Over the mountains and through the woods, to Lake Atitlán we go!

When flying into Guatemala City, the first thing I noticed was the beautiful landscape. The city is nestled between high mountains and old volcanoes that date back 80 million years! Not only that, but the countryside is riddled with forests. The name “Guatemala” originates from the Nahuatl (language of the Aztecs) word “Cuauhtēmallān” which means “Land of many trees”.

 

Even though Guatemala is a developed city with millions of people, you can still see trees everywhere!

Even though Guatemala is a developed city with millions of people, you can still see trees everywhere! Nestled between the mountains at an elevation of 4,900 feet.

Being a bit of a nature bug, you can imagine my excitement upon first coming into this lovely country!

We didn’t stay around the city very long (usually only to fly into Guatemala or do business for the day) and left the highlands to reside at sea level in Puerto Barrios.

Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty to see throughout the country (Puerto Barrios is close to beautiful rain forest and the Rio Dulce, just to name a few things) but we hadn’t really experienced much outside of Puerto Barrios for the first few months of being here.

That all changed in July of 2013! My friend Adam and I came to Guatemala City to visit our good friend Katterine. She had helped us with many things in our time here, and her mother had accepted us into her family. Anytime we needed anything, they were there to help us and make us feel right at home!

This particular week, Katterine wanted us to meet one of her best friends. Alejandra! (Ale for short). They both knew we hadn’t really experienced much of the country, even though we had been living here for 3 months at this point. This was about to change!

On the Wednesday we arrived in the city, we ventured to Antigua for the evening. I fell in love with this city that same day. All the beautiful architecture and rich cultural history, I never wanted to leave!

Content with visiting the old city, I didn’t expect things to get any better. Ale and Katterine had other intentions, however. They told us on Thursday that they had another surprise for us. They only asked if they would like to go on an adventure for this surprise, and anyone who knows me already knew my answer.

Now, they wouldn’t tell us where we were going, but we were driving through a lot of mountain roads. Even more funny is the fact that they barely knew where they were going! We stopped and asked directions from random people on the way to our destination about 5 or 6 times! (This became a running joke for the day about being lost and the eagerness of random strangers to send you in the right direction)

I wasn’t familiar with this part of the country, but it seemed like we were going to travel up the mountains forever. Then I saw this:

After going up the mountain, you pass through some small towns and see the huge lake!

After going up the mountain, you pass through some small towns and see the huge lake!

Like we had wandered into a mystical land, there sat beautiful Lake Atitlán, resting between volcanoes and mountains! I felt like I had discovered hidden treasure!

This picture doesn’t do the justice to the majesty of the place, but after arriving to a little town called Panajachel, we hopped on a boat for a tour around the lake!

After driving around the lake for 20-30 minutes, we had time to check out the little town of Santa Catarina Palopó. Upon getting off the boat, there is a long street that takes you to the center of the city. There is a large Mayan population there, and they happened to be celebrating something that day. People were dressed up and dancing in the streets.

We stayed here for about 30 minutes and headed back to Panajachel. Famished from the day’s adventures, we grabbed some food at one of the restaurants on the dock:

I ate this entire thing and was still hungry

I ate this entire thing and was still hungry

Since it was getting late, we decided to call it a night. There is a funny story involving the television and some electrical technician work at the hotel where we stayed, but I will save that for another time. I did manage to get some final pictures of the lake before nightfall! Enjoy!

Valentine’s Day Bay

You might be looking at the beautiful beach pictured on my homepage and thinking “Well that place looks, awesome! Where is it and how do I get there?” Well let me tell you!

Our journey starts in Puerto Barrios on Valentine’s Day 2013. As you travel north through the town, you eventually run into the shore line. It’s riddled with boats and people selling fresh seafood (which I highly recommend buying since they most likely caught it a few hours earlier). You could try to drive to Sand Bay, but it is going to take you about an hour. This method takes about 10-15 minutes.

There is a little restaurant/bar and dock by the north end of the shoreline. It’s about 5 blocks west of the municipal dock and very easy to find. It will be the only building with large wooden doors! However, don’t try to get a boat ride on a Monday. The boating services are closed on Mondays, but you can still enjoy a drink at the bar. 🙂

Come here if you would like to go to Livingston or Belize.

Come here if you would like to go to Livingston or Belize.

The people at the restaurant/bar like to have a full boat-load of people before voyaging across the bay, so cost usually runs anywhere from Q20 ($2.50) to Q40 ($5) round trip, depending on how many people you have. Once everything is in order, you are loaded onto a banana boat like this:

Everybody jump in for your seaward adventure!

Everybody jump in for your seaward adventure!

The water in the bay can be a little choppy, so be mindful if you are prone to seasickness. Otherwise, just enjoy the view!

Hello fellow boating party! You are going the wrong way!

Hello fellow boating party! You are going the wrong way!

After about 10 minutes, you can see the shoreline and the dock.

After about 10 minutes, you can see the shoreline and the dock.

Please keep your hands inside the vessel until we have come to a complete stop. Or you can jump out, we don't mind. Just know how to swim

Please keep your hands inside the vessel until we have come to a complete stop. Or you can jump out, we don’t mind. Just know how to swim

You have now arrived at Sand Bay! There are drinks, food, outdoor showers to rinse your feet, beach chairs, and lots of beautiful scenery. If you are a fan of scotch, Johnny Walker Black is about 3 per glass (on the rocks or up). We decided drinking scotch and enjoying the beach was the best way to spend our Valentine’s Day 🙂

Where the %$@!? is our house?

Gallery

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Before moving to Guatemala, my relatives invited friends and family to throw me a big going away party. My family just loves a reason to celebrate (they would fit in perfectly in this culture) and everyone was excited for the next journey … Continue reading

Hoy! 2×1 Telepizza Traditions

Today (hoy) is Friday! People are making plans for the weekend, getting excited about not working (unless you work in a restaurant, in which case friday and saturday are your main work days and I know your struggle), and taking some time from their busy work schedule to read a blog or two. 😉

Here in Guatemala, Friday is 2 for 1 pizza day at Pollo Campero (we call it the “Chicken” for short and “Telepizza” is what they call their pizza) and this taught us a fun lesson about traditions of the Guatemalan people. Let me explain:

Back in the summer of 2013 when we were living Puerto Barrios with the family, we wanted make it a tradition to have a pizza party every Friday. Pizza and soda for the kids (all 3 of them) with a side of gin and tonics for the adults! (It was a celebration after all)

After a long work week, friday rolls around and we ordered the pizza. Now maybe your asking why this work week was longer than normal? My friend and I had just recovered from being sick with a stomach bug, but the family took our place in the sickness cycle. Since we were feeling better, we wanted to treat the family and start the tradition.

We explained to the mother what we wanted to order as our Spanish wasn’t that great yet and had it delivered. Two grande pizzas arrived with some treats and soda, and we dug in. By we, I mean my friend and I. The family didn’t even touch the food.

Now I am concerned at this point. “Do I do something wrong? Why aren’t they eating?” I pondered. I ate a little more and thought, “Oh no, what if they are still sick and don’t have an appetite? This is horrible! We are just gorging and they are miserable!”

So I stopped eating for a moment and motioned for them to start eating. They said “Gracias” and continued to wait. I asked “¿Están enfermo?” and they said “Yes”. At this point I was apologizing a bunch and they just look confused. I sat down to finish my meal.

Soon after finishing, I grabbed a piece of dessert pizza and sat down. My friend grabbed a second helping. Then the most amazing thing happened.

Like a herd of wild buffalo, the family demolished the rest of the food. I literally blinked and the rest of the food was gone – soda, dessert, pizza – the whole works. I started to figure out what had happened.

The family wasn’t too sick to eat (they were starving in fact); they were waiting for us to finish eating before they ate. Since we had paid for the meal, they were showing their generosity and respect.

I felt much better after seeing them eat and I learned something about their culture. Traditions like this happen all around the world and until we see it first hand, we never truly understand the differences that make us all so unique.