Old Friends, New Surprises, Little Secret Escapes

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It’s been months since I went on a last-minute day-trip with a few friends. Our objective was nothing more than a small roadside restaurant along the highway. La Colina is little wooden shelter that holds maybe five picnic tables and sells the typical Guatemalan meal of sausages, frijoles, pungeant cheese, grilled onions and blue, hand-made tortillas. The little-known place is about a 35, 40-minute drive outside of La Antigua. While the meal seems simple… it makes my mouth water and my stomach growl every time I think about it. It’s simply one of those great little secrets that you absolutely delight in. The drive through the rolling mountainscape – with chilly air rushing in through the open windows as you stick your head out to fully take-in the stunning landscape of dark green peaks flooding into neon green valleys and puffy, patchwork clouds hanging so low you feel you could pluck one from the sky – makes the trip more than worth it.

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To warm ourselves in the chilly air we order rich, authentically Guatemalan hot chocolate (always with a zing of cinnamon). The hot chocolate comes in these charming clay cups that have been hand-molded, glazed and fired in a rich red-brown earth tone.

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On the way back, stuffed as we might be, we can’t resist the elote – grilled corn – sold along the highway. We stop and share a few minutes with the wrinkled old woman who spends all her afternoons fanning the smoking cobs in the crisp mountain air.

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There were four of us – Joaquin, Bomba, Michelle and I – on this trip. Bomba has been nagging me these months since for the pictures I took of our little outing. Finally, I sent them. And his response totally took me by surprise: a small passage of beautiful, Spanish prose. I had no idea Bomba could write!!

“El aire inunda mi armazón, los colores me enseñan los surreal de su realidad, y el espíritu vuela flotando sin cesar.
Todo lo que es bueno viene de las manos del que lo moldea. El humo con sus sutiles manos abraza al apetito. El resultado es un desfile de sensaciones vagabundas… comida del alma, espiritual, dedicada, amorosa!!!”

English translation (although better in Spanish):

“The air saturates my bones, the colors teach me of both the surreal and of reality, and the spirit floats without rest. All that is good comes from the hands that shaped it. The smoke with its fine, delicate hands hugs appetite. The result is a parade of wandering sensations… food of the soul, spiritual, dedicated, lovely!!!”

Energy Buzz…

ArteAntigua.comRight now, I feel like the energizer bunny jacked up on Kaffee Fernando‘s infamous Black Fernando: strong black coffee with a shot of espresso.

So much to share… so let’s roll!

On the first of October, I was struck with a “most brilliant idea” to start a project that fully delves into the local art scene. But, although at the moment of inspiration I felt like the idea was brand new, truth is, it isn’t. In Barcelona I was constantly surrounding myself with art and ended up starting The Chroma Collective. This project has stalled a little, but as ideas have been leaping out of my head I’m ready to start stoking that fire again. I just need to get the others that are involved re-inspired. Yikes… I’m already getting off track. Again in Honduras, I began talking with local business owners about starting a much-needed cultural art center. But, while those involved were properly inspired, they weren’t really acting. Phooey. Now, I’ve logged more than 4 months in this second visit to Guatemala and I’ve come right back around to, you guessed it, art. Can we say: calling!

Bueno… this time the project is charging FULL STEAM AHEAD. I would like to introduce you all to ArteAntigua.com: La Antigua’s one-stop web portal for all things art!

Art is an obsession in La Antigua Guatemala. Galleries crammed with bold and expressive creations are found around every corner. Cobbled streets teem with local artists painting romantic cityscapes of LAG’s quintessentially colonial architecture, inescapable volcanoes and alluring ruins. Jewelry and jade spill from storefront windows. Local Maya artisan markets are brimming with hand-woven, rainbow-colored goods.

Amidst this profoundly ornate bizarre, ArteAntigua unfuddles the befuddling and reveals the best of Antigua Guatemala’s dynamic realm of art. We delve into the constant hubbub of creation to bring you the inside scoop of LAG’s thriving art culture.

Our vision is to offer an all-encompassing portal into La Antigua’s art scene and develop sustainable support for its continued growth and development.

And boy does La Antigua’s art scene need development. There are AMAZING exhibitions and cultural events going on here nearly EVERY DAY. But, only two institutions Cooperación España and El Sitío are properly publishing what the have scheduled. The rest is just haphazard, pass-flyers-out-the-day-of-and-hope-people-show-up promotional nonsense. And, even still, these two organizations are promoting only in Spanish. With La Antigua emerging as a world-renowned vacation hot spot, with the non-stop flow of English-speaking tourists, PLUS with the huge ex-pat culture here (much of whom still struggle with Spanish after logging years in country) it’s quite ridiculous there isn’t more literature about what’s going on in ENGLISH. Until now… hence ArteAntigua.com. Furthermore, even the large, impressive galleries are sorely disappointing when it comes to presenting their art. You walk through rooms upon rooms of most affecting art only to end up wondering who’s art you’ve fallen in love with. There’s no information!!

So when the idea hit… the website and the first posts was up THAT VERY SAME NIGHT. In LESS than one week without any proper promotion the site had 602 pageloads and 234 unique visitors. We’re still working on getting through week two. But, the hits keep growing!! Not to mention I’m already rubbing elbows with the country’s most-renowned artists. It helps that my roommates are artists themselves. (Still need to write about my new home!!)

Pues… the vision for ArteAntigua.com is a grand one. First, become THE resource for art information in La Antigua Guatemala. Second, sell art found in La Antigua worldwide from our web portal. Third, institute a yearly scholarship for local, talented, yet budding artists who lack the means to promote their work, granting them their first exhibition. Fourth, initiate the ONE festival that this city is missing: Art Walk!!! Five, use the sight as a springboard for the impressively inspiring and grand visions of the local artists. Six… well, that’s a start!

More news: Latest batch of stories out for Revue Magazine…

Exploring a Hidden Gem

The Woman Behind the Crusader

The Guardians of Las Gravileas

I’ll be exhibiting photographs for the first time here in La Antigua in November as part of a collective exhibition with the Antigua Photography Club.

I’m helping out with a small promotional video for a most inspiring organization here in Antigua… all volunteer. More on that soon!

Just meet a Swiss geological engineer today who gave me yet another idea for a cool activity to incorporate into ArteAntigua. I’ll keep it hush hush for now until it gets going though. Very inspiring young man though!

Found a new, extremely committed running buddy to begin proper training for races and eventually a marathon again. FINALLY!! We’ll also eventually be developing that into a project meant to help support poor kids who want to become more dedicated athletes.

And of course, I still have TheCocoaProject.org. That project is even bigger than the rest and will take more financial investment upfront. So right now, it’s currently in the research phase. I’ve begun posting what I find in my research in blogs though. So if you’re interested in learning cool things about chocolate and the cacao biz… check it out!!

ESAP keeps pushing back the date for their event that I’m involved with (as Director of Photography), so that’s plodding along. But, it’s coming slowly but surely.

What else… ?? About a million things! But that’s a good start for now…

And for those so inspired… any support of these projects is welcome! Particularly, ArteAntigua.com. This one is already having much success and I think I’ll be able to use it to drive the other projects.

Lost and Found…

Continued from Divisive Denominations

“In order to accommodate the two new guests, the family – mom, dad and four kids – all had to share a single-sized bed.”

Daniela and I returned to Copan in time to catch up with the boys and meet Julio for fubolito (5-on-5 soccer)! When we arrived at la cancha (the field – a cement field by the way), I was surprised to find people I recognized: the drunk locals at Bohio bar from the Copan visit past. At that moment, I was aware that I had a decision to make… and that I had just a moment to make it. I could approach these men with a pre-determined judgment acquired from a less than desirable situation that happened months ago. I could write them off as “no good.” Or, I could give them a fresh start. I opted for the fresh start… something I can honestly say a younger, less-worldly “me” most likely wouldn’t have done. Continue reading “Lost and Found…”

Getting Personal about Water

A video from Alexandra Cousteau’s Blue Legacy project – a project that’s meant to raise awareness about the global state of water.

A few interesting points her work highlights:
* Ninety-seven percent of our world is made up of water, but only one percent is suitable for humans to drink.
* In just a few years the number of “water refugees” will outnumber the number of “conflict refugees.”
* The oceans are becoming more acidic each year, killing more and more aquatic life. Without aquatic life our human existence on land cannot survive.

By the way, Alexandra is the granddaughter of legendary explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Wow.
Speaking on how both her legendary grandfather and her father have inspired her: “The best example they gave me was the importance of living a life of consequence, value, and meaning.”

I’m not going to lie, I’m out to make a legacy too! 😉

Here’s a video on the broader issues of water:

And Many were the Nations with Whose Manners and Customs She was Acquainted…

Continued from Many Cities Did She Visit
Click here to view the entire Flickr photo album.

I don’t really know how to share everything there is to share about my experience with Selvin. There is so much that I encountered with him, so much that I learned from him. He’s unspeakably complex and compelling.

I had left Lago de Atitlan reluctantly. Nostalgia was creeping into my heart before I had even boarded the olancha that would mark the beginning of my trip back to Antigua. But, I had promised friends of my return and a possible trip to the beach that weekend was in the works. It was time for me to go. Leaving wasn’t all that melancholy though. I was eagerly anticipating meeting “the boy with the smile” further up North in Guatemala in a few days. Turns out, I didn’t have to wait very long at all to meet up with Selvin.

The trip to the beach didn’t happen. Instead, it was a fun night out with Sofia’s friends in Guatemala City. The next day, when I called Selvin as I promised I would, we discovered we were both in Antigua. Perfect! We could head up north together. The day we planned to leave was the day I first began to glimpse and discover just how multi-faceted were the allure and spirit Selvin possessed. So quickly he was proving to be much more than “the boy with the smile.”

I had bought many souvenirs for Christmas gifts. I figured there was no way I could come back from this wonderfully artisan city full of goods colored by the Guatemalan rainbow empty-handed… especially for Christmas. Normally, I don’t do the souvenir thing because I’m traveling for long periods and there’s just no way I could lug it all around on my journey. Since I had the opportunity to bring home souvenirs this time, I had decided to go all out and simply ship most of it back. Ha! The whole “try-to-ship-it” process was quite the ordeal – an ordeal that Selvin, rather than I, mostly dealt with. As soon as I explained my plans to Selvin he jumped into action tracking down boxes, packing the boxes and taping the boxes with the utmost care for security and sturdiness. He invested a good couple hours into the completing the task thoroughly and without hesitation or complaint. The easy manner with which he embraced the task even before being asked to help, without a hint of gripe or complaint, revealed much… at least to me. It was quite evident that Selvin was a hard worker that tackled his duties with reverence and pride. That’s a quality that, I think, isn’t so easily found.
Continue reading “And Many were the Nations with Whose Manners and Customs She was Acquainted…”

Many Cities Did She Visit…

Continued from “With a Ticket to Central America…”

The culture and art I was so sorely missing in San Pedro Sula, Honduras abounded in Antigua, Guatemala. Even before I arrived, I could feel the buzz of Antigua’s creative energy. On the ten hour bus ride I had unearthed an Antigua area guide. It was filled with ads for restaurant after restaurant, art museum after art museum, bohemian cafe after bohemian cafe, artisan shop after artisan shop, announcement after announcement for dance lessons, Spanish language school after Spanish language school. Tours of coffee farms and coco farms. Ecological lodges. Hikes up volcanoes. This was a city of art, expression and adventure!

I arrived in Antigua late, well after dark, not sure what to expect. In Honduras, you don’t walk alone after dark. I had heard just as many warnings about walking Guatemala City after dark too. But, Antigua was supposed to be different. Well, I had no other choice but set out on my own in a dark and strange new city in Latin America. I had a hostel in mind and so I determinedly marched on in search of The Black Cat. There were people here and there on the streets so that felt reassuring. A quick interrogation of a couple of guards left me pointed in the right direction for the Black Cat. I found it quickly. With continued luck, I had arrived just in time to claim the last bed for the night. Perfect!

My experiences that followed in Guatemala were a whirlwind of excitement, adventure and life at some of it’s richest!

Sadly, for now, I’m only going to list brief highlights. There is much more to tell, and I long to tell it all. But I am leaving for new adventures in Europe in two days. I’m hoping I’ll be able to come back to this on the plane and fill in the gaps: Continue reading “Many Cities Did She Visit…”

With a Ticket to Central America…

Continued from “Who Traveled Far and Wide…”

I’ve used “the L-word” just once before with a man. With that man, though, the L-word couldn’t even be. Before and after that one moment, I would jump, shirk, and cringe and the mention of “the L-word” with another man. Not with Michael. With Michael, “I love you” came fast and easy. He is the first boyfriend with whom I’ve ever used those words. I don’t take them lightly. I don’t say them easily. I meant it every time I said it to him. More and more each time I said it. Big words. Many insist it wasn’t love. It couldn’t be. It’s too fast. I’m too young. Continue reading “With a Ticket to Central America…”

Who Traveled Far and Wide…

Continued from “Of that Impulsive Lass…”
The next morning Michael dropped me off at the bus terminal so I could catch a bus back to La Cieba, back to the white water rafting and cliff jumping adventures at Jungle River Lodge. This would be my third trip to the lodge (though first one on this return trip to Honduras). That’s how much I loved it there. Think rustic wooden lodge set back into a lush tropical forest full of palms, brilliant red “birds of paradise” blossoms, and ferns big and small highlighted by shafts of sunlight. The sound of rapids bubbling over rocks not far off… From the back of the lodge you first spy the wild slopes of Pico Bonito looming before you. Then, you spot the huge boulders just steps away. Next, you creep to the edge of the cliff, peer over and, fifteen feet below, you watch the glacier green waters flow past. A mischievous look slowly spreads across your face, you slowly back a few steps away from the cliff… and then spring forward , launching yourself over the edge and into the swirling water below! I’m not going to lie… my first time ever… I shrieked like a yelping puppy on the way down. Then splash!

It’s bliss to simply bounce back and forth from chilling in the shade on the deck of the lodge, playing cards, or at the edge of the rocks to sunbathe in the sun. You leap from the rocks into the water and swim to the other side to work on your bouldering… if you slip, you land in a refreshing pool of mountain water. The Lodge organizes all kinds of adventure trips: hiking up the slopes of Pico Bonito to the waterfall, canopy tours through the jungle, rock climbing trips on the cliffs of Pico Bonito and white water rafting trips down the Rio Cangrejal. If you had a particularly adventurous group, the white-water rafting trips would get pretty crazy. From body surfing rapids with just a rope, to jumping off sloping rocks where you had to run first and then jump, to being literally hauled up the side of a cliff to a 24ft high ledge by rope and the guides brute strength. You would then fling yourself off the edge and into the bubbling rapids below.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what drew me back three times. Not to mention the staff and guides had become like family for me. We joked and played and we got serious. I started trekking up to the nearby village during the evenings to play soccer on a rock-strewn field with the locals. The first time I showed up, the kids all started laughing… at me. But, their laughs quickly turned into sounds of frustration when I started taking the ball from the feet! Mwahahahaha… One guide in particular was very special to me. A young heart. A heart of gold and a true spirit for life. Jairo was an excellent guide that made everyone laugh. His eyes would twinkle when he smiled back. He truly is a gem and he too had been a compelling reason for me to come back. But this time, it was to say goodbye. I had met Michael…

Jungle River Lodge is a mountain haven. Throughout my various visits, I saw the salmon jumping up the rapids and slapping off rocks as they struggled back upstream on their harrowing and treacherous journey to return home and reproduce. I woke to exotic birds, geckos and the roosters of nearby villagers every morning. I watched pink clouds cloak Pico Bonito in the afternoons and then quietly drift away with the setting sun. I relaxed under the bright twinkle of the stars in the evenings and let the moonlight rapids lull me to sleep right above on the rocks at night. Oh, what a dream! And yet, it wasn’t a dream… it was real.

This third trip though, rainy season was at its peak. The mornings were damp and the air was thick with moisture. The afternoons were filled with rainfall. But, the rainy season has it’s own beauty in the jungle. The leaves grow even greener as they drink. Droplets cling to their leaves, reflecting and amplifying the jungle colors. The soaked jungle smells fresh and dewy. The rapids surge and swell in a swollen river with new, exhilarating force.

I was out on the rocks, watching the dark waters swirl below me in the moonlight when Michael called the Lodge. He wanted to let me know that he had worked extra hard and extra late the last few days so he could take the next two days off work. He wanted me to be come back so we could have more time together before I left. How utterly romantic! But… I was admittedly torn. The magic of Jungle River Lodge was one of the original reasons I had felt called back to Honduras (that and my business idea). And this time, I was here at the Lodge to say goodbye. Did I really want to cut my goodbye short? No. I didn’t. But, I did want more time with Michael. So, the next day, I gave my final farewell and left, feeling a sad squeeze in my heart… But, my heart was also leaping with excitement! Michael wanted as much time with me as he could get! Knowing that sent a warm, tingly feeling shooting through my body, from my head right down to my toes.

I’ve got to hand it to Colbie Caillat. Her ‘Bubbly’ song describes what I was feeling perfectly:

I’ve been awake for a while now
You’ve got me feelin like a child now
Cause every time I see your bubbly face
I get the tinglies in a silly place

It starts in my toes
And I crinkle my nose
Where ever it goes I always know
That you make me smile
Please stay for a while now
Just take your time
Where ever you go

When Michael picked me up that night, he was a little distant. I knew why. He had sensed how torn I was about leaving Jungle River Lodge and that had put him in vulnerable place. He had worked hard and romantically offered more time and I had responded with hesitance. But, I was quick to reassure him of how much I wanted to be there with him and how excited I was knowing how much he wanted me to be there with him. In my mind, it just proved how much I did care for him… I was leaving a place that, for me, was magic… to be with him. That meant, being with him was simply that much more magic. Understandably though, he felt a little hurt and he told me as such the next day. He admitted that when he had heard the hesitancy in my voice on the phone, he felt crushed. He felt that for me? And there I slipped… and fell even harder for Michael. And I made sure Michael felt that.

Yet, there was something else Michael sensed. He knew I wasn’t just saying goodbye to the Lodge. I had to open up and share with him… that I had been saying goodbye to Jairo too. It was a clean goodbye… but it was still something I hadn’t shared with Michael before I left. And it was evident on Michael’s face that my failure to mention this before was now hurting him… a lot. And just like that I could see his trust in me vanishing. And I thought I had felt a sad squeeze in my heart before… what I felt now was as if my heart was choking. How horrible it felt to lose Michael’s trust! How torturing it was to realize just how much he had cared for me and see it starting to vanish all in the same instant! I couldn’t lose that. I couldn’t lose him. I fervently explained that I didn’t mention Jairo because I hadn’t wanted to worry him about a trivial pre-Michael romance. I only had to say goodbye because I wasn’t cruel enough to promise someone I’d see them and then never show up. That was it. But, no matter how earnestly I pled my case, Michael still wasn’t convinced. His trust wasn’t restored. He no longer had the faith that if I went off to travel alone, I would remain true to him.

It took me all of two seconds to decide… I’ll stay! With my whole heart, I wanted to stay. Never in the past have I wanted to stay… for someone. But, here I was, whole-heartedly wanting to stay for Michael. I asked if he wanted me to stay. Michael assured me he did. So that was it… just like that, at the beat of a heart, I decided to stay and be with Michael. Old plans? Out the proverbial window. Europe, Thailand, Australia would have to wait. I was embarking an adventure of love and trust.

To be continued… (Click here to see fun videos of my Jungle River Lodge adventures. Click here to view the entire Flickr album.)