#1: GO TO THE GYM
You know the feeling.
Seven straight days of drinking unmarked cheap liquor and you start to think “Well…I kind of feel a little unhealthy.” Quickly you order a cerveza to drown out that pesky little feeling but, for some reason, it seems to come back.
“Alright feeling” you say to yourself, “I’ll work you out of me.”
Time to hit the gym, aka: work out.
If this realization dawns on your bones while passing through Xela Guatemala, count yourself lucky because a respectable handful of gyms are located around the city. Each provides a decent aerobics and weight-training facility for stupidly low prices.
The pictures above are from Pro Fitness. It’s on the corner of 9a Calle and 12 Avenida and for a mere 10 Quetzales (~$1.25 USD as of November 2014) you can work out for however long your heart and bones desire.
Remember: You tend to get the most out of your travels when you physically and mentally feel good. Gyms are your friend!
#2: GO TO THE BOOKSTORE
The written word and the wandering soul have been amigos since the dawn of the written word.And even if it was invented at time, movement through geography and movement through the mind form a close bond.
Travel is a time for considering new ideas and re-thinking old ones in that never-ending quest to Know Thyself.
In Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel he writes:
It is not necessarily at home that we best encounter our true selves. The furniture insists that we cannot change because it does not; the domestic setting keeps us tethered to the person we are in ordinary life, who may not be who we essentially are.
If you’re in Xela Guatemala and find yourself without a book, head down to 15th Avenida and search through the well-piled pile of semi-organized titles that await you at Vrisa Books. You can buy, rent, and trade to get that essential brain-food.
Classics like Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America can be rented. A planned 3 day visit to Xela ended up turning into an unplanned 2.5 months, so I amassed a bit of a book collection, all of which can be traded for store credit. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Charles Mann’s 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus came from that credit.
The former is a tale centered in the Congo, but its exploration of colonialism easily transfers to Central America. The latter, as the subtitle suggest, has to do with what the landscapes and people of Latin America were like prior to the arrival of Columbus.
Viva El Libro!
#3: GO TAKE A BATH
When someone says “backpacker”, romantic reveries of lavender scents and fermented heaven rarely, if ever, follow. More likely it’s the image of a bedraggled and dusty being wrapped in the strong scent of moldy socks.
This happens at times no doubt, but as Wandering Earl explores, there’s no reason to let it go on for too long. If traveling is about exploring the human (and other-than-human) family, then it inevitably comes up that grooming is a big part of nearly every culture.
Now there is no reason to be a hyper-sanitized germophobe, but it’s nice to treat yourself every once in a while to a bath.
If you’re in Xela Guatemala, I’d suggest stopping by Banos Balcarel. For 20 Q (~$2.50), you can get your own private room with a bathtub that pumps incredible hot (although manageable… after a while) water from the earth below.
Sunday’s tend to be the busiest days, with loads of local families stopping by for a soak. You’ll probably still be able to find a spot, but if you’re looking for sound tranquility along with your hour soak, I’d suggest going during the weekday.
Don’t let the rustic feel scare you off, they’re clean and feel great!
#4: GO TO THE GRAVEYARD
She was born in Eastern Europe, but not much is known about her early life. In the early 1920s, Vanushka Cardena Barajas moves with her family across the ocean to Guatemala.
They open a circus.
It becomes popular, immensely popular. The popularity, however, doesn’t bring wealth and she remains a poor foreigner.
But one night Javier, a dashing lad from an elite family, stops by with some friends to watch the show. He’s enamored by Vanushka, the little Roma girl, and continues to come back night after night.
After performances, they stroll around the campgrounds arm in arm. It’s perfect, except for one minor thing — Javier’s parents.
They hate the idea.
They try to talk with him, but their logic falls on deaf ears.
Javier’s father takes drastic measures, sending him away for 4 years to go study in Spain.
The two young lovebirds are devastated that he must fly away.
Vanushka’s beauty fades; her health plummets. She becomes a frail little girl who exhales her last bit of life moments before Javier leaves.
Years later a girl unaware of the legend but in a similar position comes to the tomb and prays. She finds love. The word spreads.
Eventually in 2011, a statue is constructed in the Xela Cemetary to commemorate Vanushka, the Gypsy Juliet of Guatemala.