Recommendations for what to do in Antigua

September 8th, 2014

Friends who plan to visit Guatemala often ask me for recommendations of what to do there. I recently posted a reply to that exact question on my Mamalita page on Facebook, and decided to re-post here. That way, if anyone asks again, I don’t need to, as a former boss of mine used to say, “reinvent the wheel.”

This list is not comprehensive–for example, I really like the small Textile Museum in Antigua, near the mercado, but it’s rather low-key and may not appeal to everyone. Also, an Indian restaurant friends introduced me to, Ganesh. In addition, now that our kids are older, we’re exploring towns farther afield. For example, in June 2014, we traveled to the Western Highlands to Nebaj and its environs. Again, not for everyone. I loved the kites at Sumpango, Christmas in Antigua, Semana Santa. But those trips require special planning.

So this is a general overview for a trip you might take in the summer, with kids, when you stay mostly in Antigua. Okay! Now that we’ve established the parameters…

So many, many things I love about Guatemala, it’s hard for me to narrow down. But for a first “big” trip back, a few ideas: the dancers of Ninos con Bendicion. Children wearing traje from each Department in Guatemala, marimba music, and your kids will learn how to make authentic tortillas.  A visit to the Choco Museum. This is new-ish, but a big hit with my children. A shopping excursion to the Mercado, of course. Just to admire the crafts. A stroll through La Bodegona, Antigua’s main grocery store. Jade factory? Interesting, even if you don’t buy. A weaving demonstration somewhere. A meal at Pollo Campero. We saw a wonderful dance demonstration one night during dinner at Posada Don Rodrigo; can’t remember what night. Personally, my favorite place is the Municipal Mercado, near the Artisans Market. I wander through and see the stalls of fruit and beans and flowers and fabrics and ceramics, which for some reason makes me very happy. Could be daunting for a first trip–crowded and dim and a bit hard to navigate–arrange for a guide with Nancy Hoffman? A great store on Fourth Calle is Colibri. High quality woven textiles. Also Texura on Fifth Avenida. Nim Pot on Fifth is legendary, a must-see. Next door, the best bead store in town.

If you have time, a trip to Lake Atitlan. A spectacular setting surrounded by volcanoes. A lancha ride to a town on the Lake. Santiago Atitlan? An important cathedral there. Also, a specific kind of bedspread they make, with a lovely border along the edge. (one of which I own, btw, in purple). Also San Antonio Palpo, the blue pottery. If you sponsor a family at Mayan Families, or even if you don’t, visit them in Panajachel. Or Mission Guatemala in San Andres. A stop at the ruins at Iximche on the way to Pana. Handmade tortillas anywhere. For kid food, my kids love the chicken fingers and french fries at Mono Loco, the pizza at Queso y Vino, the pancakes at Dona Luisa, the fruit plate at Cafe Condessa. Everything at Epicure. Las Palmas for dinner. My kids love their grilled chicken and veggies with rice and tortillas. These may not be the “best” restaurants in Antigua, but the ones I found my kids consistently will eat the food. Which means “best” for us.

Hope this helps! And doesn’t add to your confusion. If you have specific questions, please ask. Buen viaje!

Here’s my post on climbing Volcano Pacaya. Might as well keep it all in one place…

Before I forget, I want to post about our recent ascent of Volcano Pacaya, my first ever volcano climb. Our friend, Nancy Hoffman of Guatemala Reservations, made the arrangements; she hired the guide and private shuttle through The Old Town Outfitters, in Antigua.

Our group numbered seven: Mateo, my sister Patrice, and I; and two other US adoptive moms with sons the exact age of Mateo—eight years old and all energy. Six of us made it to the top; one turned back and couldn’t finish.

It’s a tough climb! Much tougher than I thought it would be, and far more rigorous than the reviews on Trip Advisor led me to believe. We set off from Antigua at 8 AM, and didn’t return until 4 in the afternoon. Total hiking time was about three hours. The remainder was the bus shuttle, the getting ready, and the recovery. If you can request a particular guide, ask for Wilbur, an ultra-fit, uber-capable, bilingual triathlete who led us on an excursion our sons will never forget. Lava formations! A sunken sauna! Marshmallows roasted over naturally red-hot rocks! Not to mention the wild race to get down the mountain and earn the title of first to reach the finish. I’ve never used the word “pell-mell” in a sentence before, but that sums up the descent, exactly.

Crazy!

On the shuttle ride home, Wilbur admitted that guides at Old Town Outfitter lead climbs tougher than the ones taken by other companies, because that’s what their clients prefer. No wonder I slept like a rock that night. But don’t be alarmed: You’re probably in better shape than I am, and, regardless, Wilbur can tailor the hike according to your fitness level. Besides, there’s no shame in turning back if that’s what feels right.

A few tips:

Rent the walking stick. You’ll need it. You pay five quetzales from a local little boy or girl who will greet you the minute you arrive on-site. If you don’t thank me on the way up Pacaya, your knees will thank me on the way down.

Bring a substantial snack. Old Town supplies a delicious lunch, but if you’re like me, you need to nibble. Pack some power bars and fruit.

Carry more water than you think you will need. Two liters per person was not too much. Don’t forget a hat. Sunscreen. Sunglasses. If you’re there in dry season, the sun will blaze.

Wear sturdy hiking shoes and long pants. The lava is sharp, and the volcanic soil dusty. Two of our group members wore bandannas over their mouths to protect their lungs. I wish I’d thought of that.

The boys got to stand in the sunken sauna, which actually is some kind of subterranean hot-air vent. They thanked us Moms for making them wear long pants because their legs were toasting. (Don’t worry: They stayed in only a second.) Mateo cautiously roasted one of the many marshmallows he consumed while I was distracted taking pictures. Near the summit, he and I pose with my walking stick, victorious.

Climbing Pacaya stands out as a memorable highlight of our February 2013 trip. Do it if you have the chance! ~

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An short essay on race

August 27th, 2014

I wrote a short essay, “A teaching moment on driving while brown,” that was published today in my local newspaper, the Marin Independent Journal. If you’re reading this, you may be able to relate. I’ve pasted the first few paragraphs here. To read the rest, click on the link.

Last Sunday evening, as I swept the kitchen floor and loaded the dishwasher, my 9-year-old son Mateo cavorted around the room, telling me about his day. My sister and her family were visiting from Boston, and we — my sister, her girls, my daughter, and I — had gone into San Francisco to shop while Mateo stayed home with my husband, to do, as my husband calls it, “guy stuff.”

After a report on fixing the drip irrigation system, Mateo regaled me with tales of their trip to the hardware store, where they bought lumber to build a rack in our basement, and stopped at the food truck to indulge their shared passion for giant hot dogs smothered in onions and ketchup.

“When Dad and I were driving home,” Mateo said, “we saw seven police cars parked on the side of the road, and a Latino man standing next to a shiny, fancy car with his wrists handcuffed behind his back. Dad said maybe the police thought the Latino man committed a crime.”

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A note from Mateo

August 23rd, 2014

One of the benefits of clearing out clutter is that stuff you forgot about resurfaces, including this letter my son Mateo wrote to me in January 2012. In it, he addresses a theme that remains ongoing: his pining for a dog. Reading Mateo’s letter helped me realize he’s wanted a dog for at least two years, a very long time in the life of a nine-year-old. Not that I’m planning to relent and get a dog. Just that Mateo’s desire is not new.

My son’s writing feels so energetic to me. His spelling and punctuation could use a copy-editor, but I love his voice.

Dear Mom,

I think Olivia an me shood get a DOG!!!!!!!!!!!

BECAUSE it will giv us xrsize.

If she didn’t want to do it I would do it for her.

Il give them a bath evry day.

If it’s a school day il do it after school.

If it’s a weekend il do it after brakefast in the morning.I’l take rely good car of the pupy.

“I promis promis promis”

Please Mommy i beg you.

yours Truly

Mateo

 

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Guatemala’s first billionaire

August 5th, 2014

The average per-capita income in Guatemala may be $5,200, but take a ride around the upscale neighborhoods of Guatemala City or Antigua; dine at a fine restaurant and stay at a luxurious hotel; go on a shopping excursion to Tikal Futura; or get yourself invited to the symphony, or an art opening, or a fancy wedding, and you’ll see that plenty of Guatemalans earn more than that. Way more. This article in Bloomberg tells the tale of one such wealthy person: Mario Lopez Estrada, founder of Guatemala’s ubiquitous mobile phone provider, TIGO, and the country’s first billionaire.

This June, out driving with a friend en route to Lake Atitlan, I saw miles and miles and miles of white wooden fences, much like the ones you might see in horse country in Kentucky. “What’s with the fences?” I asked. My friend answered, “The guy who started TIGO owns all that land. The fence keeps people out.”

And I said: “Wouldn’t it be amazing if that guy turned out to be the Guatemalan equivalent to Bill Gates? A brilliant, smart guy with lots of money, who dedicates a large part of his energy and fortune to promoting education, health, and quality of life for the millions of his fellow Guatemalans who need it. Wouldn’t it be amazing if that guy turned out to be a visionary and a leader, with so much money he couldn’t be corrupted.”

My friend smiled, the indulgent smile of one who has seen it all, and knows better. “Maybe.”

Oh well. I can dream, can’t I?

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Yes. From the Washington Post

August 4th, 2014

From a very good editorial in the Washington Post, by Michael R. Strain, titled The problem isn’t Central America’s child refugees. It’s the countries they come from: “Congress, the president and opinion leaders are haggling over how to deal with the immediate crisis of the children coming to and crossing our border, but are not discussing what we can do to improve the situation in those countries to make them places in which parents want to raise their children, not send them away.”

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Seven years

July 30th, 2014

Seven years and 27 trips to Guatemala later, the Kern family of Missouri finalizes the adoption of their son Hudson, born in Guatemala. Congratulations!!!!

Here’s the link to TV news coverage.

It’s hard for me to understand how living in an orphanage for years while a family waits for you benefits a child. Yet that was the reality for Hudson, and for all the children whose cases stalled after adoptions between Guatemala and the US closed in December 2007.

Reform, yes.  No doubt the adoption system was broken and needed to be fixed. Or shut down permanently. But to allow a small boy to spend seven years in an orphanage when he doesn’t really need to: Why?

Again, congratulations!~

 

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Article on recent influx of young migrants

July 15th, 2014

The recent large influx of young migrants from Guatemala has been the subject of heated debate among adoptive parents on one of the adoption chat boards to which I belong. Someone posted a link to this article by Saul Elbein in The New Republic, “Guatemalans Aren’t Just Fleeing Gangs: The media misses what life there is really like.” The article is one of the best I’ve read anywhere. The piece encapsulates sentiments many of us have heard said by Guatemalans, from all strata of society.

Thanks for reading.

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Book about Guatemala’s armed conflict, “Escaping the Fire”

July 13th, 2014

Related to the Washington Post article about the documentary When the Mountains Tremble, posted on July 7: I recently read a memoir titled Escaping the Fire that I recommend to anyone interested in Guatemala’s armed conflict. It’s a testimonial by an Ixil Evangelical pastor, Tomas Guzaro, as written by an American who has lived with her family for many years in Guatemala’s Ixil region, Terri McComb. David Stoll contributed the book’s Afterward.

The book is fascinating for two reasons: First, because it describes Tomas Guzaro’s evolution from Mayan priest, to leader in the Catholic faith, to Evangelical pastor. (Evangelical churches are everywhere in Guatemala, particularly in areas affected by the armed conflict). And second, because in excruciating detail, Tomas Guzaro recounts the experience of his town of Salquil being caught in the crossfire between the Guatemalan army and leftist guerrillas, and how and why that caused Guzaro to lead 200 fellow Mayas from Salquil to the relative safety of army territory. Here’s the link on Amazon.

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“My Mother, the Rockette”

July 11th, 2014

A few months ago, a friend told me about a phenomenon founded by Ann Img called Listen To Your Mother, in which writers submit essays about any and all facets of motherhood or mothering, and read the pieces aloud on stages in 32 cities across the country. The official description is “A national series of orginal live readings shared locally on stages and globally via social media.”

I submitted an essay about my mom, “My Mother, the Rockette,” and was thrilled when the producers in my region, Kim Thompson Steel and Kirsten Nicholson Patel, chose me to read it for the May 2014 performance at the Brava Theater in San Francisco. The evening’s show, including my reading, is posted on on the Listen To Your Mother YouTube channel.

I urge you to check out the Listen To Your Mother website for information about next year’s auditions. The experience was challenging, positive, and fun from start to finish. Try out if you can! Or look for a live performance. Hope you enjoy!

My Mother, the Rockette on YouTube.

Image credit: Damian Steel

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No samba tonight

July 8th, 2014

We’re weeping for Brazil here. Olivia now is a fan after watching the World Cup in Guatemala, where in the most remote hamlet, tienda, restaurant, or cafe, Guatemalans cheered: “Brasil! Brasil!” Every transistor radio, every TV set, tuned, round the clock, three games a day. FIFA! Futbol! Absolute soccer madness, contagious.

In the photo above, taken during our most recent trip to Guatemala, crowds cluster outside a coffee house in Antigua with a large-screen TV: they’re non-paying customers content to watch the contest from afar.

Can somebody say “Gooooooaaaalllllll!”? We’re converted.

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