Road trip to Tikal, details

July 6th, 2016

Everyone I know who visits Tikal flies via Guatemala City, but we decided to drive. On the way, we visited parts of Guatemala we’d read and heard about–Rio Dulce, Lake Izabel, and Livingston—and saw miles of near-desert and dense jungle vastly different from the familiar mountains and valleys of the country’s west and center.

Our group consisted of my children, fourteen-year-old Olivia, eleven-year-old Mateo, and I, along with good friends from our Bay Area adoption group, Michele S. and her ten-year-old daughter, Sofia. We hired a driver, Helmuth Leal, who owns the Antigua travel company, Caminos del Quetzal. Literally dozens of tour companies and shuttles run trips to Tikal. We chose Helmuth based on recommendations of others in our adoption community. The service he provided was terrific.

Guatemala is divided into twenty-two regions called departments, similar to our States, and enroute to Tikal we passed through nine of them: Solola, Sacatepequez, Chimaltenango, Guatemala, Progresso, Zacapa, Izabel, and Peten. Tkal is located in the middle of Peten, the largest and most northwestern department, bordering Mexico to the north and west and Belize to the East. The distance from Guatemala City is about three hundred thirty miles. We started our trip in Panajachel, which added another hundred.

The trip took six days, with two days dedicated to driving. The cost was about twice as much as the price of five people flying round trip from Guatemala City to Flores, Tikal’s nearest airport. Bear in mind, the price included hotels, transport, and Tikal Park admission.

Before leaving for Tikal, our families had spent a week at Lake Atitlan, and Helmuth picked us up there on Sunday at 6 AM. If I were to do it again, to save travel time, I would start in Antigua. Lesson learned. We stopped for breakfast at the restaurant Chichoy, between Lake Atitlan and Antigua, and snacked in the van until we arrived almost at Rio Dulce. I say almost, because it was while on the road that we learned the meaning of the word pinchazo—flat tire. The incident added to the adventure.

Once in Rio Dulce, we unloaded our luggage onto a riverboat and cruised over to the rustic and charming Hotel Catamaran. The cabins were simple and clean, with ceiling fans we grew to cherish—that part of the country is hot! and humid!–and no internet access. The no-internet theme was repeated for the rest of the week, and for the first time I could remember, I truly felt off the grid. Continue… »

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Road trip to Tikal

June 25th, 2016

Olivia, Mateo, and I just returned from visiting the great Mayan pyramids in Tikal, which is the reason I’ve been incommunicado. Not even phone reception in some places. I can’t remember when I’ve been so off the grid. We’ve been traveling with another family from our adoption group, Michele S. and her daughter Sofia, and the kids got along great. We drove through 9 departments in Guatemala–departments are like our states; there are 22 total–and saw a part of the country completely different from the highlands, where we usually go. The east and north are very dry and then very jungle.

We spent a night or two in Rio Dulce (details are a blur at this point!), which is beautiful and like I imagine the Amazon to be. We took a boat ride down the river and stopped at a hot springs, where a natural healer named Felix massaged the sulphur sands into my bad knee, and for good measure, the other knee, too. The kids loved soaking in the scalding hot water. An amazing day.

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Pastores

June 12th, 2016

 

The town of Pastores near Antigua is known for its leatherwork. The main street is lined with shops where craftsmen custom-make boots and belts and handbags. My favorite wallet, of leather and cloth, was made in Pastores. We visited last summer with a friend whose daughter rides horses, and left with a handsome pair. I stumbled on these photos in an old file, and remember the happy day.

 

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GuatAdopt Gathering 2016

May 31st, 2016

I’ve posted a few snaps from our annual GuatAdopt party, taken by the multi-talented Ginny C. Everyone agreed this was the best bash ever–our kids have grown up together, and we have too. Friends pitched in with set-up and break down, and pot-lucked delicious side dishes and salads to complement Tim’s wizardry at the grill. How lucky we are to be part of this group!!! xoxox

 

 

 

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Gathering

May 28th, 2016

Sunday is our annual party for adoptive families with ties to Guatemala. So if today you saw a crazed lady steering a mondo cart through the aisles of Costco, that was me. The weather forecast is great, and for once, we’re ahead of schedule with cleaning and prep-work. (After five+ years, I think we’ve finally gotten the system down. ) Looking forward!!! xoxox

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My mother the Rockette

May 24th, 2016

My son Mateo may be my mother’s biggest fan. We’ve visited Radio City Music Hall in NYC and he’s fascinated that his grandma once danced on that great stage as a Rockette.  Five shows a day, fifty weeks a year, for five years.

While searching on the internet, Mateo found this vintage photo of my mother, as she’s getting fitted for her costume for the Music Hall’s famed Christmas Show, circa 1950.

Thank you, Mateo. I love everything about this picture.

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Butterfly

May 17th, 2016

Brag Alert: My niece, Astrid Swensen, made a Trials cut for the US Olympic Swim Team, in 200 Butterfly. (Translation: she gets to compete in a big meet to see if her time qualifies her for the team.) I love the slogan she’s standing in front of: “It’s not every 4 years; it’s every day.”

Don’t those words apply to so many things? I’m thinking parenting, family relationships, friendships, exercise, healthy eating, and because I’ve set a goal to finish the draft of a novel, writing. It’s not enough to wish the pages were finished. I’ve got to make time to sit in a chair and get focused and do the hard work. Every day.

Kind of like swimming length after length of a pool, whether you feel like it or not. There is no easy way. Only the hard work. Every day.

This is Astrid’s second Trials. She qualified the first time at fifteen years old. She’s now eighteen. Read more about the amazing Astrid in my previous blog posts: Brag Alert; My Niece, the Swimmer, and A Lesson From My Niece.

Congratulations!

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Mother’s Day

May 8th, 2016

Feeling blessed on Mother’s Day and thinking of my children’s mothers in Guatemala. I’m happy we know both women, and are able to cultivate relationships that my children may (or may not) continue as adults. The way the relationships ultimately unfold will be my kids’ and their mothers’ decision to make, but I’m grateful the foundation has been laid.

Also: When my friend Jennifer Grant was asked by the editor of the spiritual website, Aleteia, to compile a list of five books about parenting, she suggested the list include a book about families formed by adoption. Thank you, Jennifer, thank you! (And for including Mamalita). Jennifer is a writer, speaker, and editor in the Chicago area. Among her many books, Jennifer authored a terrific one about her own adoption experience, Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Hard Red Spring by Kelly Kerney

May 3rd, 2016

Kelly Kerney’s novel Hard Red Spring tells the history of modern Guatemala through the lives of four Americans whose stories are linked by the book’s inciting incident: the mysterious disappearance in 1902 of an ex-pat little girl.

The book is divided into four time periods critical to Guatemala’s evolution: 1902, 1954, 1983, and 1999. During each of the four periods, a story is told through a different point of view: Evie, the young ex-pat girl who disappears; Dorie, the wife of the American ambassador to Guatemala during the presidency of Jacobo Arbenz and reign of United Fruit; Lenore, the wife of an evangelical pastor sent to Guatemala to serve in a model village under Efrain Rios Montt; and Jean, the adoptive mother who returns to Guatemala for a Roots Tour with her teenage daughter, Maya.

Each of these characters is an outsider in Guatemala, and much of the book’s drama revolves around the characters’ struggles to understand and navigate their outsider status. No clear villains or heroes emerge: Everyone is flawed, and in many ways, everyone is guilty—of selfishness, of pride, of good intentions gone awry–or if not guilty, not innocent, either.

I turned every page of Hard Red Spring in awe of Kelly Kerney’s ability to seamlessly weave the history of Guatemala through the epic narrative. The plot of each of the four sections is gripping and unexpected—perhaps because the history of Guatemala is both those things–and the characters are unique and memorable. At the same time, Hard Red Spring was, for me, a difficult read. Not because of the novel’s density—although at times it was dense—but because of the underlying message: That as a citizen of the United States, I am forever an interloper to Guatemala, regardless of how fervently I wish to belong.

Despite my discomfort, I wholly recommend Hard Red Spring. It’s  a monumental and important novel that affected how I think, and won’t soon forget.

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The Address by Ken Burns

April 27th, 2016

Totally off the subject of Guatemala or adoption: The Gettysburg Address. Mateo and I are obsessed with it. Over Spring break, we traveled to Gettysburg to visit the epic battlefield and stood on the site where Abraham Lincoln delivered his powerful speech about freedom and sacrifice.

Back home at our local library, we found a Ken Burns documentary about a boys’ school in Vermont that requires students to memorize Lincoln’s immortal words for an annual elocution contest at year’s end. The students, each with learning differences, work hard to master the moving and challenging text.

Mateo and I loved the Ken Burns’ movie, and recommend it to anyone with an interest in history, Lincoln, the Civil War, the Gettysburg Address, or none or all of those things. We also recommend The Address to anyone who parents a child with learning differences, or not, or for anyone interested in education. In short, we hope everyone watches this unique story and is inspired.

Here’s the description from PBS: THE ADDRESS, a 90-minute feature length documentary by Ken Burns, aired on PBS in the spring of 2014. The film tells the story of a tiny school in Putney Vermont, the Greenwood School, where each year the students are encouraged to practice, memorize, and recite the Gettysburg Address.  In its exploration of the Greenwood School, the film also unlocks the history, context and importance of President Lincoln’s most powerful address.

A link to the trailer: The Address, by Ken Burns

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