Monday, January 25, 2010

Pilgrimage to Esquipulas

Guest Blogger: Ben (still not making enough appearances to be considered a regular contributor!)

Last weekend, specifically January 15, marks the annual pilgrimage of thousands of Central Americans to Equipulas, Guatemala home to the “Black Christ” who resides in the beautiful Basilica de Esquipulas. While I have not witnessed Muslim pilgrims heading to Mecca, I have to say the fact that thousands of people descend from Central America, Unites States, and Europe for this one day is rather impressive to me. But the Black Christ is not what you are thinking…no it’s not a burned visage of Christ on the Cross put there by a radical priest but rather a figurine carved out of local wood in 1595.

I personally was able to make my own pilgrimage of sorts to visit the church, with a fellow Guatemalan co-worker named Otto. This happened 3 months back so I am a little late in blogging, but the recent news coverage of the event made me want to share.

Friday, 12:40 pm: Last weekend we sadly learned that we can only enter into El Salvador (a much closer option) once a year with international plates and we used our turn up. Today is actually the last day that our car can legally be in Guatemala without paying for an import tax and buying Guatemalan plates. While the idea of Guate plates is rather appealing, the import tax at $2K US is not. So I decide with Otto to “make a run for the border” except in this case, we only stop at Taco Bell to eat lunch with his kids and then keep driving literally for the Honduran border. Satisfied with our chalupas and free soda refills (anomaly in Guate), we head east on the highway to Honduras to drop off his kids with in-laws for the weekend.

2:55 pm: Sitting in traffic after the stop at his mother-in-law's, Otto and I are listening to a mix of pirated CDs I bought at the market (Jay-Z, Melacates, Michael Jackson tribute album) while trying to figure out why we aren’t moving. 30 minutes later we cross a latex spill on the highway – appears that a transport carrier overturned and that this latex is slowing down traffic to a crawl. Literally, it coats the tires of cars and then peels off later as you drive away. Reminds me of days spent working with my Dad in his business painting this latex on rubber molds for veneer stone. Check out for the best there is in stone veneer products.

4:20 pm: No, not what some of you are thinking. We are driving along the Motagua River which forms part of the Guatemala/Honduras border and the scenery reminds me of Colorado. Pastoral fields with beef cattle and the scrub grass mountains in the backdrop as the sun sets. Aahhh.

6:33 pm: Arrive at the turn off to one of the border crossings with Honduras. True to my propensity for tardiness, we have 30 minutes to make it to the border before it closes. That said, we ask a local cop how long it will take to arrive there and he tells us it takes 30 minutes and, true to Guatemalan fashion, then tells us that he thinks it is closed. We opt to keep driving further east to the border crossing near Esquipulas. I had seen photos of the church there and wanted to see for myself the Black Christ.

7:36pm: Arriving at the border station, we immediately attract a crowd in our US car. Used to this by now, I ask about getting a new permit. After 15 minutes of discussion, it boils down to this: I need to drive the car across the Guatemalan border, get a stamp that says I left, park the car between the two countries in “no mans land” for the night, then arrive the next morning and pay the bank Q40 ($5 US) for the new permit. This is when it seems all is a go, the only glitch is parking the car somewhere secure and then getting a taxi back to Esquipulas.

8:00pm: Otto and I agree to have a taxi driver, or “taxista” drive us back to Esquipulas, take us to a hotel, and drive us back the next day for Q100. We agree to have the taxista find us a place to park, which happens to be his cousin with a bit of land and about 50 cars/buses parked around it which all have Florida plates. Moving those cars that US insurance companies “total” south through Central America for repairs and resell is big business. We agree with the cousin that we’ll pay Q100 for the night, and I feel better when a big german shepherd sounders out and barks repeatedly at me from a choker chain.

8:19pm: On our way to a “great” hotel that the taxista knows, I can only begin to describe the ride: fruit rolling around in the trunk of the 1982 toyota corolla behind me mixed with straight fumes from the missing muffler, music blaring from 1990 Kenwood KRC stereo that I think I bought in high school (Pitbull´s “I know you want me”, what else), and the fact we are going 90 mph with only one headlight. I smile at Otto and he chuckles.

8:30pm: Arrive at first hotel and true to fashion, another friend of the taxista’s. Place will do except that there is only one bed in the room. I tell the taxista, “somos amigos pero no novios” or “we are friends but not boyfriends”. We head to another hotel and settle into a place with two beds and a good breeze so that we don’t sweat all night.

8:43pm: Somewhere on my forehead it must say, “Please try to take my money”. Reason being, the taxista now wants me to pay him for the trip in full, plus the Q100 he said he paid his cousin for us to park. Frankly, I am tired and don’t care much about paying the money as I do the principle. When asked, the cousin said we can pay tomorrow and we never saw our taxista pay for us to park. Second, if we pay for all the night before, we will be thumbing it back to the border while our taxista is in bed. We argue for a while, and then decide with Otto to pay for half. The taxista is now angry but takes our money and tells us that we should just trust him. I would but unfortunately, have been burned like this once to many times.

9:05pm: The first thing that struck me in Esquipulas as we headed out for some dinner was that the Guatemalans didn’t appear like those I knew, they had distinct European features and Otto explained to me that this is why Guatemalan men say they want to find a wife from Esquipulas. We joked about this as we ate tacos and I had a couple beers to forget about the taxista. We looked through the gate at the big Basilica lit up for the night, but I would have to wait tomorrow to finish my pilgrimage.

Saturday, 4:03am: I lay awake in bed listening to the sounds outside my window of “Guate, Guate, Guate”. Seems that some ayudante (helper) for a bus to Guate is trying to let everyone in a 5 block radius that there is a bus leaving for Guatemala City. Who is leaving at this hour, I think to myself as I toss and try to turn in a bed as stiff as a brick.

6:45am: We are supposed to have our taxista pick us up at the hotel around 7, so I jump in the shower. 2 minutes later I am out since there is no hot water. Otto and I pay the hotel owner for the room and walk around looking for a cup of coffee. No coffee to be found, we head to the Basilica and snap some photos.

Your browser may not support display of this image.7:20am: The taxista calls us and we head to the border to handle the import paperwork. We find our car and wait at the permit office for the paper trail to begin. Guatemala has taught me that patience is a virtue, but that you have to be pushy to get what you need here. After the permit is pulled, I have to go to the bank (2 windows down) to pay. Problem is that the banker is having breakfast and no business happens until he returns. I go to the comedor where he and the customs officers are eating and grab a cup of coffee with Otto.

8:45am: Having paid for the permit, now I have to get an entrance stamp for my passport at customs. I chat with the customs officer and it turns out he has a 2005 Honda Element. Go figure. After discussing the new body style and gas mileage, he extends my visa for another 90 days even though I never really let Guatemala. He also shares with me that if we're thinking of selling Dewey, he's our guy. Sorry, not in the plan.

9:49am: We walk through the main area of the Basilica, and then wait in line to see the Black Christ. It strikes me as odd that everyone leaving the viewing area backs away as they descend the ramp. Otto explains that it is to show respect to Christ as by not turning your back. We approach the Black Christ and on first view, it is amazing to consider the time and detail it took to carve the face that looks down on the main church area below. There are entire families praying in front of Christ, a grandmother with her daughters circling her wheelchair, and hushed prayers all around me. After our place in the queue, we descend down the ramp and I remember to back away.

10:32am: We are on our way back to Guatemala City and as we planned, are going to stop and hike to the top of Volcano Ipala on our way. The volcano is visible as we drive north and true to the description I read in Lonely Planet, has a flat top where there is a clear lake. We drive to the parking area and start our ascent, armed with a bottle of water and a bag of trail mix. Not long after 45 minutes, we reach the summit and after paying the entrance fee, hike to this great overlook.

1:50pm: Back at the car and after stopping for chucherías (junk food), I am tired and Otto takes over driving toward the City. It starts to rain as we drive back along the PanAmerican highway, and I think back about the other hike that Krista and I did to Laguna Chicabal outside Xela. Sitting in our car dry and not shivering on a bus soaked to the bone like during that trip a year ago, I reflected on how having a car does make it easier to travel - even if it requires border runs every 3 months.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Rental Remodel: Cooking Up Change

With life busy as usual, the blog as gotten pushed aside a bit. Sorry!! This weekend I spent a little time reviewing the past couple of months worth of blogs and realized that I completely forgot to update our Rental Remodels! We've been finished with our projects (mas o menos) for a few months now and have happily moved on to new weekend activities! While it's not our dream house decor wise, we feel like we've made dramatic changes that still work with the colonial style of the house and that we're quite happy about!

Stick with us for the rest of the house tour throughout the remainder of January.

Rental Remodel: La Cocina

When we moved into the house, the kitchen looked like this.

Disorganized, boring and really really dirty white, with insufficient above counter storage. The self proclaimed neat freak that I am, I could not stand the open cabinets. They're very typical here in Guatemala, but yuck-O. Who wants to look at all of their crappy cookware? Not me. The second thing that made me crazy was all that white, awkwardly highlighted by harsh florescent lighting.

While visiting Panajachel one day (during the 'rent's visit) my mom and I stumbled up a huge fabric store where we purchased enough material to make curtains to cover up all of that nastiness. Good thing I had previously taken measurements for this very type of purchase!

With a little help from Ben rigging up a cable rod (and lot of patience - his real work came before this fun project for at least 6 weeks), a can of buttery yellow paint (meant for the master bedroom, but then abandoned after realizing how miserable it is to paint bumpy concrete walls), the kitchen miraculously became a place we both actually wanted to be.


Here's how we did it:

* a little rearranging (the desk shoved up against the wall became our island)
* some inexpensive bamboo placemats to break up the white tile counters
* 1 gallon of paint
* 5 yards of fabric & some heavy duty cable
* a stained piece of wood that stores all our spices & cooking essentials

Cost: less than $70 (including all accessories)
Time: Forever.....this project was a long one, but certainly worth the wait!

We know it is certainly still far from awesome, but with our budget, this is as good as it gets!

* note: since these photos have been taken, the "island" top has been painted a distressed moss green for even more color & style (and to cover up a little hot plate mishap!)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Never a dull day

Just another day in the park.

location: Parque Central, Antigua Guatemala
shoe shining
cost: Q5

The boy that shined my shoes neither spoke nor heard a thing. His friends communicated with him by gestures. It was him out of all of them that got my attention and asked if I wanted a shoe shine. Of course I did.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Greener than it Gets!

We're taking this shameless opportunity to plug one of our very favorite organizations here in Guatemala (aside from Common Hope and Aguas de Unidad) - As Green As It Gets. You might recall a reference to them in this post a while back. Anyway, with a newly updated website, As Green As It Gets should most definitely be added to the favorites list of not only all you coffee lovers, but like minded environmentalists too. Here's the lowdown on this great not for profit organization (taken directly from their awesome website).

As Green As It Gets is a non-profit organization focusing on economic development and environmentally sustainable agriculture in Guatemala. We partner with producers from impoverished Guatemalan communities. We select our families based on their potential to produce marketable products.

As Green As It Gets places a strong emphasis on protecting the environment and land restoration as an integral part of business management.We believe that economic development is they key to reversing the poverty cycle. Our objective is to lift our producers out of subsistence agriculture by helping them attain skills that can be traded for their sustenance; thereby providing excess resources beyond their survival needs.

Aside from harvesting and selling what we think may be the world's best coffee, AGAIG also works to help entrepreneurial men and women from disadvantaged communities to establish independent, sustainable businesses that allow them to improve their living conditions and stimulate their local economies. They work with artisans, cosmetics, reforestation & appropriate technology all while striving to be green (as green as it gets!). Check out some of the products they produce right here at the Marketplace.

Continuing on with 2 things most people like - coffee and being green - we want to share with your our latest efforts to being green.

Like we blogged about before, in some ways "being green" here in Guatemala isn't as easy as it is back in the US. Sure, there are the obvious things we do here like using a car a whole lot less and buying most of our food locally, but there are some other biggies that are not necessarily a given - namely recycling. After a bit of effort we were able to locate a place to take our recycling, but it's so unavailable here that most people just don't do it.

In an attempt to keep on doing our part even in a country where the notion isn't very popular, we've begun reusing as much as we can. Our latest effort is the repurposing of our coffee grounds. I'm sure those of you who frequent Starbucks have probably seen as some point in time the bags of coffee grounds that they often offer to the customers for free. Well since (gladly) their is no Starbucks here, we have taken to saving the grounds from our daily brew and mixing it into the soil in our garden to help fertilize our flowers. The nitrogen and potassium in the grounds is an essential factor in plant growth.

It's so easy to do too. Each morning when cleaning out the french press we simply strain the grounds out and dump them into a plastic container. Once it's full, we select a flower bed to "treat" and mix them in to the soil evenly, being careful not to over do it! Unfortunately we don't have space to grow our own produce, but for those of you who do, this is a must, whether you save your own or pick them up during a stop at your local coffee shop. Give it a try and let us know how it works for you!

While you're at it, check out the Daily Green for 20 other ways you can repurpose your coffee grounds.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Mirror Mirror on the wall...

Who's the sweetest friend of all?

A couple of days ago we got a postcard in our mailbox to inform us that a package was waiting for us at Correos. Finally Saturday I found some time to swing by and pick it up. Guess who it was from? Tamara. Of course! When I unwrapped it, look what I found.

Can you even believe that that pretty little thing made it the whole way here to chaotic Guatemala, still in perfect condition?

Even better than the packaging was the note that went along with it.

Here's what it said.

Dear God,
If I should die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take. As for whats left of these things on earth, I will all my belts to Krista for she is the only one who knows their true worth!
XO miss you,

Smile. Tear. Smile again.
Just what I needed to brighten my crappy day.

Inside? What else other than a cute, skinny belt with a bit of gold sparkle. Exactly my style. What she didn't know is that I actually do need a belt since my pants are sagging severely these days!
It's a silly story that goes a while back, but it's true. Aside from being probably the most truly sincere, loving & creative person I know, Tamara and I share a special bond. We love belts. One might even say we have a sick obsession with belts. We both own a lot and we both always want more.

There was a evening a while back where we donned all of Tam's belts and scarves and danced around her apartment clicking little cymbals, irritating her neighbor below. It was pure silliness. It was hilariously therapeutic. It was a moment I'll never forget.

Dear Tam,
If God should keep me in Guatemala forever, what's mine is yours - including the leathers.
And to compliment your waistline flair, you can have all the rest of my Anthro wear!
XO miss you more,

Friday, January 8, 2010

Home for another Holiday

Bright and early on Boxing Day {the day after Christmas for those of you who aren't saavy on your English holidays}, we caught the first water taxi out of Placencia to begin the long journey back to Antigua. Amazingly we arrived in good time to meet our long awaited visitors, but soon found out that due to various flight technicalities, they would be arriving the following day instead. At long last though, Monday afternoon we welcomed Ben's sister Becky & her husband Eloy to Guatemala! Yea!!!!!

For the next week we hung out, visited Lake Atitlan, cooked, played and rang in the new year together. It was so fun!

We ate yummy chiles, beans & tortillas out of the back of the car...

We went zip-lining in the biosphere at the lake.....

....and rang in the new year, Antigua style

We're so glad that they were able to come spend time with us! We can't wait for more of you to visit Guatemala!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

You Betta Belize It!

After sufficiently putting off the "look what we did on over our holiday vacation" blog, I've finally found the time {and energy} to give it a go. Thanks for your patience once again! We've only been gone just 2 {now almost 3} short weeks, but so much has happened I'm not quite sure where to begin. Soon after finishing all the delicious holiday desserts, we packed up Dewey and headed for Placencia, Belize. That's right, the country where their official tourism slogan is "You Betta Belize It!"

A neighbor to the north of us here in Guatemala, it is no short trip to get to there. One has 2 options when arriving in Belize {from Guatemala} via land {and/or water}. You can either drive the 14+ hours past Tikal and enter into Belize close to the capital, or do what we did - drive, boat, bus & boat again - to trim off about half of the time. Now you know as well as us that this family is always up for a driving adventure, but with guests arriving for a visit the day after Christmas we feared we may not make it back in time if we chose the longer route. Instead, we drove 5 hours to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala {leaving home in the wee hours of the morning in order to catch the morning ferry} where we safely stored Dewey in a secure parking lot and jumped on a ferry for the hour long trek across the Caribbean to Punta Gorda, Belize. From PG, after crossing through customs, we hitched a bus 2 hours north to Independence and then caught a 20-minute water taxi to the beautifully peaceful refuge of Placencia.

Belize is most commonly known for it cayes {pronounced keys} where most go for dive trips to the 2nd largest barrier reef on Earth. However, the cayes aren't know for great beaches and since we're not divers {you may recall a hellacious trip last year where we attempted to learn and then got rained out}, we chose to spend our vacay where we could relax in the sand and sun.... and of course stir up a little adventure too. And that is exactly what we did!

After nearly a full day of travel we dragged our weary selves into
Captain Jak's cabanas in Placencia Village and quickly fell in love with the surrounds as well as the awesome owners, Erin & Lucky Ivy. Surprisingly impressed by the adorable cabanas {they also offer cabins and a villa for larger groups} we settled in to life in Placencia, doing a whole lot of nothing for the next 7 days. It was great.

Unfortunately with our arrival, we met some grey, rainy skies, but within a few days things had cleared up and we were able to begin the fun in the sun. We had so much fun exploring the quaint peninsula of Placencia, but we must warn any of you that do plan to visit in the future, that transportation there is both expensive and not very accessible. The village, where we were staying, is defintely the place to be in you want the option of walking to restaurants, shops, etc. But about 8 miles up the pennisula is another great little area called Maya Beach. Sadly public busses don't run between the 2 locations very frequently and renting a car {or golf cart} is extremely expensive {like $80 USD a day} and unless you are planning a long drive it's not really worth it just to go 8 miles. However, we did bus 1 day to Maya Beach to lunch at the Maya Beach Hotel, an adorable, peaceful place owned by the sister of a friend of ours. Lunch was divine and the setting was the best we saw in Placencia, by far!

A few days into the trip Lucky & Erin offered to take us out on their 40 ft. sail boat. It was fabulous. While we didn't get to do so much sailing {the breezes weren't cooperating} we did have a great time snorkeling, fishing and lunching on Erin's delicious chicken salad. On the way back in Ben & I even got to take a turn a the wheel!

Through Erin & Lucky we also met a sweet Canadian family who just recently moved to Palcencia to live for the next year. How cool are those parents for giving their 4 kids such an awesome opportunity? Placencia is so safe that the kids just roam on their bikes all day and catch crabs off the dock in their front yard. Danielle the oldest daughter even catches a water taxi every day to and from school - sure beats the heck out the riding the big cheese! {Note to self to remember this a few years down the road.} Ben spent a fun day fishing with them and the ultimate guide, Percy, King of the Howlers and we all went out snorkeling together too. Dan {the dad} is becoming an expert at catching lobster and was kind enough to catch a few for us to eat fresh!

The rest of our time as spent on the beach taking in the crystal clear water and colorful sunsets.

We're not really the kind who like to visit the same place twice, but Placencia is certainly on the return trip list and Captain Jak's would be a great place for a family vacation one day!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Our Twenty Ten Plan

Lately it seems like everyone around us is working on their 2010 plan. Mostly employers I suppose, but that doesn't mean that we can't also develop our own map for the next 365 days. Here are some ideas that we're tossing around for this year.

Finish up Guatemala: Part 2
This includes completing our jobs, exploring the parts unknown & enjoying time with friends, all while leaving options open for Part 3 (something that we have decided is an absolute for a few years down the road). Guatemala will forever be a part of our lives.

Turn 30 with a BANG!

Although I find it hard to believe, this 1980's baby will be entering her 4th decade of life in 2010. As a lover of all things sand, sun & crystal clear water, we're hoping to invite our friends to join us in a "hello 30's, adios guatemala" vacation.... possibly sailing through the San Blas islands from Panama to Columbia! Will you come along?

Participate in whirlwind tour of South America

While living in Guatemala may sound adventurous enough to you, we have been bitten by the travel bug once again (Even after 54 days together in a car, we still love to travel & each other.) Our jobs keep us pretty stationary here in Antigua with a weekend get-away exception every now and again, so we're looking forward to taking in some sights of another continent before beginning the journey homeward.

Road Trip through Mexico (Northbound)

We made it through the 1st time and we've got a whole different route planned for the return trip. Dewey is well rested and ready to hit the road once again!

Settle back into life in the US (for a while)

Maybe Denver, maybe not. We're open to seeing where the road leads us. One thing that we have learned & accepted during our time away is that while we love our friends and family a lot, we have to live our lives for us - not for everyone else.

Buy a house......finally!

It won't be pretty folks, we're dreaming of a run-down, city dwelling, needs a lot of love home to satisfy our DIY needs! We've given up the idea of the perfect house & are liking the idea of a pretty perfect for right now home. Since we're still a bit uncertain about what lies ahead, there's no need to settle in for the long haul!

Consider career changes

We do currently like what we do (most of the time), but our minds have been churning up some new ideas. Nothing major is likely to happen quickly, but in time there will be changes on the horizon. It's time to turn our hobbies into a steady income (or at least part-time income)!

Continue striving to practice the art of relaxation
One would think rather romantically that after packing up life to run away to another country,
we would be professionals in the art of coffee shop dwelling and lingering in parks, but one must not know us very well! Maybe it's our over ambitious 1st born traits or quite possibly just a dose of adult ADHD, but we are not good relaxers. We try, but then ususally abandon ship for the first activity that comes our way. We fear relaxation may be a life-long battle!

Plan for a 2 legged addition to the Lengacher family!

Yes, you did hear correctly! It's finally time to begin preparing the nest for a little adventure birdie!After 5 and half years of wedded bliss (haha!) and numerous efforts to get this "live abroad itch"out of our systems, we are carefully planning considering the idea of settling down..... and aren't even freaked out by the thought (well maybe just a little)!

Be satisfied and thankful for all that we have.

If we've learned anything for sure this year it's that we lead very privledged lives. It's something that we often took take for granted & sometimes feel guilty about, but living amongst the amazing people here has taught us to be appreciative of what we have and to always do what we can to share our happiness & "wealth" with others.

So here's to another year full of adventures of a different type. Hip, hip, hooray!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Please excuse our absence!

Dear blog readers,

We appreciate the patience you have afforded us to celebrate the holiday season blog free. How nice it was to vacation and entertain our guests without having to tote our computer everywhere! Now as we get back to normal in 2010, we ask for your patience once more as we make room on the old ibook for all the new photos and blogs to come. We're putting forth our best efforts to return to blog world as quickly as possible.

(Oh & we're accepting donations in the form of a new MacBook Pro too, if you're looking for a cause to support!)

Hope to hear from you soon!

Happy New Year!
Krista & Ben