Friday, January 15, 2016

New Year, New Experiences

I didn't set a New Year's resolution this year, but perhaps I should have resolved to write more consistently in this blog.  Already two weeks have passed, I've experienced two beautiful weekends, and I've written nothing.

So let's recap.  
This year being my last in Guatemala, I felt I should spend more of my winter break vacations in the country than out of it.  Since I had never spent New Years in Guatemala, I decided witnessing the celebration would be worth it.  So I came back on the 30th, and on the 31st, was on my way to Antigua with three girlfriends to celebrate the coming of the new year.  

I have to admit, I was nervous about New Years in Antigua.  I don't love crowds, I don't love rowdy parties, and the last time I tried to enjoy a night out in Antigua, I was sick of the scene by 10pm and in bed by 11.  New Year's Eve, I assumed, would be worse.

Thankfully, I was wrong.  My friends and I had a great time.  The afternoon was beautiful, and we enjoyed great food, beautiful weather, and a clear view of the surrounding volcanoes.  As the sun set, the weather stayed warm.  We wandered along the arch street enjoying the festivities taking place there, ate street food for dinner, and met up with several groups of friends throughout the night.  At midnight, we were standing in the street below the arch, watching it all lit up for the occasion, counting down with the masses.  Then the sky lit up with fireworks, and our celebration continued.  

The next morning, I bid my friends good bye and set off on my own for Panajachel at Lake Atitlan.  I'd been invited to stay a few days with a friend’s family in their cottage there.  At the lake, too, the weather was idylłic.  The whole weekend was idyllic.  I spent my time there catching up with my friend, meeting family members and new friends, relaxing, listening to stories of their family history, practicing Spanish, eating great food, reminiscing, and going on new adventures.  Everything about the setting was beautiful and peaceful, and my memories of the weekend are wrapped in a pink and gold hues--the warm colors of the sunset over the water, the bougainvillea hanging over the front walk, the accessories adorning the cozy house.  

I was sad to leave Panajachel on Sunday afternoon, but happy to get back into the routine of teaching and living in my own house.  

The next weekend brought another adventure.  On Sunday morning, I was up before the sun, my backpack packed and my trail shoes on my feet.  I think perhaps people have to be a little crazy to be my friends, because it had been ridiculously easy to convince my friend to sign up for a race up the volcano Agua which towers over Antigua.  “So, I know you haven't been training recently due to your surgery last month, and that you haven't gone running in ages, but how would you feel about signing up for this 21k race that goes up Agua with me?”  And he said, remarkably, “Sure, let's do it.”  

So we did.  We pulled in to the small town of Santa Maria de Jesus just before 7am and drove in circles on the narrow streets, trying to find a parking spot.  Eventually, we did.  After waiting in line to pick up our race packets, and then waiting some more in the chilly air, the race finally began around 8:15am.  Our intention was not to race, obviously.  One does not power up a 3000ft gain in elevation when one has not been training for it.  Still we started at a good pace, jogging until we got to the edge of town, then advancing at a power walk until the trail grew really steep.  We slowed as we climbed higher, stopping for more and more breaks and to enjoy the scenery and snap photos.  Still, we made good time, arriving at the summit after 4 ½ hours of walking.

The weather at the top was ideal.  It was warm and sunny, and we found ourselves well above a heady layer of clouds.  We perched on a few rocks and spent over an hour snacking, taking photos, and simply enjoying the view.  

The descent went quickly, both of us eager to be off the mountain and on our way to dinner, now that we had enjoyed the view and accomplished our goal.  We made it down in about 2 ½ hours, then set off for dinner in Antigua on our way home, before we returned to the city well after dark.  

My first two weekends back in Guatemala in 2016 were exceptionally well lived.  And I have no doubt the year will continue in this way.  I have every intention of filling my weekends, and my weeks for that matter, with culture, sightseeing, adventure, and beauty.  And now, I plan to write all about it, too.  

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