Friday, May 20, 2005


The National Palace of Culture, facing Guatemala City's central plaza in the government district of the city.

Known around these parts simply as 'Guate', the capital city is a place we generally try to avoid. Guatemala City is home to over 3 million people, but it's mostly notorious for its soaring crime, violent gangs (called maras, read here for more info), noxious pollution, endless traffic jams, rampant poverty and general squalor. Occasionally we've had to pass through here on our way to other, more desirable locations...but we rarely stop within the city for any reason.

The view of the capital as you drive in on the highway.

A hillside slum in Guate

On to the realities of living in Guatemala - the good, the bad, and the ugly

Strange sights in Guatemala

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Volcan Agua towers over a ruined 16th century church in Antigua.

For a truly international scene, you can always take the 3-hour ride east from Xela over to the small city of Antigua Guatemala (commonly known simply as Antigua), which is truly a tourist Mecca. Another popular Spanish language school destination, this city also draws a variety of sightseers and more upscale tourists, due to its treasure trove of 16th century churches, its sophisticated atmosphere, and its proximity to the capital. (It’s only a 40-minute ride from the airport.) Here you can find the Asian restaurants (ie Japanese, Thai) that we’ve been missing in Xela. They even have bagel shops where you can get lox while surfing the Internet on a free wireless connection! In many ways, Antigua hardly feels like a Central American city, especially compared to the rest of Guatemala. Nevertheless, it’s a nice place to escape for a few days.

Antigua (which translates to “ancient” in Spanish) used to be the nation’s capital until the city was almost completely destroyed by a massive earthquake in 1773. (Earthquakes are a common theme throughout Guatemala’s history, as massive earthquakes have also devastated other cities from time to time - most recently Xela in 1902 and Guatemala City in 1917.) A number of impressive ancient churches from the original city of Antigua are still standing in various locations around the city, many of them crumbling ruins that function only as photo opportunities.

Surrounding the city are several large volcanoes, 2 of which are still somewhat active – Pacaya and Fuego. A hike to the top of either of these can give you a first-hand look at the raw power of Mother Nature, as molten rock and lava spew out of the cones.

The central plaza in Antigua.

The majestic church on the edge of the Parque Central.

The famous Arch of Santa Catalina.

An ancient crumbling church in Antigua.

Another beautiful Antigua church.

Domino's Pizza, wherever you need it...

For Christmas I want to be saved! (Rob in a gift shop in Antigua)

On to JAMTIGUA, the music festival we attended in Antigua


A relaxing afternoon music festival near Antigua Posted by Hello

On the weekend of May 7-8, we drove with some friends over to Antigua for the first annual music festival “Jamtigua”. It was a relatively small event (compared to similar events in the U.S.) with only about 400-500 people in attendance, about half of them appearing to be tourists. A large and diverse selection of musical acts rotated constantly on and off the single stage, encompassing styles ranging from bluegrass, jazz, folk, rock and heavy metal. Many of the musicians were likely American and European tourists who were staying in Antigua to learn Spanish, though there were also quite a few local acts. The festival was actually held on a farm about 15km outside of the city, and the lush green setting at the base of a volcano made for a beautiful way to spend the afternoon.

The Jamtigua crew - Carley, Kina, Aly, Tim and Mike (Rob is behind the camera)

Carley, Kina and Aly get down to some bluegrass at Jamtigua

Fun with Poi at Jamtigua

The Cat On The Keg is enjoying Jamtigua!

On to the capital, Guatemala City, the armpit of Central America


During the course of living here in Guatemala, we've quickly made some great friends. Of course for the most part they are all English-speaking 'extranjeros' (foreigners) from places like the U.S., Canada and Europe, generally here doing the same kinds of things we are: learning Spanish, teaching English, working or volunteering for local organizations, living cheap, taking it easy, or generally escaping from the more frustrating aspects of life in a developed country...or all of the above, in some cases.

Mia's despedida

Near the end of April 2006, after celebrating a full year of living in Xela, we bade farewell to good friend and fellow Yoga House resident, Mia, as she headed home to Boston. To the right of Mia is "Other Rob" (Rob Seagan), also from Boston, and also an English Professor at the university where Rob teaches.

The farewell dinner was at one of our favorite local restaurants, Royal Paris.

Jasmin (our housemate from France) and Anali (Jasmin's friend from the Basque part of Spain)

Birthday party for Heather

Heather's birthday party at Entre Mundos house became a swash-buckling, yo-ho-ho sort of affair. These fine-looking pirates include Elizabeth (US), Alex (UK), Heather (US), and ???

Miguel makes a dashing pirate, don't you think?

And yes, there were even sword fights! (actually machetes) The buccaneer on the right is one of our new housemates at Yoga House: Daniel, from Quebec.

Rob and some of the ladies

Nile (from Germany), Laila (from Spain), Rob, and Sarah (from USA), having dinner at Cafe Q in Xela.

Helen visits from the US

Helen (from USA), Carley, ??, and Miguel (from USA), having an afternoon snack on the rooftop lounge at Cafe Sky, in Antigua


Our friends Andrew (guitar) and Galen (keyboard), brothers from Boston, playing as Soltura with various friends from around Xela. The venue is Salón Tecún, a popular Dutch-owned bar & restaurant in the center of Xela's tourist district.

Andrew and Galen, performing at Cafe El Alquimista

Friends Emily and Chris from the US, watching our friends in Soltura perform at Royal Paris. Emily worked with us in San Francisco, registering voters with Headcount for the 2004 election disaster.

Rob enjoys a large beer while watching Soltura perform at Royal Paris.

Andrew's despedida

Another going-away party, this time for our good friend Andrew, from Boston. From left to right are ??, Kevin (US), Theressa (Sweden), Carley, Mia (US), John (US) and Andrew's brother Galen.

The chaotic kitchen at Andrew's despedida. In the back they are making gnocchi, the Italian potato pasta.

Andrew (center) gives us his farewell speech, under the influence of some serious brownies.

Michael's despedida

A despedida for Michael, at Andrew & Galen's house

Julia and Sarah show off some new dance moves

Lesli and Michael, at Michael's despedida. (It seems like alcohol may have been involved here?)

Entre Mundos party

Elizabeth (right) tends the bar at a fund-raiser party at Entre Mundos house

Rob & Carley with Mark (from England), at the Entre Mundos party

Sharon (from Holland) and Michael (from New Jersey) show off their salsa-dancing skills

The crew in the corner at the Entre Mundos party: Ben (from Australia), John (our roommate and yoga instructor, from Texas) and Alex (another of our roommates, from Germany)

Kevin's Birthday

Only 10 candles?

Galen & Andrew provided some excellent jazz music for our listening pleasure.

Back row: Alex (Germany), Corina (Switzerland), Laila (Spain), Monica (Spain), Julia (US), Ivan (Spain), Marisa (Spain), Kevin (US); Front Row: Rob, Carley, Galen and Andrew (US).

This shot also includes (on the left) our roommates Lesli (Iowa) and John (Dallas, TX).

Holly & Carley

The girls enjoy the digital camera.

Claudia, owner of the beautiful Cafe Tinta Latina, was our gracious hostess for the birthday party.

Simon's Despedida

A farewell dinner for Simon (far right) at Xela's best Chinese restaurant, on August 28. From left to right: Andrew, Rob, Galen, Sarah, Sabrina, Luz, Nathan, Julia, Michael, Mark (Simon's brother), and Simon. After 4 months of running a small organic farm on the hill overlooking Xela, Simon is headed back home to England.

At Cafe El Alquimista (the alchemist) with our friends Ellie and Simon (from England), on the hill overlooking Xela

Julie's Despedida

Carley says goodbye at Julie's despedida (farewell party), on August 20. After over a year in Xela, Julie is returning to her hometown of San Francisco.

Out with the old, in with the new...Julie gives a briefing to her in-coming replacement, Elizabeth (from Washington), on the subtleties of tequila shots. Elizabeth will be the new editor of the Entre Mundos newspaper for the next year.

Julie's despedida really gets going with a round of tequila shots. Rob instructs Tim (left) on the art of "double-fisting".

Mike is the BBQ master at Julie's despedida. (and yes, those are tofu patties at the bottom end of the grill)

A couple of the local Guatemalan boys serenade the girls with Latin love songs at Julie's despedida.

Rob and Carley enjoy the entertainment at Julie's despedida.

Hiking with friends

Julie (editor of Entre Mundos, a really cool bilingual newspaper that addresses political, social and cultural issues nationally and internationally; Julie is originally from San Francisco, California) and her puppy Lola, on top of Volcán Santa María, near Xela

Laura (from England) and Jill (from Canada), still looking fresh near the beginning of our treacherous hike up Volcán Santa María. (The Guatemalan boy and his horse in the background did not follow us to the peak)

Carley's birthday!

Happy Birthday Carley!! From left to right: Simon and Sam (from England), Rob and Carley, Carina (from Switzerland), and Holly (from Oakland, California) in lakeside Santa Cruz La Laguna

On to Lake Atitlán, our favorite weekend getaway