February 26, 2023 — A Week in Guatemala
I just flew back from a week in Guatemala, and boy are my arms tired! Sit back, relax, and read all about the journey. And if you’re not on FB, you can see the beautiful pictures (sadly without captions) at:
I don’t feel like much has changed from my itinerary in my year recap, so I’m going to eschew any update on projects till next time, and just do a (hopefully) quick trip recap.
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 16th, DAY 1: TRAVEL DAY, GUATEMALA CITY
The main reason I went to Guatemala was for Celia and Victor’s wedding. Victor’s parents grew up in Guatemala, so they decided it would be a wonderful destination for the nuptials! I met Joyce, Celia’s twin sister who lives in Paris (where I visited in 2014) and her friend/plus one, Jacquie at JFK since they decided to take the same flight to Guatemala City. After an uneventful flight we got through immigration incredibly quickly, and then got picked up in a cab to be taken to our hostel, which was in a gated community (ala “The Walking Dead”).
The hostel was charming enough. They gave us as much filtered water as we desired. In general, it was easy to find bottled water or filtered water. Every place I stayed had access to unlimited filtered water; every restaurant was geared towards tourists so it was mostly safe to eat/drink in those establishments.
Joyce, Jacquie and I shared a room with 3 beds for the night, and somehow survived! We actually got scolded multiple times for talking too loud because the walls were paper thin and apparently some people go to bed before midnight. Who knew?
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 17th, DAY 2: ANTIGUA
We arose early at 9am (which was 10am EST) to get the included breakfast. I got pancakes and scrambled eggs, which also came with fresh papaya. We met up with Rochel, Amy and Ollie who were also staying there and heading to Antigua that day. Unfortunately, the driver of the van Joyce had booked for us to all go together to Antigua forgot that he had been booked and was in Chile. Thankfully, the hotel was able to call us 2 cabs to take us separately, which ended $5 more each and left an hour later, but it all ended up fine. (I prefer bad trip luck early on a trip so that the rest is good, and that happened on my UK trip, and here!) Our driver was Jose, our driver from Friday night; his battery stopped working right out of our gated community, but his father, who co-owns the company with him, came and traded us his battery. What a mensch!
I was staying at the wedding venue, which was a house connected to the ruins of a monastery. There were 6 or 7 guests staying there, including my new BFF Niall who was put in the room next door to mine. (We also shared a bathroom.) Niall was ready to explore the town, so we picked up Jacquie from her hotel down the street, and we set about walking around. We ended up buying souvenirs and seeing a few churches and other ruins. Then we headed over to Central Park and the marketplace, which was filled with more souvenirs! I actually checked my walking tour list that night and we managed to see almost everything just walking around aimlessly. Antigua is a small town with a lot of traffic, and the main area is a grid: 1st to 5th Streets crossing 1st to 5th Avenues, so once you got acclimated, it was pretty easy to navigate.
At 3PM I had signed up for a workshop at the Chocolate Museum learning how to make chocolate and making our own from the cocoa beans. Thankfully they were able to squeeze Niall in; Jacquie who doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth, split from us and meandered on her own.
In the 2 hour workshop, we took the cocoa beans and roasted them and made them paste and we made chocolate tea and created our own chocolate nougats. I ended up putting quite a lot of toppings in mine — rainbow sprinkles, gummy bears, M&Ms, peanuts, pistachios, almonds, cinnamon, and they came out great!
After the workshop, Niall went back to shower, but I walked around a bit more getting to the main arch of town and the Iglesia de la Merced, which is the largest church there. After snapping a bunch of photos, I headed to the Welcome Party for the wedding at the restaurant/bar Aqua Antigua fashionably late. Incidentally, the view from the roof terrace was spectacular and according to one of the erudite guests, we could see Venus, Jupiter and Mars! It was quite different than NYC where we can barely see any stars…
I gave a well-received teary-eyed speech about Celia and Victor during toasts, and then after it ended at 8PM, Celia, Niall and I went to get delicious tacos at Los Tiempos. I chose one with multiple cheeses and sweet potatoes and it was so good!
We dropped Celia at her hotel, Niall conked out for the night, and since it was only 10PM, I went for a dip in the hot tub for an hour. It was quite relaxing, and I feel asleep fairly early around 1:30am.
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 18th: DAY 3: WEDDING BELLS ARE RINGING
Saturday morning, Jacquie made me get up at 10am so we could go to this Reptile Conservatory she found on GoogleMaps. It turned out to be super fun! This guy saves reptiles from going extinct, and we were able to meet a bunch of them and even hold them (see photos!). He didn’t speak much English, but Jacquie took Spanish in high school, and I had Google Translate. I wish I had known about this app when I was in Japan! You can actually download the dictionary when you’re online and then have a real life translator in your phone even when you don’t have service.
The conservatory was actually really hard to find; our driver’s Waze app ended up taking us to the wrong turn off and we had to circle around these dirt roads, but it was nice to see how authentic aers of town. Bravely I held multiple non-venomous snakes, some which wrapped around my arms. I held the sweetest, softest chinchilla, a guinea pig and a turtle. We paid the guy 4 times what he had asked because we had such a great time (and it was still only $3.50/person).
Afterwards, we stopped by the Girasoles de Antigua AKA sunflowers. This ended up being fairly small, mostly for kids, and thankfully free. We realized it wasn’t going to take too long, so we had our cab driver wait for 15 minutes.
Then, we had him drop us off at the Santo Domingo Hotel Museums. This was basically 7 small museums for the price of 1! The grounds of the hotel were gorgeous, and there a huge tree. We saw the Museo de la Plateria (Silver Museum), then 2 crypts (one with actual bones), a church where people get married, a candle shop, then the Arhaological Museum with very interesting artifacts. After that we saw an art gallery with paintings and sculptures (many of animals) and finally the toy museum.
Afterwards, I dropped Jacquie off at her hotel at 2PM (before the 3:30PM call time for the wedding) and went to explore the main church. I had seen people climbing on the roof, but after 20 minutes on queue, I finally realized that the roof was not open on Saturdays — oops! I did have a nice conversation via Google Translate with the girl on line with me, at least. I realized that I had about an hour to kill, and saw a sign for a massage for $34! How could I pass that up? I saw they had coupons sitting out for 20% off, and they told me that was okay, so I ended up getting a massage for $24! Woo!
When that was done, I had to scurry back for the wedding, but since I was literally staying at the house on the wedding grounds, I managed to change and easily get there before the ceremony started at 4pm. I got to wear my new piano tie that I bought in Boulder, Colorado after our “Fabulous Fanny Brice” show at the Denver JCC in January. (Incidentally, I didn’t do a ledger after that trip because I had been to Colorado before, but I got to see 2 of my cousins and also my high school friend Rebecca whom I stayed with a few days. In addition to Boulder, we went to Meow Wolf Denver (I have one to go in Vegas!), saw some live music, went to the Science Museum including an exhibit about the Apollo missions, and on a quick hike up a mountain partway.)
The wedding was charming. There was a marimba band welcome guests and yummy hors d’oeuvres. At the reception, I was the emcee, which was lovely because I prefer having something to do. I was pretty funny, if I do say so myself, and I do! Celia and Victor’s first dance was to “Eye to Eye” from “The Goofy Movie” choreographed by their wonderful friend Mandie. There was a kick! There was a lift! I went to 2 cousins’ weddings and I have 2 more friend weddings this summer, but I must say: partying in Guatemalan ruins was pretty magical.
After the wedding, we went to this terrible bar Reilly’s that was incredibly loud. Thankfully, they had WiFi so I uploaded some photos while I waited for someone who was ready to go, and then walked with them back home.
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 19th, DAY 4: HOBBITENANGO
Sunday was the BEST! I slept till 11am and then I picked up Joyce and Jacquie for our excursion to Hobittenango, which is totally a tourist trap, but so super fun. About 20 minutes up the mountain from Antigua, we spent a little over 4 hours exploring the Hobbit holes and taking photos of breath-taking views. The ride up and down the mountain in the back of a truck was a bit chaotic and bumpy, and the weather was a bit colder than we had imagined (though we probably should’ve guessed from the elevation), but otherwise it was such a fun day. They also have an all-you-can-eat buffet on Sundays for about $20. So we had lunch when we got there and then dinner when we were about to leave!
I also met a friendly cat named Frodo. This was very nice because while there are a ridiculous amount of stray dogs everywhere in Guatemala, there were barely any cats! In fact, I only met 4 the entire trip!
After we returned from the Hobbits, I moved into this charming artist hostel for one night: Hotel Y Arte, which had art painted on all the walls. Celia and Victor were hosting a post-wedding dinner at El Adore, which ended up being 2 minutes from my hostel. I wasn’t hungry, but I went for the company. Afterwards, I was walking home and a few doors before my hostel I heard live music at Angie Angie. I could not turn down hearing some guitar and singing, so I went and got a juice and sat there (on WiFi) till the musician’s set was done. And that’s where I met my 2nd cat! Afterwards I went back to my hostel which luckily had international CNN in English. (It’s really hard to go so many days without having a TV on, after all!)
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 20th, DAY 5: ATITLAN NATURE RESERVES & HOTEL ATITLAN
After a lovely breakfast (for a bit extra) at my hostel, I grabbed my stuff and walked back to the wedding venue to meet Tiffany and Nick, Celia’s friends whom I was sharing a ride to Panajachel with. We had a lovely, picturesque drive for a few hours to the Lake Atitlan area, and I was dropped off at my next hostel, which was Jabel Tinamit Hotel & Villas. I ended up having my own cabin there, and it was quite affordable, too.
Most people were staying up at the fancy Hotel Atitlan, and there was a dinner planned that night by Victor’s best friend at 7PM. One of the main things to see in Panajachel is the Atitlan Nature Reserve, which happened to be right by their hotel. I walked up this incredibly inclined slope (Google did not warn me about this!) and had about 90 minutes to explore the reserves before it closed. I pushed myself hard, which is probably good since I had been eating lots of food. I saw many butterflies in the conservatory and took the paths all around, first to a waterfall, then all the way up, up, up to a wonderful view of the lake. The reserve has zip lining and also zip biking — which sounds a bit scary — but I got there too late for either any way.
Afterwards, I explored the gardens at Hotel Atilan and then waited in the lobby for the happy hour at 6:30PM before dinner. The dinner was a scrumptious 3 course meal. Oh, and there were birds in a glass cage tweeting while we were eating. How classy is that? After dinner, we hung around the bar till they kicked us out around 10:30PM.
Niall actually was staying in a hostel in the general vicinity of mine, so we took a tuk tuk, which is a mini-cab where you are holding on for dear life, down the mountain. The lovely concierge at my villa told me she didn’t recommend walking around after dark, so I figured better safe than sorry, especially when the rides are so cheap. That night I heard a noise outside, and turned on my porch light, and there was a cat! Oh, also this hotel had more cable channels, so I watched the last half of the final Harry Potter movie and remembered it was really not that good compared to the book…
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 21st, DAY 6: PANAJACHEL & ATV SUNSET TOUR
Tuesday was my day to walk around town. I took pictures of a lot of nice murals, popped by head in the big church, and explored the main shopping street: Calle Santandar where I bought even more souvenirs. I was going to mail my postcards from the post office I saw on GoogleMaps, but apparently it closed pre-pandemic. I was also told by this nice guy who retired there from Albany 8 years ago that it was a terrible idea to mail anything from Guatemala, in general. Apparently the post office is known for taking the postage money, then throwing out the mail. So, for the first time ever, I am mailing my postcards from America… (or just handing them to people if I am seeing them…)
I went to the lake, and this guy asked if I wanted to take a cruise. I had almost 2 hours to kill, and he said it was only an hour so I agreed. He told me it was 150Q (about $20) so I said sure. When I got on the boat, he then proceeded to tell me it was 150Q each way, and actually 300Q. That still was a fairly decent price, so I paid it even though it used up most of my remaining cash, but then he tried to get more from me! I was very firm that I had been told 150Q and that I would take my money back and leave, and finally he said fine, and I got an hour cruise around the lake! It was great to be on the water (go Pisces!) and I got a closer view of the volcanos surrounding the lake.
At 2:30PM, I had booked a Sunset ATV Tour. I invited everyone to go with me, and a bunch of people agreed! We had a fantastic time driving ATVs (first time for me!) and even though there was a road blockage so we couldn’t see the final town on the tour, I think driving the ATV was the best part anyway. We took some great sunset pictures on the beach, and before that some great ones from an incredibly viewpoint.
For dinner we went to Los Pumpos which was a restaurant our ATV guide recommended. Not only was the food absolutely delicious, the decor was all made of recycled materials. The restaurant owner created all these figurines from plastic that would’ve been thrown out. It was very creative and really cool. Also, they had a cat! (That’s the fourth!)
I then took a tuk tuk home for less than $2 to be safe and not sorry. I watched some “South Park” and I actually started to get chills, my guess from the tomatoes from my nachos not being washed in filtered water, and I took 2 ibuprofen and went to bed right away around midnight.
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 22nd, DAY 7: MAYAN SACRED CAVES
I woke up about 10 hours later on Wednesday, feeling fine but not hungry at all. For my final day, I booked a private (because no one else was available since they were either leaving town or doing a 3:30am sunrise hike #loco) Mayan Sacred Cave tour.
I had thought that I was going to be exploring caverns underground, but these caves were actually rocks that were protruding from the mountain. We took the “chicken bus” which was literally just an old American school bus upwards past where Hotel Atitlan was, and after a really nice view, we started climbing to the caves themselves. I saw the remains of one ceremony where they had sacrificed a rooster. And then we climbed upwards up some steep, slippery rocks for what was to be the best view of the trip!
We saw 2 other caves, which were further down and then what goes down must come up, so there was a steep incline coming back to the bus stop.
My guide explained a bit about the Mayan rituals and how they have 4 colored candles representing North, West, South and East and consequently all the natural things that go with those. People also put in sugar or candy so they can have sweet results. In the old days, Mayans would sacrifice the princess or newborn children, but obviously that doesn’t happen anymore. He also explained about spirit animals — and I took a test — I got a coyote/fox… almost a cat, but not quite… I would’ve liked to read more about my result but the webpage he sent doesn’t allow copy/paste so I can’t Google translate it…
And then by some miracle of timing, a couple had hired a shaman to perform a ritual for them! So, I got to witness the entire thing. As the shaman chanted, they would list what they wanted, and according to my guide, they were starting a new business and wanted it to be blessed. It was really nice of them to allow me watch, and I felt very in touch with Mayan culture.
After the tour, I had 2 hours to kill, so I got a $40 massage from a spa Google recommended. It was a fantastic deep tissue massage which came with relaxing tea afterwards. I went back to my hostel to sit on the bench in the garden till my airport shuttle came.
I got an inexpensive $35 shuttle back to Guatemala City, and you get what you pay for… when the hostel booked it for me, they didn’t tell me it was going to stop in Antigua on the way or pick up so many people en route. It was fine, though because my flight was at midnight, so even though the shuttle was for 4PM and I didn’t get to the airport till 8:30PM (even though GoogleMaps said it was 2 hours away), I had plenty of time. I ended up getting food at Starbucks, which was the only food open in the airport around 9PM. The midnight flight was really not great, and the line at customs at 5am was also really treacherous. The E train was running on the F line, so I had to walk home in 40 degree weather after a week in the 70s, but I got home around 7am, promptly went to sleep, and even though I was absolutely exhausted at Broadway Bowling at 11PM that night, by today, I am feeling fine!
JONI IS HAPPY I’M HOME
Or should I say feline fine!?! Joni is feeling and feline fine… she was pretty upset that I left her, but after a few days, she has either forgiven me or completely forgotten I was gone! She is back to watching TV with me after midnight and sleeping on my legs. We are trying a new litter — Pretty Litter — if any cat owners out there want to try it, I can refer you — you get one for free, we get one for free. Supposedly it absorbs urine and does not smell at all. I will report back if that’s accurate or not, but Rebecca loves it…
Here is what I’ve read so far this year!
The Fran Lebowitz Reader — I’m actually slowly reading her essays — this is my new bathroom book for when I figure Time magazine before the next one comes now that Entertainment Weekly is gone forever.
The Mother of Degrassi — I will admit that I read the memoir of the creator of “Degrassi”!
The People We Meet on Vacation — This was the most checked out book from the library in 2022, but it was very rom-com, and not my genre without quirky songs.
Inheritance — This memoir about a writer who finds out her father wasn’t her father is good, if a little long-winded in parts. Or maybe I just don’t like reading non-fiction.
Sondheim & Me — Speaking of non-fiction, this was a very short read about the guy who wrote/edited the Sondheim Review magazine’s experiences with Steve.
Kindred — Finally some fiction! I loved this TV adaptation (see below) and when it got canceled, I had to read the book to find out what happened! The book was better than the TV show, as usual.
Elizabeth Finch — iI really liked Julian Barnes’ book, “The Sense of an Ending” but this one was a bit tedious and had a whole non-fiction section. NO MORE NON-FICTION PLEASE!
Pachinko — Now HERE is a fantastic book. I am halfway through, and I cannot wait to keep going and then watch the TV adaptation!
I actually saw 2 early free movie previews of films I quite enjoyed, but signed papers that I wouldn’t talk about them. I would like to see the new “Antman” and “Shazam 2” but for now, here are the 3 movies I watched on the plane:
Wakanda Forever — not as good as the first one, but still had some good moments.
Armageddon Time — this movie was kind of slow, but had some good moments, too.
Aftersun — this movie was even slower, but also had some good moments.
I guess I’m repetitively redundant today, but I hope this ledger had some good moments!
Between the Guatemala vacation and being in Denver for the Fanny Brice show in January, I haven’t tried that many new shows this year, but here are some recommendations anyway!
Kindred — I really loved this Hulu adaptation of the novel, and I am devastated they canceled it — and equally devastated they canceled Reboot!
Dear Edward — This is my new Apple show, and it’s by Jason Katmis who wrote “Friday Night Lights” and “Parenthood” and the unrated and also canceled “Why They See Us” (Amazon). It is a very sweet show about a boy who survives a plane crash and stars Connie Britton, who can never do any wrong.
The Last of Us — It took me awhile to warm up to this HBO Zombie show that everyone else is loving so much — the turn off for me is episodes over an hour. I prefer my shows to cap themselves around 50 minutes, an hour at most! But this show is pretty good, not going to lie.
Star Trek: Picard — I was so excited to see the cast of TNG reunite, but so far I am a bit underwhelmed. Hopefully the season gets better as it goes on!
Mayfair Witches — I have been enjoying this AMC show based on an Anne Rice book series about witches.
Servant — I absolutely must shout-out this phenomenal show on Apple — now in its 4th and final season. The twists and turns keep coming, and I cannot wait to see how it ends in a few weeks!
For All Mankind — Good for Apple for making the list so much — I realized I posted about this show on FB, but didn’t actually put it in a ledger — it’s a fantastic alternate history show about what would’ve happened if the Russians had landed on the moon first.
Ginny & Georgia — Finally, I will end this with my new favorite Netflix show — sad that we’re not quite sure what will happen when April rolls around with the family account — but I really enjoyed this edgier “Gilmore Girls”.
There is a lot of theater coming out this spring; here is what I’ve seen already this year.
The Collaboration — Broadway play about Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s artistic collaboration in the 80s.
Colin Quinn: Small Talk — New standup show by Colin Quinn, which had some funny lines.
Cornelia Street — New chamber musical off-Broadway about a restaurant’s last days.
Titanique — Parody musical with Celine Dion explaining the plot of Titanic with her own songs.
Letters from Max — Wonderful Sarah Ruhl play about a poetic and terminally ill student she had who became her friend. Not a dry eye in that house at the end!
Other than that, I’m looking forward to seeing Celia in “Life of Pi” and also will hopefully get to the new “Sweeney Todd”.
Well, there you are. A very short update for now. Clearly I will be reaching out mid-April when I start my crowdfunding campaign for “Malka”, the short film, musical drama about my grandmother’s Holocaust experience. Other than that, I have added 8 extra cabarets this spring, so those will keep me pretty busy. One song to go in “The Secret Adversary” score, another Sunday Universal puzzle coming up, and of course MY BIRTHDAY ON TUESDAY!!!
I hope you are having a wonderful year so far, and please let me know you are reading this by responding to say hi.