L’Osteria restaurant review, Guate 

Going to the city if you live in Antigua can be a strange experience. It’s a huge city, and parts of it are quite dangerous. If you go with friends who used to live there, they will make sure all the windows in the car are rolled up and the doors are locked, and more than likely their car will have tinted windows. These are necessary precautions, but completely outside of my perception of reality, because I’ve never had a motorcycle roll up beside me with two guys with guns demanding I hand over anything of value.   

Apparently when you live in Guate you don’t get outside a lot. So you have to find restaurants like L’Osteria where you can get your outside fix while still being protected. 

It’s a charming French country restaurant, with a beautiful garden/patio area, and a top choice for parties (there were two different birthday parties there when we went). Everything in the city is more expensive than Antigua*, so even though Eric and I only had a smoothie and a drink each it came out to 150Qs, which is more than we ever spend on dinner. The food is delicious, so if you are in the area I highly recommend it.   The whole place is incredibly charming. The wood furniture and boardwalk pathways, beautiful tiled wood pizza ovens, everything combines to provide a relaxing oasis in the midst of a bustling city.  

If we lived in the city and made a city salary, we would definitely make this our weekly outting spot.   

This is the perfect sized car for me! 

*and Antigua is more expensive than anywhere else in Guatemala…

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Welcome to Valhala

If you are in Antigua, you might have heard of the macadamia nut farm. If you catch a bus going past Ciudad Vieja, just tell them you want to get off at the finca de macadamia, and they will drop you off across from a sign that reads “Valhala”. I’m not sure what the Nordic afterlife has to do with macadamias, but there you go. The macadamia has a few layers. The first is a little green pod that you peel off to get to the hard brown shell inside. Then through some kind of drying and roasting process (I imagine), you get to the tasty nut inside. There’s this really cool thing you can roll the macadamias down that sorts them into bags for different sized nuts. Like a nut race.   Now, apparently if you are going and want to eat, you might need to call ahead and let them know you are coming. There are a few different things on the menu, but most people go for the pancakes. They were good, but at 50q, I would say way overpriced. Eric had a cashew juice, which should have been delicious because juice made from the cashew fruit is, but I think it was made from the nut, and thus was not tasty.  I wouldn’t suggest going to the farm during the rainy season, because even now we were all eaten alive by mosquitos. If you do go, make sure to use the bathroom. That might sound weird, but it was probably the highltight of the trip.   The farm also has a spa, where you can get a free macadamia facial. I don’t really go for facials, even when they are free, so we passed on that. 

Overall I wasn’t super impressed by the farm, as the food was overpriced, and it’s a bit of a hike to get there from our house, but it’s a great way to get away from the noise of Antigua if you are looking for some quiet nature time. 

Feliz día Mamá!

On Friday we had our Mother’s day celebration at La Esperanza, the primary school I’ve been working at for the past four months.  

 

Here we are practicing how to say “Happy Mother’s Day”. It kind of worked. That sentence is kind of a mouthful for the Prepas, who just started to learn English when they got plopped in my class at the end of January. Most of them are really eager though, and are constantly surprising me by what they pick up on. The girl in pink said to me the other day “Tengo sleepy” and it was the cutest thing that has ever happened. 

  

If there is a day to celebrate, Guatemalans will be there with bells on. All of the moms were invited to the school, and each class had to do a little presentation. Between how I’m not really supposed to speak Spanish to them and their not understanding me when I speak in complex sentences, I decided that we would make posters together and just say “I love my mom” and “Happy Mother’s Day”.  

 

My partner teacher, since she speaks Spanish with the kids, was able to do something a little more complicated. It was a simple little dance but was super cute. All the little hearts and flowers say “Te amo Maria” or whatever their mom’s name is.  

 

Being a teacher is definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s also incredibly rewarding and filled with really special moments like these!

What about Oaxaca?

We had heard Oaxaca is very nice, even from people who live in the magical and picturesque San Cristobal. To get to Oaxaca from SC, you can take an overnight bus that will arrive sometime in the morning, and I cannot recommend more that you splurge on the nicest bus. 12ish hours on a bus overnight that doesn’t have reclining seats sounds like a nightmare, and even riding in the nicest bus wasn’t the smoothest ride. On the way there I had motion sickness, and on the way back Eric did. Also prepare to be erratically chilly as the AC turns on and off. 

 After being in Oaxaca I don’t think I would ever choose to go back. It wasn’t a terrible place, but it also wasn’t especially great. The above picture was probably the highlight of our trip. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a vegetarian, or we were going to all the wrong restaurants, but I can’t think of one meal we had while we were there that was especially good.  For example, the thlayuda. Basically a giant tortilla, with refried beans, lettuce, cheese, tomato, and avocado. Even with the hot sauce you see me sprinkling on it the thlayuda was lacking in any special taste. That beer on the otherhand was quite delightful. First time I’ve had modello on tap.   I did have more than a couple ice-creams from Michoacana, a chain of, you guessed it, ice-cream! They’ve got quite the selection, and I wasn’t disappointed once! There was really nice weather the entire time we were there. Blue skies and hot weather compared to SC, which was a nice change. It might have been because of Semana Santa (maybe everyone was at the beach), but Oaxaca seemed like a really sleepy town. In a way it reminded me of Ottawa, except hot, and not in any way physically resemembling Ottawa.   We went to one rad cafe that unfortunately still had pretty mediocre food, but awesome decore. I believe it’s called Lobo Azul, and as you can see from the above picture they are all about protest politics. There were countless posters on the walls about gay rights, Palestine, and Zapatista art.   There is a lot you can do from Oaxaca, like visit the Thule tree, Monte Alban, and the petrified waterfall (Hierve el Agua). And maybe if you eat meat and don’t get sick from even a wiff of impure water you would have a better culinary time thatn we did.  

  

What to do in Oaxaca, Monte Alban ruins

I’m not a big fan of museums. I feel that once you’ve seen one set of mesoamerican pottery you’ve seen them all. I could care less about old bones and pots and poorly rendered clay sculptures, so I wasn’t too excited to visit the ruins at Monte Alban. Until we got there!

This is one of several ball courts found in the Monte Alban site. The ball courts were used to settle basically any kind of dispute you can think of, and although most other ball court sites in Mesoamerica were linked with human sacrifice, there is no such evidence at Monte Alban. If you’re unfamiliar with this game perhaps you should go watch El Dorado right now.  

 Try to pretend that I don’t have two heads in this picture. 

If you are heading out to Monte Alban, be aware of the following: a shuttle up to the site should cost $50mx* per person, and entrance is $65mx. We didn’t get a tour guide because the starting price was $500mx, and we didn’t feel like trying to bargain down, and I don’t feel like we missed out on much. There were little infographs all over with information about the site. If you are like me and think your skin is invincible to the sun you should probably slather on the sunscreen if it’s a sunny day. I definitely burned even though I sought out shade every chance I got.   Monte Alban is pretty amazing, and huge! Bring good shoes.  

The one detractor for me is that you can’t go into any of the temples. I realize it’s probably for safety reasons, but that would have been really cool. Basically you walk around and read infographs and are able to climb up onto a few of the plateaus. Don’t get me wrong, that was awesome. 

My biggest takeaway? These people were apparently super into capturing their enemies and castrating them, and then carving these scenes into big stones. 

* current exchange rate: 15 pesos to $1usd

Where to Eat in San Cristobal, Napoli Italian Restaurant review

I’m a lady who loves her carbs and starches. Potatoes are my super food, and half of the time when we eat out it’s pizza. So it’s no surprise that we ended up at this tiny, slow-food restaurant two dinners in a row while in San Cristobal.  

The first night we sat outside, and luckily I had just bought one of the shawls that everyone is selling/wearing in SC. Mine is warm enough, but not the thickest of the ones available, and it cost $50mx (you will need to bargain, I think original asking was $80mx). Perfect for the chilly weather in SC. 

We had pizza and wine the first night. Not only is this some of the tastiest Italian food I’ve ever tasted, but like most things in SC, very affordable.  

This pizza featured lots of veg, in perfect proportion to the cheese and sauce, with just the right thickness and burntness of crust. I especially love the mix and match plates they use!  

 The night before we left for Oaxaca, we were thinking of eating some burritos, but up until a few days ago my stomach has been in a bad way, so we went with Italian again. I had a very delightful and garlicy fettuchinno with parmesian. Would love to eat here again when we are passing through on Saturday. 

Napoli can be found on one of the two pedestrian streets off the main park (I’m not sure of the exact address), but if you know where the money exchange and the OCC office are, it’s a few blocks up on the right. 

What to do and eat in San Cristobal, Te Quiero Verde review

San Cristobal more resembles a quaint European town than a Latin American city. Its tiny, winding streets,  beautiful architecture, and stretches of pedestrian walkways are quite at odds with anywhere I’ve visited up until now (including Antigua). Aside from the almost constant fireworks, San Cristobal is a quiet and relaxed town filled with amazing restaurants. 

Our first stop after arriving in SC and dropping off our bags at our hostel was to find something to eat. Luckily for two hungry vegetarians there are a good deal of veggie friendly places. We went with Te Quiero Verde, which has a second, smaller location called Naturalissimo (or something like that). Before this dinner I hadn’t quite realized just how affordable traveling in Mexico was going to be. We both had drinks (non-alcoholic bevvies), soup, and burgers with fries, which came to about $15 before tip. 

The ginger tea is just that: fresh ginger steeped in hot water. Hits the spot! 

 The soup of the day was a perfectly creamy tomato soup, and way bigger than I had anticipated so Eric had to eat half of mine.  

  

We shared the Taj Mahal and the Elemental burgers, and could only eat half, which meant we had enough for lunch the next day.   

Not pictured is Eric’s drink, something with yogurt and pineapples that was really delicious and refreshing. 4.5/5 stars! Missing a .5 because the doorknob to the bathroom was broken and I was locked in there for a scary period of time.  

At Long Last: Vacationing in Mexico, Hostel Qhia review

I’m not going to lie, I didn’t particularly want to visit Mexico. It was our third choice after our plans to visit Belize and then Columbia for Semana Santa fell through. We needed to get out of Antigua before the streets became so choked with people you can’t move, so we decided to visit San Cristobal and Oaxaca*. My idea of Mexico has undboubtedly been tarnished by American cinema, and the fact that whenever someone I know visits they go to a big touristy center like Playa del Carmen or Cancun. Let me just say for the record that Mexico is amazing. 

The trip here on the shuttle wasn’t the best. You can book a shuttle with most tour companies in Antigua, the one we booked with is on 7a avenida, and cost us 300q each (about $35), which seems to be one of the cheapest prices. If you want to avoid being yelled at when you are crossing the border by your second shuttle driver, don’t cross the border on foot and wait for the shuttle like your first driver told you. And don’t take it personally when the man working the border doesn’t even say one word to you but slaps the desk to get your attention. Our entrance into Mexico was luckily the only part of the trip so far that has been disappointing. 

Arriving in San Cristobal I was shocked at how cold it was. We are nestled in between a ring of mountains, and the nights here get a lot colder than Antigua. I’m sitting in the sun right now wearing a long sleeve shirt, jeans, and a shawl, drinking hot coffee, and I’m just now warming up. 

 Edit   

We are staying in perhaps the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in. Free coffee and bread with jam in the mornings, starting at 8am, very close to the city center, clean rooms, friendly and helpful staff, hot water in the showers, decent wifi connection, affordable rates, and a large rooftop terrace/salon with a fireplace. My only complaint is the condition of the pillows. I know it’s par for the course with a hostel, but still, pillows need to be replaced more often.   

Everything about our stay at this hostel has been lovely.  The bust we are taking to Oaxaca leaves tonight at 9pm, but the guy who works the front desk here is cool with watching our luggage and letting us hang out in the salon even after we check out, which I don’t think you would get from many hostels. 

Upcoming posts to include what there is to do in San Cristobal, and a couple restaurant reviews, plus lots of pictures!

*in case you are wondering that’s pronounced ‘wa-ha-ka’. I kid you not. 

It’s Carnival!

Every Feb. 17th in Guatemala, you will see small children walking to school with bags filled with coloured eggs and confetti. And then later on in the day you might get one of those eggs cracked over your head. But don’t worry! Unless someone has something against you, that egg will have been drained of it’s yolk and filled with coloured confetti/sparkles, otherwise known as Pica-Pica*.

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Carnival is also an excuse to dress up in costumes and win lollipops.

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I get to hang out with these cuties every day! Also with Lindsey!

And pose for adorable photos.

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Two of my kids practicing their communal grooming techniques.

The festival occurs right before Ash Wednesday, and is mainly a celebration for children, and excuse to smash an egg filled with Pica-Pica over your teacher’s head.

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*Picar is the verb used for when a mosquito bites you. It means to itch. And, yes, getting confetti smooshed into your scalp does itch. It also itches when it all manages to get inside of your clothes and the next day your Guatemalan co-workers are laughing that you haven’t managed to remove all of it from your hair.

Being sick in Guatemala + Arca de Noe hostel review

If you are thinking about moving to Guatemala, there’s a hard truth you have to come to terms with: you might be really sick for the first three or four months. Especially if you’ve never been out of your home country. Guatemala is known to gastro specialists as one of the worst places for stomach problems*.

I can attest to this. I’ve had three stomach bugs in the three months we’ve lived here, plus two pretty harsh flus. I do not normally get sick for more than a day every once in awhile in Canada, so this is weird for me. The last time I got sick with a parasite was last weekend, inconveniently placed in the middle of our weekend away at the lake.

This is what the lake looked like on Sunday:

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Apparently….I was too busy vomiting and having diarrhea in the bathroom to notice. When I visited the doctor on Monday he told me that even brushing my teeth with the tap water could give me a parasite. So now I’m using the water from our filter to do everything, including brushing my teeth.

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If the prospect of being sick for months on end and spending not a small amount of cash on doctor visits and Cipro doesn’t scare you off, then maybe when you come to Guate you will visit the lake. I can’t recommend it enough. It’s so peaceful and look at that view! We spent the night in Santa Cruz, at a hostel/hotel right off the dock called Arca de Noe. It was only by a lucky mix-up that we ended up there instead of Iguana, and I say lucky because our room at Iguana would not have had a private bathroom for me to be violently ill in.

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The room was very decent, although pretty expensive for Guate. The bathroom smelled quite strongly of mould, but the bed was gloriously comfortable (which is very unusual for a hostel, let me tell you). We did find two fairly large spiders in our room. If you are scared of spiders Guate might not be the place for you.

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Noe has a restaurant and a really nice view of the lake, although you might want to have the buffet dinner at Iguana, it was delicious and included a brownie for dessert.

I hope to go back to Santa Cruz at some point for a more relaxing and less vomity weekend in the future, and would definitely stay at Noe again.

 

*anecdote: a friend of mine was sick, and a gastrointestinal doc friend of her mom guessed that she was in Guate after hearing the symptoms.