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First the ashes, then Agatha – then the gifts from heaven June 2, 2010

Posted by Tracy in : Guatemala , 1 comment so far


PANAJACHEL, Guatemala – For three days I’ve been traveling the villages of Lake Atitlan, watching the slow shift from disaster to windfall.

On Saturday, we stood together in Marvilla’s kitchen at Posada Dos Volcanes in San Lucas Toliman, one of the mostly Mayan villages that ring this lake, watching in disbelief as the mountain began shedding its skin right before our eyes. What had once been a smooth green slope was now a great brown gouge.

Xela, Guatemala: Where the Maya meet the world May 21, 2010

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QUETZALTENANGO/XELA – It’s 7:30 a.m. at Parque Central and the city is beginning to stretch and come to life. The plaza hums with the voices of students in their crisp navy uniforms and white knee socks, boys with gelled hair combed carefully into a peak, ladies in their cortes tipicas, their brightly woven traditional skirts, making their way to the market with baskets and tubs balanced on their heads. Half a dozen shoe shiners are setting up around the perimeter; one is already at work shining the shoes of a man in a suit with a distant look in his eyes.

The fog that drapes the surrounding mountains and Santa Maria volcano is giving way to bright sunlight here in Quetzaltenango/Xela, as it has every day since I’ve been here in early May. It’s rainy season, but the clouds won’t roll in until afternoon, and even then the rain is usually light and occasional.

I’m getting ready to pack my bags and move on – after two weeks it’s time to see a little more of the country – but I want to capture the essence of this delightful city in the highlands, a sprawling city that feels more like a friendly village at its heart. I don’t feel quite ready to leave, but I will be back, I tell myself. This is a place I think I could live.

Conquering Tajumulco: Me and the volcano May 17, 2010

Posted by Tracy in : Adventure, Guatemala , 2comments


XELA, Guatemala – At 4:45 a.m. on Saturday, eight sleepy people from five different countries showed up at Casa Argentina, bracing themselves for the adventure ahead: a two-day trek up Volcan Tajumulco, the highest point in Central America. I was among them.

The three volunteer guides from Quetzaltrekkers were going over the final details. Yesterday we had already met for a briefing and gone over the checklist for the trip. Below-zero sleeping bags? Check. Headlamps? Check. Down jackets and fleeces? Check. Rain gear, gloves, hats, thermal underwear?

Wait, I said, this was Central America, not the Andes!

Yes, but it was rainy season and our destination was 4,000 meters above sea level, where wintry conditions prevailed, especially at night and in the pre-dawn hours when we would hike to the summit of the old volcano.

A Mother's Day greeting from the Racoons May 11, 2010

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Mother’s Day is celebrated here in Guatemala on the 10th of May, regardless of what day of the week it falls on.

project management assignment

So today was the big day – and I do mean big.

It began at 6:30 am with a mobile loudspeaker blasting an upbeat blessing from the streets, mañanitas-style. That was followed by fireworks, and all day I continued to receive kisses and hugs and very sincere blessings just for the fact that I have a beautiful daughter – which is already blessing enough.

A Mother’s Day thanks to Guatemalan world changers May 11, 2010

Posted by Tracy in : Guatemala , 3comments

Sunset, coming into Quetzaltenango/Xela

QUETZALTENANGO, Guatemala – I awoke this sparkling Mother’s Day to the sight of the Santa Maria volcano from my rooftop, rising green and conical over the mountains that surround this charming city in the highlands. Quetzaltenango, known to Guatemalans by its indigenous name, Xela, is quite literally a breath of fresh air.

The slap-slap-slap of the ladies in the kitchen next door “tortillando,” making tortillas, is punctuated by laughter and chitchat.

Hotel Ajau: A green deal in Guatemala City May 11, 2010

Posted by Tracy in : Guatemala, Sustainability , add a comment

GUATEMALA CITY – I have spent the past week making contacts, getting the lay of the land and working on freelance stories, and I couldn’t have found a better home-away-from-home here in the capital city than Hotel Ajau.

I’ll admit I chose it because I read in Rough Guides that it offered a good price, free wireless, good coffee and a nice atmosphere in the historic district. Little did I know that I had inadvertently chosen the city’s first “green” hotel – at least the first to be certified as such by Guatemala’s Green Deal organization.

Nor did I know it was the labor of love of three generations of French-Guatemalans. Three generations of the Luis Rey Tarot family have infused this elegant historic neo-colonial building (or republican, as it’s called here) with a sense of home.

Masa Critica takes to the streets in Guatemala City May 4, 2010

Posted by Tracy in : Biking, Guatemala , 1 comment so far

GUATEMALA CITY – Between the black smoke-belching chicken buses and the mass of cars that congest the streets of Central America’s largest capital, it’s hard to imagine a bicycle, much less a mass of them. With one of the highest crime rates in Latin America, it’s not a place I was planning to explore on two wheels.

But there’s safety in numbers, and that’s the idea behind Critical Mass, a bicycling movement launched in 1992 in San Francisco that has now spread to more than 300 countries.

“We don’t block traffic; we are traffic!” is the group’s motto, and as an urban bicyclist confronted with rude, honking or just heedless motorists I’ve enjoyed expressing that sentiment, alone and in mass rides in San Antonio (MS 150), Houston, Texas (Bohemeo’s Bicycle Club) and Guadalajara, Mexico (Al Teatro en Bici and GDL en Bici).

So when I saw on Twitter that Masa Critica Guatemala was planning a ride my first weekend here, I decided to drop them a line to see if they might have a bike to spare.

A day of cultura in Guatemala City May 2, 2010

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GUATEMALA CITY – My first day in the city, my couchsurfing host Cristina whisked me off to a day of culture, beginning with the beautiful Popol Vuh and Ixchel museums on the beautiful and modern Francisco Marroquin University and ending with a night of dance at the National Theater and lively conversation in an all-night diner.

I have assignments due and I had planned to stay home and write, saving the museums for Saturday, but Cristina set me straight. These museums, two of the best according to Cristina, are closed on Saturday. And when she offered to accompany me, how could I resist?

Surfing the couches in Guatemala City May 1, 2010

Posted by Tracy in : Consumer travel, Guatemala , 1 comment so far
Mealtime is a special occasion with Cristina Diaz, here in the beautiful and eclectic home she helped to design.

Mealtime is a special occasion with Cristina Diaz, here in the beautiful and eclectic home she helped to design.

GUATEMALA CITY – The city sparkled below me like a carpet of diamonds, flung carelessly over the valley and clinging to the surrounding mountains. This is probably as beautiful as Guatemala’s capital city gets, I thought, then scolded myself for the unwelcome thought. I only know the city from reading about it, and from a single pass through to the airport. Hardly enough to judge. I should know by now that you can’t judge a city by the media coverage – look at Mexico City, for example, which I’ve come to love.

And indeed my first night in the Guatemala City has put the lie to the widespread condemnation of Central America’s largest megalopolis. Thanks to Couchsurfing.com, I had friends waiting for me with dinner and directions, maps and guides and ideas for my project. I took a taxi to their beautiful home next to a park in a leafy neighborhood in Zona 2 and received a family welcome.

Holy Week Garífuna style: Where Jesus is Black April 4, 2010

Posted by Tracy in : Guatemala , 4comments

Black Jesus

LIVINGSTON, Guatemala – I knew I had finally found the place when I heard the music. Completely unlike the punta drums and reggae blaring from the bars and restaurants a few blocks away, a dramatic instrumental selection drifted through the dusty streets. A crowd had begun to gather around the place they call The Minerva – a small building undistinguishable to my eye from any of the others, except that the door was covered with a white sheet and palm fronds, and guarded by a young boy with a spear in a red robe, white kneesocks and sandals and a red cowboy hat, pinched up into a pointy crest.

Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is a grand affair throughout Latin America, with spectacular processions and dramatic reenactments of the Easter story taking over the streets and lasting for days. Here in Livingston, the event is traditionally organized by the Garifuna community, and carried out with an unusual African-Caribbean flair.