This post about Earth Lodge Antigua, an avocado farm in Guatemala is part of my First Time Around The World Series (my very first set of posts, way back when) which you can read in this section here.
I was toying with a festive theme for this post given the proximity of Christmas but I suspect everyone is nearly up to their ears with the one day event that is celebrated for four months and I certainly could do with some summer memories to get me through the cold. So this blog continues with my tale – this time Guatemala, but there is a little festive sprinkle at the end…a hot buttered rum recipe I intend to trial on my family this Christmas Eve.
Amazing Antigua, Guatemala
Guatemala came as a complete surprise to me. Not in the sense that I woke up not knowing how I’d got there (I distinctly recall taking a flight) but it was one of those passing through destinations – on to Mexico I was headed – that turned out to dazzle in its own right.
Things started particularly well on this sector of my trip. Taking full advantage of the inputting error of the airline I managed to bag a first class seat that turned out to be cheaper than taking the chicken buses. Backpacker bonus!
I’ll admit I was too embarrassed to put my rotting bag through the trauma of business class check-in as it would no doubt have been singled out and left sitting alone, all the Samsonite leathers sniggering at it.
But I wasn’t quite prepared to be subjected to the same scrutiny. I don’t blame the air stewardess for doing a double take as I plonked my traveller’s backside in the plush, oversized first-class seat. But I got a bit miffed when she asked to double-check my ticket. And it was just plain humiliating when she gave me a squinting last look over – my half missing front tooth and blood and mud ingrained feet courtesy of my mis-adventures in Nicaragua – before seemingly deciding against alerting security.
This had never happened to me in business class before. Though I guess the last time I’d travelled that way I’d stumped up the full fare, had an OPI varnished pedicure and a whiff of lawyer about me, not tramp. Clearly six months into my trip that had all vanished. But my ability to inhale fine Champagne hadn’t so I indulged in two glass as damages for the offence caused and revelled in what promised to be a mere glimpse at luxury.
A short time later I arrived in Guatemala City. Getting there had been easy. It was getting out that seemed harder. I’d read the reviews. I’d talked to my fellow travellers, I’d polled the locals and the results all came back the same. Get in. Get out. And do it before dark.
Antigua (in Guatemala, not the Caribbean island!) was a relatively short hop away – little over an hour by car. After sixty minutes of scouring the airport for the shuttle bus it became apparent I needed the assistance of any of the 482 taxi drivers that had previously set upon me. And whom I had not so politely (by the 93rd time they asked) told to leave me alone.
Realising my lack of alternatives I sidled up to them with shame and the negotiations began. It took twenty minutes of my best Spanish to come to a price. The last 19 of those minutes quibbling over $2.
Where does this dog with a bone instinct come from? After I’d explained for the 111th time that the extra $2 was too expensive for me, exhaustion beat us both and we split the difference. A renewed sense of the day’s shame hit as the driver kindly hefted my 15kg bag into the taxi, the ‘First Class’ luggage tag (I’d not asked for) flapping in the breeze as proof of my poverty.
It made for an interesting talking point as we sat in silence for the entire journey and, as we arrived, me having established Antigua really was as far as he’d suggested, and a bit further still, my embarrassment reached into its reserves and tipped him healthily – three times the disputed $2 and a bit more to boot. Pyrrhic victories, eh.
Antigua was a town without purpose, but I mean that in the sense that there was no reason for me to be there other than to absorb the place and the people and that is what I did for longer than intended.
Meeting a fun Scottish girl, our nights were filled with laughter. By day I got lost in the town – metaphorically and actually. I also don’t recall sleeping much in Antigua but that is probably on account of the Guatemalan coffee, which I couldn’t get enough of.
There was much talk in the town of trekking and volcano climbing but with my war wounds still very much pre-healed I had no intention of participating. However, with time on my hands I searched for another distraction and found it: stay in a tree house on an avocado farm. Perfect.
Earth Lodge Antigua: An Avocado Farm in Guatemala…perfect (almost)
The first thing arriving at Earth Lodge taught me was how quick I had become unfit. My breathing had me believe I was on the brink of heart attack after the five minute slog uphill with my baggage and I could barely make it into my tree house when I arrived. I instantly booked an extra night’s stay to postpone the return journey and made a mental promise to increase my activity as I slunk into a hammock and cajoled the bar staff into bringing me a happy hour cocktail hammock-side.
With my heart finally returning to a normal pace, I was able to truly appreciate the view that came with being so high up above Antigua and as the sun set, I wished I’d sprung for a tree house all to myself so I could stare out at the night right up until dawn. Instead, I had a dorm bed, which was actually a very good second best with sturdy wooden bunks and their own treehouse style.
The following days on the farm were a mix of fun and intriguing. Fun, yes, who doesn’t want to look out from a hilltop location at a volcano erupting before popping back to a tree house to sleep? And the evening communal dinners were a great idea, if not a little suggestive of a hippy commune. I also met some amazing people whose charitable giving made me feel humble and selfish (I got my own cocktail the next night).
But by the second night things were starting to feel a bit too communal. Maybe it was just the time that I was visiting or maybe I’d been out of the “couples corner” for too long…At first I couldn’t work out which of the staff were married to whom, but as the days drew on I started to wonder if there was simply a rota that divided up the love in equal proportions so that everyone could have a little of what they fancied. Not unlike dinner.
And speaking of dinner, it was entirely devoid of avocados – something to do with seasons that we don’t appear to have in English supermarkets. So, once again, I’d timed my stay all wrong.
With a rather romantic feel to the place, my sore feet (and “took me by surprise” unfitness) keeping me from tackling the many trails that everyone else raved about and with a complete absence of avocados, by day four I was ready to face the hill, rucksack and all. And so I went…
Back to Antigua.
My next stop was Semuc Champey, the place on everyone’s lips, and a chance to go underground caving in potentially stagnant waters. Great. All I needed to do was survive Guatemala’s suicide showers and I’d be fine…
Now for some festive cheer…
Hot Buttered Rum Recipe
(try it out and don’t blame the hangover on me!)
- 1tsp of unsalted butter, softened – healthy start
- 1tsp of maple syrup – not getting healthier
- 1/2 tsp ground allspice – Christmas flavoring
- 50ml golden rum – I’m trying brandy
- Warm apple juice to top up the glasses – carte blanche to go as strong as you like!
- Cinnamon stick and fresh grated nutmeg to garnish
Put the butter, syrup, allspice and rum in a coffee glass. Add warmed apple juice and stir until blended.Warm the cinnamon stick with a lighter or gas stove (careful, peeps) and use the stick to stir. Add a sprinkle of nutmeg. Drink. Enjoy. Repeat.
For more about my first time around the world, click on the image below…but do note that these early trip tales comes with a small note about their quality.