Something's Brewing

Trip Start Mar 11, 2011
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127
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Trip End Ongoing


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Where I stayed
UmmaGumma Hostel
Ash Travel (wannabe hostel)

Flag of Guatemala  , Western Highlands,
Tuesday, September 6, 2011

My overwhelming memory of Antigua will not be the high-speed chicken bus ride on the way there, not the quaint cobblestoned roads of this old capital city nor the huge colourful market with Mayan woven textiles. It will not be the huge number of "gringos" (foreigners) nor the international food chains, expensive restaurants, Redken salons nor the treatment spas (thank goodness!).
 
It has to be spending our evenings socialising with cool new friends on the roof terrace while enjoying the panoramic light show. Like clockwork electric storms light up the volcanoes that surround this valley town. Coincidentally on the first night we were listening to the homebrewed melodies of Goldfish: "Hold on to the moment, when there's something brewing in the sky". 
 
But alas, there was something brewing elsewhere... in my belly! Hindsight is an amazingly annoying thing. I really should've known better than to eat sauce that says: "Refridgerate after opening". Here it is unlikely that they will, unless we're talking top-end gringo-focused restaurants aka relatively expensive. We like to keep it real and go where the locals go, and most of the time that's great. Except they seem to have stronger constitutions, a lifetime's worth of exposure, and hence tolerance, to bacteria that us Westerners are susceptible to.

So have I finally earned my stripes as a traveller? I bloody well hope so after countless trips to the loo! And if you've visited the loos here you would agree. Let me fill you in...
 
The first hostel we stayed at was in reality a travel agency that one day decided to rent out the rooms in the back. To be fair, they made some efforts to beautify the place with plants, mounted pictures and ornaments. They also cleaned daily and thoroughly. BUT the place was simply not designed for this purpose. 

The 10 people in the dorm were all meant to use the one toilet and one shower that were only separated by a wall that doesn't go all the way up to the ceiling. And from primary school education we all know that hot air rises! Now imagine me with the (noisy) runs in loo, alongside someone who is enjoying a lovely hot shower. I'm sure they won't be for long! Plus the shower only has a shower curtain that separates you from passing backpacker traffic and faces the courtyard, the only communal area. AND, did I mention that they don't flush toilet paper here? Like most developing countries, there are signs telling you to put your used toilet paper in the trash basket... for everyone to see?! As a result you end up using a lot more loo paper to wrap everything up into a neat little seapage-free parcel. Disgustingly, not everyone does!

It was a no-brainer to change hostels, and we did so at the first opportunity. So glad we did! Umma Gumma hostel had friendly staff, a communal kitchen, a roof terrace and a range of friendly backpackers. We made some good buddies: Manuela from Austria, Manuel and Helene from Germany, Amit from Israel and plenty more (bar the sleazy El Salvadorean who was leering at and chatting up the honeys).

On our last night the conversation spread to all corners of the earth - the Guatemalan pre-elections that took place on 9/11, the apparent Chinese invasion of Africa and the Israel-Palestine conflict. Amit shared his story, giving us a very thought-provoking insight into life as a young Israeli

You may be aware that all Israelis, male and female, are required to join the army from the age of 18 for 2 to 3 years at least, depending on their specialism and gender. Imagine that - your whole family, mother, father, brothers, sisters, cousins, grandparents and friends were all in the army at some point. Amit's parents had offered him the airfare to leave the country so he could avoid conscription but it meant he could not see visit his family nor be allowed back in his home country without spending time in military prison. So he decided to stay, joining the army reluctantly. Now, 5 years later he can finally do what he wants with his life but feels that all those years were stolen from him. He still feels like an 18 year old but has seen things that no teenager ever should. Many Israeli soldiers apparently never get to see the front line though. Many fufil office-based roles like admin, programming or other support roles. Amit also hastened to add that many Israelis either do not feel the same as him or would not readily admit to. He also emphasised how beautiful his country is and invited us all to visit.

Amit's firsthand account left us sitting wide-eyed, listening to tales of a world we know very little about. All we really know is what the media chooses to share and emphasise. It's a story we should all hear.  A reminder of the folly of war and to cherish our freedoms, especially the freedom of choice. What were you doing when you were 18 years old?

Thanks, Amit, for sharing your story. I hope I have accurately relayed the details, if not, please feel free to comment.
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