En Mexico

No tengo mi dicionario, etonces hoy voy a escribir solamente ingles.

I left San Pedro yesterday and started my trek north to Mexico City. Yesterday morning as I got ready to leave I thought I might go to Chichicastenango for the world famous market. But it turns out I was off by a day and would have needed to kill some time. Time is not on my side right now, as there are lots of fun things between here and Mexico City airport.

I realized it was better to head north, since I know I am coming back to Lake Atitlan. There’s nothing of tourist interest on the route to San Cristobal las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico. So I decided to just go for it and spend one miserable day traveling as far as I possibly could, then spend the time I saved recuperating. The jury is still out on whether that was a good idea. By the time I got to the Mexican border, I was pretty damn worn out. I made a mistake telling the guy how many days I would be in Mexico so I probably will need to figure out how to extend my visa. I decided to stop in Comitan last night when I was so tired and sore that I could hardly walk. The bed was worse than in San Andrès, if that’s even possible. I had a terrible headache at dinner which was only partly solved by eating and drinking, which I hadn’t done enough of during the day of traveling. At 3 am I woke up and took some Tylenol, which was an improvement. When I sleep fitfully nowdays (perhaps because of the bed, or noise or whatever) I spend the whole night struggling to conjugate Spanish verbs. I don’t do this on purpose… in fact several times I remember telling myself in English to just GIVE UP and sleep. I was in fairly good shape this morning. I made my way to San Cristobal las Casas, where I am now.

Today I will rest and see the sights here a little bit.

I am signed up for a tour to Sumidero Canyon tomorrow. Tomorrow night I will stay in Palenque, then get up early and visit the temples in the cool morning air. After that I don’t know what the plan is… I will probably get out of Palenque as soon as possible because it is really touristy.

I want to spend several days around Oaxca because there are treks up in the mountains that look like they will be fun.

My trip to London (and thus also my short stay in the US) is finalized. I will be in the US from May 13 (late) to May 18 (afternoon). You know your visit home is too short when you resort to including the times in the dates! I will be in Redwood City Saturday morning (May 14), and would like to see people. Perhaps a big breakfast at Hobees is in order. The rest of the time I will be at the cabin in the mountains with my parents. If you’d like to drop by up there, we’d love to see you too!

I have started contemplating how to get back to Lake Atitlan cheaply and funly (sorry, bad habit from Spanish, where all the adjectives can be adverbed). Current ideas include a flight to Cancun (because they are always cheap), train to San Diego (expensive, but I have always wanted to do it) and then buses down Baja California and the rest of Mexico to Guatemala. There’s also the boring idea of just flying into Guatemala City, but that sounds not only boring but expensive.

Mas tarea

¡Hola! Hoy es Lunes y estoy volvo para mas tarea. Tengo various cosas para escribir hoy, etonces no tengo un titulo mejor.


Este fin de semana, fuimos arriba en las montañas para visitar un “zipline”. ¡Fui muy divertido! Las nubes rodearon las montañas, etonces la cuerda desaparací en las nubes, y yo tambien. En el otro lado, todo el mundo aparací tambien. Hubo dos “ziplines” allí, corto y largo. El largo fui 250 meteres.

Ben trajo su novia, Maria y una amiga de iglesia se llama Dawn. Pienzo Dawn va a hacer un buena compañera para Evi. Dijo Dawn todo acerca de mi viaje en el velero Wonderland. Tal vez Dawn va a navegar en el futuro.


Aprendé muchas de Ben acerca de Planeta en Linea. Tambien, encontré uno empleado se llama Juan. Me gusto lo que Ben y el otros hicieron aquí, y probablemente va a trabajar con Planeta en Linea in julio y agosto. Voy a enseñar empleados aquí, formalmente y informalmente. Voy a trabajar sobre otro proyectos tambien. Voy a estudiar un poco tambien, pero no se cuanto horas cada semana ahora.

Las Molinas

Hay una molina cerca mi casa. Esa es un bueno desperador por que es comienza a las 5 en la mañana. La molina mismo no es ruidoso, pero el motor es. Tiene uno cilindro diesel motor sin mofle. El tubo de escape va directamente arriba. En la camino, no es mucho ruido, pero en la segunda y tercera piso de la casa, es mucho mas ruidoso. Estuve curiouso cerca de molinas por todos mi viajo aquí. Por que el ruido, no es posible preguntar ninguno. A noche desmasiado tarde para funcionar, noté la puerta del edificio fui abierto, y el propietario fui en la interior. ¡Entré para preguntar!

Él tuvo cuatro molinas, dos para masa, uno para salsa, y uno para café. Solamente dos tienen motors del diesel, y las otras son eléctrico. Él cobra 50 centavos para bastante masa para tortillas para desayuno para una familia de 6 o 8. Cuando interumpí se, él afiló la rueda para la molina. Cada 30 minutos de funcionamiento, necisita un nuevo rueda. Él aumenta agua en la molina tambien para enfriar. Cuando la masa sale la molina, tiene un poco calor.

In English

(As I start to write more Spanish, it is a pain to translate it all! What a great problem to have!)

Hello! Today is Monday, and I am back with more homework. I have several things to write about today, so I don’t have a better title.


This weekend, we went up in the mountains to visit a zipline. It was really fun! The clouds surrounded the mountains, so the cable disappeared into the clouds and so did I. On the other side, all the world appeared again. They have two ziplines there, one short and one long. The long one was 250 meters.

Ben brought his girlfriend, Maria, and a friend from church named Dawn. I think Dawn would make a perfect playmate for Evi. I told Dawn all about my trip in the sailboat Wonderland. Perhaps Dawn will sail in the future.


I learned a lot about Planet Online from Ben. I also met an employee named Juan. I like what Ben and the others have made here, and I will probably work with Planet Online in July and August. I will teach the employees, formally and informally. I will work on other projects too. I will study a bit too, but I do not yet know how many hours per week.

The Mills

There is a mill near my house. It is a good alarm clock because it starts at 5 in the morning. The mill is not very noisy but the motor is. It has a one cylinder diesel motor without a muffler. The exhaust pipe goes straight up. In the street, it is not very noisy, but in the second and third floors of the house, it is much noisier. I have been curious about the mills for all of my trip. Because of the noise, it is not possible to ask any questions. Last night too late for it to run, I noticed the door do the building was open, and the owner was in the interior. I went in to ask questions!

He has four mills, two for masa (corn flour dough), one for salsa (pureed tomatoes), and one for coffee. Only two have diesel motors, and the others are electrical. He charges Q0.50 (about 1/14th of a dollar) for enough masa for tortillas for breakfast for a family of 6 to 8. When I interrupted him, he was sharpening the wheel for the mill. Every 30 minutes of operation it needs a new wheel. He adds water into the mill too for cooling. When the masa leaves the mill, it is a little bit warm.

Mi semana

Extrañé dos dis para escribir por que fui enfermo. Hasta ahora no tuve nada dolores de estomago, pero aqui en San Pedro, supuestamente todos los gringos son enfermo uno vez. Ne se por que.

Mi familia fue bueno para mí. Dio yo comida buena por mi estomago, y medicina tambien. Mi madre dijo la medicina fui natural. Pero cuando leé los ingredientes, yo reconocí ellos. Son los mismos como la medicina norteamericano “Pepto Bismol”, pero sin la tinta rosa. Etonces tomé por tres comidas. Tambien, tomé mi doxycyclin, quel traé por eso razón. Voy a tomar doxycyclin por 5 mas dias, por seguro muerto los microbios.

Esta mañana, voy a reunir con Ben Sywulka, de Planeta en Linea. Posiblemente, voy a trabajar con ellos esto verano. Vamos a viajar en el carro de Ben a una aventura en la bosque. ¡Voy a decir mas en Lunes!

Pienzé despues mi viajar aquí voy a descansar en California por un tiempo. Pero leo cerca clases para ayuda humanitario en Londres en Mayo y Junio. Estas clases no paso muchas, etonces considero seriamente viajo inmediatemente a Europe cuando regreso. Esparo para una respuesta de RedR en Londres antes voy a decidir. Queiro tomar clases en Toronto, pero esta año, no muchas clases pasan en Canada por que el maestro trabaja tambien in Indonesia.

In English

I missed two days of writing in my blog because I was sick. Until now, I have not had any stomach problems, but here in San Pedro, supposedly all the gringos get sick once. I don’t know why.

My family was good to me. They gave me food that was good for my stomach, and medicine too. My mother said the medicine was all natural. But when I read the ingredients, I recognized them. They are the same as in the American medicine Pepto Bismol, but without the pink dye. So I took it for three meals. I also took my doxycyclin, which I brought for just this reason. I will take doxycyclin for 5 more days, to be sure I kill the bugs.

This afternoon, I will meet up with Ben Sywulka, from Planet Online. Possibly, I might work for them this summer. We will go in his car for an adventure in the forest. I will tell you all more about it on Monday!

I thought that after my trip here I would rest a bit in California. But I read about some classes related to Humanitarian Aid work in London in May and June. The classes don’t happen very often, so I am seriously considering making a trip to Europe immediately when I return. I am waiting for a response in email from the people at RedR, after I get it I will decide. I would like to take classes in Toronto, but this year they are not happening very much because the teacher also works in Indonesia.

Mi fin de semana

Spanish speakers… put on your thinking caps. This entry will be using a fair amount of imperfect tense, because it is doing double duty as a homework assignment. If you don’t remember how to decode it, just strip off terminations like -ían and -aban to get back to the root verb. Ready? Here we go!

Mi fin de semana fue divertido. Todos los fin de semanas viajaba a algunas nuevos lugares en Guatemala. Este fin de semana, viajé a Monterrico en sur de Guatemala, en la costa del mar pacifico.

En Dakar Senegal, niños y otros chicos siempre ofrecían para ayudar, pero ellos esperaban para pagar. Aquí, no hay ese problema. En Monterico el niño que estuvo a mi lado en la lancha me segué. Hablé con él por cortesía, pero no usé la ayuda del niño por que no quise pagar. Hablé con un chico francés quien trabajaba en una cerverceria. Él sugirío un hotel que no aparacía en ninguno de los libros. El niño me paró antes de entrar el hotel incorrecto. Con su ayuda, encontré el hotel correcto. Por que él me ayudó, compré un Coca-Cola para ambos. Nos sentamos y disfrutamos las bebidas. Dije a él, “¡Debes trabajar en tourismo por que tu eres un bueno ayudante!”

Las olas en Monterrico eran mas fuerte que las otras olas que veía. La playa era muy empinado etonces el agua regresaba muy rapido. ¡Con muchas aguas de ambos lados, las olas eran monstruosos! Nadaba muchas veces, pero siempre paraba después de una ola grande casi me ahogué.

In English

My weekend was fun. Every weekend I travel to someplace new in Guatemala. This weekend I traveled to Monterico in the south of Guatemala, on the Pacific coast.

In Dakar, boys and other guys always offer to help, but they expect to be paid. Here I don’t have that problem. In Monterico, a boy next to me in the boat followed me. I spoke with him politely, but I did not use his help because I did not want to pay him. I spoke with a French guy that works in a bar. He suggested a hotel that did not appear in any of the books. The boy stopped me before I entered the wrong hotel. With his help, I found the right hotel. Because he helped me, I bought Cokes for both of us. We sat and enjoyed the drinks. I told him, “You should work in tourism because you are a good helper!”.

The waves in Monterico were stronger than any other waves I have seen. The beach was very steep so the water returned really fast. With lots of water from both sides, the waves were monsters! I swam lots of times, but I always stopped after a big wave almost drowned me!

Vida en San Pedro

(Note: English translation is below.)

¡Ahora, ese diario tiene dos idiomas, español e ingles!

Estoy muy contento con mi decisión para viajar a San Pedro. Ese ciudad está en la mitad entre San Andés y Xela. No es desmasiado poqueño, y tambien no es desmasiado grande. San Pedro me recuerda de San Andrés por que el tiene una buena vista del lago y montañas.

Mi familia aquí es fabulosa. La casa es nueva, con agua caliente en la ducha. La casa recibe brisas frescas de la montañas. Los mismos brisas hace olas muy grande en Jabalito en el otre lado del lago, pero aquí pienso no hay muchas olas en la tarde. ¡Estes bueno por a nadar! Tal vez, mañana voy a nadar en el lago. Mi madre cocina la misma comida de mi madre en San Andrés. ¡Me gusto! Para desayuno comí tres panqueques y atol de plantano sazonó con canela. Para almuerzo, comí pollo con tomates, arroz, y tortillas. ¡Por fin, mi mano izquierdisto estuvo occupado!

Mi maestra se llama Dorca. Es un nombre un poco dificíl para recordar por que es biblico, de la idioma hebreo. Ella tiene mucha experiencia y es muy facíl para entender.

Espero por dos semanas buenas aquí en San Pedro.

In English

Now this blog has two languages, English and Spanish!

I am really happy with my decision to travel to San Pedro. This city is in the middle between San Andrés and Xela. It is not too small, and not too big. San Pedro reminds me of San Andrés because it has a beautiful vista of the lake and the mountains.

My family here is fabulous. The house is new, with hot water in the shower. The house gets cool breezes from the mountains. The same breezes make really big waves in Jabalito on the other side of the lake, but here I think there aren’t many waves in the afternoon. That’s good for swimming! Perhaps tomorrow I will swim in the lake. My mother cooks the same food as my mother in San Andrés did. I like it! For breakfast, I ate three pancakes and a hot soup made of plantain flavored with cinnamon. For lunch, I ate chicken with tomatoes, rice, and tortillas. Finally, I have something to do with my left hand!

My teacher is named Dorca. It is a name that is a little difficult to remember because it comes from the bible, from Hebrew. She has lots of experience and is really easy to understand.

I’m looking forward to two great weeks here in San Pedro.

Weekend in Monterico

As predicted in my last post, I decided to ditch Xela and find someplace else to study for the next two weeks. Because I liked Lake Atitlan so much, and because I am trying to meet up with Ben from Planet Online to explore the possibility of working for them for a few months, I decided to plan myself in San Pedro a little village on lake Atitlan. I have not been there yet but it seems to be much more like San Andrés, which I liked so much, so I’m hopeful.

On Friday morning I said goodbye to the family in Xela. I’d left a gift with my family in San Andrés after staying there two weeks, a book of pictures of California. I wanted to give my family in Xela a gift too, but I wanted to save the other book I had for the family I stayed with two weeks. So I went out and bought a ball for the little girl in the family. It was really sweet when I gave it to her. I showed it to her and told her it was a gift for her. Her eyes got really big and she immediately said a big thank you. We took it in to show her grandma and she told little Miscelita to thank me. I said, “She already thanked me, she’s a good girl.” Well, it probably didn’t sound like that with my pronounciation and hit or miss conjugations, but no matter how broken the Spanish, a compliment always makes a grandmother happy.

I tried to meet up with the Seed of Hope people at a fundraiser, but it turned out it was sold out! That’s good for them, but bad for me. I hit a pizza place instead and ran into a girl I met in San Andrés there. She was part of a group called LEAP Now, which is mostly for people between high school and college. She was the one I liked the most from her tour group, so it was lucky she’s the one I ran into. We chatted all through dinner. Sounds like the group is undergoing some problems right now… maybe by the time you read this someone will have been voted off the island! Hope not, even the bozos were all pretty good kids. But boy did they make me feel old and wise. Jeeze.

So Friday was taken up by travel all the way to the southernmost city on the Pacific coast (at least on my Lonely Planet map). Monterico is a vacation hotspot for Guatemaltans and backpackers alike. I stayed in a great new hotel that is not in any of the books, Hotel Brisa del Mar. It is one block off the black sand beach, and being brand new is really clean and pretty. If anyone is reading this and planning on visiting Monterico, I heartily recommend it. The hotel’s restaurant, however, is a different story. The service there was a bit spotty, and the food wasn’t anything to really crave. It was clean, and the portions were good, but I’d recommend looking around for food other places.

The hotel is built in little bungalos with three rooms and three doors per bungalo. It turns out both my neighbors in the other two rooms in my bungalo were heading to the same language school in Xela. What’s even crazier is that one of them had just come from my next school in San Pedro! So we turned into a little group to travel today. I went with them north as far as Escuintla, then took a different bus onwards. The girl who had been at my school warned me of some problems she had, and given her experience I know what to watch out for and speak up about. It would have been nice for her to say, “My week there was perfect!”, but it is helpful to hear the other side of things too. Even if my week turns out like hers, I’d probably stay. She moved on partly for her own reasons.

Right now I am in Panajachel taking a little break from traveling to get money and do Internet stuff. I suspect San Pedro will be off the net like San Andrés, so I need to check in now. Ok, I just got around to reading the book and it turns out San Pablo has a bank and Internet access afterall. No harm stopping here, it is on the way anyway; there are water taxis to San Pedro from here. I need to be in San Pedro tonight at 6 pm to meet my family.

Look forward to a second language on this website (and in these emails) this week, as I plan to assign myself a new homework assignment: write an entry in Spanish every day for the next two weeks. Here is a teaser and a reminder to myself of things I want to write about: fincas en la camino a Panajachel, y el mar Pacifico del Guatemala. Nesecitar otre topics, etonces ellos deben pregundar!

Off I go to prove another of Jeff’s travel tips once again: any trip which is possible in a boat or a bus is better taken in the boat!

Life in Xela

I’ve had a few days to settle in to Xela now, so here’s some info about life here.

Xela is Guatemala’s second biggest city, but it is a distant second to Guatemala City, with only 120,000 residents. It has several universities, so it is rumored to have the benefits of a university town. I did notice a flyer for a tofu store last night, so I guess that’s one of the benefits (?) of a university town. However, it is still a big city, which turned out to be a real shock to my system. I knew it was a city when I decided to come here, but I didn’t realize how accustomed I had become to rural Guatemala. The city is dirty and noisy and drove me crazy for the first little bit. I might still flee.

My house is comfortable, but the food had two problems: there was too little, and it was really bad. Lunch the first day was a small bowl of chicken soup. So I figured dinner was the big meal for this family. But dinner was one egg and about 100 grams of beans, with this horrible local version of Wonder Bread. The family never eats tortillas, just this really fake tasting bread and these things they call tamales. Tamales (in this house) are corn flour cooked in a corn husk like Mexican tamales, but without anything inside. They are supposed to be like tortillas, but they are heavy and not very useful for making dinner interesting. Breakfast the next morning was the exact same as dinner the night before: one egg and 100 grams of beans. I decided to see what was for lunch, then talk to the director of the school to find out if these four meals were considered normal and acceptable. Lunch turned out to be vegetables boiled in water with egg, rice, and guacamale. This time there was enough, but it wasn’t really very good. I ate out in the town yesterday morning in order to get enough to eat.

I asked the director about the food and he said it’s normal that a family has to adjust to each new student. (But since this family has been hosting students for over 8 years you’d think the issue of starvation would have come up before.) He asked what I wanted, and I gave some ideas (2 eggs for breakfast and dinner, a full meal with meat at lunch, tortillas or rolls, fruit with breakfast). He then decided to call the family for me. That was really nerve wracking, because it felt like I was “telling” on mi madre to her “boss” without talking to her first. When I got home that night I explained that I had gone to the director because I didn’t know what food was normal here in Xela and did not expect him to call her before I had a chance to talk to her. That little white lie went over Ok, but the madre definately had her feelings hurt some. Arrgh.

It’s a difficult situation because while I’m not expecting to be waited on hand and foot, I am a customer. I am paying for room and board, and I chose that option because I felt the amount I’d pay for food would be fair compared to the amount I would spend in restaurants if I were staying in a hotel. Having to eat in restaurants to supplement what I get at home was not part of the deal.

My teacher is OK. She’s studying to be a lawyer, and is clearly pretty experienced at teaching Spanish. She sometimes talks full speed and I just look at here like a deer in the headlights and she remembers and starts again, pero despacio. She is reviewing stuff I learned in San Andrés, which is frustrating because I cannot see forward progress as measured by new stuff written in my notebook. But it’s clear I don’t really know the old stuff yet, so there’s no point in piling on new stuff, I guess.

In general I was really discouraged and ready to leave on Friday by the end of the day yesterday. The food situation has improved some in terms of volume, and breakfast had no beans, two eggs, better bread, and some watermelon. I’m hoping lunch will knock my socks off, but I don’t really expect it to.

I have one main job remaining here in Guatemala before I can start heading north towards Mexico City, which is to investigate several volunteer opportunities I’ve come across. I’m coming to the conclusion that it would be much better for my Spanish education and my budget to work here for free than to try to work in the US in a Spanish language environment. It all comes down to the cost of living, which is so much lower here. If I can find the right job and the right city, I think it would be a fine way to spend 2 or 3 months. But it seems likely that Xela is not the right city.

There are places to study Spanish north of here in Oxaca, and I thought about hitting the road and going up there. But I still want to talk to Ben from Planet Online and see if working for them makes sense. He and I plan to get together the weekend after next, which means I need to stick around here in Xela for a while longer.

Lake Atitlan

This morning I arrived in Xela, and have found my Spanish school, and the house where I will be staying. It is not as opulent as my last house, but mi madre seems much more communicative, so hopefully I’ll feel a little more at home here, and a little less like a foreigner.

As an aside, I found my school despite the best efforts of the Lonely Planet cartographers to leave me baffled on a street corner in Xela the rest of my life. New travel tip: use the addresses, not the dots on the maps. Apparently the dots are added to the map by a blind left handed dart thrower.

This weekend I spent at Lake Atitlan. On the night before I left Antigua, I was feeling a bit shy and figured I would just end up eating alone someplace. But I decided to make a swing through the park looking for a gringo who wanted to catch dinner. I found a really nice woman and her mother from England. The woman had been through Antigua several times in her travels and was a mini traverlers information desk. She sent me to a great little restaurant. Alas, I was still alone. At the restaurant, I pulled out my Lonely Planet and started doing research on Lake Atitlan. I tend to plan my travel in broad strokes, then do the final detailed planning at the last minute. A guy at another table was clearly doing the same thing, and it turned out we were heading opposite directions. So I sat with him and helped him with his “homework” and he helped me with mine. He told me about a cool place on Lake Atitlan named Jabalito.

There is a cliffside hotel there called Casa del Mundo. Lonely Planet says it is magical and boy were they right! The entire first day I was there I just kept thinking this isn’t really real. It is built into the cliff with lots of little one room buildings for extra rooms. It has an incredible view of one of the volcanos, and beautiful gardens everywhere. The swimming area is in the little cove with rocks to jump off of and everything. The only problem was that I was so in love with it I immediately wanted to share it with everyone in my life and got a tiny bit lonely and homesick thinking how much nicer it would be if I had a girlfriend and/or some parents with me to share it. Next time!

The hotel serves dinner family style, so everyone gets to talk and learn about each other. There’s also a wood fired hot tub that we went out in one night, which helped us get to know each other even better. I met lots of cool people. The coolest one is a pediatrician from San Francisco. She and I plan to get together when we get back to California. There was also a dreadlock-wearing defense attorney, two human rights workers (one paralegal, one forensic anthropologist), two architects working on the new stuff for the World Trade Center site, two girls who used to work for Anderson Consulting (in Australia and England) and various other cool people.

Casa del Mundo is very expensive compared to the normal backpacker budget, which might have explained why I liked the people so much. The price range filtered people out by age and work experience somewhat, so virtually everyone there was the same age and had interesting lives to talk about.

I went kayaking in the lake, and swam in it every day. One day, I went for a sunrise swim, which was really great.

It is time to get home for lunch now. My classes are in the afternoon this week because they don’t have room in the morning. That’s a bit of a bummer, but it is way cooler here in Xela, so working in the afternoon won’t be too bad. I’m not sure what I will do with my mornings, but high on my list is visiting Seeds of Hope to see if it would be a good place to volunteer. I am also working on getting in touch with a friend of Mak Verber’s, who runs an NGO named Planet Online. I haven’t learned what they do yet.

More Guatemala Observations

Some more random observations about Guatemala…


People say Americans are crazy gun toting cowbows, but the real Americans who love their guns are the Central Americans of Guatemala. I have never seen so many guns as I have here. That includes growing up in a working class, rural city in the US.

You see guns on the belts of police, and there are an average number of police here by US standards. But that’s just the beginning… lots of stores hire private security guards, and they are almost without exception armed. Every bank has an armed guard quickly questioning every person who wants to come through the door (one bank had a man-trap too, which is a pair of doors forming a vestibule, wired so that only one can be open at a time). Probably 70% of the delivery trucks have an armed security guard literally riding shotgun. When the truck stops, the guard gets out and watches the truck while the driver makes the delivery of Coca-Cola or whatever.

Security guards almost always carry some kind of shotgun with no stock, just a pistol grip. It looks pretty cool, in a Hollywood prop kind of way. They have plenty of live ammo in their belts. I have not yet gotten the nerve up to strike up a conversation and find out if the keep a shell chambered too, though I suspet they do. For my liberal peace loving hippy friends out there, the distinction is a big deal. Even US police and military armed guards, under normal conditions, keep their shells far away from their guns. Having a shell chambered is just a pump and a trigger pull away from making a big hole in something or someone.

So that would be a lot of guns, even for hick from the US like me. But it keeps going… it is quite easy to get a permit to carry a firearm as a private citizen. I don’t know if it is required by law, or just fashionable, but men invariably wear them prominently. Sometimes in holster, sometimes just a pistol stuck in their jeans. I’m not making this up… I think maybe they’ve watched too many Dirty Harry movies. The other day on the boat ride to Puerto Barrios, one of the businessmen on board had a pistol on his belt. Made me wonder a little about how much fun Puerto Barrios was going to be.

Like probably everywhere in the world, peace in Guatemala brought less military and more crime. So there’s a legitimate need for security guards, but the overwhelming and completely public show of force was pretty surprising to me.

The only way the guns have really changed my behavior is to make me more polite. This is an argument the Texans, bless their gun-loving hearts, make. When I go to pass a delivery truck, I always try to find the guard and make eye contact and give him a really nice “Buenos Dias”. Afterall, I don’t ever want one of those guys to be surprised as I pass between him and his truck. They stand with their back to the wall away from the truck, so you have to pass between them and the truck.


OK, this is kind of icky, but it is interesting. The germs in Central America grow faster than back home. I’m sure some of it is just that I’m always hot and sweaty here, but I think the germs are meaner too. But somehow you seem to heal a little faster too. I can’t explain that part of it. What it means is that if a cut starts to heal without getting infected, you’re home free. But if it gets infected, you’ve got to really keep on top of it to get it to heal. I predict I’ll be hitting a pharmacy up for more antibiotic ointment before I head home. I use it like parmesan cheese on top of spaghetti. Oooh, sorry. That was a little more gross than even I was going for.

Anyway, Matt, a gringo working at a park in San Andrés made the observation that organic farming ought to be way easier here than back home. He says that you can compost a pile of waste here in two months that would take a year back home. The ambient temperature and humidity is perfect for it in the Péten, and there’s much more aggressive bugs here.

More Guatemalan Engineering

A few more examples of repeated materials and techniques. Wire makes virtually any sort of hardware, from a hinge to a lock. They use the same system here for making a quick and easy gate in a barbed-wire fence that I saw in Wyoming on my drive to Alaska. (If you are interested, ask me to draw it in person sometime, it’s not worth trying to explain here.)

Inner tube is the ideal material for both a lid (use some wire to catch it under the lip of the tank), or for anything requiring spring. Sometimes gates are sprung with innertube. Sometimes you see it holding a truck closed (or in extreme cases, together).

Guatemalans speed bumps breed with about twice the virulence of the germs in the cut on my ankle. Which wouldn’t be a problem, except that shocks seem to be considered optional equipment by SAT, the Guatemalan DMV. So even when someone says, “¡Hay no problemo, ees paved!” the road will still be about as bad as a dirt road, but with less dust.


I got to Antigual yesterday afternoon after a long bus ride most of the way aross Guatemala. From Puerto Barrios to Guatemala City it was pretty comfortable. We were on a Mercedes bus which dated to the 80’s, judging by the decor.

I invented another of my somewhat random travel tips. (You might remember the last one: when out of ideas on how to solve a problem, sit down and wait for something good to happen.) This tip is simpler: always sit on the side of the bus where a thief will pick up your luggage from. Here in Guatemala it is the right side, because they only load and unload it from that side. Then you can watch whenever bags come and go and see if any look a little too familiar. As it turns out, I need not have worried because they issued actual bag tags, and the guy actually checked the number before giving me my pack! That doesn’t even happen in Amerian airports!

I arrived in Guatemala and pulled a Karl. (Sorry Karl, but you earned this.) I decided one way to be less of a mark in Guatemala City was to not use my map. The streets are in a simple grid, so it should not have been difficult to get to 18th calle and 4th avenida. The problem was that I confused avenues and streets and went to 18th avenida and 4th calle. As though sent from heaven, a taxi cab where there when I figured out my mistake. Now would be another good time for a Jeff Travel Tip: when you’ve screwed up walking to someplace in a big city, don’t fix it by walking more (no matter how sure you think you are now about the right direction), just bite the bullet and pay for the damn taxi. I paid, and arrived at the Chicken Bus Coop.

(Why is getting lost due to stubbornly refusing to look at a map called Pulling a Karl? Because in Fez, Morocco, Karl managed to explore and enjoy the wrong old city. Only in Morocco can you find the wrong old city. I think Fez has 3!)

The Chicken Bus Coop is my name for the place in Zona 1 where all the transport to various cities leaves from. It is absolute chaos. It was not made any better by the fact that there was an Antigua bus leaving right as I got there. I decided to try to make it and a guy helpfully took my pack preparing to throw it up top. I followed him, not wanting to be separated from my pack. Lucky thing too, because he was the conductor from the next bus back, and had stolen me from the departing bus’ conductor. Luckily, no words were exchanged over this minor foul, perhaps because the other bus was already roaring away. (In Senegal we got put on the second bus in line once and it caused a huge mess while the conductors argued and the policeman who had been sitting under a tree nearby had to come straighten things out. Turns out the first bus has dibs on the tubobs.)

The bus ride to Antigua, being my first Chicken Bus ride was interesting. It’s an experience best simply experienced, so you all should just come on down and give it a try instead of having me explain it. I recorded some of the patter of the conductor as he tried to drum up business. I think it would make a great sample for a techno song. If any of you want to try making a “Chicken Bus Remix”, feel free to ask for the recording. The one detail of the experience that fell short of what I’d heard before was that there were no chickens. At least in Senegal I actually got to have a chicken under my seat.

I arrived in Antigua and refined another Jeff Travel Tip: when you are in a bus station and people are pestering you (want a bus to someplace? want spanish school? are you american? want some beads?), just walk. Walk a block from the station and get your thoughts in order and your map aligned, etc. Normally you can do this on the bus in peace and quiet on your way in, but on a Chicken Bus, peace and quiet (let alone room to move your elbows to open the book) are hard to come by. I headed off in search of a hotel.

I got lead around by the owner of the (full) hotel I came to first. I figured this was a replay of Livingston, but I’d at least humor the guy while he attempted to rip me off. But the hotel he took me to was fine, and even took my passport number and everything. I asked about locking my valuables in the safe, and the guy said, “You and the Canadian in your room are the only ones with keys. And he’s Canadian.” Good enough reasoning for me!

My big reason for being in Antigua is to hike up Volcán Pacaya, which is active. So I immediately arranged a tour for the next morning at 6 am, then I went out for dinner early because lunch on the bus had been just enough to survive. (Jeff’s Travel Tip for buses: Never get on a bus without food and water. I think I got this one from Karl actually.)

I ambled aross town to the restaurant the both the Canadian (who is probably stealing my passport right now) and the Lonely Planet recommended, Cafe Sky. It was a total Gringo spot, but the food and beers hit the spot. Nice conversation too. But really expensive… $9 for two beers and dinner. That’s highway robbery by Guatemalan standards.

This morning I got up and did the volcano tour. It was awesome! It made up for the stupid tour in Livingston to a waterfall with no water. (I guess I forgot to mention that in my last update, intent as I was on talking about defrauding the fine hotel operator there.)

There were about 13 gringos on the tour. The closest to an American was a guy who carefully introduced himself as half Swedish and half (mumbling…) American. I didn’t have time to find out if he had a legitimate reason for introducing himself that way (i.e. never lived a day in the US in his life or something) or if he was just being a spineless prick. I suspect it was the latter. That drives me crazy… American travelers are the ambassadors for the part of the US that thinks about the state of the rest of the world. If you aren’t brave enough to stand up and say, “Yes, I am an American and I’m trying to fix things, so shut up” when some snippy Germans start picking on you, you should just stay the hell home.

Ahem. Pardon me while I stop frothing at the mouth. But it really pisses me off, and I’ve seen it a couple of times to varying degrees.

Anyway, we hiked about 2 hours up to the top of the volcano and could see the vents throwing out lava in little and big explosions. It was really incredible, and awe inspiring. It was also, of course, a little bit dangerous. I stayed near the guide, figuring he knew best. He only let us stay near the vent for 5 or 10 minutes. Just enough to rest and get photos, then we headed down again. He clearly had instructions to watch the time and stay within the danger zone for under 60 minutes or something. When we got back to the place where grass was growing he looked visibly happier. I brought back a rock, probably one of the newest million rocks on the planet. How cool is that? You can see intricate details of how it pulled apart like taffy as the gas in it expanded as it was cooling.

I got back to the hotel for a much needed shower. I plan to explore Antigua more this afternoon. I’ll leave for Xela tomorrow around 8am, unless I wake up early, which seems likely… I woke up 4 minutes before my alarm clock went off this morning at 5:30. It is official, Guatemala has turned me into a morning person.

The weather here in Antigua is way more to my liking. It is Redwood City weather, low humidity agreeable temperature, cool in the evenings, etc. Hopefully Xela will be nice too.