The Black Sand Beaches of Monterrico

I've never traveled for work long enough to warrant a day off in the middle of a trip, but Guatemala was different. My colleagues and I decided that it would be worth it to hire a driver and go to the beach for a day, so we borrowed one of the work trucks and started off on the two hour drive from Antigua to Monterrico on the coast. 

A little research told us that there wasn't much in the way of nice spots to hang out on the beach in Monterrico, but one little hostel had some good reviews so we headed to Hotel el Delfin. Clearly it's gone up in the world since I was there last month because last time I googled it it didn't have a website, just a trip advisor review.

We sat out in the sun all day, and swam in the ocean with some of the biggest waves and strongest undertow I've ever experienced. Just standing in a foot of surf was enough to knock you off your feet! We ate fish, tortillas and guacamole with extra lime, and had a few beers on the beach in a light breeze which was about as cooling as a blow torch. It was absolute heaven.

I don't think I've ever been on a black sand beach before, but if you ever visit one do not walk on it barefoot! It really hurts when the sun starts to heat it up. Speaking of burns, I also got the worst sunburn I've had in years. That wasn't so much fun. 

We got lost more than once on the way to a hostel we didn't even have an address for, took a perilous boat ride, got thrown around by the ocean and tanned way too much. Ok that last part was stupid, sunburns are no joke, but it was such a wonderful day in spite of that. Just the right amount of adventure and relaxation. And we took a slightly less perilous boat ride home, where our fellow passengers were the sweetest little grandmother and her grandson who played games with each other the whole way.

If you're ever traveling through Guatemala, head to Hotel el Delfin. It seemed to me like more of a hostel than a hotel, but it has a parrot that says "hola!" and it's a magical place that very much deserves a visit - if only for the black sand beaches!

The Best Banana Bread in Antigua

Banana bread may not be the first that comes to mind when you think of Guatemala, and believe me I was just as surprised, but Antigua has some of the best banana bread I've ever tasted!!

Around the corner from our hotel (which isn't worth linking, business hotels never are) was a beautiful little cafe with an open courtyard and a really 'old timey Guatemala' feel about it. Like everything in Antigua, Doña Luisa Xicotencatl is very colonial looking and has a bit of a long history. It's where families seem to spend their evenings, chatting over coffee and banana bread while the grandparents doze in their chairs and the children run around and around the table. It's also unusual because it has an upper floor - most restaurants don't because of the constant earthquakes which do have a pesky habit of waking you up at night when they're really minor, and knocking down the occasional building when they're really bad.

I was more than a little tempted by the smell of the bakery out front, so one day when my colleagues and I went to dinner at the cafe, I just ordered a hot chocolate and ate half a loaf of banana bread for dinner. 

"Hey Freya, how's that wedding diet going?" you might ask...

"Let's not talk about it" I would respond.

Doña Luisa Xicotencatl is definitely where the locals hang out, so you know it's good. I wouldn't say it's amazing for a proper meal, but it's not to be missed if you're really craving banana bread - which is pretty much on my list of constant cravings.

Antigua

Antigua is a beautiful little colonel town outside of Guatemala City - if you're going to stay anywhere in Guatemala on your first visit, definitely stay there! As I was based there for work I spent most of my time walking about in the evenings, but I did manage to snap a few photos of the craft market that is set up in the afternoons to sell locally-made goods. Well, almost all locally made - some bits and pieces I'm pretty sure are imported...

Antigua itself is all cobbled streets and beautifully coloured buildings. It's very touristy, but sometimes that's nice. Restaurants are easy to find and the town itself is easy to navigate, there's no chance of you getting lost and for me that's an added bonus as I'm always getting lost.

You still have to be guarded though, it may be a tourist town but we still witnessed the aftermath of a mugging and it did not look pretty. That's not to say it isn't safe, you just need to be careful. But there is tonnes of shopping to do and little bars to explore, I saw singes for an avocado martini that looked tempting... but sadly I never got the chance.

Guatemala

Finally I've managed to find some time to edit some photos and write a blog post! It's been a busy trip and when I haven't been working I've been trying to catch up on sleep. I have been in Guatemala for a week now but it feels like it's been much longer, until now I've lost track of what day it is. But I always lose track of time when I've got a camera in front of my face and a job to do. 

These are just a few photos that I've managed to catch in between what I'm gathering for work. Sometimes we have to hang around for a bit in-between community visits and it allows me some time to take a few portraits. Every country is different when it comes to photography, in some places they love to pose and then see the photos you've taken, in others they run away or get angry if you ask to take a photo. It's been a mix here, some people have flat out refused to have me take their photo and while it always makes me embarrassed for having asked in the first place, I of course respect what they say. And my desire to take photos is at constant war with my shyness.

Yesterday a grandmother was walking past me with her granddaughter, both carrying heavy loads of sticks on their back. A puppy was following along behind them and the sun was setting, it was a perfect photo! I asked the translator (who was translating a Mayan dialect) to ask them if I could take their photo and they said no, the reason they gave was that they were afraid I was going to sell their portrait and not give them any money - it was their photo after all. I put my camera away and instead tried to have a chat with them, they were really friendly and let me play with their puppy. But their reaction wasn't unique and their extreme aversion made me a little sad. 

It's made me think a lot about respecting other cultures, which I've always been mindful of when I travel, but specifically I wonder how people feel about some girl walking around with expensive equipment snapping away - I wonder if they agree with what I'm trying to achieve or whether they think it's a bit of an indulgence compared to their life priorities. I wonder how they feel about it. Whether they resent it, or whether they think I'm just crazy. Maybe they don't even care. In my mind I don't see different people, I just see different lives - in the end we're all the same. But I wonder if that's an opinion I can afford to have because I didn't have to carry my own firewood every night at the age of six. It's hard to know other people's minds, but I hope I'm making friends with the people I'm meeting along the way, and not leaving them with a bad feeling about people trying to take photos and profit from their lives.