Mama, I’m Coming Home

I’m sitting in my hotel room in Guatemala City right now and will be flying to New Jersey later on today.

It’s been an eye-opening 8 months and full of experiences I don’t expect I’d have found anywhere else in the world.

But now it’s time to head home. To see family. See some friends. And to drive a car again for the first time in 8 months. No more chicken buses.

And so, in the spirit of heading home, here are some songs about home.

Maybe it’s all the Pearl Jam concerts I’ve been to where the closing number was usually this song, or maybe it’s use in a few movies and television shows (notably Friends), but Pearl Jam’s Yellow Ledbetter has always felt like the end of something to me. The song has nothing to do with home, but when that guitar intro begins and I know that that it’s about to end. For now. 

Earthquakes and Power Outages

Woke up around 5:30 this morning to the house shuddering like crazy. Immediately made my way over to the doorway and rode out a 6.9-magnitude earthquake. Then I went back to bed and slept for a few more hours. Such is life in Guatemala.

The earthquake appears to have hit off the coast of Mexico and there are reported casualties in the San Marcos/San Pedro region of Guatemala (which is different from the San Marcos and San Pedro here in Lake Atitlán). We felt things here quite a bit and as I type this (some six hours later) we’re still without electricity, but I’ve yet to hear of any casualties in this area. I’m online thanks to a battery backup for the DSL modem and fully charged laptop.

I was living in the Seattle area when the 2001 Nisqually earthquake hit, which was a 6.8 magnitude but much closer to where I lived than this one. That one in 2001 lasted almost 45 seconds and shook the hell out of the apartment complex I was living in. I have no idea how long today’s lasted, but it was definitely the strongest since I’ve been here (there have been many small ones).

The property I live at sustained some damage, but it doesn’t appear to be anything critical or dangerous as of now. Most people are still assessing damage and it’ll be some days before we have an idea of how much it’ll cost to repair the damages around town.

For now, we’ve focused here on making sure all is safe and finding a way to get the generator up and running. When power outages like this occur there can be a run on gasoline at the few stations in the area. We’ve stocked up a bit and have roughly 6-10 hours worth of gas. However, upon trying to start the generator, the pull cord snapped. Ventura, the handyman of the place, tracked down some new cord and we’re up and running for the moment. I might even get to shower today.

Anyhow, although I’m busy calculating at what hour I need to make a decision on whether to eat all of the steak and ice cream that’s currently sitting in my freezer, I’m alive and well.

Travels & Tunes - Bryn

This latest playlist comes from Bryn Lumsden, former member of Fleet Foxes and owner of new Seattle watering hole, Damn the Weather.

Bryn’s background in music ensured that whatever list he provided would be chock full of interesting music. In his email with this list, Bryn noted that, “In the spirit of exploration, most of the tunes are outside the scope of what you and I have been talking about over the years.”

With just about half of the songs hailing from the 60’s and the other half being of a much more modern vintage, this list is certainly varied. Featuring Jazz Bosanova, Pop, R&B, Rock, Electronic Pop, Raggae, Punk, and more there should be something new here for all who read this blog. And true to form, I’d only heard one song on his list previously (Daft Punk’s Instant Crush).


Updates & Crowning Royalty

Wow, it has been a long time since I’ve posted. I’ve kept very busy here but computer problems have complicated my attempts to keep this blog up to date. Namely an issue with my laptop monitor will require repair when I return to the US and makes editing photos particularly difficult. However, with the World Cup in action and rainy season upon us, I’ve got roughly 6 hours a day in front of the TV during which I’m attempting to multitask.

I am still living in San Pedro, however some travels have been had since my last post, both within and outside of Guatemala. I’m spending a great deal of these days parsing through some 1,500 photos and then editing those deemed worthy. With less than a month left before I head back to the US, I’m hoping to pump out a number of posts chronicling the aforementioned trips and some other events from the San Pedro area.

Today’s post is focusing on events here in San Pedro. My house in San Pedro (as well as another house and a small Bed & Breakfast) employs a married couple, Ventura and Rosenda, who see to the maintenance, landscaping, and cleaning of the premises. Last week, they invited me along to their daughter Helén’s coronation as princess of her school.

Helén is mostly deaf and attends a special school in San Pedro for children with hearing impairments and other handicaps. This is Helén’s first year in the school and at age 8 she is just beginning to learn sign language.

A number of members from Helén’s family attended the coronation and, combined with the teachers and the families of the other students, the tiny school room was overflowing with people.

The ceremony itself was very nice and clearly meant a great deal to the families of the students involved. The entrance of Helén brought tears to the eyes of both Ventura and Rosenda, an emotional display that is rare to see in this more conservative culture, particularly in public. After the entrances there were speeches by the students involved, various teachers, and then two small groups of students performing a dance number to recorded music.

At the end of the event Rosenda and a handful of other women handed out tamales, bread, and coffee to all of the people in attendance. Tamales are a very common food in Guatemala, though amongst the poorer families they are typically reserved for special occasions like Christmas. Ventura and Rosenda providing this food for all of the many attendees was special indeed. And being a local agricultural staple, coffee is as common for the the locals as it is in the US. Even the two year old niece of Ventura and Rosenda partook in the coffee, although hers was very watered down.

Certainly this isn’t the normal type of event I attend, but it was an honor to be invited to an event that was clearly important to Ventura and Rosenda.

Travels & Tunes - Lauren

It’s been a while since my initial playlist posting and it seems like as good a time as any for the next in the Travels & Tunes series. This time with a list of songs from my friend Lauren.

Lauren and I met on the internet a couple of years back when she discovered a blog I used to run. We have been writing each other regularly since about six months after our first communications.

Although Lauren didn’t provide a playlist for this project, I had already put together a playlist of songs I’d discovered through her, via emails or her blog. In some cases the songs below introduced me to new bands that have become staples in my iTunes playlists and in other cases, I just happened to really dig that single track. Either way, the music I’ve discovered via Lauren has had a big influence on my current listening habits and so I felt it appropriate to highlight those songs here.

The National is one band I wasn’t at all familiar with before I came across Sorrow on her blog. It’s now one of my favorite songs, but I could also easily build a playlist filled only with songs by The National (which I may very well do one day). Their music tends to be hit or miss for me, particularly the older stuff, but they’ve become one of my favorite bands through their newer albums.

Unlike my last Travels & Tunes entry I don’t have a particular memory or profound moment to expound upon with this playlist. That’s primarily because this is a playlist that I have on heavy rotation in iTunes. So for this entry you get a list of songs that are amongst my current favorites.

I hope you all enjoy these songs as much as I do.

The Plan

Over a month since my last update and I’ve had plenty of people contact me to let me know as much. I spent roughly four of the last six weeks battling one illness or another. While I’m sure that sounds fun and interesting to those of you following along, I don’t think you truly want to read about stomach flus and sinus infections. They’re about as fun as you might imagine and I’m as about as tired as you would expect at this point. Moving on.

When I set out on this trip I had only a rough idea of where I’d be going and a list of places I’d like to see along the way. However, I only booked my flights down and home so that I could have the flexibility to go where I wanted to, when I wanted to.

After leaving San Pedro, I spent three miserable weeks in Antigua trying to decide on a next stop and getting a practical lesson in how much more Spanish I need to learn. I considered Easter Island, but exorbitant prices for flights took that off the table. Galapagos Islands and Ecuador was also far more money than I am willing to spend right now.

At the end of my second week in Antigua, I took a trip back to San Pedro for a weekend to watch the Super Bowl with some friends and fellow Seattleites. I took a shuttle into Panajachel and then took a lancha (boat) across the lake to San Pedro. There, crossing the lake, I felt like I was home again and I knew where I wanted to go next.

So here I am, back on the shores of Lake Atitlán in San Pedro la Laguna. I’ve found a place I enjoy and it’s where I want to be for now. Maybe that will change tomorrow, but today it’s where I’m at; literally and figuratively.

The plan, at this point, is that there is no plan. I’ve cancelled my plans for going to the World Cup in Brazil. I wasn’t able to get tickets in the lottery and every update from Brazil just sounds worse than the last. So, I’ll stay in San Pedro until I feel the need to move on or until my return flight in July.

That doesn’t mean the blog posts will stop. I will continue blogging as the mood strikes me or when I have something of interest to share. So keep an eye out for more. I do not expect you’ll have to wait another six weeks for my next post.

Remains of the Days (in Atitlán)

I’ve got more pictures that didn’t really fit into the theme of any of the posts I’ve previously written about my time in San Pedro and Lake Atitlán, so here’s a potpourri of photos.

Hasta Luego Lago Atitlán

On Monday I left San Pedro, my home for the past two and a half months. When I arrived, I couldn’t speak a lick of Spanish. Two months of classes later, I can now speak a lick of Spanish. That phrase sounds very odd when you reverse it. Now I need to Google where the phrase “a lick of…” comes from. Just one moment please.


Okay, I’m back. For those who are interested, here is a synopsis of “a lick of…”. You’ve been learned!

Now that we’ve established the extent of my Spanish skills, on to some profoundly deep expressions from my soul regarding my time in San Pedro.

"It was great."

"I really liked it."

"Guatemala is different from the United States."

I feel like I really opened myself up there. Glad to get it all off my chest.

In reality it’s very difficult to put into words how I feel about my time in San Pedro. Guatemala was not originally part of my plans at all. I had planned to go to Peru in October to focus on Spanish for five weeks and then do the trek to Machu Picchu. However, my camera had to go into Sony for repairs and I was waiting on delivery of my new laptop, which pushed my start date back into November. Unfortunately, November is the start of the rainy season in Cuzco, so I decided to wait on Peru until April or May.

That left me going back through all of my research to find the best places to learn Spanish and enjoy a break from the cold and rainy autumn in Seattle. I didn’t really research much about Guatemala beyond the schools and prices so I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I got down here. A telling example was when, about two weeks before I departed, my buddy Cliff asked me if I was going to Tikal and I had no idea what he was talking about.

But after two and a half months, I found it incredibly difficult to leave the place and the people. It was a very difficult morning as I was leaving San Pedro, what with all of the dust in the air messing with my sinuses and making my eyes a bit watery. Making matters worse, I seem to have also developed an allergic reaction to Coldplay songs, as this song was playing in the Tuk-tuk for the incredibly slow journey through town to the docks. Somebody forgot to tell Coldplay (and the Tuk-tuk driver) that men are only allowed to shed tears while watching Field of Dreams or Brian’s Song. At all other times we must display the emotional range of rocks.

The culture shock I felt in the beginning was fairly short-lived and now it seems that it was easy settling into my new day-to-day routine in Guatemala, even without the benefit of speaking the language. Making a new friend who could speak English and Spanish within my first hour in San Pedro certainly helped in that regard. Said friend, Kristianna, showed me the town and provided translation services free of charge as I learned the language.

Kristianna was even kind enough to share her home-cooked vegetarian meals with me a few times. Yes Mother, I ate a meal that only included vegetables. Dad, please stand by to provide CPR should Mom’s heart be unable to withstand the shock of such an event. Or don’t. I have no idea what your life insurance situation is like these days and it’s a tough economy, so it’s your call. Just let me know if I need to return for a funeral; I believe my traveler’s insurance covers that contingency so I’m covered as well.

Anyhow, Maïka’s arrival a short while later gave me another friend who could speak both English and Spanish which allowed me a second person with whom I could practice my puppy-dog, pretty-please look with when I didn’t understand what the hell was going on.

I’ve touched on my friendship with Maïka before, here, but since I’m the one leaving San Pedro this time I can’t very well make a post on every single person I had to say goodbye to. I’m way too awesome so there are just too many people. And I don’t have enough pictures of them all to make a single post work, so get off my back! Instead, this will be another super-sized post to introduce you to a bunch of the folks who were part of my San Pedro family (as a friend put it the other day).

Obviously, my English skills are a bit strained. Not only did I wait to introduce a basic premise of this post until the 52nd paragraph, I also just interrupted the flow of the story for this comment. If any of my past English professors or teachers have stumbled across this post, I do apologize. I blame Guatemala’s…and Obama.

Of course, the vast majority of my time was spent with my teacher, Flora. As my Spanish improved, we moved from more formalized lessons into conversation to allow me time to absorb all of the new material and to practice what I was learning.

Spending 20 hours a week talking one on one with someone is not easy. Even if you don’t have a language barrier, you still have to find new things to talk about each day and have some sort of rapport. I’ve met plenty of travelers who came to study for a week or two at a time, telling me how judgmental, close-minded, and/or super conservative their teachers were. Mind you, that wasn’t every student I met, but it was clear that I was lucky to have an open-minded teacher with whom I could form some sort of bond in class.

Anyone who’s ever worked with me knows that I can be difficult when trying to wrap my head around new concepts or ideas. I ask a ton of questions and tend to test the patience of even those who want to help. So, I feel even more fortunate to have found a teacher who not only had the patience to work with me in such close environs but who was also flexible enough to adjust when a particular approach wasn’t working.

And after a certain point, sitting in the same little hut for four hours a day gets tiresome and boring. Flora was all for changing the scene and we spend many days visiting other towns around the lake so I also got to mix in a bit of sight-seeing with my classes while having something of a tour guide with me.

I didn’t come to Guatemala expecting to make lasting connections. But then this trip has been full of surprises. I have a feeling that Flora is one person whom will remain in my life after I leave Guatemala.

In two and a half months, I also spent a lot of time around the family that runs the school. Marta, the mother of the household, runs the school and a program for educating niñas in San Pedro. Her husband, Antonio, does most of the labor around the school and kicked my ass at ping-pong. Rosa, her daughter, lives in Guatemala City and was kind enough to meet me at the airport when I first arrived. 

In the title of this post I used hasta luego instead of adios because I really do feel I’ll be back in San Pedro and Lake Atitlán one day. Like any place on this planet it has it’s positives and negatives, but it really became a home away from home for me. San Pedro holds a special place in my heart.

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A personal blog dedicated to photography, art, books, music, and whatever else catches my eye or gives me pause to think, wonder, smile, or cry.


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