I was told it was a particularly quiet day “Anda Di Haws” (Under The House, hostel, Placencia) when Juju and I came crashing in separately around the same time on any given Tuesday afternoon. I was 2 hours south in Punta Gorda for the 4 days prior, and had come up to Placencia, to see who and what is happening on the tourist highway (as I have dubbed it… the popular spots, ya know?)
Juju, a 28 year old Lithuanian was looking for a safe place to pitch her tent, affectionately referred to as the Thousand Star Hotel, and was unsuccessfully trying to jew the hostel owner down from $7US for the spot. Her English was enough to get by, and her Spanish was only a little better than mine. But she had carved out the perfect little conundrum for herself by the time I had met her. She had 5 weeks left before she flew home from Costa Rica, and was trying to work with a $10 per day budget. She was also trying to see 5 countries in this time. Already 5 months into her trip, she was currently travelling alone, and not 2 nights earlier, while sleeping in her tent on the beach in Hopkins, Belize, she had an unwanted visitor. Intoxicated of course, he started working his way into her living quarters.
She told the story in a broken English, and as far as I understood, she screamed and swung frantically which immediately scared him away. It was enough to shake her up a bit, as she was now willing to pay for a more secure place to pitch. We spent the evening swaying in the hostel’s hammocks, doing the backpackers shop talk. It wasn’t long before we realized the mutual benefits of the idea of travelling together. She was less certain about the idea of hitchhiking and camping alone, and I was looking to dive into a few more countries in the region, which, for me has never been that fun alone because I don’t speak bloody Spanish. So we shook hands on it, and the very next day we were hitchhiking south. Back to Punta Gorda, to catch the water taxi across to Livingston, Guatemala, a beautiful little Caribbean town accessible only by the water.
From Placencia to Livingston, for me, could have been done easily in a day.
$5US water taxi to Independence
$5US Bus Ride to Punta Gorda
Water Taxi Across, no problem.
“But for me, Time is money” Juju was insistent on this mentality. “The $5 that I save from the bus, could maybe be used to buy a meal, and maybe I last one more day.” So it took two days to get there. Hitchhiking, and bargain hunting. It’s awesome. Normally I don’t have the will power to be thrifty, in fact, just before I met her, I stopped in at one of the most expensive restaurants in Placencia and had the fish. Because I deserved it, Damnit. But travelling with Juju, as time is money, I soon noticed we were to scour the entire town to find the best deal on a Mango, for example. The most expensive one being under $1US. I strolled along casually, listening in on her Broken Spanish conversations, and watching her watch her money.
The first night in Livingston, for example, the hustlers met us right off the boat and were trying to show us the cheapest spots to pitch a tent. Any price they said I thought “Dios Mio, that’s cheap”. Not Juju, nothing would suit. Not until we passed a quiet local house with a big yard. “What about here?” She went and knocked on the door, and with her charming barely understandable Spanish tongue, scored us a spot for the tent. At what cost? “Pay from your heart” they told her. So we bought them a watermelon which cost 25 Quetzales. The same price for a single person in the cheapest hostel in town.
From there we heard stories of a Hot Springs waterfall that falls into a cold stream, and set out to find it, which we did. It felt like a high pressure shower, holy jeeze was it nice. You could find the perfect quantity of hot waterfall along the rocks, and when just right, you could lean waste deep against the rocks and have the hot water massage your back. I don’t remember the name of this place, but could easily find it on a map for you if you’re ever seeking it out. I could have stayed there for hours, but the sun was setting and Juju was hoping to get to Guatemala City by evening, to see a friend who was leaving on a jet plane in the morning.
We hitchhiked further, which usually included a free Spanish lesson from the driver. Forcing ourselves to make conversation because in these depths of the Spanish region, it’s tough to find English. I usually let Juju do most of the talking, she was ambitious, I was along for the ride. So we made it to El Estor, and were trying to catch a ride out, taking the back roads to Guatemala City, we weren’t so lucky. This secondary road was full of potholes and seldom taken, more-so, never travelled by anyone the distance we were going.
Juju was disappointed by sundown, and didn’t know what to do. She wasn’t going to make it to Guatemala City, and was tired of trying to direct the company. I finally asked her “What would you say if I bought us a hotel for the night, and in the morning we figure it out?” I am not on the same budget as her. Hell I’d been banking employment insurance since November, and have limited time here. Maybe this determined Gypsy could appreciate a shower and a bed. She submitted. During the process of finding the cheapest hotel, we met a man staying in town on business. He gave us a ride to the hotel.
This is a fine example of having each other to depend on, you see, the man, named Hector, spoke no English, offered us a ride, and asked us if we wanted to go out to eat. Juju later admitted, alone, there’s no chance in Hell you follow a guy like this, but I thought he seemed nice. Well shit, he ended up buying us supper, and offered us a ride half way to Guatemala City in the morning, wanting nothing in return! A total revival from the defeated mentality we had not 2 hours earlier.
That night, Juju went to be alone, and Hector invited me over with my guitar. I played him a few songs, he loved it, he tried a few. We watched some Youtube videos in Spanish, teaching the basic fundamentals of the instrument. It was a glorious moment for me, as since Juju wasn’t there, I was dependant on my own Spanish. This was maybe the second time in my life I sat down for a good lengthy attempt to speak the second language. And I’m getting there! I’m currently on the hunt for a spanish-english dictionary… on a budget of course.
So the next day we successfully hitchhiked all the way to Antigua, Guatemala which is where I am now. It’s nice. Juju’s going to El Salvador next and at present time I feel like I’ll continue on her way. I am so grateful to have her along, with just enough spanish to get us to places and situations I would have never achieved alone. We’re a good team, and although the language barrier, and the fact that we’re completely different people (despite both wanting to hitchhike and camp under the stars) can be challenging, the experience could not be going better.
One night, as per our evening wind-down, it was revealed that Juju is not as poor as she seems. Back in Lithuania she’s an architect! She has money in the bank, this is more so a lifestyle experiment rather than a life necessity. I high fived her. Respect. So on another night of idea-making we discussed the possibility of buying a vehicle to see the rest of these countries. As of course, I am always keeping my eyes open for the right wide-set motorbike, or Toyota Tacoma to attempt to drive home… That’s what may be coming next. But hitchhiking Central America is equally as unique. Anything is Possible.
The (Ongoing) Story of the Sunglasses.
3 days before I met juju, I followed through on my word and bought a cheap pair of sunglasses. RayBan? no, even better, RayBic… 4 days after that they broke for the first time. A little duct tape fixed the crack… Then a few nights later in the tent, I rolled over onto said spectacles, and broke the arms off. Ok more duct tape. I can’t exactly bring myself to go buy a new pair, (though I could get ’em even cheaper here in Guat) with Juju, because of the principal of the budget. A $5US Pair of sunglasses and $1.75 roll of Duct Tape have become my own personal symbol of the trip. If I spend 30 Quetzales on a new pair, that is equal to 2, possibly 3 meals. It’s an experiment, and these specs are hell bent to see it to the end.
So everything is as it should be. I’m well fed, in good company, and enjoying every moment. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have recycled a few pieces of strong yet slim wire and I need to go re-tape my sunglasses.