The Night I Drank Saké

Just a civilised Tuesday in Antigua, Guatemala
Rumbling in the background, the nearby Acatenango volcano lay not far behind us and between the laughing and frolicking we bared witness to this most active volcano spewing dark plumes of ash high up into the air.

It was late afternoon and perched up high at a mountainside bar, Eduardo and I sat down just in time to watch as day became dusk. With the city below us and surrounded by mountains, there was no better place to sit and enjoy a nice glass of wine in the delightful company of somebody I now considered a dear friend.

The view was to die for. The wine was delicious. The company, a delight. The moment, perfect. How civilised I thought.

8 hours later and I had lost Eduardo who went to the toilet half an hour ago and never came back. Unable to either see or walk in a straight line, the Japanese sake I had been drinking had seemingly pushed me over the edge and unsure of what to do or where to go I felt it best to head back to the hostel. 

Confused and disorientated, I stood up, took three paces forward and then drunkenly fell to the ground with the mightiest of thuds.

I woke up the following morning to soaking wet sheets. With a banging headache, I glanced down towards the end of my bed and fearing the worst opened my eyes to a bare squint. 

My foot stood elevated upon 4 cushions, my ankle was bruised and heavily swollen and the water I had woken up to was from a bag of ice which must have burst open just before I woke.

Hammered at Happy Hour
As my head and ankle throbbed equally for my attention, I tried to piece together the night before.

From our civilised drink atop the mountain we had driven down back into town to Reilly's - an Irish bar Eduardo and I often frequented during happy hour to make the most of their 2-for-1 offer on beer.

Having only had a small lunch and no dinner, we by 7 o'clock were decidedly drunk and where probably we should have called it a night. Instead, we went to a Japanese sake bar and met up with Bella (an American girl I had been living with during my Spanish school homestay) and a few friends of hers for whom I did not know. I hadn't drunk sake before that night and still even now remember very little from this point on.
The first and last time I drink sake
What I did remember was falling and in doing so twisting my ankle so badly I could barely stand. That said, there was just about enough alcohol running through my system to numb the pain sufficiently enough for me to hobble the 20 or so minutes back to the hostel where Eduardo - to my surprise - was sat patiently waiting.

Back to the morning after the night before and desperate for the toilet I heaved my legs over the side of the bed. As my foot hit the floor in a bid to stand I was met with an excruciating pain which radiated around my ankle and up my leg with such intensity I winced with watery wet eyes.

Two weeks later and my foot was still somewhat swollen and pretty delicate unless supported and on a flat and even surface. On the bright side, I was now up and mobile and able to walk freely, even if it was for only relatively short distances. But whilst my ankle was definitely improving, it wasn't yet strong enough to allow me to travel up to the north of the country where I had planned - among other things - on taking a five day hike through the Mayan jungle.

So with my jungle hike on hold, I decided instead to head to the nearby Lake Atitlan, where just a few hours north of Antigua I could put my feet up in order to... well... get back on my feet.

Lake Atitlan
After a three hour bus ride from Antigua I arrived to the town of Pannajachel (pronounced PA-NA-HA-CHEL) on the edge of Lake Atitlan from where I could board a small boat to take me the remaining 20 or so minutes across the water to my hostel - Free Cerveza.

The hostel itself was pretty rudimentary, in part I guess because of its isolation. The showers were solar powered, the toilets were glorified holes in the ground and the accommodation was in teepee-style tents. Ordinarily, I'd have probably looked right over it but I chose to stay here because by signing up to their communal 3-course dinner for just £7 you got to enjoy a free and unlimited supply of beer between 5-7pm.

Whilst that all sounds fun, I arrived in an absolutely foul mood. 

Overlooking the lake, the common area had a small bar and one single long table made up of old doors and stretched 20 or so metres right along the front of the property. At one end of the table, close to the bar, 30 guests - maybe more - gathered around chatting, drinking beer, playing games and generally having a good ol' time.

I on the other hand was not in the mood for this sort of merryment and instead sat on my own right down the other end of the table as far away from anybody else as practically possible without getting my feet wet. Reading the last of my books which I had brought on this trip, I did everything I could to avoid being social. That said, this didn't stop several people throughout the evening coming to me to see if I was alright and whether or not I wanted to join them. Obviously, I wasn't having any of it, politely telling each of them I was probably best left alone.

Even by own standards I was in a pretty bad mood. All I wanted to do was to finish my book, eat my dinner and go to bed. And that's what I did.

When I awoke the next morning I did so to this...

Room with a view on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala
...and suddenly everything was right with the World. 

Having slept off my grump (if I can call it that) I spent the morning apologising to those who had approached me the night before and did my best to make good any wrong I may have done. 

With the air clear and my mood lifted, I was by lunch free to do what I came here to do - and that was nothing. Apart from a little kayaking and a short walk one morning around part of the lake, I spent the majority of the time just eating, sleeping, drinking beer and being unusually sociable.

I'd end up spending a further five nights here at Free Cerveza, three more than originally planned and whilst a little rustic, the setting for this hostel more than made up for any shortcomings in the facilities on hand.

That said, good food, free beer and breathtaking views... what more do you need? I mean, apart from a working ankle?

Looking across Lake Atitlan in Guatemala