Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Los Ultimos Dias - The Last Days

It came so quickly and didn't come fast enough. That's how it always is. In our last days in Guatemala we have called Hotel Jacaranda home. It's been perfect. Lovely. Fun.
Four blocks North and three blocks South of Plaza Central, Jacaranda is located out of the tourist center of downtown, but still easily within walking distance. Around the corner from the local market/tourist market/bus station/year-round-carnival, I LOVE the location.
The ho(s)tel has a pub-like restaurant out front where reception is located. Also a tourist agency (as most hotels have), World Cup constantly on the "tele" and super sweet staff. Walking through the pub, you pass a sitting area on the right.
Opening up to another lounge "tele" watching area in the left part of the above photo, the rest of the room opens to an eating area with brightly adorned table tops. This is where we eat breakfast, which is included in the $6.00 a night cost (although since we stayed for five days we got a special rate of $5 a day)
Throughout the entire place, bright murals color the walls, giving an artistic flare to the super clean, wide-open-spaces.
Supposedly breakfast changes every day. After five days here it actually seems to alternate between fruit/yogurt/toast morning to pancake/fruit bowl. Works for me. And talk about presentation! On a different food note: A lot of hotels don't let you bring food in from outside locations. Jacaranda is completely open to it. Por ejemplo: yesterday we went super cheap for dinner and picked up a combo dinner of fried chicken, french fries and salad, then bought a bottle of wine. When the head woman saw us eating, she brought us plates and napkins. I think they think we're cute, and funny. Gringas buying wine and eating cheap dinners! Glad we can keep everyone on their toes.
Although we are in the "dorms" we have never had other people in our room with us. Partly because it is the slow season, partly because they have other "dorm rooms" and they know people would rather have their own space. The beds are a little stiff, but hey, usually they are either too hard or too soft...it's Guatemala on a budget.
One of the highlights of Jacaranda is the outside garden area, where you can eat meals. Or swing lazily in hammocks. Or read. Or do Jane Fonda inspired exercise workouts, as Sarah and I do :)
This photo has NOTHING to do with Hotel Jacaranda, just thought I'd include the sunny, bright walls of Antigua. And my relaxed demeanor. The plant filled wagon carts appeared a couple of days ago on one of the main tourists streets. Hey, the sun is out! After three days of rain, I think we're getting some sun for el ultimo dia aqui (the last day here).

Monday, June 28, 2010

Using Lago Atitlan

People (which people, I'm not exactly sure) call Lago Atitlan one of the most beautiful wonders of the world. It is beautiful. It has sustained life here for thousands of years. Fishing, washing clothes, bathing, drinking, cooking with the water, swimming, and most recently tourism.
As with most developing countries there is not knowledge of, nor room for environmental concern. Every year, the lake gets a little dirtier. More garbage gets washed into it. More algae blooms and cynobacteria appears. There is even a legend that an entire village is at the bottom of the lake. Who knew!
As tourism grows, locals' dependency relies on foreigners buying goods, spending money at restaurants, hotels, bars, tiendas, and recreation on the lake. The woman above in San Pedro is listlessly waiting for boats to arrive with new visitors, in which time she will try to sell her scarves and table runners. It was SLOW when we were there. Both because of Agatha, the eruption, the economy...and all the fear that surrounds them. An owner of a restaurant offered a happy hour in the middle of the day. It was noon and we were waiting for friends to arrive on a boat. "Two for one mojitos. A free drink with your lunch." Bored. Desperate. Waiting.
With Agatha came entire communities losing their source of water to their homes. Some never had it to begin with and depend on the lake for washing clothes. Biodegradable soap doesn't exist here. Well, it does, but it is about 20 times more expensive and in a gringo owned shop that is financially unattainable to locals. Environmentalism is a privilege. Survival is not.

As tourists, we decided to put some money in the kayak business. They appreciated it. We did too. Nick, Monique, Sarah and I set out on the lake to get a new perspective.
An unbelievably beautiful entity! Which, I might add, I am a little fearful of swimming in because of the pollution. I've been in twice in three weeks, and I LOVE the water and LOVE swimming.
The contrast of the vast stillness of the water with the power of the dormant volcanoes is breathtaking. Peace is abundant.
The communities of Lago Atitlan have done an amazing job cleaning the lake post Agatha. But people still throw things in the lake, rain comes and washes it off the hillsides, and no garbage gets buried, so even with a little wind, the garbage lands in the lake.
Not all of it is garbage. The little white pieces that look like Styrofoam are floating volcanic rocks. And little chunks of wood also bob along with the trash. The currents sweet them into long lines in the water.
Kayaking was beautiful, despite the garbage. The hugeness of the lake came alive when paddling along on the surface. We made it to a shore opposite San Pedro and eventually were driven off by three pre-teen boys that wouldn't stop pestering us. They told us to give them our money. Two of them tried (in a horse-play kind of way) to tip us over, in which time I pushed them off with the sharp edge of my paddle. Horse play turns quickly into danger in these parts. They eventually started throwing rocks at us. We quickly took to the safety of the open waters and recovered by singing Disney songs...then making our own Guatemala appropriate words to the same Disney tunes. It was a glorious day on the lake!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Loving Antigua

I'm beginning to love Antigua. There are unattractive parts about it...the weird expat population who sticks to themselves, has lots of money, and doesn't necessarily speak Spanish. And the overwhelming number of tourists walking the downtown streets...but with a little searching, I came to realize that Antigua has the best of both worlds: Clean, beautiful architecture and gorgeous cafes mixed with simple street food and local comedors (eateries where it is uncommon to see tourists). Modern art galleries next to artisan shops next to a tamale street card. I just had to start walking and keep my eyes open. Here are a mix of images of why I dig Antigua, Guatemala:
The ancient walls around one of the various Catholic churches that are still in use, but also have a museum and ruins on site.
Bright walls around the colonial town.
"Modern" art in a cafe in the Spanish School district. Loved the cafe, but don't dig the area...a little too pretentious for me.
My restaurant...a local comedor in the market! We only saw one other foreign couple in the local market.
A wealthy, local Guatemalan tried to get me to buy a piece by this artist...only $400. It seems that everyone thinks people that travel have an endless supply of money. He told me that since I had money to travel, I had the money to buy a piece of art like this. I explained to him that I was able to travel because I did NOT spend my money on $400 pieces of art. He didn't quite get it.
An indigenous girl checking out her loot for the day with a friend on a church fountain.

I don't know the name of this church. It wasn't on the map...there were two churches on one corner. The old, large dilapidated one was on the map, but this slightly smaller, ornate one wasn't. Maybe the "HIStory" of it was less significant.
Sarah and I were going stir crazy, so we bought some nail polish in the market and had a pedicure session.
Some old church ruins right outside of our hostel. It costs $5 to get in, so I've just appreciated it from afar. There are a number of ruins like this throughout the city.
Blogging at a little cafe attached to a spa/salon that specialized in men's services (local, wealthy men that is). There was a candle lit, incense going, and chill music playing. A perfect place to send my peeps little Internet notes!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Monterrico, Guatemala

The trip was short. Inferno heat. Dripping sweat. Dangerous waves. Hungry mosquitoes. Expensive drinks. And, it was the ocean. There's something special about the ocean, no matter where you go. The strength, the power, the calm. It produces a breed of people that have a different attitude on life. More laid back...as if the the belief in the ocean allows a deep knowing that everything will work out - it always does. Perhaps that's just how it makes me feel. Monterrico, Guatemala:
There is one main road in Monterrico. This photos is not it. The Calle Principal is paved and has little tiendas, hotels and restaurants lining it. Curving to the right, passing a gym full of weights and sweaty men, the road ends at the boat docks on the river/mangroves. It is a ghost town this time of year. Generally, the place fills up on the weekend, as locals and tourists alike come to take a break from Antigua or the Capital.
We stayed at Johnny's Place, a Canadian owned, but locally run hostel right on the beach. The location on the beach was the saving grace, cause it is HOT. Usually, it pours every night and cools things off, but while we were there, it hadn't rained for two days and the humidity was as high as it could go. The wind picks up around 9am or so, which is the only way to tolerate the daytime heat.
Johnny's Place has a number of other fabulous attributes too: lots of lounging areas, little pools outside each bungalow, hammocks, music, friendly staff, and enough areas for passing time that you could move every hour of the day and find somewhere new. Oh, they also have Saturday night parties. I can't imagine the sweat while dancing. Dance, jump in the ocean. Dance, jump in the ocean. That's how I would deal.
The bar/restaurant. Everyone is watching the World Cup.
Lounge area across from the restaurant. Further down is a bar and stool area and a dance floor that runs into another bar that serves only on Saturday during the fiesta.
Another lounge area right on the sand. I actually preferred this area. Any time you have a lounge area with cloth and pillows in a humid climate (like the one above), you inevitably get mold and bugs. Note the hammocks to the left. This is where Sarah and I spent a lot of time. A LOT!
Every night the wind died down, the mozzies came to feast, and cause it was too hot to do anything else, we drank and safely frolicked in the ocean.
H-O-Double T!
Everyone flocks to the beach for sunset.
Including these dogs, one of which wanted to play with us and kept biting our skirts and holding on...then biting Sarah's arm...all playfully, but she (the dog, not Sarah) took it too far and it became a little alarming.
Sunset, Monterrico.
Sunrise, Monterrico.

There weren't many people on the beach at 5:30am, which I suppose makes it something special. Ultimately though, we both had sleepless nights of stagnant air, mosquitoes giving us too much lovin', sweat drenched bed sheets, and 4:45am beach time. We couldn't handle it another night...so we headed back north to Antigua.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Birthday Fiestas

Friends. Friends from afar with birthdays. What better reason to get together and celebrate? Monique Laracy turned 24 this weekend. I'm going to say this weekend because she is from Australia and on Sunday here was her birthday at home (it was Monday there). Then Monday was actually her birthday here. And since it's a weekend kind of celebration, why not make Saturday a day of parties too?

Sarah and I headed toward San Pedro from Antigua and Monique, Robbie and Nick from Xela. A reunion of sorts.
To start the preparations, we needed to purchase a pinata. What a selection!
 The market in Antigua has stall after stall of pinatas and birthday paraphernalia. Since we needed to transport this bad boy from Antigua to San Marcos, then on the boat to San Pedro, then hide it from Monique until Sunday eve. After shopping isle after isle of pinatas and passing the bears or dogs or cats with ballerina outfits on, eggs with little chicks popping out, and other weird creatures of the Guatemala pinata stands, we both fell in love with Senor Duck-he was cute, little, and cheery, just like Monique
Arriving in San Marcos as dark fell upon us, we had Senor Duck to keep us company as we made our way in the jungly paths. After a creepy, crawly night, where I purposely left out the fact that I saw three large spiders hanging out in our bungalow to Sarah, we headed to San Pedro to meet up with our friends and start the celebrating. One sad note: I left my quick dry towel in San Marcos. I'm now using a shirt as a towel. It does the job. Here are some shots from the weekend:

Stalls, stalls and more stalls with nothing but pinatas and candy.
If we felt confident it wasn't going to rain and that we would have room on the bus and boat, we totally would have lugged this one to the party.
Alas, Senor Duck was found! Sarah and THE MAN!
He was stuffed with World Cup chocolate "futbols" and fruit candies...all gluten free, of course! Clair, I'm practicing for the wedding.
We took Senor Duck out for coffee...
... for a sleep over (he protected us from the large spiders I saw lurking in the corners of the bungalow)...
... and then he waited while we greeted, partook in fiestas and enjoyed Lago Atitlan. This was our most visited restaurant...3 tacos for 10 Quetzales ($1.25).
Me and the birthday girl at Shanti Shanti. We managed to get sun kissed (aka badly burnt on my legs) while kayaking, eat some curry-soup concoction, and well, we might have had a drink or two.
But, then the fateful time came for Senor Duck...
Monique was blindfolded, given a stick, twirled around three times, and then she went at it!
With yellow tissue-paper feathers flying, Senor Duck split open to reveal innards of sugary delights.
Legs turned to hats. Guts turned to sweets. The night was magical for Miss Monique!