Monday, December 31, 2018

A Lovely Walk at Lake Atitlan

Now and then, I need to remind myself of the gorgeous Lake Atitlan that is so near to my home. I love to gaze out my second-floor window at the lake and volcanoes, but I keep reminding myself that I need to get my butt off my computer chair and actually go down to the shore more often!

Panajachel has recently renovated their lakefront and put in lovely brick walkways. It's a wonderful improvement!
And the end of my walk, I bought some sliced green mango with chile and limón, a cheap and refreshing snack. Then I grabbed a tuc-tuc to the grocery store, bought some food for dinner, and walked home. Ah, what a sweet life!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Adventurous Friends -- A Guest Post about Volcanoes and Beaches

I met some great young Canadians who are having adventures being nomads around Central America and beyond. They are blogging about it and I wanted to share because I just love their energy and positivity!

Trekking Duo is their website. They are internet savvy and have all the cool links like Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Youtube.

Trek and Revive is a blog about their recent hike up Acatenango volcano in Guatemala and then a relaxing stay in Monterrico at El Delphin (where we stayed not long ago). Plus they got to release baby turtles!

I'm sorry I'm not blogging much lately, but I hope you enjoy my friends' website.
Happy Holidays, one and all. 🎄

Thursday, December 6, 2018

I Finally Went to Chichi!

I've known about the market at Chichicastenango since before I ever came to Guatemala. It's one of the "must see" things in Guate. But I've been here 3.5 years and haven't gone. So I was super thrilled when my sister said she would go with me. And then my friends Scott and Cheryl said they'd come too! Yay!
We booked a shuttle thru Magic Travel on Santander. Price of Q90 per person return. We left at 8am and arrived at Chichi at 9:40. The shuttle driver was very nice and explained how to get to the market area from the bus parking lot. We had to make our way back to the parking lot by 2pm to leave and come back to Pana, which actually did successfully!
Note that the Chichi market only operates on Thursdays and Sundays. Not really sure what it would be like on the other days. Anyone here done that?
The drive from Pana to Chichi (and back, of course) was super beautiful! Amazing vistas and neat roadside stalls. I would love to do it again in a private car so we could stop more.

Chichi market is intense! A giant grid of vendor stalls. So much to see!
Boiling hot oil in a crowd of moving people. What could go wrong?
Approaching the famous church in Chichi with our guide and new friend, Jeremy.
The famous and oft-photographed steps of the Santo Tomas church in Chichicastenango.
View from the top of the church steps.
The doors into the church. That one lady crawled on her knees up the aisle.
This fellow in white with the headscarf was determined to make as much incense smoke as possible. He swung that metal container in front of the doors until it choked us all!
One of the altars in the church. This reminded me of the church in San Juan Chumla, Mexico. A combination of Catholic and Mayan rituals.
The church was very long. It was super beautiful but I didn't take any more pictures inside cuz it's kinda disrespectful, I think.
Another photo from the top of the steps. You can see how packed with people the "aisles" of the market are. And apparently it's even busier on a Sunday!

My sister with Jeremy, our guide. The church in the background.
On the opposite side of the square (which is filled with vendor stalls) is the Mayan church. It is much smaller and more modest.
A dog and a drunk sleeping outside the Mayan church.
On the stone altar, I watched a man make a symbol with sugar and then cover it with incense balls and burn it.
There was another man "anointing" the church doors with liquor.
Near to the Mayan church is the central park. It is pretty small. There are public bathrooms there if you're desperate. Pretty stanky.
Across the plaza square, Scott knew a restaurant on the second floor of a building. We entered thru a shop and went up some stairs. It was lovely and quiet and we had good food! We also go to stand on the balcony in the sun and gawk at the happenings below, including a snake oil salesman. Like, literally, a dude with snakes in bags selling medicinal stuff. Incredible!
One page of the menu at our restaurant, which was called Don Pascual. Nice clean place, but food was nothing special. (see pictures below)
Cheryl, my sister, and Scott! My awesome adventurous travel companions!
Thank you so much for coming with me! It was super fun. 😄
My sandwich mixto. Kinda just a hot bologna and processed cheese sandwich with lettuce and ketchup. Ha ha!

Yummy nacho chips with fresh Guatemalan style guacamole.
Scott and Cheryl ordered the "Club" sandwich, which had steak, eggs, and other inventive items in it. They said it was good, and Cheryl couldn't eat all hers cuz it was so big!
View from the restaurant balcony towards the Mayan church. Not so glamorous from up top! Looks like a tent city.
The Arch. Hmm. We didn't go closer cuz we were on a shopping mission!
Chichicastenango was certainly an adventure in shopping and crowds. There was a lot of really neat things to buy...but there were also many really irritating, pushy, relentless street vendors. They would not take NO for an answer.
But even with that, I would recommend a trip here for anyone in Guate. It's super interesting and you could spend sooooo much money here. There were lots of textiles, traditional clothing, jade, wooden crafts, beaded trinkets, and even some real silver jewelry.
Be prepared to bargain HARD. The price they give you is usually at least double of what it should be. If you're not good at bargaining, the easiest way to lower the price is to just walk away. They will chase you down and keep cutting the price.
For example, I looked at a small stone cat, about five inches high. The first price was Q400. By the time I walked away, they were down to Q250. Then the lady chased me and said Q150. I still didn't buy it...mostly cuz I wasn't prepared to spend that much on a gift for myself! I ended up buying this cute little chicken bus for Q15. It says Chichi on one side and Pana on the other!
Tiniest cutest chicken bus ever!
There was really so much to look at in Chichi and my pictures don't do it justice. You have to go yourself! On the way out of town, make sure to ask your driver to stop at the Mirador (lookout). It is spectacular!

My sister is Queen of the World!
More adventures with my sister coming up! Don't touch that dial. 😆

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

A Day Trip to Tecpán and the Iximché Ruins

My sister is visiting from Canada and we thought we'd take a trip to see the nearest Mayan ruins, which are just outside Tecpán. I've blogged about them before but this trip was a bit different. We didn't rent a fancy private shuttle. We took chicken buses!

For those travelers wanting just the details on how to get from Panajachel to Iximché ruins in Tecpán, here they are! (Prices are per person)
1. Chicken bus from Pana to Sololá Q3
2. Chicken bus from Sololá to Los Encuentros Q2.50
3. Chicken bus from Los Encuentros to Tecpán Q7.50 to Q10. (We were charged one price on the way there and a different price on the way back.)
4. Tuc-tuc from the highway into the Tecpán Plaza Central Q3
5. Tuc-tuc from Plaza Central out to ruins -- this was when it helped that I was prepared. The tuc-tuc driver asked for Q25 a person. NO WAY! I had read in another blog that it should be Q10 per person, so I paid them Q20 for both of us. On the way back from the ruins to Tecpán central square, we took a collectivo (shared minibus) for only Q3 a person. Much better deal!

Getting from Pana to Iximché should have only taken about 2 hours. It took us 4 hours! See pictures below for the reason. 😁

The ruins cost Q50 for foreigners to enter. There is no extra cost for the museum. They are open 9am to 4pm, I believe.
The ruins are not very big and can be seen in an hour. If you hire a guide, the tour is about 45 minutes.

All good days start with a good breakfast!

Can't forget the coffee! Cafe Loco, Panajachel, Guatemala

Just when we were getting on our way -- PARADE! We were stuck in Sololá for about an hour.
For some silly reason, the people of Sololá decided it would be fun to have a costume parade in the middle of the main street for an hour. Not sure why. It was kinda weird. We watched a bit of kooky dancing people, ate some yummy coconut with lime and pepitas, and my sister read her book.

A few chicken buses and tuc-tucs later, we were in downtown Tecpán. A bustling city! We snapped a few pics of the church (we went inside later that day), and then found a cute little restaurant to have some BBQ lunch.
The beautiful church in Tecpán. So amazing inside! High carved wood ceilings and intricate wooden altar thingies with paintings. No pictures cuz it felt disrespectful. Well worth a visit if you're ever in Tecpán.

Huge coniferous tree outside the church. Any ideas what it is?

Veggie Spaghetti Soup!
 Our lunch was only Q35, or about $6 Canadian or $4.50 American. It was super yummy.
Super delish and colourful churrasco (BBQ) lunch.
The ruins are quite a ways out of town. As mentioned above, the tuc-tuc tried to charge us a LOT more than they should have. I'm not sure how you would find the collectivo (shared minibus) from the city to the ruins, but on the way back, it let us off near the central park by a bakery. It had "ruinas" written on the window. I think if you asked anyone in the square, or perhaps the policia, they would point you in the right direction.
Iximché ruins are quite spacious.

My sister contemplating some ruins.

We didn't hire a guide this time, although English-speaking guides are available for an extra cost.
I tried to recite all the info that they told us last time!

A beautiful place. Simple ruins, nothing too fancy.

That tall tree was FULL of indentations, and almost every one had an acorn stored in it! We saw three woodpeckers making the holes, but we didn't see who was filling them with nuts!

Way at the back of the ruins is the working Mayan altar. It is very mystical.

Offerings to the gods, both Catholic and Mayan.

My sister playing tourist. 😄

Smoke thru the trees at the altar.
Last time I was here, we didn't go in the museum. We went in this time and I have to say it was quite informative and fascinating!

A diarama of how the ruins looked before they were ruins!

Some of the museum displays.

DUDE! There were some fascinating items found at the ruins when they were excavated.
I didn't take pictures of them all cuz I don't want to spoil the fun for anyone!

This is as we were waiting for our chicken bus from the highway near Tecpán, heading towards Los Encuentros.
I took this so that anyone planning a trip can recognize the turnoff to Tecpán. The driver called it super-something. Maybe super-salas? Not sure.
The sun was heading down fast as we got our series of wild chicken bus rides to get back home to Pana. We had to make one last fun stop though. The Xmas tree in the central square of Sololá was too awesome to pass up!

Our last chicken bus from Sololá down home was packed. My sister surfed in the aisle like a pro!
It was a long and fun-filled day. I must remind everyone that is traveling in Guatemala and really anywhere -- it's great to plan; it's even better to be flexible. Life can sometime throw parades in your way. Enjoy! 😊

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Surviving High Season in San Marcos La Laguna -- A Guest Post

K.N. from San Marcos Holistic Cottage wrote this hilarious and accurate post on Facebook to the people of the San Marcos community. She included an episode of the super-funny and super-spiritual J.P. Sears as well. Enjoy!

The onset of high season is upon us. Yup, whether you like it or not the population in town is about to triple. From December to around the end of March the town seems to be flooded with tourists and people escaping cooler climates to spend some time in the land of eternal spring. While the season generally brings a lot of tourist money to the town, here are some tips to make your experience and the towns experience a little more pleasurable for everyone.
1) If you want a place to stay it is best to make reservations. Hotels and AirBnBs fill up fast, especially over the Christmas season. While some places do take walk-ins, many people end up staying in San Marcos a lot longer than expected so, plan ahead.
2) Your money has power. Support established businesses and people who are here year-round that give back to the community.
3) San Marcos is termed the “spiritual community” around the lake. However, I can assure you those running around telling you how “spiritual” they are, are the least conscious people here. Most show up for a few months, set up their “business,” earn some cash and then move on to their next destination. Most copycat anything and everything that exists here year round. This would not even be possible in most first world countries as the paperwork alone would take months to organize and be approved. There are many opportunities to learn here, to participate in activities, training and events. Use your judgement and intuition to find the right people for you. When in doubt, ask around for recommendations.
4) There are generally three price tears in these parts, tourists, residents, and locals. Tuk-tuks and boat prices are regulated and posted at some of the docks. If you can’t afford the extra Q5 to get to San Pedro, DON’T GO. Just because you have been here before or for a week does not make you a resident. If you can get away with paying less, fabulous, be grateful, but quite frankly it is embarrassing to hear and see people arguing over 80 cents. Some places, like Pana, treat everyone much more equally when it comes to pricing. Here it is not always the case. Try to get informed of how much tuk-tuks and transport costs are so at least you can find another driver if someone is totally trying to rip you off.
5) Same goes for produce, if you are being charged unfairly, don’t buy with those vendors. They have to make trips to surrounding markets themselves to bring goods here. The extra few q that you may save will be spent on your transportation costs. Again you have free will, so feel free to use it.
6) The Quetzal is the currency in Guatemala. Dollars are becoming harder and harder to change. Banrural only accept pristine $50 and $100 notes. Any rips, marks or stains will not be accepted. Dollars are almost impossible to change in the city so if you need to change them, Pana and San Pedro are your best options.
There is an ATM in town. At times people have reported issues with it so if you are going to use it make sure you can see your account online to double check security. If there is a problem call the bank immediately and report it to the tourist police.
Xoom is getting to be more popular for money transfers but only works with USA accounts.
7) Most crime that happens here is avoidable. You do not need your ATM card, passport or hundreds of Q with you while you are swimming, hiking or at any big event. Leave your valuables at home, locked safely away if possible. You are in a third world country and have a lot more than most that live here. So if you want to leave your phone or computer on your bed with your door unlocked while you leave the room, go ahead, but, do not be surprised when it is gone by the time you get back.
8) If a crime happens please report it to the DISETEUR, tourist police (dressed in Navy blue shirts.) They are much more helpful in taking reports. They are located upstairs to the left of the stage in Central Park above the Renap office. In one of the “files” on the community page there is a list of emergency numbers if you are in need of assistance.
9) Follow your intuition. If a situation feels wrong or uncomfortable you do not have to be polite, get out of it. Your boundaries are yours, no explanation needed. Ask for help and watch out for each other. is a confidential email for more sensitive issues.
10) Get dressed in the morning and stay dressed while in public places. You are a visitor in an Indigenous community where girls were not even allowed to wear shorts to play sports 10 years ago. When you see the majority of Indigenous women walking around in booty shorts and in their bras and the majority of men walking around shirtless or in Speedos, by all means, feel free to do the same.
We are not on an island, this is not a beach town so unless you are physically at the lake just please put some clothes on. You would not sit on a train in India wearing hardly anything so please, as “world travelers” have the respect to dress while here.
11) Bathe – a no-brainer for most… No shower? Well, you are at the lake so no excuses. While you may not be repelled by your own body odour others may be. It is actually one of the biggest and most stated complaints of the local community. There is no need to smell and patchouli oil can only do so much.
12) “High” Season refers to the amount of people here, not your state of consciousness or lack thereof. If you are choosing to engage in recreational, hardcore or medicinal drug use, please be advised that it is not legal here. Police say they have a right to search anyone, at any time, just because you are in an area where marijuana use is prevalent. There is absolutely no judgement here, just giving you a heads up that you want to keep it out of public places to minimize your chances of having a run-in with police. You may be here short term but long term businesses will be held accountable for your choices if you get caught in their premises.
13) A smile goes a long way in these parts. Especially if you do not speak Spanish (which by the way is also the second language for the Indigenous people who live here.) Communicate by smiling and at least make an attempt to learn a few words. An effort is always appreciated.
If you choose not to speak Spanish, just so you know, talking louder and yelling at people in another language does not help them to understand. I am willing to bet that you have had more opportunities to learn a second language than the people here. For most, English is their third.
14) Be Kind, Be Respectful, Be Aware and please don’t be an asshole. San Marcos has so much to offer. So explore, get involved, have conversations, ask questions and most of all be the change you want to see in the world. Your experience is up to you, so open your heart, expand your mind and connect. Wishing everyone a safe, fun-filled, inspirational journey.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Even More Beautiful Lake Atitlan and BIGGER Kites

One thing that I haven't had a chance to do here in Guatemala yet is go to see the giant kites of Sumpango. It happens every year on November 1st, which is unfortunately the day after Halloween and a day on which I'm usually recovering from partying the night before! This year was no different so I didn't go to Sumpango. From Panajachel, we'd have to go to Antigua and stay overnight to get up at 4am to go to Sumpango before the crowds hit. I've heard that it's so busy that if you don't get there super early, you'll never get in.
Here is some amazing drone footage shot by Slowly Anywhere at this year's giant kite festival! Sumpango Kite Festival 2018
Anyway, I was thrilled to see on Facebook that some of the giant kites were going to come to Lake Atitlan this year! I had thought that all the kites were burned ritualistically after the Day of the Dead, but I guess I was wrong. So Amazing Iva and I went on an adventure! 😊

Step One: catch some sort of transportation up to San Andrés Semetabaj
We got in a colectivo (minibus) and paid Q3.50 to go up to San Andrés. The driver said we could catch a tuc-tuc from there to the festival and it would cost us Q15 each. That's expensive! There was a Guatemalteca girl on the shuttle who spoke a bit of English. She found us a fleta driver (pickup truck) who would take the three of us for Q35. Bargain! He warned us there was lots of polvo -- dust. Well, he wasn't kidding!
Our Guatemalan friend, Iva's legs, and my hand... in the back of a pickup on the dustiest road EVER!
Our first look at the lake and field.
We arrived, dusty and laughing, and took a quick glance at this giant dirt field and some weird contraptions in the distance. Then we said, "We're hungry. Let's go eat!"

The smell of food cooking was so enticing! Look at this awesome BBQ!
We decided to try a bit of something new, plus a bit of something usual. We ordered an arepas rellenas de pollo y queso, a Venezuelan sandwich of chicken and cheese. Turns out it was freaking DELICIOUS! I wish we had gotten more! We also got BBQ (churrasco) which was also delish. (Plus I got to share my bones with a doggie.) The sandwich was Q30 and BBQ plate was Q20.
A peek at the chicken salad sandwich to the left, and my plate of BBQ chicken, coleslaw, beans, potato, onions, and tortillas, of course!
For those who want to learn more about the arepas, click HERE for a video and recipe. So yummy!

After food, we immediately headed back to see the kites!

Amazing view of volcanoes at Lake Atitlan.
My adventure partner! That's as close to the cliff edge that we got. That's Panajachel down there! I can see my house!
This is also where paragliders take off over the lake.
Could you run off this cliff?
Sharing the view with friends near and far.
What a view. Even bluer in real life.
Selfie! Kinda windy up there. Plus I got sunburned. 😊
My camera doesn't do panaramas, but this is close.
On to the kites, and a bit of the view of the hills behind.
This poor kite must have collapsed earlier in the day. You can see the snapped bamboo. All the kite dudes were resting in the shade.
This kite frame was HUGE. But also torn apart by high winds.
Last picture in this blog, you can see the top of this kite from down in Pana.
This kite flying was actually pretty big, like I'd say 3 meters across. There were five or six guys with thick gloves holding the line.
Kite guy climbing a pole to fix some pullies. Quite impressive! Also safe. (Ha!)
Iva and I were standing really close to this giant kite and we figured they were going to try to raise it soon. We kept starting videos, then stopping, cuz the kite guys would give up. There are multiple short videos on my YouTube channel of half attempts. We finally got a bit bored and decided to walk up the hill, and that's when they finally raised it. And then 3 seconds after I stopped filming, it collapsed! 😖 The announcer said, "A round of applause for the strong young people!"

The big kite collapsing!! Iva got it on video.
All the kies were super pretty, especially with the light shining through.
Another big kite with interesting details.
After we had seen all the kites, had a small sideshow adventure with a young boy making me a granizada (slushie), ate some chocolate wrapped in beet leaves, and perused the craft tables, we decided to head home. We went to the exit and asked the lined-up tuc-tuc drivers, How much? They all paused. They were trying to calculate how much to rip off the white girls!! Then one said Q15 a person. The next said Q10. SOLD! We got in his tuc-tuc and it CRAWLED painfully up the dusty hill. He literally had to track back and forth across the slope to get up it! Then his tuc-tuc stalled! Ha ha! We did finally make it to town and Iva gave him an extra tip. 😇

Waited a bit by the side of the road in some tiny town, then caught a colectivo back down the hill to Pana. I had to ride backwards, which made me ill. We paid Q5 to go down the hill. (Uphill was Q3.50) It never ends, the greediness. I swear. *sigh* To travel 15 minutes up a hill and 5 more minutes to the site, then back again, cost us each Q30. For comparison, the chicken bus from Pana to Xela and back, two hours each way, is only Q40. Sheesh!

Walking home from the market to my house in Pana, I could see the top of that big kite waaaaay up on the hill.
All in all, it was a jaw-dropping kinda day. I'm really glad we went! It was a nice taste of a Guatemalan tradition without a long trip to Antigua and huge crowds. 👍

P.S. The absolute BEST part of my day? Bert cleaned the house while I was out! 😍