It’s Friday, July 26th and I am writing this from a hammock at El Poste Rojo, a tree house hostel just outside of Granada, Nicaragua. I'm looking out over the forest, watching howler monkeys climb the trees.
The big day has come! From San Francisco, CA I flew into Guatemala City, spent the night there, then caught a bus to Xela, Guatemala. I was very curious to see how my car had held up while I was gone for 2 months. It was parked on a grass lot of a small business that grew mushrooms (no, not hallucinagetic) and sold honey & coffee. Here’s how the car (which I have named “Chido” or “cool” in Mexican Spanish) looked; i had just opened the hood:
The battery was dead and the front tire was completely flat. One of the guys working on the property helped me jump it, but with some unexpected consequences. Having never owned a car with an alarm system, I didn’t realize it would automatically lock everything upon getting power. Both sets of keys were sitting inside as all 4 doors locked up – son of a….! I then had to call a locksmith, who, after 45 mins of unsuccessful attempts, finally decided to hook the keys on a long metal wire and pull them through the crack in the door. Success! He jumped my car and I took care of the flat tire (it’s had a very slow leak since Mexico) with my travel air pump. Back on the road, baby.
I spent that night in the yoga house and off to Antigua the next day. Last year I visited Antigua for 2 days and was not a huge fan, thinking it to be incredibly touristy. On this trip, while driving into the city, I was amazed to see 2 familiar faces, Jessica & Laura, who had joined my road trip to the beach in Tulate, Guatemala several months beforehand. Just my luck it, the girls were off to happy hour so I found a parking spot and caught up with them over some 75 cent rum & tonics. Everyone in the group was a Peace Corps volunteer and the following day was Laura’s last day of service.
One thing I have learned about Peace Corps volunteers – they always manage to fit drinking into their daily routine. Hahaha! That’s not completely true, but it kind of is.
I ended up having a fantastic time in Antigua, spending the next day walking the city and reading in the central park. Here's the arch:
Though it’s hard to say goodbye to friends, I had to say “adios” to my Peace Corps peeps and get into Honduras. I don’t know if I mentioned that my car was 3 weeks over its visa limit in Guatemala. Before flying back to the states, I had driven to the Mexican/Guatemalan border to get an extension but was denied because I had taken my car out of the country when I went to El Salvador. So I was expecting to be charged for everyday past the visa. The driving day out of Guatemala was a long one, hitting traffic in Guatemala City and being on endless windy roads going up and down mountains. When I finally got the border, it was a hot, humid & lazy Friday afternoon and no one else was crossing the border at the time. I had to wait about 20 minutes for the immigration office employees to finish their siesta. To my surprise I found out I was not being charged anything for being over my day 90 visa – heyo! I even confirmed with the guy, “no multa?” (no fine?) and then got out of there quickly before they had a change of heart. The whole border crossing ended up being the 2nd easiest (after US/Mexico) and I had successfully entered the country with the highest murder rate in the world – Honduras. Please check out my next blog post for my adventures there!
It's Tuesday, 4-2-13, @ 11.15am and I am writing this from the Yoga House in Xela, Guatemala. It is a beautiful, sunny day outside.
Alright, where was I?...still in Guatemala. I thought it would be nice to do a quick summary from where I started:
- I left Yountville, CA (Napa Valley) on 12/14/13 so have been traveling for 110 days
- I have driven approx.6,100 miles (approx. 9,839 kilometers)
- My truck has used up 329 gallons (1,244 liters) of gas to get to Guatemala ($1,089 US in gas)
- The only thing I have lost on the entire trip is a water bottle; though by good fortune, I was given another bottle by one of my roommates
All in all, this has been an incredible trip and I am only 3 countries into it. So, Guatemala. It's about time I relay some information about this country. I will admit that I prefer Mexico in almost all aspects (specifically the food), though Guatemala is also beautiful with an overall friendly population.
First, the city of Xela:
There are a number of open markets in this city, though I typically go to one called "Democracia", which is about a 15 minute walk from my house. Since it was Semana Santa (Easter week) last week, the market pretty much doubled in size and was more crowded than usual. I went last Thursday to stock up on supplies for the weekend at the beach in Tulate:
I love hitting up these markets and cooking everything fresh. Here's one of the spice tables with cinnamon sticks, pumpkin seeds, allspice, dried peppers, jamaica & more:
Part of the fruit section (mango season is in full swing!):
Two of my friends/roommates, Denise on left (from Singapore) & Tara (from Australia) in front of one of the fresh flower stands:
Specific to this time and a common dish served during the Easter holidays, dried fish:
I never drive anywhere in the city, but we took my truck that day to stock up on rice for Denise's Asian restaurant (which is just across the street from the Yoga House). Besides all the fresh produce, we picked up 200 lbs. of rice and 50 lbs. of flour, which took up Denise's seat in the back.
You may be asking, where's all the meat!? Don't you worry, they have plenty of that here too. I have only purchased fresh meat once here in Xela because I typically only eat meat once or twice a week when out at a restaurant. I do trust all the meat is good in these markets, despite this not being a temperature controlled room. You can also see the Mayan ladies in their traditional dress:
Interested in a pig head, skin or internal organs - they have that too:
Now for the Easter festivities. The main processions and action take place on the weekend, and since I left on Friday morning for the beach, I only caught the beginning of the festivities. On Thursday night, they do a smaller procession, which is done by the children. Here is the Virgin Mary float being carried by girls who looked to be in the range of 10-15 years old:
You can see all the men already dressed in the traditional purple attire in the background:
At night, they have a whole host of booths selling food, candy and a variety of crafts:
I had to grab some street tacos at the low price of 3 for 10 Quetzales (approx. $1.30 US):
Now, for my favorite part of the weekend - the beach. If you have been reading my blog, you are probably aware of my love of the beach. After almost 6 weeks with no beach, I made it to Tulate, which was a 3 hour drive west from Xela. Tulate is a small beach town that fills up with tons of people on Easter weekend. Luckily, my friend, James, knew of a little gem called "Hotel Iguana Bungalows" that is about a mile down the beach from everything else so we escaped the crowds. It was around 93 degrees F the whole weekend. Though it doesn't look like it, this is "black sand" that gets extremely hot when the sun is out. By 10:30 - 11:00am the sand is so hot you will dance and curse outloud, hopping to the nearest shade.
Here's the group from left to right (Christina, Me, Tara, Laura, Jess & James). Christina, Laura & Jess are all Peace Corps volunteers here in Guatemala; James makes/sells peanut butter (which Guatemalans don't really eat) at a few places throughout Xela and has his own small engineering business, and Tara volunteers at an organization called Trama Textiles designing & producing textiles. And lastly, yours truly - I try to have as little responsibility and as few obligations as possible.
After getting my 4runner parked on flat land in the shade, we were finally ready to take the boat. This little Guatemala kid and his family's turkey (behind him) was watching the action:
Along the edge of the water of the canal was a forest of Mangrove trees:
Here is our campsite at the Iguana Bungalows (utilizing my stove once again). I cooked/baked all day Thursday in preparation for the weekend, making potato salad, pasta with marinara sauce, 2 types of fresh rolls - plain & rosemary/thyme, Snickerdoodle cookies, zucchini bread & granola (sorry I didn't get any pics). The stove was for eggs & coffee in the morning.
The group and our hammocks:
We were camping right by the coconut spot, where the staff would cut open fresh coconuts with a machete for only 5 Quetzales each (approx. $0.60 US). Once you drank all the coconut water, they would chop it open so you could eat the coconut meat.
I know coconut water was getting huge in the grocery stores back in the U.S. when I was leaving. I'm sorry, but the boxed coconut water at Trader Joe's has nothing on this:
Other random pics, James cooking breakfast Saturday morning:
On Sunday we walked over to the canal to check out the scene. I spotted a pig that was giving me the evil eye as I tried to join him in feasting on the garbage:
James brought his pole to do some fly fishing:
The weekend unfortunately had to come to an end. Between The Iguana Hotel & the canal were lines of coconut trees. These little kids loved running behind the cart full of luggage. (I still don't understand how they could handle the burning hot sand with bare feet):
And the little boat that transported all of our stuff, the 6 of us and the kid navigating with the giant pole he used to push off the bottom:
My latest plan is to drive to El Salvador next week and spend about 10 days there (the border is only 161 miles, 259 kilometers, from where I am now). I got the travel bug again after driving to Tulate. I will still have my room in Xela, Guatemala but thought I would drive through El Salvador before I fly back to the States for the 2 weddings. When I return from the weddings in The States to Guatemala, I will drive east and cross into Honduras along the Caribbean coast.
I am currently living in the city of Quetzaltenango (also known by its indigenous name, Xelaju, or more commonly Xela), Guatemala until early May.
Per Wikipedia: Xela is the second largest city in Guatemala with a population of 224,703. The population is approx. 61% indigenous, 34% Mestizo & 5% European. It is located in a mountain valley at an elevation of 2,330 meters (7,655 feet) above sea level at its lowest part and reaches above 2,400 meters within the city.
I am living in "The Yoga House" here with 14 other people from various countries - U.S., Canada, Singapore, Australia & Poland. Some of the people are here long-term (Kevin, the yoga master, has been living here for 7 years) while others just hang around for a few weeks.
2012 in Guatemala:
I spent 2 1/2 months in Guatemala last winter (2011) and am pretty stoked about meeting back up with friends in Quetzaltenango (Xela). I lived in "The Yoga House" last time and hope to return there again.
I also plan on taking some more Spanish lessons from a private tutor while I am there and doing some baking as well. I met a fantastic Guatemalan bread baker, Juan Pablo, producing some pretty unique & utterly delicious breads for the area....ciabatta, pita, bagels, english muffins, whole wheat loaves, focaccia and more. He just opened a retail space in the last few months if you happen to be in Xela: