Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Price of Happiness

You don't believe money can buy happiness? You're wrong! So wrong!
Here is how much it costs to buy several days of happiness in Panajachel, Guatemala.
Q40.25. 
What? So cheap??
Yeah, it's the price of a 1-pound jar of peanut butter!  😁

But not so cheap compared to back home. Here's the price comparison:
1 lb Jif peanut butter in Panajachel = Q40.25 = US$5.49 = CAN$6.84
1 lb Jif peanut butter from Walmart.com = US$3.88
500g Kraft peanut butter from Walmart.ca = CAN$3.47

Mmmmmmm, Butter of the Peanuts!
I've blogged about this before. Yes, you can buy pretty much any "gringo" or "first-world" or "American" thing here in Pana, but you're gonna pay for it. Chalo's has some imported foods, and Sandra's has even more. If you go to the nearest cities -- Xela or Antigua -- you can go to Walmart and other branded stores and find even more stuff at a little bit better prices.

But what do you do when you're stuck in Pana and you're craving PB? You either buy the local stuff that's not so great, or you fork out your Q for the real stuff. (But it comes with a volcano view!)

Luckily for me, NJP's tenants left some peanut butter behind when they moved out, so now I've got a bit of a treat for the next few days for free! I'm a happy camper. 😋

LATE ADDITION:
I snapped a picture of the peanut butter in Chalo's. There a few American brands, the B&B local brand up top, plus homemade natural peanut butter from enterprising folks around the Lake.
Chalo's Panajachel peanut butter mantequilla de maní
Peanut butter at Chalo's, in Spanish -- mantequilla de maní.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Canadian Thanksgiving In Guatemala 2017

Amazing Iva organized a last-minute Thanksgiving dinner for us and it was wonderful. Dinner was enjoyed  by Bert & I and Iva and Australian Ian, hosted by the ever-gracious NJP. Three out of five guests were Canadian so it counts!! Besides, it's nice to piggyback on other countries' holidays and hence get more turkey. We'll be doing American Thanksgiving next month, and Ian has suggested we do Australia Day in January too. 😋

Iva discovered that turkeys aren't readily available at the grocery stores around here, so she and NJP went up to Sololá and got a fresh one. I mean really fresh, like ALIVE. Ha!
Isn't it cute? Yep, still ate it. 
NJP negotiated a great deal for the turkey -- butchering, defeathering, and gutting included. Good thing too, otherwise I think we may have had a vegetarian dinner and just watched our new pet turkey run around the garden!

Iva and NJP did all the prep and cooking, and I only contributed some gigantic carrots to the meal. (I was channeling my inner university student -- come home just for real food and to do laundry. Ha!) The conversation was lively, the food was delicious, and we were all thankful for finding awesome friends in new places.
Carving the bird.
T-giving is not complete without mashed potatoes and sweet carrots.
NJP made amazing cranberries and yummy gravy, and Iva whipped up a lovely salad with balsamic vinegrette.
We are so lucky!
My plate! DELICIOUS!
I hope all my wonderful Canadian readers had a great Thanksgiving and all my other readers had a great regular weekend. Don't forget to be grateful every day for all the opportunities and adventures life presents to you. 😊

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Parades in Pana

One thing you'll learn pretty quick in Panajachel, Guatemala, is that they love parades! And since it's a small town with few streets, the whole town stops to watch ... mostly cuz they can't do anything else!
I just caught the tail end of this parade when I was heading to the grocery store yesterday. This school had different grades dressed up as Super Mario or Mario Kart characters. The trucks were playing the video game music! So cute.
We wondered if these kids know the original Mario? Or just the Kart version?
The fake mustaches were adorable. This class had real cloth hats, but another class had ones made cleverly out of paper.
Toads and Toadettes.
I think these kids are getting tired at this point. They've probably walked all the way across town!
(OMG just noticed the sweet rat-tail on the guy in the left foreground. Ha!)
Yoshis! They were super bright lime coloured. Excellent sewing work!
I think this is the bad guy?
Every parade also has to have at least one marching band. Guatemala is addicted to marching bands! Watch the video below to see the parade in action, with the marching band at the end. I chuckled a bit when I realized they were playing YMCA.

So those pics were from yesterday, Saturday. This morning there is another parade, with bigger kids and even more marching bands. Hooray. A strange thing about parades in Guatemala is no one is happy. The crowd just stands there staring silently. No cheering or clapping, and only smiles when they see someone they know.
Fancy uniforms! The dudes in the back are even wearing their chin straps on their noses... which makes no sense at all.
Not sure why this school was carrying photos of themselves.
There is always an order to the marching bands: a sign, some flags, some beauty queens, sexy dancy ladies in tall boots and short skirts, some people wearing the school uniform, then the band.
It's also kinda entertaining to see the "parade" of trucks, chicken buses, tuk-tuks, and other vehicles following slowly along behind the real parade, although I imagine the drivers are kinda miffed about the slow pace.

Between Guatemalan Independence Day on September 15th and the Pana Town Fair on October 8th (officially), it is pretty much a non-stop party here in town. It's fun, but also a bit draining. It's hard to get around town because streets are blocked off or narrowed by vendors setting up extra stalls. Lots of people come to town to visit and party. But it's all in good fun and you just gotta roll with it! (And be sure to have some churros while they last!)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

5 Awesome Things About Being an Expat in Guatemala

To follow up on my previous post, here are 5 things that make being an expat in  Panajachel, Guatemala, totally awesome!

1. The Weather
Coming from Ontario, Canada, I find the weather in Pana to be absolutely divine. It's lovely and cool in the mornings, sunny and hot in the afternoons, and hardly ever humid. There is a nice afternoon breeze to whisk away your sweat. The rains are mostly predictable and quite refreshing. Lake Atitlan's latitude and altitude combine to make the weather enjoyable year-round.
paragliding Panajachel Lake Atitlan Guatemala Real World tandem
Do you dare? Contact Real World Paragliding on Santander in Panajachel. They will take good care of you!
You wanna experience the weather up close and personal? Try paragliding! I wouldn't do it cuz I'm a total chicken, but I've heard it's fantastic. 😁
I've done a blog post about the weather before so go here to read more about it.

2. The Scenery
I can't get enough of Lake Atitlan and the volcanoes! My eyes are drawn to them every time I'm outside. The deep blue lake gives me such a feeling of peace. The volcanoes are massive and awe-inspiring.
La Fortuna Lake Atitlan Guatemala
View of Lake Atitlan from La Fortuna Hotel, voted by TripAdvisor as one of the top 25 small hotels in the world 2017. WOW!
But don't forget about the other amazing scenery, including the steep green hills surrounding Pana, the rushing waterfalls, the ever-changing river, and the micro-scenery of flowers, trees, birds, and butterflies everywhere you look. Truly eternal spring!
Plus, if I'm craving new vistas such as the ocean or the jungle, I can just hop on a bus and be there in a few hours.

3. The Markets
While Guatemala is not known for its cuisine, the fruits and vegetables from the open-air markets are wonderful. Such freshness and flavour! Plus, you'll never know what you'll find -- exotic squashes, chickens on tethers, fresh shrimp from the ocean, and adorable old ladies selling mysterious herbs. I adore the market.
fruits vegetables Panajachel Guatemala market mercado
Panajachel market -- such a bounty of good food!
4. The Mayans
I love the people here. I love their clothes, their gorgeous faces, their long dark hair. I love their smiles and their spirit. I love their sense of family and community. I love their passion for their rights. I love that they're holding on to their culture with pride.
Photo courtesy of Maya Traditions, an amazing nonprofit organization that is headquartered in Panajachel.
Maya Traditions Foundation provides social assistance programs to indigenous people near Lake Atitlan, including health, education, and artisan support. They are dedicated to Fair Trade principals and ethical tourism. They offer workshops in traditional backstrap weaving, plus tours to visit local artisans. If you are shy about meeting the local people -- like I am! -- get in touch with them to arrange a tour.

5. The Expats
Yeah, we're a pretty cool bunch, if I do say so myself! Ha ha! Look at these happy expats in the picture below. (And notice the English bookstore behind too!)
Las Chinitas Asian restaurant Santander Panajachel Guatemala
The intense yet fun Scrabble game at Las Chinita's Asian restaurant on Santander in Panajachel, Guatemala.
I've met so many amazing people from all over the world here in Panajachel, the vast majority of whom have been exceptionally friendly and helpful. Expats from different countries bring their culture, art, food, and passions to Guatemala and share it with everyone. There are expat-run restaurants, coffee shops, art galleries, B&Bs, hotels, bookstores, computer shops, you name it!
I proudly wear a Canadian flag on my purse so that people will hopefully feel comfortable coming up to me to ask for help. I've literally gone up to lost-looking touristy folks on the street and asked them if they needed anything! Had some great conversations that way.

There are two Facebook groups that I'm a part of that are helpful to get in touch with expats before and after you arrive in Guatemala. Here are the links.
Panajachel, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Expats Living in Guatemala
There are smaller groups for expats in the other towns around the Lake, plus groups for Antigua and Xela (Quetzaltenango). Don't be shy. Get on there and ask some questions!

Runner-Ups
Low cost of living and a pretty simple visa process are also perks of being an expat in Guatemala, but I thought they were kinda boring to include in the list! What would you add to the list? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!


Sunday, September 17, 2017

5 Slightly Shocking Things for New Expats in Guatemala

I struggled with a proper title for this blog.
"5 Things You'll Need to Adjust To As An Expat in Guatemala"
"5 Things You May Never Get Used To Living in Pana"
"5 Things That Shock Expats About Panajachel"

The point is I've made a list of five things that stuck out to me when I first arrived in Panajachel, Guatemala, and that many expats and tourists I've talked to have found to be a bit shocking or unusual as well. Do you agree?

1. Dogs
Dogs, dogs, dogs everywhere! If you've arrived here in Panajachel from a first world country where an off-leash dog means a call to the Humane Society, then you're in for a surprise. But don't fret! The street dogs are mostly doing just fine. A lot of them have owners who let them roam to look for food during the day. You may see an occasional collar or piece of rope tied around their necks. The rest of the "strays" are dogs that have grown up on the streets and are used to it. They go about their business with no concern for you. It's quite interesting to see them trotting down the street with places to go and things to do! They won't bother you ... unless, of course, you have a tasty treat to share. Then you may get a pair of sad eyes watching your every move. 😋
street dogs strays Panajachel
Street dogs relaxing outside the library in Panajachel.
What do you do if you see a dog that needs help? A sick, mangy, starving, or injured dog?
You call AYUDA Para la Salud de Perros y Gatos.
For those who have been following my blog, you know I am a dedicated supporter of Selaine and her charity. The work they do for the dogs in Panajachel and the other towns around Lake Atitlan is just amazing. AYUDA monitors and cares for the street dogs in Pana, with permission from the municipal office. There are limits to what they can do, but if a dog needs help, that's who you contact.
AYUDA's webpage here.
AYUDA's Facebook here.
If you're planning on moving to Guatemala forever, you can also adopt a street dog. There are loads that need homes and would love to be spoiled by you. 😊

2. Drunks
The climate is so lovely in Panajachel that if you're feeling a bit intoxicated and just don't wanna walk anymore, you can simply lie down on the sidewalk and have a little nap! If you're in front of a business, the owner may come out and shoo you away, but most drunks are just left to lie where they fall.
One of these things is not like the other!
When I first arrived here, I was worried these people were dead! But I watched all the locals just stepping around the prone bodies without a second glance and figured it must be all right. Besides, with my limited Spanish, I could wake them up and ask if they're okay, (¿Estás bien?) but then what?
My lovely friend, H., told me a story where she saw a drunk man passed out on the river road in the hot sun. She was concerned for his health, so she woke him up and asked if he was all right. The guy peered blearily up at her and then winked! My friend laughed and went on her way. 😄

3. Trash
Oh my, there is a lot of trash here in Guatemala. It's sad to see people with so little respect for their environment, especially when the environment here is so beautiful! Yes, you will see signs saying, "No tire basura," (don't throw trash) but a lot of folks just don't seem to care. There are street sweepers and municipal workers who clean up on a daily basis, but you'll still see piles of garbage on the side of the road and in empty lots. Do your part! Don't litter!

4. Noise
Those super loud BANGS you hear at all hours, even at 5 am? Those aren't gunfire. Okay, maybe they are, but more than likely it's just bombas, which are huge gunpowder "bombs" that are set off using a mortar. You'll also here snapping firecrackers at all times of the day and night. Guatemalans love to celebrate everything with explosions!
Check out this video I took last year. It shows an awesome traditional parade, plus in the end I found myself way too close to some firecrackers and bombas! Ouch, my ears! 😆


Guatemalans themselves are rather quiet people, in my opinion, but they do love a good parade. And they have an obsession with marching bands. That's all well and good, but you soon realize that marching bands have to practice...and practice and practice and practice. *sigh* My advice: don't live too close to a school. 
And those dogs I told you about? Yeah, they bark. A lot. Plus there are roosters crowing (yes, even in town) and church bells ringing very early in the morning. Panajachel certainly is a lively place. You get used to it, but I do recommend a good pair of earplugs for those nights you just need some sleep. 

5. Unsafety
Ha! I wanted to have a single word for this heading but there is no one word to fully describe the blatant disregard for human life that happens in Guatemala! I'm not talking about gang violence, forced marriages, and lynchings. (All of which occur here, sadly.) I'm talking about bicycles weaving in and out of oncoming traffic, four people on one motorcycle, no guard rails on curvy steep mountain roads, 40 people riding in the back of a pickup truck, electricians working while the power is on, and chicken buses going twice the speed limit downhill passing another bus in the fog while the driver talks on his cell phone. Yikes!
Most of these things are a "live and let live" sort of situation. You wanna ride your motorcycle without a helmet? Not my problem. But if you're driving my bus, please remember that you hold all your passengers' lives in your hands!
In spite of all this, I have very rarely felt unsafe in Panajachel. There isn't a lot of violent crime here, thankfully. Keep your wits about you and use common sense, just as you would in any city, and you'll be fine.

I hope you've enjoyed my post. I'm not trying to insult my adopted country or scare anybody off from coming to visit Panajachel and Guatemala. I've just seen so many posts on Facebook and other websites inquiring about these same five things. So now you know. Life in Guatemala is different, as it should be, and every day is a new adventure. I love it here! I hope you see you soon! 😊

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Adventures in Airports!

I'm gonna tell you all about my experience flying from Guatemala to Florida. This topic may not be of interest to everyone but you'd be surprised how many people enjoy knowing the minute details of traveling so they can be super prepared! I hope my story can help ease some traveling anxiety for someone. 😄

I bought my ticket thru Expedia. They rock. I have some dumb points account with them, but I don't care about that. I care about easy online searching, booking, paying, and follow-up. I love how I can check my itinerary and other things through their website. If I had a smartphone, I could have even used a virtual boarding pass. (I saw people actually scanning their phones at the boarding gate. Pretty cool.)

The plan: fly from Guate City to Orlando, Florida.
The actuality: the cheapest flight went from G.C. to Mexico City to Atlanta to Orlando. It took me all day. ALL DAY. Like 14 hours of travel. UGH. But the only other option was a flight on Spirit Airlines, which I've heard bad things about, and which cost more and had all sorts of add-on fees for baggage and such. Bleck. I prefer simplicity.
I paid $445.89 Canadian. Sweet!

My flight was partially with Aeromexico and partially with Delta. This is what caused all the confusion! I have enjoyed flying with Delta before, including my original flight from Canada to Guatemala. I was pleased to discover that Aeromexico was also a great airline. In fact, I dare to say they are better than Delta. The seats were more comfortable and the "snack" I got on my short flight was tastier than the "meal" I got on the longer flight with Delta. Two thumbs up!
La Aurora airport in Guatemala City. It's pretty nice, although there are shabby parts. They're working on it! 😊
Anyhoo, here's the rundown of the day I traveled out of Gaute to Florida.

Guatemala City to Mexico City
I left my airport hotel (Patricia's B&B) using their free shuttle at 4am. My flight wasn't until 6:50 so I had lots of time, but the hosts at the B&B suggested I leave at 4. *yawn*
At the Guatemala airport (La Aurora), they checked my passport five times. FIVE. There was a guard right at the entrance checking passports and boarding passes. Everyone else has to stand outside on the street.
I was through all customs by 4:30 am. Pretty quick and none of this "four hours before your flight" business that everyone had been worried about. I got my boarding pass but it was only printed for the first leg of my trip. The lady said that I had to pick up my checked bag at the Mexico City airport and gave me a sticker for it. Huh? This confused me. I think that other times I had flown, the checked luggage just went ahead to the final destination. Not true in this case.
This early, only McDonald's and a small café were open. I sat and waited, boarded my Aeromexico flight around 6;30, and took off on time.

Mexico City to Atlanta, GA, United States
On the flight to Mexico City, the flight attendants came around and gave everyone immigration forms to fill out. It was the same form that I've gotten when doing visa runs to Mexico, so I was pretty experienced with filling it out. (Travel tip: always carry a pen!) I was a bit confused at the part where it asked where I was staying in Mexico, so I left it blank. Later, the guard filled it in with "in transit".
The Mexico City airport was crazy confusing, but I believe it was a combination of switching airlines and crossing country borders. The line for checking passports took about 40 minutes. Then I had to go get my luggage from the baggage claim and walk it over to another place for "baggage for connecting flights". There, a guy checked the tag and put it on a conveyor belt. Weird.
After that, I didn't have a boarding pass. (Remember the Guate airport desk only printed one?) Yeah, so I go up to the lady at the stairs to "connecting flights" and she tells me I can't go through because I don't have a pass. She says to go to L2 and waves me off. Okey dokey! So then I walk through some doors and down a hall and up some stairs and back down the stairs and I can't get back to the lady, so back up the stairs ... so lost! Ha ha!
I asked a different lady and figured out I had to go to a Delta desk at L2 and get another boarding pass for the next two portions of my trip, from Mexico City to Atlanta to Orlando. Delta printed me two boarding passes and reminded me to pick up my luggage AGAIN in Atlanta. At this point, I'm wondering if all the baggage handlers have been fired and they're just getting customers to do their work.
After the boarding pass, it was time for checking my carry-on bag and that new machine where you stand on the footprints and raise your arms and it scans you. Lucky me failed the scan and got a full pat-down and palm swab right then and there. (Palm swab, you ask? They wiped both my hands with a wet cloth and then put the cloth in a detection machine, which gave a green light, yay.) The security dudes opened my carry-on and went thru it thoroughly but were very nice and of course I wasn't carrying anything bad so they let me through.
This whole process pretty much ate up the entire 1 hour and 36-minute layover I had, so I hoofed it to my gate and boarded almost immediately. Whew!
Note: I was stamped into Mexico on my passport but not stamped out. The flight attendant at the boarding gate took my Mexican immigration form. Strange.

Atlanta, GA, to Orlando, FL
Arriving in Atlanta, I was feeling more relaxed as now I knew I could speak English! I had a nice long 2.5-hour layover in Atlanta, which was great because I know how busy it can be there. It was all easy-peasy though. I got off the plane, picked up my baggage and put it on another conveyor for connecting baggage. I think this was because I was transferring from an international flight to a domestic flight (within the U.S.). Who knows? I was just relieved to see my poor beat-up luggage on the carousel. (Don't you just hate waiting at those things? I'm always worried my luggage will never show, or it will appear as a mangled mess with my clothes all hanging out!)
Atlanta Airport is HUGE and super nice. I took my time exploring, with the goal of finding a place to buy stamps and mail a letter to my friend in California. Never did find the post office. I walked the length of the airport, from the international terminal at T to my boarding gate at A. It was nice to stretch my legs. There is a train that goes between terminals for those in a hurry but I'm so glad I walked cuz I found the art thing pictured below between A and B, underground.
Atlanta airport A B concourses art forest
Between A and B concourses, underground, in Atlanta airport.
The ceiling was covered with leaves while birds sang and frogs chirped and geese honked. There was even a part where raindrops fell on the ground (using light, not water!). It was so peaceful and beautiful and made me a bit homesick. I read the plaque about the artist and learned he was from Illinois, so I think most of the animal sounds were from the Northeast and very similar to animals from home in Canada. I hung out in this section for several minutes just absorbing the calm. If you're in Atlanta airport, be sure to check it out! There were other art things around the airport, but this was the coolest.

Boarded my Delta flight from Atlanta to Orlando, simple. Quick flight, barely time for a drink, then landed in Orlando airport.
At this point, I was so super excited to see my family that I was almost bouncing as I exited the plane. It'd been two years since I'd seen my sister and two and a half since seeing my parents and my nieces.
As I picked up my baggage -- whew, it made it! -- I realized that we hadn't really prepared properly for this. My sister had agreed to pick me up at the airport, but we never really clarified WHERE. Baggage claim? Arrivals? Short-term parking?
On a whim, I tried texting her from my Guatemalan cell phone. It worked! My phone was getting a signal from T-Mobile. Thank goodness! We sent a few texts back and forth before figuring out we were both at B section, but on different levels. I finally found her (and my Dad, who was strolling around the airport looking for me) and we laughed and hugged and got in the van to drive to our rental house in Kissimmee. Success!

TIP: Next time, I will be more specific about where to meet the person picking me up from the airport! Baggage claim is on a different level than short-term parking... or something. I don't know! Ha ha! Of course, you can always have a help desk person page whoever you're looking for. 😄

So a long day of travel and one that I repeated on the way back in reverse. Yes, more baggage switching and long lines and security checks. But I made it! I'm hoping the next time I fly will be back home to Canada next fall. I miss the changing leaves and the brisk October air and frost on the ground and all that Canadian stuff.

I hope this was helpful and/or amusing. To all my traveling friends out there, may all your lines be short and your seats spacious! Buen viaje!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Thoughts on a Visit to the First World

Hey, everyone. Sorry I've been absent from the blog for a while. I took a 12-day trip to Florida. And after that, I was kinda burnt out and needed a bit of time to recover. 😊
I love flying so much! It's terrifying and exhilarating.
I've been mulling over this blog post in my head since my trip began and I was noticing all the things that seem strange as an expat returning to the First World. I've been living in Guatemala for two years and five months. In that time, I have gone to Mexico on several occasions, and while Mexico is much more developed than where I live in Guate, I still wouldn't consider it First World. So this trip to Florida -- Kissimmee, Orlando, Disney World -- was my first venture back into "civilization" after being in a rather rural area of Guatemala.

Please don't take offense to anything I say here regarding my opinions. I'm just stating how I felt and how curious it was for me to feel that way! 

My first giggle was on the plane from Guate City to Mexico City. It was a smallish airplane with only two seats on either side of the aisle. As the plane filled up, I started chuckling to myself and thought, "Man, you could fit at least four more people in each of these rows! Plus, at least 50 people could stand in the aisle!" I think I've been on a few too many chicken buses! Ha ha!
On top of that, the lady sitting next to me was miffed that my leg was touching her leg. Oh, geez, lady. Your First World personal bubble wouldn't last long in Guatemala!

I'll maybe write more about the confusion that is flying from Guate to Mexico to the U.S., but for now I'm going to skip ahead to my Florida experiences.

First of all, everything in the First World is so BIG. Spacious. Excessive almost. And clean, so very clean! There are so smells of sewage or diesel or dog poop. Then again, there are no smells of sizzling street BBQ either!

We went into a Publix grocery store. OMG so huge. So much selection! I remember staring at an enormous wall of crackers and thinking, "There are like 50 types of crackers here. You could eat a different type of cracker every week for a year." Back in Guate, there are very few cracker types at the local grocery store (Despensa). I think maybe soda crackers and saltines, those whitish ones, and maybe one other kind. The import stores have a few more at quite high prices, but no Cheezits or Triscuits or Wheat Thins or all the other kinds! It was a shock to walk thru that grocery store in Florida and see just how many different kinds of things you could buy. It was neat too that the signs were in English and Spanish. Lots of Cuban immigrants in Florida.

The other surprising thing was the fruit. My lovely sister smuggled freshly-picked blueberries from Canada for me, and those were absolutely delicious! But I found the store-bought fruit in Florida to be kinda bland. It brought back the memories of my first tastes of market fruit in Guate. It just explodes with flavour! All the fruit and veg here in Guate is so fresh and ripe and loaded with yumminess. Those First Worlders have no idea what they're missing! Only the bananas were better in Florida. I'm not a fan of the overly mushy bananas I usually get in Guate.

Foods I enjoyed in Florida that I hardly ever eat in Guate:
1. Dill pickles
2. Cottage cheese
3. Any cheese really!
4. Cereal that isn't a variation of corn flakes or rice krispies
5. Dr. Pepper
6. English muffins with peanut butter!!!!!
7. Chinese takeout (yum yum yum)

I also realized that my taste buds have changed with it comes to processed food. My eyes (and stomach) were drawn to the fancy treats in the stores, but when I tried to eat them, I found them to be far too sugary and weird tasting. There was often a strange aftertaste in my mouth. I used to gorge myself on Oreos and snack cakes and chips. Now I just have a few and then feel a little "bleck". It's kinda disappointing! I was so looking forward to pigging out on junk food! I did enjoy some McDonald's a few times on my trip, including at the airport. Tastes the same no matter where in the world you are. It's actually kinda comforting, in a strange way.

Driving around Florida was interesting. It wasn't a busy time of year so the traffic wasn't too bad but it was still a bit wild to see the broad, smooth, paved lanes of the freeway. And all the cars seem to be brand spanking new. So clean and rust-free! So modern. No hanging bumpers or things held on with duct tape. And motorcycles with only one passenger. What??? Ha ha!

Weird things that I did when in Florida:
1. Kept having to remind myself NOT to put my toilet paper in the garbage bin. You can flush it!
2. I spit in the shower. I got water in my mouth, so I spit it out. Then laughed at myself. (Having clean water come out of the tap is awesome. Even awesomer? HOT water from the tap! It's like a miracle!)
3. Said, "Perdón" to someone I bumped into at the Walmart.
4. Converted all the prices into quetzales.

I think my overall impression of being back in the First World was that it was like staying at a fancy resort. Everything was super clean, super big, and super excessive. No one needs that much space, do they? And why have a TV in every room? It feels luxurious but wasteful. It made me sad for the poor people in Guate...except those people are probably more content with their lives than the "rat racers" of the U.S.
Florida also made me realize how much I miss some little things from "back home". I mean, just being able to have more variety in the types of foods I buy, and being able to buy things that are premade or just need to be heated up. Convenience foods are kinda lacking where I live in Guatemala. (And I'm a bad cook!) Plus I do miss rules and safety and sidewalks. Strange but true!

After a whirlwind 10 days, I had a HUGE smile on my face as my plane began descending into the Guatemala Airport on the return flight. I was so happy! And as I walked out of the airport onto the street, I saw all the weird and wonderful things that make Guatemala so fun and unique -- street dogs, grackles, shoeshine boys, vendors selling gum and souvenirs and textiles, flowering trees, clear blue skies, Mayans wearing tipico, chicken buses belching diesel fumes, and all of it with the background music of The Eurythmics!

It's good to be home. 😄

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Super Yummy Mexican Food in Panajachel

Craving Mexican food while in Guatemala? Well, in Pana my fave place for Mexican (aside from torta carts!) is Restaurante Mexicano la Michoacana. Granted, I don't eat out much so perhaps there are better places, but for someone with my limited budget, this restaurant hits the spot! 
I took this picture last year but I don't think the front has changed too much.
Just look for the large plants blocking the entrance! 😆
I've submitted their location to Google Maps but here is a big red X until they can add it.
chalupas de pollo Michoacana
Chalupas de Pollo. Delicious! I think they were Q25.
I ordered the Chalupas de Pollo, mostly because I'd never had them before and the combination of ingredients intrigued me. The menu has both Spanish and English but only lists what is in the dish, not how it is put together. So tostadas, beans, chicken, lettuce, queso fresco, sour cream, vegetables.... how many different delicious ways can that be put together? This was a filling and yummy meal that I would definitely order again.
Chimichanga de Pollo. Sorry for the blurriness. The restaurant has moody lighting, i.e. one light bulb and a skylight. :D
Bert had the chimichanga de pollo, which he's enjoyed here before. It's basically a deep-fried burrito. He loves them! It was Q30.
I am intrigued by Quesadilla Vampiro!
They've gone all out with the weird Mexican decor, which I imagine is not anything like real Mexican decor, but what are ya gonna do when you're in Guatemala?
Their menu is quite extensive and includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner, although I don't think they're open too late. It seems to me that this restaurant is really just the front room of the owner's house! It can be a bit noisy with the chicken buses going by on the street but I would still highly recommend it for good, cheap eats. Buen provecho!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Tienda Junk Food

I find the most hilarious things in tiendas (corner stores). I buy stuff either cuz it made me giggle or I'm curious about the taste.

Yesterday's adventure in junk food is pictured below.
The best/worst junk food ever!
Starting from the left: Let's Be Cappuccino! I've had these before and had to share a picture of it. I've only found them in this one tienda and there are several flavours. What cracks me up about these is that they're Russian! Yep, Russian. This one tasted like Sugar Crisp, the cereal. Very strange!

The middle thing made me LOL in the store. Uh, so not politically correct! It's called Negrito Mix. (Little black mix.) It's a white cake with chocolate icing and chocolate filling, as depicted on the front by a white kid with a black afro. WTF??? Ha ha! It tasted horrible. Will not buy again.

The last treat was for Bert. They are (in English) "mini crazy gummies little penguins". The penguin is saying "I believe I am bipolar." Ha! They are actually shaped like little penguins, black and white, and they are flavoured with blueberry. Yummy!

For an adventurous eater like myself, Guatemala is like shopping in the import aisle every day.  😋

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Amazing Volcanoes of Guatemala

Revue Magazine (REVUEmag.com) is an English language magazine in Guatemala that publishes free paper copies of their magazine as well as a vast array of online articles. They promote "the best of Guatemala through articles on travel, food, culture, people, business, health, and community service." I follow them on Facebook and enjoy their monthly photo contests immensely.

September's contest has been exceptionally jaw-droppingly AWESOME because the theme is "Volcanoes of Guatemala"

Click here to see the amazing volcano photo submissions!

Here is just one photo that shows the beauty and power of Volcán Fuego near Antigua, Guatemala.
Volcán volcano Fuego Antigua Guatemala
Photo by Rafael Bautista Fotographía
I'm sorry if the link to the contest goes "dead" later. I'm not sure how long they keep the photos active after the contest ends. Enjoy it while you can!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Unexpected Power Outage Day

I have had people ask me about power outages here. Yes, they happen, and they happen far too often for my liking. But that's cuz I work online. I need POWER!
People have suggested that I go work in a hotel or coffee shop that has power and free WiFi. Can't do that, unfortunately, as I don't work on a laptop. I work on a big ol' PC that I brought with me from Canada. (It's kinda tough to type fast on those little laptop keyboards, all hunched over looking down at the screen on the table.)

Anyhoo, I was merrily typing away this morning when POOF -- no power. As I always do, I sit and wait for a minute to see if it's just a hiccup. Nope. No power. I didn't have saldo (minutes) on my phone, so I headed off to the bank machine to get money to get minutes to text my boss back in the States about why I suddenly disappeared in the middle of a job.

Well, down at El Amate street, it was very apparent why I had no power. There were dudes in blue helmets all over the place, tearing down the power lines and replacing the poles. *sigh* "That doesn't look like it's gonna be done anytime soon," I thought.
Yep, that's how they roll here in Guate. Just climb on up. It's fine. Perfectly safe.
This is the next pole that they were going to replace. A tangled nest of wires!
More problems arose as the bank machines were offline due to the power being off. Luckily, I ran into Bert coming back from the hardware store and used his phone to text my boss. He headed back off to work...but didn't last long as there was no power there either!

It was another gorgeous day out, sunny and hot, so I took my time wandering around town enjoying the scenery and trying not to fret too much about all the money I wasn't making.

A different view of the market, from up top in the nearby "mall", Plaza Asis.
Chatted with a friend at the market, bought some bananas and tiny peaches, and stopped into the 3Q store for random stuff. Went into the muni salon to check on AYUDA, as they were having their monthly spay/neuter clinic there. They had power, so everything was going smoothly. 
This puppy must have had a bad night. She was falling asleep sitting up as she waited her turn.
Dr. Isael of San Martin vet clinic is the amazing vet who works with AYUDA.
Lots of kitties ready for their surgeries!
street dogs Panajachel Guatemala
There is a gang of 9 street dogs that hangs out near the market, rather peacefully, I might add. This is only 7 of them. I had to get the lady in the photo as well to show how normal street dogs are to the local Guatemalans. They don't even look twice. They just walk around.
Back at home, I was kind of at a loss what to do. When the power is out, there is also no running water as it's all pumped in from the cistern. So I couldn't do dishes, or laundry, or mop the floor. I guess that means it's nap time!

After I got my beauty rest, I swept, changed the kitty litters, emptied the garbages. Still no power. *twiddling thumbs* It wasn't until around 4pm that the electricity finally came back on, and I logged on to work to see if I could pick up anything. They were swamped -- Thursdays are busy! -- so I got some work and hammered it out in double time. :)

So as days go, it was unexpected but nice. For those who are thinking to move to Guate, know that these power outages aren't nearly so common in the bigger cities, and they are usually announced ahead of time in the paper or online. I guess I just missed this one. Here in Pana, the power outages are more widespread because of the outdated infrastructure. Everything is connected to everything, so you can't just turn off one small section of power to fix something. I'm lucky that my work is so understanding about these things. If I was in danger of losing my job because of this kinda thing, I would either invest in a power generator, a backup power source, or do what others suggest and get a laptop and head to Mister Jon's. 😁

Bonus kitten pictures! 
When I'm working, the kittens sometimes feel the need to supervise me. Queso is quite dedicated to it. Noodles, he gets a little bored.
Queso making sure my work is up to snuff!
My sweet baby Noodles! I love this kitten so much!!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Cost of Living in Guatemala -- and Other Places!

Some of you may recall that when I first moved here in 2015, I kept track of all the prices of things and put it on this snazzy page here. Prices haven't changed much in two years -- plus I'm lazy -- so I haven't updated it.
But today a friend shared this great website with me! It looks awesome for getting an in-depth look at the little things that might help you with budgeting decisions for becoming an expat. I'm going to add info for Panajachel to it when I get a minute or five.

CLICK! → Cost of Living in Guatemala.

I need to put a picture here for the preview page so ... hmmm ... let's pick one.
fluffy orange kitten sleeping in a bone-shaped dog bowl
Totally unrelated photo of my kitten, Queso, napping in a bone-shaped dog bowl. :) 
EDIT: I added info to the page. I'm disappointed there aren't more categories, and also that some categories are not applicable. It's an interesting site but I would love to be able to add my own selections, like cost of second-hand clothes (great deals here in Pana!), cost of pet food, cost for breakfast, cost for laundry service.

EDIT 2: In case you're wondering...
Second-hand clothes: I can get tshirts for Q10 to Q20, depending on quality. Bert gets clothes for even less, Q5 tshirts, Q30 pants.
Pet food: Dog food is as low as Q5 a pound, cat food is Q10/lb and up, kitten food is Q20/lb.
Breakfast: Q20 to Q25, sometimes includes coffee, sometimes not, higher price if you want gringo stuff like bacon. :D
Laundry: Q3 a pound? I've never done this but I've heard it's super cheap and the ladies are amazing at getting stuff clean!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Tiendas in Panajachel

Tiendas (tee-EN-dahs) are Guatemala's version of the 7-Eleven, only with shorter hours and, sadly, no Slurpees. They are so many of these corner stores here in Pana, it's hard to walk more than 40 steps without finding one! It seems every Guatemalan wants to open a store. I have no idea how their businesses are sustainable.

But it's good news for those who have cravings or just don't feel like going all the way to the market or grocery store. I can walk just a few meters down my street to the tienda and pick up chips, chocolate bars, candies, gum, ice cream, cookies, pop (soda), beer, liquor, plus staples like eggs, sugar, flour, canned beans, oil, salt, and coffee. Most tiendas also carry toilet paper, shampoo, Aleve (weirdly prevalent here), purified water, garbage bags, and cleaning supplies. Some stores have dog and cat food in bulk. Many will have fresh-baked buns hidden in a basket under a cloth, plus tomatoes, onions, and whatever fruit is in season. If you see a fridge, open it up and you'll find sausages, ham, chicken, cheese, and cream. So, yeah, basically everything you could want!

Going into a tienda can seem a bit overwhelming at first. The small room will be overflowing with items, cases stacked on the floor and items hanging from the ceiling. It's often dark. There are no prices. There may or may not be a clerk present. He might be sitting on a stool behind the counter playing on his iPhone, or she might be in the back and come out with a baby nursing on her breast and a toddler clinging to her skirt. Many times the tiendas are simply the converted front room to a family's house, so you can get a sneak peek into their lives through the curtain. 😊

tienda corner store Panajachel Guatemala
A free-standing tienda in Jucanya. 
The most important thing I've learned from shopping in tiendas in Guatemala is if you can't see what you're looking for, just ask. The store owners know where everything is, much like I know where to find anything on my cluttered desk! 😁
tienda corner store Panajachel Guatemala
Having brooms in a pop crate is pretty much a requirement of any good tienda.
Tiendas each get a name. The most common I've seen are "Esquina" (corner) or "Bendición" (blessing). One of my favourites is "Tienda Paraiso" (paradise) that's on the Jucanya side of the yellow bridge. Some of them use the word abarroteria, which means grocery store.

The stores are also plastered with advertisements about the products they sell. The delivery guys must dump the posters on them in bulk! Some bigger companies will even make your store a big banner with your name on it.
tienda corner store Panajachel Guatemala
The tienda across from Despensa in Panajachel. The banner on the left is pretty worn so they got a new one from Dorada Ice beer company. Sweet!
tienda corner store Panajachel Guatemala abarroteria
This one doesn't have room for signs so they handpainted what they sell -- home products, sausages, dairy products, basic grains, and good cold water and beer.
I'm not sure what "concentrado para perros y gatos" is though. Concentrated WHAT for dogs and cats?
tienda corner store Panajachel Guatemala Intermedio Jucanya
This is Intermedio, a landmark in Jucanya. It's quite large inside and has paper products, a photocopier, and lots of housewares in addition to food, booze, snacks, and bathroom supplies.
When I lived in Jucanya, the Intermedio is where I'd go when I didn't want to walk over to the Despensa in Pana. Things are a teensy bit more expensive but it's worth it when you don't feel like going too far. They even have sliced bread! (That's rare, just so ya know.)

tienda corner store Panajachel Guatemala
Nicely organized tienda with the most important thing -- ice cream! -- right out front.
But wait, that's not a good idea! The sun is gonna melt them. 😩
tienda corner store Panajachel Guatemala
There are some truly talented artists in Pana. They painted the soap logo (Ariel) in amazing detail on this tienda.

tienda corner store Panajachel Guatemala
This one is a bit intimidating. I think they may need to get rid of some of the cases of empty bottles!
Also on the left, there is a big stack of eggs in pale green trays. Just sitting out.
(P.S. No one refrigerates eggs in Guatemala. But to have them out like that where they could get broken is a little bit odd. Usually they're behind the counter.)
tienda corner store Panajachel Guatemala
This is the front of the store that is shown in the video below.
 As I was waiting for the guy to weigh my dog food, I took the 30-second video below. It's quite dark -- cuz that's tiendas for you! I narrated it so you can understand what you're looking at.


To sum up: I love tiendas! The only downside is that unscrupulous clerks will attempt to charge you more than the item is worth. But that's kinda like any corner store. They're allowed to overcharge you for the convenience, right? I just wish they had prices listed on the stuff so I would know when I was getting ripped off. I tend to avoid any store where I think they're giving me the gringo price.
There are two tiendas close to our new house. One sells dog food for 50 centavos cheaper than anywhere else I've been, and the other has Peanut Butter M&Ms. Or at least they do for now until I buy them all! Ha!