Posts Tagged ‘adoptive family travel’

Ruth, the one and only

Monday, September 12th, 2016

With school back in session, summer vacation seems eons away. But here we were in July in Guatemala, visiting with the legendary weaver Ruth, who sells her wares outside the ruins of Antigua’s El Carmen. Ruth’s design skills are matched by her formidable memory for faces. If Ruth meets you once, and sees you again a decade later, she will remember your name and your child’s name, and maybe even the size and color of the textile you bought. Ruth is that good.

Look for Ruth the next time you’re in Antigua. Or, if you’ve met her already, Ruth will look for you.

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Guatemala calling

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

In Guatemala, I use a tiny blue phone locals call a “frijolito,” because the phone size is like a little bean. You don’t need a complicated ownership plan, just add minutes with a phone card you buy at any tienda. Mateo and I arrived back in California, and this morning, my frijolito rang, which surprised me, because I thought I turned the thing off. And even more puzzling, the Guatemalan carrier is “Movistar,” which doesn’t exist in the US. Yet, just now a new message urged me to buy a phone card because, “Today is Quadruple Minutes!”

Feels like a small piece of Guatemala, calling out to me. xo

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Road trip to Tikal, details

Wednesday, 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. (more…)

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Birth family visit 2015

Sunday, December 13th, 2015

I’ve written a few times about Olivia’s ongoing visits with her birth family. To recap: Olivia reunited with her birth mother “Ana”–a middle-aged widow–when she was seven years old. A year later, at age 8, Olivia met her birth grandmother, Abuela, and her siblings “Dulce” and “Santiago.” Over the next several years, we continued to visit the family, always in a neutral place, not Ana’s small village, because I worried about drawing unwanted attention to Ana and her family. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: In Guatemala, we stand out.

I knew our visit this year would be extra special because in 2015 our family experienced three important milestones. Olivia turned 13 and became a “senorita.” Dulce married her sweetheart and gave birth to her first baby. And Santiago moved away. Big changes, all.

On a Tuesday last June, Ana arrived by chicken bus at the appointed spot at the appointed time, as usual. But instead of clambering down the steps with Dulce and Abuela, she climbed out the back door alone. In my limited Spanish, I asked “Where is everybody?” and Ana answered that this year, we were coming to her house because the baby was too young to travel and the trip wasn’t easy for Abuela, either.

My attitude toward chicken buses is “Don’t ride them,” but what could I do? Nothing except run back to the hotel for our suitcase of gifts. Olivia and I hopped with Ana onto the next chicken bus for the return journey.

One chicken bus, one microbus, one taxi ride, and one uphill hike later, we stood in the lane at the gate in front of Ana’s adobe house, where Olivia’s family has lived for generations–possibly before the arrival of the conquistadors. A sumptuous lunch of fried chicken and squash and rice was served. The blue corn tortillas were handmade that morning from Ana’s own crop, the best we’ve ever eaten. Thirteen felt like the perfect age for Olivia to transition to a new setting. Abuela gave her a rosary necklace and Dulce’s new baby was beautiful.

As we finished lunch, Ana jumped up without notice and disappeared, and Dulce shrugged when I asked her why. A minute later, from the lane in front of the gate, a hundred firecrackers ignited and lit the sky, the snapping racket loud enough for every person in town to hear.

Ana’s daughter Olivia had come home.

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Museo Casa del Tejido

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

Behind the municipal Mercado in Antigua is the small, family-run Museo Casa del Tejido, a sumptuous collection of hand-made textiles from every department of Guatemala. Technically, the address is First Calle Poniente no. 51, but you’re better off finding it by going to the top of Santa Lucia near the ruins of La Recoleccion and walking straight back. The admission is not too much, and for a small fee, they’ll let you take pictures. Our guide spoke English fluently and taught us a lot.

Don’t go in expecting sealed cases and precious pieces protected from light and dust. This isn’t that kind of museum. Here, the traje of embroidered blouses and woven skirts are hung on rods or simply nailed to the wall, often approximating the figure of a person who might wear it. A stroll through the galleries impresses anyway, especially for anyone who loves textiles. Each weaving and embroidery is a unique balance of composition and color and story, beautiful in its own way.

If you visit Antigua, particularly with your children, schedule time for the Casa del Tejido. Afterwards, meander through the market for a perfect half-day.

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Pacaya 2015

Thursday, October 8th, 2015

Mateo and I climbed Volcano Pacaya in February 2013 and I remember the trip as rigorous and hard. Something I was proud to have done, which I never needed to do again. Until this past July, when Mateo and I rented a house in Antigua with 10 other people–four adoptive families from the Bay Area, friends all–who really, really wanted to climb Pacaya this trip back. In fact, climbing Pacaya was the Number One item on their wish list of Things to Do in Guatemala. Pacaya was a must. We couldn’t leave without climbing it!

Good sport that he is, Mateo agreed, and talked me into accompanying him. I’m so glad he did. This time we hired a guide on-site–a family of guides, actually: a young mother and her son, and her mother, the boy’s Abuela (see photo above), and various helpers–who led us up a gentler path than the one we traversed in 2013. The family of guides came equipped with horses, two of which members of our party chose to ride. The rest of us soldiered forth, walking sticks in hand, until we reached the summit. Marshmallows were roasted, and piles of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches consumed. Before we headed down, fistfuls of sweet vanilla cookies were scarfed, rightfully earned.

The day was misty and overcast,  the gray sky threatening rain. We finished before the deluge, victorious.

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San Juan La Laguna

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

Dear Mateo,

We took the boat to San Juan, a village on Lake Atitlan known for its women’s weaving cooperative. The weavers use only natural dyes, made from herbs and spices and bark and berries. To give you an example: the red shawl I bought was dyed with carrots and paprika. I will show you when we get home.  Here are some photos that show the process. You can see the balls of threads and the elements they use to dye them.

Also: Notice the church, San Juan Bautista (that means “John the Baptist” in Spanish): the new structure was constructed behind the original facade, still standing a few hundred years after being built. You see the old wall, and the entrance hall from the old building. Then you see a whole new church.

Next time you come with me to Guatemala, we can visit San Juan if you want. It’s a very cool little town. We’ll take the boat from Panajachel. Remember when we did that with Olivia’s birth family? They loved seeing the volcanoes.

Dad said you are doing a page of math problems every night. I hope that is true!!!

We miss you!

xoxoxoxo,

Mommy

 

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Antigua, Guatemala

Friday, June 19th, 2015

Dear Mateo:

Yesterday in Antigua, we met up with Deborah Feore and her two lovely and amazing daughters from our Bay Area adoption group. You’ve met them at our annual adoption party, remember? It was so much fun to re-experience Antigua through the eyes of the enthusiastic girls. They liked everything about this town!

We ate lunch at Cafe Sky, took a stroll through the Square looking for the famous vendor “Ruth”–(her son’s name is Mateo!)–bought woven tablecloths at Colibri, ate orange chocolate bread from Dona Luisa’s, and wandered through the municipal mercado, where Deb revealed herself to be as mad for plastic “canastas” as I am. Canastas are the word Guatemalans use for the plastic tote bags that I buy a lot of, many of which are stashed in the closet downstairs.

As we walked along the cobblestone streets, one of her daughters said “This feels like my second home.” Ahhhh. — That was nice to hear.

We miss you!

Love,

Mommy (and Olivia, too) xoxo

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The Vendor Jesus

Monday, June 15th, 2015

If you happen to be in Panajachel, Guatemala, please buy a card from my 14-year-old friend, Jesus. Three years ago, Jesus spotted my son Mateo and me through a school window in Santa Catarina, a nearby village–we do stand out–and the next day, ran after us on the street in Panajachel.”I saw you in Santa Catarina,” he said, in perfect English. “You want to buy a card?”

Every year since then, Jesus has found us, and every year, we buy more and more cards. This trip, Olivia and I were waiting for a ride to our next destination when out of nowhere bounds Jesus, clutching a bundle of cards encased in plastic, calling “Senora, senora!” I was happy and relieved to see him. When we’d been in Pana a few days, and he hadn’t yet materialized, I worried.

Ask Jesus for a discount, but be warned that he bargains hard. At some point during the negotiation, in a serious voice, he probably will utter his favorite phrase, “Business is business.”

Here are two photos of Jesus’s wares–details of the embroidered blouses known as huipiles–and, above, a picture of him with Olivia and an Abuela, who, by the way, gifted me with a lovely textile to wrap tortillas.

 

 

 

 

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The giant kites at Sumpango

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Last year at this time I was en route to Guatemala to find out more about the country’s Day of the Dead celebration. My sister, another adoptive mom and I hired a driver and spent the day at Sumpango, the site of an annual festival of giant kite flying. As you probably know, one element of Guatemala’s Day of the Dead observance is flying kites–the belief is that the string serves as a conduit between the person holding the string  and those loved ones who have gone before.

Teams of locals spend months designing and planning their kites’ themes and designs. The frames are constructed from bamboo, and covered with colorful pieces of tissue paper, cut and glued.

Afterwards, we visited a cemetery, which was filled to overflowing with families eating, drinking, arranging flowers, listening to music, and in at least one case, dancing to marimba.

 

 

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