Gill and I are budgeting out our last Guatemalan quetzales. We’re low on cash but only need to survive one night in Antigua before crossing the border to El Salvador in the morning. Cheeky exchange rates and international bank fees make withdrawing small sums of money an expensive endeavour so we’re relieved when we calculate that we’ll be able to squeeze by without making another withdrawal in quetzales.
High fives all around until we learn that in the time we’ve been discussing our finances the last seats on tomorrow’s shuttles have been taken. We now have to wait another day to leave which means an extra night of accommodation, at least two full meals, plus whatever we might spend keeping ourselves entertained tomorrow. We recalculate:
“If I pay for our shuttles on my credit card…”
“… I have American dollars I can use for the hostel…”
“… Honestly, we can survive a day without food if we have to…”
We agree to try to get by without withdrawing more. I have Q150 and change – roughly US$20. So here’s how to spend 36 hours in Antigua on less than $20:
Hostel = Q100/ US$13.13
We’re staying in ‘the loft’ at Jungle Party Hostal. In this case ‘loft’ is code for a long narrow room with over 20 mattresses on the floor. Zero privacy, zero security. A bed in a dorm would cost an extra US$1 per night (#notworthit). We’re quoted US$7 per night but paying in quetzales works out marginally cheaper. Accommodation is our biggest cost for the next two nights so I put some cash aside. That leaves less than $7 for food and activities. Hm.
Dinner = Q5/ US$0.65
As soon as I know we’re strapped for cash my belly starts to rumble. I begrudgingly eat one of my emergency packs of MSG (AKA instant noodles) so I won’t be overwhelmed by cravings for plates piled high with glorious street food. We meet our friend Sasha and wander around town. Sasha takes us to La Merced, a square beside the main church, where she and Gill grab street food for dinner. I can’t help myself so I get a super cheap tostada with beans.. ¡Mm, delicioso!
A Night Out = Gratis/ Free!
We hear about a ladies night at a local club, Las Vibras. It’s only 7pm but because I am 90 years old I’m tuckered out and ready for bed. My obsession with ALL THE FREE THINGS (other backpackers will relate) overcomes my exhaustion and I make it to 8pm without falling asleep. Champion. The bar is mostly empty when we arrive. We grab a free drink and try to act cool for a second before hotfooting it to the other free things… massages and manicures! All said and done we scored 2 free drinks, painted nails, a 10 minute massage, zero awkward come-ons and were in bed before midnight. Schwing!
Groceries = Q20/ US$2.62
In the morning we hit the grocery store for breakfast and snacks. Two bananas, an orange, wheat tortillas, an avocado, a pack of ‘hint of lime’ flavoured corn chips and imported sweet peas (fancy) comes to less than US$3. I down one of the bananas and the orange before constructing super traditional Guatemalan tacos with the tortillas, avocado and corn chips.* They are delicious. Gill adds banana to hers which is a line I am unwilling to cross.
*Not even close to being a traditional Guatemalan dish
Exploring Antigua = Gratis/ Free!
I munch on my fancy peas as we hike up to the viewpoint at Cerro de la Cruz. On the way we admire the colourful facades and hand-carved wooden doors of the buildings we pass. At the viewpoint we sit under the cross watching clouds roll past the volcanoes which tower over Antigua. Gill spontaneously breaks out into a wonderful rendition of “I Believe I Can Fly”. I definitely don’t join in and drown her out with my beautiful singing voice.
Souvenir = Q20/ US$2.62
Gill needs a new watch so we head to the markets. These are the kind of markets you can find anything you could possibly want plus a bunch of stuff you don’t. Fresh fruit? Dried Beans? No problem. Sexy underwear? Socks? Football jerseys? They’ve got those too. Christmas decorations? Pirated films? Sunglasses? Right over here. An entire stall of fake Crocs? This way please, sir.
Gill quickly finds a genuine fake Casio and then we spend a while perusing stalls with some traditonal-ish handycrafts-ish. While discussing the merits of different styles of hammocks I spot a worn and faded blanket folded underneath some trinkets. It’s perfect for a project I’ve been planning at home. I start to negotiate a price in Spanish. The vendor opens with a cheeky request for Q175. I almost choke. The blanket is woven in a traditional pattern but worn so thin that it’s fraying and has sizeable holes in a few places. When he asks how much I want to pay, I offer Q20. He acts shocked, so I put my hand through one of the holes and raise an eyebrow. With a straight face, he responds, “Si, it’s very old. An antique!” What a salesman! I really like this guy. I laugh and as I walk away he starts lowering his price “150!… Okay, okay, 120… 70?” I turn around and look at him and finally he throws both hands up and nods once, accepting my price of Q20.
Dinner = Q4/ US$0.52
It’s late afternoon when we meet with Sasha again back at the hostel. Today is American Thanksgiving and Sasha wants to have a nice meal since she can’t share the holiday with her family this year. With only Q5 to my name I can’t contribute to a communal meal so I have another bowl of instant noodles while Sasha, Gill and another friend of Sasha’s make a meal plan. I finish quickly and am still hungry. As Sasha talks about what she’d normally eat with her family I have a flash of inspiration. Garlic bread!
Healthy, filling and delicious. The others buy the makings for their dinner and I spend Q2 on two small bread sticks and contribute Q2 for a share of their garlic. No need for an oven – fry the bread in a dash of oil with the finely chopped garlic and presto delicioso!
Breakfast = Gratis/ Free!
For breakfast I eat my final banana and finish the avocados and corn chips off in round 2 of tacos. I load the shuttle bound for El Salvador with a single quetzal left in my pocket.
Soundtrack: R Kelly – I Believe I Can Fly