San Pedro

San Pedro la Laguna was only supposed to be a spot to learn Spanish, but it has become so much more than that. After months of travel, full of joy, excitement, and discovery, I have found a place that has buried its homely claws right into me, and it feels good. I’m not going to stay here forever, but I probably could, and I wouldn’t even be mad about it. The funny thing is, the whole place is about the same size as a small town back in the UK.

Getting here wasn’t anything special. Waiting by the side of a road for a pre-booked shuttle for an hour longer than expected was, well, expected. The journey took an extra 3 hours longer than it was supposed to, mainly due to rockfalls along the road and a guy who decided to crash his motorcycle into the back of a pickup and die. I’m honestly surprised it doesn’t happen more. Everyone here rides a motorcycle, I’m talking 4 bikes to every car, and the only thing worn less than helmets on the bikes is suitable footwear. It really isn’t uncommon to see a family of five on the back of a 125cc motorcycle made by a brand never seen outside of Central America. Only his wife will be wearing anything other than sandals.

San Pedro

The roads on the way in didn’t hint at the beauty that would reveal itself as we slowly wound our way through the jungles that cover the endless mountains. Sheer faces of rock and vegetation loom on one side of the roads, while on the other, a stomach-turning drop plummets to unknown depths only hidden by trees and vines. The roads are so narrow that as the small shuttle rockets around the corners, the driver leans on the horn to let anyone coming around the corner know that he has no choice but to take up two lanes.

San Pedro

My luggage was tied to the top of the minivan. I trusted his methods because I had to, and his knots must have been worthy of a ship because as he careened around the corners, I could feel the top-heavy bus lean out over the precipice. After hours of endless switchbacks, riding up and down mountain roads, we finally came out, without warning, to a view of the lake. Even the driver, a man who, by this point, was beyond exasperated by his massively elongated shift, slowed in appreciation as we rounded the corner. Before us lay a lake surrounded by volcanoes, glistening in the late afternoon sun. Tiny villages clustered around vague coves, and the thick caps of clouds on each peak did little to mask the setting sun that bounced off the surface of a seemingly endless expanse of water.

The tranquillity of the lake was quickly slapped away by yet another hairpin taken at Mach speed. The blood redrained from the faces of the people who hadn’t yet come to terms with the idea of their own death at the hands of a Guatemalan minivan driver, and we strapped in for a descent that would curdle milk.

San Pedro

My little apartment built into the roof of what the owner described as a “Genuine Guatemalan Building” is cute. What he means is that it leaks in the rain, sways in the wind, and anyone looking up through the floorboards in the morning can have a prime view of my taint. I cook in the same room as I sleep in, which is usually an absolute no-no for me, but in this case, it doesn’t matter. The room has such a ferocious draft that not only does the smell of cooking dissipate before I’ve finished eating, but sometimes the burning gas hob gets completely extinguished too. The draft isn’t too much of a problem; the two opened sleeping bags that I have been given in lieu of an actual duvet keep me as warm as I need.

The room is built above a hostel. The hostel isn’t really a hostel, though. It’s two floors of bar and social area that gets closed at 9 pm. The sleeping accommodation is in the back garden and consists of a bunch of tents. They’re nice tents and cost the equivalent of £4 a night. I get to lord it over them from my third-floor penthouse.

San Pedro

The view from my room is by far the most stunning I have ever seen. My two lake-facing windows are on the shore, with nothing to hinder the breathtaking vista of the water and mountains. Every morning the light pours through my curtainless façade to wake me up, and I have absolutely no problems with it at all. The warmth slowly pulls me from sleep at around 7.30 am, and the light immediately fills me with a sense of excitement for another day living in the most beautiful place on earth.

I live about a 10-minute walk from the school I have been studying in. The walk takes me along the shoreline of the lake, which is a gentle yet astoundingly vast body of water. It laps against the shore constantly, the excitement depending on the wind rolling in from the hills. Walking with headphones seems like a sin when the whole environment is full of the sounds of birds, insects, music, water, and puttering Tuk-tuks. Everyone who passes will wish a good day with a tip of the hat and a smile of those wonderfully golden Guatemalan teeth.

San Pedro

I signed onto my school the day I arrived in order to arrange when my classes would be and how many hours a day I would take part in. I decided on three a day; any more than that, and I would lose concentration. I also needed enough hours in the day to enjoy myself and still fit in the measly hours of work I call a job. He introduced me to the staff and showed me where I would be learning. The school rolls down to the lakeside with small huts hosting each teacher’s one on one classes. £80 a week for three hours a day Spanish lessons didn’t seem to make sense to me, and yet here I was. I was excited to start.

Each day the school hosts a different activity. They are, in part, a way to show off the Guatemalan culture, which is both rich and incredibly individual. The entire area is Mayan, with Spanish being their second language and definitely their second culture. This makes their Spanish very easy to understand as they speak it slowly and with a much better understanding of what it is to learn. The people of San Pedro are often multi-generational in the small town, and they are deeply proud of their heritage. The small area produces some incredible fabrics, clothing, food, and drinks. Every bit of their pride is well-earned and supported with rich output.

San Pedro

The other part is to let the students mingle. I have made full use of this and subject a whole new group of people every week to my incessant earache. It’s great to have a captive audience; terrible for my use of Spanish, though. The good thing about the activities, which range from walking tours to chocolate-making classes, is that they’re all in Spanish. I can just about follow along, and I can instantly unlearn it all when I drag the willing few to my favorite bars to absolutely obliterate our frontal lobes with 10 quetzals Cuba Libres. Guatemala also makes rum, and it’s absolutely top quality.

When I arrived, the small town was about to start its yearly town festival of sorts. The San Pedroans were all geared up for 4 days of music, fireworks, live shows, and food to celebrate their community. Every night hosted different events, a number of which I went to. My favorite by far was the live music that started at around 9 pm and went on until the early hours.


The town basketball courts transformed into their own personal Webley stadium, complete with lighting rigs, live bands, seating, and a sound system that could be heard from space. A band played for the whole night, hammering away on the traditional Guatemalan instrument, the Marimba, or massive Xylophone to you and me. As the night went on, more and more people poured into the court, salsaing in that way only the Latinos can: like it’s their duty. Everyone from every age was pacing out the four steps with absolutely no signs of stopping or slowing. It was enough even to get the other Spanish students off their feet and swallow their embarrassment long enough to bust some moves.

The music was loud, the atmosphere was absolutely electric, and the night shone out on the hill like the proud beacon of town pride that it is. It was wonderful to see a community come together in such a collective way. Over my time here, I have come to realize that this is not a one-off. Community and collectivism are paramount in the area, and the idea of not knowing your neighbors is unthinkable.

San Pedro

Being in the school has been a pleasure. My teacher, Elena, is a good friend, and we cackle together as I mercilessly butcher her language with absolutely no regard. She has enough patience to make me feel like I can stumble but is strict enough to let me know when I am slipping. They supply an endless vat of coffee, which in England would be a barrel of crude oil-flavored instant slurry, but here tastes like the finest grind a bearded drama school graduate in a denim apron could squeeze out of his bespoke AeroPress and charge you £25 for. They grow coffee here, and my addiction has gone beyond manageable levels. The arabica bean is my new favorite bean, and Heinz be damned.

I am learning a new language, and I am trying my best but fuck me, it is hard. Three hours a day is a good amount, but there is so much to a language that I simply never took into consideration. I am a writer, despite what my imposter syndrome tells me, and yet I have, or should I say, had absolutely no fucking clue how language was put together. Who knew what conjugation was? Not me. Still don’t, but I am getting there. I think Elena has equipped me with the necessary tools to go away for a week, take a long hard look at my material, and then come back and tell her I still don’t get it.


Honestly, though, I am staying for another month. I will take a week to myself to work through the current material, and then I will go back and see what I can string together with my incredibly small, smooth brain. This post is only the beginning of what I have to say about this nestled paradise on the lake. I cannot do justice to the enjoyment and peace I have found here without waxing lyrical for far more words than anyone would ever care to read in one wedge. Either way, I have met some wonderful people, been to some excellent places, and fallen deeply in love with a town the size of a postage stamp.


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