Thursday, May 5, 2022

Belize April 2022

We had not plan to go to Belize, but lucky for me some friends threw a birthday party for me. Here is a video and pictures from the trip.


From here we are off to Bolivia. We hope? They say the third time is a charm. Yes, this will be our third attempt to visit Bolivia

Cheers,

DUG

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Guatemala February 2022

Off to Guatemala. This is our fourth trip in the last three years to Guatemala. Can you tell we hate Guatemala? 

First things first. A big thank you to everyone that donated items for us to bring with us. More on that later.

 


We arrived midday. Ruben, was waiting with bells on. When you visit the same place over and over, you develop friendships with the people you meet. I would like to call this trip the friendship trip. You will see why, as the trip progresses. We met Ruben last year, he told us if we ever need a ride, call. So we called.
 


Over the last 16 years, we have visited over 65 countries and met hundreds and hundreds of people. People from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds. We decided on this trip we would see if we could reunite with some of those friends.
 

We arrived in Antigua, and connected with “Hot Spot”. “Hot Spot” arrived in Guatemala a day ahead of us. “Hot Spot” resides in the Netherlands, we met him in a sushi bar in a small-town outside of Tokyo, Japan. That was November 2017.

The rest of the guests, arrived early the next morning. First was Princess Finnegan, we met Princess Finnegan on that same trip to Japan. We met her in New York, Penn Station, the Princess traveled with us for 30 days.

You can read about our Japan trip here.


This picture was taken five years ago at a train station in Japan before we all went our separate ways.

Princess Finnegan convinced her mom, to join us in Guatemala. Her mom, Duchess Finnegan, joined us on our trip to Croatia, in 2018.

I never explained how we ended up taking a trip to Croatia with the Mom of a person we met at New York, Penn Station. It is a long story for another time.

Last to arrive, “The Dude”. “The Dude” also resides in the Netherlands. You might wonder who is “The Dude”? “The Dude is the Princess’s man. Shortly after the Japan trip, the Princess took another trip to Europe, in Prague the Princess met “The Dude” and they have been together ever since. Yes, the Princess was getting over a failed relationship before her Japan adventure, so you could say “The Dude” is a rebound that stuck.

Over the last five years, we have seen “Hot Spot” in Norway and Amsterdam. And we have seen Princess Finnegan and “The Dude” in New York.

It has been five years since our meeting in that sushi bar in Japan, we have been in the same place at the same time.
 

This picture was taken today in Antigua, Guatemala.


Margarite and I will be spending the next five weeks in Guatemala. Every week, we will have new visitors. Many of these new visitors will be old friends we met while traveling the world.

A lot of what we will be doing will be repeats from past trips to Guatemala. I will work hard not to bore you, with redundant information.


One of our first visits was to Caoba Farm. Caoba Farm is a working farm with a great restaurant.


Our friends, who are all firs-time visitors, are already falling in love with Guatemala.


A quote from “Hot Spot”, “I get why you guys fell in love with the place.”


You might notice one thing that I have in common with many people I meet while traveling, which is the mutual love for street food and ice cream.


Next was a hike to Cerro de La Cruz. This is where a large cross overlooks the town. This gave everyone a great overview of the geography.

On Sunday, we helped the kids map out their adventures for the week. Some adventures we will join them and some we will pass.
 

We found out there was a chocolate history and making class that afternoon. We registered the kids and sent them off to school.

On Monday, we sent the kids off on an ATV tour of the surrounding area. Since Margarite and I have done this tour, we stayed back. Everybody had a great time.
 

 

While the kids were off playing with their ATVs and touring Antigua. Margarite and I went to provision the house.



Of course, there is always time for Ice Cream.
 

The kids had a great time on their ATV tour. They got a great understanding of the history, culture, and geography of the area.

Tomorrow is a big day as they will be hiking Volcano Acatenango. This is a four-hour hike one way, mostly up steep grades.
 

With the hike just a few hours away, it was time to feed the troops to make sure they had the energy to make the hike.


The kids left at 1:00 PM. Their goal is to summit Volcano Acatenango around sunset. Spend a few hours at the summit before descending back down. They should arrive back at the house around midnight.


The reason for this hike is to observe Volcano Fuego erupting. Volcano Acatenango is a dormant volcano that is taller than Volcano Fuego. The summit of Volcano Acatenango is a perfect vantage point for watching the eruption.



Roasting marshmallows is a nice plus.


The most important part of this adventure is to be at the summit in the dark. This makes the eruption spectacular with the night sky in the background.

Today Princess Finnegan, Duchess Finnegan, and “The Dude” went to explore the Iximche Mayan Ruins, about a one and a half-hour drive from Antigua.

Margarite, “Hot Spot”, and I, took the Jeep “Hot Spot” had rented, up Volcano Agua.

 

What, we thought, was a dirt road was actually a hiking path. We made it about three-quarters of the way up the volcano before the road became too steep and narrow for even a Jeep. “Hot Spot” did a wonderful job backing us back down the mountain. Sorry, no pictures, the Jeep was bouncing too much to get a clear shot.

In the afternoon, Margarite had a Spanish lesson. “Hot Spot” and I took the opportunity to visit some local watering holes. We started at Café Sky.
  


 

We finished at Antigua Cerveza. Antigua Cerveza is near the edge of town and was once a working farm. The owners did a beautiful job of making it into a great place to hang out and enjoy a beer.


By 4:00 PM, Margarite joined us. 


Around 4:30 PM, the rest of the crew showed up. They enjoyed their trip to the ruins.


After we all replayed our day, we walked back to the house and had fresh fish for dinner.



Tomorrow will be a fun day. It will be a true example of, it is better to give than receive.

Today we are heading to Nuevo Reto. Nuevo Reto is a school that helps needy families with life skills. For the folks that helped us collect items for Nuevo Reto, Thank you.
 

We brought over 200 pairs of shoes, five laptops, seven phones, 35 school backpacks, numerous children's clothes. Plus Margarite and I bought school supplies for the school, water filters, propane stoves, and bunk beds for several families.

It is said a picture is worth a thousand words. Here are the pictures.
 

Ruben picked us up in his pickup truck. “Hot Spot” and I got to ride in the back.



While you might think giving shoes to children, is to make them more comfortable while walking. This is true, but a huge by-product is an increase in self-esteem and worth. It is amazing to watch the children pick out their new shoes and just glow with pride as they try them on. Thank you all so much for the donations.

 



Since the pandemic started, schools in Guatemala have been closed to in-person classes. Online classes are rather difficult when most children do not have access to any type of internet device. Those of you that donated phones last year, I cannot express the difference you made in a child’s life as far as education goes.


This year we brought more phones as well as a few computers. Nuevo Reto does have live classes, the public schools do not. Since Nuevo Reto has satisfactory internet, children come to Nuevo Reto to do their online classes.
 

One of the big reasons we have adopted Nuevo Reto as an organization to give to is their philosophy on sustainability. Nuevo Reto is not a primary/public school. They exist to fill the gap and hopefully prepare their graduates for real life.


One example of this is the gift shop. The children are taught how to make crafts. They are paid for what they make. The reason for the pay is so the children learn about earning money, budgeting, and saving. These crafts are then sold in the school's gift shop.


Another example is the bunk bed project. The children are taught woodworking skills and sewing skills. With these skills, they make bunk beds, sheets, and pillowcases. Like with the crafts, these children are paid for their work.


The bunk beds are then given to families in need. We donated the funds for two bunk beds. During our visit, we deliver and install the bunk beds.




The reason for the propane stoves, currently many of the families cook over open fires. These fires are fueled by wood or plastic. This is not good for the environment or the family’s health. We visited two homes and installed the stoves.



All the families were very appreciative of the generosity. I cannot thank all of you who made this day happen for these children and their families.



After our visit, Ruben dropped us off at Cerveceria Catorce (14). A brewery, this one outside of Antigua. You may wonder how we can indulge ourselves with food and beer after spending several hours with folks that barely get by?


We focus on what the effects our local spending has on the people and economy of Guatemala. The folks that have jobs at the Brewery because of our patronage. This is how economies grow, and tourism is a big part of the growth in developing countries.


To get back to Antigua, we took a chicken bus. That in itself is its own story.



This morning we hiked up to Santo Domingo del Cerro. Santo Domingo del Cerro is at the top of one of the hills surrounding Antigua. It is a conference center, restaurant, and sculpture garden. We went to the sculpture garden.
 


With this being the last day with our friends before they depart for their respective countries. We hung out, talked about future adventures, and of course, they got their COVID-19 tests.



Pablo, one of the team members of Nuevo Reto put a nice video together of last week’s project. It is a few minutes long, you will be disappointed if you decide to watch it.

Dream Giver Project

This week is a bit quieter than last week. Our new guests, Joe and Jo Ann arrived on Sunday. Joe and Jo Ann live in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but we met in Namibia, Africa. Joe and Jo Ann run a non-profit that provides scholarships to students in Uganda, Africa, Bushenyi Alliance for, Rural Health & Development Scholarships.

Joe is very interested in the Mayan Culture and thought this was a great opportunity to learn some history first hand.

 


Margarite and I are enjoying the great weather and atmosphere of Guatemala while our guests explore and see the sights. Occasionally, we will join in, and occasionally, we won’t.
 


We got an update from “Hot Spot”, rather than head back to the Netherlands he was so enthralled with Guatemala he decided to explore a bit more.



After leaving Antigua, “Hot Spot” took a fourteen-hour journey to Semuc Champey Natural Monument.
 




Though “Hot Spot” tired of the unpredictability of the Guatemalan roads, changed course and hopped a flight to Panama. That is the last we heard from "Hot Spot".

Tuesday Joe and Jo Ann departed for Lake Atitlan. Lake Atitlan is a crater lake west of Antigua. Margarite and I will be going to Lake Atitlan later in the month, so we did not accompany Joe and Jo Ann.


With such great weather, Margarite and I wandered the town.


I used this spare time to teach Virginia how to make “Dug’s world-famous cheesecake”.


Today, Thursday, we are heading to Chichicastenango. On the way, we are going to meet Diego Xirúm. Diego Xirúm is the project manager for Guatemala Service Projects.

Joining us on today’s adventure are Luis and Sandra, friends of ours that live in Antigua. Our plan is to meet Diego in Las Trampas.
 

Joe and Jo Ann had planned to join us in Chichicastenango, but just before we departed, Joe sent a note he had tweaked his neck. They would be staying an extra day at Lake Atitlan. Shortly after that message, Jo Ann sent us a note that Joe was getting a massage. Sounded a little suspicious to us. Drive three hours to meet us or hang out at Lake Atitlan and get a massage. Still not sure if the tweaked neck was an excuse.


In addition to showing us the sites of Chichicastenango and introducing us to the famous market. Diego is going to share some of Guatemala Service Projects' work.


A focal point of this work is in the communities of Panimache Quinto Alto, and Panimache Quinto Bajo, both are near the Chichicastenango municipality boundaries.


In these communities, Guatemala Service Projects has constructed a health clinic, buried pipe, and built a community pila (place to wash clothes), donated two libraries, one computer lab, are continuing a vitamins program, have donated countless stoves.


They have also started another water project, this one involving a 10,000-liter cistern. They are currently replacing 65 student desks at the elementary school.


We opted to visit the community of Panimache Quinto Bajo (PQB). After picking up Diego at Las Trampas we continued for about seven kilometers. We were driving on a rather high ridgeline with steep dissents on either side. For this reason, it was a bit disconcerting when Diego said, “In 100 meters make a left”.

There was a road, I am being very generous in my use of the word road. More like a rain-washed gully with a fifteen to twenty percent decline. Glad we rented the 4x4 pick-me-up truck.

It was one to one and a half kilometers to the community of PQB. PQB has about 170 residents and just over twenty families. The community has lived in this area for well over 100 years.

We toured the village, saw the newly constructed medical clinic. They are still waiting for supplies for the clinic. The women were using the new Pila. Here is a very short video. After watching, I doubt anyone will complain about doing laundry again.
 

Some families showed us their homes. We saw one of the newly installed stoves. Rather than provide propane stoves, in this area wood is plentiful. For this reason, efficient wood-burning stoves are provided. With these stoves, the smoke is vented out of the house. The prior open fires filled the homes with smoke. Now the cooking and heating process is more efficient and healthier.


Another project run by Guatemala Service Project is called “Ten Bucks a Cluck”. You can donate ten dollars and Guatemala Service Project will give a family an egg-laying chicken and a starter set of food. Before a family can receive the chicken, they must build a chicken coop and prove they understand how to care for the chicken. This is a very sustainable project as it gives the family a secure source of protein for the foreseeable future. Once the chicken is past its egg-laying career, the families are encouraged to sell the chicken and use the funds to buy a new chicken in its egg laying prime. Some might say, a “Spring Chicken”.


Seeing firsthand the impact Guatemala Service Project is having in these communities with their sustainable projects was a great experience.

One of the greatest needs in PBQ is getting a teacher. They have a well-constructed school, but no teacher. The government is required to provide a teacher, but with the community so remote, the government has not delivered on its promise.


After visiting PBQ we headed to Chichicastenango, another hour drive on a rather worn pothole ridden highway. The 4x4 pick-me-up truck labored up the steep incline to make it back to the road.


Chichicastenango is known for its market, which occurs on Thursday and Sunday. That is why we choose Thursday for this adventure.


We arrived at Chichicastenango at 10:00 AM. Diego gave us a tour of the main church, as well as the market. From this vantage point, we could see the vivid colors of the tombstone at the cemetery.




We had lunch at Casa San Juan excellent place for lunch.
 

After lunch, we said goodbye to our awesome host Diego and drove back to Antigua.


After returning the rental car, we stopped at the local fishmonger and bought two pounds of fresh MahiMahi. The cost of the MahiMahi is the equivalent of $8.00 USD. Got to love Guatemala!



Joe and Jo Ann finally returned from Lake Atitlan. It seemed Joe was being truthful about his neck issue. He was in a bit of pain. He took a trip to the pharmacy, where he was prescribed a fairly strong painkiller that seemed to relieve his discomfort.

We still had some sites to show Joe and Jo Ann most involved eating.

First was dinner at El Rincon del Conquistador. El Rincon del Conquistador is one of the best French restaurants I have been to. It resides in the owner’s house, who is the waiter and host. His partner is the chef. We have eaten here several times. This small, intimate restaurant has around ten tables spaced far apart. We are almost always the only guests, with a few occasions there being one other table.

The food is always fresh and prepared perfectly.
 

Today, Saturday morning, our first adventure is a visit to the Macadamia Nut Farm, Bienvenidos a Valhalla. The biggest reason to go is for the macadamia nut pancakes. You won’t find better pancakes anywhere in the world. Trust me, I have tried. The second reason is to get a tour of the farm and learn how macadamia nuts can cure almost all diseases, from simple issues like dried skin to most cancers. No lie!!!


Not only do the nuts cure diseases, but the trees also suck enough carbon out of the air to reverse climate change.


After the visit to the macadamia nut farm, we headed back to Antigua. Joe wanted to see the San Francisco Church. While we had been to this church, we had not toured the entire grounds.


From there, Margarite and I walked back to the house. Joe and Jo Ann went on to tour the church called Santo Domingo, which they enjoyed.


In the late afternoon, we headed out to Luis and Sandra’s farm. About a twenty-minute drive outside of Antigua. When Luis found out, Joe had farming in his blood, a fourth-generation Nebraska farmer. Luis asked Joe for help getting some new trees to grow.


Luis had purchased some Pine trees in Chichicastenango along with an avocado tree. The pine tree is to provide shade for the coffee he will be planting. We also bought Luis and Sandra three macadamia nut trees.


Luis had planted a pine early in the year, and it had not survived. After a bit of consultation and advice from Joe, Luis started barking commands at me in Spanish. As if he is the jefe of the farm, which I guess he is. I followed his instructions, and we had those two pine trees planted in no time. It was getting dark, the other trees would have to wait for another time.




Today being Joe and Jo Ann’s last day, we had breakfast at Caoba Farm and took a tour. After the tour and breakfast, we walked through the public market.




That is the end of week two. New guests arrive on Wednesday. We have a few days to rest up for the next crew.


With no guests, our expectations of a relaxing few days were interrupted by Mother Nature. More on that in a minute.


Monday was Valentine’s Day, we decided to postpone to Tuesday. Hector’s Bistro, the restaurant we wanted to go to was closed on Monday.


We had a great meal and enjoyed the solitude. Our days alone were going as planned. Our new guests would be arriving tomorrow.

Those plans changed at 1:15 am Wednesday. Here is the email I get from the United States, State Department the next day.
 
Alert - Earthquakes and Aftershocks (February 16, 2022) Location: Guatemala, countrywide. Event: In the early hours of Wednesday, February 16, 2022, INSIVUMEH reported that an earthquake of magnitude 6.8 struck southwestern Guatemala with several follow-on aftershocks. The U.S. Embassy has not received any reports of U.S. citizen casualties or severe injuries as a result of the earthquake.

At 1:15 I woke to well over 100 people dancing on our rooftop deck. This deck is directly over our bedroom. The dancers were dancing with such force that the chandelier over the bed was swinging back and forth.

I covered Margarite, thinking the dancers might collapse the ceiling. This woke Margarite, I explained to her people were dancing on the roof. After what seemed like minutes, the fog started to clear and the dancing stopped and then started up again. Margarite laughed at me, told me it was an earthquake, and we needed to stand in the door jamb of the bathroom or hide in the bathtub.
 

For what seemed like minutes, the rumbles finally subsided. The chandelier stopped swinging and things returned to normal. Normal means, the house vibrating slightly every so often for the next hour or so.

We found out later that what seemed like minutes was actually seconds. The bathtub and door jamb was for a tornado or hurricane. For an earthquake outside away from any buildings, or under a bed, or strong table.

Waking up to a 6.8 magnitude earthquake at 1:15 in the morning was a nice change to our relaxing few days without guests.
 

Today is Wednesday, our new guests are arriving.

Grandma Molasses has traveled with me in Hong Kong, VietnamDenver, Colorado, and I visited her in Shanghai, China.

MAD had skied with me in Denver, Colorado on the same trip as Grandma Molasses.

The last to arrive is Marisol. Marisol spent a week sailing the Virgin Islands with us way back in 2012.

After arriving we walked around town and then had a late lunch early dinner at Antigua Brewing Company.
 

After lunch/dinner we visited the Museo Nacional de Arte de Guatemala. This is a new addition to Antigua, opened in September 2021.


After getting caught up on everybody’s life since we had seen each other, we called it an early evening. The ladies were tired from their day of travel and tomorrow will be a big day.


Today we are headed to Lake Atitlan. We decided a walk before sitting in a car for a few hours was a good idea.



This is our third visit to Lake Atitlan. We will be staying at Picnic this is our second stay at Picnic. If you visit Lake Atitlan I highly recommend staying at Picnic, plus if you mention me “DUG” you will get a free beer.


Our drive, just over three hours, was uneventful until the last five Kilometers. This is where we found that the only paved road into Tzununa is closed from 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM each day for repairs. Marisol even tried bribing the construction worker to allow us to continue on. But she was struck down rather quickly. We asked, “how much did you offer?” Marisol‘s response, “I did not even get that far!”


Since corruption/bribes did not work. We had a few other options; walk the last five kilometers, drive back about an hour and take the steep dirt road down, park in San Juan, ten minutes away and take a boat to Tzununa.


We opted for the boat as this seemed the quickest solution.


The added plus, we got to explore the village of San Juan, had lunch before taking a boat to Tzununa.


Lake Atitlan is a large crater lake with small villages dotting the shoreline. The easiest way to access many of these villages is via boat. Our past visits to Lake Atitlan were spent mostly in the village of Tzununa.


Upon our arrival at Picnic, we were greeted by Poncho and Negra the two German Shepard that belong to Gaby and Jochen (Yo-han) the owners and hosts of Picnic.

Our arrival time was 6:00 pm, Jochen suggested dinner at 7:00 pm. Since we had a late lunch, 7:00 pm was perfect.
 

We enjoyed a drink and beautiful sunset until dinner.


Dinner was steak and vegetables on the grill. Jochen a self-taught chef cooked everything perfectly. You may remember last year I taught Jochen how to make Dug’s Famous Cheesecake. As a surprise, Jochen made us cheesecake for dessert. He duplicated my recipe perfectly.

We all had a great night’s sleep in the open-air tents. The description "A Tent" is a giant understatement. Each tent would put the best room in a five-star hotel to shame.

After a delicious breakfast of omelets and cheesecake, we headed to the public dock. We hired Juan, a local boat captain, for the day. We felt this would be the best way to visit the different villages.
 

Our first stop is the village of Santiago. Santiago is located on the southern end of the lake, almost due south of Tzununa. The boat ride was about thirty minutes.


Locals worship the town’s deity known as Maximón (El Gran Abuelo), who takes up residence in a family’s home each year and can be publicly visited (if you know where to go, that is!).


We hired a guide, who walked us around Santiago, eventually finding Maximón. This was an interesting ritual. The family that hosts Maximón, opens their home to people to make an offering to Maximón usually ten to fifteen Q.


In case you cannot tell, Maximón resembles a mannequin, with the exception that Maximón smokes cigarettes and drinks alcohol. Each family commits to hosting Maximón for one year. Ten statesmen decide which family will host Maximón each year.


After our tour and visit to Santiago we boarded our boat, and, we were off to Santa Catarina Palopó.


We arrived at Santa Catarina Palopó in time for lunch. While hunting for a restaurant, we ran into Diego from the Guatemala Service Project. We invited Diego to spend the rest of the day with us.


We found a great restaurant overlooking the lake and village. Santa Catarina Palopó is known for the buildings being painted a light blue color. We did a quick visit to the church wonder the streets before departing for our next village, San Antonio.


San Antonio is known for its ceramic industry. Anything from small cups to large sinks. All hand-made and hand-painted.


Diego took us to one of the best shops to purchase ceramics. We enjoyed walking the coastline to the shop.


After a bit of shopping, we departed San Antonio, dropping Diego off in Panajachel. From Panajachel, Diego will catch a chicken bus back to Chichicastenango.

Marisol has a bum knee, I took the opportunity to flag down a Tuk-Tuk for the ride from the boat dock to Picnic.

We arrived back in Tzununa in time for a drink and dinner at Picnic.
 

Today we will be departing Picnic and Lake Atitlan to return to Antigua.


First things first. A fantastic breakfast was prepared by Jochen.


Juan picked us up at 9:00 am for our boat ride back to San Juan and hopefully, our car will still be there. We did a quick tour of San Juan, seeing anything we may have missed just two days before.


We have a three-hour drive back to Antigua. We decided to stop at Iximché a Maya ruin. Well worth the visit, though I am highly confident this site was built by aliens and not the Maya.


Once back in Antigua and after dinner, we went out for ice cream.


Today is Grandma Molasses last day in Guatemala. She convinced MAD, and Marisol to hike the active Volcano Pacaya. They departed at 4:00 am for this adventure, the goal, roasting marshmallows on the lava field.


The ladies return at noon for what they said was a very successful hike.


While today is Grandma Molasses' last day in Guatemala. Our two newest guests arrived while the ladies were hiking.

“Let’s go Brandon” who we met in Colombia back in 2019. “Let’s go Brandon” is a carny, and we actually met him at Carnaval de Barranquilla.

Joining “Let’s go Brandon” is his longtime girlfriend, “I think she is the one”.

 

Being Sunday, I had a job to do. Head out to Luis and Sandra’s farm and dig a compost pit.

Do you think I might get some help? NO!
 

Grandma Molasses departed back to the real world today. MAD, and Marisol, will be taking Spanish classes each day this week.
 

“Let’s go, Brandon” and, “I think she is the one” took the ATV villages tour. Seeing many of the highlights of the area.


The following is written by Dr. Mad. I forget to mention that MAD had recently received her Doctorate, she is now Dr. MAD.


Padre Jim is a priest we met while traveling in Italy many years back. We were driving along the Amalfi Coast when a motorcycle clearly going many times the speed limit sideswiped us and smashed into the cliffside. No one was hurt, I guess Father Jim had god on his side. Father Jim was visiting Italy on sabbatical and was throwing caution to the wind. We quickly became friends and stayed in touch.


Father Jim recently moved to a new parish where Spanish is the predominant language. Father Jim is spending eight weeks trying to hone his Spanish skills, here in Antigua, Guatemala.


On Tuesday Dr. MAD, “Let’s go, Brandon”, “I am never doing this again”, and Padre Jim hiked Acatenango with the trusty guia Rolando and dos perros! The crew left for the hike a little after 1pm on the auto-bus and began hiking around 2:30.

The goal for the day was reaching the camping point for sunset, watching Volcano Fuego explode, and hiking back down!


As Rolando says, this hike is very “Duro” and the team began the hike around 8,000 feet (244 meters) of elevation.

The first portion contains a long set of stairs that begin the climb. After about a half-mile, “Let’s go, Brandon” was concerned that “I am never doing this again” was not acclimatizing well. Dr. MAD took “I am never doing this again’s” mochilla (backpack) and recommended some pursed-lip breathing to retain oxygen better! Padre and Rolando benefited from this tip too! Padre jokingly said, “I should have brought my last rights book”.
 

The group paid the entrada (entry fee) early because the workers had a reunion (meeting) at the bottom and were closing the office early. The office was about a mile into the hike and when the crew got there they checked out the map and enjoyed some pineapple, trail mix, and Gatorade. All musts to maintain energy for the hike!


Rolando generously took “I am never doing this again’s” mochilla and the group took the hike a poco, a poco (a little by little). As the crew continued to gain elevation, Padre and Dr. Mad followed close behind Guia Rolando, and “Let’s go, Brandon” and “I am never doing this again” made up the caboose. The crew took pausas (rest breaks) throughout, especially when Rolando said “Mira Mira Mira” and pointed out different places and incredible viewpoints of all the area’s volcanos and towns.

Rolando and los dos perros definitely led the way as the group moved through fincas, bosque, and arena.
 

The crew made it to the camping ground (over 13,000 feet (400 meters) up and a little under 5 miles (8 kilometers) of hiking) right in time for the Atardecer (sunset), much to the relief of the whole crew! Rolando began his infamous calling of Mira Mira Mira (look look look) as Fuego erupted and the sunset. The view was truly magnificent!!! Everyone enjoyed their sandwiches, snacks from Rolando, including pan de banana for los perros as they waited for the volcano to erupt again. Rolando made a fire for roasting marshmallows, served hot chocolate, and alerted the crew when he thought the volcano was going to erupt.


It was a very clear night and the crew saw three large eruptions and countless stars from the Milky Way to the southern cross! Even estrellas fuerzas (shooting stars)!

After a little over an hour at the platforms, the crew was ready to descend. It was below freezing up there and “Let’s Go Brandon” and “I am never doing this again” Florida blood was showing. The descent was only possible with hiking poles, headlamps, and light pollution from the cities.
 


Rolando led the way down, with “Let’s go, Brandon” and “I am never doing this again” (La pareja) close behind. The arena (sand) was not always kind to la pareja, but despite the many tumbles, all remained unharmed.

Along the way, there are only toilets of nature and one of the perros surprised Dr. MAD on her one and only trip! She was just glad it was not a snake!!

Dr. MAD and Padre enjoyed a slower descent, reminiscing over family trips, previous hikes, and relishing in their blessings. Dr. MAD’s extra flashlight and Rolando’s advice to step on the ash prevented tumbles. Everyone agreed coming down was not the kindest to your knees!

The group arrived back at the bus a little before 11:00 pm, all in one piece! They then hopped in the auto-bus and headed back to Antigua, arriving close to midnight. Padre slept on the way back, anticipating having to say 6am Mass for the nuns of Belen!

Everyone, even “I am never doing this again” agreed that it was well worth the 10 miles (16 kilometers) and 13,000 feet (400 meters) of elevation!!! Definitely, a good hike for “I am never doing this again” to end her hiking career and self-proclaim she will be a walker from here on out.

Recommendations for future friends bring at least 1.5 liters of water per person as well as a Gatorade, enough snacks, a good attitude, and know Rolando likes to round down in his estimations!
 

On Wednesday, I took “Let’s go, Brandon” and “I think she is the one” aka “I am never doing this again” for a walk around Antigua, we had to have some street food and of course a visit to the local market.



In the afternoon MAD, Marisol, and “Let’s go, Brandon” took a chocolate class.


Thursday, “Let’s go, Brandon” and, “I think she is the one” rented ATVs and went to HobbiTenango. “Let’s go Brandon” being a Carny he had to make the visit. HobbiTenango is as close to a carnival as you will get in Antigua.
 
HobbiTenango Swing 


Thursday afternoon, Sandra and Karen gave us a cooking class. We learned how to make Plantains and Chicken pepián.


Guatemala doesn’t really have a national dish, but pepián is probably the closest thing to it. This spicy stew, borne out of the fusion of the Spanish and Maya cultures, is one of the oldest dishes in Guatemala. Although chicken is most commonly used, it can also be made with beef or pork. All varieties of the dish contain both fruit and vegetables (usually pear, squash, carrot, potato, and corn) and a rich mix of spices. It’s traditionally served with rice and tortillas.




Friday afternoon, Father Jim gave us a tour of the convent he is staying at. I have never seen so many altars in one building.


But with Marisol heading back to the states tomorrow, before we can get the tour, Marisol must get her Covid-19 test.


While we were touring the convent. “Let’s go, Brandon” and, “I think she is the one” were using the chef skills they learned from Sandra, and Karen to prepare a wonderful dinner for us.



What a great meal it was.
 


The best part, besides the food. Father Jim told us all kinds of behind-the-scenes (church) stories. None to be repeated. What happens in confessional stays in confessional.
 

This morning, Dr. MAD and Marisol will be departing. Before the sad moment, we decided to walk to Caoba Farms for a going-away breakfast.

After a day of hanging out “Let’s go, Brandon”, “I think she is the one”, Margarite, and I went to Quiltro. One of the best dining experiences in a long time.
 

Quiz time - Dinner was 12 courses. This was the most interesting course. Any guesses?

Sunday
 

“Let’s go, Brandon” and, “I think she is the one” departed at the crack of dawn.

Being Sunday, it was the day to go work on Sandra and Luis’s farm.
 

One observation I made after looking at the picture from our visits to the farm over the last couple of weeks. It appears Luis is excellent at delegating chores at the farm. Luis actually doing the chores, not so much.


We get new guests tomorrow.

Our new guests Ozzie and Harriet Webb arrived late Sunday night.
 


Monday - I scheduled the ATV Villages Tour for Ozzie and Harriet. I decided to join them on the tour. This is the same tour many of the other guests took.
 

It was a great day. We visited an artisan chocolate shop and saw how they made the chocolate. We visited many of the surrounding villages, as well as a jade factory and several churches.




On a sad note, the couple that owns the Macadamia Nut Farm, Valhalla Macadamia Farm, the husband passed away. They both contracted COVID-19, but Lorenzo a retired firefighter had lung damage from his years as a San Francisco firefighter and was unable to beat the disease. Lorenzo passed about two weeks ago.


We had a great day and Ozzie and Harriet got a great overview of the area.


Tuesday Ozzie and Harriet walked over ten miles taking in the sights and sounds of Antigua. Enjoying the food and beer, there are now more than four microbreweries in town.


Audrey is back!!! We meet Audrey on our first visit to Antigua, Guatemala. You may remember Audrey is a retired Fargo, North Dakota Police Detective as well as a retired Corrections Officer. In fact, the movie Fargo was somewhat based off of Audrey’s story.

When the pandemic hit, Audrey was evacuated from Guatemala by the U.S. State Department. During the evacuation, Audrey attempted to pay for the rescue flight but was told she would get a bill for the flight.
 

The bill never came. Last fall, when Audrey went to the airport to catch her flight to Guatemala for the winter, she was told she is on the no-fly list. The airline or the government would not disclose why.

Lucky for Audrey, both her son (Tim) and daughter-in-law work for the Company (CIA). After several months of bureaucratic red tape, Tim discovered Audrey is on the no-fly list for failure to pay for her rescue flight.

It took another month to figure out who and how to pay for the flight. Finally, everything cleared and Audrey made it to Antigua.

To celebrate Audrey’s arrival, we had Audrey and Father Jim over for dinner, along with Ozzie and Harriet.
 

Thursday, Harriet found a photo exhibit called Fotokids.


Fotokids, originally called Out of the Dump, from its humble beginnings has served over a thousand at-risk children affected by poverty and violence by giving them a chance to dream of a better life, using photography, graphic design, media technology, and vocational training experience as tools for self-expression, creativity, leadership, and future employment. The ability to secure employment assures they will not have to migrate to survive.


The exhibit had great photos, many taken in the village of Santiago on Lake Atitlan where we were just a few weeks prior.


After the photo exhibit, Ozzie and I had some great street food as a late breakfast.


At noon, we met Margarite for lunch at Caobra Farms.


We had an exceptional surprise guest today. He is in town filming a documentary on Guatemala Coffee. I asked him to make a video to highlight the great things in Antigua.

Watch this fun video to see who our guest was as well as some highlights of Antigua, Guatemala 


Friday, I picked Audrey up, we took a Tuc-Tuk to God's Child. The GOD’S CHILD Project (GCP) works through an international nonprofit network to provide many of the poorest children, families, and communities in the world with the means to escape their bitter chains of poverty. This is done by providing award-winning Education, Healthcare, Housing, and Sustainable Development services.


Every Friday, God’s Child runs a food bank, which Audrey volunteered us to work. For folks to qualify to receive food, they must attend weekly classes on life skills. The goal it to create a sustainable program that breaks the chain of poverty.


In the upcoming months, folks from the University of Texas, Austin are going to start an entrepreneurial class to help the families start micro-businesses.



Last November, while Audrey was stuck in the freezing cold of Fargo, her family escaped to Guatemala. While they were here, they built a house for a family in need. They named the house Audrey’s Hammer. After we worked the food bank, we hitched a ride to a village called Alotenango. This is where we found Audrey’s Hammer. We met with the family that now resides in the home. All ten of them are in one room.


We have now been in Guatemala for five weeks, and I am starting to look a bit ragged. Luckily, I have a local barber, Romeo, the owner of Classic Barber. A quick text to Romeo and I had an appointment for a cut and a shave.



Another reason for the makeover, is we have new guests arriving this afternoon. Anna, Juan Luis, and Nico. All three are good friends that live in Guatemala City.
 

This is Ozzie and Harriet’s last night. We decided to eat in, allowing everyone a nice casual atmosphere to get acquainted.



Saturday - after Ozzie and Harriet’s very early departure, we ventured to Finca Colombia for Breakfast. The food was great. Finca Colombia is a working farm that also has recreational activities. We found that they have a lap pool we can use. This will be useful in the future.


After we had breakfast, we walked around town eating ice cream. Are you starting to see a commonality with our friends? Even Nico an ice cream eater in training, got in on the action.


After the breakfast food and ice cream, we headed to The Woods, also known as Antigua Ceveza for a beer and to relax. All this eating can be hard work.


Juan Luis, Anna, and Nico had to head back to Guatemala City. We said our goodbyes and planned to meet again next year.



Today, our last day in Guatemala, Easter gets closer the celebrations get more elaborate. One cool thing they do here is decorate the streets with colored sand or colored sawdust. The result looks like a decorative carpet.


Being Sunday, I would normally be summoned to work at Luis and Sandra’s farm. Instead of the call to work, they called to tell us they were treating us to dinner. It was great to get together with their entire family.


That is it from Guatemala, what a great five weeks, especially reuniting with old friends and meeting new ones.


If all goes as planned, we should be heading to Belize at the end of March and Bolivia in May.




Cheers, DUG