school on Lake Atitlan, so we spent six weeks living there and taking classes. We loved Guatemala from the beginning. The landscapes are beautiful and while the country is poor economically, it is rich in culture.
3. How much money can someone travel around Guatemala for? What are the greatest expenses? What things are relatively cheap?
We spent about $13 a person per day traveling through Guatemala ($20/person if you factor in the cost of six weeks of Spanish lessons). Our greatest expenses were the Spanish lessons, accommodation during Semana Santa and eating out in cities like Antigua. Outside of Semana Santa, accommodation is quite cheap… we paid anything from $4 a night for a private room with private bath in Lake Atitlan to $12 a night for dorm beds in Antigua. Street food and market food is also cheap and delicious.
4. What is the local cuisine like? Did you find yourself trying new things or pining for the familiars of home?
The local cuisine of Guatemala is handmade corn tortillas (the best in Central America!), beans, and fried chicken. You could also find tortas (sandwiches), tacos, and empanadas on the streets. Our favourite local drinks were ponche de leche (spiced hot milk) and etole de maiz (a thick corn drink, kind of like drinking corn muffin batter). We never found ourselves pining for the familiars of home and were happy to try new and unusual things (like raw eggs in orange juice).
5. What cultural activities and events would you suggest everyone seeing or taking part in while travelling in Guatemala and why?
If you can time your trip just right, we would suggest that everyone tries to take in Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Guatemala. Antigua is the most well known city to do this in, but you can find celebrations going on just about anywhere. Semana Santa events take place in the week leading up to Easter, and include several religious processions and intricately designed carpets made of wood shavings, flowers, and fruits carefully laid out in the streets. It is definitely something to see.
Independence Day (September 15) is another cultural event worth seeing. We were in Quetzaltenango (Xela) for Independence Day, where they have a large festival and fair each year. Beware of pickpockets at any cultural event or in any crowd of people.
Finally, if you are lucky enough to visit Guatemala during an election, you can take in a lot of local culture. We were at Lake Atitlan for the six weeks prior to the national elections, and witnessed nightly political rallies, fireworks, parades, and marching bands.
6. What is your favourite thing about travelling this country? What is your least favourite thing?
If we have to choose just one favourite thing about travelling in Guatemala (besides the incredibly reasonable cost), it was probably watching women wearing traditional Mayan dresses hand making corn tortillas in front of a backdrop of lakes and volcanoes. There was just so much to take in!
Our least favourite thing was the danger of pickpockets and thieves… we were pickpocketed twice at festivals and were wary of the chicken buses near Guatemala City.
7. What things do you focus on most when you blog about this country? Why do you choose these things?
When we blog about Guatemala, we focus on describing the experiences we’ve had (both positive and negative) and we try to include useful information about methods of transportation, costs, and sights to see. This is because our blog is written for two audiences – first, it’s for our family and friends so they can see what we’re up to. Second, it’s for other travellers, so we try to include enough detailed information to make it useful to them. We also share the statistics we keep about our travels (how much we’ve spent, how many different beds slept in, etc.) – this is the result of the nerdy math side of Ashley shining through.
8. What’s one thing you can’t travel around Guatemala without?
You can’t travel around Guatemala without a camera. There are so many cultural moments to capture. But that’s kind of a boring answer, isn’t it? You could say that about anywhere. So let’s try again… you can’t travel around Guatemala without a raincoat and a warm sweater. We were there in rainy season, which meant rain every afternoon. And if you want to spend any time in the highlands of Xela or Lake Atitlan, warm clothes are a must!
9. What kind of response have you had to your blogs about Guatemala? What post had the most interest?
We had a great response to our blogs about Guatemala. This was the first country that we really explored in depth, and the blogs told the story of that. Our Tikal post probably had the most interest (mostly through Facebook, Twitter, and other media) because of the picture of Ashley with a tarantula in her mouth.
10. If you could think of one thing you wished someone told you before you started travelling in Guatemala what would it be?
We wished that someone had warned us about pickpockets at festivals. We were expecting them to be there, but we weren’t expecting them to be that good… we lost a camera from a zippered front pocket. That took us by surprise.
I’m not sure I will ever recover from the site of a tarantula in your gob Ashley but we’ll keep reading your Traveled Earth blog anyway…
You want to be interviewed by us don’t you? Got a blog you want to chat about? Contact us.