Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy 14th Baktun!

On Friday, December 21th, 2012 we were awaken at 5am by an incredible wind. Avocados and Oranges were bouncing off our roof left and right. The end of the13th Baktun was here and according to the Mayans we were now entering a new era. Some "loco gringos" thought that this was the end of the world and with the extreme wind and trees falling all around it almost felt like it for a second but we are still here.  At 7:30am I went to make some fresh Jaibalito coffee and breakfast for the three of us: Aaron, Travis and myself only to learn that the electricity was out again... so we ended up going to breakfast at Hans's.
These two were in a heated debate on whether the world was going to end, it was going on for days...
Travis came to visit us in Jaibalito for the night and later that day Aaron and Travis were driving to Guatemala City to meet with Travis's family and friends as they were arriving for Helga and Travis's wedding on Sunday, the 23rd.
Congragulations Helga and Travis!
The wedding was very beautiful; Helga and Travis both looked amazing, happy and so much in love! It was very exciting to see them and meet both of their families. The wedding took place at a beautiful hotel complex of Los Hostales del IRTRA with amazing landscape, several swimming pools, fountains, spectacular restaurants, tennis courts, gym, and spa. When we arrived we were surrounded by very confident and colorful peacocks strutting around the property. A new and very different side of Guatemala for us! The day after the wedding most of us went to the Xocomil Waterpark and had a great time racing each other down the slides until Travis was trapped in one of the rides; fortunately about twenty minutes later and unharmed, he was out. :) On Christmas Day we went to Helga's Cousin's house for a wonderful Christmas lunch with delicious traditional Guatemalan food. Yummy! Congratulations Helga and Travis!

Our past couple of months have been filled with visits from friends and family (Aaron's Dad and his fiance), studying and practicing more Spanish, dinner parties, picking and drying coffee, making new friends and saying "Adios" way too soon, taking tons of pictures and worrying that we lost them all but finding them again later, teaching Pilates, and leading Hiking trips around the lake.  More on all of this later, but for now let's all enjoy the New Year. We are planning to leave Guatemala in early February for El Salvador and the rest of Central America before heading to Colombia.  We are hoping to be in South America by May as long as all goes as planned.

We hope All of You had a wonderful Holiday Season and we wish you could have been here with us as we miss everybody very much during this Holiday Season. We are sending you the best wishes for the New Year 2013: great health, happiness, love, prosperity, and much more.

According to the Mayans, the 14th Baktun offers hope and change for the better. To the new era and the new beginnings! See you next year. HAPPY NEW YEAR!


Aneta and Aaron

Aneta destroying her first CoCoNuT 


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Jaibalito Update

All right guys, we agree it is high time for an update!  Since some of you already managed to track us down we admit to being in Jaibalito, Guatemala for over a month now. Actually it’s been 57 days, 2 hours and 23 minutes to be exact. We arrived to Jaibalito on August 7th to meet up with Aaron’s Mom Barbe and her friend Andy and …never left. They have been our first visitors so far on our trip and we were very excited to see both of them. We had a great time showing them around the lake, shopping, hiking, cooking great food, and soaking in a hot tub.
Jaibalito is where we came for our honeymoon exactly three years ago and fell in love with it. We stayed on the same property where Barbe and Andy stayed when they were here. Our honeymoon was one of a kind because in addition to our private time we also got to spend it with our great friends from Steamboat: Travis (who was in Peace Corp in Guatemala at the time) and Andy (who was travelling through Central America and met up with us here). It was a great time! And now, we are back in Jaibalito and planning to stay here for a few months till Travis’ wedding in Guatemala to a super sweet and smart Guatemalan girl named Helga.
August 2009 with Travis, Andy and Amanda at Hans's
Travis, Helga and Aaron at Fishcreek Falls in Steamboat
We hope that this whole crew can make it down to Guatemala for Travis and Helga's Wedding!
Originally, we arrived to Lake Atitlan on August 2nd and were going to care take for a house on the other side of the lake across from Santiago. We parked our car in Santiago at Posada Santiago, unloaded most of our belongings from the truck and into a boat, and took a boat ride to where the house was. After carrying our stuff up the steep hill, through a beautiful garden with many kinds of orchids, we were able to meet the owner and see her place. We spent a few days at the house, but we decided it was not for us. We decided to live in Jaibalito instead.
Jabalito is a very unique little village on Lake Atitlan, which is believed to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world and for good reason. 
The lake is surrounded by three volcanoes and it has an amazing steep coastline very similar to Nā Pali coast on the island of Kaua’i in Hawaii. We don’t want to brag too much, but it truly is spectacular. “Jaibalito es muy tranqilo;” this among other reasons is why we decided to stay. The weather here is like an early summer day in Steamboat, 70’s or 80’s during the day, rain in the afternoon for an hour or two and chilly at night, dipping down into the 50’s at time. The village has no roads leading to it and it is the only village on the lake that is only accessible by boat or foot. If you want to hike to it you better have great hiking boots, endurance of a horse, plenty of water and time as it is not the easiest hike. If you choose the boat ride instead, it is fun and almost always tightly packed! There are no cars, tuk-tuks, bikes, goats or horses here in Jaibalito. The village has about 600 local habitants, 8 gringos (including us), 200 chickens and 300 dogs. The dog population is slowly decreasing thanks to “the dog lady,” who started an animal friendly program to neuter the dogs in the village.
On the crossroads of Jaibalito
There are a few hotels and restaurants here in Jaibalito as well as a few small local “tiendas” (stores), “tortillerias,” and of course six of the most loudest churches on the planet. The hang out place, I mean Posada Jaibalito is definitely the most fun and affordable. For about 75Q ($10) you can stay in a dorm for a night, have a generous plate of the best in Guatemala German Goulash and Spätzle, and enjoy a liter of cold Guatemalan beer. Can’t beat it! Hans is the owner of Posada Jaibalito and he is the nicest German man with a very long reddish beard and quiet demeanor. Before we left Steamboat we knew we would be returning back to Jaibalito to see Hans again and for a plate of Goulash. 
Hans on Tripple Tigo Minute night
Whether we need to buy fresh baked German bread, stock up on good cheese, yogurt, fresh chicken or duck eggs from Hans’s fowl, Guatemalan rum, use the Internet or a printer, buy a cell phone or a portable Internet stick, do laundry, pick up a bag of fresh roasted local coffee (roasted right there in the house by Hans himself and grown in the valley), or a jar of homemade sauerkraut made by Mayan women, read the latest Gringo magazine or simply just hang out and socialize with the other gringos in town on a rainy night in Jaibalito, Hans’s place is where we go.  The list of services he provides is endless; if you need it, Hans has it.

Hans helped us find a house for rent where we now live. After Aaron’s mom and Andy left we moved to our “hike to house” in the back of town located right on the river. In fact, we have to cross the river to get to our house, which can sometimes be an interesting experience after a big rainfall. Besides the river serves as our “noise blocker;” it blocks the loud music from the churches, “maiz” (corn) machine in the mornings, kids, boats, and of course, dogs and the ever prevalent early birds called Roosters. Our house is probably the funkiest looking house in Jaibalito; it belonged to an American guy from Texas who unfortunately passed away last year. 

It costs us 600Q (about $75) per month to stay here and we have two big bedrooms, full kitchen, and a bathroom with the hottest shower in Guatemala! We also share the house with quite a few roommates.
I have only been bitten once so far.  Don't worry they are not deadly.
By our house we have a garden with many beautiful flowers including roses and there are four avocado trees, four orange trees, ten banana trees, a passion fruit vine and coffee scattered around the property. Aaron picks eight or so avocados a couple of times a week and we are able to enjoy fresh guacamole almost every day. Aaron also started a veggie garden so that soon we can enjoy our own fresh produce.

We have been having a lot of fun on the lake settling into our new little house, visiting the other villages surrounding the lake, studying Spanish, hiking, making new friends, practicing Pilates together, working on the garden, cooking and baking, reading, and meditating. It took us a few weeks to get organized here as life here happens pretty slowly. Our plan is to be able to lead at least a simple conversation with Helga’s family and friends at the wedding so that means we still have a lot of work to do in the next few months and improve our Spanish. We have been practicing our Spanish every day… with the people of Jaibalito who can only speak Kaqchikel (one of the 22 indigenous Mayan languages spoken around the lake). 
The one and only fat rabbit in Jaibalito, fiesta dinner for the whole family in the future
We are also going to travel around Guatemala as there is so much to see here, volunteer, and find some odd jobs. On Tuesdays and Thursdays Aaron walks over to Santa Cruz where he is currently volunteering at C.E.C.A.P. (Centro de Capacitacion) in Santa Cruz. He is helping with a carpentry workshop for adolescent boys and also gives tips in the kitchen during lunch. 
Guatemalan boys at C.E.C.A.P. making picture frames for an exposition
After a group of Israelis stumbled upon us at our house one evening looking for one of Jaibalito’s many beautiful waterfalls, we saw a need for a trekking service. Aaron is planning to lead hiking trips around Jaibalito to visitors and I am going to instruct Pilates mat classes in a few hotels in Jaibalito and Santa Cruz. It is the rainy season until the end of October so we plan on travelling to the Pacific coast this week before we are busy with trekking and Pilates.

So that is what we have been up to lately; we miss our family and friends very much, but at the same time we have been appreciating our time away from stress of daily work and the typical American way of life. Between here and Oaxaca we traveled around the Yucatan peninsula, Belize, and Northern Guatemala and a lot has happened since then. Since we have been on the road and camping most of that time with no consistent access to the Internet we realize that we have some catching up to do. We are planning to relive our memories and write some posts about that time in between; thank you all for your patience and understanding. As always, the invitation is open for visitors to come and see us; until the middle of December we have an extra bed at our place. Come January we are back on the road!

Till next time! Hasta luego.

Santa Cruz
Dehulling and roasting coffee at Hans's
Jaibalito below
"One day with practice I will have that kind of balance, one day!"
not sure who had a worse day
Learning how to spin cotton in San Juan

Enjoying Aaron's Birthday at Ven Aca, the high end restaurant in Jaibalito
"Quit taking pictures of me gringo" says the horse
Busy Mercado day, this is where we buy our veggies in Panajachel
Gateau de Riz Aux Figues (Rice Pudding Cake with Figs)
El Jardin de Aaron

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Oaxacan Chocolate Time

A little slash and burn for cattle on our way to Oaxaca
We must say that we are now in the rhythm of blogging, we are having a great time putting these posts together for you and cracking up as we do, if we could only catch up us all bloggers wish. We have been in Oaxaca for six weeks and are headed off to San Cristobal and then possibly the Yucatan.

After a very winding six hour drive from Puerto Escondido, we arrived to Oaxaca in the late afternoon. 
This is our favorite stop for Chocolate Frio, the best in the world cold chocolate milk 
We walked around the city, explored the Zocalo (square), and looked for a place to stay. Most hotels and hostels here are at least 300 pesos per night for two people, however one can find cheaper accommodations for about 200 pesos per night. That night we stayed at a trailer park in the middle of the city for 150 pesos per night for both of us. We liked Oaxaca right away and knew we wanted to spend some time here. Due to the amount of stuff to do and see in the immediate area we knew that we needed more than a week. So the next day we started our hunt for an apartment, walked around in the heat all day, and knocked on many random doors. "Se renta departamento aqui?" we asked.  
This door didn't even had a sign "Se Renta," but we knocked anyway.
It took us two long, hot days and a lot of door knocking to find the perfect small apartment. It is inexpensive (2500 pesos per month), very clean, has a private kitchen and bathroom, and includes furniture, utilities, and Internet. Much cheaper than staying anywhere else, including a campground. It is a five minute walking distance from Oaxaca Streechildren Grassroots organization and Pan y Mas bakery and about fifteen minutes from the Zocalo. We only use the car on the weekends and walk everywhere else during the week; this helps with our budget and gives us a little extra exercise. 
The apartment is secured by three locked doors and five dogs and it has a patio with a spectacular view. It even came with a couple of very cute and affectionate cats (they live upstairs with our neighbors, but Bookie, the kitten, thinks she belongs to us and even more so she thinks our bed belongs to her). What else do we need?
Prior to our arrival, I made arrangements via email to visit El Centro de Esperanza Infantil about volunteering opportunities. The Centro is part of Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots, a great non-profit organization helping many poor Oaxacan families with their children's education. Children go there every day before or after school to do their homework, read books, learn how to use computers, and eat "comida" (lunch). As I learned, for many the lunch is the primary and sometimes the only meal of the day.
Me and the crew at Oaxaca Streetchildren
After our first visit to the Centro, we stopped for lunch at Pan Y Mas, a small local bakery with an amazing selection of breads and other baked goods. We met the owners: Suzanne from Colorado and Alex from Mexico. We got into talking and after a while, Aaron had a place to volunteer too. In exchange for learning how to bake and delicious freshly baked bread, he is able to help out in the kitchen and help develop new sandwich and pizza ideas. 
Inside Pan y Mas Bakery
This is what our typical day in Oaxaca looks like.
My alarm rings at 6:45 am; even though I am on vacation I try to get up early every morning. I exercise for an hour - I usually do my Pilates routine on our patio overlooking the city of Oaxaca. It's great to do it first thing in the morning before it gets too hot. Sometimes, instead of Pilates, I take a walk/run up the hill behind our house. First, you go up the stairs to where the amphitheater is (where the famous Guelaguetza dance festival honoring the goddess of corn takes place every July) by the Benito Juarez statue (Benito Juarez is very popular here as he spent his youth living and studying in Oaxaca). 
If you keep walking past the amphitheater, you will come upon the Oaxacan Planetarium. From there you can walk all the way up the mountain; the view from up there is fantastic.
After my exercise, I take a shower, Aaron and I make green smoothies for breakfast (yeah!), and then I am ready to go to the Centro. I volunteer at the Centro every day; I teach English, help children with their homework, help out in the kitchen as well as in the administration, basically whatever is needed. The Center is a lot of fun; I am meeting many other volunteers and am able to practice my Spanish with the kids (luckily for me the kids are very patient teachers). The organization is very volunteer friendly; it's free and you get to pick your own schedule. If you are interested, please visit their website for more information
 This is me and 15 year old Rogelio during one of my private English classes
Today at the Center I had a couple of English classes, helped the ladies in the kitchen, and searched online for some fundraising opportunities for the organization. I was done at about 3:30 pm and went to pay Aaron a visit at the bakery, where I tasted some yummy fresh bread. After I came back home, it was time to do laundry; we do our laundry by hand here just like most of the Oaxacan people. Then I set down at the computer to check my email and make some phone calls on Skype. Later tonight Aaron made another great dinner - Pasta alla Carbonara, we drank a little cheap Spanish wine, sipped some aromatic Oaxacan hot chocolate for desert, and relaxed after our busy day. Beats work :)...
Oaxacan Hot Chocolate Time!!!
I sometimes get up with Aneta and do her torture Pilates workout or we go running up the hill and I make her run all the way up since she gets me up at 7am to go running, so we must run.  I then do a little research on the Internet about Oaxaca, where we are going to go next when we leave here or about destinations in other countries we will be going to next.  After that I practice Spanish for an hour or two with flash cards, audio files or online programs.  Then, it is time to go to the bakery or restaurant; I was helping out at the bakery for the first three weeks that we were here and now I am at the restaurant.
I made these calzones at the bakery
At a Naka Birthday Party (more on that later) we met Rodolfo, the Owner and Chef of ORIGEN restaurant located near the Zocalo. He puts a twist on the typical Oaxacan cuisine that he grew up with and had made Origen one of the top restaurants in Oaxaca.  This opportunity has allowed me to gain experience in his kitchen where Rodolfo has taught me Oaxacan and Mexican cooking techniques and recipes.  I even had the opportunity to join and assist in a cooking class for cooking students from San Francisco, Ca.  
Chef Rodolfo of Origen Restaurant
Later, it is usually meeting up with Aneta and browsing the city or getting back late from the restaurant and just going to bed.  It has been a real treat to be able to practice cooking in Oaxaca with such great people in such a beautiful atmosphere.
Since we have been in Oaxaca we have been enjoying what the city has to offer.  We have been able to make friends and meet up with other travelers that are on similar trips as we are.  There is a lot of history here as well as mixed Spanish and indigenous cultures and traditions. Archaeological sites, art galleries, theaters, churches, museums, mercados, restaurants and cafes are everywhere. Oaxaca is known for its great food; it is home to Mexican moles, chocolate, coffee, and Tequila's brother, Mezcal. Well, we fit right in :)... 
The face of a Woman who has not seen Chocolate in a while...
Now, the face of a Man :)
Outside of the city, there are many archaeological sites and to the North there are the Sierra Norte mountains which stand at over 3000 meters (10000 feet) and are within a 30 minute drive of our apatment; they are full of outdoor activities. The weather in Oaxaca is great too; it's sunny and warm during the day and pleasantly cool at night since Oaxaca is located at 1550 meters (5085 feet). It often rains in the afternoons and evenings, but only for about an hour or two, and after it rains the air is very refreshing. Gotta love it!

Map of the Oaxaca area showing the large amount of activities surrounding the area

Around Town
A little Chapuline (grasshopper) tasting on the street with Shannon and Brenton of Ruined Adventures, no we are not the only ones doing a trip like this.  You can also check out Overland Sphere for other overlanders all over the world. 
The Chapulines are with our favorite flavors of... you guessed it! Salt, Chile and Lime. And Garlic.
The Polish Pope John Paul II is in almost every church we have been to in Mexico; the Mexican people Love Papa!
Santo Domingo Church
Interior of Santo Domingo Church.  Over 60,000 pieces of 23.5 K gold leaf paper were used to adorn it.
Danzon (dancing) in the Zocalo on Wednesday Evenings
Dinner on our terrace with Shannon and Brenton from Ruined Adventures

We accidentally came upon this Corpus Christi procession as we do with most events in Mexico
A parade for pretty much walking around the Zocalo and drinking some Mezcal!!!
Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción
Music in the Zocalo
View from our terrace
Guelaguetza Dance Festival Amphitheater, it is above our house so we never get lost going home
View of Monte Alban from our "running" area 
Making Hot Chocolate the Oaxacan way
El Centro de Esperanza Infantil

Pan y Mas

Aaron with Suzane and Georgina in the kitchen
Origen Restaurant

Octopus Salad

Cooking Class

Pilates on the Terrace
You're doing it all wrong guys
Yes, Master Aneta
Aah!!! Much better boys, now hold that for one minute
Great form, Aneta