Xela: My Last Week in Guatemala

Upon arriving in Quetzaltenango, commonly known as Xela (Shay-la), I took notice of Pasaje Enriquez. Constructed in 1900 this neoclassical building’s corridor opens up facing the west side of Parque Central. From the day the doors opened it has operated as an important commercial center and now hosts a myriad of bars, restaurants, cafes, a bank, and a slew of offices. When the Enriquez family sold the building their upstairs living quarters were converted into rooms for rent with communal living spaces. I rented one of these spaces during my week in the city and put myself in the center of it all.

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Corridor running Pasaje Enriquez

Corridor running Pasaje Enriquez

The first hour of each day sailed away as I danced to the rhythm of the song in my head with the rise of the sun. With a glass of coffee and a bite to eat I ventured down the cobblestone streets to Trama Textiles, a backstrap weaving association, to learn from the women and work on a piece of my own. I was overseen and taught each step of the process by women who have spent a lifetime mastering the craft. They let me into their culture and shared with me a piece of the knowledge they pass down from one generation to the next. With a few hours of work each day I completed the weaving of my scarf, and had a desire to learn more and dowels to fumble with on my own.

Preparing the String for the Loom

Preparing the String for the Loom

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Together with Laramie and Raffa — friends I went to school with back in Antigua — I climbed into a rented car, took out a map and asked, “Where to?”. We twisted through the mountains to ruins, thermal hot springs, and a night in Lago Atitlan. Laughter was shuffled in with a small let down (ruins closing five minutes before our arrival) and the thrill of an expedition with two other amazing people. Xocomil water park provided an outlet for our inner kids as we raced between water slides playing bumper cars with our inner tubes. We were the only foreigners in a mix of Guatemalans rolling in wave pools and giggling as we waited in line for the next Tikal inspired water ride. Amidst the craziness we spent relaxing afternoons split between El Cuartito or North & South Cafe. Conversation revolved around what had transpired in the earlier hours, stories of family, the politics of our countries, our views on religion, previous travels, and anything else that could possibly be thrown in between. When our jaws hurt and our stomachs were filled in satisfaction we wandered the markets and took off on other adventures. My biggest being the completion of my fifth top ten summit in Central america.

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Ingrid Riding Shotgun

Ingrid Riding Shotgun

Each night, back home in Pasaje Enriquez, the heart beat of the city’s night life grew louder underneath the floor boards. As the offices flipped their signs over to read closed, the bars propped their doors open wide and welcomed a mixture of locals and foreigners alike. Upon hearing the city come alive I would stroll out my front door to where families had set up their food stands lining the square. There I indulged on hand pressed, corn tortillas filled with cheese and topped with a spicy, vegetable sauce in the glow of lights and those fluttering around me. After my street fair I joined in with the crowd for my own evening of entertainment. Most nights Laramie, Raffa and I would reconvene for a drink or a movie at the cafe down the road. And I always returned home while the night was still young to be lulled to sleep from the noises below.

 

*Head here for the inside story of Ingrid*

Tikal National Park


The archaeological site of Tikal is more a story of an adventure in traveling than it is of the ruins.

I arrived via shuttle as the park entrance was opening its doors. My first hours were consumed by a guided tour in which I learned of history, religion, Mayan culture, current culture, the blending of each, and how this resulted in what is observed today. More or less a standard run of the mill tour. However, instead of ending my time in Tikal when the tour came to a close, Ingrid and I chose to stay longer and depart with the next tour so as to explore more on my own. My time came and went, as did the time I was to leave, while the group and shuttle were nowhere to be found.

Tikal closed. The gates came down, the office locked their doors, the amount of cars in the lot was on a rapid decline, and my concern was beginning to fill the gap. After twelve hours of hiking I found myself in the setting sun with little time to find a solution. I approached the last two workers as they were headed down the long road to the main highway with strong hopes of good news. And it was good enough for me: they were both hitchhiking home themselves and one was heading to the same island of Flores an hour and a half away. I may still have been standing on the side of the road without an answer but I wasn’t standing there alone.

A flagged down van was taking us as far as the highway when, halfway down the road, the gentleman, who was making his way to Flores, saw a friends van headed the opposite direction. He jumped out and hopped in the opposing vehicle and told me they’d meet me at the highway. Approximately 45 minutes crept by while I lay sprawled out in the middle of the road reflecting back to younger years when my cousins and I would do the same, as our own form of chicken with the passing cars, when grandma wasn’t looking. Upon reconvening the van proceeded a seemingly short distance to stop yet again — this time for dinner. Faced with the option of attempting to hitchhike back in the pitch black not knowing where I was or join them: I ordered a burger and a beer. Sitting around the table with a group of Guatemaltecos I was even more thankful for my Spanish classes as I was able to periodically interject myself into the conversation. Dinner and a drink turned into three as I patiently awaited the next leg of the ride home. Which, sticking with the theme, contained a stop to switch drivers at a bus station prior to the final drop off at the entrance to the island. Tired and lethargic I walked the final distance to my hostel three and a half hours, 3 different drivers, 2 vans, and 4 stops after approaching the two men at the gates of Tikal.

The following evening I waited in angst as the eight o’clock departure of a 15 hour overnight bus came and went and the glow of nine o’clock glared back at me from my watch.

Guatemala Rewind

The shutter on my camera has captured thousands of little moments scattered across Central America in the last few months. When I gaze at these photos, in a time distant from now, I’ll be able to recall what can not be seen. The slight gimp of the elderly gentleman down the cobblestone street, the little girl giggling incessantly with her hand cupped gently over her mouth after the click of the camera, and the quibbles of the shop owners as they haggle away each afternoon. I’m blessed to have a mind that visually remembers these moments as they slip farther away.

When I think back upon Lago Atitlan I find myself focused on distinct clicks of the shutter. Nestled inside a caldera the water hastily rolls from one rocky ridge to the next. With no road that encircles the lake, some communities only reachable over water, the people move from one village to the next in traditional Mayan boats. As I observed a man embark in his little, wooden boat and row from the village I was awe by the beauty of the backdrop he sat within. And by the rising waters at the dock where he set out floating near old rooftops. In town, set back from the disappearing shoreline, a man crouched next to his wheelbarrow with a lenient face, machete in hand, slowly chipping away the coconut coir and beaming with smiles and chattering away. Behind him sat a little girl perched, with her even littler brother, upon the sidewalk tending to their fruit cart. She looked at me with curiosity and a smirk peering ever so slightly from the corner of her lips. The street was calm outside of the occasional uproar from children running and playing while sipping on coconuts of their own.

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A little farther away, and harder to get to, Semuc champey is still a place only the occasional traveler ventures. Made up of a 300 meter long natural limestone bridge where turquoise-blue pools have formed within the limestone fed by nearby spring water. The Cahabon River disappears under the bridge and surfaces again to continue through a bio diverse forest. Formed with the Cahabon River is a procession of underground caves. Though I will not forget the scenic beauty of those turquoise waters, it’s my candle lit venture through the caves that stays ingrained within me. A line of people, one-by-one, entering the opening, holding their candles with faintly shaky hands as the water began to rise and natural light disappeared. Into the darkness we repelled up waterfalls trusting in the light of those above us as the water snuffed out our flames. I slid down a 2 meter shoot to enter another water filled passage where one candle had made it safely through to light the remaining doused candles. And those who dared climbed a cliff within the depths of the cave to jump into a pool carved into the limestone below. As we neared the exit of the cave our candles flickered, daylight began to creep in, and the turquoise-blue waters flowing above the limestone bridge appeared once again.

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For now, I can see these moments as images appear in front of my eyes like I’m still there. Over time they’ll slowly fade away but they’ll never diminish completely. I’ll always have my photos to bring me back in that time and space again and recall what can not be seen.

Be Kind, Rewind

Lightening bolts and shooting stars come and go just as slow as the minutes pass by. Time consists of quickly fleeting seconds and long, drawn out hours contained in the same moment.

Every morning I wake without a clue as to where I will go and what will bring me there. Bus rides carry me from one city to another not knowing where I‘ll lay my head at night. Bike rides with a destination easily steer off course to never find their way back again. A trek up a steep, windy mountain trail has changed my travels away from a country entirely. And bright ideas send me down paths that were never previously penciled down on my map.

In these moments, with no concept of time, I put pen to paper. My hand flows fluidly from one word to the next. I write letters I‘ll never send. Thoughts are shared with only me. I type stories that no one will ever see. Simple sentences, short and stout paragraphs, move from a wandering mind to pen and paper or fingers to a keyboard. Never long, never frequent, never posted.

From this point I‘d like to take a step back, recognize that time is only how we perceive it to be, and share moments that have since turned into experiences that can be reflected back on. Be patient, be kind, and let’s rewind together.

Back to Language School

Back to school, again. Studying spanish, again. Two years in college taught me, at a basic level, how to read and write. But I was forever too timid to speak — a quality one would normally ever relate to my personality. Fact of the matter is, if you don’t speak the language you’re never truly going to learn it. Determined and unwilling to admit defeat, I found myself in Antigua, Guatemala — a city known for its spanish schools — working one-on-one with Rosario twenty hours a week for three weeks and sharing meals with my host mom, Eva, and fellow students and housemates, for that little extra push to vocalize what I had learned each day.

Rosario instantaneously became more than my teacher, she was my pal and confidant (insert Golden Girls theme song here). Though we spent a bit of time with traditional lessons, numerous hours were spent telling stories, and recounting our previous evenings. Our chattiness led me through the doorway of various past tenses, new expressions, and gave me a better ear for hearing transitions in conversations. Together we laughed at how I lost all my Spanish — and half my English — when conversing with the fine-looking gentleman that works at the tattoo shop. We began the inevitable conversations on food and cooking which led to a day spent in the market to learn about food and the art of haggling. I looked forward to each and every morning with Rosario. The idea of no longer enjoying these moments with her, as I stepped away from my last class, was overcome by the warmth of always knowing she was the one to break down my speaking barrier. I will forever be grateful.

And then there was Eva. She prepared three meals a day, six days a week for the six students living in her house along with her own family who came and went. Collectively, Eva and her daughter ran a laundry service seven days a week. She provided for her husband as he was in and out of the hospital — only being able to visit him one hour a day upon his absence. And managed to hold it all together as her husband lost his leg due to amputation. Eva still joined us at each meal to discuss class, nightly plans, weekend trips, politics, culture, and family. She was our mother and our teacher. Added to my book of life are ambitions to be as strong, confident, and collected as she.

Inside and outside the house I had my fellow students, my quickly made friends, that I began to build relationships with. We went on weekend trips, gathered for candle lit glasses of wine, talked over bites to eat, and went out late night dancing. Gathered in a circle we created Travelers Anonymous where we confided in one another our deep rooted reasons for packing up our lives and adventuring to Central America. These were the people I was cherishing my days with. And though sad to leave them, and the splendor of Antigua, they gave me more memories that cling to my heart.

Envision Festival

Envision Festival

3,500 people from across the globe joined together in the jungle of Uvita, Costa Rica for the fourth annual Envision Festival. A collective of people connected with ideas of community, art, sustainability, spirit, and inspiration. Each participating in a variety of movement arts, visual arts, and workshops focused on spirituality, meditation, and interpersonal communication. Masses gathered on the beach — mere steps from the heart of the festival — for picturesque sun sets. And, upon nightfall, the community spilled over from one stage to the next for music so eclectic it couldn’t be faulted.

Days were filled with drum circles creating and expanding the quiet mind. Sun sets and camp fire sing-a-longs with those I’d met along my journey around the country made me feel at home. Late nights alone on the tree swing gave way to moments of silence and only feelings of the beat of music in the distance. Musical performances from Nahko and Medicine for the People and Papadosio were absolutely radiant. The best way I can portray my experience is with one word: aligning.

Eliciting a physical, mental, and spiritual connection. A remembered kinship with the earth and a correlation within myself. Feeling freer than free and happier than happy. A Cheshire smile, a grandiose laugh, and a body that simply couldn’t stop dancing. I felt moved inside and out. And I left the festival in a haze — a state of simply being. When Envision came to a close I left with an altered state of mind that lead to my understanding of why this trip was necessary for me. And a new direction in which to point myself.

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” — Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Working at a Hostel

Working at a Hostel

For three weeks I volunteered as a house host at hostel at the base of Costa Rica’s tallest mountain – Cerro Chirripo. With the mountain listed in Lonely Planet as a top destination, and the hostel as editor’s pick, Casa Mariposa kept me on my toes. I had a wide range of duties and if there was a job description it would have been a short story. And I looked forward to it every single day.

Each afternoon I would give my spiel to groups of people eager to make the climb to the summit. I would explain the corruption of the ticketing system. That, if they wanted it bad enough, my recommendation was to be at the ticket office at 2am and wait until it opened at 6:30 to ensure one of the ten “daily available” spots. Always making sure to include the part where I slept in front of that office twice in order to obtain a ticket myself. Upon their return the following morning I would congratulate some on their success and console, and give alternatives, to those who didn’t have such luck.

For those able to obtain a ticket to the top, I doled out all the necessary gear. Casa Mariposa has a collection of warm clothing–it can easily drop below freezing at the summit–that they happily loan out to those who, rightfully so, didn’t bring a hat and pair of gloves to Costa Rica. I rented out camp stoves and cans of gas for those planning to cook their food along the way. But the most sought after of items were the warm sleeping bags for the night stay at the lodge. And the night before departure I answered last-minute questions and gave any insight that seemed valuable.

Some people choose to leave after not being able to obtain a ticket and others stay to enjoy what else town has to offer. I always gained a bit of joy in telling those who stuck around what there was to partake in. From the trout farm down the road where within the hour you caught your fish and finished a home cooked Tico meal. You simply can’t get fresher fish anywhere else. There’s Cloudbridge Reserve with a variety of hiking trails leading to numerous waterfalls and an abundance of diversity in flora and fauna. You can get lost in there for days. Queso Canaan makes incredible cheese from a Swiss recipe that you can taste while overlooking the same pasture where the milk comes from. And their mozzarella with a tomato from the market might as well be heaven. From there it’s just a short trek to the agua termanales where warm springs have been diverted into a soaking pool. Not heading up Chirripo isn’t so bad after all.

As for the rest of my work day, I did what one might usually think of as hostel work. I helped with laundry, cleaning, making beds, implementing house rules, booking rooms, juggling reservations, making necessary phone calls, and making people feel at home away from home. I got decently good at being able to converse on the phone in spanish when I was the one directing the call. If anyone ever needs a taxi or a reservation at a restaurant then I’m your girl. Anything else, please divert to someone else. And welcome to San Gerardo de Rivas.

Ingrid, My Traveling Companion

It was a frigid winter in 2010 when Ingrid decided to bravely venture from the only place she’d ever called home and climb into my pocket. With a twinkle in her eye and her basket in hand she set out with a wide open heart. Ingrid never asks where we’re going or when we’ll arrive. I’m sure, at this point, she realizes that I don’t know either.

Summit La Congreja La Congreja National Park, Costa Rica

Summit La Cangreja
La Cangreja National Park, Costa Rica

Our adventures first began in the Netherlands where time was mostly spent in open air markets and street fairs. We gorged ourselves on stroopwafels and apple pastries before hitchhiking our way down to Belgium. There Ingrid fell in love with baguette and french fry sandwiches. And you couldn’t pry her from a cathedral if you tried. After her photo shoots around Paris, and exchanging stories of adventures with fellow travelers in the south of France, we made our way to Spain. Together we hiked mountains, celebrated Semana Santa, visited an illegal-underground teahouse, spent time couch surfing, and visited one museum after the next. Eighteen Spanish cities later Ingrid wasn’t even close to running out of steam. And with Queens day just around the corner – in her country of origin – I joined Ingrid for her first plane ride. After a weekend of celebrating and visiting friends we hopped on another plane for our final European destination of Ireland. Ingrid shared her new-found love and enthusiasm for traveling as she reminisced about what had transpired over the last few months. As I crawled into bed for my last night abroad, Ingrid slid herself into the pocket of the jacket I had strewn over my luggage and awaited the next journey.

Ingrid continued to carry her little wicker basket making her way from state to state before settling down in Oregon for a while. Together we spent summers at the lake and floating down the Deschutes river with big, bold sun glasses and ice-cold growlers filled with indian red ales and hard ciders. During the winters Frank Sinatra accompanied our ears as we floated on powder down Mt. Bachelor. We perched ourselves on top of Overturf Butte to look at the city glow in the evening and passed the mornings reading books under the light of the sun. Ingrid encouraged week-long excursions outside the state border and even helped inspire our current travels.

St. Thomas, USVI

St. Thomas, USVI

A stay in the Caribbean brought us to both the US and British Virgin Islands. Ingrid doesn’t much like swimming – though you can easily find her laying on the beach, with eyes closed, listening to the waves roll onto the shoreline. A few weeks later, after dragging her away from the islands, she didn’t take long to adjust to the jungle of Costa Rica. Nearly every evening she would climb into a hammock to gaze at the sun setting behind the mountains. One of which she and a few friends bushwhacked to the top of to admire the rushing rivers and rolling hills around and below. Taking her time to listen to the trees rustle, grass sway, leaves roll, and birds sing their own sweet melodies, Ingrid knew she belonged somewhere in the mountains. So now, as she continues to travel, Ingrid chooses to move from one small mountain town the next staying long enough for it to feel like home. Having spent a few weeks in San Gerardo de Rivas she is now ready to ascend Cerro Chirripo – the tallest mountain between Guatemala and Columbia – and once again listen to the sounds in a place that brings her comfort.

Day by Day / Manuel Antonio National Park

Ever since I was a little girl I’ve made the same wish every time I blew out a candle on a birthday cake or wished upon the first star I saw in the night sky. And my wish comes true each and everyday – everything turns out the way it’s supposed to. This thought was instilled in me at a very young age by my mother and it perches an infallible smile upon my face each time I think of it. I’m not sure when I began wishing upon stars, or what drove me to perpetually ask for each day to simply be, but my unwavering desire is my reminder to take life as it comes. With traveling the way I do — and, quite honestly, with all there is in life — it’s one of the most important messages that I have come to learn and grow with.

Working at Rancho Monovista

Working at Rancho Monovista

Nothing about today, yesterday, or the last ten days would have transpired the way they did if my next step after working on the farm in Mastatal would have come to fruition. While working with a guide company to plan a trip to Corcovado National Park I made a pit stop in Ciudad Colón to Rancho Monovista. I was set to start work there in late March and figured I could stop in to introduce myself and work out the particulars while waiting on the last of the Corcovado details. One night at Monovista became two, the weekend came to an end and the week lingered on, and ten days later I left Monovista with stories, memories, new ideas for what’s next, and a new friend and traveling parter for the next four days.

Enjoying the beach in Manuel Antonio

Enjoying the beach in Manuel Antonio

A hot, impromptu bus ride brought Carrie and I to Quepos. With the sweltering sun set high in the clear blue sky we soaked up its rays on the beach, swam in the tropical water, gazed out over the water, and observed others doing the same. With the sunset behind the ocean we prepared dinner in the communal kitchen over beers and late night conversation. We arose in the morning for our guided tour of Manuel Antonio National Park — previous experience makes not using a guide seem incredibly foolish. Three and a half hours led our group to see seven three-toed sloths, a two-toedsloth, two of the three species of monkies, a myriad of birds and lizards, a crocodile lurking at the mouth of a mangrove, and vast knowledge of surrounding flora and fauna. With Carrie’s relentless desire to learn all that she can about the biology and diversity of each place we go, there was a bond made with the tour guide. When the tour came to an end and the group departed to their respective destinations Carrie and I continued on with Henry, our guide, for the trip back to our hostel. On our way, Henry joined us for a bite to eat and subsequent

Capuchin Monkey

Capuchin Monkey

conversation led him to inviting us to swim at a waterfall set back from town where only the locals go. There was nothing but laughter and grins like cheshire cats as we jumped from rocky cliffs into pristine water below. When the sun began to make its decent we gathered our things and called it a day. We didn’t realize that along the way we could experience yet another extraordinary moment: the third species of money playing three feet from our beaming faces.

Life is unexpected. All we can do it take it as it comes. Roll with the punches. Adapt. Evolve. Grow. Learn. After all, if you do, everything always turns out the way it’s supposed to.

New Year, New Place

I spent New Year’s 2011 in Amsterdam with a group of couchsurfers who had made their way from Oregon, California, Czech Republic, Sweden, and Germany to share in the celebration with one another. This spontaneous mingling of people, ideas, and customs led to my resolve to start the beginning of every year someplace different. 2012 led me to something I had never previously done — I rang in the new year on the clock. We were friends moving together into yet another year with boundless laughter and cheer. Last year, 2013, I flew to St. Thomas, USVI to commemorate the occasion with good friends of mine. It was with them I partook in dinner and conversation around a table teeming with people who had welcomed me with open arms. And this year was no different.

Diez, nueve, ocho, siete, seis, cinco, cuatro, tres, dos, uno, feliz año! The amount of joy I felt to be counting down the new year in Costa Rica was overwhelming. The bar in tiny Mastatal was packed with people shuffling around bestowing hugs and kisses upon everyone in attendance. Smiles were exuberant and laughter abundant. Speeches were made and glasses were raised. But there came a point when the bar began thin and the party came to an end — at least for some. For myself, my fellow volunteers and a handful of ticos the night may as well have just begun. Beers in hand we moved as a pack down the road. Mama, as I like to call her, taught me how to appropriately dance to latin music. And we swayed on hammocks each practicing what will be our second language with her son translating what we couldn’t convey. The boys played pool and flirted with the girls while we sat back to chuckle at their attempts. As the hours continued to pass people began to disperse to their respective homes. I made it to mine sometime around four in the morning. I’m sure I woke up still smiling.

In the last four years, I’ve discovered that no matter where I am I’m always with family and that’s worth celebrating.