Saturday, February 27, 2010

Everything's coming up roses....

....or maybe just flowers!

As Cuaresma (Lent) has just begun, so have the processions and the famous making of the alfombras (flower carpets). This past weekend was a preview of what lies ahead in the coming month. We picked up our Cuaresma schedule and it looks like each weekend from now through Easter there are more and more processions in and around Antigua. Then Semana Santa (Holy week) hits and the madness begins. Hundreds of thousands of people (according to Elizabeth Bell) will crown the streets of Antigua. We're pretty excited to be right in the heart of things, but we are heeding the advice we've been given and making plans to get the heck out of dodge for at least part of the week. From what we hear it's quite possible one could be trampled to death trying to fight their way through the incredible crowds that take over the streets of Antigua.

Last weekend Common Hope put together a committee to make the very first official Common Hope alfombra for a procession leading to Santa Catarina Bobadilla. I was in charge of a team that had made plans to visit Iximche, so unfortunately I wasn't able to participate, but I did stop by to see the work in progress. From what I've learned so far, there are different levels of intricacy when it comes to the alfombra making - everthing from the basic laying of pine needles and flower petals directly on the street to the layering of colored sawdust using stencils to the uber complex, multi-layered sawdust, flower mixture. The uber complex was what our CH team took on and it turned out magnificent.

There was much preparation Saturday evening lasting into the wee hours Sunday morning. Then the weary returned before the sun rose Sunday morning to begin the actual assembly. The worked all morning long, finishing up before the procession passed through around noontime.

Here's what I got to see around 7.30 - 8.30 in the morning.

And look at the final result!

It looks amazing, huh? Great work guys!

We can't wait for more. Hopefully we'll get a chance to get in on the making of one of these spectacular sights!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A run for the border

Well hello there. The lazy blogger is back. I know, it's been a while. I have no excuses. It's a bad habit that happens to me after taking a few days off from the blog. I have a seriously hard time getting back into the swing of things. Well, not just blog wise - with everything.

I'm in a lull in all regards of life - blogging, there more? Sometimes it doesn't feel so much like there is, do you know how that is? I recall days (more like months) at my old job when I felt like life would begin when I walked out the doors at 3.30 pm. It was like I slept walked through nearly half of every day. Now if that isn't a sign that it's time for a change, then what is? But since change is hard for me (usually appreciated, but definitely difficult) it took me a long time to actually do something about it. And finally when I did, it was big. Like pack up your life and flee the country big. Now after some time here I'm finding myself back in a similar situation. I need some change. I'm not sure how I'm going to go out and find it, but I'm tired of starting the "living" to life when I walk out the doors at 5pm. After all, this time I have in this life right now isn't going to last forever, so I need to take advantage of what's left.

Well, that's enough of the heavy stuff for today. On to playing catch up.

A couple of weeks ago, we had to do another border crossing in Dewey. You may remember how FUN the first couple were from previous posts, here & here. Since we want to save our once yearly permitted crossing into El Salvador for later this spring, we decided to try a border we have yet to cross, but have heard so much about, Tapachula. Plus it made for a great excuse to visit our Chiapanecan neighbors and friends, the Avendaño family. Ben arranged to do a bit of work while we were there, so his co-worker Otto tagged along with us. So just like one big happy family, northward bound we went.

Wheee! Roadtrip!

1st stop: Ciudad Hidalgo - the Guatemalan border town. Not generally known for being very nice, this one actually wasn't too least the first time we crossed through (more on that later).

Cuidad Hidalgo's central park could be the cleanest park in Guatemala.

Next Stop: the border
This was actually an easier process that we expected. Since technically Dewey has to remain out of the country for 3 months before he can re-enter Guatemala, we knew we'd have a difficult time at the most heavily crossed border in Guatemala. But after coughing up some Q to a shistey off-duty aduana agent, we made it through with our re-entry sticker in hand. (You know us, always thinking ahead!)

Welcome to Mexico

It's hard to see, but in the distance there are rowboats that take people back and forth illegally. No one tries to hide - in fact you can watch right there from the bridge.

My travel partners

Getting Dewey across the border actually ended up being the easiest part of the crossing. Obtaining Otto's visa on the other hand, was quite time consuming. Luckily Mario was able to hook us up with a tramite friend of his, and after a few patient hours and a couple of phone calls to Aguas de Unidad, Mexico, he was given the go-ahead.

4 hours later: we finally arrive in Tuxtla Gutierrez at the amazing home of our friends, Mario, Kim, Lilian & Megan.

They have an amazingly beautiful, gigantic tree in their backyard.

The whole house is really fabulous. (& I love the yellow leather!)

So for one day I got to play second fiddle to Supermom Kim, while the boys worked. I love participating in "normal" life - grocery shopping, making lunches, school pick-ups, etc. (Sometimes living in Antigua feels like we're in a bubble.)

After school Megan entertained us.....

...and Lilian played hostess with the mostess.

Saturday: Ben & I snuck away for a visit to San Cristobal de Las Casas, one of my favorite places in all of our travels. Remember our first visit back in April 2009? We stopped in at the ultimate weaving cooperative and picked up a few more treasures and then shopped till we dropped in the outdoor market, even though it was raining. We chatted about life would be different if we lived in San Cristobal. While it has a similar feel to Antigua, it's bigger and feels a bit more like a city (where you could go unrecognized a bit easier), but it's still quite touristy and safe feeling. I suppose coming from a big city, certain aspects about small town life are starting to get to us every once and a while.

I cannot tell a lie. I heart the handicrafts from Chiapas.

After just a few short hours, we headed back down the mountain to catch a football match.

It was a pretty good game.

Even the beer boy took a break to watch.

Lils & Megs ran into a few of their friends....

.....and pretty much kept themselves entertained all night....

...except for when it was time to do hair.
Lucky me!

Afterward we ate tacos....for the 3rd time in 2 days! YUM.

Sunday: That morning we packed up our things to leave (much earlier than we would have liked), but the goal was to make it home that evening and head back to work first thing Monday morning. But of course we got to chatting....and chatting....and chatting and didn't end up leaving until 1pm.

Otto helped in the arts and crafts department whlie we caught up on happenings over the past several months with Mario & Kim.

And when we finally packed up Dewey and departed from Tuxtla, it was sad. Of course we'll be see them again, but the time between visits is much longer than we would like it to be.

5 hours later: After a brief stop in Tapachula (or what I think of as the armpit of Mexico - kind of like New Jersey) we arrive at the border. It's the town closest to the most heavily crossed border between Mexico & Guatemala. A lot of Guatemalans go for the "cheap" shopping since the quetzal is better off than the peso.

(These photos don't make it look like the armpit, but outside of the tourist area it's quite different.)

And then on the way back to the border a noteworthy milestone passed.
Dewey hit the 20,000 mile mark -very appropriately during a roadtrip.

Considering we bought him a year ago February with a mere 5,000 miles, he's worked pretty hard this past year. Hopefully he had as much fun as we have!

This is where the photos end, but this is not where the trip ended.
Unfortuantely it was not smooth sailing from the border on out.

Upon our arrival at the border around 6.30 pm, we attempted to hunt down the aduana and cancel the temporary car permit. We had received it on the other side of Tapachula during our original crossing. Tthe Mexican government gives travelers the 30 kilometers between the border and Tapachula free and if you chose to go further you need to pay for an official permit. This is done with Banjercito (a bank) though and not the goverment. Well upon passing the bank on our return, we noticed that it was closed. So stupidly we assummed that we could just cancel the permit at the border. (Note: Although the permit expires within 5 days, it is necessary to cancel it clearly states that you are not allowed to re-enter Mexico with that or any other vehicle. Basically they want to make sure you pay taxes on any vehicles that you import and plan to sell.) But alas at the border, no one is able to help us. After several hours of questioning random goverment officials, we learn that we will have to go back and cancel the paperwork at the Banjercito where we filed it, but that thye are closed on Sundays (Why didn't they tell us that when we crossed, who knows? Welcome to travel south of the border). Guess we won't be making it to work in the morning!

So back across into Guatemala we went (Otto had to cross as he only had a 72 hour visa) and spent the night in a lovely border town hotel in Ciudad Hidalgo. The next morning Ben & I were up bright and early, crossed back into Mexico, drove a half hour to cancel the paperwork, retured to Ciudad Hidalgo to collect Otto and on our way we went. By 2pm we were all safely (and sleepily) back at work.

Lesson learned: No matter how long you've been here, never assume that things will go smoothly!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Rental Remodel: Outdoor Living

One of the main reasons we chose to rent this house for our year in Antigua was because of it's great colonial style that included some great outdoor living spaces. With moderate temps all year long, we really wanted (and do) take advantage of being outside as much as possible.

The house has 2 outdoor areas that we use on a daily basis.

On the ground level we have a spacious patio with flowers and a fountain. Tile floor extends out from inside into half of the patio that is protected by a roof. We pass through this area many times each day and normally have the fountain on and the door to the house open, to bring the outside in. We use the space for grilling, entertaining and just relaxing.
When we moved in the small planter areas were overgrown and attracted a lot of bugs, so we spent a little time freshening things up. We replanted with some small flowering bushes and trees, ground cover, herb window boxes and color to flank the sides of the fountain (that I'm itching to repaint) as well as the columns. Juan & Ninethe even passed along a cute carved bench (that I think previously belonged to Horacio & Nicole), and I jazzed it up with a some typical fabric pillows.

The whole makeover didn't cost us much (since greenhouses are abundant here & plants are really inexpensive) and now the whole area feels much more welcoming.

Climbing up to the second story, we introduce the hidden gem of this home - the terrace. Again a little rearranging helped make it a place where we could (and do) spend a lot of our time.

When we moved into the house, the living room was overcrowded with furniture, so after a quick peek into our neighbors' patios, we decided to do something that they were both doing and we moved the carved wooden love seat, chair & coffee table from the living room, outside. The area is roofed so the furniture is completely safe and during rainy season we kept it covered with a tarp, just to be on the safe side. I covered the sad coffee table with typical fabric (and plastic), hung a comfy cotton hammock purchased in San Cristobal de Las Casas and added color with more flowers, planted in galvanized feed containers. We topped it all off with a new laundry line, hanging planters & some striped market pillows and now our terrace is an amazing place to relax, morning, noon & night!

Don't you want to come lounge on our porches with us?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Rental Remodel: La Sala

YIKES is only word we could think of to describe our living room.......that is until we Rental Remodeled it!

Have you ever heard that old urban legend about those poor kids named after their mother's first meal after giving birth to them? Jello? Is that ringing a bell?

Prepare yourselves people.................

Meet Lemonjello & Oranjello (Lemon Jello & Orange Jello!)

Now, not that yellow & orange are ugly (I actually like the idea of bright colors), but with red and green plaid furniture???? YIKES!

We had to seriously give this room some thought. It's huge - a living room/dining room combo. And considering how much paint those concrete walls swallow up........ But the final deciding factor was easy. We just weren't using the room as is. We couldn't get comfortable in there with the walls and the furniture shouting back and forth at each other. And really what is the point in paying for a nice open house, if you aren't going to use one of the biggest rooms?

Since we could hardly change the furniture on our budget (even though we would have loved to - it's not very comfortable), we had to work with what our landlord left us. And that is how our new color scheme was born. It still goes with the colonial style of the house and in our opinion is non-offensive.

Lemonjello & Oranjello got a makeover to Beige & Red
to go accordingly with the lovely plaid furniture.

In the theme of working with what your mama gave ya, my mama brought us a lovely moss green slipcover (that she found on sale for $20). It really helps break up the Christmas theme. Juan & Ninethe gave us a cute colonial coffee table (gracias a Horacio & Nicole's Guatemala stint) and with a little stain it looks brand new. We even found a really nice grass cloth rug (on sale of course) at Novex to add a little warmth to the space. Some framed textiles dress up the far wall and that's where we call it quits.

We tried really hard to find white curtains, but aside from some satin lacey 1980's leftovers, we never came across them. We found everything else, just not white (and such is life in Guatemala). Plus red is not one of my personal favorite decorating colors, so I didn't want to invest too much into more accessories and/or wall hangings since I probably won't use them in the future.

The place was all dolled up for the holidays, easily playing off the red and green, but now we're back to the basics.

Good enough for us. Good enough for now.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Finishing Touches

Remember our Rental Remodel #1? When we posted it the first time, it looked like this.

A little bare, but fine for our short rental period.

Well of course since I'm always on the hunt for interesting and unique (ie. cheap) finds, I just couldn't say no when I came across this idea.

Adorable miniature Guatemalan woven baskets, strung together and hung like a wreath. Given the price of just Q2 (about 25 cents) per dozen, I scooped up a ton (and plan to go back for more)! I've got big plans for these babies once they no longer live in the guest bedroom!

Aren't the bright colors just the pop that these Everyday Grey walls needed?

But wait, we're not done yet! While visiting Chiapas, Mexico over the weekend, I shopped until I dropped in San Cristobal de Las Casas for all of 2 hours and picked up another shawl for the end of the bed. Remember how I was fretting about only having 1?

Finally we've got a matched set and I don't have to be embarrassed any more!

Plus if they don't live on the end of my guest beds in future rooms, they will keep me and one lucky friend toasty warm on a cool evening to come.

I can breath easy now, the guest room is complete (enough) for me!

When are you coming for a stay at Casa Lengacher?

PS: I know my obsession with perfection in decor has become utterly ridiculous, but doesn't a girl need something to help pass the time?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Purely Wasteful.

Today I came across this post on Lovely Little Nest about this product.

What is it, you must be wondering? Garbage. That's what it is. No seriously. Aside from being the obvious, a plastic bowl, it has a very special purpose. It's a garbage bowl. You know, a place where you put your food scrap garbage. Duh! How it differs from everyother plastic, glass or ceramic bowl you have in your kitchen is that, this one - only this one, is designated for your garbage. The others simply won't work. Or at least that is how Rachel Ray is dishing it up.

Now God bless Rachel Ray. I love her. I really do. She's witty, she's entertaining, and she is the best for sharing her easy to prepare, delicious meals, but this is riduculous. It's more than ridiculous. It's wasteful. In more ways than one. I'm not trying to say this like I'm up on my soapbox judging (I apologize if this post offends anyone that may be the owner of this product), because I too certainly am guilty of making silly splurges that in the moment seem like I cannot live without, but at least l later recognize my gluttony and either return it, or store my guilt in a place where it can easily be accessed the next time I find myself standing in front of another wasteful product.

Maybe it's a result of my time here in Guatemala and having to live with less, but I really feel so much better knowing that I don't have tons of excess stuff. Yes, we have a whole storage unit back on Colfax Ave. stuffed full of "stuff" but even before moving all of our things into that unit, we did a lot of clearing out and it felt soooooo good.

Ben likes to say that I am gatherer by nature. If we were cave people he would be the hunter and I would be the gatherer. I think that is most women, actually. Plus paired with my natural disposion to gather, the fact that am obsessive about decorating (and good deals), and you've got a dangerous end result - lots of stuff laying around for future projects. It's a hazard of the profession (or hobby for me). But I seriously am trying to be much more aware of my affinity toward things, much more now than I used to be. Actually it is one of the biggest fears that I have about returning to life back in the States. It's so easy to get caught up in the materialism and I am completely susceptible
to it.

Now back to that Garbage bowl. I agree that it is handy to have a designated bowl for your compost scraps. So necessary that you need to go out and buy one (especially one that costs $30)? That is to be debated. For me, it's a no. Especially considering the price and material.

Our world is already sooooooo polluted by plastic (which is what Rachel's melamine bowl really is) that I can't condone the purchase of more junk plastic. I love Guatemala - even more than I love Rachel Ray, but this country is a plastic wasteland. Everything here is plastic and most of it is cheap, breakable, junk plastic. It makes me sad to see the beautiful natural environment cluttered with trash - mostly plastics.

My second major issue with this bowl is the hefty pricetag. $30. Did you know that $30 can feed a family here for a month? Did you know that you can become a guiding sponsor of a child through Common Hope for $30 a month and the cost of his/her education will be covered as well as social work and medical coverage for his/her entire family? Think about that the next time you find yourself debating a silly purchase. Your money can definitely be better spent.

Sorry Rachel, your cookbooks are worth my money, but your Garbage Bowl is not.

*To find out more about sponsoring a child through Common Hope, click here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Where on Earth?

The past couple of weekends we spent some time with friends at one of our favorite, newly rediscovered getaways. High above Antigua (but really close) lies a little hippie hideaway (well, not too hippie - just right) call Earth Lodge. There one can pass the day doing absolutely nothing in a hammock while taking in the amazing view of the valley below.

Earth Lodge is a great escape from the noise and crowds of daily life in Antigua.

And fun place to hang with friends and just chat, eat & drink.

That's what i did with Caitlin.....all day.

For the more active folks, there are fun things too,
like dogs to play with, volleyball, baseball & cornhole.

Do you know cornhole? It looks like this.

They have cabins, treehouses, tents & dorms to spend the night in,
but if you don't want to spend the night, at least stay for dinner.
It's always delicious.

And the night time view is awesome too.

We actually also spent the night not too long ago, for the very first time. The dorms and cabins were full, so we rented a tent. Our very own little piece of property for the night, hidden in the trees, high in the hills. It was glorious - except for the giant spider that tried to also curl up with us.

Sadly, the only downer about Earth Lodge for us, is because of it's remote location, Dewey can't enter the grounds (he has to stayed parked up above) and therefore we can't camp our usual way. All is fine and well though. He's going to get lots of use in the upcoming months.

Here we are sipping on our morning coffee while watching Volcan Fuego erupt.

Just another day in paradise!