Friday, April 29, 2016

Antigua, Guatemala: On Shoes and Tourist Traps

These are the shoes I brought with me to Antigua. When I laid them all out, snapped the pic, then looked at it, I thought, sheesh, did I really bring five pairs of shoes with me?

Well, see here, I'm not going to explain myself [erm, because I did that here].  I still brought only a carry-on bag and they all fit (and I wore the boots on the plane).

Besides, the topic of today's post is what shoes you wear and don't wear on the streets of a place like Antigua.

From my experiences in Caucasus Georgia, Ethiopia, and other places, I knew all about the slippery slopes of cobblestone streets, the uneven pavements, the precipitous curbs, and the surprise holes in the ground.

First thing to notice about all of the shoes, with the exception of the flip-flops, is that NONE are open-toed shoes. This is because if you wear open-toed shoes in Antigua - I don't care how much you paid for your urban-mountain-arctic-walking sandals - you will stub your toes on something. This will fucking hurt. I only have the flip-flops with me to wear at mi casa.

The pair of shoes below are perfect for street protection and comfort:

It has soles that grip the surfaces, and the body of the shoes are flexible enough to mold your foot comfortably amidst the round stones and little jutting triangles of not-so-rotund cobblestones. The soles are also thick enough to absorb pointy edges on the surfaces. There is adequate arch support.

The boots below are also quite good for the street, but they aren't as versatile in what I can wear with them. Plus they're better for cooler weather.  Yes, I see they are rather dusty in this photo, but I shine them up when I wear them.

Enough of the individual-shoe critique; you get the idea.

Let's get to the enemy you'll be up against - the Antiguan tourist trap - which manifests in various guises.

First up is a three-fer:
  1. Uneven surface
  2. Sudden smooth surface right next to a textured surface
  3. Gap in the pavement
Antigua - walking peril #1

Cobblestones. So picturesque, so quaint, so slippery.

Antigua - walking peril #2

Serious drop-offs from the so-called sidewalk to the street.

Antigua - walking peril #3

Again, different surface frictions. Those tiny height changes between the round manhole and the cobblestones.

Antigua - walking peril #4

OK, here we go. Padlocks! Hasps! Holes! Cracks! Slippery surfaces. Edges of metal straps!

Antigua - walking peril #5

And while you're watching where you put your feet, you'd better also look up and ahead because .....

Antigua - walking peril #6

... Fuckity-fuck. That would really hurt.

But still, nothing compares to the Ethiopian tourist trap:

"Ethiopian tourist trap" - pavement under construction

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Antigua, Guatemala: Mean-Dog Street

Mean-Dog Street, Antigua, Guatemala.

The street looks so pretty, so tranquil. It is, except for the two mean dogs.

I like to walk different routes to and from Spanish classes each day. My preference is the quiet streets.

On the way home the other day, I turned into this street. I calculated it would take me to Chipilapas, then I'd turn right and be in front of my little neighborhood's entrance.

I duly noted the barking dog behind a wall, a vigilant guard of someone's property. I observed the dog lying on the street, to my left, as I approached and then passed. I wasn't perturbed; the dogs in Antigua are a good-natured lot, polite, unassuming.

But then the lying-down dog got up and started to bark at me. Which put me in mind of the unpredictable dogs of Caucasus Georgia and Ethiopia, where dogs can be menacing and will bite.

But no worries, I thought, I'll just keep going on my way, mind my own business, and the dog will settle down once he realizes I've got no desire to encroach on his territory. ..............

Except. Oh. It appears this is a dead-end street. Well, I'll keep walking just in case there's an alley at the end that I can use for a happy egress. 


So I've got to retrace my path, go by the dog again. I look for some rocks and a stick. None. Can you believe it? A town literally covered with cobblestones, yet not a single loose stone that would fit into my hand?

And now the dog is barking that special snarl-bark combo, approaching me. 

I refuse eye contact and periodically say "Vaya!" without looking sideways or looking back as I pass. I imagine the dog taking a chunk out of my calf. I wonder about rabies. I keep on walking.

Whew. I reach the main street. Safe. 

When I described my experience to my Spanish teacher the next day, she pointed out that my belt could have served as a weapon, if needed, both as a signal to the dog and as a self-defense tool. Yes - good to remember.

That brought us to the topic of rabies. In Antigua, it's an annual custom for animal control folks to visit the neighborhoods and offer free, on-the-spot rabies shots for the dogs and cats. Sounds like a good system.

Below is a calaveras, generally associated with the Day of the Dead, about a mean dog. A calaveras is a satirical poem with a double meaning:

The neighbor’s dog has chased me home,
Every day this Autumn.
I run away when I’m all alone,
So it doesn’t bite my bottom.
Go ahead little dog and gnash your teeth,
But some day you will be buried beneath.

El perro del vecino me ha perseguido a la casa,
Todos los días del otoño.
Yo corro lejos cuando estoy solo,
Para que él no me muerda el trasero.
Adelante pues perrito y rechina tus dientes,
Pero algún día tú vas a ser enterrado abajo.


Possible author: José Guadalupe Posada

Monday, April 25, 2016

Antigua, Guatemala: Ant Season is Coming

I occasionally notice a medium-sized, black ant crawling over my bed. Like just now. And, I wonder: Could this be the edible ant beloved by Antigueños, which will come into high season in May? AKA "Mayan caviar"? ....

Hmm, based on this article, no, not the same ant:

Source: wikipedia commons

Puts me in mind of my ant experiences in New Mexico:

Alamogordo: Ants! Them!
Alamogordo: Ants II
Las Cruces, New Mexico: Arthropod Museum
New Mexico: Invaded by Ants

Friday, April 22, 2016

Antigua, Guatemala: Priest, Dog, Woman, Bread

Priest, dog, woman, bread. Antigua, Guatemala. April 2016.

I find this picture compelling. A priest and a dog looking out of the window. His white robe and blue sash. A woman walking below with the bakery basket. Her blue jeans.

It was my first full day out and about in Antigua. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Antigua, Guatemala: I'll Fly Away

Hotel Panza Verde, Antigua, Guatemala. April 2016.

Now, who would think one would encounter in Antigua a little concert by the Kossoy Sisters, whose popular claim to fame came from their version of I'll Fly Away in one of my favorite movies, O Brother Where Art Thou?

Hotel Panza Verde, Antigua, Guatemala. April 2016.

But there you go. Performed at the Hotel Panza Verde in Antigua, which borrows the nickname for Antiguans - "green belly." Green belly refers to Antiguans' reputation for eating mass quantities of avocados, to the amusement of other Guatemalans.

Here is the video of the performance at the hotel: 

My charming airbnb hostess, M, took me to this event.

You can buy one of the Kossoy Sisters' albums here.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Antigua, Guatemala: Girls: Quinceañeras

Quinceañera, Central Park, Antigua, Guatemala. April 2016.

In Salt Lake City, you can hang out on Temple Square and watch brides and grooms go in and come out of the temple for their "sealing."

Quinceañera, Central Park, Antigua, Guatemala. April 2016.

In Caucasus Georgia, you frequently come across couples just before, in the midst of, or immediately following their wedding ceremonies.

Ditto for Istanbul and Playa del Carmen.

In Antigua, Guatemala, I see quinceañeras, 15-year old girls being debuted to the world as making the transition from girlhood to womanhood. Antigua parks are good photographic backdrops for creating memories of a sweet rite of passage.

Below is a picture from my year in Alamogordo, New Mexico, of a store that carries the accoutrement for quinceañeras.

Quinceañeras and bridal store, New York Avenue, Alamogordo, New Mexico. October 2012.

Quinceañeras are big business in the Americas and the Caribbean. There are Quinceañeras Expos and all of the ancillary business folk who thrive on the tradition.

Quinceañera, Central Park, Antigua, Guatemala. April 2016.

Notice the girl's pink tennis shoes? My understanding is that she would wear these before the party, but at a certain point, change into heels to signify her passage from childhood into womanhood.

Discussions of quinceañeras:

On this same day, I encountered a future quinceañera, celebrating her First Communion:

First Communion, La Merced, Antigua, Guatemala. April 2016.

I'm guessing that's her kid brother next to her. I bet he gets annoying sometimes. If no one were looking, I wonder if she'd pop him over the head with the holy candle. Maybe when they got home.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Antigua, Guatemala: Breakfast at the Corner Place

Breakfast at Rincón Típico Restaurant, Antigua, Guatemala. April 2016.

On my first full day in Antigua, I ventured out for a walk and breakfast. Turned into the Rincón Típico Restaurant, where my eyes and belly feasted. 

Many years ago, I was proficient in Spanish, but I allowed that competency to wither to a very low level. So when I asked for a menu in the restaurant, was told there wasn't one, and then given two options for breakfast, which I barely understood, I selected one, pretty much leaving things to chance.

It was good. 

The before: 

Breakfast at Rincón Típico Restaurant, Antigua, Guatemala. April 2016.

Scrambled eggs, cheese, tortillas, refried beans.

The after: 

Breakfast at Rincón Típico Restaurant, Antigua, Guatemala. April 2016.

The wee chirpie wren was disappointed that I left him not a crumb. 

The Guatemalan tortillas have a different flavor and texture, it seems to me, from Mexican tortillas. Thicker, more textural, a little grittier? Women stand at the entrance to the restaurant, making the tortillas. By God, the tortillas are good. 

There was a lot going on at the restaurant. 

Cutting avocados for guacamole:

Breakfast at Rincón Típico Restaurant, Antigua, Guatemala. April 2016.

Putting whole, flattened chickens into fiery oven for roasting: 

Breakfast at Rincón Típico Restaurant, Antigua, Guatemala. April 2016.

Breakfast at Rincón Típico Restaurant, Antigua, Guatemala. April 2016.

Breakfast at Rincón Típico Restaurant, Antigua, Guatemala. April 2016.

The sound of the fountain in the center of the outdoor-albeit-sheltered dining courtyard. 

Breakfast at Rincón Típico Restaurant, Antigua, Guatemala. April 2016.

Customers chatting.

A satisfying start on my first full day in Antigua.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Guatemala: Packing List

Packing for my one-month Guatemala trip was similar to my packing for Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico, back when I studied for my CELTA. I even took the same wheeled bag! The wheeled bag still squeaks by the carry-on police, but just barely. Back when I bought it, the bag was easily within the dimension limits, but the airlines have reduced their boundaries since then.

e-bag, wheeled, carry-on bag

For a month's trip, all of my stuff fit into the above bag and a lightweight backpack.


Similarities in both trips included:
  1. Warm weather throughout the stay, so no need to pack for wide variations in temperature; and
  2. No moving around from place to place - I'd be in same accommodations for the full month, which meant I'd have a secure place to bring and store items (e.g. technology) that I might otherwise leave at home. 
A difference in this trip and the Playa trip is ... shoes. Shaking my head on this one. I've never been one to amass great quantities of shoes, but I packed kind of an embarrassing number of pairs on this trip. This is because my Guatemala plans include:
  • Dancing! 
  • Hiking
  • Walking on uneven pavements (think Caucasus Georgia and Ethiopia)
  • Hanging around the house 
  • Maybe some evenings out that require a little bit of dressing up

So, five pairs of footwear. Sheesh. I plan to discard two pairs when I leave, as they've outlived their usefulness to me.

I'll also leave behind some of the clothing items when I go. They are in good repair, it's just that either I'm tired of them or they no longer fit well.

So in theory, my luggage on the return trip will accommodate a few gift items that I'll buy here.

Comfort items


My online work requires that I use headsets for meetings, so I packed both a primary headset and a backup headset.

  • AA batteries and AAA batteries because, again, better to have items on hand than to have to take time out to hunt them down in a local store, and because I've experienced store-supply fail.
  • Power strip/surge protector
  • Flash drives for photo storage (in addition to using a cloud backup)
  • Mouse + pad
  • Earbuds and the device I use to listen to podcasts every day
  • Unlocked, international-friendly android phone + phone charger


My beloved primary laptop, bought in 2010, is now an elderly lady. By today's standards, she's heavy. Her after-market battery is kaput, so I've got to tether her to an electrical outlet whenever she's on. All of my life is held in her mother-brain.

Take her to Guatemala? No. It was an unnecessary risk to her fragile body and to the electronic trail of my life.

What to do? I know I've got to buy a new primary laptop but I'm not ready for that research and decision yet.

Well, I needed a backup, anyway, to my online work practice, so I bought a toy laptop.

Oooh, sha, she is so airy-light! And so come-hithery in her sexy, red dress. And at the price (well under $200), if she gets stolen or something else dire, I will be sad, but will not have suffered a devastating loss.

I loaded into her brain only those documents that I believed essential for my needs in Guatemala. Two reasons: 
  1. She doesn't have much storage space. 
  2. She can't divulge intel that she doesn't have. 


I have a handsome backpack that I use for my primary laptop, for weekend travels, for some flights. I took it to Playa del Carmen, to Ethiopia, to Caucasus Georgia, to Dubai, to Istanbul.

e-bag backpack that I left at home

It looks as youthful today as it did when I bought it years ago.

I didn't bring it to Guatemala, however. Nope, I decided to go lighter and cheaper. I'm guessing I'll do a lot of walking in and around Antigua, and I wanted to reduce the carry load. This decision is supported by my decision to bring my toy laptop, Little Red, which requires a bag with less space and durability than my primary laptop.

I also wanted an inexpensive bag, both in price and in looks, to reduce the number of envious looks from would-be thieves. Guatemala has a bit of an unsavory reputation, you understand.

Little bags and accessories

The possibility of dancing or evening-going-out required some thought about packing small bags. Being a solo traveler, I don't have a partner to watch my bag for me at a table while I step away for dancing or even going to the restroom. So I need to be creative in how I carry stuff with me to these kinds of venues.

Choosing clothing with pockets is a good first step.

I also have three utilitarian terry-cloth, zippered wrist bands in which I can stash a credit card, some bills, and a key. (I've got one each in navy, black, and red. I may buy a new one in light beige.)

Gogo terry-cloth wristband with zipper. Source: Amazon

And, yes, I did bring the ubiquitous, LBFP, that is a tourist staple. The Little Black Fanny Pack. Or, in my case, the belly pack. Got it at a second-hand store on the cheap about a year ago.

Result: For my EDC (everyday carry) to and from language school, I've got my LBFP in front of me, attached like an infant, with my camera + reading glasses inside. I've got my wristband with some cash for the day on my wrist.  In my nondescript, blue backpack, I've got a wallet and the keys to my lodging. Both of these are out of reach of easy pick-pocketing, but of course, if someone wants to get serious about things, they'll just take the whole thing from me.

I use the backpack to cart groceries back home after class.

I feel equipped.

The phone issue

I bought my android a couple of years ago, thinking I'd be moving to Oaxaca for a year, and wanting a work backup to my laptop. We got off to a rocky start, but the edges have been smoothed over.

Coming to Guatemala was going to let my android run free like the wind, performing magical tricks that one likes to see performed when one travels outside one's homeland.

Most specifically, I intended to buy a local sim card so I could make and receive local calls. Thus far, however, there seems to be no particular need for me to make or receive local calls. Relying on email for local communication suffices, and I have plenty of wifi access here, including at my lodgings.

As for calling folks back home, I've used my phone to call them via Viber (free), Skype (I bought a one-month subscription to call the USA from Guatemala), or in a pinch, Google Hangouts for real-time communication and email for non-live communication.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Guatemala: Coffee and Salt, the Essences of Life

Mmm, salt. Source: Amazon.

I make no apologies for this: I packed both salt and, yes, get this --> instant coffee (to Guatemala! Coals to Newcastle!) for my trip to Guatemala.

Thank the baby deity I have.

I'm sure there's salt somewhere in my temporary digs, but without searching through various cabinets or finding my hostesses at home to ask, I don't care one whit where it is. Because I've got my own supply! Not a moment's worry have I had about where I can find this precious mineral.

There's coffee here, too, but the coffee maker is on the fritz, so making it requires me to do some technical things with a hand-held filter thing and a pan of heated water, and I haven't yet figured out how to make the stove burner as hot as it needs to be.

Again, it matters not! Because I have my own coffee with me! And before you scoff, let me tell you it is addictive - it's Nescafe Taster's Choice French Roast. Not the classic or the other flavor. These are fine, but the french roast - smells good, tastes good, and it makes me sigh when I take a drink. Not to mention injecting me with the requisite buzz. And my hostesses have a microwave and I can work it and therefore heat up my mug of water to fold said loamy-brown, crystalline drug into its liquid embrace.

Mmmmm. Sometimes I get the packing just right.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Guatemala: You Are a Random

Airport in Mestia, Svaneti, Georgia. 2012.

I was on the first leg of my flight journey to Guatemala. Columbia, Missouri.

"You are a random," he said.

On one level, I loved this. It was all science-fictiony, like I was an android. Immortally frozen at a good age, of course. Intelligent. Everything smooth and shiny.

I also got that it's a lazy term of art within a particular profession, in this case, the Transportation Security Administration. Like psych staff might call a patient with a certain affliction "the catatonic down the hall" or an automotive job "the oil change in bay 2." Humanity stripped off.

Hologram at Istanbul, Turkey airport. 2011.

There were no buzzers or bells or lights that I saw when I walked through the scanner portal. It was something whispered by the machine only to the TSA agent, I guess. "She is a random."

OK, no problem. I got the full-body pat down and then another TSA agent swiped the palms of my hands with a round wipe cloth. Fascinating.

Something on the palms of my hands set off an alarm.

It changed my status from a random to an alarm.

This meant a thorough-thorough search of all pieces of my luggage, including wiping down the insides of my carry-on bag with one of the round wipes. I felt some trepidation at this, trying to remember where I might have been and what I might have packed in the bag in prior trips, trying to imagine what could rattle the security sensors. Berbere from Ethiopia? That incredible fish seasoning I brought back from Caucasus Georgia, given to me by friend Sandy, who'd received some from a friend with family from west Africa, who had carried it to Georgia after a visit to her relatives there? Svaneti salt?

Bole Airport, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 2011.

Final outcome: My brand-new tube of toothpaste was confiscated for being too large.

Security theater.

Airport cat at Baku Airport in Azerbaijan. 2012.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Guatemala: The Almost Pack Fail

Canon SD600

I learned my lesson about camera backups in Ethiopia.

After that experience, I bought two used, vintage Canon Powershot SD600s to replace the exact model I lost in Ethiopia. Redundancy of peripherals and all that. Plus it was a good travel camera.

These days, I have three used cameras plus a pissant phone camera. The backup system has served me well in the four years since Ethiopia, although cracks have appeared, and a change in the future looms.

For my trip to Guatemala, I packed these cameras:

  1. Primary: One of the Canon Powershot SD600s
  2. Secondary: A used Canon Coolpix that daughter handed down to me last summer
  3. Tertiary: My Moto G phone camera, a last resort only, due to its miserable photo quality

I chose the Coolpix to bring instead of my backup Canon because I am down to only one Canon battery, the two that I'd had having finally died of old age. I only bought one replacement battery because the things are pretty expensive, and I am on the fence about when I'll buy a new camera, which will certainly use a different model of battery. With the Coolpix, I'd have a spare, charged battery on hand when the Canon's battery needed to be recharged in Guatemala.

The morning of my departure, I inserted the cameras' SD cards into my primary laptop so I could upload their contents, thereby giving me clean slates for the trip.

Oh, wait.

Do I have an SD slot in the little red toy laptop that I bought for the trip? Why .... no.

Jeez, OK. Where the heck was my camera-to-device cable that fits into one of Little Red's usb ports? Oh thank goodness! Found it! Worked just great for the Canon. Would it work for the Coolpix? No. Nooo. Who'd've thought? 

This almost-fail fell into two categories of travel mishappery: 
  • Complacency, or more accurately, just plain sloppiness of thought and preparation
  • Too smart for my own good

Close call.

I left the Coolpix at home and replaced it with the second Canon. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

Guatemala: Going To

Breakfast in Antigua at Rincón Típico. April 2016.

I wasn't going to Guatemala in April. I was going to Rwanda in June. But there you go.

My friend, Cari, one of my real-life heroines, is originally from Rwanda. She intends to travel to Rwanda this summer as a member of a group to mark the public opening of a woman's center in Kigali, organized by her sister, Dr. Bea Gallimore. Cari invited me to join the group, and I enthusiastically embarked on a path to do that.

Long story short, I just couldn't make the budget work. The clincher came when I thought to compare what it would cost for me to go to Rwanda at a real budget-bender and to go somewhere else. I looked at a few places. Then I thought: Antigua, Guatemala. Lake Atitlan. I had fallen in lust with this Lake Atitlan photo a few years back. And my brother Matt had visited both Antigua and Lake Atitlan a couple of times, highly recommending both. There ensued much keyboard tapping: flight fares searched, airbnb lodgings scanned, and Spanish tutoring probed. Decision made. A feeling of satisfaction at the rightness of it.

I'll still get to Rwanda, I'm sure. Some day.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Lafayette: A New Year's Day Party

A New Year's Day party in Lafayette, 2016.

Scenes from an annual New Year's Day party, version 2016.

A New Year's Day party in Lafayette, 2016.

A New Year's Day party in Lafayette, 2016.

Musicians jammed.

A New Year's Day party in Lafayette, 2016.

Dancers danced.

A New Year's Day party in Lafayette, 2016.

Talkers added their beats.

A New Year's Day party in Lafayette, 2016.

A New Year's Day party in Lafayette, 2016.

A grand welcome to the new year.

A New Year's Day party in Lafayette, 2016.