Sunday, June 24, 2018

A Sense of Community

Maybe it's the small town -- Panajachel has only 17,000 people.
Maybe it's the shared experience of being a stranger in a strange land.
Maybe it's just that only the most accepting and adventurous folks become expats.

All I know is that I actually feel a sense of community in Panajachel that I haven't felt in any town I've lived in for years.

I have friends here both close and casual. I say "hola" to people on the street. Some people say "hi" to me and I have no clue who they are, (sorry!) but I always say "hi" back.
infinite nap cartoon awkward hug
People in Pana hug when meeting and leaving. I am REALLY BAD at it.
I'm sorry. I'd really prefer not to hug.
I think if I had chosen to live in a larger city in Guatemala, like Antigua or Xela, it wouldn't have been so easy to meet people. There may, in fact, be more expats in those cities, but I don't think there would be as many opportunities to interact. And you wouldn't get that feeling like, "Oh, I should say something because I keep crossing patha with this same person because there's only one main street." 😊 Then again, in a larger city with a larger pool of expats to meet, I could find myself with more friends and a larger social circle.

There is definitely a feeling of camaraderie when you see another foreigner in Guatemala. I have literally stopped what I was doing to ask wide-eyed white folks if they were lost and needed help. In addition, people have walked up to me and said, "Hey, I hear you're speaking English. Can you help us?" For the most part, expats and travelers alike are open and helpful. We all share that feeling of being a bit lost sometimes, even if we've been here for years.

One of the phrases you'll probably hear about Guatemala is "the wanted and unwanted". I'm not a fan of that expression. I am neither wanted by the law back home nor unwanted back home. I'm here because I desired a different lifestyle. I wanted to live cheaply so I had more time to travel. I wanted to experience new things. I'm easily bored. 😁

But you know, it's taken me three years to actually recognize this feeling of community. Not the town's fault nor the people's. Pretty much everyone I have met here has been friendly, knowledgeable, and welcoming. But those of you who know me will undoubtedly recognize that I am socially awkward! I don't get out much...anymore.

When I first arrived in Panajachel in 2015, I used drinking as a way to meet new people. Have a few frozen margaritas at La Palapa or some Stoopid Juice at Gringos Locos and you're making friends in no time! I had a blast and met so many fun, exciting, and interesting characters, some of whom are still good friends three years later.

But that sort of lifestyle isn't REALLY me. Plus, one thing about travelers is that they...wait for Ha ha! People come and go. Even expats who have been here for a decade sometimes get itchy feet and head off for new adventures. So your social circle changes. Good friends leave, new friends come along. There is drama and broken hearts and alcoholism and arrests. The bar scene can get old. Nowadays, I go out maybe once a month, plus maybe another once or twice a month to a house party or casual dinner.

But that's fine with me. I like to sit at home on my computer, chillin' with my cats, learning new stuff, writing blog posts and all that jazz. When I venture out into town to shop, it always takes longer than I expect because of all the time I spend stopping and chatting with folks. (Bert gets so frustrated with me!) There are plenty of events and nights out on the town that I can participate in if I choose to. And if I organize a BBQ at my house or a party at the bar, lots of people show up to have fun! It's a good feeling.

As my regular readers are aware, a big part of my life in Panajachel is being a foster parent for AYUDA Para la Salud de Perros y Gatos. My involvement with this big-hearted charity is what inspired my blog post today. I met a lovely woman who came all the way across the Lake from San Pedro just to pick up a foster kitten I had so she could bring it to a Guatemalan family. For some weird reason, I just felt so connected to this person and I had a warm feeling that we shared something. We shared many things actually. We were both foreigners, both animal lovers, both willing to go the extra mile for a cute critter, both still struggling a bit with Spanish. And we both have found a way to give back to our community.
tortoiseshell kitten tortie cat
The adorable foster kitten that I had to say goodbye to today. 😭
In doing research for this blog, I came across this lengthy but fascinating article about a guy coming to Pana to study the expats. Does anyone remember him?

To kinda sum up, the author describes "high impact" and "low impact" expats. High impacters are those who run business, operate charities, employ locals, and are involved directly with the Guatemalan culture through their friends and work. Low impacters are those who "live in a bubble", whose friends are all the same as them, who learn only the most basic Spanish to get by, who give back very little to Guatemala.

I think I'm low impact, which kinda makes me sad, but is also pretty understandable. I would love to have more Guatemalan friends, but my Spanish is not good enough yet. I don't have enough money to operate a business or employ anyone, not even a gardener for my backyard jungle. I live in a bubble, but I was like that back in Canada as well, so that's nothing new.

I think the longer I am in Guatemala, however, the more I am heading towards high impact. I'm fascinated by Guatemalan culture and do my best to learn about it and respect it. I am working to improve my Spanish and can have a decent conversation with the guy that runs my local tienda. Sometimes I can even make a joke! 😁 My volunteer work with AYUDA gives back to the community. They are very proudly a Guatemalan registered NGO, not an American one. Even though AYUDA is run by expats, they employ a Guatemalan veterinarian, accept interns from the Guatemalan veterinary school, and focus on education and creating positive change in the Guatemalan culture.

So how to close out this post...hmmm. I guess my message is that even if you are the most introverted of introverts, a sense of community is important and should be cultivated and cherished. No matter where you live, don't lock yourself up inside too much. Get out and meet people who love the same things you love, whether that's animals, yoga, mountain biking, art, coffee, or underwater basket weaving. Get on Facebook and connect with folks, then go outside and actually meet them in person. And if you are in Pana and say "hi" to me and I can't remember your name or where we met, forgive me! 😊 I'm a bit of a dork that way.
I really need this button. It'd be like my Medic Alert bracelet.
Or maybe I should get it tattooed my forehead? 😆 

Friday, June 22, 2018

Arrive at Lake Atitlan in Style

Your grubby backpacking friends will be envious when they see you fly into Lake Atitlan on a private helicopter! 😃

Kat and Steve, owners of La Fortuna, took this recent footage of their helicopter flight from Antigua to Lake Atitlan. Amazing!

La Fortuna has a beautiful and informative website with enticing taglines like...
Comfort & Serenity
Relax in Style
Rustic, Meet Luxurious

I've seen this place and I have to say it's INCREDIBLE. 😍 The hotel has been given a bazillion 5-star reviews on TripAdvisor and has won several awards. Plus, they're eco-friendly! Truly an exquisite location on Lake Atitlán. Check them out and start planning for your next special occasion trip!

"My partner and I had our second stay at La Fortuna recently, and every aspect of our experience (the room! the view! the food! the hospitality!) was completely incredible." -- j0shgee of Toronto

La Fortuna at Atitlan Lake Guatemala
One of the bungalows at La Fortuna hotel on Lake Atitlan
Click on any of the logos below to find out more about La Fortuna at Atitlan hotel.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Looking for Adventure?

So you've booked your trip to Panajachel, Guatemala, on the Most Beautiful Lake in the World, Lake Atitlan. You're looking forward to relaxing, sightseeing, kicking back with some tequila and new friends...but you also crave adrenaline. You're a thrillseeker and wanna feel that rush. Well, I got ya covered. Here are five heart-thumping things to do around Panajachel. 😄

Ziplining at Reserva Natural Atitlán Guatemala
Ziplining at Reserva Natural Atitlán.
1. Feel the need for speed? Try out the ziplines at Atitlan Nature Reserve located just outside Panajachel. There are two separate zipline packages. Cables X-tremos costs Q250 and includes 8 ziplines. It takes about 1.5 hours.  Cables Ultra X-tremos costs Q375, has 7 lines, including one that is 860 meters long 😱, and takes about 2 hours. The cost of the ziplines includes your entrance fee to the park.
If not everyone in your group wants to zipline, the Nature Reserve is a great place to hike through the forest. (Entrance fee Q70 adults, Q40 children under 12.) There are several cable bridges that can be unnerving to cross at first but soon become quite fun. Spider monkeys lounge and leap through the trees. Groups of coatis scurry along the ground. And there is a greenhouse dome full of butterflies to admire.
Please note that you have to hike quite a distance uphill to get to the starting area for ziplining. Also, there is a 250-pound weight limit for the Ultra X-tremos zipline.

"The ziplines here are a real hoot. Very professional and safe. The hike up to the first one goes through beautiful jungle with lush flora and fauna, including monkeys. The most breathtaking is the first cable, which is also the highest up the mountain. Once you're past the treetops, the view of the lake is spectacular and a bonus rush." -- H.W. of AYUDA

paragliding Lake Atitlan Panajachel Guatemala Alyssa Hiptipico
Alyssa of Hiptipico soaring with the birds above Lake Atitlan
Read her blog here.
2. Do you like to get high? No, not THAT kinda high. 😜 I'm talking about paragliding! I recommend Realworld Paragliding located in Panajachel on Calle Santander in the Centro Comercial San Rafael. They are friendly, professional, and highly experienced. They want you to have the best gliding experience ever! Price for a tandem flight is Q700. Your flight can last between 20 to 45 minutes depending on weather conditions. You need to be physically fit enough to run a bit before takeoff. There is a maximum weight limit of 110 kg (242 lbs) and a minimum weight limit of 30 kg (66 lbs).
I often admire the brave souls floating through the sky over my house and landing on the beach. I could never do it! I'm too scared of heights. But maybe you'd love to throw yourself off a cliff?

"When you meet [the RealWorld] team, you instantly feel they are a close-knit family. Not only do you feel their spirit, but you are instantly comforted by their expertise. For me, walking into an office and meeting someone who is about to have me run off a cliff and fly into the clouds -- requires a lot of trust. That is RWP's most charming point. Their people. And you will have an amazing and unforgettable experience." -- Alyssa of Hiptipico

🎵 Under da sea, under da sea ... or lake 
3. Wanna see a whole new world? Lake Atitlan has a unique SCUBA diving experience for you. The only licensed diving operator on the Lake is ATi DiVERS at La Iguana Perdida in Santa Cruz. A one-day "Discover SCUBA Diving" course is $65. For those who have gone diving before, a refresher course is only $10. Fun dives are $37 for a one-tank dive and $70 for a two-tank dive. There are fish, crabs, and sunken hotels, as well as a dive that takes you to underwater hot springs.
Please be aware that SCUBA diving in Lake Atitlan is considered high altitude diving and you must take the necessary precautions before and after diving to avoid decompression sickness.

"Diving at altitude in fresh water is a very different diving experience to the ocean. This is diving for the pure pleasure of experiencing the sport of diving. In Lake Atitlan it is magical and mysterious; another world experience! Highly recommended!" -- Francesca of Mayan Lake Realty

View from the summit of San Pedro Volcano. Photo courtesy of The Wanderlusters. 
4. Interested in a slow burn adventure? Hike to the top of the San Pedro volcano. Sorry, the volcano is not active so there is no lava. (Maybe that's a plus for you?) Take a tuc-tuc from the town of San Pedro la Laguna to the entrance of the park for Q10, then pay the Q100 entrance fee. A guide will take you the first 20 minutes and then you're on your own. Don't bother paying for a guide from a travel agency. It's unnecessary. The trail is well-marked.
Plan for this hike for early in the morning. I believe the park opens at 7am. Reaching the summit can take between 3 and 5 hours, depending on your fitness level. Then you have to come back down as well! There is often rain in the afternoon, so you want to get to the top before the clouds move in, and get back down before the rains start. Bring lots of water and food for lunch. This is an all-day hike and quite challenging!

"Because the volcano is taller than many of the mountains surrounding the lake, you can see past the lake and feel like you are standing above the clouds. A pretty cool sensation." -- E.S. at Atitlan Living

chicken bus devil Guatemala
Get in. I dare you.
5. Do you crave the ultimate adrenaline rush? Put your life in someone else's incapable hands and ride a chicken bus. Yes, indeed, this is one of the most heart-stopping adventures you will have in Guatemala. Plus, this is the cheapest activity on our list. A chicken bus from Panajachel up to Sololá is only Q3. The ride up is not the best part; it's the ride DOWN that is thrilling! For even more fun and twisty curves at breakneck speeds, take a chicken bus from Pana to Xela or Antigua (opposite directions, each about 2.5 hours away). The winding roads, blaring music, and amped up drivers will either make you laugh or cry. Public transportation has never been more exciting!

"Almost every time I've ridden a chicken bus, I feel it might be my last day on Earth. Not necessary a fun feeling, but certainly an iconic Guatemalan experience. You may want to kiss the ground when the ride is over!" -- Cee

Comment below if you've done any of my top five exciting things to do at Lake Atitlan and let others know what you thought of your experience. Whichever adventure you choose, be safe and have fun! 😎

BONUS: Mister Jon's Restaurant in Panajachel wanted me to be sure to include the "greatest chicken bus song ever"! Here ya go!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Green and Lovely and Rainy

The rain stopped briefly this afternoon so I scooted out to the tienda (corner store) to get some dog food. I had my camera with me and took some snapshots of the lovely droplets of water on everything. Enjoy. 

raindrops on grass
Raindrops on grass.

This corn was probably 10 feet tall! I'm looking waaaay up.

English ivy in Guatemala.

red flower raindrops
Lovely red flower.
black-eyed susan vine
I took some seeds from the vines of this plant to try to get some to grow in my garden.
I believe it is called Black-Eyed Susan Vine.
No rain in this one but I just couldn't walk past this colour and not take a photo.
Happy Father's Day to all dads out there, especially my Dad who is an awesome photographer and taught me to "really look through the lens". I love you, Dad! 💜

Monday, June 11, 2018

Rainy Season Has Arrived

There are two seasons in Guatemala: rainy and dry. It's either raining every day and green as a grasshopper's butt, or it's sunny and dry as dust. And those two seasons last for months at a time. This last dry season, I don't think we saw a single drop of rain for five months straight.

I did a blog post about the weather here in Panajachel if you're looking for more details and numbers and fancy charts. 😎

I took a picture from approximately the same spot a few months apart to show you the difference. This is in Panajachel near the river, looking east, at 5pm.
Antes y después (Before and after)
Every time I walk out my gate, I am shocked at how green the hills are now! They were so brown and barren for so many months. I'm not used to seeing all the jungly-ness yet.

Back in January, I did a video of my garden, me just walking around chatting about the different plants and such. Well, this morning I decided to do a quick video update of what my garden looks like now. The transformation is amazing!

The flowers on the frangipani tree. They smell beautiful.
For a long time now, I've been hearing my neighbour's ducks quacking from their yard. The other morning I finally got to meet them! They were puttering about on the road, snacking on bugs and stuff.
Weird male duck. He could raise and lower the black crest on his head.
Momma duck and her half-grown babies!
They also have one beautiful chicken. I've only ever seen this one. Maybe there are more in the yard, but this one is the only one who ventures out.
Very pretty chicken.
Even though it is rainy season, it is usually sunny for a few hours in the morning. All the animals go outside and soak it up. Me, I go outside and try to get everything dried on the clothesline before the rains come again in the early afternoon. Then I run around like crazy taking everything back inside again so it doesn't get wet!
Noodles napping in the rain gutter.

I don't mind the rains much. Only if I forget to plan my day and end up huddled under the eaves at Despensa trying to find an available tuc-tuc. The roads get flooded and muddy and trucks splash you when you're walking. But it's just water. And it's actually kinda warm, so it's no big deal. Nothing like months of snow back in Canada! I think I can handle it here. 😊🌴☔

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Giving Back to our Beloved Guatemala

Iva and I wanted to go help with the rescue efforts for the recent Fuego eruption. We did our research, scouring Facebook posts and asking everyone we knew, trying to find a place that needed volunteers.
Queso & Rui wanna go with me to Antigua!
Many reports indicated only organized and professional groups of volunteers were being allowed into Alotenango, where most of the survivors are being sheltered. Escuintla needed help, but we thought the distance might be too far for one day.
With a few good leads, Iva and I got on a chicken bus at 7 a.m. from Panajachel to go to Antigua.

Map Volcán de Fuego's path of destruction Guatemala
Map of Volcán de Fuego's path of destruction and surrounding towns.
The map above was taken from an amazing article at OKAntigua. (<-- click!) Tons of information there. Go read it...when you're done reading my blog, of course! 😁

The 3-hour chicken bus ride passed quickly as Iva and I chatted away. We arrived in Antigua, had a quick breakfast at The Most Beautiful McDonalds in the World 😄 and then headed to our first stop. Tropicana Hostel.

At Tropicana, we met Valerie. As far as I could understand, she was a traveler who simply jumped into helping the hostel's owners and other guests in gathering donations, sorting supplies, and coordinating deliveries into the affected zone. Valerie briefed us on their activities and then hesitantly told us that they actually didn't need any more help today. The guests of the hostel had been so eager to help that everything was taken care of at the moment. She told us they were doing a donation run but it wasn't until 5pm, so we couldn't stay to join in. She introduced us to one of the hostel's owners, Dean, who thanked us warmly and then bustled off to attend to business. We left our donations at the hostel and then Valerie walked us over to Revue Magazine's office a few blocks away.

Tropicana Hostel looks like a super fun place to stay if you are a young person looking for a rocking party! 😎 It is only a block from the central park and has a little pool, a rooftop patio, and offers tours to hike Acatenango, the volcano NEXT to Fuego. Besides all that, everyone there was so friendly and generous and lovely. The work they've done for Fuego rescue efforts is amazing!
donations Unidos Para los Animales animal rescue
A small portion of the donations at Revue's offices for Unidos Para los Animales
The Revue office is a donation center for Unidos Para los Animales. Giant bags of dog food were stacked in the corners. Medical donations were arranged neatly on every flat surface. We met Terry, whose eyes filled with tears as she spoke about the disaster relief efforts and the pet owners who went back into the danger zone to retrieve their dogs. She also told us about a vet in town who is treating animals with burns on their paws from the hot ashes.

Terry and Valerie talked about their respective donation campaigns. Valerie donated a good amount of Tropicana's funds raised to UPA, and I donated my small bit of cash as well. The secretary wrote up official receipts and spoke about how important it is in Guatemala to be "above board" on all donations.

We asked about volunteering to help the animals today, even just cleaning cages or anything. Terry was touched by our offer, but the Unidos' shelter is way up in the hills and the recent rains have made it difficult to get there. She took the phone number of Tropicana Hostel and promised to let them know if they needed volunteers.

Back to Tropicana, we spent a brief moment saying our thank yous and goodbyes, then headed off walking to Hotel Real Plaza. We had seen a post on Facebook that they needed help with washing sheets and towels. The Hotel has converted their ballroom into a center for the firefighters and other rescue team members to sleep at night.

At the hotel, we were directed around to the back entrance. There were many people bustling around with supplies. A lady sat at a table taking names. She told us that they had enough volunteers for the current time. We asked if they knew of any other places that needed volunteers. A flurry of Spanish between several people and then they sent us off to find a shelter where there were "many children" who needed someone to play with them.

At this point, we were footsore, hot, and frustrated. While it was wonderful to meet people who were helping, we didn't come here to chat! And ironically enough, we were heading back exactly to the place where we started: the chicken bus terminal.

As we walked, our feet crunched on the gritty black ash that coated the sidewalks. We stepped aside for people sweeping ash from their homes, or hosing it away into the gutters. We passed firefighters collecting donations. We saw sign after sign after sign proclaiming in hand-written letters, "Centro de Acopios!" (donation center) Everywhere we looked, people were coming together to do what they could for the damnificados (casualties) of the eruption. (What an interesting word.)

One of the many handwritten signs indicating a donation collection center.
These nice folks helped us towards our final destination.
We circled the block where we thought the shelter was. Neither of us had thought to write down the directions. We asked everyone with our limited Spanish, "Buscamos un lugar con muchos niños. Un refugio? Huérfanos?" We weren't even sure if it was a shelter or an orphanage or what. We just asked and asked.

Finally, surprisingly, the most wonderful man who was directing chicken buses asked us if we needed English! I said we were looking for a place with lots of kids, maybe orphans. He said, "Un albergue?" Yes! I know that word! It means shelter or hostel. He pointed us down past the maze of moving chicken buses and said, "Cerca el carro rojo." (Near the red car.) We literally dodged buses and mud puddles to get there and finally found the place! 😁

Iva at the entrance.
There is no sign because the shelter sometimes operates as a home for abused women and children. Most recently, it was a shelter for homeless people. They had been evacuated to make room for refugees from Fuego.

The organization is called The God's Child Project or La Asociación de Nuestros Ahijados.Click the names to go to the websites.

The place was busy and a bit chaotic. A lot of people seemed to be finishing lunch served on plastic trays. We spoke to one woman about why we were there and she then passed us off to ... a child! Ha ha! Literally, our guide was a girl maybe 10 or 11 years old. Her mother coordinates the shelter. She spoke English very well! We got volunteer badges and went to work. 

First job: sort donations. I got to be in charge. Just kidding! I got the clipboard and the chance to work on my Spanish vocabulary. Azúcar, cinco bolsas. Frijoles, dos bolsas. Papel higiénico, 24 rollos. I even learned some new words, thanks to the young bilingual girls who were helping.
Sorting donations.
After that, Iva mopped the kitchen floor and I swept ash from the hallway. We got to take a look around the facility, which is quite small, but very efficient. All around us, adults were busy with lists and boxes and interviewing for intake. A group of firefighters sat in the corner, quietly eating lunch. We briefly met the shelter's coordinator (Sandi, our guide's mom) and asked if she knew that Hostel Real Plaza needed mattresses. She said she did and they had provided as many as they could. Then she rushed off, so busy and focused!

The sleeping area.
The indoor play area for small children with a TV and a ton of toys!
Lots of donations. 
In Guatemala, single-serve water comes in plastic bags. These are bags of bags of water.
I spoke with the young girl who was our guide what was going on at the shelter. She knew quite a bit! She told me that the people staying at the shelter had lost their homes. They would stay at the shelter for two to three months until their new homes are built in a safe place. She said that all of the families at this shelter had been guaranteed a new home in collaboration with "an American company". I believe she was referring to ConstruCasa. <--click!
She also said that the area where the people's homes were is now a sanctuary. Another girl corrected her and said, in Spanish, "No, the word is cemetery." I said, "It is both. A sanctuary and a cemetery." 😢
Trucks leaving to deliver donations.
Volunteers sorting clothes and moving mattresses.
That's Agua volcano in the background. She doesn't erupt.
Another volunteer told us that it was time for an activity outside at the table. Craft time! We opened up packages of donated colouring books and markers and modeling clay and storybooks. Iva and I joined the kids in colouring and making plasticine creations. 😁

Iva at the end of the table, doing a maze.
Some of the children were very shy but others opened up right away and happily shared their pictures and plasticine creations. There were several international students there, ages 10 to 15 roundabouts, who were fluently bilingual. They helped us with our translations to admire the kids' work. ¡Tan bonito! ¡Bien hecho! Muy bien! (So pretty. Well done. Very good.)
I made the kitty on the left. Then a girl put down her kitty to the right. Hmm. 😆
Iva and I had been on our feet since 6 a.m., so she smartly suggested that we should take a wee break to grab some food and water. I suggested we look for bubbles for the kids to play with. Who doesn't love bubbles?
We went to the nearby Despensa Familiar, a grocery store, and I stood patiently in line behind a Guatemalan man buying boxes and boxes of donations: dog food, feminine hygiene products, soap, toilet paper. His receipt was longer than my arm!

We grabbed some mediocre pizza, found some bubbles -- Iva nearly bought all of the ones for sale -- and headed back to the shelter. Well, I'll tell ya! As soon as Iva pulled those bubbles out of the bag, they were snatched from our hands by smiling children! Burbujas! 

Iva took this great photo of some of the kids blowing bubbles.
We spent the rest of our time blowing bubbles big and small, and I bid them a safe journey to the sky. 😊 "Adios, burbuja! Bien viaje!" (The kids thought I was weird! Nothing new there!)

It was getting late in the afternoon and we knew we had a long trip ahead of us, so we decided to call it a day. As we were leaving, Iva stopped to give a monetary donation. Sitting at the table was a man that I had heard speaking English earlier. We started to talk to him and found out he was the founder of the God's Child Project, Patrick Atkinson. He only had a brief moment to talk, but I felt so lucky that we had that chance to meet him. Read more about Patrick's amazing backstory here. 
God's Child Project Nuestros Ahijados Antigua Guatemala
Asociación Nuestros Ahijados de Guatemala. In English, the God's Child Project.
Then it was time to get back on the chicken buses for the arduous trip home. I wanted so much to complain about the packed bus, the loud music, and the greedy driver who kept piling people in, but I was too tired and too aware that I should be grateful I'm alive. So I kept quiet and we arrived home in the dark at almost 8 p.m.

A long but eventually successful day. It was good to help, even though it wasn't what I expected to be doing. I think we did some good, so that's all that matters. Here is a summary of all the places we visited and learned about so you can click and learn about them all. Thank you!

The God's Child Project
Facebook page for Nuestros Ahijados
Tropicana Hostel
Revue Magazine
Unidos Para los Animales
Hotel Real Plaza
Iva's donation page at Amazine Me Movement


1. Listen to the authorities. If they say you have to leave the area, leave the area.
2. Do what's needed. Volunteer work is not fun and games. You are there to help in whatever capacity is needed. Wash dishes. Fold towels. Carry boxes back and forth and back and forth. If someone asks you to do something, just do it. No complaints.
3. It's not about you. Sure, take a selfie or two. But know that you are there for others, not for your own ego. Share your selfie and promote the cause. Then get back to work.
4. Be prepared for the situation. You may be volunteering in an unsafe area. Before you go, understand the dangers of the situation. Tornado? Earthquake? Landslide? Volcano? Know your evacuation route. Wear proper equipment -- good shoes or boots, long pants, dust mask, etc.
5. Take care of yourself. Some volunteer work can be emotionally distressing. Other work is physically draining. Keep track of your state of mind and energy levels. It's okay to take a break. It's okay to go to the bathroom and bawl your eyes out. Deep breaths. You're doing great. Get back into it.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Alyssa of Hiptipico Talks the Realities of Disaster Relief

I just watched a video from Alyssa at Hiptipico and it's brilliant. She talks about the realities of disaster relief efforts in Guatemala after the deadly eruption of Volcán de Fuego (Volcano of Fire) near Escuintla on June 3, 2018.

I wanted to share this video with you guys because what she says can apply to any situation where people are soliciting donations for a cause, and not just for emergencies. (It's about 11 minutes long.)

Alyssa is graceful and eloquent, as always, but I'll paraphrase in a more blunt manner.

Guatemala doesn't need your thoughts and prayers. It needs your money.

Harsh, right? But so true. Don't try to ship items from your country to Guatemala. We have bottled water. We have clothes. We have baby formula and gas masks and antiseptic and toothbrushes and all those things. The charities here in Guatemala need MONEY to buy those things from their local stores and get those things into the hands of the people who need them. They need to buy things that can't be shipped, like shovels, corrugated metal, and concrete. They need medicines that can't be imported. They need plain old cash to give to people to start new lives.

before after volcano fuego san miguel los lotes guatemala
Aerial view of San Miguel Los Lotes, a small town on Highway 14. 
And that need is going to continue for many months beyond when this news story fades from the headlines. So many people lost their homes, their crops, their belongings. They have nothing. They're crammed into gymnasiums and classrooms, sleeping on blankets on the floor, lining up for food. They're sad and stressed and looking for hope.

Hope comes in the form of the volunteers who are there at those makeshift shelters dispensing donations, making soup, passing out toys to the kids to brighten their day, comforting the sick, mourning alongside the survivors.

crying woman volcano of fire fuego eruption Guatemala
Crying woman is comforted by firefighter captain. 
Please donate what you can. No amount is too small. Hiptipico is a great organization that will responsibly distribute donations to where it is needed most. I have the utmost trust in Alyssa and her team.

Venmo: @hiptipico
"We call Guatemala home and are committed to doing all we can to aid in the recovery of the affected communities. We are humbled by the kindness and generosity of local Guatemalans and friends of Hiptipico worldwide. Thank you." ~~Alyssa of Hiptipico
Thank you, dear readers, for taking a few minutes to read my blog. I know my recent posts have been full of heartbreak and sadness and horrible situations. Guatemala is a strong country, full of people who are proud, hardworking, compassionate, and kind. Everyone here is coming together as never before to support the survivors of the Fuego disaster.
Click here to see a great 90-second video showing volunteers working so selflessly! 
Thank you a million times over for your support. 💜

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

More on the Volcán de Fuego Eruption

Such a sad time in Guatemala right now, but also inspiring. People all over the country and the world are coming together to help the survivors of the deadly eruption of the Volcano of Fire near Antigua, Guatemala. Our little town, Panajachel, is collecting donations at the fire station and the municipal offices. I even saw a collection area at the Energuate office (electricity provider).
Stay strong, Guatemala! The bird is the Quetzal, the national bird. Such a poignant drawing.

How can you help? I found an article of the most reputable organizations that are accepting donations. The article is here and I'll summarize below.

GoFundMe has put together a list of verified campaigns that are directing aid those directly impacted by the volcano as well as relief efforts.
My choice: Fuego Eruption Emergency Relief

CruzRojaGT, the Guatemalan division of The Red Cross, is on the ground directly helping those affected. They are accepting monetary donations via text. Text REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10 to American Red Cross Disaster Relief.

The Miguel Vargas Association is accepting donations to aid with recovery, specifically to help with medical assistance and supplies.

Rotary Club of Guatemala is accepting donations via wire transfer. The picture below explains how to do that.
Fuego volcano eruption Guatemala donate help wire transfer
How to wire transfer a donation to help those affected by Fuego volcano eruption.
firemen offering puppy water after volcano rescue
Firefighters give a puppy a much needed drink of water.
Most emergency responders in Guatemala are volunteers. Such big hearts!
There are also many animal charities that are working to help pets and livestock that need help. Animals have been roaming the streets, injured and lost. Firefighters have found homes where all the people have died but the pets and livestock are still there.
If you read Spanish (or know to translate in your browser), here is an article on the various organizations helping the animals affected by Fuego.

To support animal rescue efforts, donate to:
AYUDA Para la Salud de Perros y Gatos
AMA Asociacion de Amigos de los Animales
Unidos Para los Animales

My personal friends, Iva and Alyssa, have both set up ways to donate.
Iva at Amazing Me Movement has a donation link on her page.
Alyssa at Hiptipico is accepting donations by PayPal at

With any donation, if given the option, put a note that you want your funds to go towards disaster relief for Fuego Volcano in Guatemala.  Thank you so much! 💙

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Fuego Volcano Goes BOOM!

Volcán de Fuego (Volcano of Fire) near Antigua, Guatemala, is erupting!
I'm never there when it's blowing its top. When my sister and I were in Antigua just last weekend, it was smoking a bit, but now it's really going off.

Whoa, that's a lot of ash.

0:35 is a golf course that is famous for being so close to the volcano.
1:10 no sound but you can see how fast the smoke and ash rises up.
1:40, you can hear the sound of it erupting!
2:08 you can see all the ashes that fall on the city of Antigua.

That golf course above after the ash settled this afternoon. Surreal.
The perils of living close to an active volcano -- ash on your car, in your house, on your head!
The Guatemala City airport is closed due to ash. It can bring down planes when it gets sucked into their engines. And they'll have to sweep the runways clear as well. 
CONRED is the emergency organization in Guate that monitors this stuff. Their Facebook page is full of good tips and such. Loads of pictures and videos popping up all over Facebook. 
Cars caught in the lahar. (mud flow from the volcano)
EDIT: Death count is now at 25. Many caught in lahars and pyroclastic flow. 😪 ("A dense, destructive mass of very hot ash, lava fragments, and gases ejected explosively from a volcano and typically flowing downslope at great speed.")

UPDATE: The above video is Fuego but not the eruption from June 3rd. Sorry! I'm leaving the video up though since it's very cool. 

Don't worry, dear readers. I'm miles from Antigua, and the three volcanoes at Lake Atitlan have been dormant for years. If one ever does erupt, it's most likely to be Atitlan Volcano and it's the furthest from me, way across the Lake. That would be exciting for me, so far away and out of danger, but horrible for those living near the volcano. I hope the vulcanologists can work on predicting eruptions more accurately. This one took people by surprise, I think.