Pictures/Journal - page 19

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There are 2 SLIDE SHOWS and 1 MOVIE VIDEO so be sure to look at them.


Part 2:  Guatemala City, Antigua




GUATEMALA CITY:   After a week of settling in at Monkey Bay, we head to Guatemala City (for dental issues) on a 6-hour "luxury" bus ride winding through the mountains (US$6.70).  They do show movies, usually of some Guatemalan Jerry Lewis-type character with a quirky mustache; once a B&W Mexican western musical.  Guat City, or "the City", as it's known locally, is the largest city in Central America.  As with any big city, and we envision this to be similar to Caracas, it is known for not being a safe place in general.  However, as with any big city, there are always safer areas and common sense precautions to be taken.  Based on recommendations from cruisers, we stay in Zona 10, also known as Zona Viva, with its luxury hotels, gourmet restaurants, trendy bars and nightclubs and first class shops and malls.  This is probably the safest area in the city, with well-armed security highly visible at most doorways or inside, and up and down all the streets at all hours.  We walk the area day or night, and adjoining zonas during the day without worry or problems.  We stay at a "guest house" located in the center of Zona 10, which offers clean rooms, albeit not fashionably decorated, with private bath/hot electric shower (see sidebar), cable TV, refrig and phone, and free internet and ice -- all for the cruiser's discount of US$25 / night!  In Guat City you can't beat the price for this prime location.  (See Guatemala City & Antigua Lodging, Restaurant & Medical Recommendations for Guatemala City and Antigua.) 

Many Americans adopt Guatemalan children as evidenced by the many happy couples pushing strollers with dark complexioned infants; in fact, one of the Zona 10 hospitals has a whole floor dedicated just for this purpose.  A recent local article says that 23,000 children have been adopted by Americans over the past 10 years bringing in millions of dollars into the Guatemalan economy.

Guat City's elevation is 4,500 ft. offering rather pleasant daytime temperatures but cooling at night for long sleeves.  It was a welcome relief from the heat and humidity of the Rio.  A few days in the city gave us a chance to check out recommended restaurants and the shopping for future reference, not to mention the dental specialists (yeh, they speak English, were trained in the U.S. and are every bit as competent as in the U.S.).  We also checked out a few museums, of particular interest the Museo Ixchel of Mayan textiles, the traditional art of the Guatemalan highlands.  Deborah's good friend in Houston has been weaving (on foot-treadle looms) for years and last year studied with the local women in Guatemala's highland villages, thus Deb's special interest.  This museum gave us a good knowledge base.

Since then we have been back to Guat City a few more times.  One trip we did our annual physicals using English-speaking doctors recommended by other cruisers.  (See Guatemala City & Antigua Lodging, Restaurant & Medical Recommendations.)  We were impressed again with the quality and thoroughness of service and state-of-the-art equipment.  It certainly was cheaper than doing it in the U.S., but still nothing beats Venezuela for low cost and very high quality. 

For serious shopping or that hard-to-find item, Guat City is the place.  See the handy listing Guatemala City Recommendations from Monkey Bay Cruisers which includes useful shopping, services, entertainment, lodging, medical, transportation, etc., information.

FINDING your WAY around GUATEMALA is easy.  Most cities follow a logical grid pattern, with avenidas (avenues) running north-south, sequentially numbered starting with 1 from the west; calles (streets) run west-east sequentially numbered starting with 1 from the north.   Then along each avenue or street, each building is numbered sequentially, with odd numbered buildings on one side and even on the other.  To avoid the problem of where building #30 may be on a different block from #31, the cross road is also used.

In addition, most cities are divided into Zonas - Guatemala City has 21 zones - with each zone having the same numbering system.  Thus, you must know the zone number as the exact same avenue/street address could exist in 21 different places in the city!

For example, a favorite restaurant is located at 2a Av 13-25, Zona 10.  Thus, its in zone 10, building #25 on 2nd Avenue just  after 13th street.


The ELECTRIC SHOWER.  Uh-huh.  The typical hot shower in Guatemala is this electric contraption that heats water "on demand" when the shower is turned on.  Note the wiring job.  There is a switch that selects off-warm-hot, but don't touch it with the shower running.  It took me 2 times to learn that lesson - zzzzzzz.


ANTIGUA GUATEMALA (it's official name):    A 45-minute US$10 door-to-door shuttle van trip (it's safer than the $1 chicken bus) west puts us in the small city of Antigua, one of the oldest and prettiest cities in the Americas.  It was the Spanish colonial capital of Guatemala from 1543 until numerous earthquakes finally destroyed it in 1773 (when the capital was transferred to present day Guatemala City).  During it's heyday, no expense was spared on opulent architecture which included 38 churches (monasteries and convents, too) and a cathedral - a lot for a city not that big.    

Today, Antigua retains its charm with its cobblestone streets, crumbling ruins supporting new structures, and brightly painted facades, most which innocently conceal alluring gardens and atriums behind their tall walls and thick speak-easy-type wood doors - much like New Orleans' French Quarter.  A peak into a nondescript open doorway usually makes for a visual treat.  The city is at 4,500 ft. elevation with welcomingly pleasant temperatures and surrounded by mountains and 3 majestic volcanoes, which can be seen spewing smoke/steam occasionally.

We were amazed at all the young single people here, many of them on summer break from college and others backpacking through Central America, many attending Spanish school.  But what was even more surprising was that the majority of these young people were traveling alone, and of those more than half were girls!  Obviously they're not afraid traveling here.  The main stories we heard concerning safety were of cameras being stolen (with all their trip pictures in it).   We travel with a 1 GB memory stick (and multiple camera cards) so we can occasionally dump our pictures off the camera cards - internet cafes are plentiful.  We can replace our camera but not our pictures.

This is rainy season, which they call winter.  We wore shorts and t-shirts during the day (high 60's - 70's), very pleasant.  But the locals are wearing wool sweaters, jackets and knit hats and can't understand, again, us crazy gringos!

As the electricity in Guatemala in general is unreliable (Monkey Bay has its own big generator so we don't really notice) we travel with flashlight, candle and lighter - and have used them several times.  Unfortunately we can't do much about loss of water service, which happened frequently during the night, apparently due to water line repairs.

A quick bus ride into neighboring Jocotenango took a group of us to a nice spa where we had hour massages and steam for Q55 (US$7.30).



View SLIDE SHOW of Antigua




FINDING your WAY around ANTIGUA is similar using avenues and street designations also, but due to the small size there are no zones.  At the center of the city is the obligatory Central Park, and all buildings start numbering sequentially starting at the park with #1, referencing their  location with respect to the park.  For example, 7a Ave. Norte 29, indicates it's building #29 on 7th avenue north of the park.




Backstrap looms; making huipiles

Close up of huipil decoration


"So, why doesn't her blouse match her skirt?"  


This drove me nuts the first few times I saw Maya women in traditional dress.  "Surely she has something in, say blue, that would go." 

The answer is in tradition, and the huipil is like a uniform worn proudly everyday.  Skirts are also of tradition and village specific but to a lesser degree. 


Used huipiles hang on racks for display and purchase

Large, rustic foot-treadle loom used traditionally by men only


WEAVING, embroidery and other textile arts are practiced by the Mayan people in a traditional manner for both everyday use and to sell.  Their typically brightly colored and intricately made trajes (traditional clothing) are beautiful pieces of art, painstakingly made, and worn by many women whether in the city or village; men are more prone to Western wear (no, not C&W).  Each Mayan pueblo, or village, has their own designs, colors and techniques, so it is easy to identify a person's origin - this was originally devised by Spanish colonists to distinguish one village from another.  It is estimated there may be 500 different clothing (each village).

The most treasured piece of Mayan clothing is the woman's huipil (pronounced wee-peel), a sleeveless tunic top bearing her village's design, color and technique.  Depending on complexity, it may take a woman 8 months to make one huipil (while tending to her other duties), maybe more for a ceremonial huipil.  Women make them using a backstrap loom - one end tied to a fixed object, the other end secured around her back side for tension. The huipil that a Maya woman wears conveys information such as her birthplace, religious background, social position, weaving skill and personality - the ultimate expression of her  identity as a woman and individual in her community - which can be read at a glance by others.

Women also typically wear cortes, wrap-around skirts, which are usually 2 to 10 yards of cloth.  The corte material is made by men using a big foot-treadle loom (women do not use these big looms), which then may be embellished with embroidery or appliqués by women.  (See sidebar below for more clothing descriptions.)

To get educated on Guatemalan textiles we visited the Museo Ixchel (Guat City) and Casa del Tejido Antiguo in Antigua.  Also in Antigua is a huge indoor market called Nim Po't that sells used huipiles  and other clothing and art.  Huipiles are displayed on racks organized by village, so they are easy to peruse.

We have only begun to see the vast woven textiles of Guatemala.  On a future trip we will venture into the Highlands, Lake Atitlan (Panajachel) and Chichicastenango - this area is where a high percentage of the indigenous Maya people live, who maintain their traditional customs and costumes - where we will be able to shop weavings at the "source".  So we'll have more to report later on.

 If you are at all interested in textiles and weavings, or just want to see some better pictures, you need to check out - it is an EXCELLENT website.  It's arranged by Textile and by Pueblo, with descriptions, pictures, and items for sale.  Be sure to look at the traditional huipiles.  Quilters will enjoy the Textile section on Quilts.  As far as Pueblos, these are some good ones to look at:  San Antonio A.C., Aguacatan, Chichicastenango and Santa Catarina.

Please see Guatemalan Textiles Bought and on that page Parts of a Backstrap Loom used in Mayan Weaving for additional information on this subject.



CASA DEL TEJIDO ANTIGUO (museum, market and workshop) 

The above museum scenes shows traditional trajes for specific villages.  Note how the family members clothing are "coordinated"



Displayed huipil  "opened up" -  center hole for head; close up of same showing detail


traje - traditional indigenous Maya clothing; village specific and usually brightly colored
huipil - woman's colorful and intricately hand-woven sleeveless tunic or blouse worn by women to indicate their birth village, social position, weaving skill, etc.; hand-made by women using backstrap looms
tocoyal - woman's woven head-covering made from very long, twisted bands of cloth and may be elaborately decorated with tassels, pom-poms, silver ornaments, or intertwined with their long hair
corte - woman's wrap-around skirt made from 2 to 10 yards of fabric; material made on large foot-treadle looms by men
fajas - backstrap-loom-woven sash worn by men and women around waist as a belt; folded with opening up serves as pockets
tzut or kaperraj - long and wide all-purpose cloths used as baby slings, shopping bags, carrier for peddling textiles, basket cover, shawl, head covering and head cushion for carrying things on their head; they are worn around neck/shoulder/waist and carried on front, side or back.
shoes - typically Western shoes (leather sandals) or barefoot

SPANISH LANGUAGE SCHOOLS.  Antigua is widely known for it's Spanish language immersion schools (about 75 schools are located here).  After "shopping" schools we decided on Casa de Lenguas Guatemala and attended for 2 weeks with one-on-one private instruction.  Typical schedule is 4 hours every morning Monday thru Friday, so this leaves the afternoons free for school activities and studying.  This particular school structures it where you have one instructor for 2 hours then another for the next 2 hours.  You keep these 2 instructors all week, and they coordinate between themselves.  The next week you get 2 new instructors.  We enjoyed our teachers, the school and activities very much and may go back for more later in our stay.

TORTILLAS Did you know that the average Guatemaltecan woman makes 125 tortillas a day?

The school activities ranged from free stuff to cheap afternoon field trips to weekend trips (which we will do on our own later on), focusing on teaching us about the Guatemalan culture.  We took a walking tour of Antigua, salsa dance lessons, learned about the Catholic Antiguan holiday Corpus Christi and made/ate traditional food and took a bike ride through the countryside to sightsee villages and churches (and got drenched on the way back, crossing a street-now-turned-river from the flash flood).  One field trip was to a remote Maya village, Santiago San Morro, where the women entertained us in their thatched-roof dirt-floor houses.  We made tortillas (no chimney so the room got very smokey), learned about traditional Mayan weaving (Deb got to strap on the back-strap loom and do a few stitches), toured their humble village and lush "farm" fields.  The highlight of our visit was a huge meal of the traditional dish pépian - a piquant sesame and pumpkin seed soup to which you add chicken, root vegetables and rice.  We were also served hot tortillas and special tea.  Excellent. 



Spanish school

Corpus Christi holiday info + cooking session

Carlos led afternoon school activities and was very helpful .  .  . .  .  .  Steve with his instructor Aura. Corpus Christi holiday: We all participated in making its traditional dishes of  .  .  . .  .  .  enchiladas (like our burritos) but with red beets - suitemate Fely getting ready to eat one - good but messy .  .  . .  .  .  and tayuyos - doughy things filled with refried beans and steamed in corn stalk leaves.  Actually, not too bad.

Bike trip

Trip to Maya village Santiago San Morro  .  .  .

Bike ride sightseeing around country side; got drenched. Cute and curious girls greet us .  .  . .  .  .  we make tortillas in the very smoky, non-vented "kitchen" .  .  . .  .  . and get instruction on using a back-strap loom .  .  . .  .  . showing off her  beautifully woven huipil .  .  .

.  .  .   Santiago San Morro, cont'd.

.  .  . being dressed in their traditional dress huipil, corte, faja .  .  .  These women were not wearing huipiles - said cost too much. .  .  .  and a tour through their farmland .  .  . .  .  .  and a sit-down dinner of traditional pépian with all the fixin's .  .  . .  .  .  and goodbyes from very generous Maya ladies Lola, Claudia, Ophedra and .  .  . .  .  . kids.

Living with a Spanish family for a week

Casa de Lenguas Guatemala Spanish School

This is Lady Chata.  The red light is Guatemalan tradition meaning that she has tamales for sale.  We gave her a hard time about that .  .  . .  .  . and her U-shaped house; cars park in the middle at night for security reasons .  .  . .  .  .  and we play cards by candlelight as the only light in our room is too dim to study or read by .  .  . .  .  . and off to school the next day with Fely, our suitemate from Paris (France).  

While at Spanish school, we stayed with a local family for a week.  Another female student from our school, Fely from Paris, had been living there for a couple of months.  The family was headed up by Lady Chata, a widow, and included her son and his wife and 2 small girls, an uncle, a good family friend and a few other people that we think were related who'd come and go.  Either the deceased husband or uncle was a doctor, so this house is considered very nice.  Through the big garage-sized wood front doors you enter into a U-shaped house with grass and gardens.  As is customary for wealthier Guatemaltecos, cars are brought in through the front doors and parked on the grass or patio each night for security reasons.  Sometimes there would be 4 cars in there.  It was pretty hysterical, the English-speaking jovial uncle had his "spot" and would meticulously bring in his car (it was missing a window) and turn it around.  The problem was that it kept dying as he maneuvered, and was VERY LOUD as he'd fire the thing up and let it idle for a while - right in front of our door.  But he loved that car.  Our rooms, and shared bath, were on one "wing"; the kitchen and dining room were on the other "wing"; and the family bedrooms, baths, and living area between the 2 "wings".  It's open air in that you walk outside, but under cover, to go between rooms. 

For about US$80/person/week, we got lodging and 3 meals a day, except on Sundays.  We had been warned that with many families you eat nothing but beans, rice and tortillas, so we were prepared to lose some weight.  But we lucked out and Chata was a great cook, serving tasty, healthy meals with good variety.  Tortillas were always served, but we only had beans once!  We muddled through conversations in Spanish, but did resort to English with Fely when we really wanted to communicate.  It was odd as Chata was usually the only one who ate with us, sometimes her son or daughter-in-law - others seemed to take food to their rooms - but they almost always ate only beans, rice and tortillas.  We surmised that this was a combination of tradition and of cost.  Chata made the traditional dish pépian for us, and she makes tamales to sell on Saturdays, which were quite good, also.




VOLCANO PACAYA:    Besides the 3 volcanoes rimming Antigua, there are several other volcanoes near by.  Perhaps the most popular to climb in Guatemala is Volcano Pacaya, 8,400 ft. elevation, a 2-hour bus ride from Antigua.  Pacaya is considered highly active and has been in constant eruption since 1965 - blowing off steam, occasionally sending magma bombs 8 miles out and lava flows necessitating the evacuation of numerous villages on her flank.  Tour operators (US$12 /person/all inclusive) keep a pulse on her status and provide security, so off we went for a day rip. 

We could have ridden horses up to the top (nobody did), but being a generation older than these young backpacker-types we rallied for the 1.5 hour climb up the well-maintained dirt trails.  This brought us to the base of the cone and at the rim of the old crater.  From there, we could see steam and red-glowing spots across the crater and cone.  Status was such that most tour operators were going down into this crater. There is a sign posted saying that going beyond it is at your own risk of toxic sulfur gas, lava flows and eruptions - causing possible death.  Hmmm.  We've come this far, and as there are a bunch of people walking across the lava, we venture out.  "Yikes, this stuff is hot - and I'm suppose to walk across this?!"  Yep, there are small active vents all over emitting very hot gas, and although the lava was solid in some places, it was very brittle and crunchy in other spots.  As I was the most "mature" woman out there, and a bit uneasy with the footing possibilities, a local guide took me under his wing (we gave him a small tip at the end) and led us across the lava and around the risky spots.  That was fine with me.  Steve saw a guy fall through some thin crusty lava, fortunately there was no sizzling lava flowing underneath, but his legs and arms got pretty cut up, as hardened lava is very, very sharp.  Further out, the exposed lava rivers got so hot that people with bare legs came back with bad "sun burns" - we were in shorts so didn't go there - and 2 girls showed us holes in their Keds shoes that had melted through.  Yikes . . . again.  It was a memorable experience.  A few weeks ago in the paper we see that lava rivers have suddenly started flowing and villages were put on notice to evacuate, but as of this week, the alert was off as lava was being diverted through a large "crack" on the side of the cone.

In the slide show pictures, the brown lava is solid, albeit brittle in places.  Underneath runs the rivers of red-hot lava, sometimes reaching the surface and also visible where our guide broke through.  He stabbed the hot lava with a stick which caught fire - kind of like playing in a campfire.

There are also tours that go at night and sound awesome; however, there's no way I'd walk across that precarious lava in the dark!  For some great aerial shots, try



View SLIDE SHOW of Volcano Pacaya



View MOVIE VIDEO of Volcano Pacaya

(you probably need Windows Media Player to view)

This is truly amateur quality, first attempt ever at it, but look anyway.  The background audio is mostly wind . . . or lava crunching.  Hope you don't get motion sickness easily .  .  . 


MACADAMIA NUT FARM  We met an ex-cruiser who now lives in Antigua and went with her to the Valhalla Experimental Station, an organic macadamia nut farm.  Macadamia trees were first discovered in Australia, taken to Hawaii and then to California where avocado growers tried to grow them but the trees did not do well in that climate.  Seeds from the hardiest were cultivated and eventually the avocado growers brought them to Guatemala where they grow quite well.  This farm has been improving genetic varieties for over 20 years resulting in strong trees with high production.  They now boast over 300 species (experts disputed this until they came and witnessed it for themselves) and have planted over 250,000 trees.  Because of the wide variety of species, there are always trees producing nuts throughout the year.

We were given a tour and then served breakfast of macadamia nut pancakes with macadamia nut butter, local honey, blueberries and bananas, and hibiscus tea.  We sampled chocolates made from the nuts, and tried the cosmetic beauty oils and creams - they are really nice as they quickly and completely absorb into the skin, sealing in  moisture, leaving the skin really smooth - and it smells really good, too.



We catch a crowded chicken bus out of town - there are literally 5 people on my seat, 8 across!


Valhalla Experimental Station, Organic Macadamia Farm Macadamia nuts on tree The sorter - whole nuts roll down falling through gradually increasing slots - like sorting change This cracks off the outer green husk, which is used like mulch around new trees and to make walkways and roads.
Valhalla Macadamia Nut Farm

Whole nuts, some with husk removed.  The edible nut is inside, and due to the extremely hard brown shell, is taken off premises .  .  .  .  .  .  to a special facility to crack.  It cannot even be broken with a hammer, as was demonstrated.

Breakfast .  .  .


  .  .  .  macadamia nut pancakes, butter Ex-cruiser Deet showing another farm invention  

We learned that the farm's purpose is manifold.  Macadamia nut trees: 

1)  Give the poor indigenous farmer jobs, an economically reliable crop, an alternative to coffee which is unstable and environmentally harmful.  The soil remains stable so crops do not have to be rotated around.  Valhalla volunteers go around planting trees in outlying communities and worldwide.

2) Provide reforestation which is desperately needed in Guatemala to save the tropical forests and help keep the land from eroding into land- and mudslides, etc.  Pine trees are typically used for reforestation, but macadamia is better.  

3)  Promote a healthy environment by taking large amounts of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and returning it to the soil, putting large amounts of moisture back into the air and providing wide areas of shade for temperature control and to allow other plants to grown underneath it.  They grow 60 ft. high and 40 ft. wide.  

4)  Are low/no maintenance, requiring watering the first year or two, then after that they are self sufficient and do not require fertilizing, watering, etc.  They can grow in all temperatures and soil conditions except freezing and all-sand.  Because of the extremely hard outer shell, the only natural pest of the macadamia is the rat that can use it's front teeth to penetrate the shell.  They do put rat poison out to keep them away. 

5)  Provide food source, with many important nutrients.

If you want to know still more, visit

EARTH LODGE, located in the mountains above Antigua and overlooking Jocotenango, is a funky, very laid-back avocado farm & backpackers' retreat owned by Canadians and currently "managed" by an Israel guy.  We went up for the day, had lunch and hung out (not much else to do there).  Accommodations include a tree house with spectacular view, A-frame cottages and a dormitory.  Rustic but nice toilet and shower facilities, and a stone steam "room".  A guy from San Salvador?, who had been there a few months made jewelry, including some nice bone carvings on decorative cording which we bought among a few other little things.

(cursor over picture for description)

Earth Lodge's posted price list on the wall included  (Q1 = US$0.13):
   Cerveza (beer) Q12
   Pork Chop Q14
   Shower Q8
   Condom Q8

Everything one could need.



Guatemala continued .  .  .


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