© 2012 . Alle Rechte vorbehalten. Deck at Alton's on Utila

Nicaragua / El Salvador / Honduras

After the Tica Bus disaster from Panama City to David we decided that we would not spend any more money on freezing cold buses but travel by chicken buses instead. These local buses are former school buses and start in every city, have their final destination written on their windshield in huge letters and stop wherever people signal that they want on. All you have to do is go to the next bus terminal, find your destination and you are good to go. Of course it does take a while longer to travel like this but it is not only very cheap but also a lot of fun taking these buses.

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So we take the chicken bus from San José to the Nicaraguan border, cross it, have not even entered Nicaragua and already get harassed by taxi drivers. We basically tell all of them to go to hell and find our way to the bus stop. But we don’t even have to go there because the bus going to Granada is already approaching us. So we get on the bus and I start talking to a guy I saw earlier on the bus to the border asking him if it is the correct bus for San Juan Del Sur. Turns out he is an Argentinian living in Costa Rica and just stopping in Nicaragua so he can reenter the country. Midway we hop off the bus to catch the next one to San Juan Del Sur and when that bus arrives I realized for the first time why these buses are called chicken buses. What all locals do is go to a bigger city, buy all their groceries, tools or even live animals and just take them on the bus. Since the bus is full, all of our stuff gets thrown on the roof and we enter the bus through the emergency exit at the back. The guys don’t even bother closing that door since every other minute someone is jumping on or off the bus, no matter what speed it is going. Unable to find a grip we almost fall off a couple of times and the locals have a blast laughing at us.

On our way to the canopy tour

San Juan Del Sur is a small town famous for its surfing and although none of us surfs we wanted to check it out. The four of us (the Argentinian dude, Matu, decided to join us) find a nice place with A/C close to the beach and basically just relax for the next three days. Besides eating our main activities consist of sunbathing at the beach, a canopy tour (awesome!) and taking it easy. After a day Matu leaves us to meet some of his friends but he gets replaced by Akin who we met the night before. The next night Akin and me meet this 75 year old lady who lives in our hostel as well. She has been in Nicaragua for some years now and all we see her do is drink rum all day. But she wants to talk to us while she is smoking her joint. Akin and me who are a little drunk at the time ourselves are cannot believe the stories she keeps telling us. My favorite one is the story of her being around 30, going to a canyon with a guide who tells her that it has a weird echo so whatever you say you will hear 5 times. What does she do? Seduce the guide (probably did not take a lot) and “you could really hear us 5 times”. After she is done finishing the story she turns to me, pointing the joint at me and says “smoke this, you German pussy”. She does not take my rejection gently, I can tell you.

Akin and our favorite lady

Isla de Ometepe, an island in the Lago de Nicaragua with two huge volcanoes, one of them active, is our next stop on the journey. Off the boat a taxi stops next to us and an American tells us that we should join them in the taxi since there wont be any hostel near the port. We gladly get on the bus and get dropped off at one of the coolest hostels I have ever been to called Little Morgan’s. It has this whole laguna kind of feeling. You sleep in huge tree houses right next to the lake, a huge outside common area is where everyone hangs out playing pool, chess or just chilling in one of the hammocks. We decide to get up early the next morning to do some hiking at one of the volcanoes. Since we don’t feel like spending $10 a person for a guide we just ask for directions and go by ourselves. The girls are well prepared wearing chucks and intelligence really kicked in when we decided to take 2.5L of water for the three of us going on a 6h hike up and down a volcano going through nothing but jungle. As you can imagine, we are not even on top the volcano when we run out of water, the track itself is barely visible and incredibly steep. The girls really start to hate me pushing them to go faster and so we start taking turns on who is leading the group. Amrei, as it turns out, is the worst navigator in history since she sees a track in everything and leads us anywhere but where we have to go. Finally, after 3 hours without really taking a break, we reach the top of the volcano. Or what we think it is because we know we are at the top but cannot go anywhere since the track (Amrei has lead us to) disappears in thick brushes. Since we are stuck in clouds and you don’t have a view over anything we decide to back down again and after what seemed like ages we finally arrive at the bottom of the volcano where we find a small shop selling drinks. If you ever want to try any of the weird Fantas that they sell over the world, this is the perfect time, you will love it no matter what.

Alida and Amrei in Granada

Using chicken buses we reach Granada the next day, a small laidback city in Nicaragua. It has this whole colonial style going on and looks incredible at night. We try to get flights to the Corn Islands for the next days but all flights are sold out for the next couple of days, so we decide to move on to Leon after just two nights in Granada. Leon is famous for the Cerro Negro, a black ash volcano which our hostel, Bigfoot (awesome!), started to use as its base for a sport called volcano boarding. What you do is you get a wooden board with a plastic strip taped to it which is used to reduce friction and hence increase the speed of boarding. You sit on the board, lean back, hold on to the rope so you don’t lose the board and if you have to try to steer or break with your feet. So we book this tour which starts at 9 in the morning, get on a huge orange truck and our guide, Carlos, starts to explain a little bit about the volcano, how the boarding works and that the speed record in mountain biking was set on that exact same spot we are going to board at. When we get to the volcano everyone gets a little quieter since it looks really scary. The track has a maximum decline of 41° which from below seems to be a single drop right into hell. Because Bigfoot uses a laser gun to measure the maximum speed of each boarder, we know that the speed record is 89km/h (56mph). Carlos mentions that the last time he got annoyed was at the age of eight. We take our boards and start the 45 minute hike up the volcano. On our way up we stop to take a look at all the sulfur sources. When you touch the ground where the fume comes out it is quite hot. Reaching the top we take a couple of pictures and get into our gear. Unfortunately no one thought of taking pictures (I did not bring my camera so it would not break) so I cannot show you how ridiculously hot we look in our bright orange jumpers size XXXL and our safety goggles. Carlos explains one last time how it all works and stresses that for the last third where the decline reaches 41° degrees under no circumstances we are allowed to break or we would just flip over and land face forward on rock. Amrei and Alida are going first but before we can even start a girl who just wanted to hike along and not board down refuses to follow Carlos down the slope but instead insists on walking back the way we came. Carlos being a top notch educator starts yelling at her she should stop bitching and get the fuck down. Does not help at all. Shouting even kids can do this, swearing and some more not so nice words don’t do the trick either and after a heavy, 10 minute debate she walks off back the way we came. First off is Amrei, then goes Alida and after two more girls it is my turn. What seemed like the easiest part of all, going straight down, turns out to be a nightmare. Basically drifting to the right the entire time I fall for the first time about a third in, a second time 10s later but the jumper saves me from scratches. At this time I kind of figured out that I have to lie flat on the board, not move a muscle and just hope to come down alive. The board goes faster and faster, I can feel my head scratching the surface and keep thinking please do not fall, do not fall, do not fall. When I get down the laser gun shows 60kmh (38mph) and I start wondering how incredibly fast the record holder went. Looking at Amrei and Alida, Amrei crying from dust and dirt in her eyes, both of them covered in dirt and dust, I know I look like crap, too. But we are alive, safe and did the tour CNN named #2 out of the 50 best adrenalines rushes in the world. Carlos does not seem to care. He starts yelling we are the most difficult group he has ever had, that we should get out of our jumpers immediately and “get on the fucking bus so we can start looking for the maniac”. When I ask him if we could at least take a picture of us in the jumpers he snaps “you really annoy me Malte, get out of your suit RIGHT NOW”. I guess it is the first time since he was eight. Back on the truck we start drinking our beers and after we pick up the girl who walked down even Carlos joins us and apologizes for his behavior. It takes about five minutes and everyone is on complete meltdown. It is party time! We reach the hostel, everyone is already half plastered, get two free mojitos for the tour and everyone downs both of them right away. One guy immediately buys a 2L bottle of rum for the entire group while another guy hands $50 to the bartender and says “just keep it flowing until the money is gone” which takes roughly 10 minutes. After we have vandalized the entire bar and included the entire staff in our celebration we move the party to the hostel pool where it escalates for another two hours until everyone is too tired or too drunk to continue. Good times in Leon! After the party we go to bed early so we can catch the 4am bus to start our long journey to El Salvador the next day.

Me after the volcano boarding

We get up at 3.30am, grab our bags and get the first cab to take us to the bus terminal. Never seen a shittier cab in my life. The driver did not even break once because he was afraid the car would stop running and took corners in what seemed to be half circles. But we get to the terminal on time, board the bus and fall asleep right away. Sometimes I wake up because the bus goes off road for no apparent reason or does a full stop in the middle of the road. Then suddenly I get woken by someone, open my eyes and look at the barrel of a shotgun pointed at my face. “Passports!” the policeman shouts at me and I give them our passports. He takes a look at them and orders us to leave the bus. We take our belongings, step off the bus and are barely out when the bus takes of. So here we are, no clue where we are, 5 friendly policemen with shotguns looking through our passports telling us we don’t have the appropriate stamps in them. Of course we do, you just want to extort some money out of us, but not knowing Spanish has its advantages in situations like these. We simply don’t understand what they want from us so after 10 minutes they give up and I show them the stamps in the passports but they still don’t want to give us our passports. Instead they stop the next car and start checking that guys papers. When they are done, they give us our passports back, put our bags in the trunk of the poor man’s car and make him drive us to the Honduran border. Neither he nor us is really happy about the situation and even my friendly “Hola!” when we take off does not seem to break the ice. He drops us off at the border and we proceed our journey. At the Honduran immigration office we stop for a short toilet break and while Amrei and Alida are gone the officer asks me where we want to go that day. I say El Salvador and the guy standing next in line asks me “Do you need a ride in my semi?” Sure do! Got enough room for three people? Sure does! Perfect. While one of us sits up front with Ricardo, the other two can sleep on his bed in the back. After a short while we get stopped by Honduran police, have to get off the semi and walk for a little bit while Ricardo and the policemen work out how much he has to bribe them. Really annoying but he still is in a good mood. At the El Salvadorian border he drops us off and tells us to meet him at the customs for the semis. Thinking we are never going to see him again we go through immigration once more only to find out that the customs for the semis is somewhere totally different. Great. So we approach this bus driver and ask “where is the other customs, the one for the big cars” (gran coches :D). He tells us he will take us there and his friend tries to start a conversation with Amrei. When she does not respond the driver tells him “You have to speak to him, he speaks Spanish”. Finally someone who respects my incredible Spanish skills! On the way they skeptically ask me two more times if we really want to go there but when we got off the bus we walk right into Ricardo’s arms. After just 14h of incredibly slow driving (due to its heavy weight the maximum speed was about 40kmh or 25mph) we arrive in San Salvador. But by the time we get their it was already to late to catch a bus to La Libertad (drug capital of El Salvador) from where we would have to take another bus to El Tunco. So instead of dropping us off, Ricardo simply invited us to his home. First he took us to a softball game with his “lovely” wife. Lovely in parenthesis because all she seemed to do was dread us. And I mean pure hatred in her eyes. She even refused to give us purified water until he laughed at her and simply handed it to us. His son seemed more confused than anything else. Nevertheless it was a great experience. Since it started to rain before we wanted to bed instead of using the hammock outside I slept on the floor. The only thing which startled us, after everyone had gone to bed, was that when we wanted to wash up, someone had turned off the water. Probably the friendly dragon. The next morning I woke up with a broken phone (charging killed it) and since we wanted to live to tell the tale we left the lair as soon as possible. Ricardo, adorable as always, brought us to the bus station from where we took the bus to La Libertad. On that bus we unfortunately got charged twice, once for us and once for our bags, and, after a lot of cursing, immediately took the next bus and finally, 28 hours after we left Leon, arrived in El Tunco.

Dragon, Ricardo, Amrei and Alida at the softball game in San Salvador

In tiny El Tunco Playa, two streets long, we somehow managed to take an hour to find a hostel (still carrying our huge backpacks) but we settled with a great find. Private room for the three of us, a pool and a huge TV in the common area right in front of our room. Perfect. Some might call it heaven. We sure did. That first day we basically spend doing what any sane person would do after such trip. Nothing but eat and chill in the pool. To be totally honest, since we arrived on a Sunday and the town was pretty much dead, there was not much more to do. The next morning though I woke up to become the next Kelly Slater. Long story short: I am not match to Kelly Slater. Great turtle though. On its back. Managed to ride a couple of  “waves” but is was more to Alida’s and Amrei’s amusement who kept watching from the beach. I tried again the next day but I am pretty sure El Tunco is not really suitable for beginners. At least so I was told by my instructor AFTER I paid for two days of lessons. In the 5 days we spent in El Tunco we had a really good food routine going for us. In the morning we had eggs with onions and toast, for lunch we went to the same place that surfed cheap and awesome chicken with fries and rice and for dinner we cooked pasta with the same tomato-veggie sauce. We even almost got in a fight with an English couple who felt like they owned the place and occupied every single cup, stove or even chair in the kitchen whether they used it or not. Good times.

Sam, Ryan, Amrei and Joey

One afternoon, the girls were sunbathing while I was watching TV, I met HIM. The man, the legend, Mr. Steele. Minding my own business I overheard him saying “and then my ex was like… yeah you could definitely do that… and now I am fucking all these girls” and startled I turned my head and asked what in the name of they were talking about. It was porn. He was showing the other guys, Jordan, Ryan and Sam, his very own porn movies on Bangbros. Exciting times in El Tunco. Turns out Joey is an American living in San Fernando Valley, while the other three friends from Australia travelling together. Long story short again, after a lot of bonding and surviving the great cave of El Tunco ‘The Great 5’ decided to go to Utila together for some diving. On a short trip to La Libertad on Wednesday Ryan and Sam decided it was time to buy a pink and a blue chicken (they named one of them McNugget) and managed to buy food and even built them their own castle.

Ryan when the chickens were still alive

Thursday morning Amrei, Alida and me left for San Salvador since the girls’ flight back to Panama City was set to leave early the next morning. We spent a pretty much uneventful day in San Salvador (although Amrei did spot something, the university, finally) going to a couple of malls in search for a spare battery for my phone. After the girls had left for the airport I caught two more hours of sleep before I packed my bags again and once more I set off for El Tunco.

Before we left for Utila early Saturday morning we had convinced two Austrian girls to join us on our trip and so we took off with our lot of seven and the three huge surfboard bags Sam, Ryan and Jordan brought. The chickens, unfortunately, had died the night before in what turned out to be too much love on Sam’s side. He tucked them so much into their warming blanket that they simply suffocated. The chicken murder of 2012, I guess. Ten minutes into our journey, Jordan realizes he left his passport under his pillow, so him and Joey jump off the bus and we waited for them at the bus terminal in San Salvador. Not a place you want to be lingering, the guard with the huge shotgun told us multiple times. After what felt like ages and included two breakfasts for Sam, Ryan and me they finally arrived and we had actually managed to score a ride for all of us on a pickup truck. Unfortunately that pickup truck was totally blocked by parking cars. Even breaking in (not by us of course) into one car and short wiring it did not help our situation so we simply stopped the next pickup truck and hence we had a new ride, which was even cheaper than the one we had before.

On our way to Utila

The chicken bus ride to the boarder of Honduras was the usual. A crazy drunk, tons of chicken who seemed to make Sam’s and Ryan’s sorrow even harder. Or maybe it was just Joey’s and my constant reminder of their guilt (“too soon guys, too soon”) that drove them mad. At the Honduran border the friendly officer told us that he no longer accepted Dollars for the entrance fee (the receipt only stated dollars!) and since all banks were closed he made us exchange dollars to Lempiras with probably his best friend. One short shuttle and another rip-off (they wanted us to pay 3 times the price the locals paid, but luckily we paid attention) later we were on what was called the direct bus to San Pedro Sula. The only direct thing about it though was the fact that it would directly stop whenever a person appeared on the street. Sometimes there were 10 people in the bus which suited 20, sometimes it was 50 plus livestock and half of what surely will be a house one day and I am pretty sure at one point an entire school tried to squeeze in. From the beginning of the bus ride there was a girl on the bus who, like me, was blessed with more or less frequently changing seat neighbors. At one point she had decided that I was a better mate than host, so she said down next to me. My limited Spanish and her also limited English did not keep us from having some conversations though. You simply know you are in a totally different world when the first question after “How old are you?” turns out to be “Do you have any kids?”. Also there were some exciting sightings. First we saw the victims of a two-minute old head-on collision of two motorcycles and then, exactly two seconds after she hopped off the bus, a heavily armed and masked policemen entered the bus, looked around, asked Joey for his passport and refused all others including mine sitting across the aisle from him (“Racist!” I recall Joey mumbling, not too loudly though). Taking a glimpse out the window and seeing a body lying right next to the bus made the situation of being in the most violent city on earth that much better. Roughly 10 minutes later the bus stopped right next to the highway. The bus driver told us that it would not be safe for us to go to the bus terminal with them and he organized two taxis for us. Joey, genius as he is, immediately organized us a room and they took us there. One of the guards of the hotel even took us to a place around the corner where we could have awesome street food and it wasn’t long until everyone of us was fast asleep.

Deck at Alton’s on Utila

Since we did not feel like getting up at 5 in the morning to catch the morning ferry to Utila instead of the one at 4 in the afternoon we had a relaxed morning and took the 12 o’clock bus to La Ceiba, the port which leads to Utila. On the bus, of course, my luck returned and after the break a big momma enters the bus, takes a glimpse at me and decides she likes what she sees. So I end up with half a seat for the rest of the ride. Fortunately, during the break, we stocked up on the best drink on earth: The Malta. We should have known it was simple (and disgusting) malt beer, but in our excitement we bought one for all of us. Shit luck I guess. But I shall never complain about big mommas ever again. When we finally reach La Ceiba and the cab drivers start calling out for Utila and Joey has already gotten off the bus the fiercely reject that proposal telling us these guys try to rip us off and tell us to stay on the bus just a while later. Only when we finally reach the port Joey tells me that the taxi drivers at the first stop asked for less money than we ended up paying.

Awesome Baleadas on Utila

On forums we read that Utila is crazy expensive food wise so at the port we buy some supplies and the Australians meet four travellers, 3 guys and a girl, they met in Guatemala. During the ferry ride we decide on a diving school / hostel and once we arrive on Utila we simply pack our stuff on the hostel’s small bus and somehow lose the two Austrian girls, never to be seen again. When we get to our diving academy, Alton’s, we are greeted by two ultimately stoned dive masters who seem to have slight organizational problems when it comes to finding rooms for us. We could not have picked a better place though. The deck is simply awesome. Four hammocks (not enough for us it turns out) perfectly located in the shade on the lower floor right above the water. No matter what time it is a slight breeze always seems to comfort you whenever you are in those hammocks. They only thing bugging everyone are the sand flies. Nasty little creatures those fuckers, let me tell you. Later in the day, when the sun has gone down and Utila has cooled down, baby oil is the way to go. Apparently sand flies can’t hold on to you if you’re as greasy as an ancient Olympic fighter. Looks good, too. Food wise the island is nowhere near to what we expected. Huge and delicious baleadas (filled tortillas) are available for $1-2 and for $3 even I get enough food for a day. Our favorite place is the movie theater though. Not that we saw one single movie. But their schnitzel sandwich is simply amazing, a lifesaver after days of baleadas, and their strawberry-banana juices with orange juice as a base are worth every penny. Just for those two it is worth visiting Utila.

Ryan was not the Capt’n

Diving wise I did not do much. While most of the guys are getting their Open Water certificates I do two fun dives and on my third dive, a deep dive, I get narc’d. Getting narc’d can happen on any dive >24m. You basically get drunk on the nitrogen in your blood and lose control of some of your senses. On the same dive a different girl, a dive master with more than 200 dives, got narc’d as well, not being able to tell the amount of air left in her tank. Fortunately, all you have to do is dive a little shallower and you are good to go. For me, this time, the situation was a little different since my body decided it was time for a panic attack. Not a good thing at 30+ meters looking at an artificial shipwreck. So while I keep staring at my air gage, impressed at how fast I can go through 50 bars of air hyperventilating, I press my regulator in my mouth with my right hand so no matter what I would do next, I would not lose the one thing that keeps me alive down here. After what feels like eternity I come to my senses again but the fun of diving has gone for now and I cancel my second dive of the day. Instead I focus my attention on free diving. This form of diving has always interested me but it had never occurred to me to actually try it out. Here at Alton’s one of the dive instructors is also a free dive instructor. Although he turned out to be quite unreliable when it came to actually showing up (1/6  is not too bad, is it?), Thomas knows what he is doing and introduces all of us to the art of free diving. It is all about the mind set. If you think you cannot do it, you will not be able to. It really is that easy. First you calm mind and body with meditation and breathing techniques and then, once you have slowed yourself down, you shortly hyperventilate before you descend. The first two kicks with your fins are fierce and fast, but after that it is all about the art of taking it slow. Every move you make will burn oxygen that your body will gladly take out of your lungs. The first dive brings me to about seven or eight meters (25 feet) at which point I fail to equalize properly and return to the surface. Psyched at what depth I have already reached I don’t calm myself down enough before my second descend and end up at 4m (12-13ft) on my second dive. For my third dive I take my time, relax and do twice as many breathing cycles than Thomas suggested (you just should not do less). I go down, reach the point where my lungs scream for air, ignore it and get to 10m (31ft?) where the bottom stops my descent. I gaze around for a second, look up and signal everything is OK to Thomas. Breaching the surface is one of the best feelings one can experience. Your entire body gets pumped full of adrenaline and the endorphins just keep on coming. I have to do it again. The next two dives are even better. I manage to stay down at 10m for a while, even swim around and when I go up, contractions kick in. An unusual feeling, for sure. Your throat and your lungs are grasping for air and you can feel the lack of oxygen everywhere in your body. Still you know that there is plenty left and nothing to worry about. After my third dive Thomas takes us to a small shipwrecks which lays at around 16m or 50ft of depth. But before we even start diving we not only discover a school of squid but also three eagle rays turn up with which we are able to dive, something utterly impossible when scuba diving since they are afraid of the bubbles. Afterwards I dive to 16m twice, staying down and swimming around the wreck for a while on my second dive. Amazing. Even hours after we returned from free diving I cannot stop smiling. Two days later we go free diving again and even though this time, due to rough conditions and not being able to equalize properly, I can only go deep once, it is still as great as the first time.

The Utila Crew

Party wise Utila was, unfortunately, pretty much dead. Only Ryan and me seemed to have any real interest in me, everyone else on the island seems to go to bed at 1 the latest. Does not stop me from being an awesome wingman and best cockblock the same night though. Although we did have one awesome trip to a deserted island with half of Alton’s. Us 5 plus a couple others dressed up as pirates, conquering the island for our captain, Tom. Tom’s first act as captain and chief of the island was to get his crew, us, to turn on his best friend, Piers, to hold him down in the water while he rips of Piers’ pants and throws them on a palm tree. Piers, man that he is, turns his back on us, stands up and holds his hands high up in the air, not realizing that 5 kids who just arrived on a different boat are staring at his manhood. He gets back at Tom pretty much the same way two hours later though. A lot of rum, Coca-Cola, crushed ice and lemons pretty much do the trick for any party. It also helps when space cookies are freely available in any bar on Utila.

Tom after Piers got him

Sadly, after an amazing week on Utila, the great 5 have to separate. Joey, almost at the end of his trip, is heading for Leon to do some volcano boarding himself, the guys stay on Utila to finish their Advanced Diving and I want to go to Copan Ruinas to have another week of Spanish lessons. So on Sunday, Joey and me take the early morning ferry back to La Ceiba where we have to split up as well. Him taking the bus to Tegucigalpa and me going back to San Pedro Sula from where I will take the bus to Copan Ruinas.

The ruins

Copan Ruinas is a laidback town in the midst of what some might call mountains. Its higher altitude gave me a much wanted retreat from the blistering heat of Utila. My first night I spent in a very nice hostel called “Iguana Azul” although the owner seemed a prick. Early on Monday morning I took my bags and went to the Spanish school “Guacayama”. Class started right away and they promised me a homestay right after school. The first test I failed horribly setting me back to some basic grammar which I had hope I had long passed. It showed I desperately needed it. My teacher, Sara, was great and we had heaps of fun.

Sara in class

The best of Copan was yet to come though: My homestay. The host family was awesome but just like everyone in Copan they seemed to have massive problems pronouncing my first name so we sticked to Raffael. The host mom, Cari, was one oft the most adoring people I have ever met. Always welcome with a smile on her face she tried to make my stay as pleasant as possible. Even when I was puking out of all openings my body has to offer she cared for me dearly and went to the store multiple times to buy buy things I never asked for. The rest of the family was just as nice and I tried to put my Spanish to good use and told some stories or explained what life in Germany is like. Dinner usually was well extended to us telling each other stories and since they really made an effort I was able to actually understand them. About the ruins themselves I cannot much say not having anything to compare it to. It was very interesting though. Unbelievable enough that people were able to build these monuments. Suffice to say that I was sad having to leave this place that I grew so fond of in just a few days but Guatemala awaits!

My host mom