What is adventure? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it’s an exciting or remarkable experience. According to Tumblr, it’s taking a road trip or a backpacking trip, either alone or with friends, meet interesting people, see interesting places and eat interesting things to clear your head and heart. According to Bilbo Baggins, it’s stepping out of your hole in the ground to do, see and even say unexpected things alongside thirteen dwarves and one wizard.
My Sunday was a combination of all three definitions. Okay, well, I wasn’t accompanied by thirteen dwarves and a wizard but what I DID have was a little hole in the ground, a few of my best friends, good food, great music, backpacks and dusty roads that combined to create a remarkable experience that I will always carry with me. Yes, I had an adventure.
I am currently living in Guatemala. Whatever your perception of this Central American country is, there are many truths and realities that surround it. What I experienced this weekend, however, was it’s mountaintop pleasures; It’s views, green pastures and the way the blazing sun combines with biting cold winds to affirm the motto that the country has become known for, “El País de la Eterna Primavera” (The Country of Eternal Spring).
We went to what is described as the remote “dream village” of Hobbitenango. What is it? It’s a retreat located in the mountains of Guatemala’s Sacatepéquez region. Due to the lush mountains and even the view of a looming volcano not far off, the creators of this sanctuary were reminded of the Tolkien world of The Hobbit and decided to mold their idea into a place reminiscent of the magical story.
If you know anything about Guatemala, you’re probably a little familiar with Antigua, which is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hobbitenango sits a little outside this main city. It’s close enough that in 15 minutes you could be sitting outside a small, rustic café, sipping a cappuccino, but far enough that within five minutes of being there you forget all about the bustling and noisy civilisation.
Our trip started at 9:30 am when my brother, my best friend and I headed off to pick up our two other friends at different points in Guatemala City. Then, we drove along, listening to good music and having nice chats on the one hour journey to our destination.
Now, it’s important to note that we’d been to Hobbitenango before; Because of this, we all knew what to expect but we loved the place so much that we decided to go again, this time to celebrate my birthday, which had been the day before. We thought we knew what to expect, but we ended up getting two surprises that, honestly, made the trip ten times better than we had hoped for. It’s really the little, unexpected things that really make up an experience, isn’t it?
The first thing was quite literally the first thing we did when we arrived. A little mental image for you: you can’t drive up to the door of the place. You have to leave your car about 1 km or so away, after which you are presented with two choices. The first is what most people do – what we had done each of the times we had been there before – and consists of taking a little pickup truck ride uphill and then, later on, back down. The second is walking/hiking all the way up and trust me when I put emphasis on the phrase all the way up. The first quarter way is an unforgiving uphill slope that offers no mercy. I don’t want to know what it’s like going up that on foot during the rainy season.
So, yeah, remember that dreamy little combination of sun and wind that I mentioned earlier? Well, as luck would have it, the sun won that round while we were going up and by the time we got half way, suffice it to say we were a little hot. We weren’t bitter though! We were going to have a good time. Actually, between huffs of breath, we were laughing and singing old children’s songs the entire time. Why did we choose to do this, I hear you asking? Simply put, we’re impatient little shits that didn’t want to wait 30 minutes before going up.
We made it though! We finally turned the last corner of dirt road, saw the glorious view of hobbit holes, wooden benches and luscious greens, and felt the cool breeze that we’d been hoping for.
First things first, refreshments. We were a little more than thirsty by that point so we scouted out a free picnic table on the rooftop lunch area on the main hobbit house and made camp there. Unfortunately, they were finishing up with their breakfast buffet so we had to wait about 15 minutes before we could order off the lunch menu but in the meantime we picked a couple of games from the selection they have there and played a bit. We decided on Jenga and Cards Against Humanity. It’s a weird choice when you’re trying to become one with nature and all that but we needed the distraction while recovering from the walk up and waiting to place our orders.
Anyway, time passed and we placed our orders. Now, I’ve mentioned this before, and if you’ve poked about in my “Food” section you’ll have realised that I’m vegetarian. More specifically, I’m an ovo vegetarian that eats vegan whenever I can.
Hobbitenango prides itself on being an eco friendly retreat and to be honest they really do achieve it. We’re talking recycled products, sustainable housing and a general respect for nature. Unfortunately, their restaurant and café aren’t vegan or vegetarian. However, they do have a portobello mushroom burger on their menu and, as always with us plant based or semi plant based types (you’ll know what I mean if you are), if you get creative you can definitely make your own platter in the way you prefer. Another dish that they have that is vegetarian but can easily be converted into vegan is their Middle Earth tostadas, which are like nachos. And yes, their menu is Hobbit themed which is so creative!
Generally speaking, it’s really fantastic that their idea of nachos doesn’t include a heaping platter of cheese but rather guacamole, black beans and a chirmol sauce (tomato sauce), but the black beans does come with a sprinkling of cheese on top.
To be honest, I understand why. In Guatemala, it’s normal for cheese or queso fresco to accompany refried beans. This is the reason why, beforehand, I had asked the waiter if it didn’t bring any cheese whatsoever, which he assured me it didn’t. When it came, though, I noticed the cheese. I ended up scraping off the entire top layer of beans and giving it to my friend, who was also having the tostadas. It’s not that big of a deal and usually I would have asked them to replace the beans but it was such a little amount that I decided not to do that.
So that’s how we went along. Someone else had some quesadillas, and my brother and other friend ordered some burgers. The meal was honestly really enjoyable and it was so peaceful, looking out on the gorgeous view behind and ahead of us. We chit chatted some more and by the time we finished the wind had picked up. Our hands we’re freezing so my brother and I ordered some hot beverages.
This was when we noticed something particularly interesting on the ground floor, which turned out to be the second unexpected occurrence of the day. We spotted instrument cases!! YESSS! I got so excited. I’d never seen live music there before and I instantly got swept up in a daydream of folk music melodies.
Another little piece of information about me: I love music. I listen to a lot of everything but I particularly like folk music and indie rock. I also like country and indie pop and jazz… particularly swing jazz and… oh my! I won’t continue down this road because it’s a long one.
Back to the topic at hand. Three guys were suddenly standing there: one with a guitar, another with a banjo and the last with a violin. I could have screamed. I think I probably did (a small one, don’t worry). Then, they started playing the glorious sounds of folk music and I was loving it. We all whipped out our phones, uploading to Snapchat like wild beasts and swaying to the rhythm. The group is called Gatos Fugitivos and they were so nice that they actually played happy birthday for me! While us girls went off to the ladies room, my friend asked them if they could and apparently they were more than happy to!
Next on our agenda was the main event: hiking the trails of the mountainous backdrop of Hobbitenango. Apparently, if you trek far enough you end up at a neighbouring village, which is really cool because there are no fences or barriers. It’s free trails, it’s free land.
So, up we went. The last time we went it was really muddy and we fell a bunch of times. By the time we got back to the restaurant area we were a complete mess, the entire bottom halves of our legs brown with goop. This time, it was all dry so no one fell and while we did come back brown with dust, it was much easier to dust off.
There were certain areas where you could veer off the path a bit to literally stand on the mountain side and the views, oh the views! I feel like I’ve typed that word more times than any other but they are truly breathtaking. Also, there are fields of flowers where my best friend wasted no time in having a photo shoot on. To be honest, we all did.
After that, we continued walking a little bit more. We actually went far enough that I think we crossed the Hobbitenango boundaries because there was a sign that said we were on private land and that we were allowed to continue walking but to please be respectful of that. We continued a while longer but shortly after decided to go back.
Two thoughts stuck with me while we were on the pickup truck back to our car (yes, we decided not to walk all the way back down. We were tired!).
Firstly, my brother said something while we were all taking pictures. He said, being adventurers doesn’t mean taking pictures to prove you were once somewhere. Being adventurers, he said, means keep on walking, keep on moving, keep on seeing.
In part, I agreed with him. You don’t have to take a picture to post on Instagram whenever you go somewhere or do something.
However, I don’t think it’s a bad thing either. Which brought me to my second brooding thought. We’re not millenials (my friends and I), but we did grow up with technology that evolved at an alarming speed, before our very eyes. With that technology came social media and while we weren’t born into it, we were young enough to adopt it as our own when it came about.
Like I said, I understand my brother’s point of view and I do agree with him to a certain extent. It’s all about finding a balance, though. If you don’t want to take any pictures, don’t. If you do, don’t let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t. Just as Atlas Genius said, “take a picture you can never recreate”. A picture is a frozen moment in time that doesn’t come back. This is why, in my case, I like taking pictures to remind me of bygone moments.
BUT – and yes, this is a big but – if you need to take pictures do so, just don’t let it get in the way of your enjoyment of the moment you’re in, the company you’re in.
Ultimately, it will benefit you much more if you do that. I made memories this weekend. I had an adventure this weekend. I’ll continue having more long after this one becomes a distant but poignant memory.