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Family lodging
Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2014-07-30 19:38:17 | Coban, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala
Keywords: lodging, planning
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.

General info

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, etc.

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.

Overall experience

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 family)?

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