Sunday, August 2, 2020

Five Things to Love About Guatemala

Sorry I haven't been blogging. I was surprised to see how long it had been seen I last posted! I guess the coronavirus lockdown kinda makes time weird. I often don't know what day it is. 😁

To be quite honest, I haven't been all that happy for a while. I'm not sure if it's COVID-19 or culture fatigue or just the blues. Bert and I were seriously talking about going back to Canada. Of course, that's impossible right now -- and not just because the airport is closed. We have far too many pets to go anywhere. Plus I think we've forgotten how expensive it is to live in Canada. I mean, we'd have to get, like, real jobs or something! 😝

So instead of allowing myself to feel bummed out, I'm focusing on what I love about living in Panajachel. Here are my top 5 things about Guatemala that make me happy. 

1. The weather. I've said it before -- the weather at Lake Atitlan is perfect every freaking day. Even the rains are nice. It's sunny and warm almost every day, but not too hot. The hottest part is obviously the middle of the day, so you just hang out in the shade until after 3pm and then you go out in the cool evening air. When it gets chilly at night, you put on some fuzzy socks to go to bed. When the rains come, you just hunker down inside. It's almost like when it snows back home in Canada. If you have nowhere to go, it's lovely to look at from inside your cozy home. It's a weird little thing but I love being able to have a hot coffee in the morning, an iced coffee in the afternoon, and a hot chocolate at night. 

san pedro volcano lake atitlan guatemala
It looks like the volcano is erupting but it's just clouds. πŸ˜„

2. The scenery. Guatemala is gorgeous. The volcanoes at Lake Atitlan are stunning. My eyes are always drawn to them. I've always loved nature and Panajachel is small enough that it's easy to get off the cobbled streets and find green spaces. There are beautiful flowers and interesting plants and the big green hills all around and the rushing river and lizards sunning on the rocks. And of course, there is Lake Atitlan, El Lago Mas Bello del Mundo, the Most Beautiful Lake in the World. Its blue waters in the distance always lift my spirits.
I am anxiously awaiting the travel restrictions to be removed so I can go on more trips around this beautiful country. I want to go back to the Pacific Ocean, up to Huehue, and over to the east coast to see that side and hopefully fit in another trip to Tikal while I'm there!

3. My quirky house. I love my house. It's a total wreck and has a lot of problems but it's two stories, which means I can look out into the trees and watch the birds. I have a totally awesome big yard that the dogs love. They sunbathe and dig up the plants and chase each other in circles. I can sit outside in the sun and the big fence means I have almost total privacy. (The only exception is sometimes my neighbours go up on their third floor roof to have a look around.) Bonus points -- I have an awesome landlord who isn't upset that my dogs have trashed the place! I could not afford to have such a nice big house if I lived in Canada. When I left Canada in 2015, I was living in a crappy, cold, tiny one-bedroom apartment in a sketchy neighbourhood. Total upgrade here!

This is not a great photo in any way but I had to include it because it's a snapshot of my life.
Tarzan is sitting on top of my Ecofiltro (water filter) while Reina & Sebastian are having a spat, and in the background is my messy home with all my windows WIDE OPEN. 😁

4. Low cost of living. When Bert and I got all homesick and started googling rental houses in Canada, we were instantly reminded at how expensive stuff is back home. Here in Guatemala, I work online part-time and have a pretty easy life. I'm not running on a hamster wheel to keep up with my bills. Rent is cheap. Utilities are cheap. (Internet is expensive and slow but this post isn't about complaining!) If I eat locally, I can stuff my face for hardly any money at all. If I want to splurge on imported foods or American style dinner, I can do that too. I don't have a car here so no more gas or repairs or insurance bills. If I don't feel like walking, I can get in a tuc-tuc for Q5 (less than a dollar) and go anywhere in town. This easygoing lifestyle is something that I appreciate every single day when I sleep in until noon and wake up without an alarm because I'm no longer part of the rat race. 😊

5. The novelty. I've been an expat in Guatemala for more than five years now and I am still being surprised. The culture here is wonderful and strange. When a stupid virus isn't messing things up, there are always elaborate parades and fascinating events going on. Even just walking to the store, I'll notice a new flower or stop to watch a bird or say hola to a cute street dog. I've found myself pausing to watch Guatemalans doing bizarre things. 
The other day a big truck tried to go down a small callejon and got caught up in the electrical wires, stopping all traffic and seriously endangering everyone involved. People came out of their houses to watch. It's like TV has no interest for them. They'd rather see if some poor guy is gonna get electrocuted as he climbs on top of a truck to move cables. #JustGuatemalanThings 🀦
I think if you stay in one place your whole life, you end up walking through it like a zombie. Being in a foreign country forces you to open your eyes and really notice what's going on around you. It's not always a good feeling but it certainly isn't boring.

Um, what the heck is this plant?? LOL

My five best things about Panajachel may not be the same as my expat friends' lists. Some have told me that they love different things than I do, like the cheerful locals, the freedom from rules, or the anonymity. I think if you maintain a positive attitude and grateful mindset, any visitor to Guatemala will find something to love. When travel restrictions lift, I hope all my readers will consider a trip to Guatemala to experience just a little bit of what makes it such a wonderful place. 

Sunday, May 17, 2020

A Relaxing Weekend At Home

Sorry I haven't been blogging much. This past week was full of drama and stress! Nothing to do with COVID-19, thank goodness. It had to do with my pets!

First crazy thing that happened was last Friday, my cat Queso fall off my neighbour's roof into their yard. When I first picked him up, it appeared his back was broken. His back legs weren't working at all and he was in a lot of pain. But by the time we got to see a vet (that's a whole other story), he was fine. It was so weird! He came out of the cat carrier at the vet's and ran to hide under a table. I was shocked! The vet examined him and said that maybe he had dislocated his hip but it had popped back in. She gave him so pain killers and sent us home. We scheduled a follow-up appointment for Monday morning.

Queso relaxing at home after his ordeal. He is a big boy. He weighs 12.4 pounds!
 Which leads to the second bit of drama. On Monday as I was taking Queso to the vet, three of my dogs escaped! Gus, Honey-Bear, and Moo-Moo got out of the gate and raced off down the road. I knew that I couldn't catch them because they always think it's such a fun game to have me come after them, so I just got in a tuc-tuc and took Queso to the vet.

When I got back from the vet's office, Gus and Honey-Bear were waiting at the gate to be let back inside. But Moo-Moo was not with them!! I figured maybe she got distracted by something or someone and she would come home soon. But she never did!

For the next FOUR days, Bert and I searched the town over and over. Bert biked up and down all the streets, up to the bridge and down to the Lake. I walked until my thighs chafed, calling out and whistling while people stared at the crazy gringa. I posted Moo-Moo's picture in all the Facebook groups for Panajachel and tagged all my friends to share. But no one had seen my Moo. 😟

I was a freaking MESS. I cried all day every day. I was so mad at myself for not catching her when she first escaped. But at the time, I was more worried about Queso and his weird disappearing paralysis, so I just figured the dogs would come back and it would all be fine.

By Thursday night, I was losing hope. A friend suggested that I make paper posters and offer a reward. Another friend graciously allowed me to use her phone number so she could answer the calls in Spanish. I prepared the posters but it was after curfew so I was waiting until the next day to find a shop to print them out. I shared the virtual poster on all the Facebook groups again.

Friday morning my friend called me. Someone had seen the poster online and said that there was a white & black dog hiding in their workshop. It had been there for days but it was too scared to come out. I got directions and rushed out with my leash in my hand.

I arrived at the shop, a metalworking place I was familiar with, and the guy led me to the back. Under a weird piece of machinery, a dirty Moo-Moo peeked out with fearful eyes. OMG it's her!! She was so terrified, she was shaking, but when she realized it was me and we were going home, she started jumping all over with her happy smile. The guy laughed and took our picture. I gave him a reward of Q300 -- basically all that I had in my purse -- because I was so happy!! (Q300 is about $55 Canadian or $40 American. WORTH IT!)

The picture of Moo-Moo that I used in my missing posters.
She is just the best dog! She is the only dog that I consider "mine".
All the others are available for adoption, but not my Moo!
Which brings me to the title of my post -- a relaxing weekend at home. It's not only relaxing because all of my fur babies are safe and healthy but because we really have no choice about staying home. Ha ha!

The cases of COVID-19 in Guatemala have been ramping up quickly, which is actually the normal course of this disease, but our President kinda panicked. He is actually a doctor so he's taking the pandemic very seriously.

Anyway, on late Thursday night, he decided to lock down the country. We already have very strict rules here but he ramped it up by saying that NO stores could be open this weekend, except local tiendas. People could only go out from 8 am to 11 am. And also people couldn't use any sort of vehicles to go anyway; they had to walk.

So basically, we had 3 hours in the morning to walk to our local cornerstore, buy anything we needed, then we had to get home. CRAZY!

horse at a tienda caballo
Someone posted this on Twitter! The lockdown rule said "no transportation with neither two nor four wheels."
Well, horses don't have wheels!! 
The prez also said that next week would be more restrictions and then the weekend after that would be full lockdown 24 hours. The schedule was so confusing that people were making charts to help understand when we could go and where.

"New Presidential Decrees"
Of course, the new lockdown measures created a storm of controversy ... online. People ranted all over Facebook. Conspiracy theories and insults at the President and ridiculous "what if" scenarios. Armchair fanatics typed their fingers raw with their doomsday predictions and negativity.

But in reality, people just dealt with it. There was some food buying panic in the city, but here in Panajachel, people just put on their masks, walked to the tienda, bought their beans and rice, stopped for tortillas from the ladies who will never ever never cease making them, no matter what happens, and then everyone went home to spend time with their families, listen to music, do some gardening, play with their dogs, and wait for the President's weekly address tonight at 7pm.

So that's my update for this week. I'm lucky that my online work has started up again and I have money coming in. I am grateful that I even have some extra to donate to the local people who aren't as lucky. More on that in a future post!

Take care, faithful readers. As we say in Guatemala, Juntos Saldremos Adelante! Together we will get ahead. 😊

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Some Perspective From Guatemala During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Yesterday was a tough day. I ended up crying in the back of a tuc-tuc on the way home from running errands.

Was it because I was feeling sorry for myself? NO. One hundred freaking percent NO.

It was because there are people in my town who have no food. They go to bed hungry. Their children go to bed hungry.

There was a 60-year-old man who walked 4 kilometers from another town to beg for something to eat.

Every day, I see grandmothers gathering sticks at the side of the river so they can make a fire to cook beans.

People line the roads with white flags to signal that they don't have anything to eat today.

And I come to freaking Facebook & Twitter & the news and stupid first-worlders are rioting cuz they can't get a haircut.

PEOPLE HERE ARE STARVING. Do you understand that?

They can't order pizza to be delivered. There is no stimulus money. They can't work from home...cuz they don't have work at all. Their kids aren't online doing school on their freaking iPads -- they're begging in the street.

"Wah wah wah, I have to wear a mask! Wah wah wah, I can't go to the mall. Wah wah wah, I wanna go to the beach."

Shut the f*ck up.

And send money ⇨ Mil Milagros - A Thousand Miracles

BONUS FACT: Guatemala "only" had 617 homicides in the month of March, down from 800 last year. To put this in perspective, Canada had 651 in a whole YEAR.