Ouuuulala! It's been a month here in Guatemala, and I have been ITCHING to have the time, health, space, and mental capacity to write about it. Thank you all for your patience and understanding in giving us this time to adjust to our new, radically different surroundings.
As anyone that has followed the journey here knows, while we were still in Canada, we made arrangements to volunteer at a hostel in San Marcos in exchange for a place to stay. We had very few interactions previous to our arrival; still, the hostel owners had assured us that it was indeed a family-friendly environment. They were also aware that our youngest would be nine months old upon arrival.
Bad fit, move on.
We checked into our room and knew that the place would not work for our family within an hour of getting there. There was a big rave happening in the town that day (the first sign we had picked the wrong town), and when we walked down to the kitchen, there were drugs out in the open and homemade tattoos happening on the main table. In addition, our room was right beside a fairly noisy road with no bars on the windows, and an apparent bug infestation problem. We met some great people there but it was not a place that suited our family demographic.
Although awkward, I brought up my concerns immediately with the hostel owner. She assured me that all behavior was unusual and that it was not how things usually were around there. Whether it was 365 times a year or one time a year, both situations were outside of the boundaries of the environment we wanted our kids to habituate. As parents, introducing such behaviors to our children at the age they are at would have been unacceptable. Simply put, we were thankful that we arrived on that date. It made the decision so easy for us. Christina and I decided the same night we arrived that we would not only look for a new place but would find a new town with less western influence and transience. In a nutshell, for our Kootenay friends, San Marcos is Nelson on Steroids. And while we love Nelson, imagine living in a hostel there with five children.
It's too bad we couldn't undo making the arrangements we made because Christina and I will both admit it was awkward and messy. Also, it was tough to give our hostel hosts a firm arrival date with so much to get done before leaving Canada. However, they were patient with us and adjusted well to our continuous variables. But, for the reasons mentioned and so many more, we immediately decided to cut both party's losses upon our arrival and move on.
A gem of a town across the lake: San Juan La laguna
Unreal. It felt like home the moment we got off the boat. We walked along the shoreline as a family, knocking on doors, asking homeowners and landlords if they knew of a house we could rent. Within 24 hours, we had found our paradise.
Drop-dead gorgeous land on the lake, coffee, banana, orange, and avocado trees. Royal climbed up an orange tree the other day and brought in a haul of oranges for us to juice. There is a sauna and pool for the kids, several friendly dogs, and a small bungalow that used to be the gardener's for us to inhabit. All for less than a quarter of the rent we were paying in Rossland. It is admittedly small for our large family, but the large outdoor space makes up for the home's tininess. I am very excited and look forward to sharing more about Tom, our 71-year-old neighbor, landlord, new grandpa. He is an absolute diamond of a man!
Our sickness and adjustment to our new environment
Within a few days of our arrival at Tom's, we all started taking turns getting ill. It began with Faye and Katie and lasted about a week. Chills, fever, colds, and terrible diarrhea. My turn followed, then Royal, Simon, Columbia, and eventually Christina. Our new two-bedroom home had nothing more than a bunk bed (no couches) for bedding arrangements. We initially set up a straw mat doo-dad-make-shift-bed on the floor, but after a few nights of turning on the flashlight to find the ground absolutely crawling with ants and spiders, we opted to get off the floor! Due to the limited floor space of the house, I designed a camper-style table/couch combo that would turn into a bed in the evenings for Christina and me.
We miss so many things: having a bathtub, hot water, a stove, washer, and dryer, not having diarrhea. Yet those things are evenly matched and even outdone by all the new things we love so much. We have access to the most incredible street food, tacos, freshly blended papaya juices, and coffee. Our laundry is either done by hand or taken downtown to Dona Julieta at "the laundromat." (The laundromat is simply a home with one washer and two dryers, these appliances are scarce commodities here in San Juan.) Although the laundry situation may sound like an inconvenience, it is, but it has helped form a new weekly interaction relationship with, yet again, another gem of a human. We set out to become very involved in our new community, and it is happening, one step at a time.
Thanks again to all you readers for your patience and understanding as we adjust and tweak our schedule. The biggest challenge amidst everything, for me, has been trusting that I would eventually find the time to write. I have so much to tell you all! For now, I will report that we have thankfully all gotten over our illnesses and have beds. For those things, and so much more, we are thankful.
Here are some pictures of our new place, town, our couch + table = bed combo and Columbia helping me carry the table home from the woodshop.
Owen Dargatz is a Canadian writer living in Guatemala with his wife Christina and 5 children. They are currently making connections with local artisan cooperatives hit by the downturn of tourism due to Covid.
Another part of their evolving plan is to tackle the pollution problem around Lake Atitalan. Baby steps, one at a time. As a family, they are cleaning up garbage daily and are organizing a local committee to start working with their municipality to improve the situation. More on this to come!
To contribute to their mission as a family please visit thegivingexperiment.com/give