Southern Guatemala

January 29th

Subject: Ricardo versus the volcano
Current Location - San Pedro del Laguna (Lake Atitlan), Guatemala
Trip Mileage - 19,800??
Local Currency - Quetzales (7Q = $1US)
Language - Spanish
Temperature - about 80
Song defining this leg of the trip - Out of Control - Chemical Brothers

I dont know why I beat myself up sometimes. :)

After leaving Flores, Jay, Peter and I took the night bus to Antigua. We had seen the night busses and the day busses and they were the exact same bus, but the night one was half the price, so we took that one. Well, the night bus happens to lock the bathroom door, as its "classe economica". This is a bad thing to learn when you have 3 beers while waiting for the bus. "Classe economica" also makes stops. Not at bus stations, but at peoples houses. Its a real odd thing to get used to. In this part of the world, there is no such thing as a bus stop for the economica busses. Just stand at the end of your driveway, and the bus stops to get you. Heres the kicker, if you AND your neighbor are waiting for the bus, you stand at the end of your respecitive driveways (even if they are 10 feet apart) and the bus will pick you both up. Quite annoying. There is also no such thing as a full bus. The bus may appear full, with people jammed in the aisle like sardines, but according to the driver, there is always room for more. Anyhoot..

We arrived at Antigua in the morning and checked in to one of the nicest looking hostels I've ever seen. Hanging plants and gardens everywhere, and a good view of the active volcano next to Antigua which pours smoke from time to time. The hostel was $4ea per night. Antigua is such a nice place. Unlike a lot of Guatemala, its very posh - it attracts a lot of high end travellers. I'd have no reservations recommending it to anyone as a travel destination for a week or so. There are also tons of language schools teaching spanish. Many people come down for a week and study 2 or 4 hours a day. I was planning on doing a course there, but will likely do one in San Pedro now.

As awesome as Antigua is, we left after a couple days. Peter has a flight leaving out of there, so he was going to do a loop around Lake Atitlan and come back. The 3 of us were having such a good time travelling together, we decided to all go, and Jay and I will do more in Antigua later.

We watched the Superbowl our last night there, and headed back to the hostel. It was the same cost for 2 rooms as it was for one, so I got my own room. After about 5 minutes in bed, I hear a sound outside my door. "mew.".... then again.... "mew." I go open the door. There is a tiny kitten sitting outside my door.

    "well, hello"
    "how did you know i was an animal person?"
    "well, then come on in"
The cat curled up on the bed pressed against my arm and slept there all night. It left in the morning when I opened the door.

We took a shuttle to Panajachel, which is the entrance city to all other towns on Lake Atitlan. The shuttle driver earned the award for worst driver I have ever seen in my life. Not only dangerous, but just a poor driver.

At Panajachel one has to take the ferry across to whatever town you want to go to. The ferry, like the busses, will pick people up anywhere, seemingly even in the middle of the lake. We pulled out of the dock, and 2 minutes in to the ride we stop. Another boat comes out to deliver some people who were late for the ferry. They make these 3 passengers (an old lady, a little girl, and a teenage boy) jump from one boat to another when they are precariously moving about and not tied together. We thought someone was going in.

We decide to hit the town of Santiago on a recommendation. It was the only dissapointment of my trip so far. There was nothing to do, but not a good nothing like at El Remate (my fav in Guatemala so far) but a strange nothing where all the townspeople stare at you, being a tourist. It didnt have any character at all. Furthermore, there were a million barking dogs, going all night. And if the dogs didnt wake you, there was this strange jackhammer-like noise which starts at 5am. We had no idea what it was until we walked by one of the shops - its these huge tortilla dough makers, pounding away. The machines are huge and old, and make the biggest racket. We've now decided to replace the saying "party 'til the cows come home" with "party 'til the tortilla makers start" for the rest of the trip.

One day in Santiago was one day too many. We left the next morning, and grabbed a bite on the way out of town. There were kids making personalized handi-crafts near the resturant, and I mistakenly bought/ordered one. This gets every kid in a 10-mile radius on you like flies. "Mister, mister, you buy this, you buy this". I ended up saying "No, gracias" about 30 times a minute for 10 minutes. Then my food came. They kept on me. I started getting stern- no use. Finally I jumped up and shouted "STOP!!!" at the very top of my lungs in a low bellowing tone, sounding like an ogre. I've never seen such a look of fear on a pack of 6 year olds- heck I think I scared Peter and Jay. I felt like such a meanie. But they went away. :)

We headed here a couple days ago to San Pedro. What a fun cool little place. Lake Atitlan is completely surrounded by volcanos on all sides, making for magnificent views. It just makes for such a nice setting, but to find a town like this with a laid back vibe, it makes it all perfect. We got a hotel last night for what amounted to about $1.75 per person. Not a typo. Most rooms are under US$3. Most meals are $2-$3. You could live here quite a while on next to nothing. And many people do. Travellers often stay here for 4 months or more, then go home to work for 8 months. A lot of ex-pat hippies from the USA come here to live and get away from everything. And a whole lot of people come here to study Spanish. Most schools teach inside little open-air cabanas on the lake, with just room for one desk, one teacher and one student.

One of the other attractions is climbing the volcanos around the lake. Peter and I were interested, and as Jay wasn't and had people to meet in Antigua for a couple days, we split directions for 2-3 days. Before climbing, Peter and I moved our reservation to the nicest hotel in town to spoil ourselves. Only $5ea a night, but its beautiful. We also booked an afternoon time in the solar heated hot-tubs, which are a bit of an attraction here, figuring we'd be sore upon our return. We were right. The volcano we climbed usually takes 4 hours to ascend, and 2.5 to descend. We made it up in 2.5, and down in a little over an hour. Our guide said it was the fastest he's ever had tourists go up. Woo Hoo. I didnt take my camera as people warned me of bandidos (robbers) on the volcano. Half way up I asked our guide if there were any bandidos here ("¿Aye bandidos aqui?"). He assured me no. Well, I guess "aqui", meaning here, means this exact spot we were standing on, because as we got closer to the top, he told me he wanted us to stay quiet, and only follow once he gave the signal, as he was going to go up and look for bandidos. Crikeys! I guess there is a spot on the mountain where they hide and rob tourists. We watched our guide crawl up sort of cat-like and scout the area. Then waived us on.

The views from atop the volcano were awesome. Its dormant, so its overgrown with vegitation. But you can see the lake and the mountains all from the one spot. Its incredible. There is something very rejuvinating for the soul about being on top of a mountain.

Anyway, we returned and hit the hot-tubs, which is the best $3 I've spent in Guatemala yet. These little hot-tubs nestled in a botanical like garden right on the lake side. The only thing they sell is fresh baked cake, which was fine by us. We sat in the tub and had them bring us slices of cake and sat until we were pruny. :) It felt great, but I am still exhausted from the hike.

They use these trucks to carry people like busses would. See this pic to see one loaded how they normally are.

Which brings us up to about this very minute. 8:41p to be exact. We ran in to some of our Norweigan friends from Caye Caulker and are meeting them at 9p, so I'm off soon. We've decided the next couple days will be nothing days. No more volcanos or long hikes please. They offer massage at the hotel. That might be the most ambitious thing I do tomorrow. :)

On a side note, the travelhead list is now over 200 people. 206 to be exact. Wow, thats a lot of people. Hello.

Hope all is "tranquilo"...


February 6th

Current Location - Monterrico, Guatemala
Trip Mileage - 20,000??
Local Currency - Quetzales (7Q = $1US)
Language - Spanish
Temperature - Day=100, Night=75
Song defining this leg of the trip - Montericco, Monterrico, Yah, Yah, Yah....

I never thought that I'd be travelling and welcome a cold shower in my room, but here in Monterrico its the only way they come and the only way you'd want one...

Peter and I left San Pedro the last week to head to the other side of the lake to Panajachel, planning to meet up with Jay there and also looking for a bit more nightlife as San Pedro was a bit quiet at night in terms of festivities. We didnt find any nightlife there, but we did find Jay on our second day.

On our first night in "Pana" (as its called) as I'm lying in my bed wide awake, unable to sleep because of the noise, I came to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a peaceful nights sleep in all of Guatemala, except El Remate. In my sleeplessness, I decided to make a list of things that keep one up in Guatemala, in order of their likleyness, to wit:
    1. Barking dogs
    2. Roosters
    3. Screaming kids
    4. Screaming adults
    5. Construction
    6. Tortilla Machines
    7. Large Trucks and/or Boats
    8. Car Alarms
    9. People who use car alarms as horns (common)
    10. Parites/Loud music for no apparent party.
The list does go on, and at the time I could have doubled it, but I'll let it go... :)

Anyway, we met up with Jay and switched to a hotel that didnt have construction in the front yard, and it was to date the nicest hotel we've stayed at yet. It had piping hot showers and a huge balcony for use by the 2 upstairs rooms only, and we had both rooms as Jay had met up with some friends of ours we camped with for a night at El Mirador (they coming in, us going out). They were Daria and Valeria, twins from Switzerland, as well as their travelling partnet Rene, also from Switzerland, aptly named the Swiss team. So our little group has now snowballed to 6.

We had a little party on our balcony and then headed to market day the next day in Chichicastenango. Its one of the biggest markets in Guatemala. Amazing to see how huge it was, but dissapointingly it was the same stuff you find at most of the vendors in all the other towns we visit, just more of it.

The Swiss team wanted to see San Pedro, so we all headed back there for a few days. Most of it was just relaxing, but we did spend an awesome day on the lake renting kayaks, and seeing the town from the lake. San Pedro is such a neat little town. There are 2 sides to it, and its joined up by a small dirt path that sort of winds around various properties. The first time you navigate it, you're sure you're going the wrong way. You think theres no way this can be the main road connecting the two sides of town, but it is. A lot of the little houses along this path have taken advantage of this by turning in to businesses. Mostly tiny restuarants and makeshift bars. The resturants along there all have fantastic food. And one of the bars has used an upstairs room and turned it in to a theater. They have a projector and surround sound system and about 100 movies. You just go grab some beers and enjoy a flick for the 6p or 8p showing. Pretty cool, so we went once.

Another thing I loved about San Pedro was a little resturant across the street from our hotel called Nicks. They were right on the lake, and had an incredible fruit salad. It was nice to just walk down, sit outside and order a nice big fruit salad, which is such a good change from when I was in the US, and it was easier to just grab McD's. [Aren't you proud, mom?]

After a couple days in San Pedro, we deicded to head to Monterrico, here on the pacific coast. A couple people in our group leave soon, and wanted to be tan by the time they left so some beach time was in order.

Monterrico is a neat little town surrounded by canals and marshy land, so the only way in is by boat through the canals. Someone mentioned a road up north, but its 60km out of the way. I dont know if thats true, but all cars are seemingly brought in by boat, as well as delivery trucks. Its a 20 minute boatride, and we had about 60 people in a boat designed to hold about 30, and a 15 horsepower motor. Do the math. These arent "safety people".... or speed people for that matter.

But Monterrico is nice, it's a black sand beach which is a little different. And like a lot of places in Guatemala, there's trash around, making it less attractive than it could be. (Wow, two incorrectly started sentences in a row, my english teachers would be having fits.)

We rented a bungalow in Monterrico, which is nice. It has bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room, all screened in. And there is a pool outside, shared with only one other bungalow. Shade trees make the pool area nice for a chill out area in the afternoon. Some of the rooms have mosquito nets, which are almost a necessity. All through Belize and Northern Guatemala, there is a very curious lack of mosquitos. They've come back to get me with a vengance down here. I also had a bat in my room the other morning. I didnt really mind it. He flapped a bit, found a nice place to hang from, and chilled out for the rest of the day. I guess he left around sun set.

Its possible to break a sweat just sitting down here, its so hot. Regardless of this, I decided to go running today - like I said, I'm a glutton for pain sometimes. When I got done running, I came back to the bungalow and did the few measly push-ups that I do, and half way through noticed 4 tiny shoes about 12 inches from my nose. I got up. 2 little girls about 6 or 7 years old were standing there, unable to figure out what would compell a person to lay down face first, get up, and then go back down. Repeatedly. They watched until I was done.

I think I'm finally getting in to the swing of this travel-full-time thing. Living out of a bag, and being in constant unfamiliar settings takes some getting used to. But just yesterday, I was walking to the store to buy a bottle of water, and as I sauntered down the dirt path behind the bungalows, a large pig sauntered much the same way in the opposite direction. Moments later, I passed a man sitting on the side of the path with a machete, sort of twirlinging it between his fingertips and the dirt. I said "hola". Then, I rounded the corner, and passed a man riding a mountain bike with a very large outboard motor over his shoulder. I all of a sudden realized that none of this seemed odd to me at all, and knew that I was in the swing of the travel thing.

Well, that about wraps it. The 6 of us are going to spend the next day here, and I'm going to be doing my best impersonation of a beach bum, and doing some body surfing (the surf is really nice here about twice a day), and just watching the sun set - which everyone here seems to stop what they're doing to watch. I think if there is one thing I've decided from my travels, is that I need to eventually live some where that has good sunsets and/or sunrises. Its just amazing how good of a mood that can put you in. :)

Well, from here, its on to Antigua for language classes. Next update in espanol. :)

Hope all is well,


February 11th

Subject: Back to school special, travelhead style

Current Location - Antigua, Guatemala
Trip Mileage - 20,100??
Local Currency - Quetzales (7Q = $1US)
Language - Spanish
Temperature - 80ish
Song defining this leg of the trip Eminem - Theme to 8mile

Its so nice to be out of the raging heat, but I'm sure everyone out there can relate to that feeling. :-)

We spent another couple days in Monterrico, which was really nice (and hot). There was a little bar on the beach, which might win my award for coolest little beach bar ever. Its called El Animal Desconocido, run by a french guy with dreadlocks named Henry, who just had enough of Paris and came to the beach and opened this funky eclectic little place. The first night we went there, he was having a bonfire party on the beach in front of the bar. It was small (25-30 people), but nice.

The next day in Monterrico, we deicded to take a tour of the mangroves which surround the city. Pretty neat tour with trees that actually grow downwards to get water from the canals, and all sorts of neat wildlife, including these jumping fish with 4 eyes that could skim the top of the water for quite a while. I still couldnt get a picture of one.

Before leaving Monterrico, I stopped by El Animal, and had Henry burn me a CD of music. 159 songs... I am whole again. I havent stopped listening to it since.

On the drive from Monterrico to Antigua, we were behind a pick-up truck at one point, and there were 4 people in the open back. A lady about 40, a lady about 80, and a lady about 30, who was breast feeding her baby, perhaps just a few months old. The truck was going slower than us (50mph, perhaps), so we passed. As we passed by, I looked in the cab of the truck, and there were 2 seemingly healthy males, about 35. Thats just so backwards from the way we're used to it, that it amazes me. We've been travelling by "chicken bus" from time to time, and I often notice eldery ladies or ladies carrying children get on, and NO ONE will get up to offer a seat. Usually I am seated too far back to do it myself, and there are too many others standing, so mothers holding children will stand. Thats just the way it is here. The one time I was able to offer my seat, I stood up, and a local guy about my age tried to take the seat before the lady could sit down. I made him get up.

[Chicken buses are the norm transport for locals here in Guatemala. A 2-hour ride will cost between $.75 and $1.50. All buses are old american school buses, but all are painted in wild crazy festive colors.]

We got to Antigua, signed up for a Spanish school, and bid farewell to Peter and Valeria. Their trips were finishing and it was sad to see them go.

Antigua is a very popular spot for Spanish schools, as evidenced by the fact there are about 7 in this small city. Also popular is the homestay program, where you can stay with a Guatemalan family. Thats an opportunity that I really wanted to have, so I signed up for that in addition to my school. It helps the local families, you get square meals, meet locals, practice speaking, and everybody wins. On Sunday, I met my new family...Erma and her 2 daughers and the husband of the oldest daughter, and of course the dog Cleo. The family is very nice, and the meals are good, but not always enough. I don't think they're used to having an eating machine like me at the table. I seem to leave meals and head to resturants. But its very nice living there. I have my own room, and its nice to know I'll be there for a week. I can unpack all my stuff, and relax for at least a week.

Erma lives about 5 minutes from my school, and we talked the whole way home. She doesn't speak English. She asked where I had previously studied Spanish, if it was in the US, which was perhaps the best complement she could have given.

School is great. I have just finished my second day, and its going better than I thought. I took "French 101" a staggering 4 times in 4 different schools, so I guess I'm accustomed to introductory language courses. But, yes, its going well. We have one-teacher-to-one-student, and my teacher is a nice lady named Rocio who apparently has no qualms about hitting on her students. :) Monday morning, walking to school was another one of "those moments". I walked along the cobblestone streets, past the remants of a church built in the 1600s, long since destroyed by earthquakes, but mostly still standing. Then I passed the ladies in the square, all hand-washing their laundry, and then on past the markets with all the chatter that goes with the selling of the brightly colored crafts that they sell. Yep, cool moment.

The website of my school is

We were trying to volunteer at a hosptial for handicapped children across the street from our school, but lack of time, combined with an abundance of volunteers made us finally decide against it. However, the hospital is run purely on monetary donations, which we were more than happy to give, and surgeons and doctors who donate their time. If you'd like information on the hospital, please check out this page. If you're interested in sending a donation, you may do so at the address below. It is a truly amazing organization.

Obras Sociales del Hermano Pedro
6a. Calle No.20
Antigua, Guatemala
Centro America

February 18th

Current Location - Antigua, Guatemala
Local Currency - Quetzales (7Q = $1US)
Language - Spanish
Temperature - 80ish
Song defining this leg of the trip Turn the Page - Bob Seger

Ok, so I decided to delete "Trip Mileage" from this and future headers. That was more of an idea from when I was travelling with my truck. At this point I'm just sort of guessing at mileage by looking at maps and figuring travel times.

So I finished with my week of school, and had actually planned to write part of this update in Spanish, but I'd need my notebook to do it, and it would have taken much longer. I can honestly say my Spanish is much much better. I was able to read the better part of a newspaper this morning, and I can understand more and speak more. In fact, after a mix-up yesterday with a bus company that we booked with, I got upset and started "talkin' smack" in Spanish to the guy. Later my friends remarked that you've got to be getting comfortable with a language if you're prepared to back up some tough talk.

Anywho, I was real happy with the decision to study in Antigua. The 3 main places people study in Guatemala are Antigua, San Pedro, and Monterrico. But Antigua has the most going on, and the most nightlife during the week. Obviously, I wasnt going out during the week because I was in school - ask anyone I went to college with... I'm that studious. ;-) OK, maybe I went out a couple times.

On Thursday we went out to a bar, and met a couple people from Holland who were headed to Monterrico for the full moon party. I have heard of full moon parties for years now and they are rather big events, I really wanted to see one so we decided to head back to Monterrico for the weekend to check it out.

We went to the shuttle bus office on Friday afternoon to find out when the Saturday shuttle left. They said 8am. Too early. They said that if we had 6 or more people, we could get our own shuttle at whatever time we wanted. Fair enough, we had 5 of us, we could easily find one more. We went out that night and asked everyone we knew if they wanted to go for this party. Most people werent sure, so we kept asking. We just kept telling people that if they wanted to go, to meet in the park at 10am. Saturday morning, we went to the park to find 16 people there. Its nice to have so many happy people around, but travelling in a group that large is just too hard. You begin to feel more like a tour operator than a group of friends. You have to make announcements as to when its time to walk to the shuttle place, and directions on how to get there. But it was fun.

We got to Monterrico and found out that the full moon party was in fact last full moon. Bummer. Although Monterrico can never really be a bummer. In fact, I think it is one of the worlds best kept secrets. The Europeans seem to know that this part of Guatemala is amazing, but somehow Americans dont. Most of the people travelling down here are from Denmark, Sweeden, Switzerland, and Norway. And as for it being dangerous, the majority (65%-ish) of the travellers here are females, and have had no problems at all. I had actually planned on spending 5-7 days in Guatemala, and have been here 4 weeks and dont really want to leave. In fact, the thought of not leaving has crossed my mind several times. :)

In any case, the lack of a proper full moon party didnt slow things down in Monterrico. Many european students and travellers decend on Monterrico every weekend anyway, just because its so close to Antigua and Lake Atitlan. There was actually a dance/fundraiser for a group who is looking to build a recycling plant in Monterrico which is desparately needed. We went and stayed for a little bit. After we were there for a few minutes, one of the local girls came and asked me to dance. I think I may have a new girlfriend. This little girl had more energy than any person or animal I have ever met. She was a lean, mean, caffine-consuming machine. Drinking fanta like it was going out of style, she didnt stop moving for the hour or so we were there. We'd take turns dancing with her when we got tired. When we were all too tired, she'd do laps around the place.

After the dance, we went out to El Animal Desconicedo, and stayed there almost until the sun came up, hanging out with Henry the owner, and just meeting great people. The next day, I tried to set a worlds record for longest consecutive time in a hammock. I must give proper thanks to those people who brought me drinks and food in my attempt to set this record. Later that night, we went to our favorite resturant, owned by a swiss lady who just got a new Pelican for her resturant. In various places on this trip and others, I have had cats, dogs, chickens, pigs, rabbits and geckos running around my table, but this is the first time a Pelican ever wandered around me while I was eating. Cool bird.

Well, this is my last day in Guatemala. I'm headed to Honduras tomorrow. I will absolutely be back to this part of the world someday.
Mail Home Home