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guatemala trip with teenagers

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My wife and I and our two boys (18 and 15) were in Guatemala Aug1 to Aug15. Great trip. One boy goes off to Penn State this week, the other one starts driving soon. So it was a good time for a wonderful family trip.

We took a cheap early morning flight from DCA to GUA on Spirit and spend the first night at Meson Panza Verde in Angigua. Room 12 ($250) was good for our family, had two bedrooms, dining room, living room with fireplace. Gorgeous. Beaufiful antiques, wonderful leaded glass windows with great view of volcano agua, arched ceilings and domes, beautifully painted stucco walls, wood beams. Dinner at the hotel that night with a cuban jazz trio was a splurge but near perfect. This is a beautful hotel with a nice lap pool and great breakfast.

The next morning we were up for a morning tour of Antigua by Elizabeth Bell, who had set up our shuttle tours and some hotel reservations. Here help with arrangements really made the trip easier. The museum at the Casa Domingo was exquisite and the tour was a good orientation. After lunch at La Fonda de la Calle Real we were off on a 2.5 hour shuttle to Chichicastengo and the Mayan Inn.

We arrived in Chichi Saturday night and had dinner at a steak restaurant (Las Brasas). Steak is not Guatemala's best dinner. Everything but the steak is great, but the steak always seemed to be pretty tough. But the market in Chichi was wonderful. We bought some masks saturday night and lots of fabrics on Sunday. The Mayan Inn is near the church steps in Chichi where flower vendors set up on Sunday. The Mayans also use these steps to set up candles and incense. Some of us attended chuch services, some of us wandered the market. Also nearby are market stalls set up for food service with many many women slapping cornmeal into tortillas (the surrounding sounds and smells are unforgettable) and grilling and boiling wonderful dishes of chicken and rice and vegetables. We pulled up a bench and had a wonderful lunch. Late in the afternoon we made our way to the Santo Tomas Hotel which has a pool but was very crowded with tour groups. We met our shuttle there for the 1.5 hour trip to Panajachel and Lake Atitlan.

We arrived at the dock in Panajachel just as a boat to our hotel Lomas de Tzununa was leaving. We stayed 3 nights at Lomas de Tzununa, a wonderful hotel high on the hill overlooking the lake and volcanos. I think this hotle must have the best views on the lake. Each room has a balcony and two beds. There's a nice pool and dining room. Great food. The kids enjoyed beating dad at a big chess board set up on a patio. The hotel arranged two spanish lessons for the kids. In the mornings we visited San Juan a couple times and the kids played soccer with school kids and we did some more shopping. San Juan is a little town making a special effort to promote itself and its artisans. The owner of Lomas, an ex-UNICEF worker, speaks highly of the town and its major. We took a tuk tuk from San Juan to San Pedro for the ferry back to the hotel. We didn't manage to get to Santiago, but did smim in the lake and take out the kayak. The lake is calm in hte morning, choppy in the afternoon. Lake Atitlan is a neat place to spend time with easy visits by the ferries to the little towns around the lake. We learned the 420 steps up the hill to Lomas de Tzununa are a third of the number of steps to the top of the empire state building.

After 3 nights at Atitlan we took an early ferry to Panajachel and met our 2.5 hour shuttle back to Antigua where we stayed in a townhouse for 5 nights at the Quinta de las Flores. We liked the Quinta a lot because it was fun to have a kitchen, the gardens were beautiful, and the design and decorating of the rooms and common areas was really great. And they had a ping pong room.

What did we do in Antigua? We went on a tour of the Volcano Pacaya and toasted marshmallows over a lava vent (buy a climbing stick there for Q5), we went to a guitar concert at the Colonial Art Museum, we went to the supermarket and bought rum and coke and other items for dinner, and to the mercado to buy 3 tomatoes and an onion, took tuk tuks, rented a bike (bumpy on cobblestones), watched a high school drum band practice, signed up for spanish lessons at the San Pedro el Viejo, had lunch at Fridas and bought souvineers next door at NimPot, figured out calles vs avenidas (never saw a street name we recognized), shopped at little tiendas, revisited the Santa Domingo museums, walked around. Quinta is further from the square than other hotels, but the gardens and pool and townhouse were nice to come home to.

Our last jouney was to Tikal. A really early morning wakeup for the shuttle to GUA and flight to Flores on Taca where we rented a car from Hertz and drove to LaLancha. LaLancha is very nice, very pleasant rainforest casitas with balconies and hammocks. There's a little rocky beach area with canoes and several chairs and a nice pool. Howler monkeys in the morning. Nice to have a car to drive to El Remate, where we had lunch at DonDavid and I got a haircut at Peluqeria Ruby (Q20). We had 4 nights at LaLancha. The second day we drove to Tikal (about 45 minutes, from LaLancha to ElRemate bumpy dirt road, elsewhere good road but watchout for speedbumps)and arranged for a tour the next day with Luis Oliveros. Returned the next morning around 11 for our tour with lots of monkeys and pyramid climbing (we were too lazy by then for the sunrise tour). The last day we visited ElRemate again and played pool (we were not that impressive but did manage to pocket all of the balls after a while). I remembered to bring my ipod to use on the player in the room. So a perfect moment on the hammock listening to the ipod watching the sunset with a rum coke. The rum coke, purchased from local tiendas, is a cost effective substitute for the Coppola wines served at LaLancha. One more early wakeup call for the drive back to the airport for flight from FRS to GUA to FLL to DCA.

I don't know what we'd do differently. Maybe switch a night from Tikal to Atitlan. LaLancha, because of the bumpy road, is isolated. But we liked staying there. It's got cool. Guatemala is really a fascinating place. The fabrics, people and language are familiar and foreign. Mayan sounds softer than spanish, with Tz and Sh sounds. The people are familiar, many guatemalans live in Gaithersburgh and Langley Park and other Maryland suburbs. But of course we respect how different life is in Guatemala. Harder, but not impossible, with strong full flavors and colors. A wonderul trip.

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