Sunday, January 25, 2009

Postcards from Antigua, Guatemala

I'm just about to go off to a week of four simultaneous events for my job, so it is BUSY! But here's a look back at some of the beautiful and calming sights of Antigua in December.

Parque Central in the early morning.

Pointsettia (Pascua) flowers floating in an ancient stone tub at Casa Santo Domingo.

Rooftop view of Antigua.

We had come for the sunset; however, the clouds started to come in, obscuring any magnificent color.

But see how dramatic the volcano looks with the mantle of thickening clouds.

Enjoy your week, everyone! Here's to finding beauty and awe in ways different than you had expected.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Gotta slow down

Sometimes you've got to take a breather. Things have been crazy at work, and they will just be getting busier and busier until at least the end of January.

So I still haven't finished the Guatemala entries. Rest assured, they will be coming. But this was a special weekend to relax and spend time with Michael.

But I wanted to post a picture...albeit one that is a few weeks old...of my fabulous friend, Rachel, and her new baby, Gideon. I have some readers who know and love Rachel but don't use Facebook, so they haven't seen the latest.

Isn't Gideon cute? You can already tell that he is a bright child who will have a big personality.

Here's to enjoying all the little moments of life right now!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

December 2008 Guatemala Trip Roundup

I still have three more days to write about in our Guatemala trip recap. Here's a taste of what's coming up: horseback riding above Lake Atitlan, the gorgeous drive to Antigua, staying at the legendary Casa Santo Domingo (!), and a coffee plantation tour with As Green As It Gets. Plus, Michael, still needs to do his guest post on the veterinary clinic in Solola.

For now, here's a summary of the posts I have already written:

External Media:
December trip participants, I would love to link to your roundups on this page! Please send me your link, and I will post it here!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Christmas Photo Gallery

It has been a CRAZY week already. Layoffs, stress, you name it.

So let me take a break and show some of my favorite photos from this Christmas in Pennsylvania. Michael gave me a new camera as a present. It's a Canon PowerShot, about eight generations more advanced than my previous (and still beloved) camera.

A rural route in Pennsylvania -- loneliness and comfort

Ice crystals on the blacktop driveway. I had never really paid them much attention before.

My Aunt Honey's welcome arrangement

The back of my aunt and uncle's house

My Uncle Charles

My Aunt Honey and Uncle Joe's collection of antiques, both inside the house and out, made for great still life shots.

I am fascinated by the blue light of winter's setting sun in this picture of their kitchen.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

2009 Update -- Reading and Cleaning

I wanted to finish writing about our Saturday in Santiago, when we went horseback riding in the mountains above Lake Atitlan. But this experience was so monumental, particularly because of the conversations we had with our guide, that I need to take some time to capture it fully. So please bear with me for a day or so.

Instead, here is an update on the first four days of 2009, particularly in regards to resolutions:

I am happy to say that I have started reading my first book of the new year! The novel is the English translation of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. I had read a few of Murakami's books and short stories translated into German a while back. There was something I really liked about his style: to-the-point, but yet elegant, at times glamourous and mysterious. Murakami is one of Japan's premiere writers.

I'm a bit intimidated by the fact that this book is, as the Washington Post says, "Murakami's most ambitious attempt yet to stuff all of modern Japan into a single fictional edifice." I'm not sure how much of the subtext I will be able to figure out, since my knowledge of Japan is fairly limited. But even if I only minimally grasp what this book is trying to achieve, I can enjoy Murakami's fantastic story-telling ability.

And in order to spend less time on the computer and more time reading, Michael and I finally got the computer out of the living room and into its own nook in the dining room (hey, we live in the New York metro least we have a dining room!). We also bought two lamps for the living room, so it is a lot more cozy. I'm really looking forward to reading there!

We also organized and donated a lot of clothing and other things we don't need to the Salvation Army. And we had a maid service come in and give our apartment a thorough cleaning yesterday.

So I feel a lot more in control of our life and our stuff here. We finally have some more room to move around!

Now I'm off to cook dinner...and not order take-out!


10pm update

Dinner turned out great! I made four courses from scratch (except for the pasta) and modified some existing recipes to better fit what I had in the fridge!
  • Romaine Salad with Kalamata Olives and Lemon Vinaigrette
  • Baked Carrots with Cheese (served in tiny cast iron casserole dishes)
  • Spicy Ratatouille Farfalle (Michael helped kick it up a notch with Northwoods Fire)
  • Savory Orange Dessert Salad

Friday, January 2, 2009

Goodbye Panajachel, Hello Santiago Atitlan, Friday, December 12

Friday morning, we awoke early for a last breakfast in Panajachel. We went to Deli Jasmin, a tranquil little place towards the end of Calle Santander, just before the waterfront.

Holly C., Morgan, Sarah, Tricia, Maureen, and Mary all came.

We had a scrumptious breakfast, and then it was time to say goodbye. It was hard to believe that the volunteering part of the week was over, and that we wouldn't see everyone for a while. They were such a fabulous group of ladies!

We left the Deli, and Michael and I walked down Calle Santander to get out some money before we departed for our next stop: Santiago Atitlan, which is across the lake from Panajachel.

I took a picture of one of my favorite murals. I love anything with the national bird, the quetzal.

We packed up our stuff at Dos Mundos. BTW, Michael proved once again what a gentleman he was by bringing me flowers from the market one day! You can see them on the nightstand.

Then it was time to head down to the waterfront. We made arrangements through the hotel for a private boat. Yes, it was far more expensive than taking a ferry or collectivo, but we figured our safety was worth the extra money, especially since a ferry had sunk recently in Lake Atitlan. In the end, it was less than $40.

So, someone from the hotel drove us down to the docks, and we got on our very sturdy little boat. There was a little confusion, since the teenage boy who was carrying our luggage stuck around the boat. I was trying to think of how to ask how to ask my question, and all of the sudden, I thought of "La Bamba." "Estas marinero?" I asked. Yes, it turned out he was the one who was in charge of the boat.

And we set off.

The boat was fast! We quickly approached the volcano that had seemed far away.

And then we arrived at the private dock of Posada de Santiago.

We quickly got checked in to our accommodations: a stone cottage by the name of Casita La Palma. You can see the palm tree carving on the front door.

The cottage was small, but very inviting. We had a working fireplace with wood all ready to go. There was also some interesting art on the walls.

Outside our casita, we had a little lawn.

We spied a gecko on the wall of the neighboring cottage. Thankfully, he didn't try to sell us car insurance.

We also had our very own hammock!

This was the path down to the lodge, which was the site of the restaurant, bar, and information desk.

We decided to jump right in and take the short walk down the road into the city of Santiago Atitlan. Friday is market day, so we didn't want to miss it.

We followed the pickup trucks into town and down the streets we believed would lead us to the market. And we were right. We suddenly found the sprawling warren of tented stalls selling clothing, shoes, and kitchen needs. There was only one gringa in the vicinity, and we had seen her coming out of building that seemed to house an NGO.

No one hassled us or tried to sell us anything. There were no children or women carrying tourist textiles. It was very different than Panajachel.

We found our way to the indoor food market. It was quite incredible to see all the different kinds of tomatoes and squash and tropical fruits, not to mention all the women in colorful traditional dress buying and selling. I would have loved to have taken pictures, but I knew that would have been a big faux pas in this setting. We were guests in their domain.

Michael bought some fresh cut fruit. I was wary of trying any, since the old traveler's wisdom cautions against that. So I missed out. But at least I knew I didn't have to worry about digestive problems.

We exited the building by the meat stands, with their cuts hanging from hooks or sitting on the counter. I thought about how people probably do not wash their hands after touching raw meat here. Then I promptly put it out of my mind.

We wanted to find the famous church in town, so we started walking in a direction we guessed it might be.

On the way, we saw the gorgeous carved doors of a missionary church, I believe.

Finally, we found the main church in Santiago. A missionary priest from Oklahoma had been killed here back during the war in the 1990s. The church was very simple, but it had a few nice tablets at the back telling the story of the church and the war.

Outside the church, a little boy found us and asked if we'd like to see Maximón. This is a Mayan deity who is worshipped in parts of the Western Highlands of Guatemala. Maximón has a special shrine in Santiago Atitlan that I had read about in a great article in National Geographic Traveler.

The shrine changes location every year and is watched over by members of a local Cofradia, or brotherhood. I was eager to see what this was all about. After agreeing on a price, the little boy took us down a street to an unassuming house. I peered in the window and saw a scene I had imagined. There was the statue of Maximón wrapped in ties and scarves with a man sitting watch on either side of him. Maximón had a cigar in his mouth, and there were offerings of alcohol, flowers, cigarettes, and money. Two people were knelt in prayer before the figure, and they chanted and burned incense.

It was all very bizarre. Taking a picture cost money, and we only had big bills left, so I have no photos from this experience. But pictures I have found online are very accurate.

We paid the little boy. I was considering going back to the market and buying him a shirt. His was badly torn. But when he demanded another quetzal more than our agreed price, I decided that would be his bonus. Plus, as Michael said, if we had done that, within a matter of minutes every little kid in town who gives Maximón "tours" would have been on top of us.

Michael and I found our way out of town. We saw a woman throw a rock at a street dog along the way, and it sadly reminded me of the way many people here treat dogs. The dog seemed ok, though.

Again, we were not hit up by any vendors. I think all the vendors must be down by the Santiago public dock. We didn't see that part of town at all. So we missed art galleries and shops there, which are supposed to be good. But, then again, we didn't get harrassed at all.

The walk out of town back to the Posada was beautiful.

A last glimpse of town.

People were washing clothing on the banks of the lake.

We got back to the Posada famished! Luckily, they have amazing food. We started our lunch at the Posada mirador with fresh guacamole and blue corn tortilla chips. These tortilla chips were the real deal: handmade blue corn tortillas folded in half and fried. The one thing I would have added was some jalapeno and cilantro to the guacamole. The Guatemalan variety is blander than the Mexican. And, yes, that bottle of Gallo was icy cold and dee-licious!

After lunch, we rested in the hammock and then went for a schwitz in their little sauna cabin. It was just big enough for the two of us, and it was very effective! After a while I got up the courage to jump in their big, but cold, swimming pool. It was oh so refreshing after the sauna! Then we enjoyed their mini hot tub.

After a nap, we went for dinner in the Posada lodge. Again, it was unbelievably tasty. We were still rather full from lunch, but we did our best to eat as much as we could! I know Michael had some of the best ribs of his life there. I had an exquisite Szechuan eggplant dish. This was accompanied by a gigantic margarita for me and some aged Guatemalan (and Cuban) rum for Michael.

Completely stuffed, we rolled back to our casita and caught the full moon above on our way. Michael made a fire, and we lit the candles that were provided in the room. It was very rustic and romantic! You'll see more pictures tomorrow!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

2009 Resolutions

I'm the kind of person who loves a fresh sheet of paper, a new sunrise, and any other chance to think about the future and define new goals and ways to get there.

On the other hand, this is the first time I'm sketching out my resolutions so publicly. So I'm a little afraid of not getting this right.

But I will take the plunge anyway! Here goes.

In 2009, I resolve to:

  • Find a local charity in which to become deeply involved. I want to be able to give back just as much to people in my geographic area as I do to those in other parts of the world. I should have a good idea of what that charity is by April.

  • That being said, continue my involvement with Mayan Families and ideally take an organizational role in a small part (teen pregnancy prevention, perhaps?). I've got a donation goal in my budget for this year, so I will monitor my progress against that. I should probably have some idea of the organizational goal by April.

  • Post here at least a few times a week and maintain friendships with my amazing blogger friends. Comment on my friends' blogs at least once a week.

  • That being said, not spend countless hours procrastinating online. Any more than an hour and a half per night on the internet is probably too much.

  • Start reading books again! One book a month is a modest goal. I was an ENGLISH MAJOR, for crying out loud! So, ideally, I should be reading much more. But baby steps first!

  • Spend more quality time with local friends. Particularly, have more dinners here at home with friends. How about at least one dinner per month?

  • Visit my parents and my friends in the Capital District. I haven't gone up since our wedding! We should definitely visit by springtime.

  • Keep up my German language skills. I feel like my fluency, at least as far as speaking, is starting to fade! Read the latest issue of Der Spiegel at least once a month and ideally go back to Berlin with Michael to visit friends.

  • Actually read the manual to my new digital camera and improve the clarity and composition of my photographs. I should have at least made some headway by February.

Those are the main ones so far. I'll amend this with any updates as we go along!