Roughing It in Xela, Guatemala

If I could only use one word to describe my life in Guatemala, it would be this: rustic. Well, maybe it’s not rustic by some people’s standards. I mean, I have a roof over my head after all (although I use that term loosely), electricity (well, most days), cable TV, hot water (sometimes) and most importantly, Internet access.  Certainly by Guatemalan standards, I’m living the high life.

But I certainly don’t feel that way on mornings when I trek to the bathroom in the pouring rain (our bathroom is located in the courtyard outside) or when I haven’t washed my hair in five days because we don’t have hot water and it’s too cold in the little outdoor shower shack to get my hair wet.

Or when I spend 45 minutes hand-washing my clothes in the basin outside (we don’t have a washing machine) and then it rains so hard that I have to hang them from the rafters in my room and three days later they’re still damp and are beginning to mold.

Pretty much the only way I’ve been able to adjust to this life of ‘roughing it’ has been to just pretend I’m camping. Because checking your shoes each morning for spiders, using an outhouse, cooking by flashlight…these are all things that under normal circumstances might seem like a pain, but when you’re camping, are all just part of the adventure.

View of Terrace

Before my mom came to visit a few weeks ago, I was worried that Guatemala might be a bit underdeveloped for her.  I explained that my room was small and that if she stayed there, she’d have to share a bathroom with a Guatemalan family of seven and two Christian missionaries (which was the situation at my previous apartment back in Antigua).

“Well, it can’t be worse than that place we stayed in Europe,” she said, meaning the windowless room we’d shared in Prague.  “Or that hotel in Tokyo.”

Here’s a picture of the hotel room we stayed in when I first moved to Tokyo:

Would you believe that this is the ‘Medium-Sized’ room?

“Yes, it’s worse.”  I told her.  “It’s smaller and there are bugs…ants, termites, cockroaches and spiders.”  Which is something you’d almost never find in a Japanese hotel room.  And then I added the part that would surely be the deal-breaker:  “And, mom,” I paused for dramatic effect.  “You can’t flush the toilet paper down the toilet.”

Well,” she said dismissively.  “I just won’t follow that rule then.”

“Mom!”  I yelled into the phone, astonished.  “You can’t just not follow that rule…You’ll brake their plumbing.  The pipes are too thin for toilet paper…They’ll have to replace them if you flush it.”  I didn’t know if that last part was true, but it sounded about right.

It’s not that I didn’t want my mom to visit.  I did.  I just wanted to be sure that if she came, she’d be prepared to rough it.  Because although my mom’s a fairly capable traveler, roughing it isn’t something she does very well. Or as she says, there are just certain luxuries that she can’t live without.  Namely, clean, private toilets, organic vegetables and cream for her coffee.  And Guatemala just happens to be lacking in all three of those things.

But despite my warnings, my mom came anyway.  And you know what?  She did pretty well!  She didn’t complain once.  Not when we had to ride a Chicken Bus (it’s a public bus, with chickens in it…and goats, pigs and about a bazillion Guatemalans).  Not when she was kept up all night by buzzing mosquitoes.  Not when we both came down with severe food poisoning from some bad nachos.  And not when we had to hike for 45 minutes up a mountain and she was nearly bitten by this:

Guatemalan Godzilla

I was really proud of her!  Although I’m fairly certain she won’t be coming back to Guatemala anytime soon (or any developing country for that matter) she’s proof that you never can tell what a person can or can’t handle until you throw them into it. They just might surprise you.

Anyway, what about you?  What do you consider ‘roughing it’?  And what are your bare essentials; the items that you just can’t live without?
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Comments ( 3 )

  1. Ania

    Surprisingly it's not the only place with 'Don't flush the paper rule'. They have it on one of the Mediterranean islands. I think it was Malta. And it was because they had a really old canal system, like from Roman times. Anyway when you're starting to forget where was what is it too much traveling?

  2. Re

    It took a good few days for me to get used to not flushing the toilet paper. It's such an automatic habit that I'd forget (especially after first waking up) and would flush it...It took me clogging a restaurant toilet before I finally learned better.

  3. Buggin’ Out in GuatemalaTaken by the Wind | Taken by the Wind

    [...] It seemed as though this was turning into a reoccurring theme of our trip. A bug tries to permanently disfigure, kill or maim me and my Belgian roommates insist that I’m hallucinating everything. We’d been on a week-long trek around the Guatemalan countryside, visiting the Mayan ruins of Tikal and kayaking along the River Dulce; taking a break from where we worked and studied Spanish in Xela, Guatemala. [...]