Friday, March 30th, 6:15PM (CST)

The day got an early start today at 5:30am. The woes of traveling on standby. The basic story with our tickets is that we got them through a friend who is an American Airlines (AA) employee. So we get them at a steep discount, but we have to go on standby. The upside is that they seem very willing to put you in first class, which is very kind of them. The downside is there are various rules ( that one was to comply with. They are, for the most part, common sense and things a person would normally do as a matter of course (e.g., be polite to other passengers, don’t annoy the staff), etc. But some are a bit more pedantic (“don’t drink too much alcohol”, “don’t discuss your travel arrangements with other passengers”). The other part is that you have to get to the airport a few hours before the flight leaves. In our case, the flight left at 11am; we were trying to be at the airport at 7am, so we left the house at 6am.

We arrived at the airport without event. Checked in, and were done with preliminaries by around 7:30am. We went to have breakfast (Burger King) and we’d gotten up to about 8:15am. We had been told to show up at the gate at 10:30am so as to be ready in case they called our name.

At 10:45am the staff showed up, they checked ID, did some paperwork and told us to wait. After everyone had boarded (literally 5 people were left in the area including us), they first motioned a lady over and she got on the plane. A few moments later they motioned us over and gave us boarding passes: seats 4B, 4E, and 4F… First class!

We settled in for a short, but very enjoyable flight. I always thought the difference between first and coach was significant, but it was night and day! First while you’re still on the ground they offer you a choice of champagne or orange juice (I chose the OJ) and take your drink request for after takeoff. They bring your requested drink, and a few moments later a warm bowl of peanuts (they use real flat-ware and silverware, although usually miniature version, instead of plastic crap). Then they offer you a hot towel (very refreshing) and take your orders for the meal (meat, chicken, or pasta w/ seafood). Once it’s time for the meal, they come and lay out a table cloth, on which they place the tray (with it’s own cloth) which contains 2 glasses, cloth napkin w/ silverware, a plate with butter, and a plate with bread and some sort of spread I didn’t try. Water in one glass, and they offer white or red wines for the other. Once that gets cleared away, it’s time for desert. “Fruit with cheese or an ice cream sundae?” Duh. “Hot chocolate, caramel or strawberry?” Chocolate. “With whip cream and peanuts?” Yes, please. They also offer coffee which I declined.

Overall a wonderful voyage where time flew (no pun intended). Once we landed at the airport, it was back to reality and the joys of dealing with customs in a third world country. We waltzed past immigration and were greeted by a colorful marimba band playing some cheerful, upbeat music. The bag carousel quickly turned on and our bags appeared instantly (no doubt since we were last to board, the bags were last in, first out) unscathed, and undamaged, despite what my parents thought would happen. It also appeared that ours was the only flight at the moment. There didn’t appear to be any other passengers than ones from our flight. Over to customs, where they opened up all the suitcases and inspected everything carefully. Apparently a lot of people bring in jewelry to sell and try to avoid paying the tariffs. Allegedly, there is at least one drug bust per day at the airport.

So, the hard part was over, and now we just had to get to the hotel, or so we thought. We walked over to the Radisson desk and all the lights were off, as if nobody were home. We stumbled about for a few moments and an employee directed us to another Radisson desk which was lit, but equally empty. We hung around impatiently until yet another employee mentioned the staffer may be out to lunch. At about 2PM (CST) the girl gets back and tells us the next shuttle is at 4:30PM. My mom starts being rude which doesn’t help any, so I tell her to shut up and let me handle it. So I ask the girl how the shuttle works, she says it runs on schedule. Okay, how far away is the hotel? About 45 minutes. So not worth making them come get us. I ask her about taking a cab and am told it runs $25. She asks if I would like her to call a cab for me to which I agree. The cab driver is at the airport at that moment and off we go.

It’s a fun whirly ride up and down the side of a mountain, which lasted maybe 35-40 minutes. It is very obvious once we get to the designated city (Antigua). The roads turn to cobble, and long streets with no lights or stop signs. It’s a classy hotel, you can tell. Except that they make you wear these silly wrist bands; the kind they give you in hospitals or clubs. Apparently it’s for security reasons so they know who is _really_ a guest. Anyway, the prices for food are relatively cheap. Fetuccini Alfredo is $8 but the drinks are a little expensive. Double cheeseburger is $5. Anyway, I just ordered dinner. And getting ready to just veg for the evening.

Hotel Pictures:
Carpet in Lobby


I also got free Internet access by way of a lucky web search, so that’s a bonus. At least, the access is free, the bastard hotel charges $.25 per minute for local calls. Enough whining, let’s hope the food gets here soon and I can chow down and conk out. Tomorrow we are meeting Elias and family at 8:45am for breakfast, then I’m getting a massage at 10am (also a very cheap service, $10/hr!), then dressed and ready for the wedding by noon. I might make another entry tonight, although dubious.

Saturday, March 31st, 10:18PM (CST)

After yesterday’s entry not much happened. We ordered room service in and mostly just got settled down. We weren’t sure whether we’d have to change rooms tonight. At around 10PM, Roger faxed over the first page of our reservations (that the hotel requested). We called the front desk and they said they’d received it, so we asked them to send it down to the room. An hour later it still wasn’t here, so I just got dressed and went to hunt it down. Good news is that they had the fax and we wouldn’t have to change rooms, bad news is we aren’t upgrading to a nice studio with kitchen. Oh well.

In the morning we woke early (although not as early as yesterday) and me Elias, Kelly, Julian and Romina for breakfast. I went straight from breakfast to get my massage which was pretty good. The guy totally kicked my ass but left me feeling good. Unfortunately, they used oil, and by the time he finished i had a little more than an hour before i had to be ready for the wedding. Regardless, I took a dip in the jacuzzi hoping to get some of the oil off. The water was BOILING hot. So much that it took me about 5 minutes just to get fully into the tub. I only spent another 4 or 5 minutes in there trying to get oil off to no avail, which is fortunately, because if I’d gotten enough oil in there you could have probably deep fried a chicken. So off to the showers, some hot water and soap did the trick. Then to the room to get ready.

We rode to the house of the bride (where the wedding was being held) in a taxi that had been previously arranged. Just a typical ride up the mountain, took about 20 minutes. Once we got to the gated community, the cab dropped us off at the gate and we were greeted by Elias, and the father and uncle of the bride. We went down to the back patio where the ceremony was going to take place and there we saw Julian, Romina and Gabi. They showed us where our table was (we sat with them) and the pre-wedding things went on.

On way to wedding:

Then the ceremony took place. It was a pretty average wedding, although it was interesting to hear the entire thing take place in Spanish, to which I’m not accustomed. After the ceremony, it was dance time, where the principals took turns dancing in various combinations, then back to the tables. At this point the parents of the very newlyweds came around to all the tables to have a sip of champagne, they were lagged 2 tables behind by the couple.

Once this took place, some people went to the dance floor which was followed a while later by the lunch buffet being served. Then it was back to the dance floor again for many partygoers. The rest of the evening was a mix of dancing periods, eating periods, and very sparsely interspersed with other events like the cutting of the cake, the tossing of the flowers, etc.

The weather was very generous to the happy day, despite being in the tropics. Although it was very sunny and not at all cloudy, there was a cool breeze blowing every few minutes. The dancers were kept quite warm, but for us lazy bastards sitting in the shade, it was extremely comfortable even while donning suits. As night fell, it got very cool (the temperature range here is INCREDIBLE, at the height of the day you can’t stand to be outside in anything more than shorts and a tank top, and by the 9PM, you need a jacket in order to not get shivers).

We left at about 8:20PM or so, as the cab had been called to pick us up. We returned to the hotel (a brief ride down the unlit mountain paths) and (to my surprise) sat down and ate a suspiciously abundant dinner. That brings me to the present moment as I type on the laptop. I took pictures today, although not many. I didn’t realize that the power outlet I had the battery charger plugged into was tied to the switch that controlled a light, so when i tuned off the switch and went to sleep, the batteries stopped charging, much to my chagrin. Of course, I didn’t figure this out until DURING the ceremony, so I have no pictures thereof.

Hopefully by the time you’re reading this there are some hyperlinks to related pictorials. Tomorrow we are supposedly just hanging around the hotel, so it will probably be uneventful. Until then.

The Wedding

Victor, Cristina, Kelly and Elias


Walking the aisle

Victor and Elias

Carina and Romina

Sunday, April 1st, 11:08PM (PST)

Before I begin with today’s entry, a bit of errata. I forgot to mention a few fun facts about the hotel. On the day we checked in, there was a note on the front desk that read something along the lines of:

We are experiencing occasional problems with our plumbing, for this reason we have provided buckets in the rooms in case you should need it. We realize this is not the level of service you deserve, and we apologize the inconvenience.

Fortunately, it’s not as bad as that sounds. You just need to flush a few times to make everything go down.

Additionally, the rooms have no A/C, but they do have openable windows which we fondly refer to as the A/C, as in the following: “Don’t forget to turn off the A/C before you go to bed” which means “don’t forget to close the window”, or “is the A/C set to low or high?” which means “are one or both windows open?”. As such, life is a little more humorous.

Now, today’s entry. At 9:30am breakfast showed up, although missing a few servings of this and that, which the hotel quickly rectified. My parents went out to do various things, and I stayed back to check email and get pictures out of the camera, etc.

At about noon, we all met back at the room and decided to watch the “procession” which is basically just a slow, religious type parade, except with no floats or anything. I’m sure there’s a term for it but it doesn’t come to mind. Anyway, so we set off to find the parade and just as we got to the spot from where we were going to watch, we saw it had just passed. We asked some locals where we could catch it and they gave us various locations, some as late as 5PM (like I said, it’s slow).

All around the town (which is relatively small) people in purple costumes were everywhere. These purple people made up the largest percentage of the parade, and since the parade is so long, they had three times as many people than necessary. So that they could swap out as they got tired. In their “off” time they roamed the town.


So since we planned on catching the ceremony at around 5PM, we headed off to just amble around the town. We stopped at various artisan shops where they hand-make various crafts. Jade (a different variety, although visually similar than the Chinese counterpart) is a popular stone for jewelry. Most of the Jade places had very overpriced jewelry, obviously tourist traps. At around, 3PM or so we sat down to have lunch at this little place. Their special of the day was chicken tortillas which is basically chicken inside tortillas with some vegetables, and it came with a salad. The price? $2. So that’s what I had, the other members of the group had other entrees. The food took a long time but it was very good.

Off to walk
A big gate
Building faces park
Guy and Jalopy
Cathedral facing park

Some locals
Atrium of a building

After we finished eating, we figured it was just about time to go hunt down the parade, and so we did. As part of the festivities, the local people do something that is pretty cool. They make these large “carpets” out of sawdust. They main/background layer is normally just plain sawdust, that they make a level surface out of. Then using either colored sawdust, or grass clippings, or other materials, they elaborate designs. These carpets typically measure, approx. 15 feet by 6 feet. So these are laid out all along the procession path at varying distances, and the everyone takes care not to walk/drive on them. BUT, as part of procession the members walk over the carpets destroying them.

A carpet

Yet another
After the parade

So we watched the procession, which was, as I said, very slow. The part I wasn’t expecting was a 50 foot “float” which has JC carrying the cross in the middle of it. The entire thing is made out of wood and looks like it weighs a ton, but it is carried on the shoulders of about.. 100 guys. It doesn’t look like a simple task. The float is so large, that they can’t turn corners directly, they have to do it in about 15 maneuvers going forward and reverse. They are followed by 2 small floats which I have no idea what they represent. These two small floats are follow by the Virgin Mary which is carried by women, about.. 16 or so I’d say. But these women are both very short, and they look like they are in a lot of pain. The Virgin Mary float looks pretty heavy as well (but is nowhere near as large as the JC float). This is the only place in the parade where I saw women. Everyone else involved was male.

The Roman soldiers announce the

Early in the march

The top of the float
80 men carrying the float
The Mary float

The sidewalks along the street are pretty narrow, three feet wide max, most likely somewhere around two feet wide. And the procession takes up most of the street, so all pedestrian movement is squeezed along the sidewalk. My dad was standing on my left and the others on my right, and most people here look pretty much the same to me. Anyway, there is lots of movement in general, people trying to get from here to there and this damned parade is blocking traffic everywhere. At one point I see a guy passing us with a blue jacket over his arm, and I think to myself, “This guy looks just like someone from those Discovery shows I watch where they show how Casino thieves work” Sure enough, not 10 seconds later, I see my dad grab at one of his pockets, and take off down the parade route without saying anything to anyone. I knew instantly what happened, while the rest of the group kind of looked on in confusion. I quickly explained to them what just happened but I knew the guy was gone. I couldn’t find him visually, the street was packed, and the parade made it impossible to move fluidly down the street. Nevertheless, I cooperated as best I could making my way along the route looking for the suspect, and needless to say, we didn’t spot him.

Such is life, he took about $300 in US Dollars from my dad’s pocket. It could have been worse, he had his US money separate from his Guat money, and the Guat money was left behind. We figure it was probably just random luck, but it did cause some grief. The party seemed to agree that it was a sad occurrence, but what could you do? It was just money, it could have been worse, they could have taken a wallet with credit cards, etc. So we started on our way back to the hotel.

Many many many minutes later, after walking what felt like miles, we were back at the hotel. We split up to attend to various necessities and engagements. I returned to the room to rest my feet, look through the pictures, etc. My mom came back shortly thereafter and said she was going to go swimming. It sounded like a good idea to me so I caught up with her a few minutes later. My dad went with me, but didn’t partake of the water fun.

After the swim, we all came back to get changed into some dry clothes and prep for dinner. We went over to the dining hall and hung out a few minutes waiting for Elias and Kelly to show. We got bored waiting so we called the room to check, they said they’d be about another 30 minutes, so we said we’d be upstairs playing pool.

We arrived at the table 30 seconds too late, and watched two guys retrieve the equipment from the personnel. The guy told me he only planned on playing about 15 minutes so we just sat down to wait it out. After about 25 minutes, they finished up and we took over the table. Just as we were finishing the first game, Elias showed up. He played a game with my dad and as they were finishing up, a girl from the staff came up to tell us there was a live show of “Grease” on at 9:30PM. Great. it was about 9PM, and the restaurant closed at 10PM, so we headed down to the restaurant to try and catch some of the show, knowing we’d be late.

Thank god we were late. We got to the show at about 10:10PM and watched the last 20 minutes of it. It was so bad, it was funny. Just these people lipsyncing tunes from grease and dancing around this makeshift stage (which wasn’t raised at all, just some plywood painted black on the ground), and some decent dancing. We painstakingly sat through the remainder of the show and high-tailed it out at the end.

So that was pretty much our day. Lots of neat stuff, some bummers, but over all good. C’est la vie. Tomorrow my brother arrives, then the fun will *really* start. Since we didn’t exactly hang around the hotel as planned, we’re supposed to do that tomorrow. Swim and sun is the order of the day. We’ll see.

Monday, April 2nd, 11:37PM (CST)

Today was fairly uneventful, as far as vacations go. We got up at the usual time (9:30am) and had breakfast. My mom and dad went out to the pool, while I logged on to check mail, etc. I joined them about 45 minutes later. We hung around the pool, had lunch, played ping-pong, etc till about 3PM or so. My mom and dad were going to take a nap, and Elias and Kelly were going to go walk around town, so I decided to go with them.

We took off toward the center of town, mostly through non-tourist areas, and we happened upon a flea-market type area. We walked around there, shopped around. Prices were pretty cheap but crappy products. What you would normally expect at a flea market. Then on a side-road we found a artisan shopping place where local crafts were sold. We walked around that as well mostly window shopping (although there were no windows).

Then we headed down toward one of the large churches in the center of town (Santa Mercedes). On the way there we passed a beautiful picture spot. It was a church (San Jeronimo) that was destroyed in the last big earthquake. So all these big walls and chunks were laying around, BUT despite the church being unused, the grounds were maintained. As a matter of fact, there was a small group of kindergarten-aged children sitting in the yard listening to what looked like a class. The grounds were beautifully maintained, and I snapped a few pictures of the site. It was a great contrast of the well-preserved garden and grounds to the destroyed building in the background.

San Jeronimo
San Jeronimo

From there we went to the larger church I mentioned. From the outside, I wasn’t very impressed, but once inside my impression changed. Inside they had the “floats” from the parades laid out for inspection, and they were HUGE. We met a guy who had actually participated in the carrying of the floats in a few parades and we just barraged the poor guy with questions. I also snapped off a few pictures surreptitiously. Since we were in a church and people were praying, I thought it would be rude to stand and aim and take pictures with flash. So I just kept my camera at waist level, turned the flash off, and did the best I could. I actually got quite a few good pictures.

San Merced
Kelly haggling
A nice “carpet” inside

After we left, we headed down a nice street with a big arch in the middle (few pics taken of this as well). We found a hotel that had an Internet cafe inside, so since we were tired, and it was starting to get late (by now it was around 7PM or so), we decided to go in, surf the web a bit (for much much less: $1.50/hr) and call the hotel to check on my parents.

The Arch
From the other side
Arch at night
Inside a hotel/restaurant

Also, my brother was supposed to be flying in today, and the first 11am flight was oversold, so the poor guy had to wait for the 5PM flight. So we weren’t sure if he’d arrived yet. Eventually he got in around 7:15PM or so.

Anyway, since we couldn’t get a hold of them via phone, we decided to take a taxi to the hotel to rendezvous and decide what we were doing for dinner. We ran into each other pretty quickly, and headed back to the Internet cafe for dinner.

The rest of the night was pretty much administrivia. Roger and I moved into our own room. And we just watched a bit of TV. Nothing too exciting. Tomorrow we are going to San Antonio which is supposed to have a big artisan market. Since we now number 6, we’ve hired a small van to cart us around. They’re charging us $15/hr and since we’re going for about 4 hours, it’s not bad at all. The organized tours want to charge $20 per person, so this is a great discount.

I’m not sure what else we’re doing tomorrow. Tomorrow is my last full day in Guatemala, and will constitute my last entry. I will probably be leaving for the airport on Wednesday at 4 or 5am, and hopefully will be in MIA by noon. I’m kind of having second thoughts about leaving on Wednesday instead of Thursday, but I really don’t think I’ll be missing that much. I have to say it’s kinda sad to leave. But once I get back to Florida, my vacation isn’t over, so it’s not that bad. We’ll see.

Wednesday, April 4th, 8:29am (CST)

You can tell I get jaded after after the fourth day of travel. There just didn’t seem to be anything worth writing about last night, and combined with the need to pack and sleep, I didn’t get a chance to make an entry.

I’m sitting on the plane back to Miami as I type. This morning the phone rang at 4am with my wake up call. The van would be there to pick me up at 4:30am. I got dressed and ready and headed out to the lobby with time to spare. The ride to the airport with 4 other equally tired passengers was, of course, very quiet.

At about 7am we departed from Guatemala on our way to Miami. But enough about today, let me try to remember what we did yesterday. Oh! That’s right.

We had scheduled a trip to San Antonio (not Texas) where there supposedly most of the artisan handicrafts that were sold in Antigua are made. So at 9:45am we piled into a Toyota van and off we went. The first place we went to was a little indoor shopping area with lots of women selling essentially the same things. And what’s worse, they tried to make you feel obligated to buy from them: “you bought from her, you should buy from me too.” That kind of thing. But I ended up buying a big blanket/throw thing for myself (I haggled the woman down from 500 quetzales to 350 (from $70 to $50). I also bought some knick-knacks as gifts for some people back home.

En route
A street in San Antonio

From there we went to the a Macadamia farm where we learned all about the wondrous world of the Macadamia (and yes, it is almost as exciting as it sounds). Actually, the more interesting thing about the farm was not the Macadamia themselves but the equipment they used to process them. Unfortunately, I was out of batteries (again) so I couldn’t get all the pictures. But let’s just say they boasted that their outhouse (which they showed us) has been ranked by the locals as one of the prettiest outhouses in Guatemala. The machine to process the nuts is something like this: first there is a 200hp or so (maybe even smaller) Honda gasoline powered engine which drives an axle. On the axle is a car tire. Around the car tire is a system that runs about 1″ from the tire made from (construction) re-bar. Basically you dump the nuts at the top of the tire into a re-bar funnel type thing, which drops it down to the tired which drives it around the re-bar pathways which get closer and closer, such that the skin of the Macadamia comes off. It’s very primitive. Then you have the “sorter” which sorts the nuts by size. This process is exactly like coin banks, but made from re-bar as well. The concept is simple, a bunch of bars start out at a point and spread out. As the nut rolls down the lanes, as they spread it falls through the cracks into various bins below.

They also sold all kinds of nut products there (obviously) including Macadamia oil and some other weird things, along with (and this is the important part) chocolate covered Macadamia, which we bought 2 small bags of. They are definitely tasty. As a matter of fact, I had the last 2 a few minutes ago as desert for my breakfast

The other thing is that they wanted everyone to plant Macadamia trees, because they produce more oxygen than other trees, and also grow easier without as much need for TLC. Another interesting aspect is that their driveway was lined with Macadamia shells, and lots of things around the farm was Macadamia by-products (leaves as toilet paper?). They also gave facial to the ladies of our group with Macadamia oil for free. They said it was a very pleasant experience.

We finished with all this by around noon, maybe 12:30PM. We returned to the hotel to drop of our booty from the first stop, and to freshen up. I wanted to go get a belt that I had seen the previous day at the artisan market, so we decided to go there, get the belt and head off to lunch.

The place where I wanted to buy the belt was closed on that day, but since my parents hadn’t been here (I only went with Kelly and Elias while my parents slept), they browsed thoroughly. At one booth there were a few girls that seemed to want to flirt, or at least that was my interpretation. I bought a different kind of belt from them, but this was totally unrelated to the flirting.

The only picture I took at the Macadamia

From there we headed over to an Italian restaurant call “El Fratelli” which served us absolutely delicious food. They also had great atmosphere and a really cool seating area on the roof. It was the kind of place where you just wanted to lock the door and never leave, totally beautiful. From there we went off to do some sightseeing. Actually, we walked a few blocks and split up. My dad and my brother had to make a phone call so we sent my Mom, Dad, and Roger off in one direction, while Kelly, Elias and I headed over to run some errands by foot. Elias had to get some film developed and hit up an ATM. We also had to go to the travel agency so that I could book my morning bus trip to the airport, and they had to pay for their daytrip to Tikal (which I’m really disappointed I didn’t get to do).

The fam
On the roof(#1)

On the roof(#2)
A destroyed building


So that concludes my trip. As I type we’re flying over some really interesting island but I have no idea where the hell we are. I assume somewhere off the west coast of the Florida.

It has been an excellent trip, a learning experience, and a wonderful time with old friends. There was a lot of culture to be seen, and I’m grateful I got to experience of a small part of it. The people of Guatemala are, on the whole, very helpful and courteous.We never had any kinds of problems with locals, police, staff, or other tourists, which is definitely a plus. The food was cheap, the Pepsi wasn’t. The crafts were accessible, but the Internet, not as easily.

Hopefully one day I will return to attend to the unfinished business of visiting volcanos and pyramids, but there is still much of the world to see. I hope you’ve enjoyed my journal, and I wish you a good trip to Guatemala, if that’s where you’re headed.