Tag Archives: Guatemala

Random thoughts/ month 19

28 Nov

This month we:

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+ celebrated the Day of the Dead in Antigua on November 1. Instead of mourning the dead, locals celebrate their lives, taking to the cemetery. Families visit their loved ones’ graves cleaning them, adding a fresh coat of white paint, decorating with flowers and sometimes planting. Mariachi bands and ice cream carts wander the rows of the departed. The entrance to the cemeteries are filled with food venders, some cities even have carnival rides.

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+ went to the Sumpango kite festival on the same day. Tons of locals and foreigns flock up steep dirt paths to a grass field in this small village. Vendors selling small kites, food and crafts are set up around the perimeter and gigantic circle kites made of colored tissue paper are on display. We were disappointed to learn they don’t actually fly these massive kites, but it was pretty amazing waking around in the mud looking at the intricate work.

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+ scrubbed the inside of Skyhorse from top to bottom, washing everything possible. Don’t ask.

+ dined, yes dined, at the fanciest McDonalds I’ve ever laid eyes on. As you have probably gathered, we only eat McDs after a trying day. Our Antigua meal was no exception. After a frustrating morning at the doctor with few concrete answers, we followed our noses to the discreet golden arches and into the most luxurious courtyard. We ate with a clear view of the volcano in front of us.

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+ were funded! Thanks to you all, our kickstarter campaign was 200% funded. We cannot thank you–our friends, family and dedicated reader–enough for making this possible!

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+ experienced our second and third earthquakes. The second one was much more mild than the first but still confused Hani. As Skyhorse began to rock, Hani yelled out, calling to someone he thought was pushing the truck. By the third, we were pros and just looked at each other and our unaffected dogs as the truck wobbled a bit.

+ spent time with our friends from home, Caroline and Mike. They were in Antigua for a wedding so we got to hang with them and their dental crew for a few days, even getting to crash a pre-wedding dinner.

+ ended our time in Antigua after staying a whopping 44 days. It is by far the longest we’ve stayed camped in the same spot in the same city. Seriously love that city and can’t wait to come back someday.

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+ spent a total of $64 to stay at the Antigua tourist police for those 44 days. You are allowed to camp for free for 5 days but beyond that, the officers ask for things to spruce up the property. Over the course of our time there, we bought them a rake, tree paint, brushes, buckets, 2 soccer balls, lightbulbs and a few breads, chips and sodas. Well worth the money and we enjoyed chatting with the officers and helping them with their English.

+ had yet another frustrating border experience at Tecun Uman, Guatemala/ Cuidad Hidalgo, Mexico. Allegedly the entrance on the Mexican side is only for “light vehicles” (whatever that means). It took twenty minutes for them to decide to lift up a low hanging cable to let us enter, then too much yaking about how we couldn’t cross into Mexico here because we were too big. Mind you, we were parked right under the bus parking sign. So obviously large vehicles pass through there. Then they said we also couldn’t enter because we had two vehicles, that the motorcycle would have to be driven through separately. What?!? Eventually we were allowed to enter only if they could search us from top to bottom. Go right ahead. I drew the line when they asked us to help them remove our stuff from the truck for inspection. The head dick pulled everything out from the truck cab, even searching under the hood and in our air filter. I jokingly asked him if he was going to change our oil too. The other two lackies did a lame search of the cabin and all the closets. TWO HOURS LATER, as it’s getting dark, we realized we couldn’t even get the vehicle permit paperwork here. At every other border, you get your passport stamped and vehicle permit in the same area. But at this border, the permitting office was miles away in a different city. So the next day, unsure if the office would even open because it was a Sunday, we drove the 1.5 hours to get the permit. The bank guy was nice and efficient in giving us our permits but then the same agency morons from the day before didn’t think the paperwork we were JUST ISSUED from the bank were valid. So another hour and a half of waiting for them to be informed of their own laws. Thankfully this was our last border!! Yippppie!!!!!

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+ were welcomed back to Mexico by two back to back stays at Pemexs, the gas station.

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+ came back to Playa Zipolite with Felipa ready and waiting. The beach was much hotter, the breeze was nonexistent but the water was cool and the food delicious. After 3 days, we said a tearful goodbye to the ocean and Hani’s favorite beach. No more beach days in the foreseeable future as we drive further and further north.

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+ arrived at Overlander Oasis in Santa Maria del Tule. We spent a few nights at the OO on our drive north so it felt like a small homecoming this time around. Calvin greeted us with open arms and we met some other travelers heading south. We are some tasty meals and it reminded me how much I love Mexican food and missed the culture.

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+ didn’t eat enough tlyudas or drink any mezcal but we did witness a tent occupied Oaxaca. More on that later.

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+ had some very long driving days. We drove the steep mountainous road between Zipolite and the OO (outside of Oaxaca) in one day, 9 hours in total. A few days later, we left the OO and spent 2 long days on the road arriving in San Miguel de Allende.

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+ have rented a cool apartment in San Miguel de Allende until January 7. Anyone want to visit? We are in the heart of downtown, surrounded by the best street tacos, wonderful restaurants and cafés, towering churches, and best of all, our friends Victoria, Jason and their dogs Neli and Maya from Neli’s Big Adventure.

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Happiest place on earth

15 Nov

As our final day in Antigua rolls around (we’ve been here six weeks!!), I thought I would share pictures of my happy place–the local market. The market is part indoor/part outdoor with narrow aisles and stalls as far as the eye can see. It’s easy to get lost here since everything looks the same but, by some miracle, I’ve been able to find direct routes to my favorite vendors.

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Through the chaos and constant movement, I have discovered some sense of organization, as the market is divided into sections: the restaurants (2 sections), meat and poultry, electronics, shoes, clothing, ribbons/seamstresses and gift wrap, produce, flowers, wreaths (yes, there is an entire section devoted to the wreaths laid on burial sites with blue stained hands working steadfast on them), toys, and containers. In one section, say the produce, there are 10 vendors right next to each other selling the exact same things. Tables (and floors) are piled high with produce are all basically the same price from vendor to vendor and, of course, bartering is mandatory!

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You’ll also find every shampoo, deodorant or bath product carried in Guatemala for a much cheaper price than what you’d pay in the stores but of questionable contents.

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It was pretty hard to capture some of these pictures, as stopping is definitely frowned upon. The rows between shops really only allow for 1 and a half people to pass at a time and, regardless of the day or hour, the bustle is nonstop.

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Random thoughts/ 1.5

31 Oct

One year and six months. Really. Ruminations on that milestone later but on to this month. We’ve had our ups and downs, sweat and froze, beached and mountained and north we still go! This month we:

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+ went back to Lake Apoyo, Nicaragua. As we headed down to the lake late and on the wrong road, I searched for Miguel, the caretaker of the property we stayed when we were there 5 months earlier. By some miracle, I spotted him on the road and arranged for us to park at the house tomorrow, as he had already left for the day. We spent 6 semi-glorious days at our old spot on the lake, which had substantially more mosquitoes now and was way hotter. But we swam, practiced the ukulele, and Olivia found her twin.

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+ successfully avoided the Managua market by finding “new” used tires on our way out of the lake. Our tires are an odd size and it’s been difficult to find replacements south of the border. Thankfully though, as one was flat and bald (the last original tire we left Key West with), we found something! They may be retreads from 1996 but they’re rocking and rolling. We WILL made it home on these same tires!

+ flew through northern Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador to land in Antigua, Guatemala over the course of two days of nonstop driving. That’s SIX frustrating borders in two days. I was so beat.

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+ have settled into life at the tourist police in Antigua. We will be parked here until the beginning of November, nestled between the remains of an old hospital. We spend our days exploring the cobblestone colonial town, it’s many coffee shops and my favorite local market.

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+ tucked our swim gear away and broken out our jeans and jackets. I cannot even begin to tell describe how amazing it is not to be sweaty first thing in the morning.

+ celebrated Hani’s 36th birthday on October 12. Now we have all celebrated 2 birthdays on the road. We wandered around Antigua with the dogs, had a scrumptious dinner and then cake with all the other travelers in the tourist police lot.

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IMG_2789.JPG+ experienced our first earthquake! It was 10:00 at night and Hani was outside walking the dogs. From inside the truck, I felt Skyhorse move from side to side. Not just a sway but full on rocking back and forth. I thought Hani was pushing the truck so I yelled at him to stop messing around. He laughed that he wasn’t doing anything so I assumed he actually was. After a few more back and forths, we realized the dogs were a little freaked out. The thought that we just had an earthquake didn’t really dawn on me despite the fact that we are parked between ruins from a previous quake. It took asking two other travelers and a google search to convince me that it really was an earthquake. 7.4 all the way from El Salvador felt here!

+ launched a kickstarter campaign. We are writing a book about our travels and raising money through kickstarter to self publish it. We’ve made amazing progress but there is still time for YOU to contribute! By contributing to our kickstarter campaign, you can get a copy of our book, choose a topic for us to write about or be included in our book, depending on your donation. Click on the link, watch our video, read our book excerpt, check out the rewards on the right side of the page and donate! The more money we raise, the better our book will be! Thank you all for your support.  http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2094800206/adventures-in-skyhorse

+ explored an amazing farm overlooking Antigua. The owner is in the process of opening a farm-to-table restaurant and invites guests to check out the property. We spent a few hours one afternoon rambling about the farm and orchid garden and watching the storm roll in.

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+ realized we cannot stay in one place for a month and live in the truck. Being the cheapskate that I am, I thought with the cooler weather, we would be fine to stay in the truck and not rent a place. I now know that for our sanity, if we aren’t actually moving, we need more space than Skyhorse offers. How many of you have been waiting for me to say that?!?

+ were visited by the Mayas! My parents last visited us on the road when we were in San Diego, almost a year ago, right before we crossed into Mexico. This time, my parents came to Antigua for a 5 day visit. They brought us a bunch of goodies we were missing from home including our favorite: my dad’s homemade pumpkin pie (and seeds!). We had such a lovely time showing them the city, eating, walking, laughing, shopping, eating and more and more walking. I think they now need a vacation from their vacation.

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+ rode the chicken bus with my parents to Pastores. It was all of our first time on these tricked out, polluting, crazy-fast beasts. I was hesitant about taking my parents on the bus but Hani insisted that it was part of the Guatemalan experience. I think he was secretly hoping my mom would have a melt down but they loved it, even danced along with the blasting music.

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+ ate our way through Antigua. The food here really is unbelievable. You can find any type of meal you could possibly want. We’ve eaten Guatemalan (duh), Mexican, Middle Eastern, French, Italian gelato and pastries, real deli sandwiches, BBQ, crepes, and the best coffee. Coffee in Antigua is far superior to any other country we have been. It’s practically an art here.

+ toured the Finca Filadelfia coffee plantation with my parents. Aside from seeing the coffee process, the highlights were the drunk man stumbling toward our tour group with a big piece of wood and my mom yelling a story at us at top volume not realizing the group was right there listening. The coffee was fabulous.

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+ bid fairwell to my parents and are continuing to venture into new parts of Antigua as Mochimo’s day, Day of the Dead and Halloween roll through town.

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Going north

14 Oct

I have to admit, when we left Panama City to begin driving north, I shed a tear. Or five. I thought since we had reached our furthest stop, our trip would be over. And it came so suddenly too. We just woke up one morning, said we had enough to Panama City so let’s go. But I wasn’t ready for our travels to be over and neither was Hani. The adventure didn’t FEEL finished.

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Going north now, we have a bit more of a plan. We know what is waiting for us is each country so we are now doing a “best of” re-visiting our favorites. We are trying to stay in one place for longer periods of time since we get a better feel for the people and day to day life that way. There is no rush “to see what’s ahead” but instead the excitement of what a new day will bring. So we’ll continue our slow crawl north for a few more months at least. And we are definitely aiming for cooler-weather towns. After 4 months of sweating, we are over the heat.

Our Best of Tour North brought us back to San Juan del Sur and Lake Apoyo Nicaragua.

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laundry day at Lake Apoyo

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And now to Antigua, Guatemala where we are staying through the end of the month.

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Kick start our book!

13 Oct

As you probably saw on our Facebook page, we are writing a book about our time on the road. We have started a Kickstarter campaign to self publish our book.

 

Kickstarter is a crowd-funded platform, meaning YOU help us reach our goal through donations. In return for your contribution, you will receive a gift and our sincere gratitude. For $15, you will receive a soft covered copy of our book. For $25, you will received 2 books. For $50, you can pick a relevant topic and we will write about it in our book (sloths, for example) along with 2 copies of our book. For $75, if we know you or have met you, we will write you into our book, along with sending you 2 copies. For $120, if we know you or have met you, we will write you and some person you have a relation to (friend, relative, spouse…) into our book, along with 2 copies.

www.kickstarter.com/projects/2094800206/adventures-in-skyhorse

When you click on our Kickstarter link, at the top you will see a video explaining our book. Underneath that is an excerpt of our book. The righthand column lists all potential gifts.

We truly appreciate all your support thus far and hope you will help us reach our goal of raising $3,000. The positive feedback and over pouring love we have received already is amazing. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU ALL!

The Guatemala breakdown

8 May

We spent a total of six weeks–March 12, 2014 to April 27, 2014–in Guatemala, beginning our journey in El Ceibo and ending in Valle Nuevo. Here’s a bit of a recap of our time in the country.

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Things were similarly priced to Mexico with the exception of diesel ($5/gal, but that’s cheaper than gasoline) and park/museum admissions. Entrance into Tikal was $40 for both of us. Crazy! Food and groceries were cheap though.

In the 6 weeks in Guatemala, we spent a total of $3,600, which came out to $78.26 a day, a little less than what we spent per day in Mexico.

BORDER
We entered at a small crossing in El Ceibo on the border of Mexico and northwestern Guatemala. Small borders are good because there’s little traffic but bad because there’s no oversight. We got a taste of each. No one else was entering or exiting this border. Nevertheless, it was a gigantic production and unnecessarily time consuming.

It took about 2hrs to cross into Guatemala and we were the ONLY people going through the process. No one wore uniforms and no signs indicated that the dilapidated trailers were the customs offices. When we stopped to ask where the border offices were, some guys put cones in front of our truck and said here.

Hani stayed with Skyhorse and the pups and I just walked into the first trailer (which had a/c!) and asked a nice man what I was supposed to do. This guy became my buddy for the day. He directed me to another trailer where our passports were stamped. I then went back to the nice guy who started generating our vehicle import paperwork. I needed to make copies and pay in Guatemalan quetzales so I needed to find the copier and bank.

The copier was all the way in the Guatemalan side. After the hike there and back, I needed to find the bank. The “bank”– a drunk guy that was supposed to be in a trailer but hiding somewhere else–had no money. I exchanged pesos for quetzales from a tuktuk driver (apparently this is the accepted means to get money at a border) and went back to the nice guy and told him I didn’t trust the bank. From then on, when I needed to pay some fee, I had the nice guy accompany me to ensure the bank processed my payments correctly and gave me the right change.

While this was going on, Hani was sitting in the truck. Some guy (apparently a semi-official border person) was telling Hani there was a fumigation fee and a fee for the dogs. The truck was fumigated and the guy told us 2 different prices. When I asked to see proof of what the fee for fumigation was, he showed me a paper attached to his clipboard that said a lower cost. Oh yeah, that’s the price you have to pay. At that, I wasn’t believing a word he said. The costs for the dogs went from 150Q per dog to 300Q per dog and he didn’t even ask to see their paperwork, just wanted money. When I called the guy out on his bullshit (yes, I really called what he was telling me shit), he flipped out and stormed away.

I went to talk to nice guy only to find liar already there tattling on me. After rounds and rounds inside and Hani outside revving his engine, moving cones and shoving some guy out of his face, I paid 150Q (about $20) for both dogs and we got the hell out of there. I was completely frustrated and upset that I caved and paid anything at all. Hani thought the experience was funny. At least it was over.

We exited at Valle Nuevo, Guatemala into Las Chinamas, El Salvador. Leaving Guatemala was a pretty simple process. As you drive to the border, there’s a big building to your left and the offices you need to go to are in order. What makes this so confusing and hectic are the groups of “helpers” swarming you to aid and ease your crossing and convert your money. I just put my hands up and told everyone to back away and they left me alone. The process was MUCH easier on my own, though if I didn’t speak Spanish, a helper would have been necessary as none of the border agents spoke English.

We opted to cancel our vehicle import, thereby mandating 90 days outside of Guatemala. Otherwise, we’d have to rush and drive back into Guatemala before our initial 90 days ran out on June 10. The guys in this office were very patient with us, explaining our options and the penalty fees if we drove back sooner than 90 days. They even made my copies for me free of charge. So we didn’t pay anything to leave the country.

In another room, we waited in a short line to get our exit stamp and a scrap paper with a stamp to show the border agent in El Salvador.

Once outside and back in the truck, we had to show our cancellation paperwork again and then were able to drive across the bridge to enter El Salvador.

Total on crossing the border: $71.66 (because we have to import 2 vehicles–Skyhorse and the moto)

SAFETY
As was our experience in Mexico, we felt completely safe in Guatemala. We were never stopped by police, even during “random” security checkpoints along the highway. We had no interactions with police at all.

We did, however, cross a very poor mountain town during our drive from hell from Rio Dulce to Semuc Champey. Some teens had propped up a plank of wood on some blocks and asked for money “for the community.” We laughed and gave them the equivalent of .70.

Total: .70

CAMPING
We didn’t boondock all that much. Kinda sad. We were intent on seeing cities while in Guatemala and didn’t want to park on some random small street if we knew we’d be out running around town all day. Or be inconvenienced by parking somewhere remote when we wanted to be in walking distance to a fun town. We free camped 9 days (when we first entered, when we got stuck on that hell road and were fixing the truck outside Semuc, when we were at the mechanic in Coban, when we were parked outside the Guatemala City airport) but they weren’t adventurous or cool spots. We then were able to free camp some more in Antigua at the Tourist Police lot for 6 days, one day beyond the limit, after we bought them soda and chips.

Total on camping: $210

FUEL
Diesel was pretty pricey in Guatemala, almost $5 a gallon. Luckily, since the country is small, we didn’t have to fill up all that often. We also road the motorcycle a bunch, which saved on fuel.

Total: $460

FOOD:
Because we wound up in a lot of American influenced towns (Panajachel, San Pedro, Antigua) for extended stays, we ate out a ton! It’s a tough call between cooking and eating really cheap (and good) schwarma or pasta or BBQ. The whooping $642.82 was well spent, but we could have budgeted better and ate in more often. I did cook, spending $433.78 on groceries. Since we were closer to towns, we often went out at night, spending $144 at bars.

Total on food and bev: $1,220.60

PHONE/INTERNET:
We splurged in Guatemala and went with the more reliable and slightly more expensive Tigo for phone and Internet service. Coverage was excellent, a nice change from the crappy service we had in Mexico. The SIM card came preloaded with data, minutes and texts and if you recharge your phone on triple saldo days (you’ll get a text on those promotional days), you get triple the amount you pay. Pretty sweet.

There are two competing companies, Movistar and Claro. The coverage is not as good but prices are cheaper and they do the triple saldo days as well.

Like Mexico, free wifi was easy to come by, especially in the touristy towns. Every restaurant/bar/coffee house/you name it had wifi. It is easy to get along without an Internet plan but again, having one makes life easier.

Total: $38.86

DOGS
Shae and Olivia are angels and continue to be visions of perfect health. No vet visits and no one seems to care that their paperwork is in English.

I’ve been looking for good quality dog food to no avail. In Coban, they laughed when I asked for a store that sold all natural or organic dog food. I bought the best looking brand but it cost like $60 for a 20 pound bag, much crappier quality than what they were eating at home and far more expensive. It’s completely insane. When that ran out, I caved. Yes, I’m that bad mom feeding my dogs the McDonalds of dog food, all fillers and grains. And even that was pricey! I guess locals feed their dogs table scraps because there’s no way they are paying $100+ on big bags of dog food.

I have to say, Shae and Olivia love their new generic dog food. Shae, who can sometimes be a picky eater, gobbles her food up. They seem fine and no problems with their stomachs or coats since the food change. Guess organic dog food isn’t all that after all.

Total spent on the dogs: $250.53 (dog food plus they needed more heartguard and flea meds)

NOT TO MISS:
The ruins at Tikal were pretty amazing. Our favorite ruins so far. It’s a mission to get out there because it’s so far away from every other town or site but completely worth it. You can actually enjoy the ruins (and climb them!) without hordes of tourists or locals selling you crap.

We loved Lake Atitlan and would definitely go back. It was so easy to fall into a comfortable routine in any of the lake towns. San Pedro was the best.

Antigua was also a favorite. Hani says it’s his favorite colonial village. This colonial town was very tanquillo, easy to navigate and not filled with gringos, even though there was a great diversity of food. The local food market was great and the artesian market next door would make it easy for a traveler to find all the textiles possible to then bypass the town of Chichi for the country-known market. The town is nestled in a valley between mountains and volcanoes, picturesque from any location.

WHAT WE’D DO DIFFERENTLY:
Not drive a road that no one’s mentioned driving before, especially when everyone takes a similar route but goes the long way. Just because a route is less than half the distance of the longer route doesn’t mean it’s faster!!

We could have bypassed Semuc Champey. It just wasn’t anything we hadn’t seen before. And I said it before, the road driving in just wasn’t worth it.

We could have also gone without seeing the Chichi market. Granted it was only a cheap bus ride and an “event” for the day, but we saw the same goods in mass quantities for the same prices in other parts of the country.

STRANGEST THING:
For the amount of travelers that make their way from town to town, I would have expected the roads to be better. They were AWFUL! Seriously, the worst roads of our trip to date were in Guatemala. We saw tons of chicken buses and microvans just get pounded on the pothole laden roads.

BEST MEAL:
The best food was in San Pedro La Laguna, with a tie between the all you can brunch at El Barrio (we hit it twice and stayed from the start at 10am to close to finish at 2pm) and the amazing pasta at Alfredo’s, a tiny restaurant run out of this woman’s home. Her living room doubles as a dining area when they are full. We ate there two nights in a row.

The best coffee was in Panajachel’s Cafe Loco. Delicious innovative flavors, super cheap, and artistic. Can’t beat that!

FOR YOUR OWN GUATEMALAN ADVENTURE:
+ visit Lake Atitlan and any of the surrounding towns.
+ explore the textile markets and buy buy buy because you’ll never see fabulous fabrics like this again.
+ find the hot waterfall around Lago de Izabal. Heavenly!
+ soak in the traditional dress of both the women and men in a small village.
+ wander Antigua. It’s not as touristy as you think.

Semana Santa

28 Apr

Semana Santa, Holy Week, is a big deal in Guatemala. The villages around Lago Atitlan, while filled with gringos, are very traditional and hold daily processions down the main streets multiple times a day throughout the week.

Since driving during that week is out of the question due to continuous processions and street closures, we stayed in San Juan La Laguna.

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On Good Friday, locals gathered around the center of town just after midnight. Throughout the night and into the morning, alfombras (carpets) of grasses, flowers, fruits, veggies, colored sawdust and sometimes candles are intricately created. People block off their alfombra in the street with markers and use stencils and paper drawings as a guide. The end results are a labor of love and truly a work of art.

We woke early and walked to town around 6am. Finishing touches were being put on the alfombras as Hani and I walked the almost empty streets, sidestepping the few drunks that were still (barely) standing from the night before. It was an unbelievable sight. Streets that were once filled with speeding tuktuks and rotten vegetables were expertly decorated for the holiday.

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seven deadly sins alfombra

seven deadly sins alfombra

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At 8am the procession from the church began. Shifts of smartly dressed men and traditionally clothed women carried huge floats depicting biblical scenes. And as they made their way sloooowly shuffling/side steeping down the church steps, the procession turned to the main street and trampled the alfombras. It killed me to see them destroyed! All the time and effort put into creating them and boom. A swirly mess.

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And just when you think you can capture the new beauty of a trampled mass of lemons and flowers, the cleaning crew is right behind the procession sweeping and raking up all the newly created garbage.

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The procession would stop every so often at set up stations of the cross where readers would chant in local dialect verses. It was awesome to observe such a solemn and beautiful religious experience. It was also pretty amazing to witness such a disorganized country have such orderly events.

The procession made it’s way in a circle through the main streets back into the church where it started from typically around noon, not because the path is long but because their steps are so deliberately slow and thoughtful. It really was a moving experience.

Later that same day, we took the motorcycle to San Juan, where Toby, Chloe, Erica and Sam met us to watch how that town prepared for their procession. Around 2 that afternoon, locals began their alfombras with the procession starting at 10pm. The alfombras here had much more intricate shading and details, even three dimensions. Because of this, when we left the town at 10, groups were still feverishly trying to finish their alfombras. Most spectators arrived once the sun went down, which is a shame because you can’t appreciate all the details in the dark. Nevertheless, it was a unique cultural experience.

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