|I usually stay in (very) cheap hotels and I don't mind the sometimes harsh conditions I experience, as I feel I get to know more of the country. If you stay in a four-star hotel, you basically could be anywhere on the planet. In Guatemala, I discovered another form of lodging which I wanted to experiment: family hosting.|
Normally, this option is attached to a
school where you learn Spanish, to offer you immersion to practice
outside classes, as discussed in my previous article about....
But you can also contact the schools to
see if they could match you with a family without taking classes. I
think most schools would agree to arrange that to help their
families. In Guatemala, there's also an organization that offers
family hosting outside the schools network in many cities. In most
cases your meals are included 6 days a week (not on Sundays).
I stayed a total of four weeks within
three families (two were with schools, the other was not). I was
fortunate enough to have three very different environments which
allowed me to see various aspects of their daily life. Normal status
are for one week increments but that's not an absolute requirement.
Economically, it's a very nice option too. You can get the room plus
all the meals of at least 6 days for about US$120.
I did not take pictures of their homes,
by respect for their privacy but I will describe you the conditions
and show a comparable house.
Family one, poor, rural
Typical Monterrico structure, like the house I stayed in.,
My first contact with a local family
was in Monterrico, where I had my first class. The family was a
single mother of about 40 years old with a 12-yr old son. A large
house with a hay roof and mostly a large common area in the centre
and four closed (with walls, but no ceiling) rooms for the kitchen,
the bedroom of the family and two rooms for students.
They were poor and the conditions of
living were basic. No seer system so everything you put in the sink
or shower was just dropped outside the house. There were chickens
and a pig roaming feeling around the house scraping the table
leftovers (I witnessed on many occasions cannibalism where the pig
was eating leftovers from a 'cousin', same for the chickens). Only
cold water showers (no water heater), all the washing was done by
hands, no Internet they barely had electricity for their small TV,
radio and two rusty fans for the students' rooms.
The meals were mostly tasty but very
simple and very low on proteins, high on carbs, which is just normal
economy wise. So, on a few occasions, I sneaked out to the village
to buy a piece of fried chicken to boost my protein intake. The boy's
soccer ball was punctured and they couldn't replace it. Since it was
the only ball amongst his friends they no longer had a ball to play.
With the other student who was there, we agreed to but the boy a new
ball (about $10) and he was very happy.
The contacts were somewhat limited
because I had my classes in the morning, was studying in the
afternoon and at night we needed to be under mosquito nets.
Family two, rich, city
Typical house in the city of Antigua.
As I left Monterrico, I went to Antigua
in a family arranged through the organization outside of schools.
After my first experience, I wasn't sure what to expect. It was a
very good surprise. I was in a family hosting many students. The
house is managed by an older woman, with many young adults working or
teens going to college. She has a domestic employee helping for the
meals, the cleaning and so on.
I think they have six rooms (housing
up to 10 students I think) in a very large and modern house. Inside
the house it would have been impossible to say you were not in Canada
or the USA: hot showers, large stove and fridge, microwave, cold
water dispenser, toaster, toaster oven, large flat screen TV in the
living room, a Mac computer with a large screen too, WiFi of course,
The meals were very varied, abundant
and rich in both flavours and in proteins. We ate like kings.
Because of number of guests, we usually ate amongst ourselves with
little contact with the family who was eating after us.
Family three, medium class, city
Typical city house you could find in Cobán.,
I then went to Cobán for two weeks. I
would say it was a middle class family, with a modest but comfy house
with most amenities, including WiFi. The family was made of an older
woman (I think it was in her usual room I slept) with her daughter
and the 7-months old baby. There was another daughter living in the
other half of the duplex house.
The food was modest but very good most
of the time. Again, I didn't have that much contact with the family
because they were eating at a different time and I was usually eating
all by my own. On a few occasions outside the meals I tried to
insert myself in their conversations but they seem to have little
interest in involving me.
Thinking back about the experience I
think it was more like Couchsurfing than anything else. As with
Couchsurfing, you have to abandon your privacy and try to blend in,
which is not my strong suit.
I enjoyed discovering more of the daily
life even if it didn't go as I first imagined it would. But as for
everything you get back what you put in.
Would I try it again? Yes, in small
dose (one week at a time, not a month like I did) in a different
country to get another glimpse inside the daily life.
How about you? Would you try it?
Would you have reserves in terms of accommodations (like my first