Posts Tagged With: Guatemala

…and hello to Antigua

The trip to Antigua on Holy Saturday took quite a bit longer than my “road trip” a week earlier. Due to the influx of tourists to all of the pueblos around Lake Atitlán and Antigua, the traffic situation was ridiculous. Several tour agencies in Panajachel combined forces and hired a huge 25-person shuttle rather than the typical minivan-style coaches. I was lucky enough to get a seat for both me and my backpack towards the back of the shuttle. We took an alternate route out of Pana and everything seemed to be going well… until we hit the highway about half an hour outside Antigua. Stretched in front of us as far as the eye could see was a line of bumper-to-bumper traffic along our side of the four-lane highway, which was barely moving. At this rate, getting to Antigua could take hours.

This is when our driver made an executive decision. Without a word, he calmly pulled into the oncoming lane of traffic and casually bypassed about two miles’ worth of traffic by driving on the wrong side of the road. There were few cars coming in our direction, but that didn’t stop us from gaping, wide-eyed and incredulous, at the sheer ballsiness of our driver. At the next break in the median, he easily veered back into the line of traffic like nothing had ever happened. Half the shuttle erupted in nervous laughter; the other half burst into a round of applause. “Propinas, por favor,” (“Tips, please”), the driver joked.
Cutting in line, Guatemala-style

We arrived in town after sundown. Walking alone at night on the outskirts of Antigua is maybe not the best idea, but I was able to find my homestay while walking with a woman who owned a local bakery. I would be staying the next 10 days with the Rosales family: Doñas Natalia, Rosalinda, Sara, Irma, and their adorable dog, Maggie.
At the kitchen table, where I shared three meals a day with my family

I had a spacious private room in the house with my own bathroom. The rooms were on the second floor and opened to a sitting area that had a view of the surrounding hills. It was a beautiful place to stay, especially with the sun rising over the mountains in the morning. Early on one of the first mornings, I heard a rumbling noise which I assumed to be a truck passing by. I heard one of the women downstairs exclaim, “¡El volcan!” Nearby Fuego was erupting at the time of my visit, some distance away from town. Can’t say I’ve ever woken up to the sound of a volcano before!

On Sunday morning, which was Easter, I went to Mass at the nearby Iglesia San Francisco and then got some breakfast. There were processions that day, too, but to be honest, I was getting a bit processioned-out and just caught the tail end of it as the anda re-entered the church in the early evening. There were huge crowds, firecrackers, and the obligatory Dora and Minion balloon vendors. Possibly the strangest thing was the presence of an emcee on a microphone who would shout what sounded like an Easter play-by-play as the procession neared the church doors: “¡Jesus ha resucitado! ¡Aleluia!” And the crowd would cheer and applaud. It kinda felt like a sporting event :).

Jesus surfs back into the courtyard of the church

A typical Antigua courtyard

Volcan Agua visible to the south

Later on, I wandered around town, both scoping out a place to eat dinner (meals are not included with the homestay on Sundays) and checking for any pubs that might be showing Game of Thrones. I know, I know, pathetic, but I never would have cared had I not gotten a taste of Season 4 at the Alegre Pub. I did not find Game of Thrones at Cafe Sky; however, I did find Samir, a French traveler whom I had met in San Pedro. He and his friend Maria invited me to join them for dinner. The views from the roof deck of the cafe were breathtaking. I did not see this beautiful a view for the rest of my time in Guatemala. It was the beginning of the rainy season, so the evenings were turning more and more overcast as the days passed. I’m glad I got the chance to experience this:




I guess Cafe Sky is the place to run into people that you’ve met in San Pedro, because just a few days later, I ran into Sarah and Hani, whom I had seen while watching the Good Friday processions. They were accompanied by new friends Erica and Sam. Both of these American couples are traveling by camper from the US through Latin America. That is, if you could call Skyhorse a camper. Seriously, Sarah and Hani’s vehicle needs to be seen to be believed: Adventures in Skyhorse. Erica and Sam also have a ton of great stories from camping and exploring in Mexico at Song of the Road. Even though we had never hung out before, they were fantastic and hilarious company. Can you see why I never get any work done on my blog? 🙂


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Saying goodbye to San Pedro

It’s amazing how quickly you can grow to love a place and think of it as home. As my last week of classes drew to an end, I found myself with a growing pit of dread in my stomach: I was not at all looking forward to saying goodbye to San Pedro. The festivities of Semana Santa provided a bit of a distraction, as did special events like celebrating my teacher Elizabeth’s 21st birthday by going out to dinner:

Elizabeth enjoying Wiener schnitzel at Cafe Atitlán

Our class also took a field trip to local beach after school that Thursday, which involved catching a ride to get there:

The last day of classes was a tad anticlimactic: while the other students finished their lessons that morning, Elizabeth and I had moved our class to the afternoon due to the early Good Friday processions… but by the time school time rolled around after lunch, we were exhausted, hot, and burned out. The town was swamped with tourists (mostly from Latin America), and the heat wave made it difficult to concentrate. I convinced Elizabeth that our last day together would be much better spent enjoying a licuado (smoothie). Sooo much better than attempting to squeeze in another verb tense! 🙂


There was no fun-filled karaoke farewell party, as I had been excitedly planning. My group of friends climbed the stairs of Alegre Pub on Friday night – their normal karaoke night- only to be greeted by horrific dance music, a smoke machine, lasers, and the scantily-clad Brahva girls (picture your typical group of young, attractive beer-or-alcohol spokespeople) dancing up a storm. I guess the pub had tried to up the ante for Semana Santa weekend. We spent the remainder of the night at the decidedly more relaxed Sublime, where we could enjoy the bonfire along the water.

With Max, Lauren, and Paul (who is both completely amazing and potentially insane to be biking from Alaska to South America. As in, on a bicycle. Check out his spectacular website at The Ride South).


The next day, Saturday, was my last in San Pedro. I spent the morning running around: finishing errands, buying a thank-you carrot cake at Cafe Cristalina’s for my homestay family, buying souvenirs, and failing in my final attempt to attend a yoga class in San Pedro. (THANKS FOR THE NOTIFICATION, SAN PEDRO YOGA, THAT YOU NEVER SEEM TO OPEN YOUR DOORS). Part of me knew that I would need to keep busy to avoid thinking about the inevitable: leaving my new family and the people in town that had come to be my neighbors and friends over the last month.

I’ll admit it: the last lunch with my family was very emotional for me. It’s hard to say goodbye to people who have shared their home, their meals, and their lives with you for four weeks. I loved my homestay family, and I hope that I will be able to see them again.


I also bid farewell to many of the other new friends I had made:

Rene, the head of Orbita Spanish School (with Elizabeth)

Josefina, who runs the best licuado stand in San Pedro (also a favorite of Nadine and Miguel!)

I only walked past Manuel’s storefront about fifteen times a day. When he wasn’t busy playing his xylophone, he would always give me a friendly “Buenas.”

When I boarded the lancha to Panajachel for the last time, it was with a heavy heart, which will always fondly remember my time in San Pedro.

Leaving paradise

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Semana Santa at Lake Atitlán

As with my previous post, there is very little than can be accomplished by trying to describe the processions of Holy Week in Guatemala. The following processions occurred on the evening of Holy Thursday and the morning of Good Friday. I hope that this photo essay can do them justice.

Wednesday evening: the town park already decorated with fruit for Holy Week


Does St. Peter remind anyone of the statue of Paul Bunyan in Fargo? Is it the angle? Is that sacrilegious?

Holy Thursday in San Pedro:





These little guys approached me and Lauren in the park and spoke to us about a mile a minute in Spanish while their amused parents looked on. They even gave us flowers for our hair. Such sweethearts.

Good Friday morning in San Pedro:












The last words of Christ




Me, Ludo, and his host “mom”

My buddy Max







Good Friday evening in San Juan:


Another Judas effigy





Running into my teachers: Teresa, Elizabeth, and Celeste

Linda, Domingo, and I



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Religion in San Pedro

One of the first things that you notice upon arriving in San Pedro la Laguna is the ubiquitous nature of all things religious. Signs and banners with Psalms, Scripture passages, and religious messages cover the streets. Even the buses and tuk-tuks are labelled with things like “Cristo es El Rey.” There are thirty-seven churches in San Pedro; of these, one is Catholic and the rest are evangelical. As mentioned in a recent post, it was not uncommon for me to wake up in the morning to the sound of preaching. Singing can be heard throughout the day and evening from any of the churches in the town. Most of the music is very pleasant; however, one church in particular across the water from our school (you know who you are, little green church with the star!) employed a cantor who was less than skillful in terms of pitch. Nearly every morning, our lessons were accompanied by the sound of the church band’s bass and guitar and their warbling singer. I tried hard, without much luck, not to be distracted.





I attended Mass with Elizabeth, my teacher, the first Sunday after I had arrived in town. I was happy that I had brought a pashmina to cover my shoulders, because the vast majority of the women in church covered their heads with woven scarves during the service. Not that this helped me blend in at all, mind you, as I was about a foot taller than most of the people in the room. I decided against covering my head: with my hair in a top-knot, any additional height would have turned me into an awkward mountain of many colors in the middle of the pew.



As the Mass continued, I was pleased to realize that I could follow along and understand much of the readings in Spanish. Sweet, I thought, I *have* learned a lot so far. Until the homily, where the flow of Spanish was interrupted mid-sentence like music on a scratched CD. For a minute, I thought I might be going crazy, but then I remembered that Tz’utujil is another language used in San Pedro. I asked Elizabeth why the sermon was bilingual. She answered that since many of the older people in town speak very little Spanish, the homilies are given in Tz’utujil, but since this language lacks the vocabulary to describe certain people, events, and places (especially Biblical), the priest fills in the blanks with Spanish.

My entire time in San Pedro occurred during Lent, and there were countless processions and celebrations in the town during this time. I will write more in a future post about the more elaborate Holy Week processions with their alfombras, or carpets of flowers, in the streets. This procession, however, occurred on a Friday night two weeks before Easter:

Before the procession, men and boys holding large noisemakers called matracas (thanks for the info, Max!) parade the streets, paving the way for the ondas, or “floats” with sacred images.

A reading from one of the Stations of the Cross (in Tz’utujil!)

Processing to the next station

Processions galore in upcoming posts!

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Why I love bachata and hate boats

The afternoon shuttle ride from Antigua, Guatemala to Lake Atitlan, where I would be spending the next month studying Spanish, was thoroughly enjoyable due the scenic views and our driver’s music selection. (I had also picked the passenger seat with a headrest in contrast to that morning’s tiny backrests. So much better!) He had several flash drives of music that he could plug into his stereo. Much of this was current Spanish-language radio hits, while others were bachata remixes of popular American songs.

This is thing about the bachata style of music: it makes everything better. It expresses joy and love and passion but with an underlying hint of sadness at the same time. And anyone who knows me well knows that I like a bit of darkness in my music. I become really really happy when I listen to grunge ;). Bachata transformed Coldplay’s “Clocks” and Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” into danceable melodies. Normally, I like Adele’s “Someone Like You”… but it’s the type of song that makes me want to curl up in a ball on my couch in sweatpants and either drink heavily or inhale a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. But set that baby to bachata, and it’s time to put your dancing shoes on! Bachata has even accomplished the seemingly impossible feat of making Jason Mraz palatable. (Whaaaat? Well, I never!) I found myself tapping my foot to the bachata-style “I’m Yours,” when typically I start looking for the nearest sharp object when I hear the original version. (Only a slight exaggeration).

Our shuttle descended through the town of Solola down fog-covered roads to the lakeside pueblo of Panajachel. In order to reach San Pedro, I would need to take one of the many lanchas that ferry passengers across the lake throughout the day. The problem: the weather was overcast and rather cold, and the water was wicked choppy. I do NOT do well on small craft. Still, without any realistic alternative, I threw my backpack in the lancha, donned my acupressure wrist bracelets, and hoped for the best.



As our boat bumped along the waves, water and mist splashed at us from the front of the boat. One of the workers who was sitting on the roof lowered a bright blue tarp over the front of the seating area to keep the water from hitting us. (The couple sitting in the front two seats of the boat were not so lucky). The upside was that the tarp blocked the wind, keeping the interior a bit warmer; the downside was that the tarp dangled about three inches in front of my nose, creating the equivalent of being blindfolded on a magic motion ride. Vomitus.

Roughly twenty minutes later (was it twenty? I don’t know, I was blindfolded), a hint of sun started to peek through the clouds. The tarp was lifted, and land ho! Whereas before, the mist obscured any type of view, we could now see our boat approaching the other side of the lake and the dock of San Pedro.




Pleasantly surprised that I had not lost my lunch, I disembarked and got my first look at the town that I would call home for the next month. It was my last night of “vacation”: the next morning, it would be back to school for me.

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