Introduce yourself! How does photography influence the way you travel and see the world around you?
Hi, I’m Kate Ballis. I’m currently in Melbourne, Australia and work as a portrait, lifestyle, fine art, travel photographer. What interests me most about travel? Ultimately just capturing the unseen. My fiancé Tom Blachford, also a photographer, and I choose our travel locations based on the type of photography we would want to capture there. We always consider the story we want to tell, the type of architecture, the landscapes, the natural beauty, the mystique.
What sparked your interest to travel to Guatemala? Which cities did you visit?
Our interest was actually in the whole of central America, and we wanted to see it all, but two months was not long enough at the pace we were taking. So we spent a month in Mexico and Belize, a month in Guatemala, and will commence the rest of central America another time. We visited Flores, Tikal, Lanquin, Antiqua, and Lake Atitlan.
Did you have any expectations or preconceived notions about the culture and environments you would be exposed to? How did they differ from the way they actually were?
We expected Lake Atitlan to be the picture of natural beauty. We didn’t realize that the lake had caused so much damage as it had risen over the years. It was so sad to see entire rows of buildings submerged underground and hearing stories of people needing to abandon their restaurants as they were about to flood.
How did you plan for your trip? How did you navigate between each region?
We took Spanish lessons for 6 months before we left and put a post out to our well-travelled friends on Facebook, asking for tips on Guatemala. Once we arrived in Guatemala we had no idea how long we would spend in each place, or where we would stay. We just used Trip Advisor the night before we arrived each place to find a hotel and gave the hotel an indefinite time we would stay. We would get our hotel to organize a bus to the next location at the end of our stay and met several other travelers on our way who also gave us some guidance. Meeting locals in Antigua, Flores and Lake Atitlan also enriched our experience significantly.
What were some of your experiences as exploring the region? What was the overall experience like?
The people we met in Guatemala were mostly warm and friendly. My fiancé and I met a gorgeous old lady named Anna Maria in Antigua who kindly invited us to see her incredible home, where we spent a couple of afternoons with her listening to her stories, eating cake and singing along to songs she’d learned to upload to her ipod! Our culinary experiences were not as exciting as we found the local food very bland (mostly rice, beans and plantains with some form of meat). We initially felt bad for eating other international cuisine when it was available, however, we met a young trendy Guatemalan that told us he and his friends hardly ever eat traditional Guatemalan cuisine either. After that, Tom and I didn’t feel so bad indulging in the food at the international restaurants and found one of the best Japanese restaurants we’ve ever been to in Antigua.
How did this trip differ from trips you’ve taken in the past?
It was one of the first trips where we didn’t plan anything in advance, which worked perfectly. We also decided to stay at hostels for a couple of nights, instead of hotels, so that we could meet lots of people. This led to us making lasting friendships with some other travelers from Australia.
What recommendations can you share for future travelers also interested in exploring the region?
I would highly recommend spending time getting under the skin of Antigua and Lake Atitlan. We stayed in San Marcos in Lake Atitlan, but spent each day exploring other towns on the lake.
Some highlights were horse-back riding up one of the volcanoes in Antigua, and seeing all the abandoned dogs hovering around the hot steam waiting for leftover marshmallows that people were toasting. Sunrise over Indian Nose in Lake Atitlan was magical. We went to Semuc Champey (near Lanquin) on our own as the tours went to a bat cave first, which meant that you wouldn’t arrive at Semuc Champey until later in the afternoon. It’s a tropical climate and by 2pm each day it was clouding over, so go in the morning to catch the sun on the water if you can.
Travel has a tendency to look very glamourous, though that is not always the case. What types of challenges did you face during your trip?
There were bugs everywhere!! We had to use insect repellant all the time but it didn’t help if bugs crawled into our bed! Another unglamorous experience from the trip were the long bus rides on windy roads…especially when the driver refused to turn on the air conditioner unless each person paid an extra sum per person - even though we had paid extra to get on an air conditioned bus in the first place!
Do you have any favorite memories from your trip?
Oh I have a few! Tubing down a river in Lanquin with a great group of people we had met was really fun, the bus ride battling the driver to turn the air conditioner on was definitely a hilarious experience, but my favorite was probably sunrise over Lake Atitlan from Indian Nose.
What’s next for you?
Next trip is South America, so stay tuned!
Images Courtesy of Kate Ballis
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