Monday, April 30, 2018

Things I Never Thought I'd Say

Living in a foreign country brings many opportunities for new adventures. And I've had plenty so far in my three years here! I've been collecting some weird things that I never thought I'd hear myself say.

"There's a baby in the back of this tuc-tuc."
"Damn. My pineapple is too ripe."
(In Spanish.) "I'm looking for the white thing to write on the black wall of the school." (Have you figured it out? It's chalk!)
"I almost sprained my ankle on that lime."
"How much does a live chicken cost?"
"I want five tequilas, please."
(To Bert) "You might want to get off the couch. There's a scorpion on the ceiling."
"That's not my dog." (About a dog that is definitely my dog.) πŸ˜†

A picture of Moo-Moo just cuz she's adorable.
And here is the one sentence that I use way more than I ever thought possible:
"That is a BIG bug." 😲

Sunday, April 15, 2018

San Pedro Getting Attention for Environmental Consciousness

San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala, is just across Lake Atitlan from where I live in Panajachel. I refer to it as the "hippie town". I love it! I make sure that anyone who visits me gets a chance to go to San Pedro. It has a very different vibe than Pana and makes for an awesome day trip. They have great restaurants with a wider variety of different foods than I can find here in Pana. To get there from Pana, you take a lancha publica (public boat). It costs Q25 per person each way.

A video is going around about their plastic ban, so I thought I'd share it here. It's worth watching just to see the gorgeous scenery and Mayan people.

I applaud San Pedro's efforts and hope more towns can come up with ways to reduce our impact on the environment.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Incident With the Chickens

I probably shouldn't be writing this. I'm going to offend someone or reveal some hideous character flaw in myself. But I need to talk about it and I think it is relevant to my blog's theme of living as a foreigner in another country.

I will start my story by saying I had the worst morning EVER. Willow peed on the floor upstairs and it leaked thru onto my head as I was sleeping. Gus broke a flowerpot that wasn't even ours. Two of the foster puppies found their way into the bathroom and tore open bags of used toilet paper. As I was putting the garbage out, all the dogs escaped, and I had to let the three adults go -- Sassy, Gus, and Calvin -- in order to make sure all the foster puppies stayed in. I hit my head on the mailbox. I got a copyright infringement notice on YouTube. And then after all that, the garbage truck had apparently already gone by, or never showed up, cuz my garbage didn't get picked up.

That was before 10 am.

I had a coffee and decided that I wasn't going to let this day be ruined. I was going to pick myself up and accomplish things! (Including making plans for a fenced partition around the gate so I wouldn't have to wrangle dogs whenever I wanted to leave the yard.)

I got off my sorry butt and went out and ran some errands. Gus and Calvin came back on their own, and Sassy's former owner messaged me to say that she was over at her old house. I picked up food and went to visit Bert where he is housesitting and spent some nice time with him and the doggies. Things were looking up!

But when I came home, my neighbour approached me as I was walking up to my gate. She told me a black dog had attacked and killed two of her chickens. I told her I didn't have a black dog. She said some other stuff I didn't understand, and then her daughter said that the dog that killed the chickens had come back to my house. I repeated that I didn't have a black dog. I had a "tigre" dog and a beige dog. I opened the gate and Calvin poked his nose out. The woman pointed and said it was that dog that killed her chickens and she wanted Q250.

That's when I got upset. Up until she said Q250, I was just mildly irritated and focusing more on figuring out if it actually was my dog. But Q250 for two chickens?? No freaking WAY.

This is where the "stranger in a strange land" thing comes in. Because I am living in Guatemala, because of the way the majority of Guatemalans have treated me, I immediately distrusted this woman. I didn't for one second believe that two chickens cost Q250. Why? Because the majority of Guatemalans have been ripping me off -- or trying to -- for the three years I have been living here. Scamming me, lying to me, begging for money from me...because I am white. A gringa. Una extranjera (foreigner).

The other day, I went to the market and bought a pineapple. I gave the man Q10. He took it, fumbled with his money for a bit, then pocketed it all and started talking to his friend. I said, "Disculpe?" (Excuse me?) He looked at me. I said, "Mi cambio?" (My change.) Then he gets all, "Oh, sorry," and fumbles out his money and gives me my Q5. I know how much a pineapple costs, you idiot!

In my last blog post, I mentioned how I was glad that Walmart had prices on the items. It's so true. Every single time I buy something, I wonder if I'm actually paying the correct price or if it's been doubled or tripled because I am a foreigner. I hate bargaining. I hate discrimination. I hate liars and I hate greedy people. And this country is FULL OF THEM.
Yep, I just said that.
Back to the chickens.... When the lady asked for Q250, I got mad. I told her to wait one minute, went inside my gate, (shutting her outside), and went upstairs to my computer to Google how much a live chicken should cost. On OLX, which is an online marketplace kinda like craigslist, egg-laying chickens were going for between Q40 and Q50. Meat chickens were a bit more. But there were NO chickens that were over Q100 apiece.

I went back outside and gave the woman Q100. She started saying something and I just didn't care. I spat out, in English, "You can buy two chickens with Q100." I went back in my gate and slammed it shut.

Then I cried.

Then I got on Facebook and asked my friends how much a chicken really costs. Turns out, a few people corroborated that around here a chicken would be about Q80, mas o menos (more or less).

By that time, it had started raining and gotten dark. I pondered my dilemma. I had been warned about my neighbours. They had broken into this house when the last person was living here and stolen her computer. The landlord had put bars on the windows and installed bigger fences to prevent a reoccurrence. Even the gardener when I first met him had told me that the neighbours were ladrones (thieves).

Was my neighbour lying? Should I have asked to see the dead chickens? Should I pay more? Should I hope she just lets it go? Is it really worth it? What if she throws poisoned hotdogs over my fence to kill my dogs? (And the puppies!!)

"It's just Q250," you're thinking. That's like $40. Well, I had just shelled out Q1000 to pay all my bills and had spent quite a bit of cash on my trip to Xela. Q250 is no small change.

Anyway, as it stands now, I will go tomorrow and apologize and give her another Q100. I don't doubt that Calvin killed her chickens. He's killed things before. He was out running free today and had ample opportunity. The neighbours probably really need the money, even more than I do, and I don't want to make enemies. All of this points to forking over the cash and just resigning myself to eating pasta for a week until another paycheck comes in. (Sigh.)

I will say one more thing about this situation. When I was crying, my overwhelming feeling was, "I want to go home." Would this have happened at home? Maybe. But it wouldn't have been as stressful. I would have been able to communicate properly in my native language. I would have been able to speak my mind and understand what my neighbour was saying. Perhaps the police would have been involved or the Humane Society. Perhaps neither her chickens nor my dog would have ever been running loose in the first place. It would have been a problem, for certain, but not like this.

But I don't really want to go home. (I mean, I do, but just to visit. 😊) I don't think I can go back to that lifestyle -- the hamster wheel, the daily grind. I've become accustomed to working part-time and getting to spend more time doing things I enjoy. I might go back and live in Canada one day but it won't be because of some dead chickens and an irate neighbour.

Now I need to go practice my Spanish. Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment. Good night.

Monday, April 9, 2018

A Trip to Xela

I got to go to Xela for an overnight this past weekend. Super fun but also tiring. My feet hurt!
Xela (shay-lah) is the second largest city in Guatemala. It's real name is Quetzaltenango but no one calls it that! Xela is its Mayan name and it's much easier to say. 😊
I hopped on a chicken bus at around 9:20 in the morning on Saturday and eventually arrived in Xela at around 12:30. But of course, there are always adventures along the way!
My bus from Los Encuentros to Xela was a real bus, like a Greyhound!
Me, so happy to be traveling.
(Me on the way back, stuffed in a chicken bus, was not so cheerful.)
The real bus with nice seats and no crowding was a treat! They charged me Q25, which is Q5 more than normal but I didn't care. I asked if it was direct to Xela, and the guy said yes. But there was a catch! (Of course.) The bust stopped at some random gas station in Xela and let everyone out. Umm... where am I?
There goes my fancy bus....
I paused for a moment to get my bearings and noticed that all the chicken buses were zooming along the same road in the same direction. So I just walked up that the rain! I didn't mind. It hasn't rained in months so it was refreshing. After several blocks, I arrived at the terminal, which is where I was expecting to be deposited anyway. So yay, success!
The main Xela "terminal" is a madhouse. I'll put a video on my YouTube page for you all to experience.
First destination? The mall and a delicious lunch of McDonald's! Yup, I said McD's. You know why? It tastes like home. Something to be said for franchises being consistent across countries. Except Guatemalan McDonald's have awesome treats like Coconut Pies! YUMMY. Plus their traditional breakfast comes with beans and tortillas and queso fresco and salsa. πŸ˜‹ But a Big Mac is a Big Mac, even in Spanish.
Spring treats at McDonald's. Peach sundae, coconut pie, mango McFlurry.
For those who like to know these things, a Big Mac combo costs Q38, or about $6.60 Canadian or $5.20 U.S.

The mall.... ah, sweet sophistication. Escalators and shiny floors and people who are all dressed way nicer than I am. I always feel like a country bumpkin when I go to the mall. 😁

Second destination -- Walmart. I was on a quest for several things but was largely unsuccessful. The prices in Walmart in Xela are pretty comparable to Despensa Familiar in Panajachel. (At least for food.) It has a huge beauty section though, which is nice for the ladies, and also tons of housewares. To me, it's great just to have everything with a price on it with no bother of having to bargain or wondering if I'm getting ripped off cuz I'm a white woman.

Next up...MEGAPACA. What is that? Only the hugest second-hand store ever!
Yup, MEGAPACA. (Big booming voice.) And that's not even all of it.
I don't like shopping. I prefer to get in and get out. Megapaca does not allow this. Things are kind of sorted by type and size but then they're grouped by price discount, which is dumb. So I spent almost two hours trying to find a pair of shoes and some tshirts. But the bonus is things are pretty cheap and you can find new clothes as well, not just used. Lots of stuff still has the tags on it.
I scored a pair of simple shoes for Q40 ($7 Cdn, $5.50 U.S.) and a bunch of tshirts for Q6 to Q10 each. ($1 to $2). Sweet!

My plan was then to walk over to my hotel, sightseeing along the way. The rain had stopped mostly and it was a nice, cool overcast day. I started walking, confident I knew where I was going. (Ha!)
A lovely park.
This church was pretty fancy and different.
Some body-less statue dude being a creepy stalker and watching me. πŸ˜†
It looks just like Canada...minus the cobblestone streets and Spanish posters.
Something I noticed about Xela is that there is a lot of English. The stores were playing English music and there was English on most of the modern signs. Some stores were even named in English, like Green Cake. The Wendy's in the picture above says "Quality Burgers" in English.
Lots of walking and gawking later, I realized I wasn't ending up where I thought I would be. The streets in Xela are all numbered, which I thought would be easy, but it turned out each Zone starts over again with new numbers. So 9th Avenue in Zone 3 is nowhere near 9th Avenue in Zone 1. Hmmm.
It was after I'd walked down this big hill and to the McDonald's waaaaay in the distance that I figured I needed some assistance. I called Bert at home and he got on Google maps to help me out!
A grey day in Xela.
After getting some vague directions from Bert, I asked a microbus driver which way to Central Park. He waved me off in a different direction than I had been expecting. Hmmm. I walked to the corner and peered each way. Then I looked up and saw this tiny rusted sign, about the size of my hand, that said, "Prq Central" and an arrow. Okay! Off we go!
Many, many, MANY blocks later, I finally reached my destination. Whew!
Central Park is pretty even when it's raining.
Big church at Central Park. There is a secret though! I'll show you a bit further on.
Happy and relaxed street dogs! Ha ha!
Now that I had my bearings, it was easy to find my hotel, only 2 blocks from the park.
I stayed at Kasa Kamelot and paid Q168, although that was the price for two people. (Bert couldn't come with me cuz he was house/dogsitting. Bummer.) I review all hotels and restaurants on TripAdvisor, so head on over there to learn more.
The lobby of my hotel was like a jungle!
My feet were really hurting but I was hungry so I left my room to go out and get dinner at a place I'd be wanting to try since I saw their mouthwatering pictures on Facebook: Tacorazon.
My giant burrito being made.
I ordered a Burrito Classico. I wasn't sure what that entailed but I got to choose my type of meat and rice and beans, and then added a bunch of toppings and sauces too. It was HUGE. I swear it weighed more than a puppy. πŸ˜„ Price was Q49. It was a full meal, that's for sure. I think next time though I'll skip the beans as I think they overpowered the other stuff. Still delicious!
I relaxed in the park with a drink for a bit, just people watching, then headed home for some TV and bed.
The Park at night. The big buildings all had pretty lights on them.
I enjoyed sleeping in with no doggies waking me up and then lazily made my way over to grab a coffee and breakfast at the park.
My breakfast view.
I raced out of the restaurant and across the street to try to get a picture of this big beautiful Swallowtail butterfly. He was shy though and stayed up in the trees.
A gorgeous sunny day in the park in Xela. I love the pigeons!
This building was interesting. Notice how the right half is refinished? I guess the owner of the other half doesn't have the money to do his part! Also, that's a tour train in front! Cute.
The secret to the big church? It's a facade! The old part was destroyed in an earthquake in 1901. There is nothing behind the fancy front part. A new, more modern church has been built behind it. It's so modern, there are televisions at the back broadcasting a live feed of the priest at the front.
The architecture of central Xela is very interesting and different from anywhere else in town. It's very European. But once you start walking away from the center, it's back to cinder block buildings and adobe brick with Spanish roof tiles.
Seems a bit out of place.
This was a little monument to a famous poet.
His poem about the moon of Xela.
I wandered up some hills and got a nice view of the church from afar, plus some dilapidated buildings with collapsed roofs that were inhabited by homeless people and street dogs in equal measure.
Ha ha!!
Finally, it was time for my true purpose of visiting Xela, to meet up with a Facebook friend IRL for the first time and enjoy a charity BBQ for her dog rescue organization, The DOX Project: Dogs of Xela. 
DOX is operated out of a hotel that caters to human guests as well as dogs.
Lyka greeted all guests as they climbed the stairs to the rooftop patio. Such a sweetie!
This is Tattoo. She is sooooo soft and sweet! (And, yes, slightly chubby too. Ha!)
Most of the doggies weren't allowed to the BBQ and they were not impressed! I'm sure they enjoyed the leftovers though.
The BBQ was delicious and raised money for a good cause. I got to chat with some interesting people and of course met a bunch of cute doggies. I forgot to take pictures of the food but I do have a video below of the rooftop view.

My friend's charity is small and focuses on street dogs in the central park area of Xela.
The DOX Project aims to address street dog overpopulation in Xela's Zona 1, by proving an affordable and accesible way to sterilise and vaccinate street dogs.
Sterilisation addresses the root cause of the problem - if the dogs can't reproduce, we will be able to drastically reduce the number of hungry, injured, unwanted and (sometimes) dangerous dogs on the streets.
So after all the walking and sightseeing and shopping and eating, what's my overall opinion of Xela? It's not for me. I'm a small town girl! Panajachel is just right for me as there is more nature and less cars. I coudn't live without the Lake! Xela is certainly awesome to visit though and I will for sure return another time, hopefully with Bert so he can enjoy some fast food and Walmart shopping. 😊

TIP: Save your soles and catch a microbus for only Q1.25 to get around town. 

Sunday, April 1, 2018


My Mom sent me an Easter e-card and it kinda caught me by surprise. Easter? Is it Easter?
Easter, yay!
But yeah, it is Easter...only here in Guatemala, it's Semana Santa (Holy Week) which is really, really different. In my mind, Easter and Semana Santa are not equivalent holidays at all! There are no chocolate bunnies, brightly coloured jellybeans, and Cadbury Easter eggs. There are no baskets with pretty pastel ribbons and plastic "straw". Semana Santa does involve some sweet treats -- fudge fingers, yum! -- but for most of Guatemala, Semana Santa is a deeply religious holiday.

The church in Panajachel is all lit up. It's beautiful.
Notice the stuff hanging from the arches in the foreground. Pretty cool.
Statues of Roman guards.
Statues outside our church.
The inside of our church in Panajachel. So lovely. There was a group singing.
I wasn't feeling up to the crowds and madness of Semana Santa this year, so I enjoyed watching the procession on Facebook via live feeds from my friends, Amazing Iva and Mr. Jon. It was nice to see it without having to actually get my antisocial butt out of my chair. Ha ha!
I've shamelessly stolen a bunch of photos from Facebook of the Semana Santa activities in a few towns around Lake Atitlan.
A re-enactment of Jesus' walk.
Can't forget the alfombras! (carpets) That is one big fruit salad.
Made with coloured sawdust and other things. So creative and unique!
This is the main anda (float) for the procession in SololΓ‘. The bearers are wearing black. The guys in Antigua and other places usually wear royal purple.
My friend snapped this picture of a float carried by women in San Pedro.
Another San Pedro picture from my friend. Interesting that the women are wearing more traditional veils.
Also note how they trample the beautiful carpets. Such a fascinating ritual.
I have to mention that for many Guatemalans, Semana Santa is not so holy and involves a whole lot of drinking and partying. Not sure how that came about, but drinking is such an accepted practice during Semana Santa that beer companies promote like CRAZY. So on the streets right beside the religious icons and pictures of Jesus are the infamous "sexy dancing ladies". Here is just 20 seconds of one group!

I hope you all had a lovely Easter or Semana Santa or secular weekend! πŸ°πŸ’œ