Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Walk to Santa Catarina (And Stuff)

Our dog, Pachi, is scared of fireworks. She grew up in Santiago, a pretty big city across the lake from Pana, so perhaps she had some bad experiences with nasty people who shoot fireworks at dogs. Or perhaps it's just that her large goofy ears are super sensitive to the loud noises. :)
Any excuse to post another picture of our weirdo dog, Pachi.
When we were walking to the beach on Christmas Day, someone set off some bangers and Pachi took off running. Bert tried to follow her but she disappeared pretty quickly down the road towards the yellow bridge. We continued on to the beach and had our fun, fully expecting to find Pachi back at home when we returned. But she didn't show up before dark, which made us very worried. Bert had a feeling that Pachi had run all the way back to the lake house, our old apartment that is halfway to Santa Catarina, but unfortunately, he didn't follow through on that instinct right away. We decided to wait and see if maybe she would come home over night when it was quieter and less fireworks to scare her off course.

Boxing Day arrived and no Pachi. Bert went out for a walk to look... and then I got a call from our old landlady saying that Pachi was indeed at the lake house. Bert was right! The silly dog had run all the way out to our old place! Our landlady tied her up and I told her we'd be right out.
Bert hoofed it out there as fast as he could, but by the time he got there, Pachi had broken her collar and escaped again. He called and Pachi.

In the afternoon, I took my turn to go search. I walked all the way out to our old place, down to the beach, and then up to the mirador. It was so hot! About 27° Celsius. Since I made it to the lookout without dying of heat exhaustion, I figured it was all downhill to Santa Catarina, and decided to go down to look around. The downhill walk is much nicer than the uphill, that's for sure!
Romantic? Hmm... more like cheap & anonymous!
So there are these weird buildings here in Guatemala called an auto hotels. I had to have it explained to me because I couldn't quite understand why you would get your own parking garage with your hotel room.
These are basically cheap, private, hourly-rate hotel rooms where you can have some "special time". And the garage is there so you can drive into the hotel -- in your car with tinted windows, of course! - and close the garage door and no one will ever see your face. I've heard some of them you don't even physically see an attendant. You pay over the phone, or through a slit in the wall.
On our walks through Jucanya over the past few months, we noticed a nice apartment building going up. Or so we thought! Turns out it's finished now, and it's an auto hotel.
Now, you must know: it's not all cheaters and ladies of the night that use these hotels. Oftentimes, families live in large groups in one house with very thin walls. Even young married couples live with their parents and grandparents and children. So private time with your loved one is precious...and now can be found in Jucanya at Romantic Suites. Ooh-la-la!
Note: I've also read that they turn away tourists because it's not for them. It's not just a cheap hotel for backpackers and the like. It's a place for a specific purpose.

The Romantic Suites bay doors with bedrooms above.
(Okay, back to the story about Santa Catarina and the quest for Pachi. Thanks for reading!)
Poinsettia tree growing at the beach near our old apartment.
(Wait... do the poinsettias count as an A.D.D. moment? Hmmm. This is my life! So many awesome things to look at. I can't focus on just one purpose!)
In Santa Catarina, the ladies weave right on the street. It was very interesting to see, but I felt embarrassed to take their picture close up.
Santa Catarina Palopó is built up into the hillside on the shore of Lake Atitlan. There is one road going through, and all the other streets seem to be accessed by climbing narrow stairways between buildings.
I walked down to the docks, passing the vendors lazing in the shade with cups of shaved ice, then walked through the whole town on the one road. No Pachi, and no other gringos either. Santa Catarina doesn't offer much to tourists, and they usually only arrive here via boats during tours around Lake Atitlan.
(I did see some tourists just before I left town. They were walking up from the docks and getting mobbed by young boys saying, "One quetzal. One quetzal.")
It IS a radio tower!
In San Pedro my sisters took a picture of a weird lone tall tree on the edge of town. We thought it was so strange to have just one tall pine tree on the end of a promontory. Yeah, well, it's not a tree! It's a radio tower of some sort and it's decorated to LOOK like a tree. So strange! Santa Catarina has one too and I got close enough to see the fake plastic branches.
The road going through Santa Catarina. Empty.
Santa Catarina has a neat church, a few stores, and apparently some in-lake hot springs that I have yet to find. The vendors in the alley that goes to the dock sell a few items that I haven't seen in Panajachel, like gorgeous beaded necklaces with jeweled butterflies. The town is quiet, a bit run-down, and is an interesting peek into life in a local village quite unlike the tourist-mobbed Pana.

Anyhoo, no Pachi, and in fact only one street dog to be seen, so I sat in front of the church and watched little boys trying to set off leftover dud fireworks they'd collected from the streets. I saw maybe three tuk-tuks as I sat for about an hour, though pickups did go by about every 15 minutes, honking to alert people to their presence as they drove slowly through town. When one came by with a nice old man driving and lots of room in the back, I simply raised my hand to stop him, and jumped in. A quick, breathtaking ride over the hills back to Pana should have only cost me Q3, but when I handed him my Q10 note, he gave me Q5 back and looked away. I didn't have the energy to argue.

Back in Pana, I took my Xmas money from my parents and went into the Curacao store, an appliance store right next to the Despensa. There, I bought an horno tostador! (Some Spanish words just sound funny to me. Tostador sounds like the name of a Guatemalan superhero! One of my other favorite words is panqueques -- pancakes -- pronounced "pan-kay-kays". Fun to say!)
Shopping in some of the big stores here is a bit strange. You select your item, but don't pick it up. A sales guy will ring you up on a computer and put in your name and stuff, then print you a receipt. Then you take that receipt to another counter where you pay. Then you go back to get your item. Odd.
Toaster oven for Q359. Use to convert to your currency. It's about $65 Canadian.
I got home footsore and dehydrated and with no Pachi. It was a sad household that went to sleep for our second night without her.

Which brings me to this morning and some good news! Bert got up early and drove the motorcycle back out AGAIN to the old apartment near the lake to see if Pachi had turned up. No luck.
But shortly after he got back, I got an email from our old landlady saying Pachi was there! I guess Bert and Pachi must have just missed each other. This time Phyllis tied her up using Jack's collar since Pachi's was broken. No more escaping! I sent Bert over in a tuk-tuk quickity-quick to get her! YAY!!

So all ended well, and Pachi is now back home, and currently up in the garden scrounging through the compost pile. Dry dog food is just not enough for her! She needs a daily supply of rotten vegetables, I guess. And for the rest of the holidays, she'll be walking on a leash so we don't have to go through this again! Once the daily onslaught of fireworks calms down in like, say, May, then she can walk off-leash again. :)

Saturday, December 26, 2015

First Christmas in Guatemala

It's been a busy, exciting, crazy, awesome Christmas! I got an icky cold a few days before Xmas and have been hacking, sniffling, and moaning my way through the holidays, but I've tried my best to not let it get me down. Naps helped! :)

I've been snapping photos of interesting Guatemalan Christmas things and wanted to share them with you all, as well as a few photos of our own Xmas fun.

Merry Christmas to everyone!

Tons of booths were set up on the street selling fireworks. We found out why later. :)
Extra stalls were set up at the market selling Christmas decorations, toys, and more fireworks!
There were also many more fruit vendors, especially pineapples.
I called this "fringe". When I tried to buy some, they just sold me plastic sheets and told me that I had to cut it myself!
It was hanging in almost every street and alley in town.
For many days leading up to Christmas, there were Mayans selling moss, lichen, branches, and pinecones, plus deer and other animals made of straw and sticks. I found out it was to make a nativity scene.
Then the day before Xmas, they also sold Xmas trees!
Many boys and men started walking the town covered in tinsel for sale!
Palm trees covered in lights! Our next-door neighbour decorated his cactus with lights. I wish I had gotten a picture of that!
A small procession passed me by one night on my way home from the grocery store. They were carrying red and green lamps with candles, and then they had an altar of Mary being carried by four men. There were two people banging on what I thought were drums, but on closer inspection I realized they were turtle shells!
Our Christmas tree! It's a cedar branch Bert found in the alley, and some pine needles, spray painted pine cones, and half of the broken doorstop rock! Oh, plus a lovely beaded Santa I bought from Juan on the street! Beautiful, eh?
Willow was not impressed with her holiday outfit. 
Pachi is such a good girl!
Calvin was a bit more trouble, but we finally got a pic!
On Christmas Eve Day, I wore these around town and got quite a few smiles!
I was sooooo sick. Smiling through it all and trying to feel the holiday spirit in 24 degree heat.
One neat Guatemalan Christmas tradition is to scatter pine needles in front of stores. It smelled like home!
Christmas Eve turned out to be the highlight of the holidays! In Guatemala, families stay up until midnight on Xmas Eve and then set off fireworks, eat a special Christmas tamale, have hot chocolate, open any presents they have, then go to bed. Christmas Day itself is kind of anticlimactic and consists of going to church and relaxing.
Click here if you'd like to watch a 9-minute video about a family of Guatemaltecos preparing for Christmas, including making tamales and the traditional ponche (like amazing hot apple cider!). It's filmed in a town very close to where we live!
A last-minute Xmas Eve gathering of "four Canadians and a guy who wishes he was one!" This is according to J.P, who IS Canadian. The non-Canadian at the party was actually the young guy wearing the maple leaf shirt! HA! He's actually from Alaska...close enough. 
My friend, Amazing Iva, invited a few of us up to her "treehouse" for Christmas Eve. Many people declined the invitation due to plans with partners or other friends, but Bert and I went, plus I invited my new friend, Alaska Max, and we unexpectedly ran into J.P. as we were walking over and invited him too! So the five of us climbed the 100 stairs up to Iva's apartment, which is a wooden cottage built on stilts against the side of the mountain. It has the MOST amazing view of the whole city!
And man, was it worth the climb when midnight came around. See for yourself!
This is what caused some of my exuberance in the video, and it definitely caused my ugly hangover on Christmas morning!
It says, "Excessive consumption of this product is detrimental to the health of the consumer." This is on all liquor bottles and signs here. Can't say they didn't warn ya!
Bert, Max, and I walked home together from Iva's at around 1am on Christmas Eve. Max said, "It's like a war zone!" All the firework remains were littering the streets, pieces of paper and tissue and burnt stubs and wrappers, plus drunk guys passed out on the sidewalks.
We found two super long sticks called "Magic Shooters" that said they shot 80 lights! They were already used up, of course, so we pretended they were light sabers and dueled in the empty streets! Max even found a tienda open late and bought a few of those noise-making mini crackers that you light and throw, so we did end up setting off some of own fireworks in the end. :)
This is just a small portion of the debris left over from the fireworks of Xmas Eve.
Bert saw an old man sweeping it all into a pile and then burning it... which then caused some left-over firecrackers to start popping!
I slept in a bit Christmas morning and dragged my hungover/sick/tired butt out of bed to open presents and then Skype with my family.
New coffee mug!New flipper!
Bert bought me amazing expensive chocolates from Sandra's, the import store. This bag of 204g cost about $14.50 Canadian.And I bought him a craving of his... Alfredo sauce! (Plus the rest of the fixings for a nice dinner.)
This jar cost around $9 Canadian. OUCH!
A close up of our beaded Santa ornament. and he's double-sided too!
I also got some amazing and generous presents from my family back home, who were very creative in getting me presents that didn't have to be shipped! (The postal service here can be a bit unreliable.)
I had fantastic video chats on Skype with all of my family, and then Bert called his folks and his brother. 
Then it was time for something I've never done on Christmas Day before... swimming! Iva met us downtown and we walked over to the beach in Jucanya. Oh my! It was way busier than I thought it would be. It was packed with locals. And we were quite literally the only gringos there! 
No matter. We ignored the brazen stares and went swimming anyway. How could we not? Look at this lake! It's heaven.
Christmas Day swimming with Amazing Iva!!  :D
I have to admit, it was a strange Christmas, a bit sad because I miss my family, but still good. Different. Hot. Unexpected and joyous and full of new friends who are each on such interesting paths through life. I'm smiling right now typing this because just looking over these pictures gives me warm fuzzies. I am in love with this mad little town and it's collection of crazies! I'm so glad my own tangled path has led me here. :D

P.S. Pop over to my YouTube channel and check out more videos that I haven't put up here, or rewatch some old ones! 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Wonderful Party

I'm typing this slowly through a haze of exhaustion and sickness. But still there is a smile on my weary face! :)

Today was the Toys for Tots Christmas party! I've been helping to plan this for many weeks and it all came together today whether we were ready for it or not. (I'm not making much sense. So tired!)
The day started badly. I tripped and fell, smashing my shoulder into some bricks. My whole left arm was sore all day. :(  Plus I've come down with a cold accompanied by the usual coughing, sniffling, and nasty headache. Not cool.
But the show must go on, right? So I gathered up my homemade construction paper decorations, my cut-out snowflakes, my pan of disaster Church Window Cookies, some spray-painted pine cones, and a myriad of other things and headed over to Gringos Locos to party!

There are so many special moments from today that I want to share but it's all a jumble in my head. I'd best write them down now before they scatter like snowflakes. :)

My darling friend, Nancy, standing on the bar rail to carve the turkey.
Tossing the pope's nose to Manchez, Julio's dog, who followed her own nose and wandered in by herself with no Julio in sight!
Making it snow -- not as cool as making it rain. (I simply HAD to stick up snowflakes at the bar. I need snow! I'm Canadian, eh?)
Having Löic translate to Claudia how to chop the canteloupe.
My good friend, Victor, tuk-tuk #88, coming to the party and bringing his family and kids and just livening up the place so much! They were such gracious and pleasant guests. We were happy to share our Christmas feast with them, and each child took a toy from the donations we had collected.
Gasping in shock at the potency of J.D's rum punch!
Iva's face when she had a jello shot. (Oh! So good!)
Chatting with Other Nancy about how Pana feels like somewhere she belongs.
Feeding the shoeshine boys.
Smiling patiently with Jo-Lori as Erin takes three videos of us instead of pictures! Finally got the shot... see below.  :D
Refilling the toy shelf after it was happily pillaged by children.
Meeting one of the founders of Mayan Families, the charity who is distributing the toys we've collected.
Counting out candies to the two charming boys who sell cards... "I have nine brothers and four sisters!" "Screw it, take the whole bag."  :D
Having fun with so many friends!

Truly, it was a magical party. So many people of different ages, backgrounds, and nationalities! Lots of smiling and laughing and eating and sharing. Perfection. :)

I'm not going to publish this tonight, the night of the party, because I want to get some pictures from some friends to show everyone what fun we had! But I won't have them for a day or two, so this "present tense" writing is not truly accurate. But I really did want to capture this feeling of happy exhaustion before I collapse into bed!

Manchez, Julio's adorable sweetheart!
Recognize this face? It's Flaca/Perla/Little Dog!
She came for turkey and love...and a quick snip of her stitches by Nancy. :)
The first donations.
Mmmm turkey!
Nancy's not really a giantess... she's standing on a foot rail.
At this point, the three of us were seriously considering closing the doors and eating all the turkey ourselves.
It was sooooooo delicious!
Claudia working hard in the kitchen.
Yay, festive balloons!
The first guests arrive. Lucky they did too, they got the best pickings of the food!
Dinner is served!
Buns, cheese, fruit, and sweet treats!
I had made up a bunch of props and signs for people to take photos with. It all kinda got pushed to the side when guests started arriving and eating. I'm glad some friends found them, and even more glad that Bert grabbed the camera to take some pics!
Blue-eyed Santa needs a nice drink, that's what!
The beard look good on ya, Cassidy!
Hee hee!
Jonas making up a plate of food for a shoeshine boy.
The shoeshine boy scarfing down his food! Plus many other guests enjoying a lovely meal.
Victor and his family having a Christmas feast!
All kids love balloons, don't they?
More guests socializing.
Jo-Lori and I -- she is my sister from another mister!
Can't wait to do it next year! Now on to the next adventure... stay tuned!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Poutine in San Pedro

Went for my third visit to San Pedro, this time with my lovely friends, Amazing Iva and Texas Jan. We had such a blast! :)
Iva had never been to San Pedro before, and she totally loved it. I think she is seriously considering moving over to that side of the lake. It certainly does have a different vibe than Pana.
We had decided to go to Pana to visit the awesome health food store there, plus just to see the sights. I was researching a restaurant we could go to for lunch and came upon the Mikaso Hotel. I opened up their online menu and what to did my wondering eyes did appear? POUTINE. Iva and I were in complete agreement : OMG totally going there!
So the three of us met at the docks in Pana at just past 11am and headed out!
The road down to the docks in Pana. These lanchas go to the small towns on the north and west side of the lake.
There is a different dock for boats going to the south and east.
TIP: A lancha (boat) to San Pedro costs Q25. On the way there, you pay when you disembark at San Pedro docks. But on the way back, you have to pay before you get in the boat. I figure they don't want people skipping out on the fare when they reach Pana!
No picture can captured the steepness of this road up.
Luckily, the main shopping/tourist road is right before the really steep part. 
I find San Pedro to be cleaner and more well-maintained than Pana.
But look at those crazy power lines!
Nice wide streets, fun shopping, lots of young hippies. :)
From the docks, you just walk up a bit and turn left on the first street to find San Pedro's equivalent of Santander -- shopping, bars, restaurants, and all that good stuff. (Turn to the right, there are a few more shops, and straight UP goes to the main part of the town.) The health food store is not too far down the street, and we spent quite a bit of time browsing their goodies. I bought some peppermint extract for fudge and mint hot chocolates! YUM.
The best health food store on the Lake! (My sister loved this place too!)
This adorable shifty-eyed pooch was hanging around the health food store.
After the health food store, we just meandered down the lane and checked stuff out. But we realized we were pretty darn hungry, so we hopped in a tuk-tuk to find the Hotel Mikaso. What a ride! The driver honked at almost every intersection to warn others -- smart -- and took some pretty tight corners at top speed! There are some darn narrow alleys in San Pedro but they're all relatively clean and flat. Not so much the bumpity-bump ride you get in Pana.
We were glad we had taken a tuk-tuk too because I don't think we would have ever found the hotel. But wow, I'm soooooo glad we did. It was an amazing spot!
The lovely garden walkway to Mikaso Hotel.
San Pedro volcano. This area was stinky with the smell of rotting lake plants!
Panajachel is waaaaaay over there!
Lovely rocky shores.
A view from the second floor of the hotel, looking over the main courtyard and entrance.
Wow, would love to have a soak in those hot tubs!
The restaurant is on the third floor and is ALL windows!
Care to tickle the ivories?
Proof of the rising waters of Lake Atitlan. I was fascinated by this building! I wanted to go down and swim inside.
Texas Jan, me, and Amazing Iva!
We sat on the amazing patio and had some drinks and chatted but it was so incredibly windy, we decided to go inside to eat so that our hair wouldn't get in our food!
We all ordered poutine -- even Jan! She had never had it before, being from Texas and all. It was a pretty decent poutine actually. The Mikaso is owned by a fellow from Quebec, that's why it's on the menu. But honestly, it wasn't the food that was amazing about the Mikaso, it was the location and the views! Absolutely breaktaking. And I'm not talking about the high winds!
Kitty sleeping the Mikaso's garden.
After our delicious lunch, we walked back through the twisting alleyways to the main street. It actually wasn't that far of a walk, but it seems like it would be easy to get lost!
We also found The Buddha Bar, which will be our lunch stop next time!
Three almost identical black-with-white-feet dogs (brothers & sisters, I imagine) and one smaller black & tan.
They had found a clump of feathers on the road. They were super friendly too!
GIANT cookie! The Mayan lady selling it said it was maní (peanut) but it really tasted more like sesame seeds.
It was delicious! I ate the whole thing. :)
Some more shopping and strolling and gawking and it was time to get back on a boat to go home. Well, let me tell you! That was more of an adventure that it would appear in text! It was so windy that there were whitecaps on the lake. We were the unlucky fools who sat at the front of the boat too! As we were pulling away from the dock to head out, a man motioned to us to pull up a big black tarp that was laying in the bottom of the boat. We were like -- uh-oh!
Sure enough, we got SOAKED. Iva and I laughed so hard that our tummies ached. I don't know why we thought it was so funny. Perhaps just the futility of trying to hold down a plastic tarp in high winds while getting repeatedly soaked with cold waves that were splashing over the bow of a creaky old wooden boat that felt like it was going to break apart with every SMASH down into a trough! Oh, we howled for a good 10 minutes! I don't think the rest of the boat found it as amusing as we did.
Eventually we were worn out, plus the waves became less severe, so we settled our bruised butts down for the rest of the ride home. Getting off the boat in Pana, we felt like we had been on a roller coaster! Kinda wobbly, sore, relieved, exhilarated, and a bit nauseous.
Good times! Can't wait to do it again, my friends!