Hiking Volcan San Pedro: Start with a Tuc-Tuc, End with a Tuc-Tuc

San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala

Friday evening at dinner with my host family, as they asked me their normal battery of questions in slow, gringo-friendly Spanish, I mentioned that I was interested in climbing the volcano neighboring our pueblo (Volcan San Pedro) over the weekend. After uttering these words, mi padre Bartolo enthusiastically jumped in and asked me if I needed a guide up the volcano as he “knows a guy.” I nodded and said “Si,” primarily due to my enthusiasm that Bartolo actually understood what I said (proving that my unique version of Spanish makes sense to somebody, somewhere on God’s green earth). Given my assent, Bartolo replied with more Spanish at an increased velocity that left me on my heels and saying “Si! Si! Si! Gracias!” Immediately after this flustered replied, I realized I had agreed to pay the guide at a rate a full 50% above the going price unless I could muster four more (cuatro más!) gringos to come with me on this arduous, 6+ hour hike. Where could I find so many gringos on such short notice?

Luckily, my fellow students at San Pedro School are proving to be excellent compadres in my adventures beyond “Gringolandia” (the literal name given by the locals to the touristy street of bars and restaurants beside the lake in San Pedro). A motley crew of seven from the school agreed to tackle this Guatemalan volcanic peak with me at dawn on Sunday morning. With a group of this size, we were able to fetch a much more reasonable price from the guide (125 quetzals/person) and would present a formidable force against any potential bandidos on the slopes of the volcano. (For the record, Volcan San Pedro is relatively safe these days as the Guatemalan government has marked it an official protected wilderness area. But, still, bring it on, bandidos!)

Our guide, named Luismeijia (pronounced: “Mark-que-oh”, please don’t ask me why), met me at my host family’s house bright and early at 5:45 am. Full of smiles, handshakes, and Spanish words I didn’t understand, we confirmed the price, met one of my schoolmates, and then hopped into a “tuc-tuc” to fetch the other gringos. (Quick note on tuc-tucs: These are infinitely maneuverable, three-wheeled taxis that swarm the streets of San Pedro, regularly bleeping the sounds “tooc! tooc!” to clear the road ahead of pedestrians and other, slower tuc-tuc’s. These guys all have names, are tricked out, and provide a wonderful, built-in alarm clock for the residents of the pueblo as the sounds “tooc-tooc” begin to fill the streets of San Pedro starting in pre-dawn hours.)

Our tuc-tuc caravan climbed roughly 10 minutes outside of the city, bringing us to the entrance to Volcan San Pedro Park around 6:15 am. Our guide, “Que-oh” as he asked us to call him, began quizzing us on our names and countries of origin. After we had informed him that we hailed from the U.S., Germany, Australia, England, and Switzerland, he happily exclaimed, “Americans! Australians! Germans! VERY GOOD. Very generous. Very friendly. BUT, Israelis, French, and Spanish…VERY BAD. Bad people from those countries. Not friendly. Not generous.” Unsure of how to deal with this curiously Trumpian response to our countries of origin, the seven of us chose to ignore it and follow the guide up the slopes of the volcano.

The hike soon presented a couple of fantastic views of the lake, the village of San Pedro, and the surrounding mountains, as well as, surprisingly, a tire swing. We all gave the swing a go, although Antien, my schoolmate from Germany, certainly had the most fun on this mountainside surprise, exclaiming “una más vez!” (one more time) roughly 8-10 times in a row before shoving off for her actual “one last” swing. As we climbed beyond the swing, we ascended into a fog of clouds that, unfortunately, covered the top half of the mountain and prevented us from getting much of a view at the top. It took us roughly 3 hours to slug through the 3.5 mile (6 km) hike that ascended an aggressive 4,000 feet, peaking out at 9,908 feet (3,020 meters). The trail itself was well-maintained, switchback-heavy, and muddy towards the top. After an extended snack break at the top, where we stared into the whiteness of the clouds beyond, we descended.

During the descent, the spirit of our group certainly lifted, as evidenced by the impromptu, trail karaoke in which we indulged (my personal highlight was the “Bare Necessities”…in German). Roughly 2 hours after we departed from the top, we were at the entrance to the park, where Que-oh called us a few tuc-tuc’s and said his goodbyes (as his house was very close nto the entrance of the park and he would not be riding into San Pedro with us). In general, Que-oh proved to be a reliable, friendly guide, who was quick to help us with both our Spanish (“lodo” = mud, “resbaladizo” = slippery) and our Mayan (he really pushed hard for group adoption of “let’s go!” or “hohoho!” in Mayan). Another feature (or bug?) of Que-oh’s guide service is that he is a ladies man. He asked for a number of pictures with “solo las chicas!” (only the ladies!) and pointed out several times with a grin that there were “cuatro chicos, cuatro chicas, muy bien!” (four guys – of which Que-oh was included – and four girls, very good!). Oh, Que-oh…you dog!

The seven of us re-united for hamburgers and omelettes at El Barrio, a restaurant back in the comfort of “Gringolandia” in San Pedro. The driving rain that soon began to pound the tin roof of El Barrio reassured us that we had made a good decision with such an early departure for the peak of the volcano and lulled us into a drowsiness that would carry us back to our host families for well-earned afternoon siestas.


National Strike! Guatemala Grinds to a Halt for a Day

San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala

As luck would have it (or not have it…), the beginning of my studies last week at the San Pedro School began just as a political crisis in the country was beginning to unfold. On my first day of class (September 11th), the Guatemalan Congress voted to grant the President, Jimmy Morales, immunity from an ongoing United Nations investigation into his campaign finances. (The investigation is looking into, among other over-the-top forms of corruption, allegations that the Morales’ campaign received money from international drug traffickers.) Then two days later (September 13th), the Guatemalan Congress officially institutionalized corruption by passing two comically self-serving laws: one that shields politicians from prosecution in cases of illegal campaign financing and another that effectively allows anyone with a prison sentence of under 10 years to buy their way out of prison (the clever idea here is that politicians not yet in prison are looking for a way to get their buddies already in prison out of the can). Social media exploded with the hashtag #MiercolesNegro (“#BlackWednesday”) the day these laws were passed. (Seems to me that hashtag would have come in handy in the U.S. on Wednesday, December 9th, 2016.)

One silver lining in all this turmoil is the fact that there is strong protection for freedom of speech. The Prensa Libre is the primary Guatemalan paper, and their coverage of politics essentially reads like the NY Times if you just substitute “Donald Trump” for “every politician in the country.” In order to up my Guatemalan political activism game (as well as my Spanish), I’ve subscribed to the daily edition of the Libre, which has allowed me to spend roughly 40% of my Spanish classes talking to my teacher about the political situation (which certainly beats mulling over the details of Antonio Banderas’s life, an actual exercise I completed last week).

Also positive is that fact that there seems to be strong protection for the right to peacefully protest (e.g. in 2015, Guatemalans protested for 20 straight weekends in the capital until their previous president, Otto Molina resigned amidst scandal). As such, a “National Strike” was declared yesterday in order to allow citizens a day off of work to protest. As an act of solidarity, I refused go to class (i.e. my teacher cancelled class in order to travel to Guatemala City to take to the streets in protest), and I attended my local antigovernment protest here in San Pedro. Given the raucous scene of antigovernment vitriol that I witnessed, I only lasted a few minutes as I was fearful the situation might spiral out of control:

Why protest standing up when you can protest sitting down?

Although the scene in Guatemala City yesterday did seem to take the cake for “most raucous”:

This looks like the real protest

Late last week, the Constitutional Court did in fact suspend the new laws for further review late last week. However, today their Congress voted to maintain the President’s immunity, so it remains to be seen what happens next in this blossoming political crisis. No matter the situation, I’ll be following the situation closely with my trusty Libre and a 4-year-old’s grasp of the situation (given my current level of Spanish comprehension).

An Indian Nose and A Chocolate Shaman

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

My second weekend here in Guatemala got off to an instructive start on Friday afternoon as I was wandering around San Pedro, looking for legitimate wifi connections (a new favorite pastime of mine in this wifi starved town). Spotting a cafe that boldly advertised their wifi, I entered, ordered an espresso for 10 quetzals, and then rooted into my wallet for some cash. All I had was a 100 quetzal bill (the exchange rate is roughly 7 quetzals to the dollar, so a 100 represents approximately 14 dollars), which I handed to the barista and then waited for change. After an oddly long period of digging through the cash register, the barista handed me a nearly complete set of Guatemalan currency denominations: 2 one-half quetzal coins, 10 one quetzal coins, 4 one quetzal bills, 9 five quetzal bills, and 3 ten quetzal bills. (Just a 20 quetzal bill short of Bingo!) As I moved from the bar to a table to sort through my cornucopia of cash, I asked the barista for the wifi password. “No esta trabajando. No hoy,” she said with a smile on her face. Both the Spanish (“Wifi does not work, not today”) and the smile (the barista’s personal amusement at denying wifi to this Internet-addicted gringo with 28 new pieces of Guatemalan currency) were easy to interpret. I took my expresso to go and headed into the weekend, having learned a few key lessons to apply in Guatemala moving forward: ask if the wifi works before you order and avoid large discrepancies in cash payed versus cashed owed.

This past Friday evening began with dinner at my host family’s place, where they asked me questions about my plans for the weekend in extremely slow, “present-tense and simple words-only” Spanish (“QUE…HAC…ES…ES…TA…NO…CHE…REEEEEE…CHARD?”). After dealing with this now familiar mix of discomfort and amusement I experience when interacting with my host family, I headed over to Hostel Fe’s bar for the weekly trivia game. This game, hyped up by the Spanish schools and hostels in town, seems to be what kicks off the weekend nightlife in San Pedro. And we fell right into proper form: San Pedro Spanish School students were split between two teams, the La Coopertiva Spanish school students comprised another team, and the guests of various hostels throughout town formed 5 or 6 more teams. The game itself, however, did not quite live up to the hype. The 40-question, 2.5 hour death march was conducted by a drunk Australian making angry jokes of scant comedic value. My new Australian friend Bill even apologized to me after the game for this poor showing by his fellow countryman, affirming that the humor was not lost in some cultural translation (“No mate, not even funny for an Australian!”) The highlight was mostly certainly the guy who jumped out of the bar into the lake in response to a 50-quetzal challenge issued by the honorable master of ceremonies (as the bar is situated on Lake Atitlan, this is actually possible if you can hurdle the barrier that keeps sane, rational humans inside the bar and out of the lake).

The evening improved as I stopped into San Pedro’s premier dance club Sublime for a few hours where I got to witness the “who’s who” of San Pedro nightlife, which includes the hard partying Israelis (who notoriously make their way through Central and South America after they complete their time in the IDF), the Spanish school students, the local Guatemalans who party with (or creep on, depending on who you ask) the tourists, the mish-mash of international travelers (mostly from Europe), this local frat star guy named Sergio who seems to know everyone in town, and, of course, your smattering of drunk Australians (for the record, there are absolutely respectable, not drunk Australians; I’ve met two real, live examples of them in this town that buck the stereotype). The night ended at a hostel pool party, which I left on the “early” side to make it safe and sound into my homestay a little before 2 am.

I awoke Saturday morning at 9 am (painfully early after a late night) in order to eat breakfast with my host family, where it quickly became clear that they were aware of my late arrival home last night. “Muchas fiestas anoche, Reeechard?” my madre said with a grin. “Solo una fiesta pequeña,” I fudged with questionable grammar and pronunciation. My padre then chimed in with a grin “Trabajas las chicas?” (Translation: “You are working the ladies?”). I smiled, shook my head, and dove into the bowl of cornflakes in front of me, deflecting further lines of questioning by these newfound comedians.

Refusing to let a late night derail my Saturday, I linked up with Will — an American from Atlanta I met on the hike up Volcan Pacaya the week before last — and three friends of his that he had met while hostel-hopping through Central America. Our goal for the day was to climb up Indian Nose, a mountain ridge near San Pedro whose outline is shaped like a man’s face with the peak being the “nose.” (See pictures below). This ridge offers stunning views of Lake Atitlan and is one of the most popular hikes in the area. To get there, the five of us took a local “chicken bus” out of San Pedro to the trailhead for the ~30 minute hike up to the ridge (Quick note on chicken buses: These are hilariously tricked-out old school buses from the United States that bus operators in Central America buy via auction, tow down to Central America, and repaint with outrageous color schemes that include the newly christened names for the bus. The one we took on Saturday was named “Melissa”.) The bus dropped us off in the local village of Santa Clara where we struck out on a trail through a cornfield. After only a few minutes of hiking, we got to a fork in the trail. Looking up the trail to the right, we could see a local Guatemalan man ~100 yards away, waving at us with a machete, encouraging us to follow him. To the left, we could see another Guatemalan man also ~100 yards up the road, waving us down his path. We choose the path on the left given this man was not waving with a machete.

After following the man on the left for about a quarter mile, we arrived at a makeshift gate in the trail that the man opened and ushered us through. The little man (who topped out at approximately 5’5”) introduced himself as Miguel, the owner of the property that includes the trail to top of the ridge. Miguel seemed very happy to see us, as evidenced by the hugs he gave each of us as he introduced himself. Miguel seemed especially happy to see the three girls with Will and I, as evidenced by the kisses he snuck in while hugging them. Miguel’s friendliness made quite a bit more sense once he asked us for a fee, which we negotiated down to 20 quetzals/person. After paying, he guided us up the ridge, stopping us at prime lookout points to gaze down to the lake below and take pictures. The views were absolute stunning of Lake Atitlan and its surrounding volcanoes. (Check out the pics below!) When we arrived at the top of his property, we realized we had not yet made it to the very top of the ridge, which we could see further above along with a few more Guatemalan men waving us up towards them. Miguel called these men “bandidos” and told us to stay away. (The likelier story is that these “bandidos” owned the property further up the ridge and were just some old fashioned competition for Miguel.) After a few minutes at the “top”, Miguel led us back down the ridge and, at his property line, pointed us the right direction down. We said goodbye to Miguel and headed down, but not before some more hugs…and kisses for the girls.

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After a relatively relaxed rest of Saturday, I woke early on Sunday to meet some of my schoolmates to make the trek over to San Marcos, the hippie town across the lake from San Pedro that features classic hippie activities like meditation, yoga, crystal healing, flower healing, drum-making, mushroom growing classes, and tarot card readings. I am at least 4 to 5 months of unemployment away from feeling the sense of desperation that would motivate me to engage in most of these activities, but I figured a yoga class on the lake with some of my schoolmates would be cool.

The yoga class was in a beautiful location in a dock by the lake with a clear view of several volcanoes across the water. The class itself was a relatively normal sequence of hatha yoga poses; however, our instructor informed us that she was on a bit of a tight schedule as she needed to consult a local shaman over a mug of cacao promptly 25 mins after the class was scheduled to end. This, understandably, elicited some questions from our end, and we learned that this consultation would last 5 hours, the requisite amount of time for both the chocolate and the shaman to do the work needed to take clients to a spiritual plane. Curious about the identity of this “chocolate shaman”, my classmates and I did a bit of research found out this guy’s name is Keith. Keith is from the well-known spiritual homeland for authentic shamans (Pennsylvania), and charges tourists up to 200Q to attend his biweekly cacao ceremonies. The Internet has quite a bit to say about this chocolate shaman which you can find if you search “cacao shaman san marcos.” I do think I trust this TripAdvisor review the most.

I spent the rest of the afternoon swimming off of a San Marcos dock with my hiking friends from Saturday before taking one of the last boats back to San Pedro last night to get a good night’s sleep in before classes this week. I switched my classes to the afternoon this week in order to get some free-time in the relatively drier mornings. And Keith, the chocolate shaman, has a ceremony on Wednesday — if the chocolate spirit calls, I will answer and report back!

Hands up…then jump?
Just trying to be a cool guy jumping off of a dock!



No Hablo Español

San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala

This morning, I opened up the new Spanish-English dictionary I downloaded on my phone last night and took a gander at the “Phrase of Day” feature. I figured the phrase might be something I could use to break the long awkward pauses at meals with my host family (that I do my best to smile and nod through) or something I could drop into the one-on-one sessions with my Spanish instructor (that I also do my best to smile and nod through). Instead, the phrase offered a perfect reflection of how I feel about my first two days of Spanish immersion:


I closed this mind-reading app and headed to class, short one clever phrase to drop into a Spanish conversation today.

My first two days in San Pedro have been dominated by Spanish classes at San Pedro Spanish School. Classes run from 8 am to 1 pm everyday, with optional conversation practice from 5:15 – 6 pm. The classes are conducted in lakeside cabanas with a personal Spanish instructor (Chusita is mine) and include both grammar practice and conversation. (I say “conversation” but it’s more accurately described as me staring at Chusita with a furrowed brow as she speaks in a language I don’t understand about a country that is still largely unfamiliar to me. Occasionally, she stops and stares at me because she has asked me a question, unbeknownst to me. Once I realize that a question has been asked, I nod knowingly and say “Es diferente en Estados Unidos.” Surprisingly, this answer usually works). Conversation classes are with several other students at a similar level and include an instructor to guide the direction of the conversation. For now, I consider these sessions a victory if at least one other person understands at least one thing I say. I may actually be 2 for 2. (I keep “Cómo te llamas” in my backpocket).

Given my schedule, there has been some free time over the last few days, but, after a 6 hour onslaught of Spanish, I’ve found myself spending most of the rest of my time siesta’ing, reading (in English), and surfing the Internet (the English version of it). However, I did discover the local gym, Nufos, only a 3 minute walk from my casa, and squeezed in a workout this afternoon. The music blasting in the place was surprisingly solid (a mash-up of 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s rock) and the equipment consisted of some basic free weights and workable but somewhat rickety machines. I joined for one week (for 75Q or ~$10) and am thinking I might become a regular. (I was the only gringo in the place today, so I’m hoping “becoming a regular” will give me some more legitimacy amongst the locals).

Also of note is that this Friday is Independence Day in Guatemala, aka Quince de Septiembre! (Interestingly enough, when Guatemala gained its independence from Spain in 1821, the country consisted of present-day Chiapas (the southernmost state Mexico), Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras; those countries together formed the “Captaincy General of Guatemala”. This federation was dissolved two years later.) In celebration of independence, fiestas will be going on all week throughout the country, including in my pueblo of San Pedro. We got things kicked off this morning with a parade of little kids (niños màs pequeña, ages ~4-8) that walked through town, hilariously playing musical instruments, and, in some cases, dressed up as grown-ups. The little girl in my homestay family, Elsita, was an integral part of this parade and really gave it her all (as proven by the fact that she required an afternoon nap…but please keep this to yourself, she would be embarrassed if you knew).

Over the next few days, I’ll hopefully be doing a bit more bonding with my classmates (I have plans to get beers with a few tonight) and taking part in the Guatemalan independence day fiestas (I’m rooting for it to become my new favorite holiday). Hasta luego, amigos!


Antigua and My Guatemalan Family

San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala

“Much gusto, Richard! Bienvenido a mi familia!” said a smiling Elsa, the matriarch of my new Guatemalan family, as she showed me my new, personal veranda overlooking Lake Atitlan here in San Pedro La Laguna. Struggling to grasp the Spanish word for “view,” I resorted to, well, the English word for “view.” “Esta…uhhh…view…es muy bonita!” Elsa smiled knowingly, looked out towards the lake, and proclaimed “la vista!” And so my Spanish immersion attempt begins, one conversation in broken Spanish at a time.

My arrival at San Pedro La Laguna this afternoon was preceded by an action-packed last 24 hours in Antigua which began with a rousing cultural and historical tour led by the resident historian, Elizabeth Bell. Bell is no amateur historian —  she’s published multiple books on the history and culture of Antigua which are for sale all over town (this includes at least two coloring books of major Antigua sites which demonstrates the depth of the woman’s passion for this former Guatemalan capital). The tour began strong, as Bell showed us around the major sites off the Parque Central and pummeled us with her knowledge of all things Antigua (history, politics, religion, current events, and fun facts, i.e. the 1938 Tarzan movie was filmed in none other than Antigua). However, this momentum came to a screeching halt about an hour and half into the tour as Bell ushered us into the Jade Museum. For those of you who don’t know, jade is a precious mineral found in Guatemala that is popular in jewelry. Then there is a lot of other boring stuff about jade that the Jade Museum covers in detail. After about 45 minutes of that yawnfest of a museum, Bell did capture a bit of the momentum back at our final stop on the tour, the Casa Santo Domingo. The highlight of this stop was a crypt that includes exhumed human skeletons from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Pretty cool stuff.

After the tour, I meandered around some parts of Antigua I had yet to explore. This was going swimmingly until I met Oleg, a Ukrainian now living in New York City. Oleg asked me to take his picture in front of Iglesia San Francisco. Then his picture from a different angle in front of the church. Then his picture in the church’s garden. Then his picture in the middle of a park down the street. Then his picture from the end of the park down the street. Then his picture in the Parque Central. Then his picture in front of the church by the Parque Central. Then his picture in a picturesque street on the way to my hostel (I was now heading there for “a nap”). Then his picture in front a church next to my hostel. Then his picture in front of my hostel. Then his picture from inside my hostel. Then…OK, so the last two pictures did not happen! But literally all of the other pictures are true pictures that did happen. And when Oleg finally agreed to part ways, I was disappointed I did not receive a tip from him given my instrumental role in the creation of his masterful photo album entitled “Oleg Standing in Front of Places in Antigua, Guatemala”.

As evening approached last night, I debated whether to have a quiet dinner and call it an early night or head back to Cafe No Sé to see if my new bartender friends had anything going on. I opted for the latter given that the first option felt like defeat. Sure enough, Cafe No Sé did not let this wandering soul down. Marissa, an American teaching at a local school that works at the No Sé on the weekends, invited me and my other new friends from the bar (a gay couple from San Francisco down for a long weekend) to a local salsa event. Given that “I know how to do salsa” (said the mezcal in my body at that moment), I agreed and found myself in a school gym with several hundred Guatemalans that were absolutely ripping up some salsa. There wasn’t too much for a gringo like me to do other than watch in awe at the scene, which was highlighted by a legitimate salsa performance by locals in costume. I did make a brief foray onto the dance floor which ended with a small, personal victory in the form of a “compliment” from Marissa. (“I thought you would be terrible at salsa and you actually weren’t terrible!”). After a few hours of this otherworldly salsa scene, my new friends and I ended the night back at the No Sé  in a scene much more familiar to me — in a crowded bar, singing along at the top of our lungs to “Proud Mary” by Ike and Tina Turner.

I pulled out of Antigua in my shuttle this morning around 8:30 am, feeling satisfied about my three days there and properly launched into this adventure. The four-hour journey from Antigua to San Pedro La Laguna only helped to build my excitement for what lies ahead as I listened to the wealth of travel stories being recounted by my shuttlemates. And as I now find myself living with Elsa, Bartolo, Juanita, Elsita, and Bartolito, I am interested to see how the next chapter of my own story unfolds.


Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Illegal Mezcal, Oh My!

Antigua, Guatemala

As my good friend Mitch informed me via a text this morning, “el terremoto” is Spanish for earthquake (Mitch comprenders Spanish). However, “El” and “terremoto” were certainly not the first words that came to mind as my shaking bed woke me around 11 pm in my room at the Yellow House last night. Rather it was “Wow! This wind is…strong!” As I came to and slowly realized that an earthquake, as opposed to a stiff breeze, was the likelier cause of my shaking room, I hopped out of bed and racked my brain for the proper response to this category of natural disaster. My extensive terremoto training in elementary and middle school taught me to leave the classroom and kneel against the hallway wall headfirst; however, this training was not translating well to the hostel environment. (“Is an outdoor patio the same as hallway? Where’s the teacher? The pretend shaking floors is a for real shaking floor. Hmmm…”). The barrage of panicked, mostly incomprehensible Spanish coming from outside my room certainly was not helping, although the fact that the shaking was slowly subsiding was. In the end, I decided to do what I did in the only other earthquake in which I’ve been involved — leave the relative safety of my shelter and go find some people to talk to about how crazy this earthquake thing is outside. (PSA: This is the #2 WRONG thing to do in an earthquake. Best thing to do is drop to the ground, cover your head, and move under some sturdy furniture if possible. Doorframes are not a good option.) After I socialized with my hostelmates through several minutes more of shaking, the ground returned to its normal, nonmoving status. Once we learned that this earthquake was a whopping 8.1 on the Richter scale (earthquakes of 8.0+ strength quality for the highest grade of intensity — “Great” — on the scale), we were relieved that the effects were relatively mild for our spot in southwest Guatemala; unfortunately, this certainly was not the case further north and into Mexico.

In an interesting twist, a few hours prior to the ‘moto, I had booked a trip to rendezvous with another notorious geological phenomenon — an active volcano. A hike up Volcan Pacaya is actually a standard tourist activity for visitors to Guatemala City and its environs. And it’s certainly safer than a trip into Guatemala City itself. (A fellow hiker on the Pacaya trip reported that a car directly in front of him had been robbed at gunpoint in traffic in Guatemala City; another member of the hike described how he physically fought off three potential muggers at once in the streets of the city — impressive because he actually got away with all his valuables but…really? Downsides to the “fighting back” strategy are extreme.) So this morning, I began my Pacaya adventure from Antigua by packing into a large van with me and 26 of my new best friends. The van drove us roughly 1.5 hours into the Volcan Pacaya park, taking care of a lot of the elevation gain before the hike began. I signed up for the the standard, guided hike, which took us from the parking lot (~5500 ft) up above the treeline (~7200 ft), which offers a fantastic view of the volcano’s dome, the opportunity to hop around an open field of volcanic rock, and a trip to the “Lava Store” (Motto: You will “lava” our trinkets and things.) Aside from coming face-to-face with a real, live volcano (last eruption: 2014), which is, well, friggin’ cool, I enjoyed meeting the other turistas. I spent some time chatting with an international couple (Australia and Switzerland, respectively) taking ~10 months to take the scenic route from Berlin to Brisbane (Australia), an Australian guy cycling (no joke) from Berlin to Argentina (via the classic Berlin to Amsterdam to France to the UK to NYC to San Francisco to Guatemala City to Argentina route), a guy from Atlanta, Georgia in his late 20’s who had quit his tech job to spend some time traveling before moving cities (read: me?), and some British gals that had just graduated from “uni” and were doing traveling before starting Life. At the end of the trip, we all agreed to meet up at Café No Sé this evening, where a Dutch woman I met on my shuttle from Guatemala City to Antigua works. (Don’t worry ladies, she moved here for her boyfriend!) The “illegal mezcal” bar coupled with nightly live music makes this one of the more popular spots in town for those looking for a little nightlife.

I will be in Antigua, which is exceeding my expectations as a town of historic, quaint beauty and tourist-friendly vibes, until Sunday morning, at which point I will grab a ~3 hour shuttle to report for duty at San Pedro Spanish School up in Lake Atitlan. I’ll be checking back in here in a few days for those interested souls. Muchos besos!

Upper left: Volcan Pacaya and I, Upper Right: Roasting marsmallows over a fumarole blowing hot air from the volcano, Bottom: From Antigua, Volcan Fuego spewing ash

A Fun Trip Where I Will Learn El Español

Yesterday, I moved out of New York City, just short a few months shy of a five-year stint. Despite those 5 years, the 10′ U-Haul truck I rented was more than enough to handle my supplies (notable inventory: a queen bed, chest of drawers, a desk, and a bookshelf). I’ve never really considered myself a big “stuff buyer,” and cramped NYC living did very little to reverse this natural tendency of mine. The moving job was finished in less than three hours, with the help of my younger (but not littler) brother Wes and my new-ish roommate Yohan (who was already showing great potential to fill the great void of “surrogate little brother” that Colby Pines had left in my life just a few months prior).

After a relatively quick journey of 8 hours, I find myself back in my hometown of Richmond, VA, gearing up for my next adventure — 4-6 weeks of studying Spanish in Guatemala (literally: studyspanishinguatemala.com) followed by some traveling around that area of the world. My initial stop is Antigua (~3 days), then San Pedro La Laguna (https://goo.gl/maps/dM2V1kKdUPB2) for classes, then, well, you’ll have to stick around to find out!  Once back from this adventure, some uncertainty looms, but, several months removed from this uncertainty, I’m mostly excited to be embarking on a Fun Trip Where I Will Learn El Español.

As I go on this fun adventure, I will be firing up the ole’ blog for a few reasons:

  • To let people I know and love that “Yes, I am still alive” and “No, I have yet to buy a Guatemalan homestay to support my new Mayan wife and her three children from a previous marriage”
    • “…Or have I?”
  • To document my experiences so I can better remember who/what/when/where of my travels
    • This will be not just for my own reminiscing but, more practically, so I can give others headed to these spots specific references/contacts and a general sense of “the vibes”
  • Because it is fun talking to yourself on the Internet

I plan on keeping posts relatively short just so I can keep it up and so y’all don’t get bored. Hope y’all enjoy!

Picture: My phone informing me that I am quitting my job in NYC