Monday, May 31, 2010

Enjoying the view

During our short flight from Colombia to Panama City we flew right over Kuna Yala (formerly known as the San Blas islands), home to the indigenous Kuna people and a place that I am dying to go.

Being so close, but yet still so far from actually being there has only made me want it even more. With any luck though, we'll be sailing the islands shortly - stay tuned for sure!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Hot & Dirty!

Upon leaving Cartagena, we headed a bit further north to Santa Marta with plans to spend a little time in Tayrona National Park. A hot and dirty port city, there's really not much to see in Santa Marta except for some serious banana exportation, but since the reports we read of staying inside the national park were a bit lacking, we opted for what looked to be a new, nice hostal right in town.

It turns out that Santa Marta was just as humid and a lot more dirty than Cartagena and honestly had pretty much nothing to offer for tourism except for a delicious (but expensive) gringo run "New Mexican" restaurant. Our new nice hostel, was certainly new & hostelish, but the nice factor is a bit more subjective. Let's just say that it worked for 2 nights, but they were certainly 2 sleepless nights without a/c or even the slightest breeze. Thankfully at least the management was stellar and super helpful.
Honestly, if I didn't know it before, this trip has helped me to come to terms with who I am. I am not a young, hippie backpacker - I'm a 30 year old girl who prefers nice clean hotels (not over the top, just nice) where I might even take off my shoes in the shower & sleep in a bed where I don't want to crawl deep down inside my sleep sack. I don't do hostels of the normal type and I especially don't do skeevy showers. I've learned to be okay with who I am and no longer feel the need to convince myself to toughen up and become a less particular, more easy going version of me. Unfortunately I'm pretty sure that my dear husband does miss (and forever will) my former self. I'm sorry honey, but the minute we cross back into the US my backpack will be retired - please plan our next vacation accordingly!

dirty, busy Santa Marta

It was so hot, even the street dogs couldn't catch a break!

Since we arrived fairly early on in the day, we decided to aprovechar del dia (take advantage of the day) and visit Tanganga, a small fishing village nearby where the beach was supposedly quite impressive. A quick bus ride landed right downtown, where we found ourselves amidst a plethora of foreign bohemians, that looked to have also retired their backpacks in return for a permanent beach shack.

Let me take this moment to point out that despite my cracks, I sort of do love the hippies & their jewelry making ways. After all, I'm a bit granola at times myself I must admit. The thing I find it so entertaining and ironic about most of them, is that they seem to think they are so unique, such individuals, but they are all exactly the same, regardless of what country they've taken up residence in. In Guatemala, they tend to be from Argentina and they inundate Lake Atitlán. In Colombia, the majority are Israli - same look, same ideas for making a living, just a whole lot more partying! Really I do appreciate their ability to become so comfortable in their own skin no matter where they are, & we all know I love their jewelry, but I certainly don't think they are unique!

Anyway, back on track, the much talked beach in Taganga turned out to be less than impressive, but either way, we made the best of our short afternoon.

The most impressive thing we did see was the ice cream vendor, pushing his tasty treats through the water. Slightly soggy? Yes (we tried one), but it hit the spot just the same!

The next morning we hopped a bus over to Tayrona National Park, where we hiked through the jungle for an hour or so to reach a really beautiful unswimmable beach. It was sticky hot & we most certainly sweated right through our clothes (GROSS), but along the way we did see & hear some wildlife.

feeling pretty gnarly

our 100 leg friend

When we finally got to the campground and beach at end there were a couple of surprises waiting for us - some good and some a little terrifying.

The welcome committee was obviously excited to see us.

Moving on (are you still with me?), my favorite part was of course, the juice. There's nothing like some freshly squeezed passion fruit to cool you down and perk you up all at once.

Albeit in the middle of nowhere, this place had a seriously thorough selection of juices. There are just a few that I'm not sure of. Can someone please fill me in on patilla, curuba & milo?

Of course since we didn't hike through the hot sticky jungle just for juice, we carried on just a bit further until we reached a nearby swimmable beach.

Lucky me.
Ben manned the camera that day, hence all the photos of yours truly.

After a nice long dip we settled into some serious beach bummin' - the Mrs. in the sun & the Mr. in the shade - where we read and napped away the rest of the day.

There's nothing like sucking on mangoes where you can easily clean up!

Of course there was the hour long hike back out again (with no nice cool dip at the end) & another hour long bus ride back to our humble little hostel, but at least we had a few hours of pure relaxation. It was a great way to pass our last day in Colombia.

My final thoughts in all my grungy backpacker glory.
Peace out Colombia - we're movin' on.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


What: mini cokes in recyclable glass bottles with disposible lid
Where: Colombia
Our feelings: Why doesn't Guatemala have these? Coke is always better in a glass bottle but usually you can't take it away from the tienda!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Colonial Colombia

After months and months of wishing and waiting, we finally made it to the 3rd continent in the Americas! I suppose that coastal Colombia just barely counts, but it is South America. It was a short stay - only 5 days in all, but we've got to keep on movin' if we're gonna fit in all that we've got planned in for 1 month!

We arrived last thursday afternoon in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, a colorful, colonial city founded in 1533. There's definitely that latin caribbean flair in the air in Cartagena that we don't often feel in Guatemala nor in Mexico for that matter. We stayed within the old walled city where the colorful streets are lined with terraces hosting beautiful, familiar bugambilia but with the road being much narrower and the buildings much taller than in Antigua. At one point in time I had heard that Cartagena is the #1 colonial city in the world. After seeing it, I'm not really sure that it's true. Yes it is beautiful, but #1 beautiful, I may beg to differ. For as stunning as it was, it was also quite busy, dirty and city feeling - none of which Antigua is guilty of.

There are really three parts to Cartagena - the walled city, outside the walls and Boca Grande (the beach hotel area). We stayed at a decently cute Hotel Tres Banderas within the walls. I'll be honest, my standards for hotel cuteness are largely based around cleanliness. This place was clean I suppose, but there was just this feeling that couldn't allow me to take my shoes off. I really do think it was one of the best mid-range options available, but I'm type A. Please don't let me stop you from staying there though; the staff was the best - super friendly and helpful. Anyway, the walled city is walled because during the time of Spanish rule back in the 16th century there were many attacks by pirates on Cartagena, and thus the wall was built to protect the city, but it took nearly 2 centuries to complete! The Cartagena inside the walls is the one with the colonial feeling. Honestly outside of the walls, it really just feels like any other big city.

Of course there are just a couple of amazing thing that Colombia in general offers that Guatemala cannot even attempt to compete with - cheesey bread and fresh fruit juices. On nearly every corner in Cartagena someone is selling
pan de bono (or some other cheese filled gloriously delicious bread). And on the corners where there isn't bread, there is juice. Not just your average orange, apple, & mango though - exotic tropical fruits that can't be found further north. Maracuya (passionfruit) quickly became our favorite with lulo (for me) & tomate de arbol (for Ben) following close behind. A wonderful snack in only 2 blocks. And the best part is, it's all for only a buck or two!

fresh, warm pan de bono

While we were in town, there was some sort of Navy convention going on, so the main harbor was lined with decked out sailboats and cute sailors from around the world. There were honestly so many of them it made me feel like I was walking around Pearl Harbor in the WWII era. Every bar and restaurant was packed full of boys in tight white pants, shiny black shoes and cute little caps, many of whom had a "civilian" girl wrapped around his arm.

These guys had the most adorable outfits.
We're pretty sure they were Dutch, of course.

Aside from cheese bread and juice (which I almost exclusively dined on for the entire 5 days), we made sure to sample a couple of other well known local treats.

colombian beer & pinapple margaritas

and meat on a stick - always a favorite of Ben

But there was more to our days than just stuffing ourselves silly. We also took in the cultural sights of the region.
El Convento de Santo Domingo
(with a crooked bell tower as a result of the devil's work!)

artwork by Bortero
(apparently fat ladies are sexy?)

Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
(an fortress with extensive tunnel systems that was never ever penetrated by enemy forces)

amazing city views

& the local form of transportation - chivas

One night we stumbled across some traditional African dancers in one of the main squares. Quite a crowd had gathered to watch. Some of the girls dancing looked to be no older than 14 or 15.

Afterward we hit Pizza in the Park, a cute little pizza joint that delivered your pizzas to you on a stool, curbside, in the park across the street. Wouldn't a cool concept like this go over great in parks in the states?

sipping a little cerveza to keep cool while waiting for our pizza

Now there is one really major factor that I've left out thus far that honestly should be seriously considered before rushing out to purchase your plane tickets; Coastal Colombia is super hot and humid - like sweat through your shirt in a matter of minutes, humid - like need a cold juice on every corner whether you like it or not, hot! Of course we knew it would be different than temperate Antigua, but seriously we found it hard to enjoy ourselves at times and spent much of our time ducking in and out of air conditioned store fronts (even though we didn't want to purchase anything) just to escape it. Perhaps it's a bit less humid other times of the year and perhaps it is manageable for someone who will also be traveling to higher altitude areas in Colombia, but it is something that should to be seriously considered when planning your trip!!

Simply Beautiful

I apologize as reliable fast internet has been a bit touch & go on this trip. I'm working on our first post about Colombia, but in the mean time here's a little something pretty to hold you over.

These huipiles are the typical Mayan dress from Santiago Atitlán,
my absolute favorite textile destination on the lake.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Feeling guilty

Okay. You caught us. I know I told you that we were leaving for Colombia last Thursday, but it wasn't the whole truth. We are on our way to Colombia tomorrow (I promise), but first we took a bit of a lay over in the states. Yes, we are back in the good 'old USA, but only for a few days. We're not in Colorado or Pennsylvania though. Instead we've spent the past few days touring around the tree lined neighborhoods of another city, one where we've never been before. We're not going to say where yet since this is only a discovery trip, but we will leave you with a few photos.

It's been a bit of an adjustment after living out of the country more than a year, having not set foot in an airplane the entire time, let alone a Target or Starbucks. We've been a bit uncomfortable with many things - $7.50 margaritas & $10 in room internet connections, but luckily we've had a lovely chaperone to help us over the rocky roads! There have also been some really nice parts too, like uber clean parks, tons and tons of green and trees & driving where everyone plays by "our rules". Overwhelming would definitely one way to describe this quick trip, but more than likely it's been just a small sampling of the culture shock that we will be re-entering into in just a few short months. For now though, we'll leave you with some photos while we're off to Colombia where we can live in our Latin utopia for a little bit longer.

We'll check in again just as soon as we're slightly closer to the equator! Hasta lluego!

And a big shout out to my baby brother Ryan on his 27th birthday today.

Hope you have a great day Ry!

Monday, May 17, 2010

My lunch dates

In honor of my very last day at Common Hope and to celebrate my my loyal (and often only) classmates in the Occupational Therapy class, we went on a lunch date....just the three of us!

Nery, me & Sonia

When asked where we should go my companions didn't have many ideas, so I put the idea of Cafe Condesa out there and of course they were a go. Who can resist delicious liquados and desserts to accompany lunch?

Sonia certainly cannot!

Nery on the other hand was quite fascinated with his new radio cell phone, so he acted as our own personal DJ and photographer.

Even in my short time as their "teacher" I have seen great growth and kindness and creativity in both of these great people. Defying the odds, both Nery and Sonia show amazing potential for greater independence in their futures.

It was certainly a memorable afternoon with friends, one that will not easily be forgotten. And with any luck, our paths will cross again, one day very soon.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Changes on the Horizon

That's right folks, there's some changing going on at this house. Numero uno being that I have entered into my 4th decade of life. Yes, I'm now a part of the 30-something club. Yikes!

Numero dos
is that Ben and I have both ended yet another chapter in this Latin America dream. We have both completed our current jobs at Common Hope and Aguas de Unidad. We're both a bit sad to say goodbye to the work and the people that we have come to love, but it's also a bit exciting to think about what lies ahead.

And finally, numero tres. We're leaving for a month of Latin America travel today! Yes, today! During out time here in Guatemala we've been fortunate enough to take in all the popular destination in this country plus Honduras, Belize & El Salvador, so now we're headed south.
We'll be spending the next several weeks visiting Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica & Nicaragua!

When we arrive back in Guatemala at the end of June, we'll spend a couple of more weeks here, hanging out with our friends, but then it's time to hit the road again. Road Trip Mexico - Part 2: Northward Bound.

We plan to do our best keeping things up to date blogwise during our travels, so check back soon!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Yay, it's happened to me too!

I don't know whether to cry or cheer, but it's true - I've officially become a Chapina. Remember back when we discovered it had happed to Ben and we all got a good chuckle out of this post? Well it dawned on me the other day that I too have become Chapina (or as Chapina as a Gringa can get!) Now you can get a good chuckle out of me.

I water like my garden is on fire! It's a pretty typical site to see a Guatemalan standing in front of their house or store spraying or splashing water into the sidewalk or street in front. I used to wonder what good it was going, since the water would soon dry up and the dirt would be there once again. Now every morning I too get out the hose and spray down the garden, the patio, the plants outside, sometimes even the house and garage door (it is crazy dusty here).

2. I downloaded a music ringtone. I get texts from my cell phone carrier nearly everyday asking if I want to purchase a ringtone/backtone and I normally ignore them, adamant that I would never do it even though everyone here has one and normally has their ring set to the loudest level! Do I really want to be "that girl" with the annoying ring in the grocery store? Well, the other night on my drive home I was listening to the radio and hear a popular song that I like. Afterwards the DJ came on the air and shared a free code for the ringtone, so I busted out my cell and texted it right then and there. Now I'm "that girl". Wanna hear my ringtone?

It's so catchy and I love the message!

I point at things with my nose and mouth. Stay with me -it's hard to explain. For example if someone asks in what direction is XXX place, I direct my head "that-a-way" and then scrunch up my nose or mouth to point. It's a joke here that only the people from Xela do it. I suppose since technically I got my Guatemalan start in Xela I can say that I'm "from there".

And the final characteristic I adopted soon after my arrival in Guatemala that locks it all in is.............

Black beans have become one of my top 5 favorite foods. I could eat a good black bean puree for breakfast, lunch & dinner 7 days a week. Lucky for me they are uber healthy....well maybe not the way we cook 'em up here (think lots of oil....or even lard if you get them straight from the kitchen of a Guatemalan cook).

I prefer them puree style!

Isn't it kind of funny that I can think of more reasons that I'm a Chapina than that characterize me as an American? Maybe it's a sign!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Orange U Glad?

A Latin twist on the American classic lemonade is orangeade - more commonly known as Naranjada. Both limonada & naranjada can me made the traditional way with water or spiced up a bit with soda. Both are equally delicious. It's so simple, why not give it a try?
Naranjada con Soda
4 or 5 oranges

1 Pint of soda (Sprite, 7up, or club soda - depending on your sweet tooth)

Squeeze the juice out of 4-5 oranges (strain out pulp). Add soda & chill. Serve with ice and garnish with an orange slice.

Loving ourselves some narajanada con soda in the streets of Panajachel!