Good times in Guatemala with good dudes

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Hello, hola, good morning, y buenos días to those who celebrate.

It’s Saturday morning in Bogotá, and I’m preparing to kick off an 8-day trip of good, clean, wholesome fun with 300 of my favorite classmates. My immune system has been playing Russian Roulette with me for the last 48 hours, but God gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers. A cocktail of 3 Emergen-C packs, some Colombian Tylenol, 12 hours of sleep, and a steaming hotel bath can cure anything.

But more on that later, because I need to tell y’all about the last five days in Guatemala.

If you’ve been following this travel blog for a couple of months, you probably know that I was in Japan for a couple of weeks in March. Japan was a fantastic bonding experience for the boys, and it was also an opportunity for me to get to know some new friends better.

One of such friends was Marcos Zedan. After spending six hours sitting in a 5ft x 5ft square drinking hot sake together at Kyoto’s premier sumo wrestling tournament, we became boys.

Marcos is from Guatemala, and after we returned from Japan, he invited a group of us to visit him for 5 days before meeting the larger group in Colombia. I’ve never been to Guatemala, or anywhere in Central America for that matter, so I was pumped to join the trip.

The biggest benefit of business school is having friends from a dozen countries. The local experience is always better than the gringo special, and Guatemala absolutely exceeded my expectations.

So let’s dive in 🤝

Sunday, May 7th

I should start this by saying that outside of purchasing the necessary flights, I did nothing to prepare for this trip. Much like Japan, I am 100% going with the flow. I didn’t start packing until midnight on Sunday, which was ill-advised given my 9:00 AM flight, and I passed out at like 2:00 AM.

Alarm went off at 6:45, and I set out for Columbus Circle to link with Ben. I thought I could hit the Chick-fil-A on the way, but I forgot it was Sunday, so I had to settle for McDonald’s. Ben and I grabbed an Uber and scooped Antonio from his mom’s place, and we headed to LaGuardia.

Toni and I were sitting near the front while Ben was hanging out with the flight attendants in the back (a recurring trend), and we set off for Miami. After an hour layover and some airport Cuban food, we caught our second flight to Guatemala City. I spent most of the flight somewhat trying to write/work on stuff, and I completely missed the view of the volcanoes out the window as we approached our destination.

Upon arrival, we didn’t know Marcos’s address so we just wrote “MZ Residencia” on the customs forms (to be fair, it wasn’t incorrect), and Marcos scooped us from the airport. His family owns a mattress foam company (or something like that), and he and his sister had opened a mattress shop in town around a year ago. We stopped by to check it out, bought some flowers and wine for his mom (Tanmaye is arriving in two days, and we beat him to the punch with gifts for the host, lo siento), then headed to his place.

On our drive, Marcos gave us a brief history lesson about gang violence/crime in Guatemala. It’s actually one of the safest countries in Central America, but the isolated gangs that are here originated in the US.

During the Central American civil wars, a lot of people fled to the US, especially LA. LA had a large Hispanic gang population at the time, and many of the new refugees/immigrants joined. When the US cracked down on gang crime and deported many of the gang members, they set up shop in Central America.

After winding our way up the mountain, we arrived at Marco’s house. First impression: his crib is sick. It was three stories built into the side of a hill, with a central stone staircase wrapped about a tree growing in the foyer. We met Marco’s mom and some friends and family before hanging out on the back porch, enjoying some cervecitas and apps.

Marcos manned the grill, and an hour later, we enjoyed steak and an assortment of Guatemalan food. I’m going to make an early nomination for Marcos as the top grill master in the class, the meat was insane.

Marcos, Ben, and Toni left to pick up Brody while I posted up on the porch to work on some newsletter stuff. When they got back, Brody dropped his stuff off in my room (we were doubled up while Toni and Ben shared the other guest room), and we all went to the basement to watch a movie.

We settled on the most cringe Rom-Com of all time, Ghosted, where Chris Evans aka Captain America plays the world’s biggest simp.

I dipped halfway through to finish some work, then hung out in the room with Brody. After 20 minutes of trying to share a bed, I realized that this probably wasn’t going to work:

I’m 6’3, Brody is 6’7, and we were dangerously close to accidentally engaging in a way-too-tall cuddle sesh, so I grabbed a blanket and crashed on a basement couch.

Monday, May 8th

We needed to be out the door at 7:25 for a 9 AM flight to Flores, because today we were going to see some Mayan pyramids. At 7, we had a breakfast spread of fruit, eggs, toast, beans, and plantains, then threw our stuff in the car and headed to the airport.

We passed the world’s biggest McDonald’s sign on the way down, and because it’s my life’s mission to sample McDonald’s in 100+ countries, I’ll have to make a pitstop before we head to Colombia.

After getting hit with some last-second baggage fees for our > 10 lb backpacks, we headed to the gate. We boarded our twin-propeller plane (Brody and I were seated in the front, but since the flight boarded in the back, this was actually a bad thing), and after an hour, we landed in Flores in northern Guatemala.

Marcos had arranged a shuttle to pick us up and take us on a tour of Tikal National Park to explore Mayan ruins and pyramids, and our guide, Milton, was the man. During our hour-ish ride, Milton told us all about the agriculture and history of northern Guatemala. The variety of wildlife is incredible, from jaguars and crocodiles to toucans and monkeys, and ancestors of the Mayans still speak ~22 different Mayan languages today.

Milton also offered us a local fruit, which at first tasted sweet, but then left a numbing sensation that felt like a local anesthetic.

We stopped at a store on the way to sample some local coffee, and Milton showed us a massive model of the park in the back of the shop, where he went over the layout and history of Tikal.

Archeologists started using new LiDAR technology to look for Mayan ruins a few years ago, and they have discovered 10x more ruins that were previously hidden.

We boarded the van again, and 20 minutes later, we entered the park. Most national parks that I’ve visited have strict rules about entering/climbing the ruins and monuments, but we were able to explore 90% of the pyramids and temples in Tikal.

Milton said 11 million people lived in the Mayan empire at its peak, which seems insane for a civilization that roamed Central America so long ago. I’m pretty sure Tikal alone housed hundreds of thousands of Mayans in a small area.

We spent the next two hours scaling various temples and pyramids, exploring the sleeping chambers of Mayan kings, and watching spider monkeys “OOOO-OOOO AHH-AHH” as they swung from tree to tree.

Marcos and I chatted about what we were doing before business school and our plans after, Antonio went crazy with his camera, and Brody tried not to look down as we climbed 100+ feet up these pyramids.

There is something ironic about someone 6’7 not liking heights. My guy, you ARE heights.

If you ever have a chance to visit Guatemala, Tikal is a must-see. Words don’t do it justice, so here are some pics.

After the tour, we hit the bar at the park entrance for some ice cold cervecitas, and then we reboarded the van to head to our hotel.

We were spending Monday night on an island in the middle of a nearby lake, and Milton drove us to a dock, where a boat escorted us to our residence for the night. Our captain, Hugo, greeted us with a cooler of beers that bore interesting names (I deleted a “sin novias” and “Don Nadie”, which translate to “no girlfriends” and “Mr. No One”), and we reached our destination 20 minutes later.

*An aside from our boat ride*

One of the funnier parts of this trip so far has been Brody asking how to say various phrases in Spanish, and on the boat, we had a Brody Spanish lesson.

Antonio and Marcos are native Spanish speakers, my Spanish is sufficient for a gringo looking to goof off in Latin America, and Brody’s Spanish is a work in progress. We were helping Brody come up with follow-ups to “Hola, me llamo Brody,” when Marcos thought of a banger.

Brody’s nickname is “Big Grizz,” the word for “bear” in Spanish is “Oso,” and Marcos said his new nickname in Spanish should be “Oso Delicioso.”

So now Brody can say, “Hola, me llamo Brody, pero mi apodo (nickname) es El Oso Delicioso.” This is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.

*back to the story*

Our hotel was almost invisible from the water due to the island jungle, and you could almost hear the White Lotus theme song queue up as we arrived.

We were greeted with cold towels and cold drinks, and then we rode golf carts to our room. We had a large two-bedroom condo with 3 beds in each room, and a hot tub.

The other guys hit the sauna while I hopped on a companywide call (read: an anonymous meme page, me, and three interns) and updated a newsletter. An hour later, we all showered and headed back to the bottom of the hill for dinner at the hotel restaurant.

We had a variety of shrimp, chicken, and fish dishes, along with quality tequila, rum, and a few Coronas (decked out in a Hawaiian shirt and holding a Corona, I was the face of every 47-year-old man in a Panama City Beach dive bar), and we finished the meal off with cheesecake.

We spent another hour shooting the shit in the restaurant before heading back to the room.

Shooting the shit with your boys while 3 drinks deep is a peak-life experience.

We fired up a movie in the living room, but I was sweaty as hell and tired (no AC in the living room, sadly), so I got in bed, read for a bit, and caught some Zzzs.

Tuesday, May 9th

I woke up without an alarm for the first time in I don’t know how long, and Ben and I threw on some shoes and shorts and headed outside for a prison workout. We’re like 10 days away from a boat party in Cartagena, and being in peak physical condition is imperative.

I hiked up the trail behind our room for some cardio, jumped on a pushup/band pull circuit with Ben, accidentally broke one of the handles off the band, jumped rope for a bit, then showered and headed down for breakfast. Ben kept working out for like 30 more minutes because he’s more dedicated to the grind than me. Anything worth doing is worth overdoing, mediocrity is for cowards.

We had a full Guatemalan spread for breakfast, then loaded up on the boat and headed back to shore. We had to take two different taxis to the airport, so Brody, Ben, Toni, and I took one car while Marcos hopped in the other car with some other guests.

Our cab driver rear-ended Marcos’s cab driver two minutes into the drive, laughed like nothing had happened, and kept heading to the airport. Classic!

Unlike yesterday’s flight, they didn’t give a shit that our backpacks were > 10 pounds, so we avoided the extra bag fees. Once at the gate, I looked at everyone’s tickets and realized that all four of my friends were on Row 17 while I was on Row 10. This induced a catastrophic wave of FOMO as I realized that they would probably create and/or exchange no less than 10 new inside jokes, I would be out of the loop, and it would be totally, apocalyptically over.

I did, however, have a row to myself, so I could stretch out and work on this blog that you’re reading right now.

When we landed, I got clowned for not being part of the Row 17 crew (tribalism runs everything, ya know) and we waited at the airport for our next two amigos: Ryan and Tanmaye. Tanmaye, a staple for the Japan trip, had arrived the night before and spent the night at Marcos’s place, while Ryan arrived early that morning before heading to the Zedan crib as well.

Ryan and Mr. Maye arrived, a cooler of beers (and waters!) in hand, and we hopped in a shuttle to embark on a three-hour drive to Lake Atitlán.

Road trip humor, especially road trip humor with a few cold ones, gets funnier and funnier as the trip progresses as riffs and jokes and stories compound.

This was one of those roadtrips.

We stopped about an hour in to grab more snacks and beverages and hit the little boys’ room, and then half the crew passed out for 30 minutes or so. However, when we were an hour out from the lake, we had a problem: the seals had been broken, we were in the middle of nowhere, and bladders were full.

So we made an impromptu pit stop.

We reached the lake that afternoon, and I thought we were headed to an Airbnb by the dock. Instead, we were led to a boat, where we strapped our bags to the roof, climbed “below deck” (This is a stretch. This “boat” was basically an oversized bath tub with holes cut in the side for windows and a roof/platform for the captain and our bags), and FLEW across the water.

The lake was surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, so the views were immaculate. After 30 minutes or so, we arrived at an inconspicuous dock on the other side of the lake.

We disembarked and walked up the pier to a ~2 foot wide path running parallel to the water with a massive stone wall behind it. Marcos led us through a wooden door in the wall, and we emerged in a new world like the children in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Our Airbnb was a sprawling, four-bedroom compound with a luscious yard, pool and hot tub, and covered patio (which had an insane projector screen). Just an unbelievable place.

Brody and I threw our stuff in an upstairs room, Ben and Ryan threw the 76er’s game on the projector, and we fired up the hot tub. Our housekeeper, Elena, told Ryan and me how to control the hot tub with an iPhone remote, or so I thought. But after 30 minutes in the tub, it was lukewarm at best until Marcos took the remote, tinkered with some settings, and got the whole thing working.

I was just doing what Elena told me.

At halftime of the game, Brody and I went on a food run for the boys. We exited the gate and turned right, walking along the elevated lakeside path until we reached some restaurants five minutes away.

We first tried a restaurant adjacent to a local hostel, but they were only serving a buffet that night, so we went to the next restaurant over.

This is where we seriously messed up (not actually, but initially it definitely seemed that way).

We had 7 hungry dudes, and we didn’t want to under-order food. The menu had “tortillas con pollo/chorizo/carne,” which I assumed meant something similar to tacos. So we got 10 of each (30 total), plus several side orders of fries, beans, plantains, and rice.

Our mesero told us that it would be ~40 minutes, so we grabbed two Modelos and sat at the bar upstairs with a view of the lake. Brody and I were bro-ing down pretty hard, as you do when you are posted up on a Guatemalan lake with a volcano in the background, when the waiter returned and told us that it would be another ~hour.

I thought I misheard him because we had already been there 30 minutes, but he repeated himself and said that it was taking a while to cook all the chicken.

And that was when I realized that we had screwed up. We didn’t get 30 tacos with sides. We got thirty plates that each came with a fat serving of meat and tortillas, along with a ridiculous serving of sides. The waiter told us that some of the food would be ready in 30 minutes if we wanted to start eating.

This is like 1/3 of the total food lmfao

We chilled for another 30 minutes until the boys back home starting calling asking about the food, and I explained that we had accidentally ordered enough food to sedate a 3rd world country for a week. Ryan and Ben headed our way as the food started coming out, and Brody and I watched in awe as the kitchen staff brought out plate after plate of food. By the time the other guys arrived, we had 30 plates of food sitting on the bar, with more to come. They took the first 30 plates back while Brody and I grabbed more drinks and waited on the chicken and chorizo to finish, then we headed back as well.

We pulled no punches on the meal, but we still had 20 plates of leftovers in the fridge for the next day. After dinner, I worked on some newsletter stuff while the other guys hung out in the pool/tub, then we all regrouped inside to play fan favorite card game: Cabo.

If you haven’t played Cabo (pronounced “Kaboo”), you’re missing out. This particular match lasted hours and got more and more intense as the night went on, with folks slamming cards their cards down on the table left and right.

By 2 AM, there was briefly a push to stay up for the 5:30 AM sunrise, but we ended up calling it a night. I did, however, get woken up around 5 by an onslaught of cannon explosions from nearby. Apparently, there was a local festival going on while we were in town, and they loved their “BOOMS.”

I also realized in the morning that our porch door was open all night, which explained why the cannons were so damn loud.

Wednesday, May 10th

I slept in today (after finally going back to bed post-explosions), and I walked in the living room around 10:45. Elena was already at the house preparing to make eggs, bacon and coffee, while the crew was lounging around the patio hanging out. We also had a random dog hanging out in our kitchen. We named him JC and let him chill at the house for the rest of the trip. This is JC on Wednesday night:

Tanmaye fried some of the leftover tortillas in the bacon grease, and we started the day off with a dank-ass breakfast.

Brody and I planned to spend most of the day working (him with job onboarding stuff, me with blog shenanigans) while the rest of the boys took a boat to a nearby town to explore.

I’ll share some Toni photos from their side adventure:

Most of the afternoon was spent posted up on this laptop. After everyone returned, Ben and I hit a workout before I finished up my work for the day. It was starting to drizzle a bit, so kicked it in the now-steaming hot tub until the rain really started coming down.

At 7, we tried, unsuccessfully, to stream the Heat game, before getting the Lakers game pulled up at 8:30. Tanmaye threw together our remaining food and make nachos, eggs and rice, beans, and guac, and we contemplated the night moves.

Brody and I wanted to chill and watch basketball, so I headed back to the room to shower. Five minutes later, while bathing and jamming to Hozier, I got a knock on the door.

“Yo it’s Brody. So… we’re going out.

“What does that even mean?”

“I have no idea, but Marcos said we have a driver.”

“There’s a road here?”

“Nah, like a boat driver.”

The whole situation made 0 sense to me, but I hopped out, threw on some clothes, and met the guys outside. We went to the pier, and sure enough, there was our boat, bright red and blue lights attached.

Once again, we hopped aboard, but this time we were across the lake to San Pedro. We quickly found a dive bar with a band playing the Chili Peppers, and we grabbed a table in the back.

Ryan grabbed a bucket of beers for the table, we made a couple of new friends (local dogs hanging out in the bar), and we played different drinking games for 2-3 hours. One game, “Harmon Killabrew” was especially entertaining.

As the bar closed down, a few girls at a nearby table told us that another bar down the street was popping off, so we headed that way.

SURPRISE SURPRISE: it was not popping off, so we headed back to our boat to go home.

I decided to push some buttons and started asking the crew about their political beliefs, declaring that I was “fiscally liberal but socially conservative” (think about that for a sec, it’s hilarious. But also, maybe we should make that a thing?), and I accidentally kickstarted a pretty heated debate between Ryan and Maye.

Like the night before, we kicked of another game of Cabo (except Toni, who fell asleep in the boat, woke up when we got home, then went straight to bed).

This particular game was ridiculous because Tanmaye and I made a stupid wager on who would end up with the better score, I managed to beat him (though we both did horribly) thanks to a ridiculous last second move, and then we all went to bed at like 3.

Thursday, May 11th

Last morning on the lake. Brody woke up at like 7:30 to fly his drone around, while I didn’t get out of bed til 9:15. Marcos, Ben, Tanmaye, Toni, and I grabbed breakfast and coffee from the hostel restaurant nearby, then we returned to the house to chill for a bit.

Hanging on the patio with JC

We didn’t have to leave til 12, so I took a dip in the lake and hung out on the patio until we took the boat back to town. Marcos had arranged for a shuttle to take us to Antigua, the old capital of Guatemala. We turned off the highway to enter the city, and it felt like we had been teleported to Spain.

With its cobblestone streets and Spanish colonial architecture, Antigua looked like it had been cut out from Andalucía and dropped in front of a Central American volcano.

Antigua was Guatemala’s capital for years, until natural disaster after natural disaster forced the government to relocate to the newer Guatemala City.

Upon arrival, we headed straight a rooftop restaurant for a late lunch, where we had steak, lobster, and fish. We also made Tanmaye and Ryan have a live political debate. At its conclusion, the judges (the rest of us) decided that no one won, and everyone who listened to it lost.

After lunch, some of the crew set off to explore the city, while Brody and I posted up at a nearby bar to watch the 76ers / Celtics game.

And it was right about… now that Brody and I started feeling awful. Maybe it was traveling too much and sleeping too little, maybe it was some bad local cuisine, maybe it was the ill-advised number of beers we consumed the night before, but we were down horrendous.

We stayed at the bar chugging waters and Emergen-C’s (shout out Toni for the vitamin plug, te quiero mucho) until it was time to leave, when we regrouped with the other guys by the van.

We had another hour or two until we were home, so I finished up most of my newsletter stuff in the van.

When we got back, we met Marcos’s dad (also named Marcos), shot the shit for a little while, and ran all of our laundry to get ready for the morning: 6 AM wakeup for the 9:30 flight.

I hung out with everyone in the basement until ~10, then retreated to my room and passed out.

Considering that we have a party at Guillermo’s house in Bogota tomorrow, there could hardly be a worse time to feel under the weather. Time to see if 27 Emergen-C’s can fix me up. (Edited two days later to note that 27 Emergen-C’s can, in fact, cure anything. I’m back.)

Catch you guys later.

- Jack

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