“I’ll take my hot chocolate without the sacrificial blood, thanks.” The Conclusion of the Guatemala trip.

Continued from Five Nights in Antigua, Guatemala and What to Do in Antigua, Guatemala.

After an afternoon of exploring ruins, we got ready for the wedding which was held at the Porta Hotel in Antigua. Lili faced a major challenge in that she wanted a Catholic ceremony, but it was not being held in a church. Locating a priest that would perform it proved to be a challenge. Everything else was already in place and she had purchased a dress more than a year before, but she explained to me that in Guatemala it is considered strange to wear the wedding gown if you have a civil ceremony, rather than religious. Fortunately an old family friend turned priest was able to perform the ceremony.

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The next morning we miraculously rose early considering each table came equipped with bottles of rum and whisky. Semana Santa, or Holy Week, was approaching and we had learned that in the weeks leading up to it — Lent — there were processions on Sundays.

I had experienced Semana Santa in Spain several years ago. The processions were interesting, but after a solid week of trying to navigate around them to get anywhere in Sevilla (I was taking language courses for a couple months) it was wearing thin. I know I shouldn’t complain about getting first hand experience with an incredible cultural experience, but I need clear access to Zara and Promod at all times. Don’t you judge me! I was also late to class.

Our experience in Guatemala worked out perfectly. The insanity and deluge of Guatemalans and tourists from all over had not yet arrived in Antigua, but we still got to see the Catholic celebration. In fact, we got to see something even better — the preparations. The streets are prepared with beautiful alfombras, or carpets, of sawdust, flowers and pine straw before the processions arrive with the heavy floats carried on the shoulders of the men, or cucuruchos, who have been selected for this honor. Women in the procession are called Las Dolorosas.

From the cutting of flowers to the watering of pine straw to the use of power tools  and stencils to lay colorful sawdust, it was incredible to see hours of work, faith and dedication put into making something beautiful that would be trampled out of existence when the procession passed by.

If you’ve been bypassing my other photo galleries, please look through this one. Photos don’t do it justice, but it was really incredible.

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Chris and I had lunch at La Antigua Vineria. The pizza was delish and  authentic. To add to the ambience was a man — owner maybe? — watching an Italian news channel. Chris wasn’t able to enjoy it so much as his stomach was a little off.

IMG_4467We returned to the hotel so he could rest while I drank coffee and read. We ate dinner at the hotel again that night — this time with reservations so we were able to be seated outside.

Chris still wasn’t feeling great so he struggled to enjoy his risotto.

But we did have a lovely view of the small lap pool.

Asian pork ribs with soy sauce, ginger, star anise and sweet potato.
Asian pork ribs with soy sauce, ginger, star anise and sweet potato.

I wondered whether anyone ever really swam in it. Though pretty, it was literally a lap pool. Tables sat alongside it and a sign requested that guests refrain from swimming during restaurant hours.  For my amusement, I considered swimming laps like an Olympic swimmer as it would inevitably lead to diners being splashed.

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IMG_4475Chris’s stomach issues did not improve during the night. Just the opposite. I was on my own the next day for the chocolate tour at Choco Museo. I participated in the chocolate making workshop which takes you through the history of chocolate in Guatemala and the chocolate making process.

The first thing we made was chocolate tea from the shells of the cacao beans. Then we made spicy and bitter hot chocolate as the Mayans would have — sort of. They would actually put blood in it. I was taking the class with another couple and when the teacher asked the husband to prick his finger, she was so deadpan, I actually had a moment of panic in which I actually questioned the possibility that I wasn’t going to get any hot chocolate because some dude from Massachusetts was going to have to donate DNA. My chocolate lust has often been known to cloud my judgment and  sense of reality. Instead we just used chili powder. We also stirred as the Mayans would have, pouring from jug to jug. One more thing I lack the coordination for as you can see from the progression of these photos.

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IMG_4510Next we made hot chocolate as the Europeans adapted it — meaning sweeter. And we ended by making our own chocolates to take home. While my chocolates cooled and hardened in the fridge, I walked back to the hotel to check on Chris. He wasn’t much IMG_4511interested in getting out of bed, so I got some coffee and read a book on the patio until it was time to wander back into town and collect my chocolates. I did some last-day gift shopping as well, including a colorful hand-made wooden mixer truck for Connor.

I made one last sweep through the markets before grabbing some lunch at a Korean joint. Yes, I ate Korean while in Guatemala. What can I say? I didn’t plan it — it just popped up in front of me.

Who can say no to bibimbap?
Who can say no to bibimbap?

As we left Antigua the next morning we saw our first clear shot of the volcano hovering above the town. It had been surrounded by clouds until that point, but the sun finally burned through. And then it was gone out of sight, our quest to get a picture unfulfilled.

We arrived at the airport only for me to become enraged that I was unable to take my big bag of tamales, chuchitos and salsa with me. In ‘Murica our signs just say no guns or explosives.

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I burned through the last of our quetzales shoveling airport-hocked handicrafts into my bag.

Our final Guatemalan adventure was at takeoff. Just as the plane was nearly completely boarded, it was announced we had to get off as the airport had closed. This immediately triggered my anxiety. Airports don’t just close. Clearly there was a security issue and of course I was thinking of terrorism. Everyone began to file off and the flight attendants — who look nothing like the dolls Delta hocks —

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were clearly unsure how to proceed. They began checking boarding passes, then taking them, then returning them and checking them again. We were alerted that the airport had closed due to a security issue on the other side. Someone somewhere made the call that our flight could go, but it had to be ASAP or we would be stuck. So everyone filed back on and we were cleared for takeoff. This is the kind of stuff that rattles me and it happened to be the same day as the Germanwings crash. Had I known about that at the time, I told Chris he’d probably still be clutching his stomach in Central America.

But the flight back to Atlanta was uneventful.

“Why does coming home make you so cranky?” Chris asked me as my mood had soured quickly upon landing.

The travel beast has been reawakened.

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What to do in Antigua, Guatemala

Continued from Five Nights in Antigua, Guatemala

Chris and I woke the next morning, still slightly rattled from the robbery, but still excited for the day’s activities. After I massaged the bruise developing on my butt from landing in the street, we headed to the dining room for a Guatemalan breakfast, which was included with our room.

My favorite thing, besides the coffee of course, was the chuchito — corn dough, meat and tomato salsa wrapped in a corn husk.

IMG_4522IMG_4523Then we headed over to the other hotel to meet Gaby and David, friends from back home that I met through Lili. We were booked for the coffee tour and zip lining through Finca Filadelfia. An adapted unimog truck picked everyone up at 10 and we rattled over the cobblestone streets of Antigua, frequently seeming like we would scrape other cars, but somehow squeezing through.

The zip line was first. This was my third time zip lining (previously in Costa Rica and North Georgia), but the first time I didn’t have to do my own braking as I approached the platform, which made it easier to focus on the views.

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IMG_4237We grabbed some lunch on the property afterward while waiting for the coffee tour to start. I was quite surprised by the coffee tour. I love coffee, but I can’t say I expected the tour to be as interesting as it was. I’ve been on a few winery tours to learn about my other beloved beverage, but tend to lose interest after gazing at a couple of oak barrels — take me to the tasting! But coffee was actually much more interesting to me. The guide took us out on the property and we saw the process from start to finish. I was surprised to learn that while most countries can just grow the Arabica coffee plant, Guatemalan soil isn’t well suited. They graft the more resilient roots of a bitter robusta coffee plant to the tastier Arabica tops.

We wandered through the plants and were allowed to pick some IMG_4241coffee beans right off the branches. There is a method to doing this without messing up the bean. Yes, I messed all mine up. We eventually worked our way through the drying, roasting and packaging, including the opportunity to wear hairnets. I suggested Chris wear two as a safety precaution.

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Naturally this all ended with the sampling of an incredible cup of coffee. I took a couple of smooth enjoyable sips, but couldn’t resist dropping some sugar in when nobody was looking. I change for no one.

Thousands and thousand of coffee beans drying in the sun — such beauty.

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I snapped a couple photos of some local girls collecting and shelling beans.

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We returned to town as the wedding rehearsal finished, grabbing a drink in the hotel lobby. Did I manage to talk Chris into dinner out? That would be a hell no. But we did have a fabulous meal at our hotel where I dined on the penne pesto picante with shrimp kebab.IMG_4253

The next day was the wedding, so we spent the afternoon exploring the many ruins in Antigua. An earthquake devastated the city in 1773, ending its reign as capital. Some of the must-see sites include Casa Santa Domingo, the cathedral of San Jose, Iglesia y Convento de las Capuchinas and catedral de Santiago. This list is a pretty good compilation of things to see.

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My next post will cover the rest of the trip, but for now I leave you with this image taken at Iglesia de San Francisco. It really made me appreciate modern day access to the epidural.

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Five nights in Antigua, Guatemala

It was more than a year ago that Chris and I were having lunch at Mac McGee’s in Historic Roswell and the topic of Lili and George came up. Lili is a good friend that moved to Barcelona back in 2008, and in 2011, Chris and I had met her and her Dutch boyfriend George in Florence, Italy for two-weeks of stuffing our faces with the best food on Earth. We wondered if there might be an engagement any time soon. Twenty minutes later on the drive home, I received a text that George popped the question while they were visiting her family in Guatemala.

Since Lili is originally from Guatemala City, I finally got to dust off my passport which has sat lonely and unused in the fireproof safe since Connor was born.

IMG_4180We flew Delta direct from Atlanta to Guatemala City, meeting up with Angel, another old friend who was connecting from Florida. Chris and I shared our row with a Guatemalan that hadn’t been home for 10 years. A casual business or pleasure question revealed that his daughter had paid for his trip because he had been battling depression over a job loss. He was surprising his family who had no idea he was coming, as well as an online girlfriend he’d never met. I really hope that went well — especially the girlfriend part. He was texting before we hit the ground and she told him she had a “weird feeling.” “Premonition?” I joked. I hope that turned into a positive feeling whenever he dropped it on her that he was about to show up. Very nice guy…just not the conversation you expect when being polite. Angel, on the other hand, had a whole row to herself and sprawled out unconscious.

Lili had booked us transportation to Antigua, so the car met us outside baggage claim to make the roughly 45-minute trip.

I booked five nights at Panza Verde Hotel in Antigua, Guatemala, just around the corner from the hotel where Lili was staying and having her wedding. I was enamored by the pictures on their website and I wasn’t disappointed. Especially when they put a fresh, fruity welcome drink in my hand. I was very pleased with our stay. One particular woman that worked the desk was especially attentive to our questions and booking our reservations. Our only somewhat negative experience was when we decided to eat dinner at our hotel last minute. We knew we didn’t have reservations, but as all the outdoor seating was available, and it was early by latin standards, we hoped we’d be able to be seated. A man was working the desk and his manner left something to be desired. Since we did not have reservations, we could only eat inside. We accepted that expecting the tables must be set to fill soon. But when we finished our meal, they still sat empty and didn’t fill until later in the evening. His manner left me with a bad taste and the feeling that he was teaching us a lesson for not planning ahead. Granted, I will say I have never worked in a restaurant and there may be insider info I don’t know to the logistics of running one, but it rubbed me the wrong way.  But aside from him, I recommend a stay there.

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Chris and I set out to explore. The first day was pretty casual…just walking the streets until we ran into Lili.

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On recommendation from Lili’s brother, we stopped for a bite at Restaurante Mono Loco. We ordered nachos — to share, thankfully — since the plate was as big as my head x 3. I also developed an affinity for Gallo Guatemalan beer, which is available in the States as Famosa.

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We then returned to the hotel to sprawl out and rest before meeting the group for drinks at Lili’s hotel.

At this point, I should probably backtrack a little. Traveling to places like Guatemala, Cambodia, Thailand, etc. is my style. I love Europe and I have done a lot of traveling there, but it is definitely more in Chris’ comfort zone. Had it not been for the wedding, I’m not sure I could have sold Chris on the idea.

His primary concern was safety. Stuff happens everywhere, but he definitely was a little more concerned on this trip.  Me, not so much. Safety should always be of concern, but I’ve been extraordinarily lucky in that I’ve never had anything stolen, and petty crime warnings for travelers persist anywhere you go. Unless there is a major concern for bodily harm, I accept it as the way things are.

The guidebook had warned about being out after dark. When the group decided to go get dinner after drinks, Chris was hesitant. We were still full from the nachos, but I wanted to go for at least one drink, then we could head back since we were tired anyway (suffering from toddler-lag if you will).

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As we headed back, passing through the square I even said to Chris, “See, it’s fine.”

Within 10 minutes, years of traveling luck ran out. I had switched from my usual duffel bag (as Chris calls my purses) to a small purse worn across my body. Everywhere I looked, people were carrying large bags. I even saw tourists toting around designer labels, which I wouldn’t do anywhere but home. Well, I mean, if I had any designer labels. We were cautious of other pedestrians, but as we reached a corner, I stepped to the edge to prepare to cross. Suddenly there was a car right in front of me, perhaps an inch from my body. There was this immense pressure pulling me that I couldn’t process. It wasn’t until I was l lying in the street that I realized the passenger had grabbed my purse at chest level and pulled until it broke, dragging me with them. Fortunately it snapped before I got dragged under the car or otherwise seriously hurt. As the proper smart phone addict that I am, I immediately patted my pocket and began stammering about how “at least they didn’t get my phone!”

He left nasty fingerprints all over my shirt.
He left nasty fingerprints all over my shirt. This photo doesn’t do it justice.

In fact, all they got was my driver’s license (I thought, well at least I can get a picture now that isn’t as bad as that one. I was wrong about that, I learned at the DMV upon my return), my ATM card, which was cancelled within 15 minutes, and my lip gloss (a**holes).

But the most significant thing they took from me was my ability to ever convince Chris to travel outside his comfort zone or think I’m right ever again.

We didn’t let that ruin the trip though. I just chalk it up to my luck running out. It was bound to happen someday — well, getting something stolen. I did not have plans to be dragged by some creep hanging out of a car, but at least I have a story. I’m just glad it wasn’t on one of my solo trips.

Part 2 — What to do in Antigua, Guatemala coming soon!

 

Pesky Questionnaire Problems for Special Needs

Connor has aged out of early intervention and will go into the school system where he can attend a special needs pre-school. You know what that means! Paperwork! Like this transition isn’t hard enough. Not only is it less time with my baby, but do you know how early schools start?! I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. Connor is a great sleeper. When he wakes up during the night, he typically entertains himself until he falls back to sleep. For this reason I have been able to consistently sleep until 8 every morning (arising even then only because of the necessity of meds) while your toddlers were screaming for whiny Caillou by 6:30. I can’t believe I have to give this up.

At any rate, I’m sitting here filling out ratings scales on my kid. But sometimes

0 for not true/Never/Seldom

1 for just a little true/Occasionally

2 for pretty much true/often/quite a bit

3 for very much true/very often/very frequently

just isn’t sufficient to answer the question. So I will instead provide short answer responses to the questions that I think need further explanation.

Is odd or unusual. Well ya’ll just jumped right in there didn’t you? What does that mean? Define odd or unusual. My son is not the typical three-year-old thanks to tuberous sclerosis complex, epilepsy and ASD, but odd or unusual? He loves trucks, books and puzzles. Not odd or unusual. Has been able to listen to All About that Bass more than 1,087 times without getting sick of it or trying to throw himself out of the car window. Very odd and unusual.

****

Gets invited to parties or playdates. He’s three. This question is clearly about me and my social skills. Three-year-old social lives  are very dependent on whether mommy can put up a front that she’s sane in front of other people. And whether my friends provide alcoholic beverages at kiddie functions.

****

Acts before thinking. He’s three. I’m 34 and still trying to master this. I almost punched a girl in Kroger just because she mentioned attending an Ariana Grande concert while blocking my path to the Gerber Graduates.

*****

Is perfect in every way. Ooooh, you’re testing me again!

*****

Behaves like an angel. So basically this questionnaire is fodder to talk shit about me in the teacher’s lounge.

*****

Has trouble keeping friends. Well if his toddler buddies would stop taking HIS toys it would really bridge a gap. Or if he’d stop taking theirs. Or if the kid in the therapy waiting room wasn’t looking at HIS fish in HIS tank he wouldn’t have needed to push his head away.

*****

Is happy for others when something good happens to them. Well he doesn’t understand abstract ideas, only what he can see in front of his face. I’m sure if he understood graduations and promotions he’d be delighted for the recipients, but as of now, he’d much rather see you fall down or sneeze. But now that you mention it, he was pretty damn indifferent when I crushed his Daddy at Trivia Crack.

 

The scary thing is that I think Connor fares better on this scale than I do.

I’ve been informed that the way I eat candy bars is odd and unusual. (In sections, I eat off the surrounding chocolate and then eat the center).

Most of the stuff I get invited to these days is kid-related.

I probably should have thought to put a mug under the Keurig before turning it on.

The friends have been fading away. As much my fault as theirs. It’s not something I want, I just don’t have the energy to force myself out sometimes.. Have I been telling you we should meet for a drink? I actually mean it, I just need a kick in the butt. Relationships change. Sometimes when the gulf opens, I don’t know how to cross it.

Sometimes I’m happy for others. Other times I want you to admit you gave your kid a banana that wasn’t really organic. Or that your child didn’t recite Pi to the 1,000th place at 18 months.

But I am a perfect angel. So I guess that’s something.

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