For the low low price of 1500Q ($195), we committed to a month in a 1 bedroom apartment in San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala. What do you get for $6.50 a night?
On the top floor of Hotel Helen, just off the water, there is a small private apartment with kitchen, bathroom, floor to ceiling windows and sliding doors, an open balcony, and a view that is worth every penny. Our friends come daily to eat and drink in our breakfast nook and relax on the balcony, more for the view than the company, I’m sure. We wake up everyday, roll over, and look out the glass wall towards Lake Atitlán and the nearby peak known as Indian’s Nose.
The location is superb, just off the local boat dock and a few steps from the main intersection where we can catch a tuk tuk to anywhere in town for 5Q per person (~$0.75.) The local market is a short uphill walk away, and there are many restaurants and cafes on the lake just downstairs.
The apartment itself is a bit rustic, but is airy and comfortable. It’s a couple steps above car camping, but a steep drop below the Ritz Carlton in Paris. Sometimes the water takes a few minutes to reach the tap, and the kitchen faucet is wrapped in plastic to prevent random streams of water spraying about. We have to bring in our own drinking water, toilet paper, and pay 15Q ($2) whenever we want the hotel maid to come clean. The one knife that came with the kitchen poorly performs even the most basic tasks. The internet stops working, and some of the windows leak, when the rains come, which is nearly every afternoon. But there is a place to hang a hammock on the balcony
In other words, its a little slice of heaven
The gas stove and electric refrigerator are straight out of the 1950’s. The tables and chairs are hand made, more out of necessity than skill. This adds to the charm and the ambiance, anything more modern or well built would feel out of place. Outside of the utensils and some of the cookware, everything functions and fills its role well.
We make regular trips to the local market to stock up on fruit, vegetables, and eggs. The local French bakery makes great whole wheat bread, and the local health food store has fresh peanut butter and local jams. We have everything we need for great meals at home, with the best view in town
The bedroom has two double beds, one we use for sleeping and the other as our storage closet. It cools down at night and we use our sleeping bags to keep a little warm, using the wool blankets that came with the bed as extra cushion in the breakfast nook. The bed is surprisingly comfortable, and we sleep like babies
The doorway to the bathroom is a little crooked, and the hand-planed door doesn’t close completely on its own. No worries though, a small plastic clip and a cloth strap on the outside keep it closed when not in use, and a small piece of wood held in place with a nail makes for a lock from the inside.
The shower is typical Guatemalan, with a local heater versus a central water heating system that is common in the US. The plumbing is custom installed PVC, in this case held in place via an ingenious system consisting of a wire and a screw in the ceiling. The electrical wiring looks a little dangerous, but there is no need to worry; all of the wiring is covered with plenty of electrical tape. The water is sometimes too hot, sometimes too cold, never just right, but nonetheless I’m impressed that it works
By comparison to many of the local accommodations, we live in the lap of luxury. Cinder block construction is the norm, with rusted tin roofs and an obvious lack of compliance to international building codes. Many of these structures are built by hand, lack electricity, and use wood fuel for cooking and heating. The exposed re-bar on the roofs of most structures perhaps indicates ambitious expansion plans
The hotel owner and staff are super friendly and helpful. Freddy and his wife live on the floor below us, and joke and laugh with us every day. (“Freddy, como Freddy Krueger, haha.”) Plans exist to eventually rent our this 2 bedroom unit as well. Freddy Jr. lives part time in a room near ours, when he isn’t away at school. Theresa performs amazing acts of cleanliness for 15Q, and will certainly receive a great tip when we move out. They are good people, and add to the joy of the place
Many places in the world are less than perfect, and yet by appreciating them for what they are, flaws and all, we can find great joy and appreciation in them. Our temporary home has a few warts, but it is home. It is Guatemala. And the view is to die for