Posted by: janetwright2guatemala | 03/06/2012

Memories of Sharing Guatemala with My Beloved Kids

5 marzo 2012 lunes  

Mother and daughter in Mayan traje

Si, ya hace dos mes desde que mis hijos me visitaron….yes, 2 months have quickly passed since Alex and Michelle tromped around Guatemala with me, but our adventures still are fresh in my mind and heart…

Tortillas or bust!

Our family reunion could be considered a banquet meal of adventure…and as such, historic Antigua was the hors d’oeuvre. Its landscape of pastel-colored buildings and cobblestones streets are rewarded with World Heritage designation, and there exist enough familiar sights that tourists acclimate quickly. Even my kids admitted that the lush garden and Internet café of the MacDonalds was a significant upgrade from those in the U.S. No huge yellow arch due to the strict design standards…in fact, it is so innocuous that one can walk by and miss it entirely due to its blending in. Puchica! Can we ask for this same modest design back home?

Alex very aptly described the camioneta rides across the country to the Western highlands (some exaggeration, but it does reflect the true adrenaline rush):

All aboard for San Bartolo!

“How to ride a camioneta : Give all your worldy possesions to somebody you hope is the ayudante of your bus, who will then climb onto the roof of your bus and tie your stuff down (hopefully/ usually). Get on the bus while it is still moving (if it’s still in the terminal it will only be going around 3mph). If its crowded, squish past people as the people sitting mostly in the aisles stand up to let you pass, possibly find an empty seat on the end of a bench mostly by sitting half on the lap of the person refusing to move, thus indicating politely that you would like them to scoot over a little bit.

Hold on for dear life because the ride will be crazier than any roller coaster in the U.S.  Politely decline the sales offers of papayas on sticks from the food vendors who get on the bus, since their food will send you straight to the sanitarios for the rest of your vacation. As the bus driver drives 20mph faster than a NASCAR driver would take any turns, be a little grateful that God has blessed your bus (as indicated by the large stickers blocking most of the windshield) and that Jesus ( the one, the truth and the way) will prevent any accidents as the bus driver drives in their own lane, on the shoulder, and into oncoming traffic in a valiant if ill-advised attempt to get you to your destination faster than the non-existent schedule would otherwise hope to promise.  

Near your stop, push to the front of the bus, yelling out where you want to get off and alerting the ayudente to the fact that your mochilas (backpacks) are (hopefully) still on the roof.  Hop off the bus, and try to catch your belongings as they are thrown off the roof of the bus ideally in your general direction. If you need to transfer, repeat step A.  If you don’t, quickly locate the nearest sanitario, because if you didn’t need the bathroom before the bus ride, you’re most likely going to need it after for one reason or another- your body will think of something to expel.”

Onto the main course…yes, the meat of our family adventure was indeed that trek up 14,00ft Tajumulco  ( January 5, 2012 post) and huddling in sleeping bags to await the dawn. My challenge to Alex and Michelle, “I will still be around when you reach my current age, so let’s see if you can achieve a similar climb….I shall be calling you!” I warned. So onto the vegetable course which was the Carribean tropical delight of Livingston. This was new territory for me because it involves an all-day trek to the opposite side of the country. As I told my kids, “Visitamos la tierra fria y despues aprovechamos de una navidad en el clima caliente” First, we are visiting the cold territory and then enjoying a warm Christmas!

A choppy boat ride from Puerto Barrios across the mouth of the bay with intermittent rain was definitely the water version of the camioneta. Thankfully each bench had tarps so we huddled under these, with eyes peering out now and then. Livingston! Land of the Garifuna or black Guatemalans, with their own culture and language.  We were given a private tour of the Garifuna neighborhood by a very articulate resident (in English!), and sadly heard that relations are strained between their group, the Mayans, and ladinos (European descent Guatemalans). Our African American Peace Corps volunteers encounter considerable curiosity and prejudice here in Guatemala….many Guatemalans have never seen anyone black and have only a vague notion about the Garifuna culture who live exclusively in Livingston. A black volunteer shared with me that someone once asked her, “Do you have a state for your black people?” referring to the enclave  in this country. Thankfully, it is not so in the U.S., although many would say that a certain apartheid does exist. Both sad and fascinating to hear that native food had been appropriated and made exotic…case in point, Tapado, a tasty seafood dish with coconut milk. Our guide disclosed its origin as “tapo” which was the poor man’s meal of seafood leftovers.

Siete altares

Last of the main course, languid blue pools of water in the dense jungle…called Siete Altares (7 Alters) due to the rock formations as bridges or alters just barely under the surface of the water. Curiosity led us up river until the fading light warned us that the park would be closing…nighttime in the jungle? No thanks. The other visitors jumped aboard a lancha (boat) to return to Livingston, but we intrepid three began trotting the 2 ½ miles along the beach, racing in the waning sun.  That was our adventure for Christmas eve which Alex topped off with dancing until 5am at a Garifuna club…Michelle and I sunk into bed beneath our mosquito nets in the early evening to await Santa’s arrival. Christmas day we delighted our hotel host with our candy orgy…he even photographed the incriminating evidence of candy wrappers galore! Michelle gifted us Senegal treats of T-shirt and blouse , momentos of her last big adventure…Christmas day was a much needed lazy siesta.

Tropical beauties

The tropical adventures continued next day upriver, with another night under mosquito nets at Finca Tatin in the jungle. Alex and I took a brief kayak trip at dusk and then we enjoyed Bananagrams after dinner…this witty game was a frequent trip activity as we three battled for the most creative crossword puzzle. Next day we hopped back into a lancha for the calm ride upriver to Rio Dulce, a bustling city at the mouth of Lago Izabal….the largest lake in Guatemala. Ahhh…Finca Paraiso (Paradise Farm) was indeed that as the warm waterfall massaged our shoulders. Couldn’t get enough of its warmth!

Serving time for the next course of our aventura…dessert! Leaving behind the Caribbean, we sank into the luxurious seats of a tour bus headed to the capital city and watched the tropical landscape become transformed into one much drier with sparse vegetation.

Solola clock tower

The marvel of Lago Atitlan

Lake Atitlan, a beautiful crater lake, was our next destination…our meal was winding down. Several camioneta rides brought us to foggy Solola for our lunch stop. After warming up with caldo (stew) at a comedor, Alex felt inspired to draw the clock tower at the central park.

Michelle and I chose to wander about the market stalls, enjoying the bright blue traje (outfits) of the women and the unusual pants, shirt, and brown-checked skirt outfit of the men. This is one of the few places in Guatemala where the men still wear traditional dress…in warm weather, men just don shirts and skirts. By now, a crowd had gathered around Alex, the artist. He appreciated the interest as street venders and passersby looked to his drawing then to his subject matter and back again. Highest count of admirers: 12 gathered around.

Ringing in 2012

To ring in the New Year of 2012, it had to be Antigua! Festivities in the cobblestone streets, including the pyromaniac display of a man prancing around with a wooden armature of a bull which shot fireworks into the nearby crowds. Gotta love this country’s flirt with danger! A photographer did a quick 2-step to avoid the barrage of sparks. We purchased our light-up headgear…all partygoers were similarly adorned. In the central park, paper lanterns 2ft tall were set aloft with their little flames, rising up into the darkness of the sky…like miniature stars.  And so, as the lights flickered in the lanterns and eventually burned out…so did the minutes of 2011. According to the Mayan calendar, 2012 is a year of big changes (and NOT the end of the world as some forecast).

Yoselin flying high

My wish to friends and family is for 2012 to be a great year, full of adventure and promise….my deep thanks to my adventurous kids, Alex and Michelle, for journeying here…besos y cariño de tu mama!!



  1. I enjoyed this, Janet. Nice writing by Alex too!


    Michael W.

  2. Hola mama,

    Great description of our trip! I think Alex’s account captured the art of camioneta-riding perfectly.

    te amo,

  3. Wild and wonderful!

    How have the people you have met there been affected by the difficult economic times, or is it just more of the same for them?


  4. Glad you are doing well…and that your spring flowers are bringing cheer to passersby.

    As for economic times here, I think many Guatemalan families struggle all of the time, so it’s not so different right now. Despite few material things, people here know how to enjoy life and their families…so there is a richness here that we don’t always have in the US! People scrape together funds to celebrate birthdays and more in great style and flourish!!

    We could do well to learn to live simply, with fewer things and spend more time with friends and family!!

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