Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Backpacker's Paradise

A bunch of small villages ring Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, and each has its own flavor and reason to visit.  Some are tourist-free, some are transportation hubs (of lake traffic only), some tout themselves as yoga retreats, and some are hotspots for backpackers.  A friend of mine has been telling me about the glories of San Pedro, one of the towns which draws backpackers, for some time now, and Amy was itching to return after a very short visit in December.  So, when presented with a 3 day weekend in March, Amy and I booked a room with a view of the lake and set off to explore what San Pedro has to offer. 

After a beautiful 3 hour drive, we left our car in an overnight parking lot in Panajachel and took the public boat across the lake to San Pedro.  We stepped off the boat and set out to find our hotel on foot.  When we asked for directions, we were told, “first street…left…about an 8 minute walk.”  When the first street came to a dead end with no sign of our hotel, however, we poked our heads into another hotel and asked for directions again.  The woman working there didn’t know it, but she grabbed a patron who was relaxing in a hammock, and that woman popped up and said, “It’s really easy to get there, but really hard to explain.  I’m happy to just show you!”  So she took us through the magical alley we needed to find to get to the hotel and gave us directions.  After that—no problem!

view from the rooftop terrace of our hotel

Amy and I settled in, then explored the city for a bit.  We found a snack (the most amazing guacamole I have had in a long while) and a table perched out over the lake at a place called Sublime, where drinks were cheap and the view was good.  We wandered around the city, reading the advertisements for drink specials and live music, browsing the menus posted outside each door, and trying to remember the names of the restaurants my friend had recommended as his favorites. 

Stopping for an afternoon snack

For dinner, we took the recommendation of the woman who had shown us to our hotel and visited a place called Ventana Blue.  After dinner (which ended up being rather late, so it was close to 9:30 when we finished eating), we set off in search of live music—preferably upbeat live music to keep us awake. 

We ended up back at Sublime, where we’d discovered the tasty guacamole earlier.  A ska band from the city was performing there.  They were quite good, and we listened to them from the comfort of a giant bean bag chair (determined to dance when the dance floor got full…but then contenting ourselves with watching until the very end).  For some reason it didn’t seem to me that a ska band would exist in Guatemala, much less perform their songs in Spanish, though I guess I’m not sure why I thought that.  I really enjoyed listening to them.

We retired early that night, which enabled us to get up at a reasonable hour the next morning.  We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at our hotel, made even more leisurely by the exceptionally slow service.  Though…I should clarify.  The food didn’t take that long to reach us.  It was the coffee.  Each cup was prepared individually, and after ordering, we watched 8 people get their coffee before us.  It was the first time in my life my food has ever arrived before my coffee. 
I’m not complaining, really.  Rather, it sort of amused me.

After breakfast, we explored the town a bit more, venturing up the hill and away from the tourist locales.  We found a beautiful square where we relaxed for a bit.  Then, we headed back to the tourist zone with a goal in mind: book massages for ourselves for the day.  The purpose of the weekend was to relax, after all.  A massage sounded fantastic. 

The town square

Street leading down to the dock

We soon realized that we wouldn’t be able to book our massages for the same time at the same place, because only one masseuse worked at each place.  This was easily solved, however, by booking for the same time at two separate places and meeting back up afterwards.   We returned to the hotel utterly relaxed, and with almost perfect timing, as our friends Chris and Brendan had arrived from the city by that time and met us near our hotel. 

Later that afternoon, we savored mango pie on cushions sitting on the grass behind a little cafĂ© and chatted about nothing in particular.  We relaxed the day’s light away, enjoying each other’s’ company and the beauty of where we were. 

Picnic at a cafe!  Definitely a hippie sort of town.

Mango pie and homemade yogurt.
First time I'd ever had mango pie...it's as delicious as you would imagine.

In the evening, we found an establishment with games to play, and we sat facing the lake and playing Cranium, sipping fruity drinks.  We ate dinner later at a place called El Barrio that truly felt like a slice of home—the food wasn’t memorable, but the staff was friendly and willing to share a story, and the atmosphere was relaxed and welcoming.  From there we moved to a place booming with techno dance music.  I firmly believe that dancing is the most fun when the goal is to look as ridiculous as possible, and that’s exactly how we danced that night. 

By the time we left, I had exhausted myself, and I fell into bed utterly content, happy to have spent the day with friends, exploring, laughing, relaxing, and dancing.  What more could you ask of a weekend?  

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Ball

I’ve been to plenty of formal dances in my lifetime.  Prom, weddings, “band formals,” homecoming celebrations…I’ve been there.  But there’s something about the word “ball” which makes an event infinitely more special. 

Last weekend, I attended the British Ball at the home of the British Ambassador to Guatemala.  It’s a fundraising event, and every year a large group of teachers from my school buy tickets and partake in a night of dressing up, eating good food, and lots and lots of dancing. 

It was my first year attending the ball, and I was supremely excited.  I was lucky enough to borrow a stunning gown from a friend.  In the afternoon, Steph and I went to a salon and got our hair done.  Then we returned to my house with Amy, and the three of us spent the next several hours modeling various shoes, getting dressed, and putting on make-up, all while blasting music throughout the house.  There’s nothing like some good girl bonding time before a big event. 

We arrived at the British residence shortly after 7pm, and after presenting our tickets at the gate, followed the trail of tiny lights to the back lawn where tables were set elaborately for the several hundred guests who would attend.  We were soon met by friends, and we took time before dinner to take copious pictures of each other in our finery and posing in front of the pirate ship photo booth.  The theme for the night was “fantasy and fairy tales,” and while very few teachers dressed up, there were others decked out as British fantasy characters.

Teachers making pirate faces.

The event officially started with fireworks, as all serious events in Guatemala seem to.  We oohed and aahed, then moved towards the tables for dinner—a delicious four course affair including a salad with tiny gold beads of sugar, crisp asparagus served with potatoes and either beef tenderloins or cheese tortellini, and tiny bites of dessert. 

After the meal, a raffle, and a costume contest (which our friend Dennis easily won with his knight of the round table costume), the dancing began.    Time flew by quickly as we (literally) danced the night away.  The music was great, the company fantastic, and we all had a great time.  All of a sudden, it was 3am, and we looked around to find that the crowd had drastically thinned.  For us, it was time to go home, tired and content. 

Dennis (in his award winning costume) and I

I may not have worn glass slippers or met my prince at the ball, but dressing up and being treated like royalty, I certainly felt like a princess for the night.  

Monday, March 10, 2014

Unplanned Perfection

Some weekend activities you plan and look forward to for weeks.  Sometimes, the plans fall into your lap the day of, and the day turns into one of the best in a long while. 

Saturday afternoon, I was invited to hang out at the rooftop pool of my friend Chris’s new apartment building.  So I grabbed my towel and sunglasses, and approximately half an hour later, I stepped off the elevator onto the 15th floor and into the sunshine to be greeted by my friends and a spectacular view of Guatemala City. 

I crossed the wood floors, took in the view of comfortable patio furniture, the bar, the fire pit, the hot tub and the infinity pool overlooking the city skyline.  After shedding my outer layers, I dipped my toes into the pool to find it to be heated.  I am not sure I recall the last time I had the luxury of a heated pool. 

We spent the entire afternoon floating, laughing, soaking, lounging on the patio beds and basking in the sunshine, sitting at tables and munching on sushi, relishing in the view, and leaving our cares and worries behind us.  Surrounded by some of my favorite people, soaking in the sunshine, I felt the most relaxed and happy that I have in a long time.  Being on the rooftop felt more like being at a resort than on top of an apartment building.  Amy and I are already plotting how we might be able to make use of the space when Chris is out of town.  Who needs to escape the city on the weekend when you can go to the pool on the 15th floor? 

That evening, we went to our homes, showered and freshened up, then met up again and set off for Antigua.  After checking into our hotel and finding a quick meal, we met up with a group of friends to celebrate a birthday.  We danced until closing time, fended off men who wanted to dance with us and stuck together, ended the night with tacos, and fell into bed late.

Sunday morning, we woke up in good moods, laughing about little things—spiders and snoring and tacos that were tinier than expected.  We packed up our belongings and walking leisurely to Casa Santo Domingo, where I have been meaning to go for their brunch buffet for a long time. 

It was delicious.  The setting was beautiful and relaxing.  We ate too much, then took time to explore and enjoy the grounds and ruins that make up Casa Santo Domingo.  I have peeked around before, but never as extensively as Sunday.  We climbed stairs, were blessed with a stunning view of Volcan Agua atop the clouds, Volcan Fuego spewing smoke in the distance, of lush green hills and flowering plants.  We moved inside, discovered a jaw-dropping ballroom, a renovated chapel, a door to the gardens.  We took our time, taking moments to appreciate the beauty of the country in which we live. 

I took no photos this weekend.  I never had my camera with me, because I never expected to experience so many beautiful moments.  Sometimes the times you don’t happen to have your camera with you are the images and moments you’ll never forget.