Pana – Pana – Pana

This weekend I went to Lago de Aitilan with Kate, Nikita, and Ariel.  We met on Saturday morning to catch the chicken bus out of Xela.  And now a bit on the logistics of catching a bus in Guatemala.  All the buses are old school buses with luggage racks, uncomfortable seats, and brilliant paint jobs.  Each company and route has a different color scheme for where each bus is going.  We don’t know what this is, so we just waited for the person helping the driver to yell out where the bus was going.  Once you hear it, you jump on, often while the bus is still moving, and try to find room to stand.

The bus corner in Xela

We started on the corner where all the buses drive by in Xela.  We hopped on the bus to Guaty – Guaty Guaty (Guatemala city), hopped off at Los Encuentros, jumped on bus to Solola.  Took the bumpy, cramped 45 minutes ride before jumping off and catching a bus while it was leaving to Pana – Pana – Pana (Panajachel).  We got in to Pana at 11, dropped our stuff at the hostel, and started to explore the lake.

Our ride with Volcan San Pedro in the back

Lago de Aitilan is a lake set in the midst of massive volcanoes.  Small towns dot its shore line.  The easiest way to get between them is on a lancha, a small boat.  We bartered and got a private lancha for 5 hours for $40.  It first took us to the Santiago Aitilan first, the largest city by the lake.  We hopped off and were immediately swarmed by vendors trying to convince us of the tremendous deal we were missing out on.  Once we got past them, we grabbed lunch and walked around the town.  The church in the center of town was built in the 1540s.  We meandered back to the boat.  I got cornered by a woman who drove me down the dock in an attempt to sell a table cloth.  After telling her no for 5 minutes, everyone got on the boat and we moved to the next town.

Church in Santiago Aitilan

We got in to San Pedro de la Laguna and immediately were more at ease.  It was a smaller, much quieter town.  It has a small hippie population, a few language schools, coffee plantations in the hills, and meandering, narrow cobblestone streets.  We wandered through and looked in some of the shops, stopped at the church, and grabbed a beer overlooking the lake.  We picked up some beer for what turned out to be a rainy 40 minute ride back to Pana.

Shoe store in San Pedro

We got back to the hostel, changed, and went out for dinner.  It started to rain and we decided to try out Restaurant Jebel.  It was the worst restaurant experience any of us had had.  It was run by a young Guatemalteco and his younger sister.  They were out of almost everything.  Why?  Because it was raining of course.  We asked if they had a beer we’ve grown fond of called Mosa.  He answered yes.  And we watched his sister run across the street, return with a full bag, and then bring out our beers.  It took over 2 hours to get our food.

On this note, there is actually a special word to refer to Guatemalan time.  It is hora chapina.  Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and let things happen at they’re own pace.

Once we finally got done with dinner, we headed to PanaRock, a bar with live music and a theme similar to Hard Rock Cafes.  We got a cubetazo (a bucket of beer) and tried to find a seat.  Many of the tables were reserved for the whose who of Pana.  We found one and listened to the band.  They were definitely interesting.  We progessed to a couple discotecas afterwards and danced to the mix of Latin, American, and electronic music.  The town shut down at 1 (very late in Guatemala) and we walked back to our hostel in the pouring rain.

Sunday morning started slightly hung-over at 6 to the almost continuous chorus of roosters.  The idea of waking up to cock-ill-do-dil-do doesn’t seem so quaint when it continuous for 3 hours.  I managed to get back to sleep before we got moving and grabbed brunch at 10.  This was infinitely more successful than dinner the night before.

Hanging out

Then, we walked up to a nature preserve about a mile out of town.  Eco-tourism has driven a conservation movement in many parts of Latin America.  While those might not be the best motives, it has led to the preservation or reclamation of beautiful wild areas.  We walked the trail through Reserava Naturaleza Aitilan.  We spotted some spider monkeys as they were playing around in the tree, wandered over many very swingy cable bridges, stopped at a waterfall, and stopped in the butterfly sanctuary.  We took a tuk-tuk back to Pana.

Bolts of cloth in Pana

We wandered through the different booths and bartered with the shop keepers, sometimes successfully and sometimes not.  The fact that there are so many people selling such similar things helps keep bartering a normally successful affair.  We all picked up a few things before taking the chicken buses back to Xela.  The weekend was a great escape from Xela into a more rural and scenic area of Guatemala.


Indiana: What I’m Most Looking Forward To

While I’ll miss Texas terribly, and as much as my thoughts constantly turn to what I’ll miss about Texas, and I couldn’t even list them all (I mean, I already left out small-town rodeos, cowboys, bar-b-que, massive weddings, the riverwalk, and all things Austin), I am drawn to think about what I’ll look forward to in Indiana. Symmetry, right?

Admittedly, the list of things I’ll love about Indiana is colored by Paul and his family and friends. It also is a much shorter list that my Texas list (which I made myself stop at 10) but I’m sure my list of things I love about Indianapolis will grow the longer I’m there.

1. Fall Colors. We don’t really have seasons in Texas. We have warm, hot, and hot as all get-out. So I’m looking forward to seeing the colors change and wandering around small counties with Paul when they do. Speaking of seasons, not having 110+ degree weather will be kind of nice.

2. Covered bridges. I think they’re beautiful, and rustic, and remind me, for some reason, of an early-American farming-utopia.

3. Thrifting. Yes, sure there is decent thrifting in Texas, I’m sure, but I haven’t had much luck at a Goodwill here since I was obsessed with old Little League shirts in high school. And, trust me, those are easy to come by. I’ve had great luck in Indiana. Again, this is probably colored by the fact that Paul loves a good thrift store and his sisters and friends are also quite keen on the hobby.

4. New experiences. I guess this is obvious. But I am looking forward to the new adventure. Moving, getting to know a place, and being a part of it. I think its fun to learn a new city or town. I like figuring out the best grocery store, which gym I like most, what the fun outdoor activities are, and making new friends. Always have. Probably always will.

5. Living with Paul. Yeah, I know, its obvious. When we started dating, we were working for the same whitewater rafting company in Montana and most employees lived in the same dorm. There was plenty of togetherness. Privacy? No so much. But togetherness all the time. Living in separate states and times zones took some getting used to and we’ve happily made it work. Its time to be closer though. Enough Skype, more real contact. It will be a challenge of sorts, to combine our lives more fluidly into Paul’s one-bedroom apartment. But its one we’re both ready for.

Early Xela Explorations

I’ve now spent a week in Xela.  I’ve spent most of my time in Spanish classes or lectures.  I sort of randomly picked this school and I feel like I really lucked into it. It is one of the few schools that had a medical Spanish program with time in the clinic.  In addition to great Spanish instruction, the school is involved in numerous volunteer projects, including the stove, a program to help tutor at risk youth, and clinics in the city and in rural communities.  Everyone who works for or with the school is incredibly friendly and driven to help the community.

Xela sunset

The city of Xela is an amazing place to live and explore.  A little history.  Quetzaltenango or Xela was a Mayan city that was the spiritual capital of the Mayan civilization. It was the site of the final battle between the Mayans and the Spanish in 1524.  270 Spaniards with firearms, steel swords, and horses defeated 10,000 Mayans in a day.  Xela immediately became a major Spanish colonial city.  It has the second oldest cathedral (or at least façade) in central America completed in 1532.

Cathedral facade

 Today, it is Guatemala’s second largest city.  I live in a relatively quiet neighbourhood in the newer, non charming part of the city.  However, what constantly strikes me is the abundance of vitality of the city.  The crazy drivers, the chicken buses, the taxis, the vendors on every street corners.  The market with 100s of booths, many of which sell the exact same thing.  Everyone is moving, everyone is talking, yelling, or in a hurry.  Paradoxically, no one is ever on time and work is characterized mainly by sitting at a booth and talking to people.

Xela streets

The old part of the city has this feel mixed with a healthy dose of narrow cobblestone streets.  Newer and renovated buildings are scattered amidst 500 year old cathedrals, old houses, and neoclassical buildings from the 1800s.

Texas: What I’ll Miss Most

While Paul is gallivanting around Guatemala (ok, to be fair, he’s studying and working) I’m holed away in Waco taking care of wedding stuff, studying for the Indiana State Bar Exam, and packing up my apartment to move to Indiana.

My parents were born and raised in Victoria, Texas. They met, married, and raised their family there. I was born and raised in Texas, never living outside the state lines for more than 3 short months. But, now the time has come for me to leave for longer. To pack my bags, move to Indiana for at least a few years, and proudly waive my Texan flag all the way.

As I packed, I started thinking about what I’ll miss most. Paul had asked me this question a few months ago, but packing gave me the opportunity to reflect further on the things I love so much about the Lone Star State.

1. My family. This is obvious, but I grew up in a community that both my parents, all of my grandparents, numerous Aunts, Uncles, and cousins called home. My grandparents and parents and often some other family members were at every basketball game, volleyball game, softball game, stock show, etc. They were an integral part of my life and I’ll miss their being readily available to visit with just a short drive or mini-road trip.

2. Texas A&M. Football games. Hullabaloo. Howdy. Gig ’em. Midnight Yell. All things Maroon.

2. Bluebonnets in the spring time.

3. The hill country.

4. The Gulf Coast. Years ago, I would have sworn to you that I would never have said that. But, over the past few years I grew to love the coast. Floating from boat to boat at Rockport, first learning to surf in Port Aransas, fishing in the Port Lavaca bay, and spending the 4th of July in Port O’Connor while taking the boat to Sunday Beach.

5. Mexican Food. Yes, everyone tells me I can get Mexican food anywhere. I’m sure I can. Actually, I’ve tried. I swear it isn’t as good. That being said its still rare that I find a place in Texas that reminds me of the real stuff I grubbed on in Mexico.

6. Floating rivers. Just you and your friends in a tube while someone in your group pulls a tube just for an ice chest full of beer (and maybe a radio). Simple bliss.

7. My friends. Most of them still live within driving distance. Its rare that I can go to a city without someone to call and a place to stay. I’ll miss their nearness, wine nights with them, and trips to see them.

8. My family’s ranch. I never got to go as often as I’d like, but I feel an overwhelming since of pride in my father every time I go. It is peaceful, remote, and beautiful.

9. Dancehalls and two-stepping. My dad taught me to two-step before I can even remember. I grew up in 4-H and all of the events had dances every night that were mostly country two-steps. And I grew up just 15 minutes from the second oldest dance hall in Texas. Its a meeting place for friends when we’re home and the place we went on weekends in high school.

10. Home. Horses in the pasture, the unique smell of that greats me as I walk into the door, outdoor karaoke parties, Mom’s cooking and so many other nuances that make my parent’s house my home.

Guatemalteca Introduction

I’ve been in Xela, Guatemala for the last 5 days.  I got upgraded to first class on the flight here.  It was the first time I wanted a flight to last longer.  I got through customs and met someone from my school who drove another student and I to the bus station.  I was happy not to have to try to navigate the city.  Guatemala City is big, dirty, confusing, and not completely safe.  It also isn’t easy to blend in as a 6’1”, Caucasian, blonde-haired, blue-eyed gringo.

Xela from the roof of Pop Wuj

I took the bus to Quetzaltenango (Xela for short) with Kate, another student at Pop-Wuj.  The 4 hour bus ride wound back and forth through the mountains until getting in to a rainy, dark downtown Xela.  Luckliy, the school was right around the corner.  I got picked up by my host mom and got my first Guatemalan meal of eggs, beans, and tortillas (a meal that I am beginning to know very well).  I started classes the next morning at 8.  We started with a 4 hour lecture on the culture and contemporary problems in Guatemala and their historical basis. I went home for lunch and came back for 4 hours of 1 on 1 Spanish instruction with my teacher Alberto.  This has been my schedule for the week.  This morning is my first chance to explore the city, so there will be more soon.

Working on the stove

I had yesterday morning off and was able to volunteer on the stove project run by Pop-Wuj.  The goal is to install safe, ventilated cooking stoves in rural Guatemalan homes.  Most people currently cook over a open flame in a small, enclosed kitchen.  This makes smoke inhalation and resulting respiratory problems the second leading cause of death for all age groups in Guatemala.  The house we worked at was a small, dirty court yard, one shack with a bed for a mother, grandmother, and 3 children, and another small enclosed shack to cook in.

The grandmother on her way to the market to sell onions

I was unaware of how pervasive poverty is in Guatemala until I got here.  It has the highest rates of malnutrition of any country in the Western hemisphere.  There are areas with 80% chronic childhood malnutrition.  Many of the people are of Mayan descent and are very short.  However, it’s evident that much of their short stature comes from chronic malnutrition.  Many children appear half their age because they are so small.  A lack of access to dental hygiene is apparent in all age groups.

Staying power

While I have seen and helped people in poverty, I have never seen poverty that is so utterly devastating for an entire group of people.  A successful, educated person in Guatemala can make about $2500 a year.  And the disparity between this and the poorest, mostly rural indigenous population is vast.  It helps one keep perspective.

Dry the River- Bible Belt

Obsessed with this song. Really, the whole album. Hope you love it too.

Paul and I caught this band playing a free show at South By Southwest. These is something haunting about their vocals and the violin seems to subtly makes everything sound more full. Can’t get enough.



Adios, Costa Rica

After a long, bumpy drive full of run-ins with crazy Tico drivers, wrong turns, and long stories, Paul, Cam, Brit and I all made it to La Fortuna around 7:00 pm on Friday night. We quickly checked into our Arenal Hostel Resort and headed to Baldi, a resort where you get a full Tipico Buffet dinner and can swim in the pools fed by natural hot springs from the nearby Arenal volcano and order drinks from the swim up bars.

It was a bustling tourist attraction, but one that I thoroughly enjoyed. The hot springs were mostly relaxing, but one of the large slides was less a slide and more of an encircled free fall into water. Not so relaxing. The resort was a maze of hot springs of various temperatures, pool sizes, and attractions. The pools close at ten, and after the long day on the road, we didn’t take long to fall asleep once we were back at the hostel.

La Fortuna waterfall

In the morning, we wanted to see more of what La Fortuna had to offer, so we ate breakfast at a nearby Soda and investigated our options. There is a beautiful waterfall nearby so we decided bypass the advertisements for canyoneering, climbing, and whitewater rafting to check it out. After a relatively steep, partly unstable hike down, the towering waterfall was a beautiful site. The water was cold and we went for a swim before hiking back out the way we came.

Costa Rica crew below the waterfall

By the time we got back to the hostel we walked around town, made it back for lunch time and happy hour at the hostel bar so we ordered food and drinks before relaxing on the hammocks at the hostel and getting back on the road.

Arenal overlooking La Fortuna

A few more hours of crazy Tico driving, missed turns, and long stories brought us to Espriritu Santo Coffee Plantation in the rain. They didn’t seem to be taking full tours out in the rain, but the nice guy who met us at the door was happy to tell us everything he could. He hastily pulled out some coffee for us to try and shared his 21st cup of the day with us. He eagerly told us everything about growing coffee and showed us a video about the co-op for the growers and pickers in the area. After teaching us about tasting coffee, he took us to the gift shop to taste coffee liquor and Costa Rican grain liquor. I don’t know how the last one was coffee related, but he was really happy to take a shot of it with us and we aren’t a group to turn down free liquor. We bought enough coffee to make my bag the seem like the bottom-less Mary Poppins bag, except mine only has bags and bags and bags of coffee in it. We wandered around the planation to learn more about growing and all agreed this this little gem was one of the best stops on our trip. Then we were off again to find out hostel in San Jose.

Impromptu private tour at Espiritu Santo

We checked into our hostel (that conveniently had a free shuttle to the airport) for our last night before heading into down town San Jose. A far stretch from the remote beaches of Nosara from where we came, the streets of San Jose were bustling in the night life. But we quickly got lost in the maze of one-way streets that make little sense; five lines going eastbound before one going west and scarcely a street sign to be found. The prostitutes became our guide posts as we drove around the city in circles for about 2 hours before finally giving up, finding public parking and a cab to take us to an awesome hostel with great views of the city from its rooftop bar and restaurant. As we sat on the rooftop, we shared food, drinks, and stories of our trip and prepared to say goodbye the the country and culture we’d been learning about, traveling through, and taking in for a week and to each other as we journeyed our separate ways.

The next morning, we bid Paul farewell as he left for Xela, Guatamala to learn medical Spanish and work at a clinic. Then Brit, Cam, and I flew back to Fort Lauderdale where we finally parted ways: Cam and Brit back to South Carolina, and I back to Texas to begin studying for my bar exam.

One day back home and I already miss the sunsets on the beach. Pura Vida.