Matiox Hostel: Where Bar Trivia, Tangerine Trees and Hot Tubs Unite as One

INFO

  • Cost: 70 quetzales($10)/night
  • Ameneties: Kitchen, bar, hot tub, washing machine, TV, public computer, free wifi, filtered water, awesome staff
  • Acivities: Trivia Night, Salsa Dancing, Yoga, Bar crawl, Movie night
  • Transport: Shuttle service to the ariport, Atitlan, Xela, Flores, Honduras, Belize, and Mexico

MY STORY

mth.jpg

It was just about midnight when my shuttle from the airport pulled up to the gates. Despite the darkness, I could still see many old, colorful, buildings lining the now deserted street. The driver and I exited the vehicle and approached one of such buildings with the words "MATIOX" inscribed above a closed black door. Without talking, he rang the bell. At first, nothing happened. Then, after about a minute, we heard some commotion and the door opened. A man of about my age stood in the entrance and invited me in.

Instantly, I noticed this was no ordinary hostel. There was no roof for the common area and the whole space was lit up by the light of the moon. In the center of everything stood a tangerine tree (or clementine tree. I don't know the difference), with actual fruit on the branches. Despite my delirious jet lag, I wandered a bit and noticed a jacousi and bar located near the back. Numerous large couches rested against the many walls, and a few bicycles were scattered about. Off to the side was kitchen and refrigerator in their own separate room. I wanted to explore, but since most people there were sleeping, I ultimately conformed to societal pressure and went to bed.

Occasionally I dream of a flying goldfish.

Occasionally I dream of a flying goldfish.

The next morning, I hoped to see more, but unfortunately I was going to Atitlan so my time was limited. Thankfully though, the hostel is part of a regular shuttle service to the lake so they were able to arrange a ride for me for a rather low price. I, therefore, expressed my gratitude and promised both the person at the front desk and myself to return soon. One other person from the hostel, a girl named Franzi, took the shuttle and along the way, we chatted about past travels and things like that. Which leads me to...

THE RETURN!

mth2.jpeg

Four days later, I hopped off the same shuttle that took me to Atitlan (only this time doing the reverse route) and walked up to the doors of Matiox. That's when things got a bit unexpected. I approached the front desk to check in, and out of all people, Franzi, the girl who left the same day as me, was standing there checking in for herself. Now, if I wanted to make my brain hurt, I would try to think of what the odds are that we could both leave the hostel for the same destination at the same time, and somehow return 4 days later at the same time once again without any planning or coordination, but I like my brain so I will spare it the trouble. Anyway though, after going through the procession of the "you again!" encounter, I noticed a sign for trivia night at the hostel bar.

"Is that tonight?" I asked.

"Yes." the girl at the desk replied. "You want in? The winners get free drinks."

The second the word 'free' was mentioned (as I'm always teetering on broke destitution), I knew I was in. "Sure." I said, "Is it individual or for teams."

"Teams... Hey! Why don't you two be a team!" The girl said to me and Franzi. She agreed and our team was formed. And therefore...

THE GAME

Naturally, I got there a little late and the teams were ready and about the begin. Franzi had chosen our team name 'Party Pool' in honor of the hot tub next to the bar. Next to me stood an obnoxious trio of three 20-year old dudes while the rest of the groups were seated among the various couches. The bearded bartender turned and said in a slight Canadian accent, "Alright, everybody here?" Our four categories tonight are Guatemala, the Olympics, general knowledge, and music. The winner of each round gets either a free beer or shot and the loser overall has to do a shot of this nasty Mayan liquor." He explained more, but I'll spare you all the details.

We started with Guatemala and to my pleasant surprise, Franzi turned out to be a pro in the category. She knew nearly every question and by the end of the round, we were in the lead with 8.5 out of 10 points. The bartender counted up the points and announced, "After one round, Party Pool is in the lead! So what'll it be then? Beer or a shot?" Franzi chose the beer, but due to my curiousity, I asked to try the Mayan liquor he mentioned before. The bartender gave me a strange look and asked if I wanted it mixed with anything to mask the taste a little, but I refused. After more than two years in Russia, I take my liquor as is.

Now, I'll be honest here. I was expecting something like gasoline, so when it turned out to be not that vile, I was relieved. That said, it was by no means good and I had no desire to try a second shot.

Then came the Olympics round, and it was my turn to showcase my expertise in bizarre information. Host of the 2010 winter Olympics? Vancouver. Only indoor winter sports without skates? Curling. (There was a clear Canadian bias in the questions). Over my shoulder, I could hear the three obnoxious guys struggling with the answers. My confidence continued to grow, and when the round was over, we were on top again. Another free drink for us and this time I went with the beer, despite the three guys (now belligerent and making a scene) taunting us to take shots.

Artistic rendition of the obnoxious dudes.

Artistic rendition of the obnoxious dudes.

"I'll take a shot when we win the next round." I replied. "Enjoy the drinks you paid for."

Growing up as a clumsy, uncoordinated galoof with slow reflexes, I didn't get that many chances to trash talk, so in this particular circumstance, it felt great. Then came the third round: random general knowledge (my favorite!) Many of the other teams seemed to be losing motivation by this point, but not us. Like a freight train on steroids and uppers, we demolished the competition, taking both the third and fourth rounds and getting another three free drinks each.

It tastes so free.

It tastes so free.

"Remember when I said I would take the shot next time? I lied."* I said to the three guys, adding insult to injury as Franzi and I each chose beer. Finally, those endless hours of Sporcle finally paid off. Victory had never tasted so sweet (metaphorically speaking since the shot and beer were cheap), and now there was a hot tub and the open night sky to enjoy.

*I may not have actually said that line. It does make the story better though.

Towns around Lake Atitlan

Santiago

at2.jpg
at1.jpg

I didn't hear many people talk about this town, which is odd because it turned out to be one of my favorites, therefore I'll begin with it. I arrived fresh off the boat (sort of like my great grandparents to the States) on a Sunday, which little did I know, happened to be the day of the week where the town sets up a huge open market. As you can guess by my many rants against consumerism and consumption, I'm not really the shopping type, but this place seemed different and captured my interest, so I decided to wander around. The first thing to catch my attention was that everything seemed to be locally run and all products (like clothing, statues, jewelry, etc) all were hand made. Everything looked so interesting, but still, I was hesitant to make a purchase... that is until I found this:

Turtles are cool.

Turtles are cool.

Whenever I go somewhere, I usually like to bring back some small gifts for family and friends back home, and since my family and friends are weird like me, I figured they'd like these turtle statues too. Therefore it was haggling time! Breaking out my infant-level Spanish, I asked "Quanto Cuesta?" (How much does it cost). The lady said 50 quetzales, obviously testing me to see if I was just another great fool of a tourist. To her credit, I have many bizarre and abnormal characteristics, but a fool is not one of them! I responded by suggesting 20 instead. The game had begun!

She countered by dropping her price down to 40, refusing to go any lower. I then raised mine to 25, showing that I too was ready to dig in my heels. There was a very long pause, like stoic chess masters waiting motionless for the next move. Finally she said 30 as a final offer. I had to stop and think. 'Could this be the agreed middle? Should I push my luck?' Naturally, I pushed my luck and asked if I could have two for 50. She paused and looked up.

"No."

Very well then. I turned to look and see what else might be in the store. Then she called out to me.

Si. (she said more things than just 'Si' but I don't quite remember)

Smiling, I accepted the two turtles for 50 and thanked her kindly. I now had something to bring back for people at home, and she seemed quite happy to have made the sale to. I then continued through the town and explored what else was there, which turned out to be pretty unique for it's kind. Beyond the market was a thriving local community with schools, houses, and a huge plateau facing one of the volcanoes (seen below). There were no hordes of tourists, and everything felt so much more culturally authentic. I wish I got to explore more, but by this time, the sun saw starting to set and I needed to return to where I was staying and satisfy my hunger with dinner.

at2.jpg
at3.jpg

San Marcos

at4.jpg

Before arriving, San Marcos was described to me as a 'yoga town', and at first glance, that seemed pretty accurate. All along the main walkway there are yoga studios, artisan cafes, holistic shops, and (possibly) hand-made clothing stores. Normally, this would seem pretty interesting, but I found some of this unsettling. Here's why:

Everything was run by expats and seemed to be set up for tourism. It seemed like all the local Mayan people were pushed out to the slums on the outskirts by hordes of white people with dreadlocks and elephant pants claiming to be massage therapists and spiritual healers. It just seemed really artificial and the stark inequality between locals and expats really bothered me. Granted I have no problems with people being yoga instructors and massage therapists. If it makes you happy, power to you and go for it. But it would be infinitely better if people from the actual community were involved. This just seemed like a take-over.

But that said, I do want to shine a spotlight on two things I did like here. The first is a small cafe called Konojel. This one is entirely run by Mayan women and most of the profits go back to help feed and provide education for the local community. Their mission statement is written on their fliers and the people there work tirelessly from dawn to dusk. I made sure to eat here every time I was nearby and the food was much more traditional, delicious and affordable (especially the breakfast), and the coffee was amazing. So, if you find yourself in San Marcos, definitely eat here.

San Pedro

sp.jpg
Some really cool street art can be found here

Some really cool street art can be found here

If San Marcos is to be described as the 'yoga town', then San Pedro would be the 'party town'. However, this description doesn't fully do it justice. Sure, there are more bars here than any of the surrounding villages, but there are also a bunch of restaurants, cafes, bookstores, markets, and a vibrant local community. And unlike San Marcos, it hasn't entirely been overrun by tourists, so it is still possible to find some local culture. Just make sure you venture out beyond the area of the arrival dock. That place is built up for tourism and is fairly tacky, not to mention very overpriced. Avoid it. The further into the town you go, the more actual personality you find. Plus, this requires you going up a steep hill, meaning you'll get gigantic quads the more you explore.

One thing I found pretty interesting though was the abundance of Spanish schools scattered throughout the town. Therefore, if you plan on staying near Atitlan and hope to get involved with the local people (instead of the white dudes with dreadlocks), come here and get to know the language. I never checked the price for classes, but I imagine it's pretty affordable. Also, there's a lot of cool graffiti all around town so definitely check that out too.

One place I recommend (although I unfortunately forget the name) is a relaxing Caribbean style bar on the first street to the right once you arrive. It's right on the side of the hill overlooking the water, run by locals, and is often playing Bob Marley. The whole atmosphere is super relaxed (quite fittingly) and it was nicely secluded from the noise of tourism. If you can, try to go here right when the sun is about to set. I was lucky enough to time this right (something I am almost never able to do), and the view was absolutely unreal. Keep your eyes pealed for it and if I remember the name, I'll update this post.

San Juan

at1.jpg

Ok, so I never actually made it to San Juan, but I did hear quite a bit about it from my friend Quincey, as well as other travelers around the lake. So, therefore, I'll try to piece together what it is like. Anyway, here goes. Unlike the nearby San Marcos and San Pedro, San Juan is far less touristy, and instead has a vibrant local Mayan community. The town centers around the practice and livelihood of weaving clothing and other textiles, and if you want, you can join along and make something (or at least attempt to make something) of your own. The atmosphere is very calm and quite authentic, especially when compared to its neighbors. Definitely check it out if you want an actual cultural experience.

Tzunana

mml1.jpg

Although the whole area around the lake is amazing, nearly every town has a similar problem: too many tourists. Well, that is every town except Tzunana. This was the closest settlement to my residence at Maya Moon Lodge, so naturally I took it upon myself to check it out. The whole place is rather small and rests on the side of a hill. It is mostly comprised of houses and has two cafes and a couple mini shops for food. There are no pricey yoga studios, nor are there white people with dreadlocks or elephant pants anywhere is sight (huge plus for Tzunana!). Also, it is said that if you go up through the town into a trail in the woods, you can allegedly find a pretty amazing waterfall. I say allegedly because neither Quincey, nor I, nor many other people I met were able to find it. But that said, when I return, I'll try again. Determination!

Panajachel

pa1.jpg
pa2.jpg

I start here because, most likely, this is where any visit to Atitlan will begin. If you're taking a bus or shuttle from Guatemala City, Xela, or Antigua like me, this is the town where they all go. The city itself is a little more run down than some of the other towns around the lake, but it serves as a good connection point whether you want to travel around the lake or to other towns throughout the country. It's pretty convenient for any sort of travel since the hub for buses and shuttles is right by the docks. And along with that, Panajachel has both a bank and a supermarket (both of which are extreme rarities anywhere else around the lake).

The Others

I never made it to the other towns around the island, but some stops I heard people talk about include Santa Cruz La Laguna, San Pablo, Jaibalito, and San Antonio. Feel free to go check them out!

Antigua, Guatemala Photos

So there's this old colonial town (and former national capital) called Antigua, Guatemala. It's about an 1-3 hours outside Guatemala City depending on traffic, but more importantly, it is pretty awesome. This was where I spent the second half of my trip and I'll be writing about it extensively soon as I find the time and motivation. However, until then, I'll do something far easier that requires much less brain power and effort on my part: post pictures! Please enjoy.

Main square in the city center.

Main square in the city center.

ag1.jpg
ag2.jpg
Really awesome night sky.

Really awesome night sky.

Overlook of the city.

Overlook of the city.

Old building back when Antigua was the capital.

Old building back when Antigua was the capital.

Large cross at the overlook.

Large cross at the overlook.

Cobblestone street.

Cobblestone street.

People selling stuff.

People selling stuff.

Mountain overlooking the city.

Mountain overlooking the city.

Matiox Hostel common area.

Matiox Hostel common area.

Maya Moon Lodge: A Lost Man's Journey to Hidden Wonders

THE JOURNEY

Tzunana and the dock below

Tzunana and the dock below

Stepping off the dock in the town of Tzunana, I looked around wondering which way to go. Usually, the boats stop at the dock of my desired destination, Maya Moon Lodge, but since my driver (or whatever you call the guy controlling the boat. Sailor maybe?) was lazy, this boat did not. Therefore, my current location in the town just prior. Noticing my confusion, another passenger came up and asked where I was going. I told him and he replied, " Maya Moon? Yeah, that's real close. Just walk down this road for about ten minutes and it'll be on your left." I thanked him and set off.

Soon, the road morphed into a steep, rocky hill.* Tropical green trees stood all around me while giant volcanic mountains loomed on the horizon. I snapped a few pictures but kept moving. Five minutes passed, then ten... Then fifteen. Still, I saw no sign of any type of guesthouse. Maybe it was further than the guy thought? I continued.

*(Why not give Connecticut a shout-out)

Twenty minutes...

Twenty five...

Still nothing. Could I have missed it? On the horizon, the sun was just starting to set, when suddenly I heard something. The rumbling noise was fast approaching, and around the bend a small red motorized rickshaw (known locally as a tuc-tuc) appeared. I waved to the driver and he stopped. He couldn't have been more than ten years old, but who am I to question child labor laws. He asked where I was going and I replied, "Maya Moon."

"Diez Quetzales," (about $1.50) he said and beckoned me to get in.

mml2.jpg
mml10.jpg

Knowing that my poor sense of direction would probably never find the place and that this was my only hope, I disregarded all preconceived notions of safety and got in. The driver spun the tuc-tuc around and we began to backtrack (apparently I did pass the place). Soon, we came up to a door hidden among the overgrowth, leading down towards the water. I paid the driver, opened the door, entered, and was greeted by a friendly brown dog.

Artistic rendition of the dog

Artistic rendition of the dog

THE PLACE

I didn't quite plan for it, but this magical place became the center of my trip to Guatemala. Prior to arriving, I knew nothing about it, other than that it was recommended by my friend Quincey. Trusting her judgment more than mine, I made a booking and hoped for the best. Once I finally got there, saw the view of the lake and met the dog, I absolutely knew she was right.

mml9.jpg
mml6.jpg

Located along the dirt road between Tzunana and San Marcos, this secluded place rests within tropical trees on the side of a steep hill overlooking Lake Atitlan. Everything there is made of wood and stone, and seems as if it was constructed by hand (I never checked to see if this was true, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt). It's away enough from the towns for you to avoid the waves of white tourists with dreadlocks (who have invaded San Marcos is full force), thus allowing you to enjoy the natural beauty of the area and go for a swim in peace and quiet.

The whole place is set up in such a way that allows visitors to see amazing sunrises over the volcano-lined horizon on the opposite side of the lake, which completely blew my mind. I could attempt to describe it, but I think a picture here would do it more justice.

mml4.jpg

 

On top of that, the facilities and staff are amazing. Everyone I met who worked there was super interesting and incredibly helpful with anything you could possibly need. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and drinks can be ordered everyday from 8am-10pm, and the eating/bar area is set up right alongside the water (as seen above). During my stay, I had breakfast twice and dinner once, which, despite being more expensive than local spots in the town, were absolutely worth it. Everything was extremely fresh and served warm. Therefore, I highly recommend avoiding staying overnight in the more well known San Marcos and San Pedro and instead coming to this awesome secretive spot. Hopefully you'll be better than me though when it comes to finding it.

Tracy the chef, bartender, and person with the most awesome arm tattoo (and as asked, this picture is currently made into a cartoon)

Tracy the chef, bartender, and person with the most awesome arm tattoo (and as asked, this picture is currently made into a cartoon)

SHOUT OUT

Here's to a great forging of friendships! Quincey as well as Kurt and Marlena, who valiantly battled the many spiders that snuck into the dorm room! (Funny coincidence though, we never saw any more spiders after they left.)

mml12.jpg

Lago de Atitlan Photos

After spending the last two winters testing my body against the frigid Russian weather, trying to prove I was some kind of Nietzsche-esque ubermensch, I decided to give something else a try and explore south instead of north. That brought me to Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, which is documented below. There are a few towns around the lake, but unfortunately there were too many undesirable tourists in the way of most of those photos. Therefore, enjoy these ones of nature instead!

b2.jpg
a2.jpg
a1.jpg
a2.jpg
a3.jpg
a4.jpg
a5.jpg
b1.jpg
a1.jpg
a3.jpg
a4.jpg
b3.jpg
b4.jpg