Monday, October 22, 2007

The People You Meet Traveling

I have been meaning to write for awhile about the amazing variety of people we have met while we've been traveling in Guatemala. Just on our trip last weekend, we met some really cool and different people:


  • Brian is a non-denominational, non-governmental social worker in the Dominican Republic. Brian is originally from South Africa, but now is a US citizen. He and his wife have been working together in Haiti and the DR for about 5 years. Though a big strong guy, he has a very gentle heart and a clear mission in life. Brian is in Guatemala studying Spanish so he can better interact with the people he is working with. Website



  • Adam is a newly commissioned lieutenant in the US Army Reserves. He was an Army sergeant, but just completed 6 months of officer training school, and is taking a break for a few months in Guatemala. He's studying Spanish and working as a bartender at the local sports bar.



  • William is a young man from Belgium, but is of Guatemalan origin. William was adopted from Guatemala as a baby, and has returned to get to know his country of birth. He's one of the most outgoing (and nice) people we met. Being Belgian, he grew up knowing French and Dutch. His English is pretty good, and he's learning Spanish.



  • Laurel and Darrin, a mid-life couple from California who are 9 months into a 15 month trip around the world. They've been backpacking for 9 months, and have been all over... Australia, Nepal, India, etc. From here they are headed to South America. Their $3,000 round-the-world airline ticket runs out in March... Website



  • Steve and Jacky are a mid-life couple from New Zealand, traveling in Mexico and Guatemala on a 6 week vacation. Jacky's stories of traveling in her younger days (3 days across Africa in the back of a fish truck) were incredible.




  • Kim, who is a 50-ish Korean man. His brother has lived in Guatemala for a number of years and Kim has come here to visit him. He studies Spanish in the school in Antigua during the week, and then goes to his brother's house in Guatemala City for the weekend.



  • John and Celine, a French Canadian couple. John is here for his 4th time. His Spanish is pretty good, but he's still expanding his vocabulary and increasing his fluency. He brought his wife Celine down here so she could learn and travel with him.




  • Hanneka, a Dutch woman. Here by herself, just hanging out in Guatemala, and learning Spanish and seeing the sights.





  • Suresh, who is a Canadian from Ontario. He has just completed his medical school entrance exams, and has a couple of months to wait before the results come back. So he's here studying Spanish and hanging out. He already knows Spanish much better than I do (from only 2 weeks and Spain, he said).


  • Lucy, a young girl about 21 who wasn't really interested in college. Her parents suggested she try a different tack and encouraged her to go to Guatemala to volunteer to do some social work up in the highlands of Guatemala. The prerequisite was 2 months of language school, which she finished last week. Lucy got on a bus for Xela last weekend to go up into the mountains until Christmas.


  • And of course the 'yachties'. To our amigos at the school, our life and plans are very exotic, too. They are interested in exactly how we are living (and how we can afford it.

Dave's Website






Memory Rose's Website

The common questions when you meet another student (in a bar, in the square, on a bus to somewhere, at the mid-morning break at the school).

- Where are you from?
- How long are you here for?
- Where have you been in Guatemala?
- Where are you going next?
- How can you afford to do this?

It is fun sharing life stories and tips about how to see more of Guatemala for less. And it is inspiring to meet other adventurous people like ourselves.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Coban, Lanquin, Semuc Champey


We left the school at 1pm on Friday. There were 9 of us and luggage, plus we were picking up 3 more at the crossroads. Hmmm... could be a little tight in that van!

They had promised us an itinerary, but we never got one (and forgot to ask until we were underway). Maybe it was a plot to make us have to talk Spanish with our driver!

The driver, Carlos, seemed to only speak Spanish (but later I found out that he speaks English pretty well). I was worried that the fact that we were supposed to be picking Dave, Ron, and Dorothy up at El Rancho hadn't been properly communicated. So I worried the whole way until we actually had them in the bus that something wouldn't work out right. But it was no problem.

We didn't pick them up in El Rancho until about 4:30pm, and we still had about 2 hours to go to get to Coban. To fit all 12 people in, with luggage, we had to put Sue on the jump seat next to the driver, and Dorothy on the back jump seat next to the luggage. They swapped places on the way back and both ended up with sore bums.



It was a dark and rainy night and we were all glad that someone else was driving us. Carlos turned out to be a very good and careful driver. Most of the roads in Guatemala are still only 2 lanes. And they have no trains and no ports to speak of, so ALL the goods in the country move via truck. AND the roads are very mountainous, so one heavily laden truck going up a hill will essentially stall traffic to a crawl. So the other drivers just pass them anywhere, any way they can... on hills, on blind curves, etc. It is not uncommon to have 3 abreast on a 2 lane road. They are all crazy. It's nervewracking to just be in the passenger seat. But Carlos refused to pass unless he could do so safely.

The sleeping arrangements for our 2 nights in the hotel had been a little fuzzy. The normal student population (the backpackers) are used to dormitory style accommodations. But I wanted to spend at least the first night alone with Dave, so I asked for a private room for us and another for Ron and Dorothy. There were 2 other couples in the group and 4 single people. Once all the keys had been given out, it turned out that my friend Sue (who is married) ended up being paired with Kim, an older gentleman from Korea. He wasn't too keen about that and neither was Sue.

There were no more rooms to be had. So they shuffled things a little bit and they ended up putting her in with 2 other students (in a 3-bed room). I think the name of the hotel was Pasado Don Antonio, but it was somewhat unremarkable. We got there late, it was pouring rain and it continued to rain until we left in the morning.

The next morning we had breakfast in a Pollo Campero, which is a McDonalds-style fast food restaurant that specializes in chicken.



They are all over Guatemala, but so far we had refused to eat in one. But our driver, Carlos, picked this place because it was easy and relatively fast. It was not bad. Dave and I both got 'Plato Super Tipico' which included refried beans and fried plantains (and eggs, bacon, etc).

Once we left Coban for Lanquin, the paved road ended and we went the rest of the way on dirt roads. However, we saw regular mile markers (in kilometers, actually). We wondered whether someone would really go 265 Km on this road!!! I think it was only about 40 Km to our final destination, but it took us 2 hrs of driving to cover that distance. It had rained the night before and the roads were muddy and slippery, and we were going up and down hills on very rutted roads.



With the van so heavily loaded, Carlos had to get a running start before going up a hill. Once, we met another car coming our way, and we had to stop to let him pass, and then Carlos had to back down the road a quarter of a mile to get our running start again. We also had to shift a few people to the back, to put some more weight on the back wheels. We eventually made it.

The first stop on Saturday morning were the caves of Lanquin (lan-keen)... Las Cuevitas de Lanquin. This was a big series of caves with lights, etc. Our guide spoke only Spanish and took us through the cave pointing out formations that look like something else. (ie one rock looked like a monkey face, El Mono).



It was kind of uninspiring after our cave trip in Belize. Everyone was excited when Dave pointed out the bats hanging from the ceiling. The cave was lit, but they had told us to bring flashlights in case the lights go out. They say there are miles of caves that have not been explored.

After the caves, we piled back in the van for another 10 Km to get to our final destination, Semuc Champey and Hotel Las Marias. It was more bumpy slithery road, though small villages and at least one coffee plantation.

Las Marias is situated on the Rio Lanquin, right near Semuc Champey.



Semuc Champey is a series of waterfalls and pools, where the river goes (mostly) for awhile. The sight of the river falling into this big hole was an amazing site.





We got a chance to swim and climb around on the rocks in the pools.



Then Dave and I and Sue opted to walk back via the 'mirador' (overlook). It was a half hour climb up steep steps (both rock and wooden) to get there. But the view was worth it and we saw 3 toucans in the tree nearby. The picture at the beginning was taken from the mirador.

We met some of our friends from the La Union school who had also gone to Semuc Champey on a trip they organized themselves. They got to do the tubing trip in addition to the waterfalls trip.

At dinner the owner of the hotel and his buddies hauled out their Marimba and played some authentic Guatemalan music for us.



The trip back on Sunday was long. The only fun thing was our stop at Biotopo Quetzal, where we did an hour nature walk through the 'cloud forest'. There are supposed to be Quetzals (the Gaute national bird) there, but we didn't see any.

More pics here:
Coban, Lanquin, and Semuc Champey

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Language School, after Day 4

We've settled in to a weekday routine... up at 7am, breakfast on the table at 7:30 (made by our house mother Estela), and out the door to school at 7:45.


My teacher and I in school

It's about a 10 minute walk from our casa to the school. Each student/teacher pair gets a desk, and there are about 30 desks scattered around the school. We get a break from 10:00 to 10:30am. There is an old woman selling meat pies on the street at break. Or you can go next door to the internet cafe.

During the morning, one of the people from school comes by and describes the day's afternoon activity and asks if you want to participate (all in Spanish). Yesterday, it was a free Salsa/Merengua class. Today it was a visit to Mayan family house for a demonstration on weaving, a mock wedding, and some 'plata typica' (typical Mayan food), with, of course, an opportunity to buy some Mayan handicrafts (yep, bought another one).



Tomorrow the activity is a bicycle tour of Antigua. These are generally free or inexpensive. And they are all in Spanish.

School ends at 12 noon. Lunch (back at the casa) isn't til 1pm, so we have time to either check some email or lounge a bit before lunch. Most of the afternoon activities start at 2pm, so it's back to the school for that. We are usually back at the casa by 5pm, where Estela has dinner ready.

Then we study... an hour or two, perhaps interspersed with a little bit of TV. (CNN in English, sometimes a Spanish channel).

Every weekend the school also organizes a group tour for the weekend, to some place in Guatemala. This weekend the tour is to Coban, Lanquin, and Semuc Champey. This is an area of caves and rivers, where the attractions are rain forest, caves, tubing, and waterfalls. The cost for the trip, including transportation and hotel, is $85 pp. This is an area that Dave has been dying to visit. So when I heard that was where the trip was, I called him and asked if he wants to try to meet me. He researched the logistics of getting from the Rio Dulce, and said it was do-able. He also enlisted our friends Ron and Dorothy. So the three of them are going to catch the Litegua bus to El Rancho, where the road from Antigua/Guatemala City turns left to Coban.

Note: Coban is not Copan, which is a place of ruins in Honduras.


Our humble abode.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Off to Language School in Antigua

One of our cruising friends decided she was going off to language school in Antigua while her husband tore the boat apart to repair leaky fuel tanks. Since I had been wanting to do the same thing, and Dave kept saying he had too many projects to do to go off on anther trip, I volunteered to go along with Sue from Infini.<

Sue had done all the research and had picked the school already. I checked out the La Union website and agreed it looked like a good school. La Union website. The cost for 4 hours a day with a private tutor is $90 a week, and room and board in the 'student house' is another $83/week. Sue and I both signed up via a form on their website. Some schools require as much as a $75 registration fee, but La Union does not.

We left the Rio on the Litegua bus on Thursday and started school on Friday. We opted to take classes on Saturday (at least THIS Saturday), but we are taking today off. After 2 days of intense study, I have 'verbos irregularos' spilling out of my brain. I am learning, I just hope it sticks.

I would probably be learning more if I had opted to do a 'home stay' (stay with a family who won't speak any English to you). However, we both wanted the freedom of a less intimate setting. The student house has turned out to be kinda fun. It is typical of the low end hotels in Antigua, but kind of family style with communal meals. The accommodations are bare bones, but clean enough. (Sue bought a roll of paper towels today so she could clean up her bathroom a little better).

Our 'house mother', Estela, lives elsewhere, but comes in at 7am to make breakfast, and stays til 5pm. She does the cooking and the cleaning. Lunch is ready for us at 1pm, when we get out of school, and she makes dinner and leaves it for us when she leaves at 5pm. We are free to eat when we want by warming it in the microwave.

There are 6 rooms here. Most of the students are young Americans--just out of college. They seem to drink and party more than they study. One is actually working as a bartender in a local student hangout. Sue and I are the oldest. There's another older student who's an American, but who is originally from South Africa. Brian is currently living in the Dominican Republic and an aid worker with a non-governmental organization based in the DR. He desperately wants to learn Spanish, and studies
every night. We have had an interesting time talking around the dinner table. He has family in South Africa and New Zealand, some of whom are sailors. So he is curious about what we are doing and why (and how much it costs).

We plan to stay here in Antigua studying for 2 weeks, and then Sue will fly back to the States for awhile (while her husband Mike finishes the messy project), and I will go back to the Rio Dulce. If Dave and Mike can take a few days off from their 'projects' next weekend, we hope they'll meet us in Guatemala City for a day or so.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

LOB (Lost On Board)

Back in June, I reported my watch as lost. It went missing the day we finished our 4 day crossing from Dry Tortugas to Belize. It didn't plop overboard, but I just sort of lost track of it on the crossing.

However...

a few nights ago...

I was headed for the head at 4:30 am...

and danged if I didn't hear my missing watch a-beepin'

I could hear it very very faintly, only because I was standing right next to the 'dive locker'.

Wow! WOW!!

My favorite watch (really, you have no idea), risen from the dead. When it went missing, I whined to Dave for a week. We spent quite a bit of time in Belize City trying to find another genuine waterproof Timex to replace it. They sell lots of watches on the streets of Belize, but they're all really cheap knowck-off.

My watch was really a pretty cheap Timex Triathlon... sells for about $30 at Walmart. But I have taken that watch down to 100' while diving. It keeps time like a Swiss watch. It has an alarm clock and a timer I use all the time. I just really liked it.

I never did figure out what happened to it. Because we'd been on passage for 4 days, I was a little foggy the day it went missing. When it didn't turn up around the boat after a few days, and I didn't ever hear it beep again (it was set to beep once on the hour every hour), I figured it must have somehow gone over the side the day we reached Belize (I went snorkeling right after we put the anchor down). I had long since given it up, and had daughter Nicki send me a new one in the last mail package.

So, the other night when I heard it, it was like it had risen from the dead. I hung out for another 5 minutes to see if it beeped again. If it WAS really my watch, it would beep again in 5 minutes. Yup, THERE IT WAS!! How exciting. But still so faint I couldn't really tell where was coming from.

When I told Dave later in the morning (Though I wanted to, I couldn't REALLY wake him up at 4:30 in the morning to tell him I heard my watch beeping, could I?) I'm not sure he really believed me.

At a decent hour, I rummaged around in the 'dive locker' to see if I could find it. The 'dive locker' is really a full-sized 'forward head', turned into a It is a huge space, relatively speaking. On Soggy Paws, Dave converted this big shower area into a storage space. To name a few things stored there... the dive compressor, 4 dive tanks, about 3 full sets of dive gear (wetsuits, BC's, regulators, etc), our safety gear (harnesses and abandon ship bag, our luggage, some other stuff). It is jammed full, top to bottom.

So when I suggested we unload it to look for my watch, Dave thought I was nuts. I racked my brain for what we might have done that day it went missing, that it would have ended up in the dive locker. We checked the normal set of dive gear, and our inflatable harnesses that we would have had in the cockpit (twice). no luck.

I promised I'd get up at 4:25 to listen for it again, so we unloaded the top part of the stuff (mostly dive equipment). I set my watch for 4:20, but I was so psyched to find my watch, I actually woke at about 4am. (yeah, I know, that's kind of sick ... it's just a stupid plastic watch).

I did get up, but with little success. I found that it was actually going off at 4:28 instead of 4:30, so I missed the first one. When it went off again at 4:33, I did hear it and did confirm that I could hear it louder if I leaned into the dive locker. I also stuck my head up toward the forward head to try to see if it might be coming from there (a much more likely place for me to have lost my watch).

The next night, I forced Dave to get up and listen with me (4 ears are better than 2). Dave is a guy who likes waking up around 8am. 4:30am just ain't his style. But he's a trouper, so he didn't grumble too much.

On the first time it went off, I had him positioned in the main cabin, on the outside of the dive locker. Maybe it wasn't really in the dive locker? I could barely hear it and he didn't at all (I swear he thought I was hallucinating).

The next time it went off, I was positioned up on deck (we'd been putting the dinghy in the afternoon it went missing), and Dave had his head in the dive locker. Well, at least he finally heard it, faintly. At least he knew I wasn't crazy. But we were no closer to finding it.

During the daytime, we unloaded more of the dive locker, and went over everything more carefully. I kept insisting it was in there and Dave kept suggesting it must be somewhere else (mainly because he could think of no good reason why it would be in there).

On the 3rd night, (we can't actually remember what happened, but I know we were both up listening for the damned thing, and we were no closer to finding it).

The next day, we unloaded MORE of the dive locker. Still didn't find it. I spent literally an hour in the forward head looking through the cabinets. I spent another hour looking through the bags stored up against the bulkhead near the dive locker. It was really starting to bug me.

The 4th night, we put Dave up forward and he heard not a peep. Though we had all the dive gear out of the locker, there was no sound coming from the heap of stuff on the couch. On the second try that night, I unloaded a bunch more (unlikely) stuff out of the locker.

LO AND BEHOLD!! The sound moved from the locker to the couch!! We did finally manage to track it down to a bag full of safety harnesses... one that we hadn't used on the trip. We had searched the other bag, with the inflatable harnesses, 3 times already, but had neglected the one with the old style harnesses. But we found it.

And are we glad! What a relief to finally find it, and NOT to have to get up every morning at 4:30 am to listen to a ghost!!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Stop the bleeping beeping!

We have an inexpensive window air conditioner on Soggy Paws. It is a Maytag, but from pictures of other similarly-priced units on the web, it could be any low-end brand.

It is a pretty nice reliable unit for a window a/c.

It has an electronic control panel with a timer, a digital temperature setting, and a fan/hi/low setting. One of it's 'features' is a loud beep emitted when any button is pushed on the control panel. Others on the internet complained of this when the unit is working properly, just because changing a setting in the middle of the night makes a beep loud enough to wake the family.

Sometime in the last few months, the a/c started beeping on its own. Watching it, it looked as if a ghost was pushing the timer button on and off at random times. It started out happening only occasionally and gradually increased in frequency. We could not correlate what might be making it beep. Dave thinks the thing came with a remote (which can't be found) and one theory was RFI from something else was putting it in and out of timer mode.

So we played with computer and cell phone chargers and even asked the neighbors in the boat next door what they were doing when it would beep.

As it started to increase in frequency, we started unplugging the durned thing during the day. However, there was no way we could silence it at night.

Finally, after one night when it persisted in beeping on and off at 5 second intervals at 4am... I requested that Dave take a look at it.

Over the next 3 days, he patiently (and carefully) dismantled the A/C, trying one thing and another. First starting with cleaning and re-seating all the contacts we could get to. Then leaving the control panel unsecured... to try to eliminate heat and pressure issues. Next was de-soldering and removing the legs of a transistor (I think) that looked like it was controlling the beeper. We ended up finally taking the whole darned thing off. The a/c still worked but the beeping continued.

Next was de-soldering removing what we thought was the beeper (a small round black thing). The a/c STILL worked but the beeping continued. Have no idea what those parts were, but he did put them back on.

Then we unplugged some contacts to a big toroid looking thing. Nope, not that. Hmmm...

Finally, he went one layer deeper into the a/c, opening up another area behind the control panel. Then we plugged it back in and listened for another beep (it's not predictable--might take 5 minutes, might take 5 hours). Still beeped, but... alas, the beeping was not coming from the control panel we had spent 3 days fooling around with, but from something BEHIND the control panel.

So, Dave removed one more thing. And yup, that was it.

YAY FOR DAVE!!!! NO MORE BLEEPING BEEPING!!!

Sorry, didn't think to take pics of this operation.

Quirigua


On our jaunt around the highlands, we got to looking at a map, and realized that there is a Mayan ruins site that is within an hour of the Rio Dulce. So once we'd recovered from our highlands trip, Sherry organized a day trip to Quirigua (kee-ree-gwa).

The first step was to announce on the morning net that I was putting together a trip for next week. We got an unexpected boost in interest when one of the 'old hands' on the river came on and said that Quirigua had the best stellae (carved stones) that he'd ever seen. Within an hour I had about 15 people on my list. The last few I had to tell that I wasn't sure I could fit them in. I wasn't sure if I could get more than a 12 person van.

We screwed around for a few days with Steve from Bruno's, trying to get a price for a trip to Quirigua. For whatever reason, he wasn't very interested in the business. Finally I gave up and asked our friend Russell from s/v Cookie's Cutter to call the van driver they'd used before. With Russ's help, we hired Edgar for Q600 ($80) for the day. He said it would be Q40 ($5.25) a head if we had 15 people. We asked him the max he could take and he said 17. (NOT!!)

I finally got 15 people confirmed and told them to meet at Bruno's at 8:30am on the appointed day. Everyone kept asking me questions that I couldn't answer (since I hadn't been there). I did a little research on the internet to better plan the trip. There wasn't much about Quirigua... it seems to be a short stop on the way from Copan to Tikal or Guat City for most tours. So I told everyone what I thought and that we'd be winging it.

A bunch of us at Tortugal were going, so we took the Tortugal launch over to town in the morning and had an early breakfast at Bruno's. While at breakfast, Ron got to talking with some backpackers who were looking for something to do for the day. We told them we were going to Quirgua and we could probably squeeze in 2 more. Fortunately they decided to go elsewhere, as there turned out NOT to be room for 17 in the van.

Edgar showed up on time. It was a decent van--not one of the top of the line Tourismo vans, but not bad. Pretty much what I'd expected for the price. With 15 of us, and almost no luggage, we were pretty crammed. If we did another trip in that van we would limit it to 12 or 13.

One guy brought a cooler, and it had to go on top. There wasn't enough room behind the back seat to even put backpacks. Edgar originally said we could have A/C for Q5 more per head, but I guess he was hot and turned the A/C on anyway.

Since I hadn't done the trip before, I had to guess at the plan... my guess was an hour's drive, about 2-3 hours there, lunch, and a drive back, and we'd be back by about 3pm. I ended up spot-on. I suggested everyone bring a bottle of water and a snack. Dorothy's idea of a snack turned out to be lunch for everyone (a bottle of wine, pate, cheese, crackers, etc, complete with a table cloth, wine glasses, and wooden bowls). I had NO IDEA she was lugging all that stuff around until she started unloading it.

Quirigua is a small place with big stones. There might be more unexcavated stuff in the jungle, but the part that's open to the public was pretty small. The interpretive center was all in Spanish, so a few of us who could read it, interpreted for the rest. There are no plaques around the stones, and no brochure. One part of the site was actively being excavated and was fenced off.


We managed to pick up an English speaking guide (who didn't know the place well) and his buddy, who did know the history, but spoke no english. Between the two of them, they did a pretty good job of guiding us thru the place. We all pitched in a couple of bucks a head to have them tag along with us.

It had rained hard the night before, and the grounds were kind of swampy. The mosquitos were brutal. The place was set in heavy jungle, so there wasn't a breath of air stirring. Fortunately there was a paved path with some shade over it. But most of the people who came with us didn't venture close to more than one or two of the stones. ("Seen one rock, seen them all").

We were finished looking at everything in about an hour and a half. Dorothy decided it was time for 'snacks' and sat down next to a ruin, in the shade, and started pulling stuff out of her backpack. Those of us that had perservered through the mosquitos, heat, humidity, and the climb up over the ruins, had a nice picnic lunch there.


The others had apparently had enough of old rocks and had headed back to the van--a cell phone call revealed that they were back at the van waiting for us. We promised them we'd finish off our wine and cheese and go to lunch with them.

Back in the parking lot, we did a little shopping... I bought a glasses case with Guatemalan weaving for $1.25.

Then it was off to Mariscos, a small town on the far side of Lake Izabel. Edgar wanted another Q10 a head to take us to Mariscos. After the drive there, I understand why--it was quite a ways off the main road (it was only 1/4" on the map!). You know how high gas is in the States? Well, it's higher here.

Anyway, it was a good fun day trip. Total cost, including lunch: $15 per person. (If you were booking the same trip through a gringo hotel, it would be $50-$75)

See all our Quirigua (and Mariscos) photos here:
http://picasaweb.google.com/SoggyPaws/QuiriguaGuatemala

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Santiago Atitlan

We hired a launcha from Casa del Mundo to take us across the lake one afternoon to Santiago Atitlan.



The Lake Atitlan fishing boats are a funny shape


It was a sleepy afternoon and we were apparently the only tourists in town. I was pretty much shopped out by then, but Ron and Dorothy wanted to stop in every shop, and Dave was on a mission for a specific gift for his cousin Bryan.

The main road in town leads up the hill to a large church and square. So we walked up the road to the church, looked around some, and came back down past all the shops again to the docks.

The church was a little run down, but still beautiful. Ron took a bunch of pics inside but I feel funny about snapping pictures in churches. But you can see some of his pics in my photo album.

Ron and Dorothy hadn't been buying anything on the way up (but Ron was having fun negotiating anyway). After our experience in Chichi, where we discovered the price comes WAY down when you start to walk away, Ron knew that you don't buy on the first look.

One of the interesting things we saw was a man working on an old loom. We learned later that the huilepuil's that the women wear are woven in 18" wide strips by the women on a 'backstrap loom'. The other weavings, for general cloth around the house and some of the men's clothes, are woven by men on a big loom.

On the way back down, Ron and Dorothy started buying a few things. The closer to the dock they got, the lower the prices got. Once they started buying, word got around among the women on the street that someone was buying, and everyone in town headed for Ron. By the time Ron arrived back at the dock, he was surrounded by a swarm of Mayan women all thrusting their goods on him. All were amazing pieces of workmanship, taking literally months to make. Being offered, at that time, for about $10-$20.

I still wasn't buying--I really don't like to be pressured to buy something. (Especially something I don't have a need for or room for on the boat). But I got some great pics of Ron.


I did end up buying one off Dorothy later, who bought her last one on the dock from a young girl, just because she felt sorry for her. Though we felt Dorothy had 'stolen' it at only $10, the girl was really happy about her end of the transaction. I saw her look of triumph as she got the money from Ron.

Our Santiago Pictures are here:

http://picasaweb.google.com/SoggyPaws/SantiagoAtitlanGuatemala

Lake Atitlan and Casa Del Mundo

Friends on the Rio Dulce had highly recommended that we get out of Panajachel and visit Casa del Mundo, out on the lakeside.

We only booked one night ahead of time, but ended up staying 2 nights once we got there, because it was such a nice place. Booking ahead was interesting, because they want you to pay ahead of time. They don't accept Paypal, and there's a 6% surcharge if you pay by credit card (this is common in Guatemala). So, while we were in Antigua, we pulled cash out of an ATM machine, and went to their bank and deposited the money directly in their bank account.

To get to the Casa del Mundo, you have to take a water taxi. We had been warned that the price should only be Q10 (about $1.50) but many times they will charge the gringos 2 or 3 times that. Dave did the negotiating and we got the Q10 price.

We had so much luggage by this time (what we originally bought, plus all the trinkets we'd picked up at Chichi) that when a Tuk Tuk drove by as we came out of the hotel, we got the brilliant idea to hire it for about $2, load it up with all our luggage, and send Dave off to the dock with the luggage. Since we'd been to the water's edge the night before, and seen boats, we thought we knew where the dock was. The PROPER dock turned out to be a lot further away than we'd thought. We were double glad we weren't lugging all our luggage that way. Dave talked us in to the proper dock by cell phone.

Even though we were prepared for a really amazing place by our friends, we were still amazed by the Casa del Mundo.


Built by an American who married a Guatemalan woman, one bungalo at a time, it's a beautiful place. Each room is hanging on the cliffside with fantastic views. Even our budget room with shared bath (about $25 US) was nice (no lumpy pillows). And it is truly a world traveller's place. At the 'family style' dinner every night, we met travelers from all over the world. We sampled
their wood-fired jacuzzi, took kayaks out on the lake, and took a lancha across the river to Santiago Atitlan. The grounds were immaculate and bursting with all kinds of tropical vegetation.


Ron and Dorothy's room (about $55/nite) seemed to be the 'honeymoon suite'. It was way up on the hillside (about 3 flights of stairs up), a huge room with huge bed, and one whole wall was windows. It was really gorgeous (but with our old knees, quite a climb to get there).

Make sure you visit the photo album to see the rest of the pictures of the lake and grounds.

On the way out of Atitlan, we got a chance to stop at a beautiful overlook. There was a Mayan woman and her 2 daughters at the overlook. The woman was weaving (and selling cloth). Ron got them to pose for pictures (and I got to take a picture of he and Dave showing them the pictures).

Unfortunately Ron's camera was stolen in Guatemala city, so I don't have a copy of the great shot of the woman weaving.

Our Lake Atitilan Photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/SoggyPaws/LakeAtitlan

Panajachel


After the Chichi market, we were driven in our shuttle van to Panajachel (pana-ha-shell).

Pana, as it's called by everyone who's been in Guatemala for more than a day, is one of the most touristy towns in Guatemala. It is the gateway to beautiful Lake Atitlan, and everyone goes there.

Because the Lonely Planet wasn't real high on Pana, we only planned to stay there overnight. After of our experience in Antigua--where we got to the hotel we'd chosen out of the book, late in the afternoon, and it was full--this time we eeny meeny'd from the choices in the Budget category in the Lonely Planet, and picked a hotel ahead of time, and booked it.

The LP guidebook says this about Hospedaje Tzutujil "Down a little alley set among the cornfields, this is one of the best budget deals in town, with clean modern rooms, balconies, and firm beds. Upstairs rooms have fantastic mountain views."

Well, they were right about the cornfields. The rooms weren't bad for $20 a night with a private bath and hot water. The view was so-so. There were no blankets in our room (Ron and Dorothy found theirs in the morning in the bedside table, but we didn't have any). The sheets were very low quality and the pillows were lumpy.

LP also didn't mention that there was a public basketball court next door (see last photo in the album). They played a lively game of basketball, with the whole town in attendance, until about midnight.

The next day, we visited a couple of other places in about the same price range, that had also been on our list. The one we'd come back to next time ended up being moved in the 2007 guide from LP's Budget category to the Moderate category (the price went up to $25/night), was the Hotel Utz Jay. It has very nice rooms, a jacuzzi, a small restaurant on site, a travel agency, and internet access. We didn't check the sheets and pillows, but I would assume they were better.

Note: If you don't like cheap sheets and lumpy pillows (they are endemic to the budget hotels), bring your own.

Lonely Planet says the Sunset Cafe was a 'don't miss'. However, we didn't see much sunset as the afternoon clouds were rolling across the river. But it was a nice view and a nice meal, and there was live music after dinner. (Dave and I were so tired after Chichi and a long day, we opted to head back to our room vs. staying for the music).

We actually did a little more shopping in the morning... I bought a really nice pair of sandals with Guatemalan cloth in the straps.

Next stop: 2 nights at the Hotel Casa del Mundo, on the side of Lake Atitlan.

Pictures of Panajachel http://picasaweb.google.com/SoggyPaws/Panajachel