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Trip notes from April 11-19

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The usual fun events of travel....getting here took all day and would have been fine without having to get off the plane in Mexico City, walk miles to immigration, go through customs, then walk all the way back to where we started to board for Gua. City. That made us exhausted! Flights were fine...met a nice young man whose mother now lives here. She bought property and retired near Lake Atitlan where she helped build and rebuild a hospital.
First night was interesting...we arrived late, around 11.30 and had a driver get us and take us to our hotel--Posada Belen--in Guatemala City. It was dark , but they opened the gated entry for us and led us to our room...in the dark. We were in a largish room with a double and 2 twin beds. it had lots of colors and woven wool blankets on the beds, but only a loud fan for air. It was a little stuffy and very rustic. The shower was sort of a makeshift affair which never really heated up. This gem I found in the guidebook... they did have lots of art on the walls, and even more to see when we got up the next day. it´doubles as a museum for the guests. Breakfast was not included and food was only fair.
We took a cab to the textile museum in Guatemala City, which was very interesting. Being a weaver, I really enjoyed seeing that.
We got back to the hotel at around noon, planning on checking out and getting our rental car to drive to Antigua. That would have been a good plan if my husband hadn't discovered his eye glasses were missing, which turned out to be in the first taxi we tookthat day. The driver was reached by phone through our hotel manager....and said he could get them to us around 3 or 3:30....so we had lunch there and sat around waiting. He magically arrived at 2! and took us to get our car.
We took off at 2:30 from the city for our 45 min ride to Antigua and arrived there at 5. uh.....let´s just say we took a circuitous route and found small towns not even on any of our maps! And then we got to Antigua and took another 30 min to find the hotel!
The condo at Villa Antigua is supposed to be connected to a Four Seasons, but we must have gotten the fifth season section. The condo is okay, but very sparce, esp compared to that museum the first night.
Sunday we drove to Chichicastenanga, and didn´t even get lost at all...long windy roads, which weren´t bad except for when it rained and was foggy...just like home except the roads are the horrible and everyone passes regardless of safety. Got to Chichi and met a young man who worked for the tourist bureau and took us as a guide for free. we bought him lunch and obviously paid him anyway....very nice and spoke English quite well.
We bought several things, of course. We´re now famous in many countries for what we buy and how poor we are at negotiating. ugh. Bought a table cloth....my favorite thing to buy in other countries. this one is VERY bright....love the Guatemalan colors. Also found some hanks of very fine cotton in bright colors...bought 10 hanks...cost a total of $2.80. I wonder if I'll ever be able to weave with anything so fine. I'm adding it to my silk skeins that are just as fine.
The only killer in Antigua and in chichi are the cobblestone streets...hard to walk on and bad for the back. and even hard to drive on....bumpy and hard on the whole body really. The first night we took a tuk-tuk to dinner after first trying to walk and that was a rattling experience. Ah, the perfect excuse for a massage, which I had. Hot stones for 90 min....prices not like SE Asia, however....but it´s less than half of US. $56 .
Food is great....fondues are common, pupusas, which Matthew has had in San Francisco, but were new to me. Lots of guacamole. had fajitas yesterday with corn tortillas, one red and one blue. yummy. We hit the market here in Antigua on Monday, whch has both crafts and fruits and vegetables. then found a grocery store for what we really need.
Hardly anyone here speaks English, so I´m pretty much lost. They all speak to me as if I understand... maybe I just look intelligent. Or they mistake a blank look for that.
We ate at an Italian place Mon night which had big decorations on the walls and ceilings....very Italian. Matthew wondered during dinner what we should do if there was ever an earthquake while we´re here since apparently they´re quite common, being as there are many volcanos. Not more than 20 minutes later, the rolling started. We both stood up to get away from windows and anything above us that could fall. It lasted quite awhile, but stayed mild. The standing candles near us were swaying....and the people who work there acted like nothing was happening! At the time of the earthquake, we were the only patrons still in the restaurant, so it was us and the wait-staff. Guess it was normal to them. And here we were the San Franciscans, jumping up and looking for places to hide!

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    Part II:
    We went twice to a new restaurant in town...only open 5 months. The chef-owner is from New York. It´s called Bistrot Cinq at 4a calle oriente no. 7, and has an interesting menu of duck, escargot, etc. I had a steak and my husband ordered a burger....both with their frites, which they´re known for. I don´t know how they make these skinny fries, but they were the best I´ve tasted. The owner came over and introduced himself because we´d been raving about his food and the service. He´s really trained his staff, which is great since they aren´t as good anywhere else. He also has a sushi place here and imports his fish from Japan. We didn't have a chance to try it. We both highly recommend a visit to this restaurant.
    We drove to a small town near Antigua...San Antonio de Aguas Calientes. We only got a little lost and wound up at the real hot springs first. The town is known for its textiles and the women who sit and do back-strap weaving while you shop. They jump up from their weaving as soon as you get near their stalls to show you what they´ve made. They do mostly traditional weavings and most look pretty similar. Each hanging takes a month to make. We saw one woman finishing hers and taking it off the loom. We ended up buying something from the 84 year old weaver who seemed pretty desperate to make a sale.
    Had a fabulous lunch there in the least fancy place we´ve been in. Homemade food by mama and served by the kids. She made chiles rellenoes, which are nothing like we know...more meat filling and no cheese, guacamole, rice and homemade tortillas. delicioso.
    My Spanish hasn´t improved here, but Matthew´s has.
    For dinner, we decided to try this well known place called Pollo Campero. It´s their version of Kentucky Fried, but supposedly better. It actually was better.....but I´ve now done that and don´t need to do it again. We NEVER have fast food at home, so this was a funny turn of events for us to try it. They have a guard who stands at the door and who also walked around and told ladies not to hang their purses on the backs of their chairs. I don't know if that made me feel safer or not.
    On Thurs, we drove to Atitlan Lake, which is about 3 hours from Antigua. They have some great roads that lead to lousey roads where they´re working and stopping traffic at scheduled times for about 30 min. And since we didn´t know the schedule....we got to sit. I was knitting baby booties (not for me, for selling at an art show), and had the vendors who were selling their own wares stop and look. One older man was fascinated by my knitting with double pointed needles, so we ¨talked¨shop and I showed him what I was doing.
    The lake is beautiful, surrounded by 3 volcanoes. It´s up in elevation, much like Lake Tahoe. We had lunch in Panajachel, a little lake town also known for textiles.
    Then we went to a nature reserve--Reserva Naturel et Atitlan and got a room for the night. It´s an awesome place with a butterfly farm, monkey area, and a private beach area. We walked all over and got to feed the monkeys. You buy bananas from the reserve´s main area, then walk in to where they live. They have an electrified fence so no one goes in and they don´t get out, but they live in the wild swinging from the trees. Yhey have 5 spider monkeys, and the next morning we got up early and brought more bananas and let them take them out of our hands.
    The room was rustic looking in a building away from the main one. Only people who are staying can go there....behind the large king bed and in the shower stall was a slanted rock wall and a separate twin bed was suspended by cables. Cool sitting outside listening to the birds and all. Saw some beautiful birds as well.
    Didn´t mention the actual driving which Matthew does well. They have ´chicken buses´that many locals take and they drive like bats out of hell. Everyone passes everyone else regardless of where it is...like on the hills and around the corners. Didn´t see any accidents, so it seems to work for them, but wow....even the buses pass you!
    Am glad we spent the night up there since it took a long time to drive and we had a chance to unwind before getting back on the road. The landscape is interesting--all light-colored volcanic ash hillsides.
    I have to mention, but will try not to editorialze on the many white couples we saw adopting babies in Guatemala. If anyone can explain this to me or give me more information, I'd appreciate it. I came away bothered by it--and did not feel the same way in other countries.
    We enjoyed the beautiful, bright colors of Guatemala, some of which are hanging now on our walls in Calilfornia.

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    Great report. Brought back lots of memories.

    If you go back to Antigua check out Nifu Nifa. it is an Argentine restaurant and has the most wonderful steaks. La Serena is another place to eat that has a roof top terrace with beautiful views of the volcanos.

    Regarding the babies. Antigua is full of women waiting for the adoption process to go through. It can take several weeks. I guess the adoption processes are a little easier although in some areas of the country the native people aren't happy about it. My sister in law adopted a baby boy from there about 19-20 years ago. He is a great kid and after visiting Guatemala for the first time 2 years ago we were amazed at what a little nutrition can do for those kids. He is fairly tall compared to most of the Guatemalans that you see there.

    We ended up returning the very next year because we fell in love with the country. Can't wait to get back again.

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