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Our last stop in Guatemala – the city. We met our host, Manuel, the owner of hostel Quetzalroo during our second week in Guatemala, at our retreat in Isla Verde.
Manuel and his partner were putting up flyers all over Lake Atitlan to promote hostel Quetzalroo. We walked past each other 3 times and Manuel finally came up to us and said, “Since we passed each other so many times, here – take one.” He handed us one of his flyers.
10 weeks later, we were Couchsurfing for hosts in Guatemala City and Manuel’s profile came up again. We took it as a “sign” and wrote to him, asking if he could host us and our sharing session in the city. Manuel welcomed us with “virtual opened arms” and various Facebook shoutouts 🙂
When we finally arrived at Quetzalroo, Manuel was away on a field trip, and we were left in the hands of his family.
There is a Chinese saying:
(Behind each successful man, lies a noble woman.)”
While many Tripadvisor reviews and Couchsurfing references on Quetzalroo raved about Manuel (and he is awesome), we had the opportunity to be hosted by the “two women behind Manuel”, behind Quetzalroo’s success – his sister and his mum.
Like most mothers who are concerned about the “less travelled paths” taken by their kids, Manuel’s mum was concerned about the Couchsurfers that Manuel was hosting at home. One day, she finally decided to issue the ultimatum and said to Manuel, “My house is not a hostel!”
“So I decided to open a hostel, and Quetzalroo was born.” Manuel recounted.
Because Manuel travelled through many parts of the world through Couchsurfing; he even hitch-hiked his way through the United States – people sheltered him, gave him rides and fed him; Manuel decided to pay it forward by gifting first night stays to Couchsurfers at his hostel. Him agreeing to host us was his way of saying thank you to the people who had helped him in the past, too.
When we met Manuel’s mother on our first day, she was initially sceptical of us (we are really not very convincing looks-wise as RTW cyclists – many people still think we are 15 or 18 year olds). She was concerned that Manuel was letting us stay in the hostel for free. “You’re not paying right?” were her greeting words when we met.
Although those words stung us for a bit, thinking that perhaps there was a miscommunication between Manuel and his mum and we might be thrown out any time soon, it took us a while (well, a couple of weeks) before we could step back and see a clearer picture – she was just being a mother, a mother who is concerned and anxious about the well-being of her children.
Because if you’ve stayed in Quetzalroo and met Señora, you would have been fussed by her – just before she sends you off to the chicken bus station, she would adjust your backpack straps making sure they are tight, chastise you for wearing your fancy sunglasses and hanging your camera in front, asked you if you have hidden your important documents and money and gave you a list of do-nots before finally giving you a goodbye kiss. That’s Señora mothering Quetzalroo’s guests around. She is a mother, after all.
The other woman whom we crossed paths with in Quetzalroo was Manuel’s younger sister, Anaisabel. Perhaps we were daunted by mother’s greeting earlier on, we found it hard to reach out and connect with Anaisabel at the beginning, too.
But finally after our sharing session, which Anaisabel helped us set up, we were able to bridge that gap. “Can I take one more card?” She asked. “For my mum.”
“Only if you share one of our stories with her.” Val replied. “I will share all. Todos!” Anaisabel exclaimed.
“In that moment, I saw a flash of pure joy. People tend to be guarded, especially with people they don’t know. It’s human nature, almost. But when Anaisabel let her guard down for that split second, opened up and shared her dream with us…her smile was priceless.” – Val
After further conversations, we realised that it was Anaisabel who designed and painted Quetzalroo’s colours. The work, the colours, the combination said so much about her…and who she really is.
We want to take this opportunity to say, “Thank you”
For running the show when Manuel was not around
For taking time, taking effort
To take care of the guests
We asked you why did you not put your real name in the Founders’ Rules
You answered, “Because I don’t like to show off.”
Yet Anaisabel, your personality permeates throughout the hostel, too
Through the colours you’ve painted, through the smiles you’ve radiated
And they are all beautiful
Just like you
So show’em off!
And be appreciated *grinz*
Val y Tay
The collection of hands we at our Quetzalroo Sharing Session:
Manuel came back just in time to join us for our sharing session. At the end of it, we asked Manuel to share his dream with us:
Manuel had written “Become the Hostel Tycoon of Central America” on his hand. And as we spent the rest of the evening with him and the other guests, we know that he isn’t that far away from his dream…
What does it take to run a hostel?
From Manuel, we learnt –
That it takes a traveller’s heart.
A lot of heart.
“We started our journey in Guatemala with a Guatemalan lady telling us she must not think about her dreams because they are way beyond her reach. It was a heart-breaking start, we were disheartened by poverty. We ended our journey in Guatemala with Manuel and his family building a Guatemalan dream together. It was an encouraging ending, we were heartened by their pride to become who they want to become.” – Tay
Opened Doors, Opened Hearts – Our Hospitality Sponsor
“Quetzalroo is a backpackers hostel and traveling hub for Guatemala located in the financial district (near the airport) in Guatemala City. Our name comes from the Quetzal (Guatemala´s national bird, a beautiful highland bird that can only live in freedom) and The Kangaroo (Australia´s icon: strong and unique). Our mission is to ‘Bring people together through sharing of culture and travel’.” For more information about Quetzalroo in Guatemala City, click here.
Your spare change, even if it’s just $1, will go a long way