Wednesday, September 30, 2015

10 Real Reasons to NOT Move to Guatemala

First, I must say that these opinions are based on my experience living on Lake Atitlan in Panajachel, Guatemala. There are radically different experiences to be had in the larger cities of Guatemala, including Guatemala City, Antigua, and Xela (Quetzaltenango). But seeing as how the Lake is a very popular destination for expats and pensionados, I wanted to give my honest opinion on things that may dissuade you from a making a decision to live here. (Be sure to read to the end to see how bad can be turned into good!)

1. Bathroom issues. Gosh, my number one most irritating thing about Guatemala: you can't flush the toilet paper. Gross gross gross. Hate it! Also, seeing as how you'll be eating all new foods and lots of fruits and drinking sometimes not so great water, you're gonna get sick and you're going to be in that bathroom more than usual and you're not going to be happy. If you are a germaphobe who can't handle these kinds of sanitary issues, stay away.

2. Poverty, both people and animals. Soft-hearted people will get their hearts broken here daily, or will empty their wallets trying to help everyone. If you're a hard-hearted person who is disgusted by the poor, the downtrodden, the disfigured, or the needy, don't come here. This is a third world country, after all.

A baby tarantula that was in our house.
3. Mold. If you have an allergy, this is not a good place. Everything is damp. Everything grows mold. Bert's cloth BELT grew mold! During the rainy season, it's a constant battle to keep your home from smelling like a fish tank.

4. Bugs, bugs, bugs. Not only small biting bugs, but wasps and houseflies and scorpions and spiders and various other buggy-boos that have no respect for your personal space. I'm going to do a whole post about all the creepy-crawlies I've seen here.

5. Power outages and Internet outages. Happens all the time. It's tolerable but not for the kind of person who throws their computer monitor out the window when they get disconnected.

6. Transportation issues. Rough roads, military checkpoints, roads blocked by protestors, no sidewalks in the smaller towns, uneven cobblestones that can cause a bad fall, plus traveling between town to town can be dangerous and/or expensive.

7. Spanish. You gotta learn it.

8. No Miracle Whip. Crappy hotdogs. Weird ketchup. Bad candy. :(

9. Diseases. Not good for immune-compromised people or those crackpots who think vaccines are for losers. Herbal tea will not cure dengue fever, although it will hydrate you nicely for your frequent trips to the bathroom.

10. Everything is on "Guatemalan Time". I'm not talking the time zone. Type As would not appreciate the casual lateness that seems to permeate this culture. Even Bert's dentist didn't show up on time for his appointment. It's not that they're being rude; they just don't run on a tight schedule like those in the punch-the-clock world.

Some of these things may seem trivial or may not be important to you, but they may be a deal-breaker for others. And truly, all of these things can be overcome, and can even be seen as opportunities. Check out the matching optimistic solutions below.

1. Bathroom issues. If you consider 24 hours in a day, a very small proportion of it is spent in the bathroom.
2. Poverty. There are numerous charities in Guatemala that you can join to help improve the lives of the local people and animals.
3. Mold. A dehumidifier works wonders, airing out the house when it's sunny, having a clothes line to dry damp items, and just keeping on top of removing mold with bleach when you see it starting.
Chuchitos -- small corn dough-based tamales stuffed with sauce
and meat and wrapped in a corn husk
Photo courtesy of  the Antigua Culinary Arts Institute
4. Bugs. DEET, Raid, and a child-like curiosity about nature will help.
5. Outages. Generators, backup batteries, and redundant Internet connections can get you through. Or... just go outside. :D
6. Transportation. When you live in paradise, there is no need to go anywhere. (Oh, except for visa runs.)
7. Spanish. Learning another language is fun and is good for your brain.
8. Can't find the foods you love? Import stores can get you almost anything -- for a price. Plus you'll find new favorite foods in Guatemala. (Bert's fave are chuchitos.)
9. Diseases. Vaccinations, people! Practice good hygiene, wash your food, and rest assured there are medical facilities here that can take care of you.
10. Guatemalan time. Go with it. Relax. No hay prisa. (There's no rush.)

For me, Guatemala, and the Lake area specifically, is an almost-perfect match!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Still Getting Surprised

I haven't felt much like blogging lately. I think I'm feeling a bit of culture shock. Not sure if that's the right term or not. It's not like I miss home all that much -- although I do wish I could see the leaves change. It's more like these days I've been more aware of the constant tiny underlying anxiety of not being in a familiar place. It's not a feeling that is at the forefront of my mind most days but it's always there.

I don't know this place.
This place is not what I'm used to.
I am not at home.
And most especially: I don't speak the language.

It reminds me of spending time in Quebec back in Canada. I knew some French but there was just that slight irritation of not being able to do the simplest things, like reading a sign.

Here in Guatemala, my lack of Spanish vocabulary was brought to my attention when Calvin, our foster dog, escaped the yard. I went out to the street looking for him and had a conversation with our neighbour.
She said, "Qué buscas?" (What are you looking for?)
I replied, "Mi perro." (My dog.)
She asked, "Qué color?" (What color?")
At that point I went... uhhhhhh. Calvin is brindle. I know people who don't know that word in English! So I just shrugged and said, "No sé la palabra." (I don't know the word.)
She laughed at me in disbelief. Who doesn't know what color their dog is??

When I told Bert the story, he laughed at me too and said, "Why didn't you say tigre?" I face-palmed. Of course! Tigre (pronounced tee-gray, meaning tiger) is what the Guatemalans basically name any brindle-coloured dog! I'll remember that for next time.
And for those learning Spanish, the word for brindle is abigarrado.

In spite of my weird uncomfortable feelings the past few days, Panajachel surprised me yet again today while Bert and the dogs and I were out for a walk. We came across these guys standing in the middle of the main street into town!
Vendors selling fresh shrimp and lobsters in the street.
Panajachel has a fresh seafood drive-through! Always surprising, this town. The vendors got a kick out of my amazed face. They smiled and brought their smelly catch to me to show me up close! :D

On a side note, that green VW bug? I see it everywhere around town, driven by a very elderly gringo lady. I wonder how long she's been in Pana?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Three New Foods -- Annona, Paches de Papas, and Chocolate Lasagna

We tried three new foods this week: a fruit called an annona, a hot meal called paches de papas, and a dessert called Chocolate Lasagna.
The huge annona! I paid Q10 for it from the "baby banana lady" we pass on the street whenever we walk up Principal.
The anonna cut in half.
The annona was very good but a bit difficult to eat. It had a lot of big black seeds in it. We decided to use spoons and just scoop out the white part. It tasted like a really watery pear with a hint of mango. Quite delicious actually, if you like pear. Bert said he would eat it again for sure.

I had read about paches de papas in an article on Antigua Daily Photo. I loved the idea of having a tamale made of potatoes, especially since I got here and realized that I don't like the masa-based (corn) dough they use for regular tamales.

Well, we were walking down Calle de los Arboles yesterday when I saw a couple ladies next to some cloth-covered baskets, and a handwritten sign saying "Paches de Papas". Yay! I would finally get my chance to try them. For Q10 I got two steaming hot banana leaf packages tied with twine.
The lady told me one was pollo (chicken) and one was some word I didn't catch. Tasted like ham to me! :)
Excitedly, I untied the twine and unwrapped the first banana leaf. Inside was another, smaller banana leaf. I unwrapped that too and saw... mush. Mush? HUH??
Mmmm mystery mush in a banana leaf!
Bert immediately said, "I'm not eating that." Pfft. Coward!
I tentatively poked my fork in and took a small bite. Freaking delicious! It was an awesome mix of potatoes and unknown things, with a small chunk of chicken meat in the center of the mush. I ate it all, and unwrapped the other one to eat it too. The second one had a tender piece of ham in it. Yum!

The thing that I couldn't figure out though is: why go to all the trouble of putting the mush in two banana leaves? Just serve the mush in a bowl with a spoon! I would totally eat it all the time if it was served that way. The steamy wet leaf thing was a bit over the top. :)

I was curious about the delectable mix of mushy flavours, so I found a video recipe of paches de papas. Looks like tomatoes, red peppers, onion, and a ton of different chiles, plus the mashed potatoes and a few other things. The video lady's paches turned out looking much nicer than my street paches.

For those of you curious about the similarity between paches and our dog, Pachi, yes, the words mean the same thing essentially. Both mean "short", although I've heard that Pachi means more like "squashed." I'll have to get a good picture of Pachi to show why they call her that. Her little stubby legs are hilarious!

The third new food is kinda cheating as it's an American dessert. But it was made here in Panajachel and I'd never had it before, so it counts, right? It was called Chocolate Lasagna and it was made by Daniella at Dolce Vita Foods.
Oh My Chocolate!
Yeah, it was even more awesome tasting than it looks! A fudgy Oreo crust, layers of pudding and chocolate and whipped cream, topped with chocolate chips. DIVINE. Totally worth Q25! (About $4.35 Canadian.) Bert said it was the best dessert he's had since he got here. :D

See, that's the trick with eating here in Guatemala. Sure, I can buy the above "gringo" food, but you'll notice that one piece of dessert was five times the cost of one pache de papa. Bert has totally caught on to eating like a Guatemalan and is now feasting on Q3.50 tamales at the little stand that pops up on Santander at meal times. He's addicted to them! He gets pouty if the ladies aren't there or if they're sold out. Ha!

So dear readers, go out and try a new food today! Explore the international section in your grocery store or visit a strange restaurant. Be bold! Worse case: you hate it and you go out for Blizzards at Dairy Queen afterwards. :D

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

How to Use a Pila

Our new home doesn't have a kitchen sink or laundry machines. Not a big deal because we have the quintessential Latin American washing area -- the pila!  (Pronounced PEE-lah.)
Our pila. The center faucet is cold water; the black tube is water heated on the roof by the sun. It gets super hot in the afternoon. Sorry for the messiness! We are still organizing and moving stuff around. 
To be quite honest, I was a bit mystified as to how this one weird concrete sink thingy could be used efficiently for dishes and laundry and even washing babies. So I used my Googling skills and came upon some other travelers and locals who helped me out.

The main rule appears to be fill the center section, the deepest section, with clean water... and keep it clean! Vagabond Journey emphasizes that point in her post here.

I don't follow her advice quite so fastidiously because we have a good supply of water, rather than having to rely on rain water or an intermittent supply. We don't fill up our center section to store water just in case because we know we can get it when we want it. I do, however, follow her idea of using basins to transfer water from the center section (where the faucets are) to the side sections for washing or rinsing. But that's mostly because there's really not any other way to get water over... hmmm, unless I install a spray hose? Future upgrade idea right there!  :)

I found this cute video of a little girl named Nea who showed me how to wash dishes in a pila.

I've modified Nea's technique a little by using a basin in the left portion that I fill with hot soapy water, then another basin in the right side to do a bleach soak, then the drying rack in the right side as well. Perfect!

As for washing clothes in a pila, I've seen videos and blogs posts about it but I think I'm going to cough up the Q3 a pound to get a laundry service to wash my stuff. I can't imagine spending that much time to get things clean! You basically have to wash each piece one at a time by hand, rubbing it with a hard bar of soap and using a washboard (sometimes built into the pila, sometimes hand-held) to scrub the clothes clean. Exhausting! I'm fine paying $0.52 Canadian per pound for a professional lavandera (washer-woman).
Laundry soap looks like this here. This is a package of three.
The bar is shaped like a thick hockey puck.
I think it's fascinating that something as simple as washing dishes or brushing your teeth can be so different from one country to the next. I feel a bit like a small child who doesn't know how to do the simplest thing properly. It could be frustrating or embarrassing but I just try to look at it as a fun learning experience. Many surprises here, no doubt about it. :D

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Suicide Showers, or The Choice Between Cleanliness and Aliveness

Our new house has what is commonly called a Suicide Shower. I'm not joking! I suppose the true name is electric shower head... but that doesn't roll off the tongue quite the same, does it? :D
Our shower head
Why is it called a suicide shower? Because of the super-fun combination of live electricity and water!

Here's how it works. The shower head has an electric heating coil in it to warm up the water as it passes through. Being electric, it therefore needs wires to power it... and most of these showers are installed by folks that know very little about trivial things like grounding and fuses. The result: sparks, shocks, and sometimes even death.

(A friend here told us, "There is a hotel in San Pedro that is notorious for killing people with its shower." Hmmm...I wonder if that's on their TripAdvisor page?)

All that aside, if installed correctly, these ingenious showers do provide lovely warm water from a cold water source. Plus, as long as you have power, you can have a warm shower for as long as you like. No running out of hot water and having to rinse off in icy cold!

You just have to remember to NEVER touch the shower head while it's running. Luckily, ours is placed quite high up, so there's no chance of accidentally bumping our heads on it. So far, both of us have had nice showers in it with no problems. (Although I kinda cheated and wore my rubber Crocs in the shower just in case.)

Here's one blogger's story about his adventure with a suicide shower.

A video worth watching about suicide showers. The sarcasm is strong with the narrator!

Just another fun thing to experience here in Guatemala. Much more tolerable than the squat toilets I experienced in Europe!

Friday, September 18, 2015

A Crazy Move and Crazier Few Days

Sorry I've been out of touch but we moved to our new casita (little house) on Monday and it's now Friday and we still have no internet. I'm using a Tigo stick right now to get online... That's for another post!

Our move was stressful, as most moves are, although nowhere near as stressful as moving from Canada to Guatemala almost six months ago! It only took us three tuk-tuk trips (tongue twister!) to move all our stuff from what we're now calling The Lake House to our new house in town (nickname yet to be determined, although I'm leaning towards Palace of Limes.) Big thanks go out to Bryan (tuk-tuk #132) and Victor (tuk-tuk #88) for their gracious help! They even carried stuff into the house for us. Such nice guys. :)

Here's a short video of us in Bryan's tuk-tuk on our last trip, heading into town with Pachi at our feet and Willow meowing in her cage. Good times!

Another crazy part of our move was that the day after our move-in date was Guatemala's Independence Day. Apparently, they party like madmen the night before -- sirens, fireworks, and men shouting through megaphones at midnight. There were also a bunch of people running through the town during the day on the 14th, dressed up in blue & white, sometimes carrying torches, and blowing through whistles and horns as they ran. Minivans decorated in blue & white streamers and painted with slogans accompanied the runners. Viva Guatemala!
The day before Independence Day, people ran thru the town in groups.
I'm really glad Victor warned us not to try to move in on September 15th cuz the main streets in Pana were shut down,  and miles of marching bands and school kids were walking all over, with the entire town lined up along the sides of the roads watching in silence.

It was a rather strange procession. I'm used to people cheering and laughing and waving and sometimes catching candy that is thrown into the crowd by the parade participants. This parade was fabulous to look at but no one cheered and very few spectators even smiled at the bands and performers going by. Odd.
Sometimes the parade was just kids from a school.
Adorable girls in costumes swirling their skirts!
I only got to videotape a few parts of the parade and then my battery died. Bummer!

So, back to the house! The Internet was supposed to be hooked up when we arrived on Monday, but the guys never showed, and then Tuesday was a holiday, and they didn't show on Wednesday or Thursday.... so that meant I had a lot of time to unpack, clean, organize, and go shopping for all the little things the place was missing.
Willow having fun exploring the shelves.

We don't have a coffee maker yet but we did find one of these things!
When was the last time you made coffee like this? :D

If you look closely, you can see that the chair used to say "Circus Bar". The dining table and chairs came from a very popular restaurant when they moved locations.

There is a path up the mountain near our house. Bert ventured up there and took this photo of our neighbourhood and the lake and volcano in the distance.

Looking down from the gardens at our casita. Very colourful, isn't it? 
The house is what I call a Guatemalan style building, meaning that all the rooms have doors leading to the outside. There are no connecting doors between rooms, so no inner hallways. Guatemaltecos spend a lot of time outdoors, and with this lovely weather, you can't really blame them!
So when you come out of the bedroom door, you're on the porch. Then you go in through another door to the living room... or the bathroom or the kitchen. All separate doors from the porch!

I suppose you could enclose the porch area (the red floor in the picture with the table and chairs) but then it wouldn't feel nearly as airy and spacious. It's all covered over with tin roofing anyway, so it's dry. We really like sitting at the table outside!
Bert stretching for jocotes in the garden. Yummy! 
Bert being smarter (plus more fashionable) and using a ladder to pick jocotes.
We're happy to have plenty of gardening space at the new house, and already have a jocote tree, two papaya trees, and a lime tree. There's also basil and rosemary. (Pasta sauce will be AWESOME!) We are going to plant some veggies too, when we get a chance. Red peppers and tomatoes for sure, plus maybe pumpkins if we can get seeds!

We didn't have our kitchen stocked yet, so on Wednesday we took a walk down Santander to the waterfront and ate at the barbecue I wrote about in a previous post. It was freaking delicious! And cheap too. 
Each of our plates cost Q15 or about $2.60 Canadian.
I got BBQ chicken and Bert got BBQ chorizo sausage.
On the way back from lunch, it started POURING rain. We hid in a closed storefront and watched the street turn into a river! We were getting dripped on, so Bert & I raced across the road to a more sheltered spot. Pachi refused to follow us!
Pachi hiding from the rain!
The rain eventually eased a bit so we trudged uphill through the river/street back to our house, completely soaking ourselves in the process. We saw some gringos walking barefoot. BAD IDEA. Don't do it! It's much better to get your shoes wet, trust me. There is a lot of garbage in the water, plus dog poop, broken glass, potholes, and sometimes even a parasite called a hookworm that can get into your skin. Keep your shoes on, people!

So more about our little house: the weirdest thing is all the SOUNDS. We're in town but right at the very end of a small street, so we figured it must be quieter than other parts of town, but still, there are so many interesting noises to listen to: neighbours talking, babies crying, kids hitting a ball against our gate, someone playing trumpet on their roof, hammering from construction (Guatemaltecos are early risers), something that sounds like a triangle dinner bell being rung every morning at 6:30, 6:45, and 7:00 am, dogs barking, birds and cats running across our tin roof, roosters (oh the freaking roosters! 2am is not dawn, you feathery idiots!), some chatty turkeys next door (!!), plus the neighbours own some budgies and a parrot that speaks Spanish. As it turns out, the most soothing sound is rain on the roof. It blocks out the other noise!

I'll leave you with this lovely picture I took of the limes on the tree right outside our bedroom window. Totally going to make lots of lime-aid and pies with these babies! Loving the new place! :D
Did you know that limes turn yellow?
Apparently that means they're TOO ripe. Still taste good to me!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Lake Atitlan Is In Trouble

Lake Atitlán is the second-most visited attraction in Guatemala, after Tikal. The lake is renowned for its beauty, and if you’ve been following my blog, you know that I'm entranced by this lovely place as well.

Unfortunately, the lake is not as perfect as it seems in glossy photos. This year we are experiencing another bloom of cyanobacteria that is reportedly covering 70% of the lake’s surface. The last bloom of this size was in 2009 and made news headlines even outside of Guatemala.

Cyanobacteria occurs naturally in the lake but creates a problem when it becomes overgrown due to high nutrient levels in the lake, most notably phosphorus and nitrogen. Nitrogen and phosphorus come from untreated sewage being dumped into the lake, from pesticides and fertilizers, and from washing chemicals found in soaps. The algae flourishes by eating the chemicals; it’s doing its job to clean the lake. However, this process starves the other plants and animals of the oxygen they need, which creates more decaying matter in the lake.

Here's a picture I took of the algae at the lakeshore right in Panajachel.
Cyanobacteria in Lake Atitlán.

It not only looks bad, but is stinky and goopy. I’ve seen some people swimming in it, but most people are avoiding it. Last week, I met some friendly tourists who were biking along our road searching for a clean place to swim. It must be shocking to people who arrive at Lake Atitlán expecting the most beautiful lake in the world and instead finding a smelly green mess.

AMSCLAE is the authority in charge of the lake. They are coordinating with various government departments within Guatemala, as well as organizations in other countries. They have received advice from scientists who have worked to clean up Lake Tahoe in the United States and Lake Como in Italy.

This is a contentious issue in Guatemala, with both locals and expats. Just recently, the government finally released a $10 million grant that had been sitting in red-tape limbo for almost seven years. The grant had been matched by Spain, but bureaucracy had kept it from being earmarked for projects. I'm not too familiar with what's going on, but there's a very informative article about this at Sherm Davis' blog. Check it out!

There are mixed reactions to the announced plans to “save” the lake. It is a hot topic on Facebook and in cafës around town. I've heard everything from cautious optimism to flat out scorn. "It will never happen," said one long-term resident. Another common sentiment is that the money will never get to what it's supposed to and instead end up in a politician's or gang leader's pocket.

Me, I’m optimistic and excited, but those feelings are dampened by the opinions of the wiser expat residents around the lake. They have been here longer than me and know “how things work”. But still, I hope that this grant is a sign of change. Guatemala is a spirited country whose people who are no longer afraid to protest their corrupt government. I sincerely hope the power of the people’s voices can resound loud enough to overcome the negativity and restore Lake Atitlán to its former glory.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Sun to Rain

Another wonderful day in Guatemala. Bert and Pachi and I went for a walk around Jucanya yesterday and took a bunch of cool pictures. I love this place!
Found some giant toadstools on the side of the road just outside Jucanya./
The crown was bigger than the palm of my hand!
Walking into Jucanya, we decided to talk a left turn onto Calle de Cementerio -- Cemetery Street. Guess what was at the end?

I've had a fascination with cemeteries for a long time. Growing up in Canada, there was a gravel road near our house that I would walk down a lot, and about one kilometer down the road was an old cemetery. I loved it there: the peacefulness, the mystery, the solitude. I loved reading all the mossy gravestones, trying to find the one with the oldest date. I even discovered some small stones fallen in the grass in the back corner of the lot, overgrown with weeds and shadowed by pine trees. Fabulous place.

A Guatemalan cemetery is entirely different. The mausoleums are painted in bright colours, decorated with sentimental artwork, and multitudes of flowers mark the more recent memorials. It was a truly fascinating experience to wander through the aisles. I will definitely return to find the oldest marker.
This big gate was locked, and I thought maybe we couldn't get in. But a few meters down the road is an opening to enter.

A little church area to sit and pray.

We walked through this arch and turned left to enter the cemetery.

Some of the sections were empty.

So many pretty colours!

Some of the artwork on the mausoleums were quite beautiful.

This is a lowered section at the north end.

So many flowers!

The back wall.

In the older section of the cemetery.

The older section had dirt paths.
I've seen pictures of the awesome cemetery in Chichicastenango and I hope to visit there someday.
After visiting the cemetery, we walked down a stone ramp that led right to the lake. We strolled along the lake, but it was quite smelly with the algae (more on this in another post), so we headed back up into the streets of Jucanya to explore some more.
Bert & Pachi heading down to the lake, with clouds covering the volcano ahead.

Bert & Pachi on the shore of Lake Atitlan in Jucanya.
There was a man snorkeling in the weeds!
This was a neat stone platform we found. There were several small stone plinths around it with Mayan symbols on them.

We found this plaque near the circle. It says "Respect this area of Mayan ceremonies."

Also along the shore was a nice park with play equipment for kids. There were a few of these signs posted around the park.
It says, "Do you like coming to stroll? Do you like coming to swim? Then stop making it dirty!"
Today was the first day of voting in the Guatemalan elections. We found out from a Guatemalan friend that there are two rounds of voting. *sigh* I am already so sick of the political advertising but I guess we've got another few months to go before we're done with it.
Santander was partially closed for voting. The street vendors all gathered to sell ice cream, tacos, and chicken & fries.

Part of the election rules is that no liquor can be sold for the days surrounding the election.
This is the liquor display in the grocery store.
We were just heading up to the market when the rain started. Wow, what a downpour! It's good though, since the country has been suffering quite a lack of rain for a while now. We scooted under an awning and thought about waiting it out... but it kept going on and on! So we hailed a tuk-tuk, went to the Despensa to buy some dinner, then were lucky enough to flag down our friend Brian in his tuk-tuk, who drove us through massive puddles right to our front door!

This video is from when were huddled on the steps of a closed store.

The funniest (and grossest) part of the ride home was just as we were approaching the Yellow Bridge. Another tuk-tuk was coming from the other direction and hit a huge puddle at quite a clip. The water splashed up... and came right through the side flap of the tuk-tuk and INTO MY MOUTH! I spit it out, laughing, and Bert quipped: "Great. Now you've got dysentery." Icky!

I hope your day was as wonderful as mine was... except you didn't get dirty rainwater in your mouth. :D

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Unconnected -- Pix from Three Days Offline

I tried very hard in my three days of Internet freedom to not worry about all the work I was missing. It was difficult because we have many bills coming up, but since there wasn't much I could do, I just put my worries on the back burner for a few days and enjoyed some unconnected time in Guatemala.
Aw yah! Pizza cones!
I strolled around Panajachel wearing a backpack, which got me a lot of attention from the vendors. But I'm pretty adept now at the litany: "No, gracias. No, gracias. No lo necesito. Ya tengo uno. No soy una turista. Yo vivo aca. Buena suerte." (No, thank you. No, thank you. I don't need it. I have one already. I'm not a tourist. I live here. Good luck.) When I sat for lunch at the pizza cone place -- and had a hamburger, go figure -- I had a nice chat with a vendor named Margarita. It's cool to be able to converse relatively coherently in Spanish, although I am grateful that a lot of the vendors know English as well. I really loved the small rugs she was selling, but I can't afford them now. So I told her I would talk to her again in two weeks when I got my paycheck. And trust me, she'll remember!
View of San Pedro volcano that we get to see on our walk into Pana every day. 
NJP has two dogs that visit him regularly at his new place. They are quite comfortable coming into his yard, and even his bedroom! We're not sure if they used to live there and were abandoned when the previous owner left, or if they are just local friendly strays. Rob likes the brindled one! But we don't really have room for another dog, so we have to be content with just feeding them kibble when we see them.
I think we're calling him Calvin. He's such a cool looking doggie.
I want to call this one Giraffe. Those long legs! If he was a she, I would have named her Bridget Bardot.
Guatemala is a great place for someone like me: a person who notices all sorts of little things. It frustrates Bert to no end that I can't walk 10 feet without stopping to stare at a bug or flower or gaggle of kids playing in the street. It's much more relaxing for me to walk alone like I did these past few days. Then I can cheerfully climb into the scrub, stepping carefully over trash and coconut shells, to take pictures of pretty purple flowers growing by the river. :D
Lovely flower growing in Jucanya.
We saw this strange place the very first week we were here, and thought it was an arcade.
Stumbled upon it again while wandering the streets of Pana and realized it's a mini-casino.
(Guarded by a cocker spaniel. Ha!)
A statue in the garden beside the cathedral.
Willow has found a new favourite spot... Bert's pillow!
Even funnier is that he won't move her when he goes to bed. He just sleeps on the corner. Ha!
Guava that fell from our tree out front. Inside of the guava. I was going to eat it... then one of the "seeds" starting squirming. It had worms!
The fruit was then flung as far as it could be flung. :D
It was a wonderful few days of freedom from my desk chair but I am glad to be reconnected again to share my adventures with you, faithful readers. Until next time!