Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Walking to the Beach

This video is 10 minutes and 42 seconds long. It took approximately 15 hours to upload to YouTube. Yup, 15 hours!
So you all better WATCH IT DAMMIT!! Ha ha!!

Wasn't that great? Give it a thumbs up then! :D

Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas 2016 in Panajachel

Merry Christmas and Feliz Navidad to everyone!
I've had a wonderful few days of holiday fun. Here's some pics! 😊

Christmassy toes! And nice sandals tan lines. :)
Around here, poinsettias grow wild... and huge!
I tracked down my friend, Juan, and bought two new hummingbirds for my collection.
In Christmas colours, even.  :)
Juan gave me a "deal" (sarcasm quotes) and threw in a snowman!
He's looking a little melty. Must be the heat. :)
Me with the crazy awesome cacti that grow outside Casa Cakchiquel.
I also dyed my hair purple-ish for the holidays. Can you tell? Turns out more red but that's okay by me.
Christmas Eve is a big deal in Guatemala. They call it Nochebuena -- the good night. Bert and I went over to NJP's for pizza and imbibing, then bar hopped around town with a few expat friends. We made it back home in time to watch the spectacular midnight fireworks from my roof. 
NJP bought fireworks. They were incredibly loud!
A close up of the small LOUD firecrackers. The Original Rambo. Ha ha!
Maybe I'm strange but I noticed something different about this balloon right away. It's printed upside-down!
But that's because it's meant to hang down like this, not up as if it was filled with helium. Smart!
For some reason, I had a good giggle over the precision in the amount of pop in this bottle. Two zeros!
Christmas tamale! The family that Bert lives with gave him some. How sweet.
Inside the tamale. It's with a nice sauce, two red pepper strips, some raisins, and this one had a chicken bone and a pork bone in it. (For flavor.) It's actually kinda tasty. Everyone makes theirs a bit differently, and perhaps a bit meatier if you're wealthy.
NJP made his amazing pizza for us! Soooooo good.
Downtown Panajachel was pretty dead but we found a few expat friends, and some new friends, in La Cueva, a bar that's at the back of the El Dorado Plaza.
Bert and NJP playing a round of pool.
Christmas Karaoke!
Ah, my favourite! Gringas at 10pm. Nothing beats 'em.
I didn't take any video of the fireworks this year. Sorry! They were magical, as always. Even the super poor folks next door, who don't even have indoor plumbing, had a few small rockets to shoot off. It truly is the best fireworks display I've ever seen in my life.

Bert's stocking that I stuffed with presents and junk food. :D
So Christmas Day morning arrived too early... oh, wait. I slept in til 10am. HA! Dragged my butt out of bed, chugged some coffee, then Skyped with my little sister and her family. They showed me the snow outside the window! I miss snow!

I opened my prezzies and waited for Bert to come over, but it turned out he was sick. So I went off to do my new Christmas tradition -- swimming!
I've noticed the Guatemalan ladies lately have a new obsession with fancy sun hats.
Jucanya Panajachel Lake Atitlan Guatemala beach
The beach at Jucanya.
Lake Atitlan Guatemala volcanoes Panajachel Jucanya
Not a bad place to spend Christmas, right?
 Here is a short 30-second video of me in the water. Yup, my camera is waterproof! It was so incredibly lovely to float. I need to do it more often. It's awkward though. I get stared at A LOT. Even by adults! But I was the only white person on the beach so I did stick out a bit! 😄

After swimming, I strolled home and Bert showed up feeling a bit better and opened his presents. Then it was more relaxing, eating junk food, and Skyping with family. What a perfect day!

I'll be uploading more videos to my YouTube Channel for your watching pleasure, including a 10-minute video of me walking thru the back alleys of Jucanya to the beach. You can also go there to see the fireworks video I took last year at Xmas. Spectacular!

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday full of joy and awesomeness. 😁

Friday, December 23, 2016

Panajachel Before Christmas

I went for a walk to the market yesterday to see what's going on around town as people get ready for Christmas. Of course, the fireworks stalls are all set up, and the market lane is full of vendors, like it is on Sundays, only more so!
Christmas piñatas!

Fireworks stalls lining the road to the market.

There is an incredible array of fireworks of different shapes and sizes.
We're still debating whether or not to buy some this year. :)
I purposefully went to the market to buy some Xmas treats to help us get in the holiday spirit. I wanted to pick out something that seemed to be universal to the season here in Guatemala, like something that everyone seemed to be buying that perhaps wouldn't be something we'd eat back home. I discovered almost very stall was selling boxes of cookies and, strangely enough, I saw a lot of Ferrero Rocher chocolates. Guatemalans also have an obsession with marshmallows, and at Xmas they're covered in chocolate. YUM!
I bought a small box of cookies. :D  It cost Q30, or $5.41 Canadian.
The cookies were pretty good but nothing special. Perhaps a bit better and richer than the cookies you buy in the grocery store here. Nothing like the delectable treats from back home. Oh well.
I had fun with the little letter cookies though. :)

These are actually really good! We've eaten them all. Might have to get more for Xmas morning.
Q20 or $3.60 for 50 hearts. The box contained 10 plastic sleeves with 5 hearts in each.

I took a video as I walked down the market lane. This is usually a road but they close it to traffic during special times, plus every Sunday. You'll notice in the video there is a LOT of fruit, even more so than usual. That's cuz they make a traditional hot spiced fruit punch at Christmas. Here's a blog with a recipe if you'd like to try it. It's quite good! Bit weird to have hot fruit but the spices make it kinda like apple cider. You can also see the big silver pots they cook it in. There were piles of clothes and toys, both new and used.
Sorry if the video's a bit blurry and bumpy. I was walking uphill on a cobblestone road while dodging people!

Two day til Christmas! Are you ready?

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Tamale Baskets at Mayan Families

One of the biggest and most helpful charities here in Panajachel, Guatemala, is Mayan Families. They do soooooo much good work around the lake.

Right now -- today! -- they are swamped with hundreds of people lining up to get a free Christmas Tamale basket. My friend, Stray Cat, is an employee at Mayan Families and took some pictures of the joyful chaos.
Mayan Families courtyard
So many people!
Baskets being put together.
It must be loud!
Everybody signs a thank-you card.
Stray Cat says, "Everything is a playground here. kids will climb the carrots, the dog food, the furniture, even me. They will reach out and touch you, grab you, hug you, etc. They have no prickly personal space..."

Here's the Mayan Families Xmas video from last year that explains what they do and what's in the baskets. It's only two-and-a-half minutes long and you get to see the beautiful traditional clothing of the local Mayan women.

Here's their most recent blog post about the Christmas tradition in Guatemala of making tamales for the family -- Making Tamales with Doña Margarita.

It's not too late to donate! Although baskets and gifts have all been purchased for this year, you can donate to their ongoing programs including Elder Care, Hope for the Animals, Well Mother Well Baby, sponsor a student or family, and help with the medical clinic costs. Donation page here.

I hope you're all enjoying the excitement and anticipation of the days leading up to Christmas. I put up a few simple decorations at my apartment today and did a bit of shopping. I'm looking forward to Xmas Eve fireworks, swimming on Xmas Day, and Skyping with my family!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Sandra's Import Grocery Store in Panajachel

Several times I've mentioned that you can "get anything" at Sandra's. It's pretty much true! At the least, this is your best bet to find a taste you may be craving from back home.

I wandered in there the other day to take a few pictures and get some prices for you guys. I was doing all right until one of the sales girls saw me. She got upset! She said, "No photos." I apologized and put my camera away. She then said a bunch of stuff in rapid-fire Spanish. I didn't understand and told her so. She repeated the same phrase a few more times, pointing to the pocket where I had stashed my camera. I started thinking maybe she was asking me to delete the photos I had taken, but I feigned ignorance, apologized some more and said, "Okay, no mas photos." (No more photos.)

As I toured through the rest of the store, three other associates magically appeared to ask me if I needed help. Ha! Keeping on eye on the spy!  :D

So here are the few clandestine pics I managed to smuggle out of the top secret Sandra's grocery store just for you!

The store was recently repainted by an amazing artist. He literally stood on a ladder with a picture of food and fruit taped to the wall for reference.
A bag of Goldfish crackers for Q33. That's CAN$5.66 or US$4.40 at today's exchange rates from
A Christmas treat? I think not!
A big bottle of Bailey's (750 mL) for Q255 or CAN$44.50 or US$34. Is that good? I don't know.
But considering you can buy the same amount of rum for Q45, it seems excessive! :)
One of the aisles at the front that contains imported cookies and crackers.
You can see that the aisles are stuffed top to bottom with attractive items to purchase!
The best aisle! Imported chocolates and other treats. :D
Toblerone for Q25, CAN$4.36 or US$3.33.
The photo that got me caught. Curse you, Grey Poupon!
Sandra's is actually far bigger than it appears from the outside. If you go all the way to the back, they have a huge selection of tea. Plus they carry incense, hair dye, shampoos, makeup, lots of spices that I can't find anywhere else (wasabi powder!), baking stuff, Ziploc bags and other kitchen goodies, a ton of booze, plus at the front is all the deli meats and cheeses, including Smokin' Joe's products. YUM!

Sandra's has two locations in Panajachel. Their main one, the one I toured, is a few doors up from the triple intersection of Santander, Real, and Arboles, on the right-hand side when going up the street. Can't really miss it! Their second smaller location is way down on Santander towards the lake.
If you're in Pana and have a craving, head on over and see if they can fulfill it. Or just buy chocolate. Chocolate is always good. ;)

Saturday, December 10, 2016

A Bit of Geographical Perspective

Sometimes Guatemala feels so big, and sometimes it seems so small! As a Canadian, I'm used to endless expanses of fields and forests, so when I'm on a chicken bus touring across Guatemala, it just seems normal to see miles of pretty much nothing. What's not so normal is how damn LONG it takes to get anywhere here! And that's even with the crazy speed-demon bus drivers. :)

To give a bit of perspective, I used a program called MapFrappe to compare the size of Guatemala to other places in the world. Take a look!
Guatemala on the left and the outline of the entire country overlaid on England. Wow!
One side of Guate to the other is pretty much the distance from Toronto to Ottawa.
Of course, both Guatemalans and Canadians know that "as the crow flies" is a joke!

For my American readers. Does this put Guatemala in perspective for you? Crazy, eh?
Head over to MapFrappe to make your own outline. It's easy. Navigate the left-hand map to where you want to make an outline. Click a few times on the map to make your outline (dots will show up if it's working) and then click "END" to close the loop. Your outline will show on the right-hand map. Scroll around and see where it fits!

You can also do this for straight lines, say, if you're trying to figure out how far it would be to walk or drive from one place to another in comparison to where you live now. I did this when I first was planning my trip to visualize how big Panajachel was in comparison to Barrie. Neat!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Calvin Y Las Cabras

Went for our customary walk on the river road and made some new acquaintances!
It's actually kinda common to see animals tethered in areas where they can get some grass.
While taking chicken buses too and fro, I've seen cows, goats, sheep, and sometimes even horses tied to sign posts on the sides of the highway.
At first, Calvin wasn't haven't nothin' to do with these "crazy big weird dogs". Then he came back with Vaquita and they started barking at them! The goats were not impressed.
P.S. Yep, that's Calvin. He's back. He tried to bite the guy who adopted him, so the guy kicked him out on the street in Sololá. Calvin found his way back down the mountain to my house by the next day. *sigh*

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Budget Groceries in Panajachel

I believe I've blogged about this before but it continues to surprise and delight me. The grocery stores and tiendas here in Panajachel, Guatemala, sell items in teeny tiny packages! This is in stark contrast to Canada where everything is family size, super size, party size, MEGA SIZE!!

Here are a few of my purchases today. I'm short of funds, so trying to make things stretch for a few days until my paycheck comes in. These tiny sizes are beneficial to me!

Beans, oil, pasta, and margarine.
On the left are refried black beans. So yummy! This is a 10 oz (283 g) package for Q3.80. That's about $0.67 Canadian or $0.50 U.S. (I use for my currency conversions.)

Next is vegetable oil. Such a teeny container! It's 180 mL for Q3.50, Can$0.62, US0.46$.

Pasta, 200 g for Q2.85, Can$0.50, US$0.38.

Up top is two sticks of margarine. 160 g from Q2.60, Can$0.46, US$0.35. This is new! Usually they come in larger packages of five.

Total for these four things: Q12.75 or Can$2.25 or US$1.69. What a bargoon!  :)

Now I just have to go to the tortilleria and by 5 fresh hot corn tortillas for Q1 and a couple eggs for Q1 each and maybe an onion for Q1 and I've got food galore!  :)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

An Etsy Store to Buy Crafts From Lake Atitlan

I'm excited to announce that Mayan Families has opened an Etsy store that sells handmade crafts from the artisans around Lake Atitlan! These are the same type of items that are sold by the vendors along Calle Santander in Panajachel. So if you can't visit, you can still buy a trinket for yourself! (Perhaps to motivate you to save up and come to Guatemala?)
beaded hummingbird keyring
So cute! I wish they sold bigger ones, like the ones I collect from Juan. Perhaps in the future.
I will put this picture of the hummingbird keychain on my right sidebar for people to click through. Proceeds from sales go to the artisans and to Mayan Families. I also get a smidgen of commission if you buy from them but I'm not even worried about that. I'll probably donate it right back to them!

EDIT: Bummer. I just found out they only ship to the States, not Canada. Awww. :(

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Tuk Tuk Bridge

I was so nervous when I first went across this bridge -- and it was in much better condition then! I'm still careful but it's not such a big deal anymore. You can get accustomed to a lot of things. :)

EDIT: When I posted this blog on my Facebook page, my friend, Mister Jon, proprietor of Mister Jon's restaurant on Santander in Panajachel, commented on the post with the two pictures and quotes below. AWESOME!!

"Tuk Tuk bridge during Tropical storm Agatha (2010). The bridge was built by tuk tuk drivers after Hurricane Stan (2005) destroyed what is now the blue bridge."
"This former pedestrian bridge was above what is now the blue bridge and was destroyed by Agatha. this forms part of the guard rail of the tuk tuk bridge."
I simply cannot believe how CRAZY the river is. We haven't had a big storm like this since I've been here. Looks so scary!

Thanks for sharing your photos, Mister Jon! (And for making great food and drinks!)

Friday, November 25, 2016

Tikal Adventure Part 3

Part 1 - From Panajachel to Flores and our first day
Part 2 - Tikal
Part 3 - Last day in Flores/Santa Elena and our trip home
I thought maybe this post wouldn't be long enough to be interesting but it turned out that our last day in Santa Elena/Flores and our trip home was more exciting than I thought it would be!

To start off, we had to leave the hostel at 10 am. Our bus home didn't depart until 9 pm. How do you pass 11 hours???
Well, we should have stayed at the hostel as long as we could and abused their lounge and free WiFi. Alas, we were hungry and headed out to eat and then felt weird about trying to get back in. So we just spent the day wandering, checking the time, walking, sitting, eating, checking the time, walking some more, etc., etc. Somehow the day passed!
green heron Guatemala
A green heron. I love how still the waters are. We saw lots of birds at the lake plus turtles. We even had fun throwing cheezies to the fishies!
almond tree
Almond tree!
Santa Elena Petén Guatemala
The streets of Santa Elena, Petén. Blah. Not my kinda city.
Posing with the fake Mayan statues outside the mall!
Bert pretending to have casually discovered an ancient Mayan carving. :)
Flat boats that will take you on a tour of Lake Petén Itzá.
Cormorants, a seagull (??), and an egret in the back.
TIP: If you're going to Tikal and want to pack a lunch, there are two grocery stores in Santa Elena. There is a Despensa Familiar on 4a Calle (walk or ask a tuk tuk to take you for Q5 per person), or even easier, there is La Torre supermarket right in the little mall by the Burger King at the causeway to the island of Flores. It's a bit hard to find in the mall, You have to go to the end of an aisle and there is only a small doorway. We only found it because we kept seeing people walking out of the mall with grocery bags!

Our stroll through the grocery store was the highlight of our day. HA! We were so goofy and stood out so much that the security guards were following us.

Frozen pupusas??? Interesting idea. But why buy frozen when you can get fresh?
Cherry Coke, Vanilla Coke, Coke Life? I didn't think they made these types anymore.
I think we ended up at the bus station at, like, 4pm. Ugh, Five hours to go. We just sat and talked and watched people going by. At some point, I sat in some oil and my shorts were COVERED in black. All over my butt! So I snuck between two big buses to change.
Also, don't go in the bathrooms in the bus station if you can help it. Icky icky icky! Probably the worst I've been in so far in Guatemala. *shudder*

Around sunset, a whole bunch of folks came and set up barbecues and taco stands near the bus station. It smelled so delicious! And it was only Q15 a plate. But we had bought ham, cheese, mustard, and bread at the grocery store to make sandwiches, plus a ton of snacks, so we didn't have room for BBQ.
Smokey barbecues set up at the bus station. Great food for only Q15.
Finally, our bus was ready and we climbed on at just past 9 pm, relieved to be finally on our way. The ride from Santa Elena to Guate City was a lot more peaceful than the ride there. There was no fruit inspection on the way back. Sweet! We stopped once at that gas station/FDN station at 1:30 am, then arrived in the city at 5:50 am. Our shuttle driver was right there waiting for us, but it took ages for him and another driver to get all the passengers organized.

FDN bus station Fuente del Norte Guatemala City
The FDN bus station in Guatemala City in early morning. This picture is as blurry as I felt!
Our shuttle went fairly quickly from the city to Antigua, and then dropped us off at a closed travel agency. The driver told us to wait there for a half hour. Another couple, who spoke little Spanish, were told to wait as well. They were going to Pana too. We grabbed coffees from a hostel nearby and chatted while we waited. We started getting nervous when a half hour passed, then 40 minutes, but soon enough the same driver came back with the same shuttle and loaded us on again. We drove around town picking up tons of passengers from all over, and eventually headed out of town at 8:40 am.

Our shuttle from Antigua to Panajachel was a very interesting ride. There was a young woman -- 29, she said -- who was so super chatty! She did NOT STOP the entire ride. She talked with the passengers around her about politics, refugees, world travel, Northern Ireland, teaching, and on and on. It certainly was fascinating to listen to...but I was tired and just wanted some quiet! I wish I had met her in a bar or restaurant instead of on a shuttle home after 12 hours on the road. I think we would have had some great conversations. :)

Another unexpected thing about our shuttle ride home was that we stopped for things. Every other time I've been on the shuttle from Antigua to Panajachel, we just went straight through, no stopping. This time, our driver pulled over at this neat place called Chichoy and let us stretch our legs for 10 minutes.
I've always wanted to stop there. It's so different from everything nearby. It's in a pine forest. PINE! It smelled like home! The buildings are made of wood, which is highly unusual. (Wood is for cookfires.) I didn't get a good picture of the huge building but you can go to TripAdvisor and see some more pics and a review of the restaurant there. It seems like it serves some pretty amazing barbecue.

Chichoys Tecpan Guatemala
The grounds of Chichoy.
The bridge was so bouncy that I felt wobbly for several seconds after getting off it onto the pavement!
This goose was none too pleased at sharing his personal space with so many tourists. :)
Chichoys Tecpan Guatemala
Each door at Chichoy's had amazing burls built into it.
Chichoys Tecpan Guatemala
Inside Restaurante Chichoy. Wow! So much wood!
The other fun stop we did was for a quetzal bird. The driver was booting along the highway when suddenly he got very excited and started pointing up the cliff into the trees. He started talking rapidly in Spanish about a female quetzal bird. He pulled over and we all piled out the van. The driver gestured and pointed and explained and pointed again...but none of us could see it! We were all standing on the side of the highway, shading our eyes from the sun and staring like dummies up at a hill! It was awesome. We all had a good laugh that we couldn't see this amazing bird that the driver was so enthusiastic about. I wish just one of us had seen it!
Do you see the Quetzal bird? No, neither did we! We said it must be because we're not Guatemalan. :)
Our awesome driver even stopped at the second mirador after Solola so everyone could marvel at the beauty of Lake Atitlan. I was super excited to be home! I pointed out a few landmarks to the people on the bus. It lifted my heart to see the lake again.
Lake Atitlan Guatemala
Lake Atitlan and Panajachel in the bottom left.
I spent a few minutes on the shuttle talking to the passengers as we descended to Pana, just helping them with simple questions. Once they learned I lived there, they wanted to know all sorts of stuff. I was happy to help. Some of them were only staying a few days, others were staying a few months. One couple was considering moving there so we had a good talk. I hope I see them around town so I can find out they're enjoying it.

So that's the story of our Tikal trip. It was awesome but too short. I would love to go back to Tikal and take my time seeing the park again. Not looking forward to so much travel time but it's worth it once you get there!

Thanks for reading and happy trails, everyone!