Monday, December 6

So touristy

Hannah and I started out in a rural mountain community, moved to a less rural beach community, and are now backpackers on the gringo trail. Without a doubt, Nueva Alianza and Reu were "real" Guatemala. There were no other tourists, hardly any spoken or written English, and most people farmed for a living. In Monterrico and Hawaii, there were more Guatemalan and western tourists, but outside of the volunteer center we still needed Spanish to survive.

Many people say Antigua isn't "real" Guatemala. The streets are clean, stray dogs and cats aren't common, there are English bookshops, locals seem wealthier, and western tourists abound. So yes, it's not dirty poor indigenous culture Guatemala. But the city definitely has history. The streets and parks and crumbling cathedrals have been there for centuries. And Guatemalans still possess the city. I see more Guatemalans on the streets than I see tourists, and locals patronize some of the nicer restaurants.

We're currently in San Pedro, a community on Lake Atitlán. In my opinion, this is the most touristy place we've been so far. An entire section of town consists of brightly painted signs advertising yoga classes and barbecue chicken pizza and "American portions for Guatemalan prices," and all the bracelet and cloth vendors speak broken English - good price, only ten quetzal. And I see way more westerners than Guatemalans. Up the hill is "real" San Pedro, which is nothing special except it's the legit Guatemalan section of town.

Talking about which parts of a country are most authentic and which parts are - wrinkle your nose in dislike - so touristy is pretty pointless and tiresome. Everyone has a different opinion. I prefer Antigua to San Pedro (the latter's beautiful lake and volcano scenery aside). But I think most people travel for a combination of authenticity and comfortable tourism. For example, San Pedro is making me miss Nueva Alianza and Reu's "real" factor. We had to speak Spanish there and I felt like I was truly in the middle of a different culture. On the other hand, when we were in Reu, we lived for Friday morning breakfasts at McDonald's because our food choices in the community were so limited. Here in San Pedro, the food is delightful. Last night we had the best garlic bread, barbecue chicken pizza, and hot fudge brownie I've ever tasted. Was it authentic Guatemalan food? I don't think so. Was it an memorable traveling experience in an atmospheric restaurant? Yes.

Today I did have some delicious real Guatemalan food. For 10Q, or about 1.25USD, I bought three chicken tacos from a food stall... the most flavorful chicken I've had so far in Guatemala. I added a bit too much spicy green salsa and luckily walked past a woman selling arroz con leche, basically sweet hot milk with rice. Very satisfying. Tonight I'll revert back to non-Guatemalan food. Maybe mango curry or satay chicken.

Eating will always be one of my favorite things about traveling.

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