Posts Tagged ‘Nancy Hoffman Guatemala Reservations’

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

Semana Santa 2013. A visit with Olivia’s birth family

Friday, April 5th, 2013

 

This week, we met with Olivia’s birth family in Panajachel, a town on Lake Atitlan about three hours northwest of Antigua. The family—Olivia’s birth mother, “Ana”; her grandmother, Abuela, and her older brother and sister, now 18 and 16—traveled to Pana by bus from where they live in Totonicapan. Opinions around the subject of international adoption are mixed in Guatemala, ranging from supportive to very negative, so to protect Ana’s privacy we always meet in Pana, two hours from her town. (In small villages such as the one where they live, outsiders never pass unnoticed.) As you can see from the photo, Olivia is almost as tall as Ana, and about the same height as Abuela. Olivia had just turned seven the first year she met her family; next month she will be 11.

This meeting was a little different from our previous ones for two reasons: first, because my sister Patrice usually accompanies us on birth family visits and couldn’t this time. (We missed you, Tia!) And second, because Abuela’s shoulder was bothering her so much she couldn’t move her arm to do anything, including lift a fork to eat. The lightest touch caused her to wince with pain. Bear in mind, this is a woman who for decades has chopped firewood, hauled water, made tortillas, and washed thousands of loads of laundry by hand.

Olivia wanted to take a boat ride to another village on Lake Atitlan—she doesn’t like to feel conspicuous in “our” town of Panajachel—so we did. As usual, our first stop was to pray together in the town’s Catholic church, and may I just say that the faith and goodness of Olivia’s birth family absolutely humbles me.

Afterwards, we ate a nice lunch, over which we perused the photo albums from last year’s visit that I had assembled and brought. But none of us could ignore Abuela’s obvious suffering. Trying to ascertain the exact nature of the problem, I could make out the Spanish word for “bone,” although nothing about a fall or injury. As far as I could determine, a visit to their local clinic in Toto hadn’t revealed a root cause.

Long story short, I called Nancy Hoffman, my fellow adoptive mom who owns a travel agency in Antigua, and she said the desk clerk at our hotel knows a good doctor. Turned out he does: Dr. Luis de Pena, the physician who runs the clinic at Mayan Families, the NGO many of us adoptive families support, and where, in fact, I had been last month with Mateo, dropping off shoes donated by Olivia’s Girl Scout troop.

Our group clambered onto the next boat to Pana, piled off and into two tuk-tuks, and zipped up to Mayan Families.

After a physical exam, Dr. de Pena made a diagnosis: bursitis. If the injection he administered doesn’t work—he sent me out to buy the syringe from an NGO-subsidized pharmacy around the corner and two blocks down, “Fe, Salud y Vida”—and other causes are ruled out, Abuela may need surgery. This only can be performed in a hospital by an orthopedic surgeon, and in Guatemala, apparently, orthopedic surgeons’ numbers are few. If necessary, Abuela must travel to Guatemala City or Quetzaltenango.

Today’s report is that the pain has subsided somewhat. We’ll see.

What I appreciated most about this visit was how natural it felt. Abuela was in pain, and we did our best to help her feel better. That’s what family does, and we’re family.

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

Guatemala Part 5: Niños con Bendicíon

Friday, February 25th, 2011

On Wednesday after Spanish school, Patrice, Olivia, and I attended a folk dance performance by Niños con Bendicíon in nearby San Antonio Aguas Calientes. The dance troupe was founded and is led by Lesbi Chavez.

The children, ages 6 to 13 years old, dress in traditional outfits or traje from various parts of Guatemala. Each of the four dances they performed on Wednesday told a story from their Maya K’iche culture: Blessing of the Corn, Planting, The Corn God, and Dance of the K’iche King. The children accompanied themselves on traditional instruments, including marimba, drum, and flute.

Afterward, Lesbi demonstrated how to make tortillas, and we all got to try. As an absolute novice, I can tell you, it’s harder than it looks. Lesbi was very pleased to notice that Olivia, whose roots are Maya K’iche, was a natural at getting just the right ratio of water to pulverized corn paste. Above is a photo of our finished products, cooking on a traditional stove. Three guesses which tortillas were ours and which made by Lesbi.

The funds generated by the dance performances pay the school and living expenses of the children who participate in Niños con Bendicíon. For presentations, sponsorship, or more information, you may contact Lesbi Chavez (in Spanish) at Childrenwithblessing@gmail.com or Nancy Hoffman (in English) of Guatemala Reservations at Nancy@GuatemalaReservations.com. Learn more at http://www.supportlosninos.net/

Olivia, Patrice, and I, and the other members of our group, really enjoyed the afternoon we spent with Lesbi and the dancers. The next time you’re in Antigua, consider adding this outing to your itinerary.

ShareThis

Here in Guatemala; and an article on the country’s “Family Planning Frontier”

Saturday, February 19th, 2011

We arrived in Guatemala late on Friday–my sister Patrice, Olivia, and I–and checked into (where else?) the Camino Real, the hotel where I met Olivia for the first time. Saturday morning we woke for a great breakfast, followed by a quick swim for Olivia and me, and then we were off to Antigua to catch the shuttle to Panajachel.

Right here I’ll pause for a commercial endorsement to recommend my friend and travel agent, Nancy Hoffman, founder of Guatemala Reservations, who made our arrangements. With Nancy’s help, everything was set up in advance, which I find essential when traveling in Guatemala, especially with children.

The shuttle ride, as always, was an adventure. People who travel to Guatemala are happy to be here, and we love sharing stories about where we’ve been and where we are headed. This past summer, heavy rains caused devastating landslides on the road to Panajachel and in surrounding areas. The damage has been cleared, although piled-up boulders and heavy machinery remain as evidence. We arrived in Pana with enough daylight to wander around for a few hours; afterwards, we settled on a chicken-and-french fries dinner at a restaurant we like. As we sat eating, a woman selling handicrafts approached us at our table. She introduced herself as the mother of eight children. On her back, in a sling, she carried her youngest baby, fifteen days old.

We’ll be in-country for a week, and I’ll write more about the trip, but this seems like the perfect opportunity to link to a great PBS NewsBlog by Ray Suarez, “Reporter’s Notebook: The Family Planning Frontier in Guatemala.” As our experience tonight demonstrates, family planning is a complex, layered subject in Guatemala, not easily summarized. But this article gives an excellent overview.  Suarez writes:

…After two years on the global health beat, I sometimes shake my head in wonder at how some of the most beautiful places on the planet can also be the hardest places to live.

Guatemala has one of the fastest population growth rates in the Western Hemisphere, about 2.4 percent a year. The population is pushing 14 million, and there is not enough arable land to support the rate of growth.

Our team from the NewsHour visited villages where it has long been common to have 8 to 10 children per family. Women made their way along rural roads or up hillside paths with one baby on their backs, a toddler in hand, and a four-year-old pulling up the rear.

Children are valued and loved here. At the same time, big families exact a tremendous toll. The maternal mortality rate – 240 deaths for every 100,000 live births, according to the World Health Organization– is the highest in Latin America. Malnutrition is epidemic. In highland indigenous communities the tiny stature of children and adults is not solely hereditary. The short supply of food guarantees for now that Guatemala will not see the gains in height and weight, or the children towering over parents, seen in newly prosperous places like South Korea and China.

However, encouraging families to reconsider what the optimal number of children might be is more complicated than a quick lesson in microeconomics. To enter into the Guatemalan dialogue on family planning means taking history, gender relations, and religion seriously, and requires consideration of how each shapes the debate.

Guatemala is a deeply religious country. Even those who are not active church-goers grow up surrounded by Christian worldviews. No longer monolithically Catholic, the country has seen the grown of a vibrant, elbows-out Evangelical presence, which accounts for at least a quarter of the population. The Catholic Church, with its profound, 500-year old roots, and the energetic, emotional worship and deep cultural conservatism, make Guatemala’s consideration of family planning a far different one from that of North America or Europe.

Abortion is viewed as a terrible sin. Birth control pills, intra-uterine devices and diaphragms are suspected of causing illnesses in the women who use them. Implanted, slow-release contraceptive chemicals are catching on, but they are expensive and provide only limited-duration protection. Condoms are unpopular among men, and discouraged by the Catholic Church, which only advocates natural methods for family planning.

Women often begin having children as teenagers in Guatemala, and continue with regular pregnancies into their 40s. At one mobile clinic I met a mother with eight children ranging in age from 28 years to 16 months. She said the last few births had taken an escalating toll on her body, and her husband agreed with her decision not to bear any more children.

Accompanying her that day at the clinic was her daughter-in-law with an 18-month-old. Both women had bandaged upper arms, where contraceptive implants were just inserted. The young mother wanted more children down the road, she explained, but thought it best to give her first child the best possible start in life by spacing her next pregnancy.

***

We were told across the week that the acceptance of men was a vital part of making this all work. Big families confer status on proud fathers. That sense of pride discourages birth control, but contraception also has a darker side in the relations between men and women: When women try to get men to agree to their use of birth control methods, the men often accuse them of infidelity or promiscuity.

We visited the grave of a woman who died at 43 giving birth to what would have been her ninth child. Accompanying us to the graveside was the dead woman’s oldest daughter, Concepcion, and her husband, Diego. The couple said the death of the family matriarch did not cause them to reconsider their rejection of artificial birth control.

Please read the entire article here.

ShareThis