Guatemala / Ecuador 2017
PrologueWe make it a point to visit Guatemala when each of our compadres' daughters turn 15. The quinceañera is a coming of age ritual which in their family is celebrated with a Catholic Mass and a party for family and friends. Yoselin is the fourth of five daughters to celebrate her quinceañera. We first met her when she was only four years old! The years have passed swiftly.
Humberto and Paulina have always told us to feel free to invite any of our friends and family to visit them. Up until now, our dear friend Mukul from India was the only one to take them up on the offer. This year, our friends the Tolers (Kevin and Jenn and their daughters Julia and Meghan) decided to join us for the quinceañera. It is perfect timing, since Julia herself would be turning 15 just a month later. Julia and Meghan are both studying Spanish in school, and we knew that the art of the area would inspire Kevin and Jenn.
Kevin, Jenn, and the girls would stay for 10 days, and when they returned home to Boston, we would take Paulina and Eddy with us to Ecuador for a week to meet our compadres there. This was a tradition that we began last summer, when we took Aracely and Vanesa. They are indigenous Mayan, and our Ecuadorian compadres are indigenous Kichwa, so it is an amazing opportunity for cultural exchange. Guatemalans only need a passport to visit Ecuador, so it is a perfect destination for their first plane trip!
After a week in Ecuador, we would return to Guatemala for 6 days before returning home. I would work remotely from both countries, taking some time off to do some sightseeing as necessary.
Yoselin's party was on Saturday night, July 22. However, I had quarterly planning meetings at work the previous Tuesday and Wednesday, so we couldn't leave until Thursday. Our flight was bright and early on Thursday morning; not ideal after two long days of intense work for me, but it would get us into Guatemala City early in the afternoon.
The combination of the very early start and the fact that there were six of us plus luggage made us decide to hirs a car service to take us all to Logan. We hired Country Carriage to pick up the Tolers at 4:00 a.m., stop to get us, and drop us all off at Logan. It worked out perfectly.
Thursday 7/20/2017 - Arrival in PanajachelWe woke up at 3:30 a.m. The car had arrived 15 minutes early at the Tolers' house. Kevin hadn't gone to sleep at all, and the girls woke up to the sound of Kevin telling them that the car was out front. Julia fell right back to sleep in the car. They arrived at our house at around 4:30. We could see the reddish crescent moon in the black sky as we got into the van and chatted excitedly with Kevin, Jenn, and Meghan.
It was great to just be able to relax while someone else drove. He dropped us at the American terminal and we checked in with the skycap. We would be flying to Miami, and then from there to Guatemala City. We checked one bag each and found that American Airlines charged us $25/bag. What is this? No free bag on an international itinerary? Since when? We travel this route all the time and have never been charged to check a single bag. It's not like our tickets were cheap. Certain airlines sure do try to make traveling as miserable an experience as possible these days.
We went through security with plenty of time to spare, so we got some coffee and breakfast at Dunkin Donuts and chatted about the upcoming adventure.
On the plane to Miami, the Tolers were seated in the row in front of us. We arrived early in Miami, and bought some empanadas at Cafe Versailles for lunch. It was a short layover, and soon it was time to board our next flight. We all had the same seats on the next leg.
We arrived early in Guatemala City as well, at aound 1 p.m. Kevin and Jenn got to experience how we always somehow choose the slowest and least efficient passport control queue. Once we finally made it through, we went to collect our luggage. We were happy to learn that all of our bags had made it. We passed through customs and then exited the airport.
At the curb, we were greeted by Rodolfo, a driver and guide who started working for Humberto's Lago Aventura Tours around six months ago. This was our first time meeting him, and he is delightful. He speaks great English and is very kind and thoughtful.
We got into Humberto's van and embarked on the three hour drive to Panajachel, on the shores of the beautiful Lake Atitlan. It was a nice sunny day, and pleasantly cool.
We enjoyed showing the Tolers all of the sights exiting Guatemala City, inlcuding La Aurora Zoo, brick aqueducts, a Pollo Campero fried chicken restaurant on every corner, and a McDonald's restaurant where the building itself is shaped like an old-school Happy Meal box. There is a fascination with cars as architectural features: we passed a Mini Cooper dealership with a yellow Mini scaling the vertical wall, as well as Saúl Crepes, a boxy building with the rear halves of old cars protruding from the facade.
It was great to see their reactions to things to which we have grown accustomed over the past 13 years. We don't really bat an eye at the chicken buses: pimped out retired U.S. schoolbuses that offer cheap local transportation between communities, shining with chrome, Catholic imagery, and LED lights. But with the Tolers with us, we are able to step back and experience it all again for the first time through their eyes. They said that they were enthralled by how colorful everything is.
We had views of several of the volcanoes which surround Guatemala City (there are 29 volcanoes in the country). We passed through Chimaltenango, a gritty village with roadside brothels and many mechanic shops. As we got further along the Panamerican Highway, we reached more rural areas with farmland and haciendas.
When Rodolfo stopped for gas, we went into the little shop and bought various local snacks (plantain chips, tea cookies, etc.)
We stopped at a roadside mirador (lookout) and got our first glimpse of the volcano rimmed crater lake Lago Atitlan. Our destination, Panajachel, is on the northeast shore.
We passed through Solola, the capital city of the department.
As we descended the windy, mountainous roads toward Panajachel, we pulled over again to get some panoramic views of the lake. We could see Panajachel below us, and the three volcanoes which ring the lake (Atitlan, Toliman, and San Pedro) were completely visible. It was clear, sunny, and cool, and the lake surface was quite calm. This is unusual for this time of afternoon. You know that the weather is remarkable when Rodolfo, a local, is taking photos of the lake on his cell phone!
A bit further along the road, we stopped to observe a multi-level waterfall cascading down the mountainside onto the boulders below.
We arrived in Pana at around 5 p.m. Rodolfo pulled up in front of the Lago Aventura tour office. Humberto met us with a big hug as we got out of the van. He and Luis, who works in the office, carried our luggage. We walked down the alleyway to the left of the office. The homes along this alleyway belong to Humberto's extended family.
Eddy, Ian, Vanesa, and Aracely met us in the alleyway. We gave them big hugs and introduced them to Kevin, Jenn, and the girls. Aracely has gotten much taller in the past year, and we were struck by how much she resembles Yasmin. We couldn't believe how much two-year-old Ian resembles Eddy at the same age: the same long hair, the same wide eyes...it's uncanny.
Humberto's property is at the end of the alley. It started out as a 4 room house which was initially built courtesy of Habitat for Humanity. But over the course of several years, Humberto added a second building to accommodate his growing family as well as to rent our guest rooms as part of the family tourism business. The two story building has four bedrooms on each floor, each with a private en suite bathroom.
Paulina and Paola greeted us as we entered the property through the gate. They led us upstairs to our room. Normally, we stay downstairs, across the hall from two rooms occupied by the four eldest girls. But Yoselin's party was being held on the ground floor. So the girls would temporarily move upstairs, and we would stay upsiars as well, leaving the four downstairs rooms available for seating and a dancefloor.
Yasmin and Yoselin were still at school. The public school buildings are not large enough to accommodate all of the local students at once, so they stagger classes. Younger students go to school in the morning, and the older students go in the afternoon/evening. They don't get out until 7 p.m.
We got settled into our rooms. Aracely and Eddy took us up to the roof deck to see their potted garden. Aracely was raising a sugar cane plant, and Eddy was raising sweet peppers. He and Paulina were also growing some sunflowers which had not yet bloomed. We had a nice view of volcanoes Toliman and Atitlan, with clouds starting to encircle their peaks in the waning light.
We were all quite tired, and Kevin and Julia wound up going straight to bed. Guatemala is two hours behind Eastern time, so it felt even later to all of us, and we had been up since 3:30 a.m. Eastern.
The kids' cousins Neli and Josue came by and sat with us outside. They were playing a game of catch which soon turned a bit vicious. They have a ball which looks innocuous and resembles a colorful oversized piece of candy. But it is made of very hard plastic and doesn't give at all when it hits you in the face!
We were having a hard time keeping our eyes open. We could easily have gone straight to bed without eating dinner. But the family had planned on cooking dinner for us. Craig and I wanted to see Yoselin and Yasmin when they got home from school, and we wanted to have dinner with the family.
Jenn and Meghan gave a valiant effort, but they eventually surrendered to the allure of sleep. Yoselin and Yasmin had returned from school, and Humberto's nephew Juan Carlos and his wife Yolanda stopped in to say hello.
Just as we felt like we couldn't keep our eyes open for one minute, dinner was served. We went inside to the dining room, and noticed that the walls had been painted a faint green with white trim. We asked when they had painted it, and they said just two days ago. Dinner was very tasty beef stroganoff with rice.
At 10:30, we went to bed, having been up for 21 hours and practically delirious. With bellies full, we were happy that we had stayed up to eat dinner. We were eager for tomorrow to dawn so that we could show Kevin, Jenn, and the girls around the area in the daylight!
Arrival in Guatemala City: Jenn, Kevin, Julia, Meghan, and Craig
Julia and Meghan get a first glimpse of Lake Atitilan
Roadside waterfall approaching Panajachel
Ian and Eddy
Vanesa and Aracely
View of volcanoes from the roofdeck