Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Celebrate 2008!

If we were spending the night out on the town............

Instead, we'll be ringing in the new year a little more casually, but just as fun!
A girl can dream, can't she?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Salsa de Guatemala

We brought back some Chiles de Coban from Guatemala so we could make the infamous Salsa Chemul for our friends here in Denver. Try this recipe if you are in the mood for some authentic Guatemalan heat!

Salsa Chemul
5 red tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
3 tbsp. freshly cut cilantro
1/4 c. green onions
Chiles de Coban (we use about a half dozen, but for more spice add a few more)
*(Onion, garlic, cilantro & chile amounts are our recommendations, but increase or decrease according to your liking)

Cook tomatoes over medium heat on a skillet, allowing skins to soften. Remove tomatoes from heat and take off the skins. Grind tomatoes in a bowl to a fine consistency (a blender or food processor would work for this). Add onions, cilantro, and minced garlic to taste. Toast chiles and grind (or finely chop). Mix everything together and chill for 1 hour. Serve up with some tortilla chips or spread over fresh corn tortillas with spinich & cheese for a delicious appetizer.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

From the Bottom of our Hearts

¡Feliz Navidad!

Con Amor,
Krista & Ben

From Trash to Treasures

The day before we departed Guatemala we spent some time in the capital, Guatemala City. With the help of our friends Horacio & Nicole (who lived and worked in there a few years back) we were able to hook up with their good friend Juan & the rest of the folks who work for Aguas de Unidad (the Latin branch of Healing Waters International), a group that Ben volunteers for here in Denver. HWI or ADU (whichever you prefer) is a state side NGO that teams up with churches to help provide affordable, safe drinking water to local communities. Since Ben is a environmental engineer who specializes in water treatment and has always had a desire to help people in need, he was really anxious to learn more about the projects. After all, that is a major reason we went to Guatemala! Not to mention, we've heard tons of great stories from Horacio & Nicole about ADU and their great staff. In 2006 we also visited our friend Aaron (who also works for HWI) in the Dominican Republic, where he showed us some of the sites there. It was actually pretty neat to be able to learn about the differences in the systems and communities they serve.

Locals can purchase a garrafon of water for under $1.

Serving up some delicious water!

After our tour, we headed back to the ADU offices to meet the rest of the friendly astaff. Later that afternoon Juan and his wife Ninette invited us to a delicious lunch at their home. We spent a few hours chatting with them and their kids, Alejandro & Daniela, and sharing stories from our Guatemalan adventures. After lunch they wanted to take us to meet a family that is special to them (and to Horacio & Nicole) that live right by the city basudera (garbage dump). This family of 7 (mom, dad & 5 daughters, ages 1-15) live in a small (almost) 2 room shanty made of wood & tin in a community that surrounds the dump. It could quite have been one of the poorest situations we have ever seen. The 7 of them sleep in 3 single beds that are in the same room as their "kitchen" (a small gas stove, small table top and no refrigerator), 1 arm chair and a television. The parents support their family by working in the dump, scavenging for scraps that can be sold for money. While the parents weren't home when we stopped by to visit, all of the daughters were along with their 2 cats, 2 dogs, and 3 brand new puppies (who all still had their eyes closed)!! The girls were thrilled to have us visit and loved hauling out the puppies and taking photos with my camera. They even recorded a few special messages for Horacio & Nicole.

Baby Nicole (named after our Nicole)

Following our visit, Juan & Ninette took us to view the basudera in it's entirety. At one point in time the garbage dump was on the outskirts of the city, but as the city grew, neighborhoods were build around it, so now the dump is in the center of the capital. Rumor has it that the government would like to move the dump, but how? To get a full view of the dump we had to enter the public cemetery and drive to the back. While it certainly isn't the prettiest part of Guatemala City, it really is something that everyone should see. For a few minutes we watched the trucks dump trash and people sort through it. Aside of the enormity of it, the most astounding part was the amount of vultures flying overhead.

mountains and mountains of trash

Garbage Dump Guatemala City from Krista Lengacher on Vimeo.

We ended our night with a much more beautiful view of the city. Juan drove us (through rush hour traffic) to a mirador (lookout) where we watched the sunset and the glow of the city lights at night while sipping hot chocolate.

Thank you Colmenares Family for a great day!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sweet Water & Bob Marley

We left the group after Tikal and took a 5 hour bus ride to Rio Dulce Town, where we boarded a boat for a hour and a half ride down the Rio Dulce (sweet river) toward Lívingston, Guatemala.

We were pretty much accosted by the local tour guides in Rio Dulce and escorted to the dock to board our lancha (boat) for the tour down the river. Along the way we viewed a castle a bird park and stopped at a natural hot spring.

Castillo de San Felipe

taking a soak in the hot water

When we arrived in Lívingston we were again accosted by the local Garífuna unofficial tour guides and shown to our cute hotel Gil Resort.

The Garífuna culture of Livingston is unlike any other part of Guatemala. The Garífuna people are a Reagge loving, Bob Marley worshipping, laid back group that trace their history back to the island of St. Vincent in the eastern Caribbean. In 1635 when 2 Spanish ships, carrying slaves from Nigeria to their colonies in America, wrecked off St. Vincent and the survivors took refuge on the island. A century later Britian attempted to take full control of St. Vincent, but was driven off by the Caribs, with French assistance. 20 years later, another attempt was more successful, and in 1783 the Briitish imposed a treaty on the Garífuna, allowing them more than half of the island. However, this treaty was never accepted and the Garífuna continued to defy British rule. The colonial authorities could not allow a free Black society to survive among slave-owning European settlers, so it was decided to deport the Garífuna population. They were hunted down, their homes destroyed and hundreds died of starvation and disease. The survivors, 4300 Black Caribs and 100 Yellow Caribs, were transported ot the nearby island of Balliceaux and within 6 months more than half of them had died, many of yellow fever. In 1797 the survivors were taken to Roatan, one of the Honduran Bay Islands, but in 1802 150 of them were brought as wood-cutting laborurers to southern Belieze, from where they moved along the Caribbean coast and settled in Lívingston in 1806.

Starfish straight from the shores off Livingston

The Garífuna speak Spanish and some English plus a unique Garífuna language that blends Arawak, French, Yuroba, Banti and Swahili words. They enjoy Garífuna music, or punta, a furiously rhythmic, characterized by mesmeric drum patterns and ritual chanting. Learn more about the Garífuna culture at www.garífuna.com

Siete Altares

In Lívingston we dined on Tapado (coconut-based fish soup) and took a side trip to Siete Altares (7 Alters) an imposing series of waterfalls and Playa Blanca a private beach. While walking the shores we discovered a bunch of natural pumice stones. Look out feet, you're in for a treat!

Playa Blanca

pumice stones

* Information about the Garífuna culture was taken from The Rough Guide to Guatemala

Friday, December 19, 2008

From Xela to Colfax!

Today is the day we've been waiting for.....we're finally moving back into our home!!! The move will most likely be temporary, but nevertheless, we're excited to be back in the comforts of our own home. Living with the families in Guatemala we had some great experiences, but there's no place like home!

Home Sweet Home - Colonnade Lofts

Oh Kitchen, how we long to cook whatever we want in your space!

Comfy couch, we can't wait to relax on your cushions and watch TV in English!!

Hot steamy shower, we've missed your warmth & cleanliness!

Queen size bed, we're dying to spread out and snuggle under your covers!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Jungle Tour

The final leg of our group trip to the distant Guatemalan sites, included a trip to the infamous Tikal ruins. Nearly 8 hours after departing from Semuc Champey we arrived in Flores, on Lago de Petén Itzá. Since there are only a few hotels to stay at in Tikal, most visitors lodge in Flores. But if you are planning a trip there sometime in the future we suggest you stay in Tikal and skip Flores altogether, as it doesn't really have anything to offer except a bus terminal (in Santa Elena).

Archeologists say that the first inhabitants of Tikal arrived around 900 BC, probably attracted to the area due to it's position above the seasonal swamps and because of the availability of flint for making weapons and tools. Throughout the next 400 years the village grew, but the development of the temples didn't begin until 500 BC. Through the latter years of the Middle Preclassic (1000-400BC) Tikal remained a minor settlement, while 50km north the first city of the Petén forest, Nakbé, began to emerge.

Our fearless guide in training, Carlos

During the Late Preclassic era (after 250 BC) construction of the first significant ceremonial structures began. By the time of Christ, Tikal was already established as an important site with a large permanent population. Over the next 2 centuries the art and architecture that became popular during the Classic period dominated Tikal. Between 100 and 200 AD Yax Ehb' Xok (First Step Shark) established the first ruling dynasty of the city.

The view from the path leading up to Temple V

During the closing years of the Late Preclassic period (400BC - 250AD) Ilopango Volcano in El Salvador erupted, smothering a huge part of the Guatemalan and Honduran highlands in a think volcanic ash, disrupting the trade routes and alliances.
El Mirador, the Mayan "superpower" to the north, was abandoned, allowing the smaller sites of Tikal and Uaxactún to emerge as substantial centers of science, trade and religion.

On January 30th 378 AD Tikal finally overtook Uaxactún under the reign of Chak Tok Ich'aak (Jaguar Paw I), as a result of Tikal's strong alliance with Teotihuacán in Central Mexico. For much of the next 500 years Tikal dominated central Petén and became a magnificant and elaborate Mayan city-states.
The view from Temple V

By the beginning of the 9th Century, signs of crisis emerged across the entire Mayan region, most likely caused by a period of climate changed including a catastrophic drought. The population plummeted as people fled Tikal. Still a mystery as to exactly what caused Tikal's downfall, by 900 AD almost the entire lowland Mayan civilization collasped. By the end of the 10th century, Tikal was abandoned. Afterwards from time to time, the site was used by other groups who worshipped there and repositioned many of the stelae, however it was never occupied again.

The Great Plaza right before sunset

In 1965, Father Avendaño, lost in a maze of swamps, stumbled upon a "variety of old buildings", however the colonial powers were unimpressed and the ruins were left in the jungle for the next 150 years. In 1848 they were rediscovered by a government expedition led by Modesto Méndez. Until 1951 Tikal could only be reached on horseback and the ruins remained uncleared. Excavation started in 1956 and incolved teams from the University of Pennsylvania and Guatemala's Institute of Anthropology. Much of the major excavation work was completed by 1984, but thousands of minor buildings remain buried in the roots, shoots, and rubble of the jungle.

We got caught in a few rainstorms! Good thing we bought our ponchos!

During our walk through the jungle of Tikal we excperienced a true rainforest climate with rainstorms on and off throughout the day. We also viewed ocellated turkeys, toucans, motmots, spider and howler monkes and several species of parrots. Other animals living in the jungle include jaguars, peccary, brockets deer, weasels, pumas, ocelots, and armadillos.

Sunset from atop Temple V

Find more information about Tikal at the site's official website www.tikalpark.com.

*Histortical information on Tikal taken from The Rough Guide to Guatemala

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hot drinks for cold days

Here in Denver these days it is absolutely freezing. I know, I know. We hear it all the time. Yes, we do live in Rockey Mountains but NO, Denver isn't usually bitter cold. What most people don't know is that Colorado has an average of 300 days of sun every year. That means that even when it snows, the sun usually shines soon after and melts away most of the snow. When you hear about all the snow dumping in Colorado, it is probably happening in the mountains.....like at the ski resorts. But seriously, here in Denver winter is generally pretty mild. Since I grew up in western Pennsylvania I have something to compare it to, and for sure, winters there are worse!! Anyway, back to my point. It's cold here for December.....unusually cold! So, ever since we got off the plane last Friday night we've been thinking a lot about ways to get warm.

(photo courtesy of Denver Dwellings on Flickr)

Of course, fireplaces, space heaters and snuggly blankets help, but there is nothing like a hot drink on a cold day. In Guatemala we discovered 2 hot drinks that we can now no longer live without. A day or so ago I blogged about Guatemalan Hot Chocolate, a definite must for a snowy day. We also became huge fans of Te Chirrepeco (tea). It's sold in these cute little red and yellow boxes with loose tea inside - enough to make a big pot of tea. Add a cinnamon stick and wah-lah! - instant warmth!

If you won't be able to make it to Guatemala and aren't lucky enough to come on over to our apartment to try some, you can find a decent substitute for the hot chocolate in your local supermarket. Look in your Mexican food aisle for "Abuelita" made by Nestle. As for a good substitute for Te Chirrepeco........good luck! It's one of a kind!

Directions for making Superior Hot Chocolate:
*(Makes about 10 cups of hot chocolate)
Fill a sauce pan with an inch or two of water and bring to a boil.
Add 1 bar of chocolate to boiling water and stir constantly until melted.
Stir in 8-10 cups of milk (or more if you like it a little less sweet).
Heat, but don't boil, and enjoy!

* It's also possible to make Chocolate Simple (just leave out the milk and add water) or Chocolate Pure (melt the chocolate down with only an inch or two of water).

* If you only want a cup or two of hot chocolate, just use a smaller piece of chocolate.

Directions for making Te Chirrepeco:
*(makes 10-12 cups of tea)
Boil 10-12 cups of water
Add loose tea leaves
Drop in a stick of cinnamon
Steep & Enjoy!

*If you only want a cup or two of tea, use less tea and only a small piece of cinnamon.

Dark, Creepy & Cold.....with Bats!

For those of you who know me well, you're gonna find this one hard to believe. It seems that Guatemala has brought back my sense of adventure.....or maybe it was peer pressure!

Not far from Semuc Champey is an extensive cave complex that can be toured. The catch is that you have to wade, swim, and climb your way through them with candlelight. Plus, don't forget about the bats.....ewe!!!!

Most of the group had been really looking forward to this cave adventure. I, on the other hand, had been trying to not think about it. But when the day came, I put on my swim suit and headlamp and somehow ended up at the entrance of the caves with the rest of them. After a brief moment of panic, I pulled up my granny panties, lit my candle, and didn't look back! Inside it actually was quite neat. With the squeaking of bats overhead and the cool water below, we ventured futher into the caves. For nearly 4 hours we climbed rocks and rope ladders, swam through canyons, listened to the rage of the river, and dropped down through waterfalls. Our guide, a local Mayan monkey, lead us through the maze of the caves, with little to no explanation of what to expect next.
Deep in the depths of Cuevas Las Marias

Ronan and Alex showing off the stalagtites

Emily, before the cold set in

Do we look adventurous or what?

Check out those bats!

The long swim out

We made it out alive....with 1 candle to spare!

Outside of the caves was a rope swing to drop into the river below. Of course, the same brave guys (and Justine) who jumped off the bridge also partook in the swing. Watch Ben swing and plop into the river below.

Look out below!

River Swing Rio Cahabon from Krista Lengacher on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Home Sweet Home - Almost!

We arrived back in Denver Friday night December 12th, a very sad day for both of us. While we are happy to be home to see our friends and family, over the past 3 months we have really grown to love Guatemala and the adventures that Central America holds for us.

Lucky for us, we have some great friends, Chris and Khammany Hinkel, who picked us up at the airport and took us straight for some down home cooking....at Chili's! We're staying at their place, Hostel Hinkel, this week since our renters are still in our apartment until Friday. It's been so nice enjoying our time with them, sipping on wine and relaxing by the fire, but only on blue air quality days! Welcome back to the US - Guatemalans don't have these "silly" rules about air quality......but judging the amount of smog in the air in Xela, maybe they should!

We were welcomed to Hostel Hinkel with a gift basket!
So sweet!

Roasting by the open fire!

Travel to the Parts Unknown

To finish out our 3 month tour of Guatemala, we traveled to the parts unknown.....Semuc Champey & Tikal. The journey was a bit longer than we had anticipated (the guide at Icara Tours told us 10 hours) and there were a few casualties (like 5 flat tires & a broken front axle), but with luck (and the help of some mechanics along the way) we made it to Semuc Champey in 14
Flat #1

While we can't really speak highly of Hotel Las Marias where we stayed (there are only 2 choices) we were more than impressed with Semuc Champey! During our 10 minute walk to the pools we crossed a bridge that was screaming with adventure in the form of bridge jumping! Most of the boys were game, but girls stayed safely above, taking photos!

Look our below!

At Semuc we climbed to the mirador (lookout) to take in the idyillic view. Beautiful can hardly describe the aqua pools of freshwater that cascade down toward river rapids. After a short hike down, we did some exploration on foot to the upper side of the pools where raging Rio Cahabon river plunges into a cavern that cuts beneath the pools and reemerges again downstream. Lifeguards were stationed around with rubber boots and ropes in case of an emergency, but we didn't see any flotation devices....not that anything could help save someone from the roar of the river.

View of Semuc from the mirador

Rio Cahabon

Semuc Champey

Semuc Champey from Krista Lengacher on Vimeo.

Then on to the freshwater pools, for a little fun. It's possible to work your way through the pools by swimming & jumping from the natural limestone bridges that connect one pool to the next. If you stay still too long in one place, you will surely feel little fish nibbling at your feet! Unfortunately it was a bit overcast & chilly, so we didn't spend the whole day at the pools, but we still had plenty of time for some fun before the rain came.

Harris, taking the plunge

Churrascos & Cervezas

Our last month in Xela we lived with Napo & Candi Gomez, their boarder Jose, and frequent visits from their daughter Rosa and her 2 children. We absolutely loved our time with the family! Napo is an engineer with his own business, so he and Ben always had plenty to talk about. They have a beautiful home about a 10 minute walk from our school, ICA. Unfortunately, we don't have any photos of them......I guess I was having a slow period with the photo taking. But don't worry, because when we head back to Xela, we'll be requesting to live with this family again! We are very thankful to them for making us feel like a real part of their family.

As our gift to the family we wanted to take everyone out for dinner, with the exception of Candi and grand daughter Maria Elena who were vacationing in Los Angeles when we left. Napo's favorite meal is churrasco & cerveza (a spicy steak & beer), so we headed out to Xela's best churrasco restaurant. Well it turns out that Xela must not have wanted us to leave because as we tried 3 different churrasco restaurants, all closed that evening because a giant sector of Xela had a power outage that night! We ended up finding a good meal at Sarita,
a more chain like restaurant, but it wasn't churrasco-tastic! We dined, chatted, and splurged on desserts for a few hours - it really was nice! But Napo was sure to make a churrasco date with us for when we return in January!

Our last full day with the family, they made us a special breakfast of fried eggs on tortillas with salsa, yummy Guatemalan hot chocolate, and coronitas, a special version of pan dulce (sweet bread) with crowns adorning the top. Rosa showed how to make the chocolate con leche (hot cocolate with milk) since we had purchased several pounds to bring home with us!

Yummy breakfast!

Guatemalan hot chocolate with milk

Xela's most popular chocolate, from cafe La Luna

Thanks Gomez family for your hospitality and friendship! We loved our time with you!