New Year’ Eve with strangers

Posted on January 3, 2018


Well I never expected to have the day or night that I did. Especially sober.

I had no expectation about my boat tour of the towns set around the lake. I’d paid less than $12 for transportation only and decided I would pound the streets with gusto to see what each place had to offer and make the most of walking around. In a nutshell the towns were a little underwhelming and like Pana they all sell similar things, with the focus on one of the following: textiles, paintings or crafts.

What made the day special was meeting another kindred spirit. She is Singaporean, 38 and travelling solo. We met as we disembarked off the boat and I asked her where she was from.

My next question was what brought her to Guatemala?

“I quit my job and decided to travel for a year,’ she said flatly.

The similarity was too uncanny. “What do you do for work?” I probed.

“I work in banking,” she continued.

“Ahhh, so you’d had enough?” I asked.

“No, I had a tumour removed from my neck and decided I wanted more out of life than just work.” Her honesty and delivery knocked me for six.

For about three whole seconds the world stopped spinning. Here was another woman who had looked at her life and decided to change it out of necessity after being confronted with illness.

We got to know each other over the next few hours laughing, chatting and haggling for ponchos and other goodies. When we sat down to grab a bite to eat, I confessed my cancer diagnosis. She gripped my arm tight and gave me a look that only another person who’s gone through the same pain can give you.

I will call her Mole (as in Guacamole because she loves he stuff!)

Mole confessed, “You know I don’t usually tell people about my tumour, but it was weird, I just felt I wanted to share that with you.”

She’s also single and we swapped horror dating stories and I asked her about her future and what she wants from life. A beautiful soul to encounter so out of the blue, it really was lovely. I felt like I’d known her years rather than just a few hours.

I was sad to wave goodbye to her. Mole was getting a shuttle to Antigua to meet up with a Belgian girl she had met while trekking in Patagonia. We have vowed to reconnect somewhere, one day.

I went off to find a massage. My legs were still sore from Mount Acatenango and I wanted a treat.

An hour later I staggered back to my digs to reply to a barrage of messages from Europe and get ready for my NYE in Guatemala.

I decided to have dinner at “Atlantis” despite the awful name and garish pub decor, I was reassured by a local that the food was pretty good. Tonight there was a DJ. Great I can try one of my sober missions – dancing sans alcohol with a perfect stranger.

As I went to leave the hotel, the owner/GM was sat on the sofa by the open bay windows munching on what looked like a large spring roll that had seen better days. He was hunched over his laptop and looked up over his spectacles.

“Hey there, how’s it going? What are you up to tonight?” He shouted sitting upright.

“Errrrm I’m going out for dinner. I don’t have any plans,” I replied as I moved nearer to the windows.

“Do you wanna join me and go to a house party with some buddies of mine? There are drinks and snacks and stuff or you can come later if you want. I’m headed there now.”

“Well I don’t drink, but sure why not. Let’s go.”

So as me and Mr Surfer were headed up the road, two German girls who were also staying at the hotel walked out of the door. They were dressed like the English pop duo Pepsi and Shirlie – stone washed jeans, white t-shirts tucked in, with black leather jackets and part of their bobbed hair scooped into a a high bun.

“Blimey,” I thought. “I am sure I channeled that exact same look in the 80s.” Funny how fashion repeats itself.

The four of us walked a block and entered a ridiculously lavish colonial house owned by a rather beautiful young Guatemalan architect. Family money. She also practises yoga and helps Mr Surfer with the paddle board business. She led us through the stunning garden and into a vast house with a huge banqueting table laden with drinks and olives and cheese.

“I am gonna need proper food,” I decided looking at the snacks.

The two German girls got stuck into conversation and drinks before I could say “Rauss!” I said hello to the tipsy group of attractive 20/30 somethings and looked at Mr Surfer and said, “I have to eat,”. He could see I was not going to stay long. This would not be an easy night if I was surrounded by very young people already smashed and unable to hold a conversation.

“Sure, I’ll come with you,” he replied.

He escorted me outside.

“You know in the old days, I would have knocked back two shots and kept going on a liquid dinner. But that’s a life I have left behind now,” I said somewhat nostalgically turning to face him.

“How long you been sober?” He asked kindly.

“Nearly eight weeks.”

He started laughing. “Wow this is new,” he continued chuckling. “I was expecting you to say eight years.”

“Yeah well we all gotta start somewhere,” I said a little wounded.

“OK good for you. So where’d you wanna eat?”

“Atlantis” I said.

Mr Surfer raised his eyebrows. “You sure? Who told you to go there?”

For the next 10 minutes he tried to convince me that he had a bad experience there with a group of friends and i should reconsider. But I said lets give it a go because theres a DJ and it’s more about the atmosphere.

An hour later and after he’d sunk two rum and cokes and shouted something in Spanish to the clueless staff we walked out. Now I was starving it was almost 10pm.

“I hate to tell you I told you so, but I am taking you somewhere that the locals eat.” He chided me.

He was right of course and we ended up in a hole in the wall where I ate grilled chicken, hot corn tortillas, guacamole and bean paste. Delivered to my plastic table in less than 15minutes with a smile and piping hot. Delicious and just $4.

We chatted and laughed for another hour, walked back to the hotel and watched the fireworks on the roof. The sky lit up 360 degrees. All the hotels let off a magnificent display for a full 12 minutes. The racket was actually drowned out by a large number of firecrackers that the locals were setting off along with gunshots.


“Are those guns?” I asked noticing the now familiar sound of bullets being fired.

I had a weird flash back of reporting on the roof top in the South East of Turkey when the city of Diyarbakir was under curfew. At that time the city was burning with bombs and gunfire going off and fighter jets flying past.

“Yup,” he chuckled. “Welcome to Guatemala.”

After the display had ended I got a high five and another bear hug from a perfect stranger to welcome me into 2018.