Monday, April 29, 2013


Once in a while, when things aren't working, you need to -- at least -- question your assumptions.

Or get back to First Principles.

After Antigua, I'm headed out solo.  It was the original plan for the trip -- the First Principle.

As I said at the beginning of this blog, a lot is happening/was happening/happened in my life -- most of which I cannot even legally talk about.

[which should give you just a glimpse into the Alice Through the Looking Glass world I can't describe.]

And all of which was decidedly and profoundly negative and destructive.

This was to be a trip that answered questions, presented possibilities, and brought some renewal, on any or many of a whole host of fronts.

But, so far, it involves more compromise than I can afford.  By definition, this trip had/has to be about me: my pace, my needs, my budget, my idiosyncrasies, my well-being, and ... did I say me ?

I think things are worked out vis-a-vis my eyeglasses.  I'll owe just over $40 in customs, duties, import taxes ... whatever you call them ... but they should be at the Antigua DHL office at about 4-5pm, tomorrow.

What changed ?  Nothing, really.

But there was a different DHL employee working, today, with a textbook "No problem !" attitude :-)

Meaning ... a day or two after tomorrow, I'll bid Antigua a fond farewell, if only for now.

I beat Ye Olde Fever through copious napping and seriously delayed over-eating.

Today, I also stumbled into a barber shop to get my hair cut, and put my life in the hands of a straight-razor wielding Guatemalan  who -- I had to remember -- should NOT have wished me ill.

I think I was in the barber chair for over an hour.  My hair takes all of about seven minutes (with nit-picky, detailed, straight-razor clean-up), so the rest was about surgically removing a few days' growth from my ugly mug.

There's something ridiculously sybaritic about an old fashioned shave.  It screams "luxury."

And ... in my case ... it must have screamed it a half-dozen times, because I THINK that's how many times he lathered me up, and shaved me.

He got to whiskers not even schedule to appear on my face until June 2013.

I mean ... I am scrupulously and meticulously clean shaven, and may have had the contours of my face altered slightly.

But ... dang, Jack ... I look good :-)

What price, hedonism ?  Q80 (USD$11.00), plus a tip.

Truth be told, it was cheap rent for a reclining chair, desperately needed to take the weight off my stomach, stretched beyond capacity by a strawberry-pineapple cheesecake slice and a 12oz cup of Guatemalan hot chocolate.

Which the barber thought was an extraordinary snack.

But we agreed that "it doesn't matter.  Too much is still too much."

He offered me the use of the chair for a while, after.  I could have kissed this guy, or -- considering the fine job he did -- let him kiss my smooth, if still rather unappealing, mug :-)

It's downtime time.

That happens a lot, here, in the soporific, generally-Southern latitudes of ... The Gulag.

Sunday, April 28, 2013


My old friend.  I wondered when you'd make an appearance.

Last night was about Night Three of little-to-no sleep, despite the heady brew of sleep aids.

This morning, I awoke to what felt like a pretty epic hangover, but ... hadn't drank a drop.

We walked into town.  Life was surreal (partly, it's a Guatemala thing), and I headed back to the hotel to crash.


Awoke feeling hot.  Checked Ye Olde Temperature ==> 101.9*F.

Ugh.  Bunches of water.  Couple of aspirin.  Back to bed.  Tomorrow should be eyeglasses day, after which we'll plan our exit strategy from Antigua, at least, and Guatemala, at most.

Nothing really serious causes this kind of low-grade fever. It's just a guy with a Primary Immune Deficiency NOT living in a bubble.

Gonna' try to sleep it off, and -- for future reference -- earn any hangover that comes my way.

Ciao for now, then, from ... the hyper-pyretic ward of ... The Gulag.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

I'll make him an offer he can't refuse....

The Casa Popenoe museum is closed for the year.  The guard didn't/couldn't/wouldn't tell me why.

Alrighty, then.  Off I go.

I simply walked for about 2-1/2 hours, mostly to the South of town.  That's where the affluent Antiguans live. I passed by this development, for example:

Safe to say, the houses in the area are USD$1,000,000 plus.

Very pretty, but -- for whatever reason -- I didn't buy one.

I got back, grabbed Donald, and we went to dinner -- Subway, of all places.  A 12" tuna sub, with everything, tastes just as good here as it does in the States.

But Pepsi still tastes like sewer water next to Coke.

On the way back, we stopped at a market near our hotel, for water.  I ended up chatting with the owner of the store, who -- after about 15 minutes -- offered me a position, with room and board, teaching Spanish at his language school.

No false modesty, here: my Spanish is NOT very good.  It's just not.  But to the administrator/professor/driver of the library buses ... it was more than good enough to do the job.  It's basically a volunteer gig.  I told him I'd keep the information, and ... if life brought me back to Antigua ... he'd see me darken his doorway, once more.

He bought me a Coke for the road ;-)

Okay.  THIS ... doesn't happen every day.

Last night's fireworks COULD be reprised, tonight; we don't know.  But, at 8:30, we'll be up on the roof, parked in our usual spots, and looking toward the La Merced.  It's ringside seats.  If they light 'em off ... we'll know :-)

Ciao for now, then, from the polyglot perch of ... The Gulag ;-)

While others slept...

My glasses got THEIR passport stamped in Panama AND Costa Rica:

Saturday, April 27, 2013LocationTime
13Customs status updatedGUATEMALA - GUATEMALA6:43 AM
12Departed Facility in SAN JOSE - COSTA RICASAN JOSE - COSTA RICA6:27 AM
11Transferred through SAN JOSE - COSTA RICASAN JOSE - COSTA RICA6:25 AM
10Arrived at Sort Facility SAN JOSE - COSTA RICASAN JOSE - COSTA RICA4:34 AM
Friday, April 26, 2013LocationTime
7Arrived at Sort Facility PANAMA CITY - PANAMAPANAMA CITY - PANAMA11:39 PM
4Arrived at Sort Facility MIAMI GATEWAY - USAMIAMI GATEWAY, FL - USA7:30 PM
3Departed Facility in MIAMI - TAMIAMI - USAMIAMI - TAMIAMI, FL - USA7:10 PM
1Shipment picked upMIAMI - TAMIAMI, FL - USA4:12 PM

And Guatemala :-)

In theory, this means they're in Guatemalan Customs, and could be in Antigua on Monday.

Meaning ... we won't go anywhere.

Last night, we went to Luna de Miel (honeymoon) Restaurant, just down the street.  Rooftop terrace. Specialty = crepes.

I had a Primavera Salad, a spinach, mushroom, and cheese crepe, a (vanilla) ice cream sunday with sliced pears, a cup of hot chocolate, and a Mojito.


My share was Q135 -- about USD$20 with tip.

That sets the record, folks, for pay-to-play eating.

But ... ohhhhhhh, Boy, was IT good :-)

On our way back, they were shooting off fireworks over the La Merced Chapel.  Very cool.  Our 'seat' was about 100' from the action.  The boys did a nice job, and clearly threw a few bucks at the project.

Took Benadryl and Ambien to sleep, and ... despite the fairly heady brew of pharmaceuticals ... was awakened throughout the night by the dripping of the shower head.  Apparently, Donald didn't get quite enough torque on the valve handles, after his evening shower.

On these poor-sleep nights, I make it through the next day, but simple math escapes me, as does the memory for such basics as my name, the date, what country I'm in, and ... why I'm here.

But I always remember there's great coffee, here -- wherever I am.

And there is.

My job: find it.

Might have to go back to The Refuge.  The La Parada guy thinks he knows me, by now, and what I like to drink.  I'm leery of the old adage, "familiarity breeds contempt."

Why ?  Oh, come now.  If I can't remember my name, how would I parse such a complex circumvention of even the most basic tenets of logic and reason ?


Today, we have BIG plans.  Donald wants to buy a hacksaw blade, to shorten his latest walking stick acquisition.  We've both been scouting for those extra light cotton, long-sleeved shirts.  My "nylon" shirt -- bought during the blistering French heat wave of 2007 -- suits me extremely well, but doesn't cover my arms -- now roughly the color of black coffee.

Meaning: I have a farmer's tan extraordinaire.

We poked around the travel guide, yesterday, and are pretty committed that Honduras will be the next stop.  I want to take the Boeing 747 double-decker bus, first class cabin, from Guatemala City direct to Tegucigalpa.

Partly, I want to do this because it's 13 hours in opulent luxury.

Partly, I just like the name "Tegucigalpa."

It's alleged to be one of the highest murder-rate cities in the world.  So is San Pedro Sula -- another place we're aiming to go.

Less abjectly lethal, but equally interesting, is the Honduran Mayan ruins at Copán.  We'll see those, too.

You can get ruined by ruins, though, in much the same way as you can become immune to the awes of the old, magnificent churches.  The same doesn't seem to apply to the local brew: no coffee fatigue is setting in, at this point.

But Copán IS one to see, and they're not making any more of these.....

So ... Ciao for now ... from the sleep-deprived, language butchering denizens of ... The Gulag.

Friday, April 26, 2013


Ah, yes.  My old friend, logistics.

I got the tracking number for my DHL eyeglass shipment, this morning.  With it, I headed out to the Antigua DHL office to chat, again, with the (eyeglass-wearing) DHL employee with whom I had previously spoken.

She remembered me and my story, and -- despite looking up the tracking info for my package -- was pretty sure that my plan (since she told me that -- without a LOCAL phone number -- they wouldn't deliver the package to me at my hotel) wouldn't work.

To my understanding, she indicated that having the package shipped using DHL as the addressee was a plan doomed to failure.  She explained that they were a COURIER, and not a BUSINESS.

Okay.  I'll bite.  None of this made sense.  I basically said ... if you were a BAKERY, as long as the address was valid, shouldn't DHL deliver the package to you ?

"But we're not a bakery" was her answer.

Okay.  That explains the really mediocre pastries.

But I digress.

This stuff doesn't frustrate me.  It's the sort of thing I did for a living.

But it IS where the plot thickens, the tempo of the theme music quickens, and the tension mounts.  In film noir, a narrator would be saying all kinds of ominous things.

Rather than do that, though, we went directly across the street to the Texas bar-b-que restaurant that Blake (from Austin) opened.

Donald ate ribs.  I ate mashed potatoes.  We talked retail with Blake before learning that he was also involved in a solar electricity firm, whereupon, we switched the topic to Pulse Width Modulation and MPPT charging controllers.

So, I did study Electrical Engineering, and DO enjoy a good geek-fest as much as the next guy.  I surmised that ... Blake's solar powered, lithium-ion battery-equipped lighting gizmo was extremely cool, but wondered about the impacts of either photovoltaic efficiency or enhanced mAH battery capacity on his business model.

"That is a really excellent question," said Blake.

Hm.  I thought it was pure BS, but ... I guess I slid one over the plate.

We talked about efficiency of LEDs vs. CFLs vs. incandescents, and about the cost-effectiveness of paying for further miniaturization of his IC units.

You see ... I don't eat ribs, and HAD to do something.

Good guy, Blake.

I also met Alvin ... up on the roof.  He just finished Medical School on Long Island, and would soon be moving to Albany, New York to do his residency in Family Medicine (see the theme, here ?).  He was from Queens.  We talked about the business of medicine, the estimable value of mid-level practitioners, and the sui generis nature of surgeons -- all of 'em -- for a while.

Then his counterparts -- doing a rotation in Lake Atitlan -- showed up.

The rooftop terrace, of Casa Cristina, truly IS proving to be The Place To Meet People in this town.

So ... I just sent an e-mail to DHL Guatemala, pleading my case.  I used a phrase something akin to "You see....." and followed it up with "because I really can't."

I hope it translates ;-)

The bespectacled Antiguan DHL employee told me to come back on Tuesday (or Wednesday), and ... in essence ... see what happens.

And I shall.  I mean ... I really don't have much else to do.  At this point, I need to see how this particular story ends :-)

Because that's how we roll ... in the infinitely complicated, transnational commerce-driven, photovoltaic-powered branch of ... The Gulag.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Shop @ Maya Jaguar

I meant to post a few pictures of the bodega - the shop, at Maya Jaguar (Frances's school ... in the middle of nowhere, MayaLand):

It's a WoodMizer.  Yeah: a WoodMizer.


DeWalt Jobsite Saw w/home-brew outfeed table

DeWalt Compound Miter Saw

A brute of a Delta (DC-380) planer.  Note the NEW-IN-BOX, smaller Delta Planer to the left

Yeah: a 14" Delta Bandsaw
Most of their tools suffer from a combination of neglect and the very high humidity.  The CMS and the table saw had tile-cutting blades on them.  The band saw -- I'm quite sure -- had never been set up, tuned up, or used.

The big Delta planer didn't have a plug on it.

I did what I could -- aligning, cleaning, and lubing what I could, and showing the caretaker the basic proper operation of each of the working tools.  I tried to let Frances know which tools were dead, non-functional, or knocking at death's door, and -- among those -- which were worthy of attention, and which should be sold, scrapped, or traded.

In reality ... in a town ... with electricity and good lighting ... it would have been an absolutely wonderful shop.

For somebody :-)

Living vs. visiting

Today was one of those "don't need to do anything, see anything, or go anywhere ... we LIVE here  " kind of days.

I don't remember where we had coffee, but we did.
Not sure where we ate breakfast, but we did.
Fairly sure we walked around town.
KNOW we dropped off and picked up our laundry.
Chatted briefly with a few locals.

But ... it's just about 5pm, and I have next to no idea what we did.

Oh, yeah.  Caught 60% of "The Treasures of the Sierra Madre," with Humphrey Bogart, on TV.

The church to our east has bells.  The bells are sounded -- roughly -- on the hour -- roughly -- from sunrise through sunset.

They're also sounded -- roughly -- 45 minutes after the hour.

So far, we've found no rhyme, reason, or pattern to exactly when the bells sound, how many times they sound at a given clanging, or (sorry) for whom the bell tolls.

Yeah.  It's a mystery.  We've come to believe that somebody's unqualified nephew -- probably with a fairly well managed crack habit -- needed a job.

In about two minutes -- roughly -- they'll sound again.

And we'll know we're in Antigua.

My glasses got to Miami, today.  I used the wicked-cool user interface to direct that they be shipped to me, and give them the customs info they needed to create the manifest.

Problem is ... DHL told me that they would NOT receive my shipment if I didn't have a phone number -- NOT my international cell number, and NOT my hotel phone number.

I'm not above wheedling, begging, pleading, cajoling, bribery, or ... prostrating myself before the aforementioned lady, and just humbly asking her forgiveness (the "Ignorant Gringo Play").

So we're on the rooftop terrace.  Cigmo (sp ?) showed up.  He's a San Francisco civil engineer working for a small company that does use cases, utilization studies, and analysis for large building projects.  The goal is to maximize efficiency in almost every way: what are your needs ?  What do you have ?  Here's what we think you should do.

They then install monitoring sensors (telemetry, more or less), to provide feedback that allows them to fine-tune their models/algorithms, both to get better at their mission AND ... to create a software package that does what they do, eventually hoping to sell/license it out.

And Cigno's bringing wine back to the rooftop terrace in a couple of hours.

And he likes burritos.

And there's NOTHING wrong with EITHER of those things, now is there ??

It was with him and his friend, Ellen, that we dined last night.  Mediterranean joint that I'd heard about. Cheap.  Plentiful.  Yummie.

Ellen is on a 2wk Spanish course homestay gig.  She currently works as a medical assistant at a San Francisco women's health care clinic, but -- after about 4yrs leading bike tours abroad -- is going to get her Nursing license, and aim to become an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner.

I seem to gravitate toward that sort ;-)

Cigno and Ellen are probably in their mid-to-late 20's, very bubbly, very energetic, and -- as people who are on /relatively/ short (1-2wks) vacations -- are trying to pack a LOT in to a very little time Canadianspace.

Kind of the opposite of what Donald and I are doing.

They're in the left lane on Highway 405, doing about 85mph, while we're off on the shoulder, checking our tire pressures ;-)

But ... really nice people.  I'm sure that generalizations about travelers are as flawed and worthless as many generalizations (including that one), but ... there IS something about people with a passion for international travel.

Of course, that's a very self-congratulatory statement, so I make it unhesitatingly :-)

So ... with my mail/glasses likely to arrive in Antigua on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, we're looking at options for a 3+ day getaway, starting tomorrow.  One that we're considering is some EarthLodge place, a half-hour away.  It's a 40 acre avocado farm bought/started/run by an American/Canadian couple.  They've got dormitories and a few private cabins.  The food is alleged to be pretty fantastic.

And that's really what we're about :-)

We'd have to pack, find the shuttle, get reservations together, and get up there, but ... aside from the sheer enormity of all that ... no problem ;-)

Neither of us, though, has felt any particular compulsion to be done with Antigua.  It's a very easy town to spend time in, and our rooftop terrace is sublime.

I saw an ad, today, at the coffee shop: 2br, 1ba, fully-furnished apartment renting for $500/mo.  Donald saw one, last night, renting for $350.  Without knowing where, in town, they are, that sets the tempo for the cost of the big-ticket item, here: housing.

Not bad.  With a two-bedroom, you could take in the occasional Spanish-studying gringo/gringa about six months out of the year, and live for next to nothing, working on your Spanish in sort of a modified "home stay" model.

Interesting.  Economically viable, even.  It doesn't even begin to create A Life, as I need to find it, but ... it does mean that the math works.

Guatemala City -- a Big City -- is about 45 minutes away, and ... has everything.

Yeah.  I like this place.  It has oodles of half-a-millennium-old-world charm, nearly 200 exceptionally tasty (and reasonably priced) restaurants, the best coffee I've ever tasted, and more than enough of an influx of English speakers to keep the homesick pangs at bay.

So ... for now ... keeping the recurrent food theme in mind, I say ... Chow for now ... from the Upper Level Terrace of ... The Gulag.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Toujours en Provence

No.  Not really.  But definitely still in Antigua.

Mostly, it's been lots of walking the last few days -- pick a compass heading ... a part of the town we really hadn't explored ... and go explore.

Yesterday, we spent a bit of time at Casa Santo Domingo -- a phenomenally beautiful, old, restored convent, now serving as a museum, tourist attraction, and -- for the area -- frightfully expensive hotel.

We did little besides walk around.  Naturally, I played with the handful of macaws that live there:

Sure.  One or two of the macaws wanted to eat me, not realizing I'd been trained by Waldo, a/k/a "Beak of Death --" Ernie's bird.

We made nice ;-)

Last night, I was visited by my old friends -- the nightmares.  'Twas a long night, and I awoke before sunrise.

Today's goal -- apart from coffee and breakfast -- was to find the chimerical public hot springs, alleged to be only a few miles outside of town.

Coffee was had at The Refuge Coffee House.  Superlatives had been chucked at this place with reckless abandon, all over the Internet.  How good could coffee be, anyway ??

Oh.  It was so unbelievably good.  I'm not a qualified wine OR coffee snob, so I lack the vocabulary to adequately describe it.  Suffice to say ... for USD$1.50 ... I had the best cup of coffee I'd had in my life.  I plan to haunt the place.

Headed toward the bus terminal, and stopped into a breakfast place.  Realizing we'd skipped dinner, last night, I ordered big: pancakes and a big breakfast combo -- eggs, beans, rice, bread, jam, fried plantains, and ... maybe tortillas.

It's all kind of a blur.

We decided to walk to the mythical San Lorenzo el Tejar, to find the lost hot springs of Guatemala.

Eventually, after walking forever, I started asking locals ... how do we get there.

The responses were pretty consistent, in words and facial expressions: what kind of idiots would WALK there ??  It's REALLY far away ??

Okay.  We gave up.  Flagged down a Tuk-Tuk and tuk-tuk a Q70 (USD$10) ride over the river and through the woods.

Money WELL spent:

As many know, your typical hot springs range from "REALLY hot, until you get used to it" to "I can finally steam the wrinkles out of my linen suit."

Not these.

These were far more akin to ... it doesn't feel hot until you get out, and are cold.

Okay.  That'll do.  We splashed around, swam around, kept a watchful eye on the three soldiers with automatic weapons (what I needed, after a night of nightmares) who were ... inexplicably ... stationed there, and relaxed to the occasional staccato sound of small-arms fire in the hills above us (ibid).

But ... all in all ... a few hours well spent.

Of course, there was an Q8 bus back to Antigua afterward.  Now you tell me :-)

We made a beeline to the McDonald's McCafe, so Donald could gorge himself on cheeseburgers (he needed to), then hung in the Central Park for a bit, eventually heading back to the hotel by way of a bakery (a Pop-Tart-esque thingy called, in Spanish, a "strawberry filled diaper --" much tastier than it sounds).

Okay.  Maybe it translates into "handkerchief" or "scarf," but I like my story better.

My eyeglasses are alleged to be on their way to Miami.  The fun (import, customs, duties, etc.) begins in a few days, then.

Ciao for now ... from ... the Lukewarm Beach Head of ... The Gulag.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Enzo and Jennifer

Out on the rooftop terrace, this evening, as the cool night air kicked in.

Enzo and Jennifer (born in Chicago) live in Southern Italy, on the olive farm of Enzo's family.  Probably in their early 30's, they met through their respective work for NGO's.

Collectively (I lost track), they'd lived/worked in Angola, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Darfur, Uganda, Rwanda, and ... who knows how many other places.

They were traveling from Mexico (an acquaintance's wedding in the Mexican Yucatan town of Akumal), overland, through to Costa Rica.

Enzo was likely heading for Syria, next.  I asked about Libya, in the post-Khadaffi era.  He spoke of the usual combination of hope, fear, and chaos.

When I asked what he did, there, he described heading a project to organize and run four detention centers, each of which housed illegal immigrants, captured IN Libya, on their way from all of Africa, up through to the Mediterranean, where the lucky few (who hadn't died on their journey) would sail to Southern Italy, in hopes of finding work in Europe.

Like so many immigrants' stories, though, Enzo described horrifying tales of death in the desert, capture-escape-re-capture from detention camps, death on the Mediterranean voyage, and capture and detention in Italy.

Often taking years and years ... with no hope of repatriation or the promise of a new life in Europe.

Politically hugely complicated, to be sure, but that was neither Enzo's nor my interest.  We just talked of the human element involved, the desperation he (and Jennifer) had seen, and their efforts to do good within unimaginably complex situations.

Jennifer threw in the towel, and is now teaching yoga near their Italian village.  Enzo may have one more good run in him.

Or, he'll do the olive thing on the family farm ;-)

Okay. So it's a kind of bromeliad

All over Guatemala, we've noticed weird plants growing ON power lines.  It never loses its novelty.

They look like this:

In unrestricted "Check out the big brain on Brad !" Mode, I opined ... must be some kind of bromeliad.

I'm not sure I had/have ANY idea what a bromeliad is, but ... I digress.

But they ARE some sort of bromeliad !!

Who knew ?
Go figure.

It's the little things (another gratuitous "Pulp Fiction" reference ?  I'll never tell.....).

Ciao for now ... from the Horticulturally Nearly-Fluent Office of ... The Gulag.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Some pics ... Antigua and environs

Volcan de Agua, as seen from our rooftop terrace

A bus terminal, full of the ubiquitous "chicken buses"

Church, visible from the rooftop terrace

Same church.  Notice ruins of old structure, on left

Falling behind on the picture thing....

But I'll catch up.

Yesterday and today were mostly spent walking, poking in and out of the markets, including Antigua's wonderful central "general" market and artisan market.

We also took a chicken bus to Pastores, a town famous for custom-made leather boots and shoes.  Since neither of us had a particular interest in buying a pair ... it wasn't a lengthy stay, but always a good time taking the banzai chicken bus ride.

This morning, we ate breakfast at Fernando's Kaffee:

If I've ever eaten a better breakfast, or had a better cup of coffee, then my age and senility bar me from recalling.

It was that good.  Some sort of vegetarian crepe with cheese and fresh mushrooms, smothered in a homemade ... what could best be described as pasta sauce ... and a cinnamon roll that -- while not unusually large for its size -- weighed in at just over nine pounds.

And fruit.

And bread.

And some sort of 130+ octane double cappuccino that was borderline irresponsible on top of the three cups of joe I had in the hotel, on awakening.

We walked for hours.  The cool of the hotel room shows 77* and 70% humidity, so ... in the sun ... it's pretty darned warm.

We stopped at the central park to catch our breath, but then spotted yet another of the relatively famous coffee/baked goods places, and were inextricably drawn inward.

This time, a chocolate-Nutella thing ... whatever they called it ... and a simple cafe Americano.  Yum.

So that was most of the day, mostly out of order.

There's a German restaurant/beer garden, here.  We're going to try that, tonight.  They sell hefeweizen beers.  I like hefeweizen beers.  I think it's mutual.

I checked in with my optometrist.  They have NOT shipped my (much needed) new eyeglasses to my Florida mail forwarder, yet.  Ruh-roh.  They promised to FedEx them, today, though.  With luck, that means I can get them TO Antigua without having to stay here for an inordinate amount of time.

My "old" glasses -- the only ones I have -- have yellow-tinted clip-ons.  They do a good job of managing glare, but ... are a bit too dark for nighttime wear.  In dark towns with unfamiliar terrain, cobblestone streets, and all kinds of sinkhole-type stuff where you necessarily walk .... it's sort of a death wish thing for me to leave the clip-ons in place, but ... glare from lights is overwhelming if I don't.

See the dilemma ?  That's why I'll stay in Antigua until I can get the new glasses to come hither.

Tomorrow should see us taking a chicken bus to the local hot springs.  For now, I'm heading up to the rooftop terrace to bask a while.  I'll put up some pictures later.

Ciao for now ... from the coffee aficionados in the Antiguan office of ... The Gulag.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Welcome, LumberJocks

A woodworker/participant on the website reached out to me, by e-mail.

I asked him to let the other LumberJocks -- a former family of mine -- know about my blog.  Looks like at least one, so far, has stopped by :-)

To the LumberJocks who DO visit: I welcome you.  I miss you.  I thank you for your constant support and encouragement, both during my formative year(s) as a woodworker, and -- maybe more importantly -- when life turned on me so viciously, dismantling me brick by brick until I had no place to go and nothing to do but ... leave the country.

Until I get rid of my shop (I haven't.  It's all in storage), I still call myself a woodworker.  Whether or not I'll ever be able to get back into it ... I can't say.

But sawdust ... got into my bloodstream.

I miss my craft.  I miss my shop.  I miss my LumberJock buddies.

All y'all :-)

Ann T. Gua


We got here yesterday, having taken a micro-bus for about 3hrs from Panajachel.

In our proverbial rear-view mirror, the clouds that had shrouded the Lake Atitlan volcanoes had cleared, leaving us a spectacular view of the lake and its famous overseers.  No pics.  Too lazy.

We checked in to Casa Cristina, a short few blocks north of the Parque Central:

Charming.  Clean.  Comfortable.  Fourth-level rooftop terrace with a great view of the volcanoes surrounding the area and the old city at large.

Antigua immediately fits like an old pair of slippers.  It just does.  Great restaurants abound.  Historic churches, largely destroyed by a series of earthquakes hundreds of years ago, higher-end shopping, and street vendors.

Life.  This town has life.

Last evening, we walked South, quite a few blocks out of town.  Affluent area.  Large estates, protected by high walls, concertina razor wire, AND electrified barbed wire.  Okay.  Stay out.  Got it.

Several of these churches are in ruins, due to the earthquakes:

At some point, a rather sagacious decision was made that ... maybe we should NOT rebuild, here.  So what's left of many of these is the wreckage from the 18th century.

Food has been relatively expensive.  For breakfast, with coffee and a large glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice, plus our "main course," we paid Q194 (about USD$25).  Yowch.  Going to have to be more careful, here.  Thigh-high in the Gringo Grass, as it were ;-)

We toured some of the cathedral ruins, spent a while people-watching in Parque Central, and let the friendly Casa Christina proprietors know that we'd ... be staying until further notice.

Yeah.  Antigua is that kind of town.

Will likely had up to the rooftop terrace, slurp down some water, contemplate my navel, and think about what the afternoon might bring.

77*F, 63% humidity.  Still walking in the cool grass ... so to speak ;-)

Ciao for now, then, from the Antique Bureau of ... The Gulag !

Friday, April 19, 2013

Adios, Panajachel

Today, we caught the chicken bus up to Solola.

Friday market.

I've been to more than a few markets, in more than a few places.  The most fascinating, all considered, were the Moroccan medinas (In Morocco, oddly enough).

But these were close.

Throngs of people, almost exclusively adorned in their traditional traje (costume, garb), and moving in  Brownian Motion.  It was pure melee.  Couple it with the Guatemalan cultural need for absolutely ZERO personal space, and you have what I would loosely call a party.

Only one of the little feminine sand speeders stomped my sandal-clad big toe.

Not bad.

The markets -- as they all do -- carry everything.  Don and I were the only gringos there, making it even more interesting to be there, and the locals even a tad more surprised by our presence.

Couple hours there.  No purchases.

Caught a chicken bus back to Panajachel, and walked the commercial streets a bit more.  We lunched at Guajimbo's, yet again, and -- as before -- virtually ate ourselves sick.

My minimal laundry is done (thanks to the gracious ladies at Utz Jay Hotel).  I'm packed.  We have a reservation in Antigua at the Hotel Casa Cristina, a mere handful of blocks from the central square.

Our minibus leaves at 9:30am, giving us one more breakfast opportunity at the Utz Jay restaurant -- yum.

Pana's a great town.  A nice town.  An easy town.  It makes the list, so far, of places that I'd probably consider living ... if life takes me in that direction.

And .... Panajachel rentals can be had relatively cheaply, particularly ... if I said I'd pay cash and pay the entire term in advance.

But Antigua -- from your old Real Estate professional (ie, ME !) -- is probably fabulous, and similarly rife with affordable rental opportunities.

But who knows.  It's about 80*F in the room, and a blissful 65% humidity -- pretty much what it has been all day, every day, since we got to Pana.

I don't know what I would do in a place like this (I don't have a clue), but I hurt a LOT less, ophthalmologically.

And that's huge ... epic ... ginormous.

Like a lot of ex-pats, I could always just start drinking.  That has a certain appeal, where it never would have before :-)

Ciao for now, then, from the Northern End of Lago de Atitlan Bureau of ... The Gulag.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


Americans with Disabilities Act.

Technically, Mexico is in the Americas, but the ADA doesn't apply.

This was our hotel in Comitan, Chiapas.  No elevator:

Okay, okay ... that's just a bald-faced lie.  It's the Mayan ruins of Palenque.

Pretty cool, though, huh ??

Have you driven a fjord .....

Lately ?

Since I'm now peppering the blog with a few pics, I wanted to give some idea of the rough terrain that Maya Jaguar's driver, Yoni, dealt with every day, and handled so deftly:

Now, to be fair ... I have no idea whether or not Yoni could handle a Toyota Prius around rush hour on the 405 freeway, but ... for the task at hand ... he was The Man !!

Yoni is on the right.  Diego is on the left.  I think the phrase "infectious" is hackneyed, when referring to smiles or laughs, but ... dammit ... Diego has an infectious smile AND laugh.

Which could explain the bronchitis.  Hmmmmm.

I've just never seen Cousin Donald happier than this morning, when he was eating a banana in the Lake Atitlan Nature Preserve:

Yeah.  The family resemblance between Donald and me IS striking.

I know ;-)

Not just monkeys.  A coati or four, too:

So ... it was an early morning ... a wonderful walk to the Nature Preserve, some down time, and then ... almost certainly ... a little shopping and some food.

I'm almost finished with yesterday's dark chocolate Toblerone bar.  OhMyGod was it good !

Oh, yeah.  Note to self: gotta' get ME one of these.  I keep forgetting....

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign....

In about 1996, I was shopping for a motorhome.  I figured ... if and when I happened upon The Right Motorhome ... there would be a sign.

On the way home from checking out a 1982 Airstream, I saw THE most intense double rainbow I had ever seen.

I had my sign.

I also had the name for my new Airstream: Rainbow - rainbow ---> BoBo.

Last night, we ambled (yes: "amble" is exactly what we did) into town to find Guajimbo's Uruguayan Restaurant.  We had a hankering for Uruguayan food ( ? ).

The Gringo trio band was on fire.  After we ordered, they pulled out a moldy oldie that I knew and loved: "Home At Last," by Steely Dan.

Steely Dan's lyrics are relatively well-known for NOT meaning anything, so ... the context of the line is irrelevant, but ... the line is:

  "Could it be that I have found my home at last ?  Home at last....."

It's probably a sign.  It could be a sign.  There are elements OF a sign within that story.

Or not.

Dinner was exquisite.  Donald had pork chops that -- collectively -- weighed in at a couple of kilos.  My tofu parmesan was to die for.  We each had desert and a couple of Guatemalan beers, as the trio kept reeling out their dulcet tones.  Somehow, their set list was a perfect pairing to whatever we were doing, saying, or thinking.

Yeah.  Somehow.

Or ... it may have been the alcohol.

Hotel Utz Jay just stuffed me like a Christmas Goose.  No, they didn't MAKE me order the yogurt breakfast AND the pancakes, but they DID summarily shirk their inborn responsibility to advise me against it.


And their coffee, at this place ... tremendo.

And that Mayan Sauna, last night.  Ohhhhhhhhhh, Baby, did THAT hit the spot.

Rain forecast for the afternoon.  Who cares ?  Not I.  Not we.

Ciao for now ... from the well fed, thoroughly scrubbed, marginally hydrated, and intensely caffeinated bureau of ... The Gulag.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Lake Atitlan

Okay.  Panajachel, on Lago de Atitlan.

Other than eat ceviche and walk around, we haven't done much yet.

But that -- in and of itself -- is rather a lot :-)

Our hotel is awesome:

They're warming up the "Mayan Sauna" (?) for us.  Muy amable of them, don't you think ?

We'll eat breakfast on property, tomorrow, before wandering around town some more.  Market-shopping is well known in this area.  I haven't had a hankering for any of the knick-knacks, so I'm still traveling pretty light.

But Sololá is just up the hill, and REALLY well known for its handicraft stuff.  Okay.  Chicken bus it is !

82*F and 56% humidity.  Lakeside.  Eyes are doing okay.  Lungs are getting tired from the coughing. Can you say "Countdown to Zithromax ?"

I can ;-)

We'll likely spend a few days in this town, before moving on to ... uh ... well ... the next place.  We're definitely hitting Critical Gringo Mass.  It feels very odd, having been in way-rural Guatemala from the get-go.

Ciao for now ... from the lakeside office of ... The Gulag.

Oh, and ... Happy Birthday to Michael Albert, who -- quite fortunately -- was NOT among the Boston Marathon runners, this year.....

Monday, April 15, 2013

Quetzaltenango (a/k/a Xela; a/k/a Pretzel-tenango ... sez' me)

1:18 PM 4/15/2013 - So ... it's ... what -- day three in Quetzaltenango (Xela - pronounced Shay-la) ?

It's poking around in the 40's, in terms of humidity.  Fairly tolerable when I'm dormant, but when you throw in activity, walking, bright sunshine, diesel fumes, and the dirt whipped up by vehicles on the cobblestone streets ... I pay.  I tried to wear my safety goggles.  WAY too humid.  They were just a rain forest on the inside.  "Working --" even in that environment (ridiculously high humidity) still presents as-yet-unsurmounted challenges.

So we're playing it very low key.  We're walking around town a lot.  Today, we happened toward the central cemetery, which -- as it turns out -- is just leviathan.  I mean ... terrain aside ... we just couldn't walk from end to end.  There was such a diverse representation of the low-cost (for Jim: torsion box construction) resting places and the unimaginably costly mausoleum/shrine/crypt configurations.

It's always beautiful and interesting to visit cemeteries when traveling.  You learn a lot about life expectancies over time, when epidemics hit, infant mortality rates, and a bit of ethnography of the area.

We've eaten well.  This morning, we tried out Xelapan (Xela Bread) Cafe.  An absolute coup, at about USD$3.00/ea for eggs, beans, tortillas, a croissant, fresh orange juice, and that now-famous Guatemalan coffee.

With a "right on the central square" location and a front-of-store bakery that stocked a seemingly infinite number of SKU's (sorry: jargon alert).

We're a bit schizophrenic about the next steps in the trip, largely because Don's back just keeps flaring up.  It still looks like Panajachel, then Antigua, but ... it could well be that we skip the Caribbean coast in lieu of a bus down to Guatemala City and a First-Class overland route to El Salvador.

Or something.  Don't set your clock by this stuff.  It really IS subject to change.

After dinner across the street last night, I joined a (Cambridge) British gap-year student in viewing "Y Tu Mama Tambien" at the restaurant's video cafe.  Thought I'd seen it, but ... nope.  Very funny and interesting movie.  I also felt profoundly old, sitting there along side a 19 year old student.

I mean ... General Sherman Redwood Old.  No bueno ;-)

Movie ended at 11p.  Offered to walk her home, to the homestay in which she was staying during her stint teaching English to Guatemalan primary school kids.

Chivalry is not dead.

I tried to pay careful attention to the route she took, farther and farther away from the hotel.  At some point, I simply gave up.  "Pretty sure I'm still in Guatemala," thought I.

She asked if I knew how to get back to my hotel.  I'm too tired to endeavor bravado, so I said, "I have no EARTHLY idea, but I always get home."

And I did.  Couldn't have mapped a better route, online.  Score one for me.  Still not sleeping on the mean Guatemalan streets.


We looked into a day trip to the hot springs, but ... apparently, the guide books are correct about the business's address, while the business has its OWN address WRONG on its website.

This ... is Guatemala ;-)

So ... we spend time on the Square, watching the people ... who, in turn, are likely watching us.  It's a decades and decades old game, and I like to play.

I haven't really been called a Gringo, yet -- at least ... not that I've heard.

Which is nice.

McDonald's has decent coffee here.  Crap.  I said it.  Worse: I've stopped there twice for coffee.  Bless Me, Father, for I have sinned......

The bronchitis is coming along nicely.  Don't even have to do anything.  It's just ... there.  Like my constant companion.  I guess I was envious of Donald's estimable morning cough.

I keep up, now ;-)

I'm going to pop this one up on the Gulag.  My peepers are tired.  Unless something noteworthy happens in Xela, I'll likely update, next, from ... wherever we are next.  At some point, I'll try to add pictures, but ... can't do it just yet/now.

Ciao for now ... from ... the Central American office of .... The Gulag.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Hello from Guatemala

4:06 PM 4/10/2013 - It's now April 10th.  I'm NOT going to be good, accurate, or precise about dates, primarily because .... dates and time don't seem to matter much, here ;-)

My flight from Denver to Houston was delayed by 4hrs, due to snow.  I eventually got to Houston, but missed my flight to Guatemala City.


I DID stay at a nearby Holiday Inn Express, that night.

The next day, I took the same 4pm flight into Guat City, arriving at about 7:05pm.  Taxi ride to the Stygian, post-apocalyptic Zona 1, near the government buildings, the stench of poverty, the uneasy tension of an obviously high violent crime rate, and ... the hotel where Donald was staying.

It was totally devoid of charm and creature comforts, but was absolutely fine.  Don said it was the acid test: he assumed I'd be high maintenance and burst an aneurysm.  He was wrong ;-)

We found a rather clean, bright, and upscale restaurant, and got dinner, in close proximity to a guard wielding an automatic rifle.

The next morning, we made our way to the airport where we waited a few hours for Frances Dixon to arrive.  We found our van driver about an hour before Frances arrived, and yakked with him for a bit.

When Frances arrived, we boarded our charter minivan, and headed out.

Hours of driving, punctuated with a stop at a wonderful roadside restaurant in the middle of nowhere.  They served angus beef ... from ... Greeley, Colorado (about 35 minutes from where I once lived).

Odd.  You just have odd things happen, and see odd things, when you're on the road.  I don't specifically remember ever eating Guatemalan food, in Greeley, for example.

We overnighted at the Hotel Conquistador, in HueHuetenango, getting up early in the morning to continue on to Barillas.  From HueHuetenango to Barillas, we'd be driven by the Maya Jaguar (the school/institute that Frances built) driver, Yoni.

We piled into the back of their new/next-to-new diesel Toyota Land Cruiser pickup truck, replete with foam mattresses for us to sit on, comfortably.

Immediately out of Barillas, the formerly pristine road turned to a four hour rock crawling extravaganza of a "path."  The truck -- while very sturdy and relatively comfortable -- just bounced and bounced, shaking and agitating Donald and me through some of the most beautiful mountain scenery either of us had ever seen.

And -- collectively -- we've been nearly everywhere :-)

We eventually arrived at Maya Jaguar, now able to extract any of our teeth easily, and without dental tools.  Yeah: we shook and bounced THAT much.

We "checked into" our cabin, a 10x15 foot affair, perfectly (if simply) constructed and replete with a corrugated roof.  There were two twin beds snugged up inside it, leaving about a 12" passage between the two.  The kids had put two shop-made (tongue and groove joinery) tables in -- one inside, and one on our beautiful (maybe 8x6 foot) porch.

No bathroom.  No lighting.  Two blankets and a sheet, each.

This is where chronology goes to pot....

The school is a compound of buildings set on a fairly large piece of property in RUGGED terrain.  The kids -- part goat -- can, of course, get anywhere easily.  We struggled with the hills and rocky paths, but made it from place to place, over and over again.

To my recollection, here are the structures on the property:

 - a new chicken coop
 - an old (no longer in use) coop
 - a big building, housing the kitchen and the cafeteria.  Carved out of the kitchen is the girls' dormitory, which , for good and decent reasons, we never saw :-)
 - maybe 10 cabins identical to ours

That's the main area.  In the "school area," there are two buildings:

 - a 'bodega,' serving as the tool shed and workshop -- a cement block structure with a corrugated roof, steel doors and windows, and a "carved out" TINY room that serves as the residence of Pedro, the caretaker and guard for the compound.  In it was a fairly full woodshop, including a Wood Mizer sawmill;

 - the school, itself.  This is a beautiful thing -- a two-story structure with wood framing and sheathing, and tongue and groove paneling on the interior.  The lower floor houses two offices and four classrooms.  The upper floor is an open loft with a beautiful porch.

And a soccer field, where the kids -- in torrential rain and ever-deepening mud -- put on an impressive display of youthful, Latin American soccer prowess.  Well done, lads !

The school and the kitchen have electricity, inverters, and storage batteries.  The bodega has a 6.5Kw generator, used to power the appropriate tools.

Lower on the property sits an unused 'residence' and Francis's current cabin -- a lovely ... maybe 12 x 25 foot affair, framed and sheathed in wood and T&G paneling, inside and out.  While she has no electricty, she DOES have a gas, four-burner combination oven-stove, and a gas-powered compact refrigerator.  Also, a wood-burning stove.

One bedroom.  One living area/kitchen.  Beautiful porch.

Tanks filled by rain water provide water throughout the compound.  Similarly, an open-air 'shower area' has a few tanks.  The boys and girls shower there.  We pretty much showered via the plastic wash tub where dishes are done.

There are MORE than a few small structures throughout, including a building in which the 12HP mill (used to mill corn, for making tortillas -- a staple of the diet there) sit, a kitchen for Pedro, and several little huts used to store cement mixers, scrap lumber, and miscellaneous supplies.

It rained for three straight days while we were there -- unusual for this time of year.  It truly LOOKS like a rain forest, but absent MOST of the sounds by which a rain forest is usually marked.  Not a problem.  Very quiet nights.

Early in the trip, Yoni, Frances, Donald, and I, along with a wonderful student (Diego) headed into Mexico.  Three stops in total: Palenque (Mayan Ruins), Ojocosingo, and Comitan, all in the State of Chiapas.

We crossed the Guatemalan-Mexican border at a crossing where a big border control station was being built -- all solar powered -- but where NO border patrol was working.  Eerie.  A seamless and uneventful passage from a Central American country into Mexico.

Hmmmm.  Too easy.   Made us all uncomfortable.

It was hot -- I mean DAMNED hot -- in Palenque, but ... worse things have happened.  Not my first Mayan ruins, but ... breathtaking.  Imagining the work involved, and the motivation behind it ... as always ... eluded me.

Frances's back -- historically problematic -- was being slowly destroyed on the trip, though she occupied the rather commodious cab of the truck as Yoni capably piloted us across this little chunk of the globe.  Though she was using a cane, she began to need more and more help to move.  It was pretty heartbreaking to watch, throughout our entire stay.

On our way TO Palenque, we were caught in stopped traffic, due to several accidents.  Eventually, night fell, putting us behind schedule, and forcing us to ask where to stay.  Good/bad move.  We wound up at a luxurious hotel/resort with exceptionally opulent rooms, air conditioning, satellite TV, immaculate grounds, and a fabulous restaurant.

We ate like kings.  I had a couple of Corona beers.  It was, after all, Mexico, you know ;-)

From Palenque, we headed off TOWARD San Cristobal de las Casas.

But never made it.

The first stop was a military drug checkpoint where three men armed with automatic rifles stood eerily close to .... ME ... while they tore through our luggage, and asked us no end of questions.

I have a "men with guns" problem ... where I never did before.

But it went okay.  We were left to go about our merry way, unmolested.

But ... a few hours later ... the Federales -- the Mexican Mafia incarnate.

They gave us/Yoni no end of hassle, allegedly about some slight imperfection in the paperwork for our truck.  Eerie, worrisome, and stressful.  Eventually, USD$50 got HIM to go away.

But nightfall was coming, we were an hour out of San Cristobal de las Casas, and we needed to be OFF the road.  Donald was getting pretty tense.

We checked into a hotel about 100 yards from the Federales' reverse ATM.  It was expensive, clean, and spartan.  Frances -- to get secure parking for the indefatigable Land Cruiser -- took a room next door, at the even MORE expensive (but allegedly beautiful) hotel next door.

Don and I ate quite well for ridiculously little money, down the street.

In the morning, we all headed out early, but ... Frances had heard Don to say that he did NOT want to go to San Cristobal de las Casas.

So ... we didn't.

We took a secondary (read: bouncy) road to Comitan, the fourth largest city (whatever that means) in Chiapas province.

Comitan is charming, but not much else.  It's off the gringo trail, so far as we could tell, but offered nice restaurants, hotels, and rudimentary shopping.

I was sad to have missed the allegedly charming San Cristobal, but ... it's not going anywhere.

Our hotel in Comitan was beautiful, and reasonably priced for what it offered, including a Wi-Fi connection that was both functioning AND impressively high-speed.

By this time, Frances wasn't doing well.  She (fluent in Spanish) met with a USD$3.00 doctor ... failed to find a chiropractor, was given wrong directions to an American massage therapist (failed to ever find this person), and eventually went to a "huesero --" a Mexican bone-breaker.

He traumatized her, but didn't fix her.

From Comitan, we took a long journey back to the Guatemalan border, crossing over in the quaint little town of Gracias A Dios (thanks to God).

We know how it got its name ;-)

More hours-and-hours-of-unimaginably-beautiful-if-destructively-bouncy roads and driving.  Yoni never missed a shift, never takes a faulty line, knows when to check before fording a river, and when to hump clear through.  We drove across soccer fields, through the front yards of residents, and ... essentially ... wherever locals told us to, in order to find the new (USD$203,000,000 InterAmericano roadway).

[He also takes absolutely me-TIC-u-lous care of the truck]

And it was good.  Pavement.  It's the little things you learn to appreciate, in traveling.

Yoni -- about 23 y/o, married, and with a 2-1/2 year old, cute-as-can-be son, is the quintessential Latino male -- terse, stoic, and -- despite a good sense of humor, as serious as you'd want your driver (of an ostensibly USD$40,000 vehicle) to be -- just grows on you.  Solid as a man could be.

He's building their house on his in-laws' property in Victoria, halfway between Maya Jaguar and Finca Tres Ranchos, the site of Frances's original house and property.

He and Diego take remarkably good care of Frances, too, tending to her every need.

The day after we returned to Maya Jaguar, Yoni did his "milk run," picking up all the 15 students who attend the "high school."

Before Yoni and the Land Cruiser, kids -- literally -- walked from two to TEN hours, each way, over BRUTAL trails, to attend.  This is your benchmark for motivated learners.  It's rather astounding to be in their presence.  They are the antithesis of the stereotypical, ingrateful, spoiled, American teen.

The kids ... would be hard to describe.

They are the children of the Guatemalan Civil War survivors or deceased or ... disappeared.

They are Mayan.

They are indescribably cute.  They speak X'anjob'al (Mayan dialect), but have an average of six to eight years of formal Spanish schooling (meaning ... they all speak Spanish WAY better than I do).

They are from large families.  Their work is needed in their homes, but they are the children of parents who value education, want more for their children, and make HUGE sacrifices in order to see that their children are educated.

It's beautiful.

They're all also pretty good rudimentary carpenters.  Part of their cirriculum was building a "palapa" (Champa, up here) in the open area between all of the cabins.  What I can do with a scroll saw ... they can do with machetes.  They can expertly drive nails, chop wood, and carry more cargo than a Ford diesel F350 with the trailer towing package.

And their smiles are infectious.

The staff includes Osmond, the director of the school.  He's 25 y/o.  His wife, Elma, is a fascinating creature -- beautiful, speaks a mile a minute, extremely type A, and a font of information.

Merna is the cook.  God bless Merna.  The school runs 18 days on, then 12 days off.  While those 18 days are going, we got three hots and a cot.

And the hots were delicious.  Fresh tortillas at every meal.  Guatemalan coffee on tap.

There's another Yoni, too.  His background is in radio and communications.  He was a DJ for Radio Santa Cruz Barillas, and covered soccer games live.  His father is a fall-down alcoholic.  Yoni switched careers, going into agriculture.  He worked for Oxfam for a spell, and then -- I didn't get the story -- encountered either Frances or Maya Jaguar and signed up.

Aside from teaching the students agriculture (there are 18 "tablones --" project gardens) -- one for each kid, and a BIG greenhouse.  Everything they grow on property is grown organically, served in their kitchen, and unimaginably delicious.

It's also all vegetarian.  Bless Donald's heart.  He ate it, loved it, and never complained.

Although there may have been a chicken disappearance, while we were there ;-)

Yeah.  Fresh eggs, daily.

Pedro is the caretaker.  His son, Manuel, filled in for him while Pedro got eight days off to go home to his family.

Don and I sat in on a Language (Spanish) class.  I read along, and did my homework (list unfamiliar vocabulary words, look them up, discuss).  The kids were smart, engaged, and enthusiastic.

Frances asked me to repair a set of stairs on TWO cabins.  The first one went well.  The second one was a comedy of errors.  They used a verrrrry strange method to construct the original stairs, and -- despite my better judgment -- I decided to retain the consistency with the other cabins.

But the supporting wooden blocks were made of some intensely hard wood, and dozens of nails were trashed in the hammering process.  First, by me, to the hilarity of all who watched.

But then -- when I did the ol' "Let's see YOU do it" bit -- they all destroyed the nails, too.  As I said ... the hardwood was hard wood.

I decided to tear it down and rebuild it, on the table and band saws.  I found a drill press, and decided to predrill the mounts so that I could drive screws instead of nails.  I got two holes drilled before the (neglected Black & Decker) drill press died.  The (DeWalt) cordless screw gun stripped out the Phillips screw heads.


Hard wood + cheap fasteners.

Found a Bosch hammer drill, lit up the generator, and finished predrilling.  Again ... still ... we bent a bag of nails.  Grrrrrrrr !!!!

But ... eventually ... I finished, and it was good.  Found some old, ratty cement blocks, and sledged them into gravel to form a ground-level step that could endure the rainy season.

Frances didn't get a lot better, and was genuinely badly bruised from her "huesero" trauma.  When we left her, at Maya Jaguar, she was considering a flight back to the States for care -- a brutal journey under the best of conditions; a misery with a brutally bad back.

Oh.  By the way ... Frances started building her dream home, on the property, in January.  It's 48 x 32 feet, a single story, with an open, pitched ceiling, one bedroom, a large bathroom, the aforementioned wood-burning stove, a galley kitchen, a large living room, and ... a view of the mountains ... that is of enormous value.  I mean ... it's just an absolutely phenomenal view.

Don and I talked to her about a couple of construction issues -- some fundamental and critical, some aesthetic/design and very well received.

I hope she can live out her life there, as she plans.  It's hell getting old.

I need to take a moment, here, and hawk for the foundation: Adopt-A-Village In Guatemala (they have a website; Google it, por favor).

This (Frances) is a lady who has done a remarkable amount of good over these last 23+ years.  I can unreservedly recommend that -- for those so inclined -- you make a donation to her charity.  She's moving kids from zero to one; giving hope to those where hope was hopeless.

But money -- as with all charities -- is an ongoing concern.

Think about it.

Don and I helped her in every way we could -- with business strategy, organizational decisions, facilities issues, ongoing maintenance suggestions, and a succession plan.  Frances is now about 71 years old.

I also listed a number of organizations she should reach out to, directly, and helped her more broadly with a marketing plan.  She needs to bring on a stateside development person, and an "in-country" business/finance person, allowing HER to focus on the strategic imperatives of a charity like hers: fundraising, cultivating connections, breaking down barriers, problem solving, management, and networking with her charity and NGO peers.

I also helped her take a very basic Excel spreadsheet and make it a functional and 'database savvy' inventory management sheet, allowing them to get a better handle on their assets, both for their Board of Directors, internal use, a future 'accountant' type, and any potential donors sophisticated enough to ask the sort of questions that an Inventory should help to answer.

Yeah: I use Excel just for fun ;-)

We caught the 9am Yoni out of town, on Monday 4/8.  This trip, Yoni picked up Barillas-bound passengers -- old Mayan people with huge bundles of firewood and sacks of who-knows what.  Don -- the elder (ha-ha) rode in the cab this time.  I stood the entire way, in the back, and -- again -- drank in the majestic view.

So we got to Barillas, checked BACK into the Hotel La Estancia (Almica and his wife -- two of the nicest, friendliest people I have EVER met), and ... have done nearly nothing for going on three days.  Between Don's back (and ... er ... a GI issue) and the two of us being just exhausted ... we've walked around town, been stared at by innumerable Guatemalan locals, approached by a few (two of whom KNEW Frances !), and ... rested up.

Physically ....

I've been doing some very rudimentary yoga/stretching, to help stave off the aches and pains.  Daily aspirin, too.  Fought off a handful of sinus infections, probably helped by the high humidity.

But there HAS been an epiphany, already:

I'm traveling with my constant companion: my temperature and humidity gauge.  I sought/seek to know what temperature/humidity might do for my burned eyes.

And ... so far ... the humidity has been brutal -- 60% to (consistently) well over 70, and even over 90%.  No heating.  No air conditioning.  No fans.

Just humidity.

And the difference in "ocular surface" pain has been enormous.

Normally, in Colorado, I can't be in a moving car with the window even cracked.  Here, I've been able to abandon my goggles and be out in the back of a pickup truck with what I would have to call "mild discomfort" that quickly settles after we stop.

That part ... has been amazing.

Of course, the underlying "accommodative and ocular alignment" issues, there since birth, are still there.  I'm significantly limited, and definitely getting too darned old to be in perpetual motion -- a lesson I learned in the marathon 2007 Europe trip.

During down time, Don reads endlessly on his Kindle, which holds an enormous number of books, many of which would be of interest to me.

I think -- when we hit the City -- I may have to revisit the issue of audio books on MP3, a gizmo to play them, and supraauricular (over the ear) headphones.  I have odd-shaped ear canals, or whatever, and ear buds don't stay in them.  Ever.

So ... downtime is tough for me, even when we have 99 channels of Spanish TV to frustrate and bore us ;-)  There simply ... isn't much that I can do, leaving me stuck with the question of ... what could I DO, even if I believed I'd be in significantly less pain living in this kind of environment.

And sleep ... is still a very elusive thing.  I've tried all the combinations of Ambien, Clonazepam, herbal tea, and Benadryl, but ... I'm still hoping it just gets better the longer I'm on the proverbial road.

I packed just right.  Yeah.  I really did.  Nothing superfluous, and forgot nothing.  Donald was genuinely impressed with what I DID and did NOT bring.  He really didn't know that this was NOT my first rodeo.  Feeling pret-ty proud of that ;-)

My Spanish is functional, too.  Not much more, but ... functional is pretty darned good !

Today, I got a haircut (USD$1.00), used the internet for half an hour (USD$0.20), and ate wonderful Mexican food (!) -- USD$1.90 for a HUGE veggie burrito and a Coke.

Yeah.  It's pretty cheap here.

Tomorrow, we head out, bound for the gringo trail.  The buses from here really only go up into the mountains or down to HueHuetenango (don't you love that name ?).

We came here through HueHue.  We'll go back through there, too.  We'll probably spend two days there (it's not a particularly exciting town), and then head toward Quetzaltenango (ibid), Chichicastenango (ibid), Panajachel, and .... my beloved (eh.  I vaguely remember it from 20yrs ago) Antigua.

Thence, most likely to Livingston (check it out), Belize, and Honduras.

And we've found stops and places to visit, in the guide book.  Very cool places to visit, actually.

I loved Guatemala, before.  I love it still.  It's also a more beautiful country, visually, then I remember.  Just ... extraordinary.

Stay tuned.

7:37 PM 4/12/2013 - After another day spent in Barillas (er ... Donald's stomach was problematic), we spent 7+ hours on a microbus, today, heading for HueHuetenango.

Where we are, now ... at a lovely hotel called Zaculeu.

Tomorrow, we'll take a 90 minute microbus ride to Quetzaltenango.

Today ... we're tired ;-)