Conquering Tajumulco: Me and the volcano

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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.
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A Mother’s Day greeting from the Racoons

Mother’s Day is celebrated here in Guatemala on the 10th of May, regardless of what day of the week it falls on. 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.
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A Mother’s Day thanks to Guatemalan world changers

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.
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Hotel Ajau: A green deal in Guatemala City

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.
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Masa Critica takes to the streets in Guatemala City

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.
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