Sunday, June 26, 2016

Next up: A Trip to Asia

Two weeks ago, I moved home from Guatemala.  The actual leaving was tough; there was a lot of fear involved.  (And maybe that doesn’t make sense…fear?  When you’re moving home?  But yes, fear.  I could write a whole post about it, and maybe someday I will). 

Thankfully though, when I arrived back in Wisconsin, my sister and I immediately threw ourselves into the work of planning a month long trip in Asia.  We’d booked our flights a couple months ago, but not much else.  Where would we stay?  How would we get from place to place?  What did we want to see and do in each city/country? 

The planning, coupled with the typical summer gatherings with old friends, kept me busy and excited for the past two weeks—and being home hasn’t been a struggle so far at all!  The opposite, quite honestly. 

And now, suddenly, it’s the night before we leave. 

I look at the way I plan an overseas trip now versus the way I planned one three years ago.  My travel styles have changed, as has my budget. 

Three years ago, my sister Liz and I went on a backpacking trip through Europe.  Everything was budgeted.  We got a great deal on airfare, then purchased a Rail Pass and used it exclusively for our transportation.  We stayed in dorms in the cheaper hostels, and couch surfed or stayed with friends when we could.  We were on a strict budget per day, and we didn’t go over it. 

This year, we are going to Asia.  We’ve already spent double on transportation.  (Partly because the initial flight was so much longer and more expensive…and partly because we’re flying between each major destination.  When it comes to the decision between $30 for an 18 hour bus ride or $150 for a 5 hour plane ride, we choose flight.  We have the money—why not be comfortable?)    When it comes to booking lodging, we don’t even consider the hostel if a private room is not available.  (We do still lean towards hostels versus hotels, though).  We’ve become high-class travelers.  …Sort of. 

The way I packed was different this trip, too.  When we went to Europe, I looked through my closet and picked out a few pieces I already owned that I thought would help me “fit in with locals.”  I brought skirts, a couple of dresses, a pair of flats, and “city tennis shoes.”  And what I realized in Europe was that there’s nothing wrong with looking like a backpacker, and tons of people just dressed comfortably.  After all, I wasn’t a local, and I found no particular advantage to looking like one.  So for Asia, I kept in mind what will keep me comfortable in extreme heat, and I went out and bought pretty much an entire new wardrobe for the trip.  Loose fitting, patterned shirts, the first true jean shorts I’ve owned in probably close to 10 years, and dry-fit workout tops that could pass as casual tops in normal company.  I'm also bringing real shoes, and Keens... this trip will hopefully involve a lot more hiking and a lot fewer cathedrals (more temples, though, I'm sure) than our European trip included.  Not having left yet, I can’t say whether I did an ace packing job or not…but I’ll weigh in after we return. 

For now…my backpack is packed, I’ve got podcasts and books downloaded for the plane ride, my headphones are ready, and it’s time for bed before tomorrow’s long flights. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Coban 21K 2016

Since moving to Guatemala and expressing my interest in running half marathons, all I’ve heard is that the race to run is the Coban 21K.  The past two years, the dates haven’t worked out; I’ve been in Tennessee for DI Global Finals the day of the race.  This year though, finally, I was able to run the race the day before leaving for Globals. 

It, of course, turned into something of an adventure. 

On Friday, Karina and I got coverage for our classes in order to leave school early (1:30pm) and avoid the Friday afternoon traffic as much as possible.  The strategy was pretty successful, but we encountered some road construction and slow trucks we were unable to pass, so the drive still took a while, and we were set to arrive after dark.  We probably never would have found our hostel if Annette and Joel hadn’t been braving the way ahead of us.  Our directions had us driving another 2 miles after the place we were actually supposed to turn. 

Thankfully, Annette texted us some very helpful directions.  We turned just after the sign for a small village, up an unmarked road that soon turned from paved to dirt.  We followed this in the darkness, and when we came to a fork in the road, we trusted our gut and took the path to the right, thinking it looked like there were more lights up ahead in that direction.  We didn’t see anything resembling a hotel until—there—twinkle lights, up in the distance.  That had to signal hospitality, and sure enough, it was the place we were staying in.  We arrived just after 7pm, and were in bed early (after the host at the hotel whipped up some yogurt and fruit and eggs and beans for us for dinner—the only things she had on hand (but we were outside of the city and didn’t want to leave to find dinner elsewhere)). 

Our hotel.  No signs, but a really beautiful place! 

The next day, we attended the expo to pick up our race packets.  The walk to get them included walking past a certain building where approximately 30 men were working on the roof.  Now, getting whistles or mild cat calls in Guatemala is common, as it is in most Latin American countries.  But I have never experienced the like of what happened when we passed those men.  The chorus of whistles continued ceaselessly as we walked by; who knew 5 white girls could cause so much commotion?! 

After the expo, we went on an adventure to find a place called Grutas del Rey Marcos, a series of caves that also had a swimming area (the weather was stifling) in a natural stream and a restaurant.  The road was a bit rocky to get there, and included one random stretch of beautiful pavement that ended after we passed through the village, which we thought was odd.  The drive was worth it though, as the place ended up being quite beautiful.  We didn’t go into the caves, but took a walk up the hill where the water cascaded down through the forest.  Karina and Annette took a dip (by this time, the rain clouds were rolling in and the rest of us didn’t feel hot enough to get into the frigid water anymore), and we headed back to the city.

For dinner, we planned to go to Annette’s favorite restaurant in Coban.  I had heard rave reviews of this place for the past year.  The food, my friends said, was amazing, and the dessert was even better.  Since we had a feeling the restaurant would fill fast, we went early, arriving at the eatery at about 5:30pm.  However, waiters in the restaurant told us that the restaurant was closed for at least 2 hours, that they had apparently run out of food and supplies (seriously?  That happens to restaurants right before dinner hour?).  So, disgruntled (we saw people inside eating through the windows…), we wandered to the center square.  None of us knew of any other good restaurants within walking distance in the city, and so we ended up trudging into a hotel with a restaurant.  We saw a lamb roasting, which looked promising, and entered the dining room to take a table.  The waiter came over and graciously explained they only offered the buffet that night.  We asked what would be on the buffet.  Pasta.  We weren’t very excited about it, but as Kerrah chimed repeatedly, “Eat pasta, run fasta’!”  The lamb, the waiter told us, wouldn’t be ready for another hour and a half.  Oh well.  We went up to the pasta bar, grabbed our plates, and discovered…they were out of pasta.  Ha!  We filled up on salad and mashed potatoes while we waited for the next batch of spaghetti to come out.   And, as it turned out, we sat enjoying a leisurely dinner long enough that the lamb was ready before we left, and our timing led us to believe our first restaurant might be open for business.  We decided to stop in for dessert.  We ended up taking it to go because they were “full,” (again, we could spot empty tables…). 

Anyway.  We enjoyed our desserts in the peace and tranquility of Annette and Joel’s hotel.  Then we left to get back to our hotel for an early bedtime; we needed to be fresh for race day!

At 5:30am on Sunday morning, Karina was up and moving around the room.  Our plan was to leave at 6:00am to ensure we’d find a parking spot before the race started at 7:30. 

“Um…so the door is locked.  But not actually locked.  Like it’s broken.  Anyway, we can’t get out,” Karina told us. 
Every day needs its little emergency. 

With the help of a text from Annette, we obtained the phone number of the woman owning our hotel, called her, and she sent someone up to free us from our room.  Meanwhile, Karina examined the balcony of our 3rd floor room and told us we’d have to jump down, swing on to the 2nd floor balcony, and then jump to the ground.  The prospects of landing without broken limbs did not seem promising.  We focused on the banging and tinkering now coming from the opposite side of the door instead. 

The view, leaning over our balcony, to the
2nd floor balcony and the ground below
After about fifteen minutes, the door handle was dismantled, the door taken apart, and we were free.  We made it to the race in plenty of time. 

The race itself was a great experience.  There were so many runners and spectators and such positive energy surrounding all of us.  The route was essentially just out and back, so at about Mile 3, the first place runner passed me going the other direction.  There was a bit of commotion and cheering from the runners around me and the people watching on the street.  But when, minutes later, the first Guatemalan runner sprinted by in 5th place, the cheer that went up from everyone around me was nearly deafening.  The national pride actually brought tears to my eyes. 

I finished the race in a respectable time, considering I hadn’t trained properly, knew it, and still broke the cardinal rule of distance running by starting too fast.  I was content with the result, and the experience. 

After the race, we had a quick lunch, then took off to make it back to the city, where I unpacked, repacked, went out to dinner, and then fell into bed, ready to get up at 3:30am the next day to leave for the DI trip to Tennessee (see previous post about all that).