Days 272-292 Cross Guatemala in a nutshell

Guatemala meet Anne, Anne meet Guatemala

May 6-May 26

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Anne’s flight arriving at 530 in the morning was my idea. In my infinite wisdom, I thought that an early hour arrival would allow us to avoid the infamous Guatemala City traffic.  My little did I know that 530 was actually smack in the middle of rush hour ad the taxi driver wanted to pick me up at 430 to avoid the whole mess.  Anne’s plane arrived on time, the taxi ride back to the camper was routine and after greeting the dogs and spreading out our maps and books we realized that we had an entire day to make an itinerary for the next three weeks.  Anne was interested in a touring loop around the country that was outlined in a travel book and it seemed like a great way to begin since it covered many of Guatemala’s highlights.  As it turned out, we significantly modified the trip because we realized that it was nicer to hang out in  a few locations rather than rushing from place to place.  Here is the over view of our travels by map:

 

Basically we decided to follow the original route backward just in case we ran out of time.  Half way through the trip we also modified our plans so Anne flew from the city of Flores in the north so we had fewer days on the road.  The plan to see ruins in Honduras and the northern coast were scrapped.  We ended up having a few days doing nothing which seemed frustrating at the time but *unknown to Anne at the moment* it was actually a better alternative to traveling back to Guatemala City, which I ended up having to do on my own.  The towns on the eastern side of the country don’t have much ‘tourist’ appeal as they are basically frontier towns in the middle of a very humid, flat and rainy cattle grazing area.  The temps and humidity on the coast were souring to ‘rainy season’  highs and the mosquitoes were beginning to flourish.  All in all I think we did a great job executing our travels.

We began in the Highlands.   High mountain passes, winding dirt and semi paved roads and small colorful pueblos.  We worked our way northward through more high country and into the coffee growing area of Copan and Lanton.   Next agenda was the low lands where we explored several jungle ruins and ended the trip staying at a Finca where we spent most of our time sweating and watching birds.

 

Days 261- 270 Huehuetenango y las lecciones español

 

Crossing the border

Mexico to Guatemala

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I was waiting at the door when Mexican immigration’s opened at 8am and all I needed was to have my passport exit stamped and importation paperwork for the truck and camper terminated.  There’s a refundable $300.00 deposit and if you forget to sign out you give up the money.  It was easy peazy and I hoped the next step, getting into Guatemala, would go as smoothly.

From the Mexican side I drove about a mile until I came to an extremely crowded and bustling narrowing of the road that was marked off with orange cones.  There were no signs to help me figure out where I was supposed to go so I simply stopped the truck and got out.  I’ve gotten a lot more bold about this sort of thing and I wasn’t afraid to be a pain…..  Someone ahead waved me forward so I jumped back into the truck and moved to the cross arm that blocked passage between the two countries.  I know that many borders are swarming with people trying to make a living ‘helping’ foreigners who have no idea what they’re doing.  It’s common for them to take (not by asking but by plucking it from your hands) the paperwork and leading the unsuspecting tourist through a series of phony offices where money pays the way forward.  I wasn’t about to get duped so I took a breath and scanned the area deciding where I would go, before I got out of the truck.  I was immediately offered ‘change money’ and fingers pointed in several directions supposedly indicating where I was needed to go.  I decided to win the favor with the money changer by changing a little money (which I needed anyway).  After the exchange he not only pointed me in the right direction but he lead me to the inspector.  Apparently there are about 8 steps involved when bringing yourself, a vehicle and animals across the border and you need to do them in the correct order.  Of course I got these orders confused and had to return to the same person multiple times.  I gave the import inspector every piece of paperwork I had on the dogs.   The poodles entered with no problem but it took about 3 hours to complete all the necessary steps.  From the border it was a 3 hour drive to Huehuetenango where I took a week of spanish lessons.


 

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The quick and dirty catching up……..

While I learned Spanish so did the poodles with two neighborhood children.  Jose Pablo was in love with the poodles and when his birthday arrived that Sunday they received a special invitation to attend.

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buds

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learning to lay down in spanish

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Lucia, Jose Pablo and I spent a lot of time playing house in the camper. I was staying with a single woman, Chen next door to the school.

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Nick and Lucia


 

Party Time!

The poodles and I (mostly the poodles) were invited to Jose Pablo’s Birthday Party

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Dad

These Guatemalans know how to party.  It went on with dish after dish of wonderful food and finally ended at 10pm.

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Making a wish

 

 

 

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I headed out that night ….  Picking up Anne at the airport in La Ciudad de Guatemala.  We’ll be traveling for 3 weeks to a month in Guatemala…….


 

Miscellaneous pics from the week

 

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The Silver Virgin

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Market

 

Days 253- 260From Patzcuaro to Guatemala

It took 6 days to drive from Patzcuaro, Mexico

to Huehuetenago, Guatemala.

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The story of Pup-ita didn’t end with Frida taking her to San Miguel de Allende. Unfortunately during her drive north she had a car accident and had to return to Patzcuaro.  I picked up the puppy from her the next day and headed to San Miguel myself.

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Back on the road with Mexican traffic. This is a single lane.

It’s a 3+ hour trip and having I arrived early afternoon made it necessary to stay the night and start my trip to Guatemala the next morning.  I telephoned Jose, Pup-ita’s new owner, and told him I was in town.  I was under the impression that he spoke English but actually speaks as much English as I do Spanish.  I though we had managed to arrange a time to meet the next morning but either he thought I was talking about that night or he was just too excited to wait and showed up at the camper at 9pm.  I told him that he’d have to come back in the morning since I needed to discuss things with him and I didn’t want Pup-ita experiencing her first night at his place without some preparation.  José reluctantly left.


 A quick tour of the city

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The next morning I went over the instructions with José and said good-bye to my little girlie.  It was bitter sweet but I must say a big relief.  I’m sure I would have had problems at the Guatemalan border with a puppy unvaccinated for rabies and a rabies shot has to be given a month before crossing. According to what I’ve read and heard Guatemala is a stickler for details and can even be very picky about how things are written.  In any case she’s now in her permanent home and I think it’s a good one.

San Miguel de Allende is a beautiful colonial city.

The Iconic St. Michael the Archangel Church

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I felt like a child in a candy shop… every turn took me to elegant shops of all sorts with european and haute cuisine,  top end artwork, artisan boutiques and cafés.  It was dazzling but I already missed the more rustic simple shops of Patzcuaro and felt pretty disappointed not to find a robust and active mercado.  It is truly a town for X-pats and touristas.

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This was my exciting souvenir… I think Shirley and Jack will appreciate the humor in this one.

None the less, it is a spectacular city!


Took a northern route over Mexico City through the state of Tobasco and southeast into the state of Chiapas

There’s not much to say about the next few days since it was nose-to-the-road all the way. I made an error looking at the map which cost me an extra 4 hours of driving but the mistake took me to Paleque which has one of the largest Mayan ruins in Mexico and I was thrilled to check it out.  Aside from that 3 hour stop we were on the road for 5 days.

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I think TinTin was secretly happy the puppy was gone.

To Puebla…. first night

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I’ve heard from many people that Puebla is a beautiful city with fantastic food to eat, great ruins to see and wonderful museums to explore.  Well, I stayed one night and from what I was able to see (which was next to nothing) I don’t have a story to tell.  It was clear, however from the drive that Puebla is sophisticated and modern city.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are huge sculptures between the over/underpasses in the main part of town and the highway on the outskirts is lighted with solar panels.  The pavement was smooth and I thought I was going to be in hog-heaven for the next few days of travel… oops… wrong…..

Villahermosa…. second night

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I only saw the outskirts of Villahermosa so I can’t comment on what a lovely city it’s supposed to be.  During this driving stent we stayed three nights in gas stations (PEMEXs) and this was by far the worst of them all. It was smelly and dirty and full of trash.  There’s always a silver lining and here is mine from my stay.  I bought two tamales from a couple who was selling them out of the back of their car and they were the most fantastic tamales I’ve ever had.  I could have eaten a dozen of them.

A short visit in Palenque

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CLICK TO A LINK ABOUT PALEQUE

The oops in planning my route took me to Palenque.  It’s one of the more important Mayan sites in Mexico and I was thrilled to have a chance to finally see one of the Mayan sites.  Since I needed to get to Huehuetenango, Guatemala by Sunday, I only had a few hours to look at the ruins and I decided to pay a guide to expedite things.  It was about 105 degrees and 100 percent humidity so I also didn’t want to leave the dogs in the car for too long.  I covered the truck with my silver netting, put on a fan and rolled down the windows.  It took no time at all to find someone to watch the car (and perras) for 50 pesos and a guide for 1000 ($100.00!!).  I think the heat had effected my thinking because at the moment I can’t imagine paying that kind of money.  It was nice to have much of the history of the ruins explained but I could have enjoyed the quick visit just as much on my own.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy tour guide seemed eager to show me every stone carving where the Mayan ruler or slave had some type of deformity.  Apparently there was a lot of inbreeding which caused multiple fingers and toes, strange limb length and other abnormalities.  It actually reminded me of the tour of a Hindu temple Phil and I took in India many years ago.  The guide took great pride in showing us every erotic carving or painting in the temple and explained by saying, “Here woman gives head to the man.”    TMI !!!    I guess the tour guides think we tourists want to see the ‘Ripley’s Believe it or Nots’ of their cultures.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn any case the ruins were quite impressive and apparently only a small fraction have been excavated.

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The Mayans covered the walls with stucco and created intricate reliefs. The making of the stucco actually decimated the surrounding jungle.

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To San Cristobal…. 3rd night

The first 2/3rds of our road trip was on highway through some major cities and many smaller pueblos so the driving was hit or miss when it came to speed.  The longest and most tiring day was through the mountains from Tobasco to Chiapas.  Not only were the roads dilapidated, steep and winding, it was necessary to watch for livestock, trucks coming from the other direction (in your lane), children and worst of all, TOPES.  OH TOPES.  I’ve talked about topes before.  They’re bumps in the road to slow traffic and are usually made of cement or pavement.  You usually can’t see a tope because it’s made of the same material as road and given this area’s strong sun and canopy of trees the chance of seeing an unidentified tope is nearly impossible unless you’re scanning for them.  Since the camper is so heavy I have to come to a complete stop before driving over a tope which means if I am traveling at 40 miles an hour and I see a tope just in time to slam on the breaks I’m really not going slow enough to stop before hitting the bump.  On this part of the trip I actually broke a bolt holding the camper to the truck.  I’ll let you do the math to figure out the average speed necessary to drive 100 miles in 8 hours….all I can tell you is the worst thing you can do is watch the time and the miles because it makes you feel like you’re in a time warp.

One of the Many many shrines along the road in mexico

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The other major speed constraint are the huge trucks filled with logs or cement or rocks or… what ever trying to climb hills at an altitude of about 9000 feet with inclines of ridiculous grades.  The only way to make sure your average speed isn’t 10 miles hour the entire way is to pass them.  Passing another car (or truck) is a science in Mexico and I dare say I’m starting to get the hang of it.  Now mind you most of these highways are twisty and turny so if you wait for a straight-o-way you’ll never get around so at some point you have to grit your teeth and go with the flow.  One way to do this is to watch to see if the truck in front of you to puts on its turning signal.  The left hand signal means (as far as the driver is concerned) it’s safe for you to pass.  Of course you still have to take their advice with a grain of salt because their idea of ‘safe’ may be different from yours.  The other absolute skill to develop is knowing how close you can tail-gate the car/truck in front of you.   You need just enough clearance to see oncoming traffic from behind the wide end of the truck ahead of you,  if you’re too close you have to completely rely on their signaling you.  Of course the other reason you need to tail-gate is because you’re almost always passing during a solid yellow line.  Why?  Because that’s what’s expected and if you wait for a dash you’ll never get around.  It can be gut wrenching at first and I dread the day I start driving in the US with my newly developed driving habits.

Guatemalan Border 4th and final night before Guatemala

What can I say?  It was a border town.

I stayed my first night in a ‘hotel’ only because the owner wouldn’t let me park the truck at the hotel unless I paid for a room.  Then she told me that I needed to pay 100 pesos to park the truck.  Later that evening I went in and gave her a pineapple (that had been given to me as a gift by a very sweet young man at a road side stop along the highway when I bought some pineapple juice) to try to get a smile out of her.  She repaid me by visiting me later in the evening to tell me that the truck was too big and I needed to pay her another 100 pesos.  Oh well, the truck, poodles and I were safe for the night and best of all Mexico immigrations was across the street.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The next morning all I had to do was walk across to take care of all my exit papers.  It wasn’t a bad evening in any case.  The ‘room’ was a concrete chamber with a metal door, no windows and only a bed.  As it happened, there was a group of Mexican and Guatemalan young folk traveling on vacation and we all had a great time talking through the evening.  The guys got a kick out of taking pictures with the poodles and they weren’t too disappointed (although for some reason surprised) when I told them I wasn’t interested in joining them at the local Discotheque.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So the morning of the 5 day of our kick-butt-drive-till-you-drop trip we were crossing the border into Guatemala.  My only worry was getting the papers for the poodles approved since I’d heard it could be a problem.

Day 257 a speedy catching up

Since I’m so behind in my blog I’m going to give you the slam dunk version of what’s happened and hopefully fill in some blanks later….. ha ha ha  I’m sure I’ll always remain behind.

 

I stayed in Patzcuaro for over 2 months which is quite a surprise since I intended to visit for a few days.   I’m now so behind in my agenda that I have to rush to Guatemala in order to meet my friend Anne who flies in on May 5th.  So I’m driving over Mexico City, through Puebla and Chiapas to cross the northern Guatemalan border.  I’ll be taking a week of spanish in a slightly remote town called Huehuetenango. It’s approximately the same size as Patzcuaro so it will be fun to compare.

So with that up date I’ll leave you with some pictures of my last 2 months and hope to explain some at a later date….

Finding a little white perrita……Pup-ita

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs you know, during my stay at El Rancho La Mesa I was taking daily spanish classes which required me to walk to town.  One day during one of my sojourns I saw to tiny white puppies hiding in the scrub and rocks along side the dirt road.

Pup-ita and her brother

Pup-ita and her brother

Needless to say, it wasn’t the first time I’d run across a litter of puppies playing out on their own and I had learned how to keep my emotions at bay.  As quickly as I caught sight of these two they disappeared into a crevice in the stones.  For several day went by and watched for the puppies.  If they were out I’d sit and let them approach, giving them a few pieces of kibble and water.  I was at odds about feeding them since I wasn’t going to be around for a long time and I didn’t want them relying on me for food (would it alter their ability to scavenge for food?). They clearly needed nourishment so I left them food and water once a day.

Little brother doesn't lift his head

Little brother doesn’t lift his head

First weekI found them

First weekI found them

Since the puppies weren’t always around when I walked by I was always uncertain whether they or another animal had eaten the food but I continued to put some out. Finally the weekend came and I went for a visit armed with flea and worming medicine,  I could at least treat them and give them a better chance to survive.  Unfortunately, my efforts were too late and I found the little boy dead.  Despite my determination not to ‘rescue’ the puppies, at this point I couldn’t leave the little girl alone so I scooped her up and brought her home. Nickel immediately took her as her own, letting the puppy nestle into her.  Nickel’s attention gave little white puppy come comfort.  When outside she was afraid to venture very far from under the truck and inside she

March 10hid in the crate that I’d set up on the ‘couch’ in the camper.  march 9aShe was very timid of her environment (especially anything moving quickly) and petrified of the rain. It all made sense since she had been vulnerable to other dogs and predators and she had no body fat to protect her; getting wet would have meant her end.  She shivered quite a bit and I wasn’t sure if it was fear or cold so I made a coat for her… out of what I had available, a sleeve from my PJ’s.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI also kept a hot water bottle in the crate which not only kept her warm, I think it gave her some comfort since she was used to having another puppy to snuggle up against.

During her first week my efforts were to simply put weight on her and help her understand that she didn’t have to fight to survive any more.  I strung flexible toys near crate to occupy her since there was no room in the camper for her to be on the floor but she had no idea what play was all about. Being up high served several purposes… reduced area for potty training, kept her out of the big girls’ way, allowed her to keep an eye on me (and vice-a-versa) and give her access to the crate so she’d learn to find comfort in it.  She was fed all her meals in the crate as well.March 15awithin the second week she was putting on a little weight


I‘m pretty sure this was her mother….

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Well, the rest is just a long story of nurturing and training and significant efforts to find this little girl a home.  With the help of my girls, Pup-ita’s personality blossomed and she not only learned how to sit, stay and come, she learned how to PLAY.

and……

with Great Joy (and a heavy heart) Pup-ita left for her new para siempre home today… exactly 6 weeks after finding her.



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Waiting

Frida picking up Pup-ita to bring to her new home

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Bye Pup-ita!

Friends come in all sizes

Mis Amigas en La Pueblita

Here are a few of the Amigas I got to know at El Rancho La Mesa.  We ran into each other while walking home from our respective escuelas and eventually the girls overcame their fears of the Poodles and started hopping the fence to visit.  The the picture below was taken after I’d showed them a video of one of Nickel’s daughters,  Ally,

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practicing agility (competitive obstacle course racing).  The girls were so excited about trying to train the dogs that we set up an “agility ring” made up of chairs, tables and boxes so they could run the dogs around, over and onto the ‘obstacles.’  We ended the day with the young ladies teaching the Poodles how to come, sit and down in Spanish… and they learned a few training words in English themselves.  It was a lot of fun for everyone.

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Marta and Sara were the two girls who visited me the most.  They would come into the camper and we’d talk until their mom called them home.  They were very patient with me and Sara was particularly great at figuring out new ways to say the same things so I might understand.  Sara was going on 12 and very curious about the world.  It was a struggle at times to make conversation simply because my usual questions for a girl her age, about ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ or ‘what’s your favorite movie/character/book,’ weren’t conceptual parts of their lives.  We talked about school and dogs and family but mostly they asked questions about me and the girls.  Sara and her sister came from a very poor neighborhood (hence their need to jump the fence to enter the RV campground) but their hearts were rich.  I gave Sara a plastic apricot poodle head magnet from my wall and the next day she showed up with a gift of her own.  It was incredibly touching.

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Sara’s gift to me

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PS….. More to come about that little white dog you see in the picture above……

Day 206-211 Getting to know you

My Neighborhood

La Pueblita

March 6-11

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Although the campground, El Rancho La Mesa, is further from El Centro (the center of Patzcuaro) than my last ‘home,’ I enjoyed my walk into town more.  I had the choice of either taking a Combi (minibus) or walking and I frequently choose the later.  The route wound it’s way through the vecindario called La Pueblita and it took a good 30 minutes to complete.  Over the course of a month this leisurely walk gave me the opportunity to become familiar with a few of my neighbors. I always enjoyed the enthusiastic ‘buenos dias’ or ‘buenas tardes’ exchange with the adults and had the added treat of talking with the school kids as they walked with me up the long steep cobblestone street.


There is great pride taken in improving and maintaining this neighborhood.

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The streets are clean and decorated with pots of flowers but with small herds of cattle, wood-laden ponies and donkeys and well fed dogs it’s advisable to watch your step.

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El Mercado

Back in the ‘States’ I hated going to the grocery store and frequently let my refrigerator go bare just to avoid the chore of shopping.
marcado One of my joys here in Patzcuaro is the daily visit to the Mercado.  Much of this joy comes from all the social exchanges, buying the freshest of produce and knowing that I’m supporting the local growers who offer small amounts of home grown fruits, herbs and vegetables or fresh lake caught fish.

It’s also a treat to see the early morning bustle or feel the buzz of enthusiasm when a new crop comes in.  One day there might be bushels of corn heaped onto the ground and the next day an explosion of color from potted geraniums.

The Mercado is located in the center of Patzcuaro and the main source of fruits and vegetables but other foods come from specialty shops or street carts found in the outlying neighborhoods. Each food type has its own vendor and eventually you figure out whose prices are the best, who carries the freshest produce and more importantly who carries the most flavorful Chorizo.  I’ve become addicted to Chorizo and it might be an exaggeration to claim that I’ve tasted every Carnicero’s product in Patzcuaro, but I’ve tried a lot.  Everyone has their own recipe and my favorite comes from the Carnicero next to the Basilica.  It’s sweet and hot with just enough fat to get your mouth-watering.

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The Carnicero in La Pueblita. Not the best Choriso but the best signage.

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Abarrotes are basically your everyday corner store. Good for a quick walk down the block if you’ve run out of beer.


 My favorite Legume

the faba

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 I knew that beans were one of the staples of Mexico but I had no idea how many types exist.  Unlike many of my friends, beans have never been a favorite food of mine (except green beans which don’t really count).  Well,  I’m happy to report that I’ve changed my ways and I now enjoy incorporating these tasty tidbits into daily cuisine.

My favorites are fresh from their pods.