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1st day of school

January 18, 2012

It was the first day back to school for most of the kids in Guatemala and seeing them all around got me thinking… where are their uniforms made and how much do they cost each family? I’m hoping they are made here in Guatemala but I have this strange feeling they are made in China or somewhere far away. I’m going to research this because it only makes sense to have their uniforms produced in their own country- especially since they have the sewing expertise available already.

I was thinking that although there aren’t fabric mills in all the towns if the fabric was distributed around the country then each village could produce uniforms for their own children- think “support the local businesses”. The sweaters might be a little trickier but the pants, skirts, and tops could easily be made in a small workshop. With the excellent leather work here the children should also wear shoes and belts made in right in their town (or at least a neighboring town).

Hmmm… I have to find out the details of how it works at this point in time!

DZ

The children of El Hato (visit to Earth Lodge)

January 2, 2012

Last week Emily, Brian, and I enjoyed a night in the trees overlooking Jocotenango at Earth Lodge. It was a time of just relaxing in the hammocks, enjoying the sauna, a little backgammon, conversing with interesting people and eating great fresh food. We also had a couple fun encounters with the local kids…

On our morning hike these three siblings spotted us and ran to bring us gifts of flowers for our hair. They really liked Rylee and Soc was actually nice to them as well. We talked a bit and they asked for a photo with the girls:

While we waited for the truck to pick us up Brian went searching for a Gatorade with Socrates while Emily and I hung out with some kids. Emily did hat tricks and amazed the kids with her magic. The kids got a pail of water for Rylee since she was obviously thirsty and I didn’t have any water for her. One boy practiced his english a bit, he told me he studies hard. On Brian’s trip to the tienda Soc got afraid of some kids but just in time the truck came up the road. The kids hopped on the back of the truck (they enjoy riding on the tailgate) so Brian decided to humor the kids by joining them on the tailgate. When it was time for all of us to leave one kid washed off Rylee’s toy in the bucket of water they brought her. As most of you know her toys can get pretty disgusting, it was covered in dirt, but the boy was very sweet and helped her out.

We were on our way home when we came up along another kid who wanted to hop on for  a little ride until Rylee popped her head up and scared him. He froze and Brian captured it perfectly! Little did he know Soc is who he should have been afraid of from the start- lol!

Earth Lodge, along with partner NGO Los Manos de Christine, raise funds for the El Hato School and is currently working to sponsor students so they are able to attend private middle school (the El Hato School only goes up to 6th grade). To learn more or help out check out their blog http://elhatoschool.blogspot.com/ or contact Briana at elhatoschool@yahoo.com.

Happy New Year!

January 1, 2012

Antigua is the place to be in Guatemala for New Years Eve! Each celebration we keep saying we’ve never seen so many people in town, but last night has definitely been the most people we’ve seen in town. The was no parking available anywhere, the streets were full of people, the bars and restuarants charge cover… There is a large celebration called the Festival Calle de la del Arco, sponsored by Gallo, at the Arch (and around the Central Park area). They have entertainment starting at noon that goes through about ten o’clock when the fireworks and lights display begin. After having a couple drinks at Cafe No Se we decided to head downtown for the fireworks display and then went home to watch the midnight fireworks display from our rooftop. I have never seen anything like the fireworks at midnight on Christmas Eve and now the even grander display on New Years Eve. People all over the area shoot off fireworks from the street and rooftops. There were fireworks from right above our heads (and debris falling in our courtyard) from neighbors two doors down to fireworks in the distance along the hillside of Volcan de Agua- it is truely amazing… better than any organized fireworks show I’ve ever seen (even the Atlas fireworks show in Jaffrey- sorry Atlas). We don’t have any Amazing photos to go with the night, but here are a couple photos none-the-less. Wishing you all the blessings of the New Year…the warmth of home, the love of family and the company of good friends.  Happy New Year to all! DZ

Tamales… another great day with Claudia

December 31, 2011

We’re so far behind on posts, but I’m going to skip ahead to this week and catch up with older ones later…

We missed having tamales at Christmas dinner because I didn’t plan ahead enough so we decided to have them for Emily’s last night in Guatemala. This was my first time eating tamales and I was sooo happy we decided to have them.

Claudia was delighted to cook them for us and her daughter Amanda came to help out as well. I learned that Claudia and her family make tamales every Saturday and they sell them out of their home. Emily and Brian were out exploring but I got to see the process and I hope we learn all the secrets before long. This time I just helped by tying them together (usually Byron, Marisol’s fiance’s job).

Since I had never had tamales I didn’t know to expect, but Emily and Brian said they were the best they’ve had. They were very moist (from what I read much different than traditional Mexican tamales) and the meat was super tender. We’re going to heat the left overs now and have an early dinner… will write again soon DZ

Trespassing at Chateau DeFay

September 19, 2011
After enjoying morning coffee in the park with the dogs (Socrates made it all the way home off leash without any barking or problems) and a great breakfast at Doña Luisa Xicotencatl Brian and I decided to head to Guatemala’s only winery (or at least to our knowledge), Chateau DeFay. http://www.fincadefay.com/

We researched online a bit to find out how to get there and decided we would have to take a taxi. When we got to the taxi stand we found out the ride would cost Q350, which we thought was a lot; but after trying to negotiate a bit with no luck we decided to go anyway. The road from Antigua to Santa Maria de Jesus is a nice concrete road with terrific views. But soon we realized why the taxi driver was not negotiating on the price- we hit a dirt road that was really not suitable for a 2-wheel drive station wagon. The driver did a good job, but we had to go 2 kms on the extremely bad road- where you only see horses, 4-wheel drive trucks and an occasional motorbike.

Here is a map of where we went in relation to Antigua. Guatemala City would be at the top right hand side if the map was larger. If you use the link below you can get a closer look at the terrain and the road.

Antigua through Santa Maria de Jesus to Chateau DeFay

View Larger Map

Finally we pulled up to the locked gate of Chateau DeFay.  We considered turning around for a moment… looked up their phone number on the Blackberry (disconnected)… decided just to skirt the gate and head in.  We walked down the drive surrounded by coffee plants for about a quarter-mile.  Quietly passed by two guys pruning trees with machetes…. passed by an out-of-place miniature golf course and turned the corner to find the castle esque chateau that was eerily empty and tranquillo.  After not finding any signs of life in the villa we turned around and D busted out some spanish on the gardeners… enough to secure a bottle of “Don Jacques” a 2008 vintage Cab/Merlot/Shyraz blend.  Maybe we will save it for a special occasion i.e. when one of you finally get your ass down here to visit.

After the rough drive to the winery we are welcomed by a locked gate

Coffee lined road to the winery

Trespassing past the gate

Chateau DeFay

Brian and Don Jacques

Another noteworthy discovery includes Monte Maria Country Club, a golf course in what might be the least likely location in the world, which is rumored to have been built with drug money, abandoned several years ago and purchased from the bank by an Korean businessman.  All homes adjacent to the course are abandoned, it is nearly inaccessible in rainy season, the fairways are toast in dry season and all signage is in Korean.  However, green fees are only $12 for 9 and $5 extra for a caddy.

-B&D

La Torcha y Marching Bands- It’s Independence Day!

September 16, 2011
September 15, It’s Independence Day in Guatemala…

The weeks leading up to Independence Day (but mostly the day before) many people run the torch (which I hear represents liberty) around Guatemala. On my way home from work yesterday this caused a lot of sitting and waiting in the car. Anybody and everybody runs- school groups, friends, young and old- buses full of people follow (and take turns running). I’ve never seen so many buses at one time, and they are just packed with people- inside, hanging on the outsides, sitting and standing on the tops. Although this behavior of packed buses is somewhat normal in Guatemala, it was definitely crazier and busier than the average daily commute. Apparently any route can be taken and any distance is run- although my driver this night, Alex, told me when he did it they ran 15 kilometers (for September 15th). Those that don’t run line the streets and throw water at the people, buses, trucks, and torches- supposedly in an attempt to extinguish the torch (although that doesn’t make much sense to me and I think they just think it’s fun). Whatever the reason- they throw water around like crazy. The fill up little plastic bags with water to make “water balloons” and they fill up whatever buckets or pitchers they can find and use them to throw water out into the street at the runners. The torches appear to be hand made- many out of some kind of stick and a coffee can.

Unfortunately I don’t have any decent pictures of this as I was in a car with tinted windows and was not going to roll down the window in the middle of the crowd to take a picture. But after lots of searching online to try to find a picture or video of what I’m talking about I found this link from the prensa libre (the local newspaper). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_fjaX3HAkU

This isn’t exactly what it was like in the small town of Barcenas- it was a MUCH bigger deal there, but you get the idea. I don’t know spanish well enough to know what the bombero is saying, but I have a feeling he was giving a message to be careful- on my ride home there were two ambulances that passed us and I could hear more once I was home. Running with fire all over town can be very dangerous!

Here are the two best (but still terrible) photos I was able to capture:

Can you spy the guys on top of the bus?

Some people run, some people ride... one terrible picture, but you can kind of see a torch in this photo

Today, September 15th I worked from home- the factory is closed (as is much of Guatemala). But after work I ventured to the center of Antigua to find a city full of Guatemalans- a nice surprise after the typical weekend after weekend of touristas. I took a stroll around and grabbed a bite to eat and then I got a to see the marching bands (I could hear them most of the day and really most of the month- probably practicing for this big day). There were so many! All the bands in town must play- they parade into town down 4a Avenida and pack together in front of the church. I was a little late to get a good view, but I tried to take photos just to show you how packed it is- this is quite the event in Guatemala!

Marching Bands (corner of 4a avenida and 5a calle)

Marching bands (Right Center towards corner of 4a avenida and 5a calle)

In addition to the bands there are food vendors, street vendors selling the usual things- bracelets, candy, scarves, ice cream, shoe shines and MORE- balloons, cotton candy, face painting, hair braiding- so many things going on in the street at once!

Lots of food vendors

Fruit and Cotton Candy- I think this is funny, at least they have healthy options 🙂

Bringing in the horses- normally they come riding down our street from the farms but this horse and carriage must have come from further away

I enjoyed the short time listening to the bands- standing on the curb on my tippy toes trying to see, but back home I went. I didn’t want to get caught in the rain because two nights ago I accidentally left our nice Hitchiner umbrella at the pet store 😦

I got home in time to work on my spanish homework, Stuardo (my spanish teacher) came to give me my lesson and now I wait for Brian to get home- can’t wait to see him. I wish he could have been here to see the festivities!

DZ

Here is another good site for pictures of the festivities in Antigua if you care to see more: http://antiguadailyphoto.com/2011/09/14/antorchas-de-independencia/

Lake Atitlan, Santa Cruz

September 11, 2011

Monterrico was nice, but Lake Atitlan is GREAT! I wish the factory was closer, because I’d love to live here!

We’re still trying to figure out the best way to get money converted and into our bank account here in Guatemala (in addition to how to receive regular mail and a few other things we take for granted in the States) so I was a little stressed when we arrived in Panajachel-not certain how we’d pay for things if cards were not accepted and as is usually the case in Guatemala people instantly tried to sell us things. We quickly found the water taxi to Santa Cruz and found our little paradise just a 10-15 minute boat ride away.

On the boat from Panajachel to Santa Cruz

First set foot on Santa Cruz

La Iguana Perdida (http://www.laiguanaperdida.com/index.php) was recommended by the bar tender at the Ocelot in Antigua and it definitely lived up to it’s recommendation.  We initially got shown to a nice, large room towards the back but before we could even put our bags down they said they made a mistake and moved us to the best room in the place- Atitlan is it’s name and it was similar to the first room but this one had a balcony overlooking the lake that makes it all that much better. We headed down to eat lunch right away and rested a bit from the ride (about 2 1/2 hours from Antigua). Lunch was great, and dinners were even better- La Iguana’s food is second to none in Guatemala. On Sunday night we had spaghetti with homemade noodles!

View from the dining room

The hotel is along the water but the city (or village) of Santa Cruz is actually up the hill so we decided to walk up and check it out. It isn’t too far, but the hill is extremely steep. I brought a coat thinking it was chilly and might rain but soon I was shedding layers because it was a lot of work climbing the road. The people in the town must be in very good shape- carrying heavy loads up and down. We meandered around town and went as far as the road would go until it turned to dirt. Even though we were just walking the streets I felt like an intruder since we could see into so many people’s houses. But everyone was extremely kind and we didn’t seem to bother them.

Brian on the way up the road to the town of Santa Cruz

"Parque Central" Santa Cruz

View from the end of the road- Santa Cruz

Brian

Trails in the distance

Lazy dogs- one of my favorite photos

cuidad de Santa Cruz

cuidad de Santa Cruz- another angle

Puppy along the road

Dinner wasn’t until 7:30 so we thought we’d check out la Jacaranda (we saw it from the boat on the way in). We enjoyed a few drinks, met some great people (including Mark the owner of la Jacaranda) and before we knew it the water was getting choppy and it looked like rain. We needed to get back for dinner before it got too dark! The Jacaranda has a dock pathway around it and we managed to get around without getting too wet, but it was definitely challenging.

Denise walking to la Jacaranda

the rain is on the way

As I mentioned earlier, the food at La Iguana is terrific! On Saturday nights they have a bbq, the menu changes the rest of the week but dinner always has a meat option and a veggie option. After dinner they had some entertainment (dancing with fire), a bonfire, and dress-up! If you look very closely at the dancing with fire picture you may be able to see Brian in his dress (through the hoop).

campfire and dress-up on Saturday nights at la Iguana

dancing with fire

Somehow we were pretty tired so we went to bed pretty early. But we also woke up early- to the sound of roosters and the bright sunrise. We went for a morning stroll to check out Laguna Lodge (a $225+ per night hotel) (http://www.lagunalodgeatitlan.com/#/home). We stopped for overpriced coffee soaking in the view but hurried back for breakfast at La Iguana in hopes we could scuba dive. We made it back in time for scuba diving, took the lessons, passed the tests, went on a 45 minute dive, but unfortunately Brian got sick after about 35 minutes. Whatever caused him to get sick in the car as a kid has caused him to be unable to scuba dive. Oh, well… at least it was fun for awhile. Scuba diving wore me out as well so we took a long nap and before you know it we were back at la Jacaranda for tapas.

Beautiful tree on the hillside

Brian in my favorite section of the walk along the lake

La Laguna Resort- absolutely beautiful, but still overpriced in my opinion

D after coffee at La Laguna

on the way back to La Iguana

B getting ready to dive

Sunday night was another great night of talking to amazing people and our first experience drinking “illegal mezcal” from the owners of Cafe No Se in Antigua (http://www.ilegalmezcal.com/cafenose.php). A lot of us decided to schedule a yoga session for Monday morning- which was great! The noise of the locals coming in and out of the docks was a little distracting, but you have to remember they have every right (or more) to be there and carrying on with their lives. We ended our trip to the lake with breakfast with our new friends at Isla Verde (http://islaverdeatitlan.com/hotel/accommodation/) another hotel along the lake. Breakfast was great and I can’t decide if we should try Isla Verde next time or if we should stick to the terrific La Iguana Perdida, but before we knew it we were running late to pack, check-out, and catch our water taxi. We rushed back and managed to do all the above and make it to Pana with 10 minutes to spare to catch our shuttle back to Antigua.

Sunday night- no clouds, but now it's dark

Mette, Vilja, and the Aussie's (Mette and Vilja (the baby) are planning to spend a few days at our house in Antigua before they go back to Denmark)

view from the boat ride back to Pana

la Jacaranda

I can’t wait till we can go back to the lake. We are definitely planning to take my parents there in November, but who knows, maybe we’ll take another trip before then- we still have a lot to explore in the area- we didn’t even manage to hike the volcanoes! If only it was a little closer (or we had our own car).

-D

I almost forgot… the sauna!! There is a very interesting homemade wood fired sauna that was great on Sunday night after the cold scuba diving and some rain. It’s a little dark, but the sauna by candlelight was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend.

checking out the view