Friday, July 24, 2015

Gifts From Canada

When I first learned that my sisters were coming to visit me in Guatemala, I immediately started making a list of things I wanted from Canada. My little sis totally came through for me and filled almost her entire suitcase with presents for me. :)
My haul. :D
1. Citronella candles -- can't find these here at all. Great for sitting out on the patio at dusk.
2. Smelly candles -- easy to find candles in Panajachel but haven't been able to find many with fragrance. Most of the local candle shops sell pillar candles for religious reasons.
3. Sunscreen -- good sunscreen is tremendously expensive here!
4. Face scrubs -- one for me (Olay) and one for Bert (St. Ives). Could probably find an equivalent here but it's so nice to have something that you know works for you.
5. Canada keychain! -- I lost mine so this is my replacement. Essential for proclaiming my Canadian pride.
6. Spanish/English dictionary -- I did find one here in town but this one I ordered online and just had it shipped to my sister's address to bring down.
7. A bird book -- all the bird identification books I've found here are in Spanish!
8. A novel -- really just bought this to bring my book order total above the minimum for free shipping... but super excited to have a new book to read when the power goes out.
9. My hairdryer -- my little sis dug through the totes I'd stashed in her basement to find this for me. Thanks!
10. Garlic press and veggie peeler -- two small items that I probably could find here but I knew that the ones I had stashed in Canada were high quality and easy to pack.
11. Medication -- I need to write a blog post about the issue of getting prescriptions in Pana. Luckily, I called my doctor and pharmacy in Canada and arranged for another six-month supply of my medication that my sister could bring down for me. Not sure what's going to happen when these run out.
12. Treats! -- my Mom sent me salt water taffy. Yum! Plus she added in some wonderful lavender soap and a whole bunch of travel-sized goodies. Thanks, Mumsy!
13. Magnetic clips for the fridge -- another frivolous small item that I love. I miss Dollarama. :(
14. Underwear -- hard to find plus-sized undergarments here in Pana. Not looking forward to bra shopping when my two wear out.
15. Socks for Bert -- we bought socks here but they were way too small for Bert's feet!
16. Kitty treats -- these are like $1.25 back in Canada but about $4 here. Yeah, bring 'em down! Willow says thank you. :)
17. Thrive gum -- this is quit smoking gum, like Nicorette. Bert is trying to quit! Yay!
18. Polysporin -- I did find an antibacterial ointment here but it didn't seem to work very well, so I requested some "good stuff" from back home.
19. After Bite -- anti-itch cream that I desperately needed for my numerous bug bites. Found out that it's actually just baking soda so next time I'm going to make my own.
20. Doggie poop bags -- I've talked briefly about these before. Very handy for the bathroom. We've found a supplier in town now, but it's still nice to have a roll of these in my purse.
21. Oven mitts -- there are oven mitts and potholders here but they don't seem to be as good a quality as the ones back home. It's almost like they're just fabric with no insulation or fire-retardant stuff. The ones my sister picked out are awesome! No more burned fingers, yay!

In hindsight, I should have asked my sisters to bring down a suitcase full of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and A&W Mozza burgers but I imagine that wouldn't have been as practical as what I did receive.

Big thanks to my little sis for all the prezzies. You rock! Come back soon! (And bring treats!)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Scheduled Power Outages in Guatemala

The scheduled power outage notice a kind person posted on Facebook.
We had our first scheduled power outage today. I had seen a strange notice posted by on Facebook to the Panajachel group but had disregarded it. That was, until my landlady sent me an email to let me know. I'm glad she did, or I would have been terribly surprised! (And would have disappointed my work clients as well.)

As it is, Tuesday was a day of rest and relaxation... and a bit of electronic withdrawal. The power was scheduled to be turned off from 6am to 4 pm. It turned off right on schedule... but not back on! We expected this though. Guatemalan time, and all. :) It did come back on at 5:20 pm, just as I was about to start gathering up candles.

We spent the day outside mostly. We walked up to the mirador and a little bit past there to look down on Santa Catarina. After that, a lovely swim in the lake to cool off, then some lunch. Lucky for us we have a gas stove, so we could cook. A nice siesta passed a few hours in the afternoon, then another walk to the park with the doggies before dinner and the return of the electricity.
The day reminded me of being at our log cabin in the woods of Canada -- my happy place! No electricity for a day is no big deal for me, but Bert got a bit antsy. Me, I didn't even have time to do any reading! Oh, well, I'm sure they'll be a next time.
We forget Pachi's leash on our walk to the mirador. She's not too bright. She kept walking in the middle of the road.
Is this how you claim land? Just put up a sign?
Pachi getting in trouble for eating garbage at the lookout.
This is just past the lookout, on the road down to Santa Catarina. We went up those stairs! 
At the top of the stairs, there was these really nice little path. We found a person's adobe-brick house and their garden, then the path went on further but we didn't want to get lost or have to walk back uphill much more, so we turned around.
We met some Mayans coming up the stairs with carrying bags of sand. Yikes! That would be arduous. :(
Santa Catarina from up on the path.
Walking home, Bert spotted a beautiful lizard! Do you see him on the ledge?
He hid for a bit and peeked out to look at us.
I waited patiently in the hot sun to get this picture. He's so pretty!
EDIT: I found out later he's mostly likely a Bocourt's Spiny Lizard.
Tips for handling scheduled power outages in Guatemala:
1. Know about it! Not sure how my Facebook friends knew but I'm glad they let everyone else in on the secret. Perhaps they get a notice if they pay electricity?
2. Have some food on hand that doesn't required heating, in case your stove doesn't work. We have a gas stove, but we had to light it with a match instead of the electric sparker.
3. Fill up your bathtub or pila with water to use to flush the toilet. This was a tip I'd heard and tried... but our bathtub has a slow leak and was empty by morning. We ended up not needing the extra water anyway. Our toilet flushed fine.
4. Enjoy your forced vacation day! No shopping, no TV, no Internet, no chores. Have fun!

A tip for my readers: Did you know you can click on any picture to make it bigger? Get a good look at that lizard!  :D

Friday, July 17, 2015

A Sunny Day In Steep San Pedro

One of the best days of my sisters' visit was when we spent the day in San Pedro la Laguna. We walked down to the San Pedro launch dock, which in Pana is at the end of Calle de Embarcadero, and which I just noticed is marked with a "ferry" symbol on Google maps!
Of course, we ignored the many men asking us, "Boat? Lancha? San Pedro?" and continued on until almost to the dock. There we spoke to an official public boat dude, distinguished by their shirts, and were told we had to wait until there was 15 people on board before we left. That was fine by us, so we sat in the boat chatting for about 20 minutes until enough people showed up. Then we were off!
My little sister enjoying the view from the boat to San Pedro.
My big sister striking a pose in the boat to San Pedro.
Man, I love being on the water! In the morning, the lake is usually calm and the air is clear, so it's a lovely ride. When we disembarked at the cool-looking thatched roof San pedro dock, we paid our Q25 fare to the captain. (That's about $4.25 Canadian.) Then we gawked at the STEEP hill heading up from the dock! They're not kidding when they say most villages around the lake are hilly! Santiago was the same way. :)
Little sis standing at the bottom of the steep hill that leads from the dock into San Pedro.
My sisters! Taking in the sights of San Pedro, just up from the Pana dock.
The tuk-tuks in San Pedro all parked on angles to the hill with their wheels turned so they wouldn't roll away. We even saw one tuk-tuk have to unload its passengers because it couldn't make it up the hill! Our legs certainly got a workout after a day of walking up and up and up and down,

I had done a bit of research the day before to find us a nice spot for coffee and boy, was it nice! We went just up the hill from the Pana dock and found Cafe Las Cristalinas. The best coffee I've had in Guatemala so far! I'm not joking.
The mural outside Cristalinas.
Little sis posing with the coffee plants that we sat amongst. 
My delicious coffee. Such a nice big mug too!
Big sis preparing to stab her fruit and yogurt parfait. YUM.
French toast bites and fruit at Cafe Los Cristalinas. DELISH.
The mural inside the café.
We lingered over our yummy food and coffee, and eavesdropped a bit on the tour that came in. The café also sold coffee beans but we had to decline as we had plans to buy beans from Crossroads Café back in Panajachel.
Reluctantly, we left the coffee shop and headed out into the steep streets. We decided to just wander about in the sunshine, letting our curiosity guide us. It was wonderful!

A rare flat road in San Pedro. Not a well-travelled street. We could tell because the cobblestones weren't totally wrecked yet!
Heading up towards the street market. Narrower streets than in Pana.

We were trying to find this church, got turned around, wandered about, and then came upon it backwards!
Great place to stop and grab a bench and some ice cream.
Lovely flowers in the garden by the church.
This young boy was playing in the water of the fountain... And avoiding his father by running around the base.
San Pedro is a fascinating town that seems to have two distinct sections: the gringo area nearest the docks, and the more local areas up the hill. There are some very talented artists in town, both local and gringo, and many walls were painted with murals.
Corn dragon?
I almost made my little sister's pop come out her nose when I said, "A werewolf with breasts!"

We were getting a kick out of all the religious murals as well. We had actually just walked down the road from "Cielo" (heaven.) We chose not to walk down to "Infierno" (hell) because it actually was a rather steep set of stairs!
Very colourful town!
View from San Pedro looking down on Lake Atitlan.
Wandering through a barrio. We had a trio of dogs following us -- mother, father, and puppy -- but they stopped when we came upon the brown dogs. That's the puppy there, the black & white. He wasn't scared of the new dogs, but his parents were!
Little sis posing with a giant bunch of bananas

More evidence of the rising lake waters of Atitlan.
Big sis photobombing my picture of little sis and the mural of purple mermaids. :D
Big sis insisting that I take a picture of Kettle Chips that she can't find back home. She ate them too!
We walked all over the town, up and down, round and round. (Hee hee, I'm a poet!) I had read about a little place called Art Cafe El Colibri (Art Café of the Hummingbird). I had gotten turned around and pretty gave up on finding it... when we saw a sign! We had meandered out to the end of the street by the water and strolled down narrower and narrower streets, until we were literally walking on a dirt path by a field.
Exploring the very edges of San Pedro, where the town meets the fields.
At the end of the field, there were horses to ride, and a friendly local man who said, "Hasta la vista!" when we passed on by.
We saw a tiny sign pointing the way... and there in the seemingly middle of nowhere was the Hummingbird Café! We found it!
Art Café el Colibri
We rested our weary feet, meet two sweet dogs and super friendly guy named Paul, and enjoyed beverages under the shade of the trees. It was a wonderful quiet spot for a break. And the funny thing was: when we left by the front entrance, it was right off a main road! Although I still believe it would be a bit hard to find as the sign is very small. But be sure to visit if you're in the area. :)
A bit mroe shopping and gawking at the wares and multi-cultural food of the main drag (oh! Falafels!), and then we headed back to the boat docks.
NOTE: On the way back to Panajachel from San Pedro, they ask for payment in advance. I think it's because they don't want people running off without paying once they get to "the city".
Sleepy kitty on a counter.
Kinda hard to take pictures from a moving boat!
Big sis happily took a tiny seat at the front of the boat on the way back to Panajachel.
Little sis admiring the view from the rather decrepit boat.
It was a super fantastic day in San Pedro La Laguna, The town is different than Pana, and although we enjoyed it very much, we all agreed that Pana is a better place to live for now.
It was also so great to get out on the lake and see the dramatic shoreline. You get a real sense of the steepness of the hills and volcanoes, and glimpses of mansions and hovels along the shore. Plus, we got back in time for a swim in the pool at the hotel before intense low clouds rolled in right about our heads! Truly this is paradise on top of the world. :D

Five Days in Panajachel With My Sisters

My two awesome sisters came all the way from Canada to Guatemala to visit me last week! It was an amazing five days of fun, laughs, and adventure. Not surprisingly, I was too busy enjoying myself to remember to take pictures, but I will post what I have.
Little sis and big sis at El Patio restaurant on Santander. The local woman is tying the scarf in my sister's hair. 
Our friend and self-proclaimer chauffeur, Victor! Tuk-tuk #88. Super-great guy drove us back and forth all week.
DAY ONE: Walk down Santander, gawk at the lake, dinner of pupusas at Chero's, and meet the gang at Gringos Locos.
Of course, my poor gringa sisters got MOBBED by vendors as we walked down Santander the first day. They both handled it with varying degrees of amusement and (eventually) irritation -- pretty much the same way I feel! This young lady wrapped big sister's hair in a scarf, and she was so happy that I bought it for her!
Lots of shopping!
My sisters tried very hard to not buy anything the first day -- on my advice -- but we did pick up a few things. There is always so much to see on Santander! So many beautiful things... but you end up walking down the road and seeing something even more beautiful. It's important to walk the whole street, plus along the lakefront, before committing to a purchase. Plus, you've got to have the ol' Pana bargaining skill... of simply walking away. It's shocking how much the price can drop when you just show interest, ask the price, then sadly say, "No" and walk off. Little sis got the hang of this pretty quick and made some great deals! Big sis is more of a soft touch (like Bert) and insisted on giving her money away to all the street kids. They loved her! Every day when they saw her, they'd run up to her with big smiles. She wanted to take them all home with her.  :)
Big sis had a coconut (only Q5, less than a dollar). I was making a face, of course, while little sis looked on. 
DAY TWO: Visit my place, walk to the lake, walk up to the Mirador (finally sun!), dinner at Jose Pinguino's and more fun at Gringos Locos.
The second day was the day to visit my apartment. So much fun! We went down to the park at the lake and went for a swim, picked avocados, and had a lovely lunch of beans and rice at home. Then we hiked up to the mirador for a grand view of Lake Atitlan.
Big sis was super excited to see real coffee trees! These are growing down by our park.
A cloudy day on Lake Atitlan, but big sis was still loving it!
Picking avocados after our swim. We were all successful in getting one!
Um, big sis, that's not ripe yet!
Little sis is a master of avocado picking!
Walking down from the lookout. We were actually grateful for clouds as I'm sure we would have been quite hot and sunburnt without them. 
We did a lot of walking on Day Two! We ended up footsore and happy at Jose Pinguino's restaurant on Santander. We sat down to peruse the menu... and had few laughs!
Trying to decide what to eat... so many great options and good prices too!
Cheese FUNdue with MASHrooms!
Our favourite English phrase was: "bathed in the souce of mushrooms!" Yummy.
Wonderful carrot soup as a starter.
These are "spears of Lomito". Absolutely delicious!
We had an interesting time at dinner. We ordered our food and then realized that it was getting darker and darker. A woman came around and put a candle on our table. We thought, "Oh, what a romantic place." But soon enough, we were thinking, "Um, it's too dim to eat our food." Finally, we clued in: the power was out!! So we sat and ate by candlelight and listened to the lovely ladies playing the marimba in near-darkness. They sounded wonderful! I don't think they missed a note.
After-dinner drinks at Gringos Locos and a serenade by our friend, Julio. 
DAY THREE: Sleep in, more shopping including a visit to the market, reverse dinner, and a show by our friend, Georgy.
Finding more bargains and souvenirs. We bought gifts for everyone... including ourselves!
The beginning of our "reverse dinner" -- drinks and dessert of fried plantains (plus some papas fritas) at Restaurante El Cayuco (Canoe Restaurant)
We had the main course of our dinner at the street food stand at the intersection of Santander and Principale. I had had their gringas before and loved them, and my sisters were brave enough to want to try street food. They were delicious! While we were ordering, the street boys came up to big sis, laughing and goofing off, and we decided to buy them a gringa to share. They were so happy! We left them arguing over which portion was whose, while we went up to Gringos Locos to eat and enjoy a lovely ukelele performance by Georgy. You can see one of her songs on Youtube here.

DAY FOUR: San Pedro -- visit this page for the details.

DAY FIVE: Last day, oh no! Resting, last minute shopping, relaxing at the hotel, sad farewells.
Big sis wasn't feeling too well (I really hope it wasn't the street food!) so we took it easy on this day. Actually, we had planned this to be a day of rest anyway, but now it also included perusing the pharmacies and health food stores for remedies! Ah, the joy of traveling.
Trying to take a serious picture outside of Crossroads. Big sis, little sis, and me!
We went back to the hotel and lounged about at the pool and hot tub, explored the beautiful gardens, and saw a surprise in a tree!
The view from my sisters' hotel room at Hotel Atitlan.
View of the hotel from my sisters' patio door. 

Bert and little sis in the hot tub at the hotel.
The grounds of Hotel Atitlan are amazing. They have extensive gardens, and many birds in cages both in the gardens and near the restaurant. They have weddings here, and people also come just to eat at the restaurant and tour the grounds. Entry fee is Q55, I think.
Toucanet in a cage near the restaurant.
Rose gardens.
Bert and little sis exploring the paths through the gardens.
Günther Goose! He ruled the duck pond. :)
Poor bachelor rooster had no hens. There were GIANT koi in the pond to amuse him though.
A toucan in the gardens. They also had parrots that said, "Hola!"
Macaws checking us out from their high cage. There were peacocks below them.
Surprise! A wild Geoffroy's spider monkey in a tree in the hotel gardens.
I asked the gardeners if it was a pet but they said, "No."
Seeing a monkey was a total surprise! We had originally planned to go to the Atitlan Nature Reserve and see the ones up there, but we didn't get around to it. Turns out we didn't have to go anywhere! 
Here is a short video of the monkey coming down the tree to check us out. 

Be sure to hop over to my Youtube Channel to check out my other videos, including one of crazy dancers on stilts walking up Santander!
Hasta luego, mis amigos. :)