Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks; Backpacking Guatemala

The first and only time I went sky diving, my Dad was my partner in crime. He planted the seed of interest when I was a little girl telling me stories of how he had always wanted to try the sport. My imagination would whirl wondering how amazing it would be to tumble through the sky feeling completely weightless. I envisioned this type of adventure to be the perfect daddy-daughter activity, for a couple of dare-devils like us.

When I finished University I suggested that the two of us should finally take the plunge together, but my father’s instincts of self-preservation quickly kicked in. Being faced with a real opportunity to jump out of a perfectly good plane he started thinking the whole idea seemed kind of crazy. He did his best to back pedal out of the deal but I wasn’t about to give up that easily. My Mom and I taunted him for hours by suggesting that perhaps, his baby girl had more guts then he did. Eventually we wore him down and he nervously agreed to join me. Together we conquered our fears just one hundred miles from our family home. One at a time we each climbed out onto the wing of a little Cessna, leaped into the clouds and dropped toward the farmers’ fields more than 3000 feet below.

April on her very FIRST backpacking trip. (2010) SanPedro, Atitlan, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

April on her very FIRST backpacking trip. (2010) SanPedro, Atitlan, Guatemala — Karina Noriega

When I grew older and broadened my horizons, backpacking across the globe became my means of creating new and exciting challenges. My Dad had not travelled much in his life as money was tight when I was young. For many years world exploration was not at the top of his priority list. When he finally retired after 35 years of work at the ripe old age of 57 he was lured to Guatemala by his eldest child, with promises of adventure and excitement.

New Backpacker In Training

As I suspected would be the case, my Dad adjusted to the budget-backpacker lifestyle with relative ease. He didn’t mind staying in cheap hostels with few amenities and he really enjoyed dining on street food. Dad admired the local vendor culture as he appreciated the creativity and ingenuity of the Guatemalan people.  To keep my father’s death defying experiences to a minimum we opted to travel around the country via private coach buses, leaving the brightly coloured chicken buses to drag race at a distance.

We planned our trip with him accordingly to teach our newbie backpacker the ropes regarding safety and respectful travel. It is essential that all travelers learn the importance of helping local businesses thrive so we passed this lesson on to our backpacker in training.  In Rio Dulce we opted to stay in the BackPacker Hostel as the proceeds of this business help fund a local orphanage we have been supporting for several years, Casa Guatemala.

Street Food And New Friends

As we wandered about towns and cities like Fronteras, Livingston and Antigua, he was always wide-eyed and inquisitive. He made friends with nearly every stray dog that we came across. He didn’t know a lick of Spanish when he arrived so he had a habit of responding to locals with gratitude by saying ‘merci’ instead of ‘gracias.’ With a little prompting he quickly adjusted to the local lingo.

Adapting To Any Situation: The Measure Of A True Backpacker

He didn’t remember to pack all the items I had suggested he bring to Guatemala so when his sandals never made it into his pack, our walk along the beach to the Siete Alteres waterfall landed him with sopping wet socks and running shoes. After the 2.5 hour afternoon hike through the scorching tropical sun to reach this little lagoon, he was just thankful to have the cool refreshing water anywhere near his body.   While some might have considered the drenched foot-ware a real inconvenience, he adapted quite easily. Rather than whining he opted to jump off the waterfall into the pool below while still wearing all of his clothes AND his shoes.

A Proud Daughter

We spent the last few days of our journey exploring the beautiful colonial city of Antigua. Together we discovered the local markets, famous Cathedral, and fascinating local traditions concerning the world famous Semana Santa Holy Week celebrations, which lure millions of tourists to Guatemala every year. My proudest moment of our entire trip occurred when new travelers came through our hostel in Antigua, and I had the opportunity to hear my Dad pass on some of the lessons he had learned while backpacking through a 3rd world country. My Dad is normally the type to stay pretty quiet in large groups of people, but when a convoy of explorers inquired whether our hostel tap-water was drinkable, he was the first to chime in to provide them with some helpful advice.

So Much Left To See!

My only regret was that we didn’t have enough time to show him everything we wanted to. We could only cram so much into an eight day adventure. There are so many more brilliant Guatemalan treasures left unexplored, like that of Semuc Champey, Lago De Atitlan, or Tikal to name just a few; the perfect lure to bring my Dad back to this beautiful country once again!

April and her Dad floating on the Rio Dulce, through the jungle, on route to Livingston. Rio Dulce, Guatemala. -- Karina Noriega

April and her Dad floating on the Rio Dulce, through the jungle, on route to Livingston. Rio Dulce, Guatemala. — Karina Noriega

~ An Extraordinary Story by April Beresford ~

Check out my film about our journey: It’s Never Too Late To Become An Explorer

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