Posts Tagged ‘adoptive family travel’

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.

 

 

ShareThis

Recommendations for what to do in Antigua

Monday, 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! ~

ShareThis

Guatemala! June 2014

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

This past June, Olivia, my sister, and I spent three weeks in Guatemala. The first week and a half, we traveled around Lake Atitlan and its environs, and the second week and a  half, we rented a house in Antigua with five other people. And every single day, we ran into, chatted or dined with, members of many adoptive families who were also visiting the beautiful country of their beloved children’s birth. Families from California, Iowa, Ohio, New Mexico, Indiana, New York, Minnesota, New Mexico, Massachusetts, and other states across the map. (Canada, too!)

All of us were there to keep our children connected to their first home, and very often, first families. We shared our histories and stories, our challenges and our hopes. I’m always proud to be a mother through adoption, but never so much as when I share the experience with other adoptive moms, dads, and kids in that extraordinary place: Guatemala.

ShareThis

Northern Minnesota

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

Olivia and I loved Northern Minnesota. For me, especially the clouds, so different from our clear California skies. We ate hand-harvested wild rice, wall-eye (a river fish), nut rolls (who could resist that name?), and drank local coffee and fresh spring water (filtered in some way I’m assuming?) Every day, I walked with my friend’s dogs and bathed in the lake. Oh, and used a composting outhouse. I learned about the Iron Range (Northern Minn. is a mining region), and the meaning of the word “Ranger,” which, if you are from those parts, you already understand.

We visited the house in Hibbing where Bob Dylan grew up (below left), and saw an open-pit mine, much more gigantic than my photo (below right) shows. I got my fill of burgers and fried food at “The Stand” outside Chisholm, which served the best onion rings ever. We met friends at the Highway 5 grill, and listened to an outdoor concert in Ely while browsing through a craft fair.  A great trip.

ShareThis

Climbing Volcano Pacaya

Monday, March 11th, 2013

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 photo above shows the boys standing 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.) And above that, Mateo cautiously roasts one of the many marshmellows he consumed while I was distracted taking pictures. Below, 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! ~

ShareThis

Guatemala, Guatemala. February 2013

Monday, February 25th, 2013

Last Saturday, Mateo, my sister Patrice, and I arrived in my favorite place on earth, Antigua, Guatemala. It’s insane how much I love Antigua—the colonial architecture and cobblestone streets, the ring of volcanoes, the churches, the Square. We’ve been visiting Antigua since I fostered Olivia there in 2003, and every trip we discover something different. This time, we climbed Volcano Pacaya, an extraordinary adventure that deserves its own post, and will get one soon. We also spent two days at Lake Atitlan, my other favorite destination. Olivia’s Girl Scout troop collected some 75 pairs of gently used kids’ sneakers, soccer cleats, and shoes, which Mateo, Patrice, and I lugged down on the airplane, and hand-delivered to Mayan Families, an organization we support that serves indigenous families in the region. Pictures on that adventure to come, too.

This trip, we connected with three other adoptive families visiting Antigua, two with eight-year-old boys, and one with a younger girl. The girl’s family I had met virtually, through our mutual membership on an adoption listserve; I know the boys’ families through our local adoption group. I mention this as another benefit of forming adoption networks—when you visit Guatemala, you can meet up with friends. Mateo loved sharing meals and fun with all three kids. And let me tell you, for an active, eight-year-old boy, scaling Pacaya with two other active, eight-year-old boys qualifies as downright awesome.

The fabulous Nancy Hoffman, who has lived in Guatemala for more than a decade and is known to most of you reading this as the founder of guatemalareservations.com, helped us with arrangements. If you’re planning to visit, contact her at Nancy@GuatemalaReservations.com and she’ll set you up.

The Saturday before we left, we visited friends who live in one of the small villages surrounding Antigua. After a lovely afternoon, on the way back to town, we passed local residents creating alfombras (carpets made of sawdust and various materials) outside their homes and businesses for the village’s Lenten procession later that night. The artists kindly indulged us by letting me take pictures while Mateo inspected their handiwork, delighted to take part in the local tradition.

Our trip consisted of dozens of such small, unexpected moments, which already have entered the realm of treasured memories. To me, those treasured memories are what give life meaning. I feel lucky to share them with my son Mateo, in his beautiful birth country of Guatemala.

ShareThis

In Guatemala

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

I apologize for suddenly droppping out of sight. For the past week, I’ve been in Guatemala with Mateo and my sister, Patrice. If you know any active eight-year-old boys, you know why I haven’t written. Mateo always keeps me running, and being in Guatemala hasn’t slowed him down.

We’re lucky to be here during Lent, the days leading up to Semana Santa, or Holy Week. Every Sunday during this season, a neighboring town hosts a religious procession through the streets of Antigua. Last Sunday, the procession started in Santa Catarina. Here are a few photos.

The crowds. The pageantry. I find it all very moving.

More later! ~

ShareThis

Nature girl

Monday, January 28th, 2013

For years, I’ve known that my daughter Olivia, more than the average kid, loves bugs, flowers, birds, and trees. My husband appreciates nature, too, but his interest veers toward the scientific— “How much sun exposure do we need to optimize our strawberries, raspberries, lemons, and tomatoes? What level of water?”—while, I alas, remain hopelessly suburban: the one who hikes on the marked trail that ends at the warming hut, and opts for the cabin instead of the tent.

No, Olivia’s love of nature is DNA-deep. It comes from her biological family. On one of our first visits with Olivia’s birth mom and grandma, I watched with delight as three generations laughed out loud at the antics of a small hopping sparrow, and clapped their hands at the beauty of a rock formation. One possible explanation is that, in the small highland village where her relatives have lived for centuries, careful observation equals survival. Another could be that they are a family of natural-born artists. Whatever the reason, that keen ability to see is hard-wired, and Olivia possesses it.

I became more aware of this special talent last weekend, when my friend Nina invited us to Slide Ranch, a self-sustaining farm perched on the jagged cliffs of the Northern California coast. We kids and adults enjoyed running around, checking out the chickens and goats and bee hives and compost pile, and searching for hidden objects on Nina’s scavenger hunt. But as Nina observed, the wild, dramatic setting and fresh salt air opened up something new and different in Olivia. It felt as if  simply being there allowed my daughter to settle into a place of deep peace, a reverie of happiness.

As an adoptive parent, I’m reminded often that our children are who they are. They come to us that way. Part of the joy of being my children’s mother is discovering, and honoring, each new layer.

ShareThis

Sunday Mamalita reading in Santa Rosa

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

Please join me on Sunday at 1 p.m. to discuss my book, Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir, at Copperfield’s Books Montgomery Village in Santa Rosa, California. At least one of my fellow “Antigua moms” will be there. If past readings are any indication, the conversation should be lively and memorable.

Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 1 p.m.
Copperfield’s Books Montgomery Village
2316 Montgomery Drive
Santa Rosa 95404
707-578-8938

And while I have your attention… In case you  haven’t yet watched my book trailer on YouTube, please do. Kevin Burget of Wide Iris did a phenomenal job of  communicating the story. Here’s the link to Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir by Jessica O’Dwyer. (Feel free to watch often and forward to everyone you know~)

Now, onward to one of the action-packed days of the year: Olivia’s ballet class, dress rehearsal, and end-of-year dance recital.

ShareThis

Semana Santa in Antigua

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

One of these years, I hope to spend Semana Santa, also known as Holy Week, the days leading up to Easter Sunday, in Antigua. Everyone says it’s fabulous. Well, that’s not exactly true. A friend from Guatemala who grew up in Antigua says it’s his least favorite holiday–”Too many tourists”–and a woman I met in Boston on my book tour said her pocket was picked–not once, but three different times.

Nevertheless, I’d still like to go. Last summer at Latin American Heritage Camp in Colorado, Cynthia Rothwell gave a fascinating presentation on Holy Week as it’s celebrated throughout Guatemala. Participants like me were able to create our own miniature alfombras, or carpets, using stencils and piles of sawdust that had been dyed, and which Cynthia carried in her checked luggage, all the way from Guatemala. The hardest part was “erasing” the rug after creating it. Imagine how the Guatemalan artists feel when their hours of handiwork are finally trampled by a thousand passing feet.

Holy Week in Antigua Guatemala, posted by “chezi” on TravelBlog in 2009, gives a wonderful overview of the tradition. In the April 2011 edition of Guatemala’s English language Revue Magazine, Antigua historian Elizabeth Bell offers her helpful tips for getting the most of the carpet-viewing experience. My two favorite Elizabeth tips:

  • Processions usually take about 12 hours. Depending on the time of day or night, I locate a good corner and get on the right-hand side of the Christ figure. The sculpture is best appreciated when He looks at you. All Christ figures (except in the children’s procession from the cathedral) look to the right-hand side. Corners are great so I can see the carriers (men called cucuruchos and women called cargadoras) change turns with precision. It usually takes a full hour to see the entire procession go by and then, instead of trying the beat the crowds, I can easily walk away from the procession. 
  • Do not take anything of value to velaciones or processions. Pickpockets work the crowds seamlessly. No passports. No credit cards. I usually put a camera around my neck and pack a few quetzales and then go back to my home or hotel afterward when I decide to go out again for a meal.
  • Finally, for gorgeous procession photos check out the website AntiguaDailyPhoto. The site is a great resource for stunning visuals any time of year, but especially during Semana Santa. Looking at the photos I vow once again: Next year in Antigua during Holy Week. Definitely.

    ShareThis