Last Post from Guatemala

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Lake Atitlan from Nick’s Cafe

I’m currently in Guatemala City, but I leave tomorrow for Costa Rica, where I will fly out on Wednesday for the United States.

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Nick’s has primo lakeside views!

Just before I left Panajachel, I rode the ferry across Lake Atitlan to San Pedro, another little village beside the lake. I got some great street pictures, enjoyed myself sitting in a restaurant overlooking the lake and talking to a couple of young men from Mexico. I amazed myself in that I could actually have a conversation with them – almost entirely in Spanish. Yay!

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Love this one with mt beloved tuk tuks AND a chicken bus!

The boat ride back to Pana was one hell of an experience. The lake was choppy due to mild winds and apparently, you go the same speed regardless of conditions. We were thawping along (thawping is that terrible sound the boat makes as it slams down on the water from the air) and I was holding on for dear life and targeting the life jacket I would grab when we flipped over.

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Not sure of the name of this pretty little church.

 

Mind you I am not a scaredy-cat in a boat, but I have taken boat safety classes and this was ridiculous. Finally, the pilot hit one big ass wave and I screamed “Slow down.” He didn’t and all the other passengers scooted away from me. In that moment, I counted the possible casualties in the event our boat did flip – 16. There was nothing more I could do, so I pulled the life vest from its overhead position, and settled in for the remainder of the ride. We made it.

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When a clothesline is scenery!

Two days later, I headed to Guatemala City by shuttle. Nothing to report other than my newfound respect for dead sardines. Are we sure they are dead when they’re packed? Just saying.

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Lounge area at Euro Hostel in GC

Last night I arrived at the cool little hotel in the pictures. Nice room, great patio and lounge areas and all for less than $20 a night. I spent most of the day trying to recapture sleep from the night before when I managed all of an hour. I get a bit hyper when I’m traveling the next day.

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This hotel is full of cute little decor.

So – I just wanted to check in before I’m back in the States for Christmas. Hope this finds you all well and ready for the holidays.

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A typical San Pedro street.

Chichicastenango from Above

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I walked through this to get to the cafe.

This first picture will tell you why all the pictures are all from above this busy and famous marketplace. Chichicastenango is the name of the town, but it is synonymous with the weekly market – which takes place every Sunday. There is an amazing array of textiles offered and in another area the usual offerings of a farmer’s market.

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Traffic wasn’t so bad on the side streets.

I wasn’t feeling very well that day, but it’s also true that I get anxious in crowds and this trip finally decided me that I really don’t enjoy marketplaces – I’m not a shopper either. crowds. So, I’ll probably avoid them in the future.

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I loved this apartment.

HOWEVER many people just love this kind of thing and Chichicastenango would make them very happy, especially since prices are highly negotiable. All it takes is a wry look to get a 30-50% reduction.

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Look at that face! Trying not to be sick.

So, I settled myself into a café above the fray and watched. Got a couple of cool picture, though.

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New Ideas Come Along!

bike-camperFor a couple of weeks now, as I have recuperated from a really bad chest cold, I’ve been stagnating mentally and physically. Over time I’ve come to realize when this happens to me it’s because I’m in a cocoon of sorts and will eventually emerge with some new and exciting direction.

That’s exactly what has happened. Things tend to float around in my brain for a while and then suddenly attach to each other in the most extraordinary ways: things that bother me (not being able to afford living and traveling around the US even for a visit), wanting to get in shape (but hating all the regular ways people do that) and in this case, meeting a couple of people in Nicaragua and Guatemala who have taken extended road trips via their bicycles.

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Caterine from Quebec, Canada, biking from Canada to Granada, Nicaragua, southward through the States, Mexico and Guatemala. I don’t know her exact age but she’s definitely under 30 and she did this solo. Then in Guatemala City I met Kirk, a gentleman of about my age, who has also biked through Mexico, after beginning in Florida, and then down to where I met him. He’s a biking enthusiast, and a solo traveler.

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Before this, and I believe while in the States, I saw a spot on TV about a guy who had made himself a bicycle camper out of discarded campaign signs. Putting these three things together with the problems of expenses in the US and fitness – Viola! I woke up this morning with a new wing of my adventures that I intend to try out in 2017!

I’m going to build my own “trailer”, as much for cost reduction as a desire to customize it for my own needs, and the bike will be a major expense, so I’m going to take off for one more trip overseas first – I think to Mexico. Then I’ll return, put all the pieces together, and ride my bike from Phoenix to Sacramento, California (to visit my mom) for my inaugural trip!

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To some this will seem like a distraction, but it’s not. It solves two recurring problems in my life – being able to be in the US without going broke, and getting into seriously good shape. Now, with that plan intact, I can move on to my travels and truly enjoy.

bike-boatI’ll keep you posted on the progress of this plan and in the meantime, I’ve included a few pictures to inspire you, plus here’s a link to a cute little video

 

The Mystical Pueblo of San Marcos La Laguna

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The dock at Pana and the “ferries.”

When you ask Guatemalan locals to describe the little lakeside village of San Marcos, they all stumble over their words – hippies, yoga, weirdos, etc. The tiny town – with a population of about 2,200 – strives for a feel that can only be called mystical. It is decorated with colorful murals along its short promenade up from the ferry dock, many with spiritual themes and you do pass wellness centers, health food stores, massage centers and vegetarian restaurants. She certainly exudes tranquility.

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A shot of the crowded “ferry”.

Lake Atitlan has several small villages and towns, and San Marcos is one of the “must see” destinations everyone points tourists to. I’m glad I took the ferry, $3.35 each way, across the magnificent Lake Atitlan, with its three volcanos looming over the crater lake, still puffing at times.

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Just one of the many beautiful homes that line the lake.

I enjoy being on the water and would just go down and ride around happily, but stopping for lunch and a quick tour of San Marcos added to the boat ride. We passengers were tightly packed on the way over but could stretch out a bit on the return trip, and about ½ were indigenous women dressed in their beautiful native clothing. The woven skirts sport every color imaginable and the blouses are decorated with intricate embroidery.

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The lakeside restaurant where I had my choice of seats!

We made several stops to load and unload passengers at other small villages and private docks before we stopped at San Marcos, so when we finally arrived it was to an inviting dockside restaurant, so, of course, I had lunch looking out over the water.

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One of so many lovely murals in the village.

Next, it was time for a stroll through the passage to town, with a few vendors along the way, so I browsed among the jewelry but got away without dropping any more money on souvenirs – quite a feat.

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There were several mandala type designs along the walkway.

At the top of the gently sloping hill, you get to the actual town, which isn’t much to look at, so I hailed a tuk tuk and toured the local offerings – it took 5 minutes to get to the very top of the town and look down at the lake.

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My tuk tuk driver – Jose.

There honestly isn’t much to the village of San Marcos, but it is a pleasant couple of hours to trip over, eat and wander through town for a bit. Highly recommended for travelers with time to spend this way.

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I love this picture! One of the volcanoes huffing in the background.

 

 

 

Pana Invites You to Her Lake

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The view of Panajachel from the mountain road above.

The great meeting place at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, is Panajachel, or as the locals call it “Pana.” She is the “big city” at an estimated 15,000 people. With her tourist trade, that base population can easily swell. I happen to be traveling here in the low season, so I don’t see too many tourists and only a few expats so far.

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Three volcanoes lay across the lake from Panajachel.

She looks so lovely from the mountain road leading down to her city edges, appearing nestled just at the lake’s lip. And much of her is quite pretty, with colorful streets and painted buildings and the lake with her three neighboring volcanos just off in the distance is so many spots at around town. The neighborhood streets off the tourist paths are not pretty, but neither are they ugly. They are simply functional.

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A pretty little strip along the main street

Pana is very much a tourist town, but as per usual for me, I’m staying out of the way a bit in a small apartment with a kitchen, bath, cable TV and great Wi-Fi, living mostly with locals, which makes me very happy at $200 a month. I’m staying through until Dec. 1, so I’ve been taking my time exploring the rest of Lake Atitlan.

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Amazing how this looks about the same as a street project in the US.

The tortilla lady and I greet each other with smiles. Maria, our resident housekeeper, is comfortable with me (the gringa who speaks little Spanish) now, often helping me to understand what she’s saying. I catch a tuk tuk for about $.40 to get to the Supermercado (supermarket) and anywhere else in town (which is always only 5 quetzals – the 40 cents – within the town limits.) I’ve been to the local Sunday marketplace twice now and although it’s too crowded for me, I’ll be back for the incredible prices. The first week I was pretty tentative but bought a bunch of produce for about $1 – tomatoes, onions, limes, avocados, green onions, two slices of watermelon and a small pineapple. This Sunday I went hog-wild and took two cloth bags, filling them up for 25 quetzals – $3.35!

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A much less ornate municipal cemetery than that in Granada, Nicaragua.

The neighborhood streets off the tourist paths are not pretty, but neither are they ugly. They are simply functional. People don’t seem as desperately poor as I’ve seen in other countries, partly it seems because of agricultural resources – they have something to sell. They DO NOT like to have their pictures taken, so I must be bit sneaky by catch someone in a shot not aimed at them or skip it when I ask and they say no.

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From one of the ferry launch areas in town.

I have enjoyed walking down the city’s colorful main street – Calle Santander – finding an expat bookstore, the Porch (an expat hangout) and talking with a 5-year girl with a grin and personality to knock you over. Unfortunately, she wasn’t up for a photo.

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I caught this lady – who I bought a souvenir from – in this photo by accident.

Tomorrow I head off to visit one of the five villages around the Lake so you can expect a much shorter wait for the next post from Guatemala.

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This is where I hand-wash my clothes.

A Pictorial of the Cathedral of Antigua

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The impressive entrance

The history of this historic place of worship explains why she is only a small church on the interior, adjoining a massive ruin. The lovely lady of Antigua – the Catholic cathedral  – was built in 1541, but suffered multiple earthquakes for centuries. The last and most destructive occurred in 1773 – a series of quakes called the Santa Marta – left behind this haunting rumble. The beauty and size of the place, even in its ruined state, feels a bit overwhelming.

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A smallish but beautiful interior of the functioning cathedral
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One of the ruined domes
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The thickness of the wall is visible

Antigua, Both Elegant and Rowdy

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Palacio de los Capitanes built 1596

 

Occasionally I find that some space between when I am in a new town or country and when I write about it lends me a different point of view.  That happened for me in Antigua.

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A typical downtown street

I instantly fell in love with the colorful, cobblestone street as I rode with others in on the shuttle from Guatemala City. First, it was so much more attractive than the graffiti covered walls where I stayed for a couple of days in GC, but also it seemed a happy place. GC had been an obvious busy work town, with people riding the good transportation system to and from work, then scurrying home afterwards.

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Huge crowds came to watch the Catholic procession on the square

In Antigua, I experienced a laidback attitude again, as I have in most of Central America. It was a comfortable place to stroll around the Central Park and the square of merchants that surrounds it. At times, the Park was sparsely populated and mostly with locals relaxing or taking a break. I thought of it as a quiet town.

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Just outside the Cathedral of Antigua

It is truly a beautiful little city, with tons of eating options. I enjoyed trying several local restaurants (Café Condessa, for one) and finding the most wonderful bakery (Repositeria). But on Halloween and the Dia de la Muertos, and the days that followed, it became a party town. There was a joy and celebratory attitude in everyone – including many Guatemalans who had come into the city for the festivities.

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From high above the city

So, it was both a city of quiet elegance and a place of rowdy celebration. It is not to be missed if you make your way into Guatemala!

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Tourists roaming the streets
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More locals in town for the celebrations of All Saints Day and Dia de Los Muertos
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A completely modern shop along the square
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Ruth, a local businesswoman in traditional dress selling her souvenirs