We’ve made it to Guatemala! We had a hell of a journey, but we all made it, all in one piece, and we learned the value of airport VIP lounges along the way (if you travel through major airports–ever–especially with kids, do yourself a favor and look into a Priority Pass membership). If you aren’t following A(Broad) With 4 Kids on Facebook, you didn’t hear about the drama the night before we left, when I flooded my mom’s bathroom by leaving the bathtub running and having to call in a disaster cleanup company (for more frequent, brief updates, our Facebook page is the place to be!). I’ll give the nutshell version of our journey so far here, because I could write at least five entire posts about different parts of it. The nutshell version is already pretty long!
We left Idaho on July 17 and spent a few days with family in and around Chicago. It was mine and the kids’ first time in Chicago, and we had a lot of fun! We checked out the Shedd Aquarium for a day, went to the top of the John Hancock building, and other fun touristy things in Chicago. We also spent a couple of days in the country near Peoria, IL, where we got to see our first ever lightning bugs! I may have been more excited about that than the kids.
Saturday evening, July 20, we left John’s brother’s house in the country around 5pm and drove the 3 hours to the airport. This is when we first realized The Entertainer wasn’t feeling very well and had a fever. We didn’t think it was very serious, because he was eating, drinking, and chatting on the drive. And anyway, when he gets sick, he tends to get better within hours of his first symptoms. We dropped off the rental car at 9:15pm and took the shuttle to the airport. By the time we boarded our flight and took off at 12:40am on Sunday, July 21, everyone was really tired, pretty crabby, and generally not feeling super excited about our 4 hour flight to the Benito Juarez Airport in Mexico City.
We got to Mexico City around 5am local time for our 7-hour layover. It took quite a while and a couple of mis-directions to get through immigration, and then we checked into our first-ever Priority Pass VIP lounge, the Grand Lounge Elite. There are 5 other VIP lounges at the Mexico City airport, but we walked into the first one we found and didn’t leave until noon. The lounge experience, especially for an exhausted family that had been traveling all night long, was nothing short of amazing. Free drinks, free fresh food (no vending machine junk), comfy chairs, SHOWERS, and if we had wanted them, we could have gotten free gel mani/pedis. We got some snacks and a drink and hung out for about an hour, and then we all crashed in a corner full of comfy chairs. I woke up at one point when an attendant brought footrests over and literally picked up our feet and placed them gently on the footrests before putting blankets over each of us. Seriously, I felt like a little kid being taken care of by my grandma, and it was so welcome. When we woke up, the attendant brought us menus to order lunch from and let us know when it was time to head to our gate for boarding. I’ll say it again: if you’ve ever thought about becoming a Priority Pass member, DO IT NOW!
We got to Guatemala City around 2:30pm and met our minibus driver out front an hour later. We knew it was a trek from Guatemala City to San Pedro La Laguna, but we didn’t know that it was 4-4.5 hours of travel in a minibus that spewed exhaust back in through the windows and sounded like it was going to break down every time we went up a hill. There were a lot of hills.
We stopped for dinner after a couple hours of driving, and piled back into the van. The second half of our drive was quite the journey. It gets dark here in Guatemala around 6pm, which was a big surprise for us, so we were driving in the dark up and down hills. I, for one, was glad it was dark so I couldn’t see over the edges of the cliffs to know how far down it was.
And then came the now-infamous “U-Turn Road”, as John dubbed it. For 30 minutes, we drove down, and then back up, and then back down, a hill, making turns every 50 feet that were literally u-turns. It was tedious, and motion sickness-inducing, and generally not fun. After a little while, road construction was added to the u-turns. And when I say “road construction”, I mean that half of the road is no longer paved, and the other half has been covered in large, sharp rocks to discourage anyone from driving on it. After a bit, the other lane has the rocks on it, and back and forth for miles. I wish I could have gotten a picture of it, but it was too dark and I was too tired. At times, two cars are traveling in the one lane in opposite directions, and they just have to figure out who will either back up to let the other one pass, or if someone has four-wheel drive and big tires, they can drive up on the rocks (carefully!) and wait for the other to pass. I have to admit that I kind of admire how they just leave it to the people to figure out how to make their way through.
When we finally made it past U-Turn Road, we drove through several towns with extremely narrow streets that are made for tuk-tuks (tiny taxis that fly through the streets like Nascar drivers) and motorcycles, not minibuses. At one point, our driver had to squeeze his way between a building and a tuk-tuk that was not gonna move. I still can’t believe he didn’t scrape the wall or crash into the tuk-tuk. Even he had a few choice words (en español) after he made it through that, and he had been the picture of tranquility up until that point.
Around 9pm, we made it to our host family’s house, exhausted, overwhelmed, and, in the case of The Entertainer, absolutely done with everything and everyone. He started crying as we were trying to get out of the minibus, grab all of our bags, and meet our host family. He cried as they showed us our rooms and helped us figure out who would be sleeping where, and through the entire process of showing us the bathrooms, telling us what time breakfast would be served, and showing us where the school was located. By the time we got settled in, The Entertainer was nearly inconsolable, complaining about his feet itching. We looked at his feet, and there were red spots all over the bottoms of them, as well as spots on his hands and arms: hand, foot, and mouth disease, or the coxsackie virus (who named that one, anyway?). We gave him some Tylenol and he eventually went to sleep.
Spanish classes for all of us were scheduled to start at 8am the next morning, Monday, July 22, at Cooperativa Spanish School, right across the street. As it was, The Entertainer was in no shape to go to class, so John stayed at the house with him while the rest of us started classes. Poor, sick boy slept all morning and into the afternoon. As per usual, though, he made a ridiculously fast recovery, and by 4pm, he was up and ready to go, if a bit more subdued than usual. By Tuesday, everyone was in Spanish class!
It’s Saturday now, July 28, the last day of our first week in Guatemala. We’ve completed our first of four weeks of classes and are settling in. I feel like we’re still tired from over 24 hours of travel to get here, but maybe it’s the 4 hours of Spanish every morning and our brains working so hard all the time. I’ll post another update next week with more about San Pedro La Laguna and Cooperativa School, and other things we’ve been up to. I was hoping to add a few more photos, but the internet speed isn’t cooperating with me at the moment!
Anyone been to/currently in Guatemala and have ideas about where we should go after our 4 weeks of language school? We know we’d like to see Antigua, so Antigua tips are especially welcome!