Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Gold Crown Resort Scam

I just wanted to give you a heads-up regarding a travel scam I was lucky enough to not get bitten by. I got a letter in the mail from Dream Destinations. I was the recipient of two round-trip airline tickets anywhere in continental USA, and two nights stay at any of over a 1000 Marriott Hotels. I called the number to check it out (before they gave my tickets to some other more worthy person). The super nice guy set up our meeting with their sales-pitch team to learn about "Dream Destinations". We figured we could sit through just about anything for a $1,400.00, no obligation package.

I Googled Dream Destination before going. Nothing notable came up. It seemed to be a travel agency. I like to travel, so I was curious to see what they had to offer.

We arrived to a hyped up sales team. Got the nice guy who loves to travel first, followed by the sweet-business looking youngster, then up to the video room. Joe and I were highly entertained by the salesman as he attempted to sell us a membership to a company called Gold Crown Resort. He gave us a line of BS a mile long about how lucky we were to be there. To be selected (based on our demographics, no doubt) for this GREAT deal. We could stay at LOTS of places way cheaper than ANYONE else. They could do better than Expedia, Travelocity, etc. All we had to do was write a check for $12,000.00! That day! And there's more . . . they would GUARANTEE the low prices for . . . two hundred years!!! It was a legacy membership, to be handed down to our children (which we don't have).

We felt so lucky that we could buy what amounts to hot air for 12 grand, plus they have a $200.00 a year membership fee, which they would waive for us that day only! Wow!

Downstairs we went to finish our closing pitch. The main guy went with the other couple who was chomping at the bit to sign up. We got the younger dude with tattoos. We said we weren’t interested. He dropped the price, and dropped the price, even more until it was 2 grand without the yearly dues. We could pay half now, half later. Hmmm, how about No. While he was describing the deal, I pulled out my Smartphone and Googled "Gold Crown Resort". It took me straight to Ripoffreport.com, which didn’t have much good to say about them.

Screen shot from my phone
The sales guy nervously pointed out that some people confuse the names, so I handed him the phone and said, “Is this your company?” He wasn’t sure because he’s new J He went and asked and came back saying yes.

 Well, we finally got our ticket package. No tickets, or vouchers, but a brochure with an address to mail in our request for tickets. All we had to do was send them $100.00 and two time frames we’d like to travel in. They would see which worked best for them and let us know. We couldn’t choose any dates within 15 days of a holiday (including Columbus day, and labor day). They would send us our tickets 15 days prior to departure! Hilarious and a HUGE waste of our time. Like I’m actually going to send them a 100 bucks.

Don’t waste your time with Gold Crown Resort, or Dream Destination. It’s not even worth the sales pitch.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Modern Mayan

Heading home now! It was strange to stay in a 5 star hotel last night, with a warm pool and a giant Jacuzzi. The bed was big and comfortable.

There weren’t any cats playing on the roof of our little jungle house. I couldn’t hear the pouring down rain, and therefore did not have any weird dreams about the lake rising and engulfing our house. It was actually a little sad.

I’ll miss wandering through remote villages where people come to the door and watch you pass. They say hello, and good morning with genuine smiles. The majority of the homes have one small space with a cement floor and the rest is dirt.
They cook over wooden fires inside the open air house. Around the lake you can see little smoke umbrellas over the pueblas first thing in the morning, as they start cooking breakfast.
The Lanchas start carting people around the lake before daybreak. Rush hour means you may not be able to fit on the boat, but another will come soon.
The trails around the lake’s edge require constant repair as the lake rises during the rainy season. We explored Jaibelito, the next village, because the wooden bridge to Santa Cruz washed out. It took two days to repair because, 1) the neighbors were balking at paying their share 2) it was still raining 3) they didn’t have enough wood to span the wider stream 4) it takes longer to cut the boards to the right size because they still use machetes’. I was the first person to test it. The guys all stopped and collectively held their breath while I bravely walked across. Once I proved it was safe, they all started laughing and talking at the same time. Whew! The American lady didn’t plummet four feet to her death. Then Joe followed.
Poco y poco is a saying in Guatemala. Little by little. The job will get done, but sometimes you have to wait for supplies. Besides, everyone is so busy here, working, working, working. The bays have to be cleaned out constantly to keeps the tulle grass at bay.
The grass has to be laid out to dry, it has to be carted out to the fields because it’s used as a fertilizer.

The clothes have to be brought to the lake or streams for washing. The fisherman need to catch dinner. Corn must be ground to make tortillas. And of course they still have to go to their jobs at restaurants, hotels, schools, stores, and construction. If they have a moment of spare time the ladies will break out the back-strap loom and weave some new clothes (that’s after she hunts for the plants needed to dye the cotton after she has made the yarn). Pumas stones float along the shoreline like Styrofoam. There is just so much to do.

The trails from village to village are very safe (except to and from one town who doesn’t like foreigners). Most of the men, and some of the ladies, carry machetes’ as they walk. You never know when you might need to hack something down. They frequently clear the trail, or cut down a tasty plant.
We rode in the back of a pick-up with twenty other people for 25 cents into Santiego. We went to the memorial from the recent civil war. In 1990 they had a peaceful protest at the military gates, because they were sick of the attacks, killings, rapes, and theft. They were shot from the safety of the military gate, killing 13 people (half of which were children). The monument is haunting because the tombs are exactly where the bodies fell. It created such an uproar that the government pulled out of Atitlan and signed a contract to never use that military base again. So now it is a beautifully maintained memorial site, with a giant entrance just beyond the tombstones that leads to the jungle.
So we left this all behind yesterday. A shuttle bus picked us up an hour late, and whisked us off to Antigua . . . with a stop in a little mountain town, San Gorge, with a dirt town square like you see in the old western movies.

With no explanation we stopped and sat there. Then the van driver got out and another man took his place. Then we were off for Antigua. I thought we were moving pretty fast on the winding roads until we were passed by a chicken bus. It was going so fast it looked like the inside tires were going to leave the ground. The top was loaded down with . . . everything. The inside was so packed with people it looked like a solid mass. Lee Beal our host and guide, told us the chicken buses (school buses) are exported from the USA. Once they get to Guatemala, they trick them out with engines used in big-rigs. Then they paint them bizarre colors and put a nascar want-to-be driver behind the wheel. Two weeks ago a bus flipped over and slid over the edge of a deep ravine. Its limit is 50 people. It had 85 people on it. 48 have died, including whole families (and the driver). But this is a miracle, because I can’t believe it doesn’t happen every single day. These guys are absolutely heartless.

Later, we were shuffled to a taxi, once again with no explanation. And driven to Guatemala City with no chance to eat. We’d left our cute little house at 7:30 via boat. We arrived at our hotel at 3:30. We straggled into the reception desk, ignoring curious looks from the more elegantly dressed guests. The pleasant English speaking young lady informed us that our credit card had been blocked! We’d have to pay in cash. Mind you, this is the last day of a month-long trip. Cash is not something we had much of. We dug through our pockets and suitcases until we found the 80 bucks. Joe paid another 8 dollars to call Golden One Visa, only to be told that they canceled everyone’s cards and re-issued them. Ours was safely waiting for us at home in California. We had enough money to buy dinner and food at the airports. Then we remembered our ATM card. Thank goodness . . . that meant I could have a glass of wine last night J

Well, until the next adventure, hasta luego
Joe and Heidi

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Lakefront Property

We’ve been shopping in a massive outdoor market in the regions capital, Solola. With every single female being dressed in traditional skirts and tops. It was at least as big as a football field. I bought food for our week at a house with our own kitchen. I bought a whole organic chicken and had the butcher halve it for me. Potatoes, carrots, cucumber, avocados, and limes followed it into our borrowed shopping bag. Down in Pana, we stopped at a grocery store and bought sausage, eggs, milk, OJ, canned cream-of-chicken soup and smoked gouda cheese. That was Saturday afternoon. That night I roasted the chicken with the carrots and potatoes and the soup . . . it was absolute heaven. 

The next morning we could hear the school bands pounding away on their drums as they marched up the hill from the dock to Santa Cruz perched above us. It’s Independence Day. We followed the noise about thirty minutes later. The road looked steep. A tuk-tuk offered to give us a ride, but we said no. An hour later we finally dragged our sweaty selves up the last ten feet only to find that we overshot the festivities by a couple of blocks. I could barely breath. Lake level is 5,000 ft above sea level! Who knows how high this village is.
A sweet young Mayan girl led us back down the hill to the school yard. It was packed with the majority of the townsfolk. The pre-school rhythm and dance children were the first act. They strutted out onto the basketball court to “We Will Rock You.” This was followed by two more grades.
Tired moms watched.
We finally gave in and went back down to the lakeside. A hippie hotel and restaurant called Perdido Iguana (the lost lizard) had ice cold beer and yummy sandwiches. It started raining.
Later, for no good reason, we decided to join Lee and Elaina (owners of Los Elementos-our place) and another couple for a hike up to a friend’s house. In the rain. It’s embarrassing how hard it is to adjust to the altitude. The house we went to hangs over the lake with a nice balcony. The guy is a German doctor and the wife is a Nicaraguan. They have two adorable sons. Jenny didn’t speak any English so I got too practice my Spanish. When we left we returned to the house while the others went on to the next town. That turned out to be a mistake on their part. They got stuck in a torrential down pour. We sat on our porch and watched.
I had noticed how most of the pueblos are located way up the mountain. The only lake front property belongs to foreigners. I thought this odd because the villages had been built long before outsiders came here to build their vacation homes. The puzzle pieces finally came together when Lee pointed out the remains of his submerged home. They built it seven years ago, now it’s under water! The lake has risen over twenty feet in seven years (18’ in two years). Today we took a tour of the lake and stopped at Santiago, and San Juan Baptisto.
As we cruised along the shore we saw home after home submerged. The Maya just shake their heads at the silly gringos down on the shoreline. Lake Atitlan has no exit. She is over a thousand feet deep and surrounded by mountains and volcanos. Over the centuries she has risen and fallen by hundreds of feet for several reasons.
Rain and shifting tectonic plates are the main culprits. One time it dropped fifty feet in one year! So if someone offers you lakefront property at a great price, you have been warned.
Maya legend says there is a lost city in the lake with all of its treasure left behind. You can imagine how smug they were when divers discovered a completely intact city at about 150’ below water. Now all of the artifacts are in the museum in Guatemala City. The center of all Maya power is the middle of this lake. The two massive volcanos looming 11,000’ over the lake represent a woman’s breasts, and the lake is the womb. In the center is the bellybutton. A wind will sweep up the coastal slopes between the two peeks and then plummet down to the lake every afternoon. Sometimes a wind will come from the opposite direction. This will create water swirling funnels of wind and water over the bellybutton. Our host said he’d been lifted off the water in his kayak once by a water-devil. On the 2012 Maya cycle changed. Many people believed the world would end. Most of these ancient Mayan tribes saw it as the end of a cycle and the beginning of a new one. But on that day the lake’s surface was covered in water funnels/tornados. Lee said it looked like the lake was boiling.
We stopped at a traditional home in San Juan Baptiso to watch the youngest members of a family of eight perform a dance. It was a traditional love dance (cute guy washing at the lake by the cute girl, she ignores him, he tries harder, if he can break the vase on top of her head he can marry her, she holds onto the vase very tightly, he pulls her pigtails). We visited an herb garden and then a weaving shop. In this town everything is cooperative. They have a much higher standard of living and are strict about maintaining the Maya ways.
In Santiago we rode in the back of a pick-up with twenty other locals. We visited the elusive shrine of Maximon. He was in a shack with a priest chanting prayers. Those who seek help will put on one of his two hats during the ritual, or maybe smoke a cigar with him (He is armless, legless, and made of wood so this is bit of a mystery to me). Every year on Good Friday he and Jesus act out a battle between the official Maximon temple and the Cathedral. Jesus wins each time. And then Maximon is taken to a new location. All of the followers have to bribe anyone who knows where he is, until he is found.
Definitely a different world.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Lake Atitlan

The WiFi is a bit too sketchy. What can I say . . . It's a third world country. They've only had electricity for ten years here in Santa Cruz.

I sit here listening to insects using their wings as musical instruments. Fire-flies flit about. Joe just called me over to check out a caterpillar with a bright set of glow lights on its head and its tail. The waves gently break on the shore. In the distance we can see the lights dotting the shoreline telling us that we aren’t alone. Some people are talking quietly in the distance. It feels like a campground . . . where are we? We are in Santa Cruz de la Laguna, Lake Atitlan. A Mayan village on the most famous lake in Guatemala. It is an extremely deep lake, very clean, and enormous.

Our day started off in Antigua. It started off a little rough. But I digress, let me try and recap our crazy week. Do you remember me mentioning the guy who invited us to his villa? His name is Lex Cargo? Well it turns out that he is pretty famous in this part of the world. I just thought he was this really cool sweet guy, with an unusual style of clothes. I was impressed when he showed up in the main newspaper talking about the movie he is going to be in. He couldn’t wait to tell me about the article. You know, you just never know who you’re gonna run into in this small world.
Last Sunday was a big day for the Antigua firefighters. They got a new ambulance! All of the firefighters gathered at El Centro. Government officials showed up, got their photos taken, and then they backed one of the fire-trucks (donated from Japan) up real close to the ambulance. We waited to see what would come next. They pulled out the hose and baptized the ambulance with a blast of water. Do we do that in the states? I thought it was a pretty cool idea. Joe took off with the camera while I sat up on the Cathedral steps. I couldn’t see him anywhere, then Marvin said, “Look there’s Joe.” He looked like Forrest Gump walking right through the middle of the ceremony, head and shoulders taller and with his infamous cowboy hat. 
A couple we met at church invited us to their new home as their first guests. It was the first time I could envision living here. It was a great two story condo/hotel room, fully furnished, with a cleaning service for about 700 bucks a month. Had a guard at the gate with private parking. Super nice place and an even nicer couple. I think I may have been a little rude about eating all of her cheese though. It was rich and flavorful, with a side-dish of crunchy chocolate and a glass of local apple wine. When I found out he was a retired federal lawman for such departments as the Secret Service and Homeland Security, I was practically frothing at the mouth. I told him I wished I could just download his brain onto my computer like a little external hard-drive. He didn’t think I would feel that way if I knew everything in his head. Probably not . . . but still, it would save me a lot of research.
Mario, the man who is constantly trying to convince Joe and I to buy his flutes and necklaces, asked us to come over to his home for dinner. We said we would be leaving the next day. He asked when we’d be back. Maybe 4-5 years. Okay . . . when you come back, I want you to come to my village as my guest. Of course we told him we would be honored. 
Did I mention that September 15th is a national holiday here? It’s Independence Day. But to the Guatemalans it is a month long celebration.  It was not unusual to get stopped on our way home by a crowd of spectators watching a parade of school bands march past. We’d heard about the Antorchas (not sure on the spelling). This is a great unifying activity here. For about 3 days before Independence Day the locals arrive in groups of 10 to 50 people. In Antigua they have a torch burning. Each group goes up, lights their torch, and then takes off running to the village of choice. The groups of children stay in Antigua, but the older people run for hours. A bus follows them with lights flashing and horn honking. On the long boring stretches they climb on the bus until the next town. It is done to represent unification amongst the villages. Oddly enough, the people who are bystanders wait with buckets of water, water balloons, and hoses. The goal is to douse the flame, though I think it is more a chance to get everyone wet. We’d stopped at a beautiful restaurant for lunch before descending down to Panajachel. The waiters were professional and elegantly dressed. When we went out to the car we watched in amazement as the waiters hurled water balloons at the busses following the torch runners. They had a pretty accurate aim.  
So Saturday morning we began the next stage of our journey. We had a shuttle bus scheduled to pick us up at 8:00. It didn’t show. We called the tour agency at 8:45 . . . our shuttle had been in an accident. They would send us another shuttle at 5:00pm. Umm, no. So they sent a different shuttle five minutes later. I thought “that’s more like it!” Some things get lost in translation. Joe thought they said this shuttle would stop at another town . . . en route. But it just went to another town, period. I figured it out as we pulled away from our little safe barrio. This shuttle would take us to the opposite side of the lake! Think opposite sides of Lake Tahoe, or Lake Garda. Fortunately we have the little cheapy cell phone Joe bought. I called Lee from our destination house, who spoke to our driver (while he was driving), who agreed to let us off at the major crossroads that would take us to the other side of the lake. The driver pulled over to the side of the road an hour and half later and said “here?” It sounded like a question, but I didn’t know the answer, so we got off. We had a cup of instant coffee at a restaurant and waited.
After that it went smoothly. Lee took us into Pana to buy groceries for the week. Then he helped us negotiate a lancha fee (taxi boat). Twenty minutes later we squirmed our way out of the sardine can onto the dock. Lee bribed the boat captain to take us directly to our own dock. So back in the sardine can, with much less sardines and over to our dock 50 yards away. Later we took a walk along the shore over to the main dock and realized the bribe was well worth it! The path is treacherous. I can’t fathom dragging suitcases along the wooden walkways or over the creeks.
Now it is morning. I sit on our porch sipping a cup of coffee. The lake is amazingly beautiful. Right now it is like glass. Great for waterskiing . . . maybe that is why I miss my parents here. It reminds me of camping up at Trinity Lake or Lake Clementine.
We have a cat named Tigre. He’s a skinny and friendly version of our fat stuck-up cat, Locacita. Also there are three dogs.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Earthquake, Hawkers, New Friends, and Church

Joe and I were sitting at the dining room table eating another delicious meal cooked by Grandma Elaina. She was visiting from the sink where she is doing dishes (she seems to live in the kitchen or on the roof hanging clothes to dry). I heard a bus approach while I thought at the same time buses don’t come up our street. It came closer. I heard and felt the vibration of the base stereo, which was impossible. Then the table began to shake and the house shook. An earthquake! Joe and I stared at each other in stunned silence for a split second. What do people do here in an earthquake we wondered as it built in intensity. Just that day Joe had told me about some photos he’d seen of ruins here after the 1976 quake.

The exterior walls remained standing but roofs caved in. Suddenly Grandma yelled “Terramoto! and sprinted out the front door. Joe and I were hot on her heals. I figured I’m going wherever she goes! Seconds later the whole neighborhood was standing outside in the court in a tight little group with us right in the middle. Telephone poles and trees swayed. It was a 6.5 a couple of hours drive away in San Marcus. For the next two days that’s all anyone spoke about . . . what were you doing when the quake hit? 20 people were injured in the capital because they frantically ran out into the streets in front of cars.

We met a man here named Lex. Lex is a bit of an enigma. He is the wealthy son of diplomatic parents from Italy and Spain. He is probably independently wealthy beyond my comprehension. We met him at our favorite wine bar “Wine and Cigars”. Last week he discovered that I’d brought wine from California. When he heard that I had Modus Operandi he began the bargaining process. Ultimately we ended up at his villa with another couple from Spain, two cousins from the Capital and Fernando (recently moved to Antigua). It was a stunning place with at least six rooms and two gardens in the ancient extremely exclusive part of town. Its not actually where he lives. He lives in a house he designed.  
We chowed on cheese, salami and banana chips and drank wine and whiskey (not us), as he explained his vision for this property. It is to be a place for wealthy/famous men to come to recover privately from various restorative surgeries. I don’t know very many people like that, but he does. 
I couldn’t take any photos of him because he recently got a lead part in a movie and isn’t allowed to be in photos willingly, especially in his home. He let me take a few pics of the house though. He is very interested in playing the lead bad guy in my second book when it becomes a movie. He’s a gorgeous, elegant man, so he’d be perfect.

We found a fabulous church here called El Camino. The service is in Spanish and English. There are a ton of ex-pats there who are so friendly. We met a great couple from the states that move every six months to a new country. She works via Skype, so the world is her office. We’re gonna hook up with them Wednesday.
I’ve become buddies with another writer, Marlayna, but she’s actually successful. Super-adorable little blonde bombshell. The guys just stutter when she enters the room. She writes memoires of her life, and has coined the term Nomadic Memoirist. She’s been traveling abroad for over a year. She just arrived from Dominican Republic. Her current book is about some of the insane dates she’s been on. I’m sure she has tons of material.
Our little house-poodle, Gordo (Fatty) got a haircut. Now we call him Flaco (skinny). Dogs look hilarious after a close haircut. Sort of embarrassed, like they don’t have their clothes on. 
I’ve turned the tables on my Spanish teacher. For the last 30 minutes of class we practice English. It is so funny. She just dreads it! She always pretending to be suddenly sick, or quacking in fear. It’s great to put her in the hot seat, but I am actually still learning Spanish.
At school everyday we have a snack/potty break. All of the vendors know this, so they line up outside the doors. One guy sells nuts. He has all kinds, but I’m completely addicted to the candy coated peanuts. They taste exactly like the peanuts in Cracker Jacks. I get a baggy for a buck fifty. Heavenly.
We booked a room for Marvin and Evelyn to stay here in Antigua one night for their honeymoon. They got money donations to get enough money for gas and his brother loaned them his car. We took them out to dinner last night at Luna de Miel (the honeymoon restaurant with crepes), and today I had by first hamburger since leaving the states. It was exceptionally yummy.

One of the most difficult things for me to deal with here is the constant begging or sales pitching. Jewelry, beautiful fabrics, masks and flutes are the standard street merchants. These people are relentless and do not take no for an answer. The stores are almost as bad, making it uncomfortable to shop with someone breathing down your neck. When walking down the street children come up with their pitiful eyes, and a handful of merchandise, pulling on your sleeve. We have become buddies with a few of the adults.
Juan the peanut dude, Mario the flute guy, Martin the other flute guy, and Ana the table runner lady. Joe always says “Manana”. “Okay Pepe, Manana!” Of course manana arrives with the same response. Now they’re on to him. I always say “No, Gracias”, and keep walking. Yesterday we ran into Mario and shook hands and I got my obligatory cheek kiss. He introduced us to his friend “These are my American friends; Senor Manana and Senora No Gracias.” Man, we thought that was so funny. Great sense of humor. A note to those of you planning to come to Guatemala; bargaining is not their strong point. All you have to do is stare with admiration at what you want to buy. Walk away and return right away. Stare some more. During this very simple process they will drop the price about every 10 seconds. Don’t say anything, just look wistful. Joe bought me a purse because he couldn’t handle the price dropping any lower (a hand embroidered bag on traditional indigenous cloth).

Some healthy looking teenage boys made the mistake of trying to beg from me. “I’m hungry, Lady.” “Go home and eat.” “I live on the other side of town, Lady.” “So do I.” “But you can give me some money or buy this (ugly) bracelet.” “I don’t want the bracelet and I’m not giving you money. Go home.” They stood indecisively for a moment and left with a friendly wave. Later a gaggle of uniformed girls gathered around Marlayna and I for an impromptu English session. Sometimes I get sick of standing out like a Gringa, but it’s simply unavoidable. Maybe that’s why foreigners tend to hang out together at the wine bar.
Last but not least is Santa Domingo. This is a huge majestic ruin which has been restored to a 5 star hotel and museum. They built the resort around the ruins without disturbing them. The church stands in the original spot, but mostly outdoors amongst the massive pillars. Giant parrots hang out on low trees posing for photos.
A wedding here starts at 10 grand US dollars. They own another restaurant and hotel up the mountain. A free shuttle takes you up the impossibly steep hill past all of the trucks and cars that couldn’t make the haul. We went with our teachers for a class excursion. Instead of going to the museum there, we talked them into sitting out on the patio over-hanging Antigua and having a cup of coffee
J If nothing else, I am consistent.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

New Spanish Words


 A boda is a wedding. It’s the reason we are here in Guatemala at this particular time, to be at Marvin and Evelyn’s wedding. We were picked up here in Antigua by the best man and Marvin’s sister, Karina. They drove us to Villa Nueva. We spent the rest of the day with the bride doing the usual bride stuff like going to the hair salon. We were fed and basically treated like royalty. Pre-wedding photos of the bride were taken. I got as fancied up as I could with my travel accouterments (especially since Marvin didn’t explain ahead of time that Joe and I would actually be in the wedding party). We followed the bride’s car to the church. She stayed in the car with the blacked out windows ‘til the last second.

Transition of scenes . . . now we are hanging out with Marvin. He was a nervous wreck. I straightened his bowtie, told him how handsome he was, told him his bride looked gorgeous and got in the line-up. The parents sit up on the stage at right angles to the bride and groom. We sat behind the parents. First came the reading of the legal documents for twenty-thirty minutes, then the pastor came on. I handed over the wedding vows and Joe handed over the rings (right after he pretended to forget them). On the stage was a Guatemalan flag and an American flag to honor us. The rest was typical; tons of food, hundreds of relatives, babies crying, children playing, etc. Basically wonderful.

Paragua or sombrilla

This is an umbrella. We’d heard both terms before, but we thought the sombrilla was for protection from the sun. A paragua was for (para) water (agua). Today my teacher explained that paraguas are black and they for men. The colored umbrellas are for women and are called sombrillas. When we got home I gave Joe my dark brown umbrella in exchange for his bright apple-green one J


This is a cuss word meaning poop. It is used occasionally to describe the amazing amount of dog poop on the streets and sidewalks. I have learned to watch where I step! There are a lot of homeless dogs here who run in little harmless packs. They follow each other like their noses are Velcroed to their buddy’s tail, in a sort of doggie train.

Llover a cantaros, mojado, and el lodo

Llover is “to rain”, and cantaros is a pitcher. Llover a cantaros is to pour down rain like water being poured out of a pitcher . . .  Which it does almost every day. That brings me to the next word, mojado = wet. My shoes still haven’t dried out completely. Today I broke down and bought a pair of Crocks (not really Crocks but similar plastic shoes). Now when my feet get soaked I can just wipe my shoes off and change socks (if my socks have dried out). El lodo is the mud. I’m sure you see the connection. Last week it rained so hard the water rose above the river and flooded the streets and houses with mud, dirty contaminated mud. Our house is up the hill, thank goodness, but downtown is, well, downtown . . . through the mud.


This is a term not found in the dictionary, but is written on a piece of paper in practically every shop here. Earrings. I love earrings! The most common are either jade and silver (Jade is mined here), or beaded danglies. The hardest part is when people yell out “Jade!” from the stores as I pass, because it sounds like Heidi with a Spanish accent. I forgot my earrings at home, so I’ve purchased 3 pairs so far.


Another thing I forgot . . . my almohada (pillow).  I never, never travel without my pillow. Our bed has two flat, floppy little pillows. The bed is hard and bumpy. I give myself a fifty dollar allowance for every trip we go on to purchase whatever I need to make myself comfortable. So far I’ve bought two pillows ($12), a comforter to put under the sheets and make the bed softer ($25), plastic shoes to replace the wet shoes ($4).

The grandma Elaina has dibs on the comforter when we leave. I suggested it could be used for the next students, but she said “No, es mio!”

My wet sandals have torn up my feet so much Joe calls them my bloody-stump shoes. The four bucks was worth it.

Now I sit here at Luna de Miel watching another torrential downpour while writing in my book “El Tuberon”. Luna de Miel means Honeymoon. I couldn’t tell you why a crepe restaurant would be called honeymoon, but it’s a hot spot for locals. Great food.

On an entirely different subject, there has been a rash of crime here in Antigua in the last two weeks. Especially against tourists. An Australian girl got her pursed sliced and her wallet stolen. The next day someone nabbed her shoes from in front of her house. A tourist bus got robbed downtown at 4:30 in the morning. Last night a group of 3 women and 1 man got attacked by 4 teens in front of our house at 10:00. I heard the horrific screaming, but lucky Joe slept through the whole thing. The next day I asked our neighbors (fellow students at school) if they knew what happened. They did know . . . it was them that got mugged. One of the ladies went ballistic, the second said she feebly attempted to hit one of the guys who was hitting the third girlfriend. The American man ended the fight by jumping in. He got a knot on his forehead for his troubles. The thugs ran away with nothing. To put your minds at ease, Joe and I never go out on the streets at night. We’re in by 7:00. We’re always careful and don’t carry anything of value in our bags (just raincoats!).

Yesterday the grandson, Fabio, came into our room and started chatting away. I made him go back out and knock. He did. Then he talked me into a game of hide-and-seek. After that I couldn’t get rid of him. I was his new best friend. He ran home, saying he’d be right back. Grandma Elaina came in and asked us if we had invited Fabio to go downtown to El Centro with us. We said “No!” She didn’t think so, but apparently he went home and said he had to eat fast and get ready because the Americans were going to take him to the park downtown. Poor delusional kid J Later when we returned from downtown (without Fabio) he once again invaded our room, this time with a mask he’d made. He really is a cute kid.