Sunday, October 25, 2015

My First Trip to Antigua

I've been helping to organize a Halloween party for my fave bar here in Panajachel, Gringos Locos, and wanted to get some cool Halloween decorations and most especially glowing things to spice the bar up for the big spooky night. I messaged a party store in Antigua on Facebook to try to get neon glow bracelets and they assured me they had packs of 100 for Q70. I told them I was going to make a special trip from Pana to Antigua to buy them.

Super excited, I asked my friend, Jo-Lori, to come with me. She is an American expat who has been living in Guatemala for several years, volunteering with Mayan Families. I was pumped when she agreed to come with me! Girls trip! YAY!

We paid Q160 each for a round-trip shuttle ticket from Pana to Antigua and back through a travel agency called Tierra Maya on Santander. As I've mentioned before, I believe all the travel agencies in Pana cooperate to offer the same price for shuttle tickets no matter where you book, and then consolidate all their customers to fill up a shuttle, rather than sending shuttles with only a few passengers. This time, we were pretty lucky to have a shuttle with only Jo-Lori and me plus one other couple. The trip to Antigua takes three to four hours, depending on traffic.

Our shuttle was supposed to pick us up at 9:15 but of course was late and arrived closer to 9:45. Then we picked up the other couple near the docks, as they had come over from Santa Cruz. We had a wonderful chat with them as we rode. Kevin (...or maybe Keith... sorry!...) was an young American who had been traveling the world for a year. His girlfriend, Maddy, was from England, and had joined him here in Guate to learn Spanish in Antigua and to Scuba dive in Lake Atitlan. We had a great conversation with them and it made the long drive pass very quickly!

They had been living in Antigua for the past while so I made sure to pick their brains before we parted ways in Antigua. They recommended a great, inexpensive Indian restaurant as a place for us to have lunch after we had finished our shopping.

Our lovely shuttle bus driver jumped through hoops to try to drive us to the Halloween store, which had only given me the very obscure address of: Km 5.5 carretera a ciudad vieja. I had posted the address to the Guatemala Expats Facebook page to get some help on the directions, and received some clues but no definitive location. Our driver asked traffic cops, strangers on the street, store owners, pretty much anyone until we finally arrived at what we believed to be the right location.

The driver asked some people standing at the entrance to a plaza at kilometer 5.5 on the highway if there was a party store in the strip mall. They said, "No." Alrighty then. Off we go again! Jo-Lori had spotted this little sign just a few doors down, so we let the shuttle go on it's way, and we went in to check it out.
Infantile fiestas? I'm in!
Well, this first stop was a bust. No store, and the waiter at the restaurant could only suggest we check the plaza that we had just been at. We trudged back down the side of the road and into the plaza. We needed a bathroom and were lucky to find a free public one. The sign gave us a few moments pause.
I guess I'm a moon?
We walked around the corner from the bathroom along the strip mall place and.... GASP!! Could it be???
Antigua party store! 
The party store!! I was so thrilled! We had succeeded in our mission!
Or so I thought.

Entering the store we were greeted by a lovely young woman. The store was obviously new, very clean, with sparse shelves of various party items. There were some Halloween costumes, basic masks and stuff, pirate hooks, tiaras, etc. However, there were no glow sticks to be seen.

I asked the clerk, and she said, "No, no hay." (They're aren't any.) Um, what? We clarified that this was indeed the store I had been messaging on Facebook. Jo-Lori has much better Spanish than I do, so she took command and asked that the clerk call her boss. A brief phone conversation ensued but the answer was no better. The glow sticks were in a warehouse or someone's house or basically somewhere not at the store, and no one could get them today. "You have to come back another day," they said. Yeah... NO. I was furious! Jo-Lori explained to them that we had come from Panajachel. Still no luck. Ooh, I was mad! But what could we do? So we bought a few little things and left.
The Panorama Plaza, km 5.5, Antigua, Guatemala
Standing on the side of a highway in the middle of nowhere outside Antigua, my mood was bleak. I had spent so much money to come all this way to get nothing! As Jo-Lori said, "Epic fail." I took a few moments to quietly sulk.

I had to force my dark mood to pass. I was in Antigua, Guatemala! The sun was shining and I was with a nice friend. Who needs stupid glow bracelets anyway?
Being the good Girl Scout that I am, I had written down the addresses of a few other stores that might be helpful for Halloween stuff, so we found a tuk-tuk and headed to a store called Nimpot.

Driving thru Antigua was an adventure! The roads of Antigua are almost all cobbled and very bumpy. I was gawking out the window so much that I actually hit my head on the side of the tuk-tuk. Owie!

We arrived at an intersection and the tuk-tuk driver pointed us down a road that was closed to traffic. Hey! We had inadvertently arrived at the infamous arch of Antigua, shown on so many postcards. Cool!
That's me in the pink shirt! Goofy tourist photo.  :D
The arch looking from the other side. The volcano behind it was covered by clouds or I would have included it in the shot.
The Nimpot store didn't have the type of costumes we were looking for but it still was a very cool store to browse. I will definitely go back there to buy some things when I have more money.
Nimpot Store, Antigua, showing some large kites that they fly for Day of the Dead, November 1st.
Yes, Nimpot had costumes... but not for gringos! Those are all masks and costumes worn by people in processions.
By this time, we were super hungry, so we attempted to find the Indian restaurant our shuttle friends had told us about. We hopped in a taxi and headed in what we hoped was the right direction. Well, we did find an Indian restaurant... but it was not the one with a Q36 menu. Oh well!
Pushkar Indian Restaurant, Antigua, Guatemala
Jo-Lori at the entrance to Pushkar Indian Restaurant.
So who would have thought that I'd eat the most amazing samosas in my life at a Indian restaurant in Guatemala???  They were soooooo good! Jo-Lori ordered a huge spread of dishes, kinda like a sampler meal, with Chicken Korma and Raita and Naan and all sorts of yumminess. The restaurant was in a beautiful, tranquil garden. It was superb!

Time had flown by far too quickly and by this time we had less than an hour until our shuttle bus back to Pana. We had no clue where we were in the city so we tried to find a tuk-tur or taxi to take us back to the central park. We stood for ages on the street with no luck. Where are all the tuk-tuks? We're not in Pana anymore, Toto! Everywhere people were driving their own cars. Not at all like our little lake town.
A decrepit building across the street from the restaurant.
Finally, I attempted to get a taxi number for a travel agency. Then I realized I couldn't call the taxi because I didn't know where to tell him to pick us up. The travel agent told me the intersection name, and I told Jo-Lori, and she called... and the taxi company was confused! So a nice man asked Jo-Lori for the phone and explained to the cab what intersection we were at. So helpful!

Back at the central square, Jo-Lori sat down with a hot chocolate while I quickly explored the area, hoping that our shuttle would be late so I would have more time to see things!
I showed this picture to Bert and he called it "the lactating fountain". :D
Yes, the ladies are spouting water out of their nipples. Stay classy, Antigua!
Hard to see them but those are green parrots in the trees in the park! I was super excited to see them. They were noisy too!
Random large awesome building with cool architecture.
I popped into few stores, still desperately searching for Halloween stuff. I kept checking back to see if the shuttle had arrived. No? Okay! Into one more store! But everyone I asked had never heard of pulseras luminosas or glow bracelets, or if they did know, they didn't have any. If only I had had more time! I'm sure I could have found a party store somewhere in the city.

Alas, our shuttle finally arrived and we climbed aboard. I snapped one last photo of the Volcán de Fuego (volcano of fire) out of the window of the shuttle as we drove away.
Volcán de Fuego, Antigua, Guatemala, on a cloudy day
The ride home was a blur. I was immensely disappointed that I had not found the things I was looking for, yet I had a really good time with my friend and enjoyed an amazing meal. I focused my attention on the lovely scenery passing by and let my worries drift away.

It got dark before we got home, and Jo-Lori and I passed the hours sharing stories. We were held up by a broken-down chicken bus on the road at one point. For some reason, they were blocking four lanes of traffic trying to get the bus turned around to go back up the hill.
Broken down chicken bus on the highway
We were right at the head of the line, anxiously waiting for the police officer to signal us through so we could get home! It took soooo long, I was considering just asking all the impatient drivers to gather together to PICK UP the darn bus and turn it around by force! The tow truck driver was really having a hard time figuring out how to turn the wheels to get the bus to go any other direction than straight into the ditch. Ah, Guatemala. You're so fun!

Finally, we got back to Panajachel and were dropped off into the madness of Santander. I was relieved to be out of the shuttle and stretching my legs. I was hoping to hit up the grocery store and head home for dinner but someone else had a different idea. I was chatting with Jo-Lori when a cold nose touched my knee. I looked down... wait a second! That's Calvin!! That's my dog??? What the...??

Calvin was on Santander, mooching it up at a street food cart. He was super excited to see me... that is until I tried to grab his collar to drag him away from the people eating. Then he growled and snapped at me. BAD DOG. I quickly called Bert to come with the leash to take our errant foster dog home. He said that Calvin had gone up into the garden about 15 minutes ago and figured he had just gone into the grass to go to the bathroom. He hadn't realized the dog had hopped the fence!

I said goodbye to Jo-Lori and waited for Bert to show up with the leash. Calvin was not happy to be taken away from his free meal of taco scraps, and he was really not happy that he got chained up at home!

So, a day both good and bad, and certainly memorable! Can't wait to go back to Antigua with Bert. Now that I've had a sampling of the city, I am eager to see more. Will try to stay overnight next time though, for sure. I'd love to see the volcano erupting at night!

Here's a short video of the fountain in the Central Park of Antigua.
Until next time, my friends. :D

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Arts & Crafts on a Sunny Afternoon

Finally, blue skies! That huge hurricane in the Pacific has been dumping rain on us for days and finally passed to reveal clear skies and hot sun. Bert went for a long walk with Pachi and ended up in the riverbed. He searched for two nice rocks to use as doorstops while Pachi frolicked in the water. When they got home, Bert with a sunburn and Pachi with a limp, we settled down to paint!
Bert doing arts and crafts on our awesome outdoor dining table. 

I did a simple purple heart on a weird porous black rock.
Bert's awesome spiral sun creation!
 Bert used a mosquito coil as a stencil to make the spiral. So creative!
Our new doorstops
Once we got started painting things, we didn't want to stop! We're going to find more rocks and other things to decorate another day.

After craft time, we went down Santander to have awesome pupusas at the newly renovated pupuseria. Delicious! If I haven't mentioned it, pupusas are a soft dough stuffed with cheese and other yumminess and fried on a flat grill. Served with a vinegary salad like coleslaw (called curtido) and hot pickled carrots, jalapenos, and onions if you desire. You fold the pupusa in half with the veggies on top and eat it with your hands. It's a gooey, cheesy, drippy, hot mess! Love it! Click here to see a recipe.
The new sign board menu at the street-side pupuseria on Santander.
We sat on the bar stools, right in front of the grill!
For dessert, we treated ourselves to ice cream cones from Sarita. It's only Q7 or about a dollar for a single scoop on a small waffle cone. I had peanut caramel and Bert had something bright blue that we think was Birthday Cake flavoured. Weird but tasty!
Another awesome day. Sunshine lifted our spirits and dried our clothes. Scrumptious and affordable food filled our bellies. Happy doggies made us smile. Can't beat that!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Interesting Discoveries in Panajachel, Guatemala

I'm from Canada, eh? And one thing that's cool about Guatemala is they have stuff imported from the States that I haven't seen before. I get all surprised and tell my friends here, and they just go, "Uh, yeah. We have that back home." Whatever! I'm excited to see stuff like this...
OH YEAH Cheddar Bay Biscuit Mix!
Of course, the price was that box of mix was ridiculously expensive but it was just interesting to see it here. I have a recipe for homemade Cheddar Bay Biscuits anyway, so I'm good. :)

Bert and I were both excited to find lavender-scented mosquito coils. Why don't we have these in Canada? Or... do we? Perhaps I'm just out of touch!
Lavender Mosquito Coils. Smell pretty and work well! 
Another fun thing to see in the stores here is their liberal use of American trademarks.
Mr. Musculo is actually quite an effective cleaner for stovetops!
If the dude on the bottle didn't have hair, it would be even more of a ripoff.
Even American brands don't let silly trademarked items get in the way of a good promotion.
Um, the pink bunny goes with Energizer, doesn't he?
My favourite chip brand here is Diana. It's weird but they have very few actual potato chips and tons and tons of corn-based chips like tostitos and corn puffs. We've taken to making popcorn and seasoning it with dill and vinegar to get our fix of other flavours besides barbecue and cheese and jalapeno. I would kill for sour cream & onion Ripples chips!! Or plain Ripples chips with dip.... oooooh! *drool*
Tocinito means kinda like bacon-flavoured. Also, Pingüinos means penguins!
There are few packaged foods that actually seem to taste better here! One are the boxes of Coditos con Queso, Kraft Dinner, from Mexico. The box is bigger and the sauce is super awesome cheesy!
Diana brand Quesitos are like Crunch-Its from Canada.... only awesomer! This bag only costs around Q6, or $1.
Here's something that Guatemala doesn't do well: weiners. They are weirdly pureed so they taste really mushy and then you'll bite into a hard piece of something. EWWWWWW. Also, they are covered with a thin plastic wrapping that we assume needs to be removed before eating. 
Thin plastic wrapping on weiners. At least they're enriched with vitamins!
I could bore you with a million pictures of the hilarious stuff I see in the pacas, second-hand stores, but I will just give you this one. :)
Elmo loves Guatemala!
Let's talk about citrus. I thought I knew my limes and lemons, but apparently here in Guatemala there are lemony-limes and limey-lemons and all of them are called limóns!
Limes are our tree. Did you know limes turn yellow? That means they're too ripe.
This ginormous yellow fruit fell down the mountain into our yard. Look how huge!
Cut out --- that's one giant lemon!
When Guatemala gives you lemons, you make lemonade! Damn, it's tart though.  Would go well with some booze, I'm thinking.
Mmm lemony!
Okay, so that's my silly post for today. Stay tuned for upcoming posts about arts & crafts, a trip to Antigua, and Halloween! Adios, mis amigos!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Buggie-Boos & Creepy-Crawlies of Panajachel

In honour of the approach of Halloween (my favourite holiday!), I am posting pictures of some of the interesting, surprising, and sometimes freaky insects and arachnids we've seen around (and inside) our apartments on Lake Atitlan, and while out walking around Panajachel and Santa Catarina in Guatemala.

I haven't blown up the pictures really huge so you won't get overwhelmed. If you want to see a bigger picture, just click the pic and it will open up a large size version.
I apologize to all those folks who don't like bugs! They are a big part of life here in Guatemala so I thought I would share. :)
(Scroll quickly to the end for a sweet picture of Bert & Pachi!)
This was the first scorpion we saw in our apartment.
Very cool to see as we don't have these in Canada, eh? :D
This centipede was dying, not sure why. He's upside-down.
Did not like the looks of this little insect. Good thing he was outside.
Leaf cutter ant. Big head. We see these touring around in the plants, but this was the first time we'd seen one where we could get a picture.
Eeks, I hate centipedes!! Canadian toonie for scale.
Teeny tiny scorpion.
This was a weird spider outside at night. Not sure if he was injured or something.
There are a lot of neat beetles around but we rarely get a chance to photograph them.
Interesting waspy thing. Zippo for scale.
We see quite a few Huntsman spiders. We have one that lives in a crack in our front window.
His name is Jacques.  :D
A better picture of the Huntsman spider. They are flattened and have forward-facing legs so they can squeeze into cracks.
They are actually "good" spiders in that they eat other pests. They are also very shy and only come out in the dark.
Super awesome big beetle! Canadian toonie for scale.
Sorry for the dust. We captured him in our dustpan.
On the wall outside at dusk. About an inch long.
Slug that crawled into our apartment. Canadian toonie for scale. :)
Only the size of a housefly, but super cool looking.
Actually a very large flying insect, about two inches long. Very shiny copper in the sun.
Stick Bug!! This is my favourite so far.
Black Widow Spider. OMG!! Found right outside our front door. Eeks!
Love the camouflage!

Wicked cool looking caterpillar. I'll be doing a post abuot butterflies too, if I can ever get some decent pictures!

Look at the size of that thing!

A little tarantula we caught at the lake apartment. He was awesome!
When I posted this on Facebook, people were shocked that there were tarantulas here.

The stick bug is back! My foot for scale.  :D

This dude was trundling along a wall. See the little bits of red on his antenna?

A different bug than the one above. This guy was shiny metallic green.
He had cool antenna too but they're hard to see in the pic.

A scorpion at our new house in town. This guy had clear legs.
Bert said, "Quick, get the camera. He's posing!"
Bert saw a HUGE scorpion in our kitchen but couldn't get a good photo of it. I wish I had seen it. He said it was the biggest yet!
Honeybees eating pancake syrup off our dirty dishes. They were soooo happy!
They came back the next day to scope out if there was any more but were sadly disappointed.
Of course, there are many, many, MANY more bugs than pictured here. There are lots of wee little bugs that don't look good in pictures, plus bugs that zip by in a flash, plus the regular bugs we have back home like houseflies and mosquitos. One thing that is weird here though is the that mosquitos are really tiny! They have this super high-pitched whine when they fly near your ears while you're trying to sleep. Tiny or not, mosquitos here are not cool. They carry dengue fever and other nasty diseases. 

For those of you who made it to the end of the post, here is your reward!
Smile, Pachi!
Bert got his hair shaved into a buzzed mohawk. He loves it! He and Pachi are posing beside an elephant-ear plant. Such huge leaves!
Bert would like to say "Hi" to his Aunt Carol and Uncle Mike. He heard through his mom that they were enjoying following our adventures here in Guatemala. :D