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Guatemala, street
Travel diary of a Guatemalan hysteric

Text & Photography Robyn Hodson
There’s a movie: ... I struggle to remember which one... but I do recall Goldie Hawn turning on the shower and having a cockroach fall off the showerhead into her hair. What ensued was mad-panicked floundering around the bathroom wrapped in the shower curtain, shrieks of hysteria, toe-stubbing, hair-ripping... culminating in loud sobbing and breathing heavily into a paper bag...

So if anyone in the world has ever wished ill
upon me then you have the last laugh. It's
called Guatemala

Did you know that they appear to have more insects
per square inch than anywhere else on earth? And what of the poisonous reptiles and carnivorous mammals?
I have already had my life flash before my eyes three times… and all three incidents involved God’s heavenly creatures:

Incident 1: Do you know what a Fer-de-lance is? Well, I’ll tell you that it’s only one of the deadliest snakes in the world and happened to be curled up in the bottom of my canoe. These critters aren’t the ‘fraidy-snake-run-for-the-hills’ variety. These ones HUNT YOU DOWN. One bite and game over. It’s only when I saw the guide cross himself that I put the camera down and stepped away. Thank goodness they’re nocturnal.

Incident 2: Ever heard of a bat’s SONAR? It’s all a ruse. They have no sonar. If they did, how would it be possible that one could fly through my hut curtain, get caught up in the slipstream of my ceiling fan for fifteen minutes... and in a bold, suicide attempt, plunge straight down my top? Swoon...

Incident 3: Did you know that if you tickle a hole in the ground with a piece of grass, a tarantula comes out? Neither did I! So there I was whiling away the time after climbing a Mayan jungle pyramid and I began poking like a small child at a hole... tarantula, screaming, mayhem! Enough said, except I’d like to know who came up with the: "Really, it’s more afraid of you" line?

Guatemala, tarantula
Guatemala, bus Guatemala, Mayan temple
Did you know that no-one... absolutely NO-ONE... speaks English (not that they should... but really, you know, maybe just ONE person). Because you try explaining to a random stranger… that you’ve lost your copy of the Rough Guide but you’d really like to do a jungle canopy ‘foefie’ slide above the ruins of Tikal but you can’t find a company that adheres to appropriate safety procedures… in a language other than your own and you see what happens. I know for a FACT that 'foefie' does not translate... certainly not out of South African English!

Did you know that time differs from town to town... i.e. it gets earlier depending on how far east you travel. It certainly makes catching a bus interesting.

Did you know that when it starts raining it's not messing about? It thunders down so hard that people’s houses actually fall over…

… and that mosquitoes can actually bite you UNDER your feet?

Aside from all of the above happening to me, including the ‘Goldie’ incident (mine with an iguana-sized lizard), I also shared a local bus for 5 hours with a vomiting child. Now see, these yellow school buses all come from North America circa 1952 so none of the windows close. I was caked from head to toe in red sandy road in five minutes... only to have it then start raining and was caked from head to toe in red muddy road (vomit notwithstanding).

When I was dropped off in the middle of nowhere at almost midnight, a local taxi driver refused to take me to my hotel because I was too dirty... and he was genuinely afraid of me. I mean, my Lonely Planet told me I should be watching out for people like HIM! But I guess that even my own family used to find me pretty scary in a green mud-pack and then usually it was after a lovely bath and I was in a good mood. Imagine being confronted with a woman nearing the end of her tether at 6ft, red from head-to-toe, Bob-Marley-haired, smelling largely of fermented mashed banana and carrying a backpack larger than the driver himself?

... and now it all becomes clear as to what really happened to the Mayans when they met the West…

I want to come home now. Luckily I have made some new friends. They are Polish and they travel with their own spirits. In their case it's 97% proof. And in their own words... 'Tenks Gods'!

Guatemala, aracari Guatemala, iguana Guatemala, tree frog Guatemala, jungleshack

Robyn Hodson has been a tour leader for Explore Worldwide for over three years. She has lead adventure tours (a good deal of them hair-raising) all over the world, including Europe, South East Asia, Africa, Central and South America. Explore also specializes in trekking, short breaks, cycling tours, family adventures and beyond. For more information about Explore and this particular tour, check out their website at

Most of Explore’s Central American adventures take in the diversity of Guatemala. From the beautiful city of Antigua and its arresting volcanoes to the north where the ancient city of Tikal lies deep in the jungle, this epic archeological journey will open your mind to the fascinating and contrasting cultural landscapes of Mesoamerica.