Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Saying Goodbye To Guatemala

Today is my last full day in Antigua and although a part of me is a bit sad to be leaving, a greater part of me can't wait to go back home. I wanted to have a really relaxing day today without any rush, I feel like I have accomplished all I had wanted during this trip so I can take it easy and soak in the last unforgettable moments in Antigua.

I slept in and got out of bed only when I couldn't sleep anymore. I took my time to pack my stuff then headed out for a late breakfast. I had heard good things about this one restaurant called Rincon Tipico which serves local cuisine and since I had eaten dinner there last evening and enjoyed the food, I decided to check out their breakfast menu to see what the local taste is like for breakfast. The restaurant is so pretty and colorful and by now you should know I love colors so I was in my element, the staff are super friendly and remembered me from the previous evening so they greeted me with warm familiarity.

This is what I had for breakfast, fried eggs and black beans served with a thick soup like consistency. Trust me when I say, "don't underestimate this food!" it was heavy and very filling! on the side you see that beautiful colorful cloth? it covered freshly made tortillas which were still hot to the touch. I had one and was done, I was so full and energized to start my day.

After breakfast I wandered around the pretty streets of Antigua just enjoying the views and exploring any hidden treasures. I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

The sun got really hot and unbearable so I decided to take a little break, I bought some ice cream and walked over to the central park where I sat for a while in the shade to people watch and rest a little bit. I had walked for quite a while by the way and my feet were so sore! I think its the culmination of all the walking I have been doing since I got here.

I was feeling so tired and sleepy plus the intense sun wasn't helping much so I headed back to the house to take a nap and stay indoors. That's it folks, my last day here has gone how I wanted and now I am just waiting for my ride to the airport, this trip has been really rejuvenating for me and I am glad to be going back with a refreshed mind ready to tackle the regular hustle and stress of life, who said being an adult is fun?

Random Thoughts of The Day:

Even though its hot here, I am glad its dry heat so it makes it more bearable to walk around without sweating too much as long as you stay in the shaded areas.

The sun has done a number on my skin and hair though, my skin has been peeling and my hair color has become so much lighter, to my dismay. Ooh! well, major TLC will be unleashed when I get back home.

Tortilla is eaten a lot here but the taste is so different from the Mexican tortillas I am used to, I prefer Mexican tortillas any day!

Everyone that I have encountered in this trip has been so helpful and gone out of their way to assist me in anything I needed. I am so grateful for this and I will carry with me great memories of Guatemala.

To be honest with you Guatemala was not on my radar at all, I don't know why I was not interested at all to visit the country. One of my Colombian friends who travels a lot and knows so much about Latin America kept urging me to give it a shot but I never really thought about it. Now I am glad to tell him that he was right, I did enjoy Guatemala.

The original plan for my 37th birthday was to travel to Cuba with my husband, unfortunately circumstances beyond our control forced us to put that plan on hold. Fortunately my attention was shifted elsewhere and tickets to Guatemala just so happened to be the cheapest at the time and I figured, Ooh! well, I guess its finally time to check out Guatemala. I am glad that this country exceeded my expectations.

Thanks to my travels I meet interesting people that I would otherwise not have a chance to meet in my everyday life. I met Maricela from Mexico at the house I am staying at, she is a family friend who had come to spend some time in Antigua. We hit it off so well and had very good conversations, she is such a sweet, bubbly and friendly person. Last night we ended up talking until the wee hours of the morning and we could have kept going on had we not noticed that everyone else was asleep and we probably may have been disturbing them. She and her husband retired, rented their house in Mexico and packed their bags to travel through central America, she is will be in Mexico in June for a short visit with family and she already invited me to come visit with my husband. I would love to visit her so who knows, let's see how things go. we already exchanged contact information so we will definitely be in touch.

She is the lady in the middle, you should have seen us hugging so tight saying our goodbyes as she left this morning. I hope we do meet up again in the near future as she made such an impression on me.

Monday, March 20, 2017

More of Antigua

Today was a good day, the host family I am staying with had recommended that I take a tour of the surrounding small towns around Antigua to learn a little bit more about their history and culture. I was all for it because I had not had the opportunity to really explore Antigua in depth since my arrival so today was a perfect day to get to know more about the city and it's environs.

The first place I got to check out was Cerro de La Cruz which is a hill from which you can get a very good ariel view of Antigua. Most people go there to relax and hang out with friends or take photos of the city down below. The ariel view was really beautiful but unfortunately the sun decided to hide once we got up there so the photos I took looked a bit dull. I swear the one time you really need the sun to come out is when it never does, it did eventually come out though.............when we had descended from the hill!

From Cerro de La Cruz we continued on to the surrounding towns as the guide explained the history of each town and the general way of life of the people who live there. We visited three towns whose names I can not remember right now but they were all named after a saint. The towns appeared very chill and I got to capture some really cute views, I hope the pictures give a glimpse of that.

If you haven't notice, yellow does stand out in a lot of the buildings in Antigua. I don't remember if I mentioned it before but it was one of the common colors that the Spanish used so to preserve the historic identity of Antigua, in certain areas it's not permitted to change the color of the buildings or use other colors other than what was commonly used historically. The other colors beside yellow are white and red.

At one of the towns there was a communal water structure where women were washing clothes, the guide explained that because some of the residents don't have running water in their homes the city provided them with a communal area where they can wash clothes, get the water to bath and cook. The lady below was so sweet and friendly and we chatted for a while before I asked her for a photo.

We visited a monastery to learn more about the historic and current influences of Christianity in the region. Inside the monastery were furniture and artifacts dating hundreds of years that were so well preserved that it was hard imagining how old they were. While on the subject of religion the guide told me an interesting piece of history. When the Spanish conquered the Mayans and forced them to accept Christianity, they destroyed their sacred sites and built churches over them to highlight their authority.

The Mayans had no choice but to accept Christianity but one thing that the Spanish didn't realize is that although the Mayans "accepted" to attend church and pray, they were actually praying to their gods in secret. You see, they attended church on specific days and times because they still consulted with their religious calendar and at the appropriate time they would attend a church that was built over a specific sacred ground and worship their gods by presenting offerings because they believed their gods were still present in those sites. The Spanish did not know this by the way, they had no way of knowing and they just assumed they attended church because they had accepted Christianity. Interesting, huh? Okay, back to the monastery.

I didn't take pictures inside but I couldn't resist taking pictures of the very pretty garden in the middle of the monastery.

 At the entrance to the monastery.

After bidding adieu to the monastery we stopped by a local wine maker to sample some of the wine made in the region. The wines were made from various fruits in the region and the owner of the place was super nice. He makes the wine himself and if you sample something that you like then you can buy some otherwise there is no obligation after sampling. I sampled quite a bit actually and I was a happy camper afterwards!

At the end of it all I picked out two of the sweetest wines that I sampled before moving on.

Interesting fruit, looks like a mango when you cut it open and the lady selling it was saying it tastes sweeter than a mango. She gave me a piece to try but I didn't think it was sweeter than a mango, it had a weird taste that I didn't particularly care for.

Last but not least we stopped by an artesian market and I had some fun with the local fabrics. I did get a very cute decorative wall hanging at a very reasonable price and I can't wait to see how it will look in our apartment, the colors are so pretty!

That's it folks, once again it was a day well spent and I had a lot of fun not only checking out the various towns we visited but also conversing with the guide who was really sweet and nice.

Random Thoughts of The Day:

Being here in Guatemala feels like I am back in Peru or Ecuador, I see several similarities that remind me so much of those two countries. I feel like I am taking a walk down memory lane remembering my stay in those two countries, how time flies.

I didn't know how famous Kenyans are here in Guatemala until now. Every time I say I am from Kenya when people ask, they get so excited and start talking about the great marathon runners from Kenya. Turns out each year I believe, they hold international marathons in Antigua and Guatemala City and guess who always scoops the 1st, 2nd and 3rd price? Yup! Kenyans. Proud of my people.

When I am on holiday my eating habits are very crappy! I don't drink enough water and I eat anything that appeals to my palate regardless of how unhealthy it is. In short, while on holiday I want to sample everything and don't care much for watching what I eat.

I actually don't drink too much water on purpose because I am usually out and about a lot while on holiday so drinking a lot of water would require me to take frequent toilet breaks. Trust me, a clean toilet is never guaranteed while on the move and if there is one thing I can not stand is a dirty toilet. So basically I don't drink water while on the move just so that I never have to use the toilet. I have been trying to break this bad habit by drinking a lot of water in the evening when I am settled in the home I am staying at, to make up for not drinking water during the day.

The guide who was showing me around the city was saying that there are about 7 to 10 very powerful families who control the wealth in this country and hold a lot of political influence. I mean, they decide who will be president and who will not, how much more powerful can they get? Unfortunately these families want to maintain the status quo so they make sure the wealth stays in their hands at the expense of the masses. The guide is the third person who has told me this.

Cobbled streets may look very pretty but its hard to walk on them! you can easily sprain your ankles if you are not careful. They also take a toll on your shoes, my shoes have been scuffed so badly you should see them up close.

Tomorrow is my last day in Guatemala before heading back home. My flight leaves at night so I have the whole day to spare. I plan to sleep until I can't sleep anymore, walk around the the city exploring leisurely without any rush and enjoy some good food in one of the numerous restaurants around.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Guatemala City

Today I decided to visit Guatemala City the capital of Guatemala just to get a feel of the place and see how its like. I had read on several travel blogs and posts that tourists normally just pass through the city and base their stay elsewhere but I was still curious to check it out for myself. I told the host family that I am staying with about my plans and they said that the city isn't very safe unless you know exactly where to go and hang out so they referred me to one of their friends who knows the city very well, to accompany me.

I had heard that on Sundays Guatemala City is usually very vibrant with lots of people and activities so I decided to spend my Sunday in the city. Mauricio the family friend picked me up in the morning accompanied by his wife and young daughter and off we went. There wasn't much traffic so the drive was pretty fast and we managed to easily get parking.

We visited the central historical area which was buzzing with so much activity. The presidential palace which is located in that area was closed today and we couldn't get in to check it out so the most I could manage was a photo in front of the building.

Next we stopped by the cathedral which is the main church in the city and located right next to the presidential palace. There was mass going on inside and I just felt so uncomfortable wandering inside while people were praying. I took a quick peek inside then stepped outside. I normally don't like taking photos in places of worship while people are in the process of prayer as I find it rude so once again, I settled for a picture in front of the building. Didn't manage to capture the whole building but Ooh! well......

I spotted some really cute traditional dresses that really drew my attention, the colors and designs were so lovely that I had to take a photo. The sun was super intense and my forehead was burning up hence the weird expression on my face, once again I didn't see this photo until it was too late to do a re-do.........why won't the sun let me be great??!!

Later on we took a walk along avenida sexta (6th avenue) which is a long pedestrian street full of shops, restaurants, entertainment and people. I love such streets where you get to see so much going on, it makes everything so lively.

As luck would have it, I came across some ladies who were braiding along a section of the avenue and since yesterday's visit to Tikal really dried out and shrunk my hair due to the heat, I could not resist to get some simple braids just to stretch my hair out and give it a little break from combing. It cost only $8, can't beat that price! my bad hair day turned out to be not so bad after all.

After getting my braids we stopped by one of the many restaurants to get some lunch. I typically like eating where most locals prefer to eat because that's where you get the best food in my opinion and get to sample local food that you may otherwise not have the opportunity to try. Mauricio and his wife knew exactly where to take me after I explained my preference and we ended up at a restaurant called Comida Tipica (I think that was the name of the place).

Close up of my dish which was DELICIOUS!!!!!

Mauricio recommended I try one of the typical Guatemalan deserts called Platano Rellenito or Rellenito de Platanos, its sweet plantain stuffed with sweet black beans. Yes! you heard it right, sweet black beans that have been mashed into a creamy paste. I think they add sugar to the beans to make it sweet, they also include sugar on the side if you want to sprinkle on top of the desert. The desert was already sweet as it was so I didn't need anymore sugar. Who knew? sweet black beans, huh? does look like chocolate though right?

My main dish with fresh fruit juice and desert came to a whopping $6! I am loving the prices down here.

After that heavy lunch we continued walking along the avenue and came across a procession. It was interesting to watch although Mauricio and his wife were telling me that processions in Antigua are far much better and elaborate as Antigua is like the capital of catholicism in the country and people really hold strong catholic beliefs.

With the intense heat I can only imagine how the people carrying this on their shoulders were feeling, must have been exhausting.

That's it folks, we walked some more and visited other sites before calling it a day and returning to Antigua. I of course proceeded to black out through out the drive to Antigua, with the heavy lunch and intense heat who can blame me. It was a good day and a bit chill, just what I needed today.

Random Thoughts of The Day:

I didn't realize how bad my sunburn was until this morning when I noticed my forehead peeling. I really should have brought a hat with me on this trip. The sun in the city today was also very intense, my scalp even got burnt after I got my braids done, I can't wait to get home and give my skin and hair proper TLC.

Speaking of hair, I am never ever going to travel with my hair out again. Its too much maintenance especially on holiday when you are up and about and don't necessarily want to deal with certain hair routines. Waking up in the morning to comb it out, braiding it before bed to avoid tangles in the morning, dealing with certain weather conditions that affect your hair and not having your regular hair products nearby to take care of your hair with.........it's too much for this girl right here. Braids are just so much better and easier to deal with when on the go. The heat here has not been good on my hair for sure.

I was having a conversation with Mauricio about the American school buses that end up on Guatemalan roads and I got to learn some very interesting facts. Turns out it's a huge lucrative business! when these buses acquire certain miles the schools in the US decide to replace them so they sell the older buses to car dealers and what not. These dealers sell the buses to mostly central American and Mexican business men/dealers who transport the buses to their respective countries. The buses are sold as is but when they get to Guatemala for example, they are totally refurbished with a new motor, seats are modified to occupy more passengers, TV's and very good sound systems are installed in some. After all the refurbishment the buses are sold to individuals who want to get in the business of public transportation.  One bus for example may cost about $30,000 but it depends on how much work is done to it, either way there is a lot of money to be made in this business.

Mauricio's friend was also telling me that there is a very interesting documentary that gives a really good insight into the ins and outs of this business. Its called La Camioneta, I have to watch it when I get the chance.

PS: They buy these buses because the overall cost ends up being way more cheaper than buying a new bus.