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Guatemala – that Saturday night

Did I mention that we were a little hesitant when we saw that we were staying at the end of a unpaved road, and stopped in front of a steel gated entrance?  Our hostess at Jenna’s River Bed and Breakfast, Jenna Bigaman had been very helpful via email and one phone call before our arrival. She came out through the man door, greeted us all warmly – including the driver, and escorted us in, explaining the steel door within the steel gate on the way in. Inside was a carport and garden area, and a lovely structure painted in warm yellows. It all looked like something one mind find in Naples, Florida, save for the observation that there were outdoor furniture pieces made of fabric (these would mold and quickly rot in Florida).

We were shown into our room, which is the one pictured here, on Jenna’s website:

Jenna’s River Bed and Breakfast.


We parked our things, then, as invited, headed outside to sit on the couch and enjoy some extraordinarily delicious, freshly squeezed mango juice.  We visited for a good while, then inquired about where to go for dinner.

Jenna provided us a local, one page map which was quite helpful, but not extremely detailed.  She suggested we walk Calle Santander and recommended a  few places. In all, Jenna was  a terrific tour guide in our time there.

So – despite its being quite dark (even at 7 pm), we walked out and turned right and turned right. Being Saturday night  – and on many nights – the street was quite busy. Here’s a video which we found on the internet (not ours) – but which seems to reflect the street’s activity:

We walked around the hustle and bustle at night. At first, we were not plagued with street vendors – women hustling fabrics or children selling post cards.  The street place was very multilingual – lots of English, some French, I think I heard some Russian.

We even heard what sounded like drunken sorority sister on College Ave in State College. Drunken or not, this was more serious. A very angry young woman was pushing against another man, trying to get at a six foot two, 200 pound muscular looking man.  And it appeared he was interested in her.  The woman was losing things left and right, and the muscle man was shouting back. It made no sense.. The man in the middle was pleading with the young woman, saying “your going to get me killed”.  The woman lost her flip flops, but never found her temper. Eventually, her friend corralled her to one side of the street. I returned one of her flip flops.  As we walked along, someone pointed out that her cell phone and purse were left at one of the street vendors – who did not immediately try to conceal this – a pleasant bit of honesty. We returned those to the woman who continued to shriek that the muscle man was trying to have sex with young girls, while the muscle man say he would readily ‘do her’. I suspect drugs – perhaps of different type – might have been in use by both parties.

After all that excitement, we went on to eat a the Maya Vietnam Fusion restaurant. A Vietnamese woman from Quebec had moved to Panajachel and opened the place. As one of Jenna’s recommendations, we ordered Sopa Camarones (my Spanish is mostly self taught, and I didn’t remember that Camarones is Shrimp – not one of Nancy’s favorites). The soup was delicious, as were the accompanying vegetables! Definitely worth a visit. The place, like most, was open to the street – no screens, no apparent door. Indeed some young boy walked off the street to our table to try to sell us some post cards.

Here’s a photo of where we ate dinner (not our image)..

When we got back, Jenna was watching TV (Downton Abbey), and had a lovely fire going in her fireplace. She had that fireplace custom built into her B&B – for only $300!

KarenMarch 14, 2013 - 4:49 pm

Hi Chris-saw no comments above, so I’m not sure if that means no one commented or you’re not supposed to comment. Enjoyed reading your Saturday night- Jenna sounds like a good host! love her fireplace.


Guatemala – Saturday – arrival

Nancy and I love to travel, to meet new people and to experience new places.  This January, we traveled to Guatemala. Contrary to some whirlwind travel we have done, we arranged travel to just two cities: Panajachel on beautiful lake Atitlan, and Antigua Guatemala, the former and still beautiful colonial capital of Guatemala.

Our flight required us to arrive at the airport in New Jersey at about 5:00 in the morning – meaning we had to get up and leave around 1:30 a.m. Ugh. The flight was uneventful. We did meet some very pleasant Mennonite women traveling for a mission trip. That particular group organizes about 13 trips per year to various locations. The customs and border crossing on into Guatemala City airport were easy/breezy!  Our ride (organized by our hostess Jenna Bigamen) was waiting outside with a sign and our name. He had us wait in a small cantina area for some others to arrive for our shared transportation.

You might think that prices at the airport would be quite high but water was only 7 Quetzals. (Quetzals – one dollar was worth between 6.50 and almost 8 Quetzals  depending on where and how you traded them). We had traded $100 in Newark for Q685, and were glad that we had some local spending money over the next couple of  days. We pre-paid our hostess in US cash for our travel to Panajachel and then back to Antigua Guatemala and for our stay, as previously arranged. We kept our receipt from her which did help sort out some minor confusion later. I’ll talk about food and room costs later, or in a second posting – do remind me, should I forget.

We waited what seemed like a good 45 minutes to hour and half, watching people come and go and making up stories, trying to translate the signs on various trucks. We  paid attention to our personal effects, yet it felt quite safe.  Finally three and at last a fourth young women arrived and we piled into our 12 passenger van. These were more volunteers, traveling to very near Panajachel to work with an “NGO – non governmental organization” – doing other support. Indeed, as we arrived, we found a number of offices around the lake coordinating various volunteer groups – almost like tourist agencies.

The ride through the various towns was accompanied almost the whole way with a faint smell of smoke. Camp fires, brush burning, vehicle exhaust. Perhaps our van itself had issues. I am more sensitive than most, and while it was not overly annoying, I was aware of the scent.  What a sightseeing trip that ride was!  We passed Chicken Buses, as they are called, brightly colored school type buses with smoking exhausts, slide down windows, and local passengers – among whom, it is said – are frequently included roosters and hens. We passed well used looking Toyota pickup trucks with small metal frames in the bed. These frames were inconsequential – something like the frame of a luggage cart in a hotel, replete with a bar in the center for hanging – or hanging onto, only made of 2″angle iron and lacking much for creature comfort.  These small truck beds would be loaded with a dozen or so passengers and appeared very much third world. Little did I know, we’d be riding in the back of one in not so many hours!

The country side was a remarkable site. Leaving the airport, we traveled through areas which could be south Florida – tall chain style stores with colorful advertising, through areas of ‘hard (and dusty) working middle class’ – numerous mechanics and service businesses, window tinting, stereo installation, computer repair and the like.  Traffic was busy – as it must be in most capital cities of the world. Our driver was aggressive in taking opportunities to pass, but not rude, and often would honk and waive at other vehicles.

As we progressed from town to town, up and down large inclines, the  number of buildings we saw increased and decreased. Everywhere, even in the Capital there were signs of construction. Supposedly, the population growth in Guatemala is tremendous.  In seeing so many buildings which were unfinished, it was not clear if the builders were slow, if they ran out of money, if they add more as money allows. It was puzzling.  Having grown up in Florida, prone to its own boom and bust, finding buildings in various state of abandonment was not at all uncommon.  Here, in Guatemala, what we saw was quite surprising. Buildings boasting less than a single roofing rafter and aged by the weather over time would invariably have brightly colored clothing hanging from a clothesline stretched from place to place. The conclusion seemed clear – most any type of structure available – was inhabited by people who took care in washing their clothing.

As mentioned, everywhere there were small fires. Our hostess told us that wood fires are the traditional way to prepare meals. What struck us both was that we could see, for almost every mile of the trip, some man, woman, young child or even a dog carrying a large bundle of wooden sticks. Men might often be carrying small, branch less trees or large tree limbs. And it seemed they were always carrying these uphill; but of course, that must be a misperception.

As it grew later in the afternoon, we began a longer climb. After some time, we started a descent. After many miles, and perhaps two hour or  more likely three hours all said and done, we arrived in the Atitlan region. The switchbacks were fairly pronounced, and the beautiful sun so low over the lake and volcanoes cast dark, long shadows.

My camera? Stuck in the back, under a bunch of luggage. They say tha the best camera is the one you have with you. So, I whipped out the TABLET which has a camera, leaned over and, trying to deal with the van as it went through a number of steep declines and switchbacks, snagged a few photos.. Not pretty – but you get an idea of how excited we were becoming.

Our fellow travelers were going to Solola, and it was a little dismaying to see four young woman climb out into a poorly lighted city into a parking lot against a windowless and dark building.  On their leaving, and re-shuffling of our luggage to get theirs out, we traveled for another 20 minutes into a more brightly lighted area, going down a street busy with tuktuks, people on foot, women with bundles. We then turned down a fairly dark street for a ways, and turned again into a dead end. A 9 foot wrought iron steel fence with a man-door: the entrance to our home away from home.

Coming up next?  FOOD (it was a long trip).  Do stay tuned, and let me know what you think

KarenMarch 14, 2013 - 9:41 am

Hi Chris,
Enjoyed your first post-I’m looking forward to hearing of the food. I’m sure you were glad along the way that you had arranged so much ahead of time.



Vargas Valentines – 2013

Born in Arequipa, Peru, Joaquin Alberto Vargas y Chávez moved to the United States in 1916 after studying art in Europe prior to World War I. He was the son of noted Peruvian photographer Max T. Vargas, according to WikiPedia.  WikiPedia notes that one of his 1933 pieces became the “greatest movie poster ever”, and his work became quite famous in the early 1940’s.  The nose art of many World War II aircraft was adapted from these Esquire pin-ups. As a tribute to his style, three models joined makeup artist Becki Lynn, Nancy, and myself to recreate a few of his period pieces.. Here are a few.  Please do comment and let us know what you think.

C. Amanda Boutahorse and Alice Urwonderland


These great models are Burlesque performers, help to work toward recreating Alberto Vargas’s classic work in beauty..