Despite the jam-packed fun-filled two weeks in El Salvador and Guatemala with a crew of awesome people, I wrapped up my trip feeling a little blue. I missed the camaraderie of our group. I missed our random late-night dance parties, and paddling around Lake Atitlan with kayaks stocked with beer.
I even missed that time firecrackers went off near our hostel window and we all dove to the ground certain that we were under attack.
It was a religious procession.
Such is Guatemala.
Upon returning to Antigua from Semuc Champey, I wanted one last big night out. Fireworks, shots of tequila, beer pong with 20-year-old backpackers…the whole cliché sha-bang.
There were a handful of us staying in Antigua before flying home. Most of us were departing, but my friend Kev suggested we go out for the evening.
Kev’s the kind of person you hang out with knowing fully that things are gonna go off the rails. Case in point: he showed up in Berlin half a year later, took me out to a club, fed me shots of absinthe, and then I ended up dancing around a giant pirate ship with a bonfire in the middle of it? Anyway.
So that evening we ended up at a hostel party. It’s that lame backpacker thing we all start out doing and some of us never leave and then others begin blogging about it until it turns into professional careers. Like me.
We were obviously older than most everyone in the room, but Kev isn’t afraid to talk to anyone ever. I’m like his weird creepy shadow with social anxiety. He eventually started talking to an eccentric German girl, Romy, and her Guatemalan boyfriend, Rubio.
Up until that point, I had very minimal interactions in English with Guatemalans. But this dude’s English was perfect. He was kind and chatty, and seemed distressed when I brought up how I felt unsafe walking around Antigua alone.
“Will you two come with me, and I’ll show you the real Guatemala?”
I mean, sure. Let’s hop in a car with a random stranger.
So that’s exactly what we did.
Actually, it was an SUV. With a leather interior. I’m sure the thought “this dude is in the mafia” might have flickered through my alcohol-addled brain at some point, but I didn’t care. I had a plastic cup of mixed drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, smoking out the window, as we bounced over cobbled streets and I spilled everything everywhere. Life was damned good.
That was my first time ever, ever smoking a cigarette. I’m not kidding.
Anyway, Rubio took us to this weird underground side bar. It was dark and dinghy and there was a golden retriever, and a handful of expats. Two of them got real friendly with me and wanted me to join their party. But I’m like, nah, I’ve already got friends.
We continued on to a promenade in Antigua, where a bunch of trucks were parked and vendors were selling meat from tiny little charcoal grills. We pulled up plastic stools and one of the vendors handed me a beer from a plastic bag. Everybody was speaking Spanish, so I had no idea what was happening, but the beautiful absurdity of the situation wasn’t lost on me at all.
As all this was happening, I noticed people kept coming up to Rubio and shaking his hand, or high five-ing him. He was clearly well liked, but I assumed he was just a swell guy. I’m incredibly naïve. At some point, I realized people were asking him for his autograph.
I worked up the nerve to ask him what he does for a living. “I play for the national football team,” he said. “And I used to play in the United States.”
NO BIG DEAL OR ANYTHING. In hindsight, I can’t believe I was so blasé about it all. But considering the fact I made Kev to hold my beer while I squatted to pee in an alleyway, well, I suppose it was hardly surprising.
But the best part came later.
The next morning at the hotel, I ran into Wren, another girl from our tour. She laughed when she saw me and asked, “Are you okay?” Apparently, the night before, she had heard someone running back and forth in the hotel hallway, so she got up to look out her door. She saw me, with a bed sheet over my head lookin’ like Jesus, standing outside her front door.
I do this thing sometimes whereI sleepwalk after a few drinks – I’ve woken up pant-less and without keys outside far too many hotels to count. (Okay, just two. But that’s too many.)
Apparently Wren had asked me if I was lost, I said no, and promptly went back to my room. Sleepwalking Candice still finds her way home, no matter what.
There’s no moral to this story, I just happen to find it funny. I researched the Guatemalan a day later and discovered, well, he’s actually quite a big deal. And if you spend a night with him you’ll end up squatting in alleyways, eating questionable meat, running around like Jesus, and smoking cigarettes for the first time ever.
Man, I miss the randomness of travel. Jamaica tomorrow!