Tag Archives: Xela

El Salvador

I finished up language school and decided to do a little traveling since I didn’t get much of a chance in Xela. First activity? Crossing the border into El Salvador.

Welcome to El Salvador!

So, after crossing the border and realizing how much hotter EVERYWHERE other than Xela was, we headed off to La Ruta De Flores, and series of picturesque towns in El Salvador. We stayed the first couple nights in Juayua, a town know for its weekend food festivals. We made sure to get our fill of cheap street meat, $5 or less for a heaping plateful. The next day we went to check out some waterfalls and bathing pools, as well as the most picturesque of the towns along the ruta: Ataco.

Los Chorros de Calera, El Salvador

Los Chorros de Calera, El Salvador

They had some great murals in Ataco, El Salvador.

From there we moved on to the beach. We stayed in Los Cobanos for 2 nights. It is one of the most beautiful beaches in El Salvador, with striking black rocks and white sand. The black rocks are deceiving sharp though, and we all ended up with quite a few swimming injuries. We moved on to Playa Zonte for the next night. Zonte is known as a Surfer’s beach, and that was the truth. I was sick and ended up sleeping most of the time we were there (thankfully we got a hostel with AC!) but my travel companions reported back that the waves were too strong for swimming.

Los Cobanos Beach, El Salvador

Rocky beach, Los Cobanos, El Salvador

After the beach we started heading north. We spent one night in Suchichoto, one of the hottest (temperature-wise) places in El Salvador. We got a great deal on a beautiful hostel, and managed to check out one of the most unique waterfalls I’ve ever seen. After Suchichoto we headed to La Palma for our last night in El Salvador. It was a rainy, peaceful and beautiful night, setting us up nicely to cross the border into Honduras the next morning.

View of the Reservoir (Embalse Cerron Grande) from our hotel, Suchichoto, El Salvador

Cascada Los Terceros, Waterfall, Suchichoto, El Salvador

Wall Art, La Palma, El Salvador

Wall Art, La Palma, El Salvador

La Palma was a city full of murals. They were beautiful, and gave the town a lot of character, definitely a nice way to leave the country, if only it hadn’t rained most of the time we were walking around!

Now it’s on to Honduras for my last week in Central America. Hopefully my health will hang in there for one more week, and I can frolic in the Caribbean waves!


Los Banos and Zunil


This past weekend I went to some public baths. The way it works is you rent a room and they fill up a bathtub with hot water and you get to stay for an hour. Between three of us it was Q20, about $2.75. A great deal. Although the water was so hot I kept getting nauseated.

Almost the whole church, Zunil, Guatemala

After the baths we headed a little further down the road to the small town of Zunil. It is basically famous for having a beautiful white church. Of course when we got there it was raining and the church was closed. I noticed that one of the padlocked doors wasn’t actually locked, so I broke in. That’s right, I broke into a CHURCH! The door only lead to the staircase up to the bells. Stacy and I walked up the steep spiral staircase while our friend was supposed to pose as a lookout. Of course, upon arriving at the top of the stairs and looking out I saw him walking away from us, across the square. Luckily we were not found out!

Stacy getting ready to head back down to the ground.

View of the square from the bells, Zunil.

We walked around the town for a little while, exploring the alleyways. Eventually we ended up at the cemetery. In Zunil, on the day of the dead, everyone paints all the graves white. It made for a different experience walking through a graveyard where almost every monument was white, particularly because of the typically lively cemeteries in Central America.

Cemetery in Zunil, the black and white makes the white graves POP

View of the outskirts, some nice vertical agriculture

Now I’m off to travel around for a while in El Salvador. I’m very excited, and I hope I get to share some more adventures!

Time Flies When You’re Having Fun

El Lago Atitlan, Guatemala

So I’ve been in Guatemala for almost 7 weeks and it feels like I just got here yesterday. I’ve really enjoyed volunteering through Pop Wuj, and I’ve somehow found the time to take a few side trips. A couple weeks ago Stacy, Nick and I went travelling to Lake Atitlan. Stacy and I were hesitant to go because of the frat-boy-esque stories we’ve heard, but we just had to get out of Xela!

View from the water taxi from Panajachel to San Marcos

Our first stop was Panajachel, a super touristy little town on the lake. Our bus got stuck on a narrow street when it tried to pass a different tourist bus. Before asphyxiating, because the other bus’s exhaust was flowing directly into our windows, we escaped to a different chicken bus. Chicken busses are a pretty exciting and affordable way of travelling. They are old U.S. school busses that are pimped out with paint, but not maintenance. Therefore they are brightly colored buses spewing out toxic diesel fumes with as many people as possible crammed onto torn leather seats. There were about 8 other students from our school who also happened to be heading to Panajachel and we followed them to their hotel. We got a super luxurious room (by Guatemalan standards) for 10 dollars each for the night. I even got the double bed! Despite not wanting to be stereotypical tourists we went out drinking for the night. Why? Because Stacy and I wanted to prove we weren’t old!

View from our Hotel in San Pedro

The next day we took a water taxi to San Marcos, as we heard it was the least populated and therefore most beautiful town on the lake. It was quite beautiful, but tiny. It appeared the only thing to do there was go on a yoga retreat, and maybe study some Spanish. We spent about 20 minutes walking around and then headed over to San Pedro, where we planned to stay the night. It was the first time I’ve ever gone somewhere without any hotel reservation. Stacy and I walked into a few places before settling on a great hotel with a beautiful view and hammocks outside every room, setting us back an astounding $6.25 per night.

Stacy and I chose to go swimming in the dirty Lake Atitlan. Our first swimming spot was just over from some ladies doing their laundry. Bleach kills micro-organisms, right? We met a friendly Canadian who told us about some rocks down the way we could jump off of. They weren’t spectacular, but the water was slightly cleaner (meaning we couldn’t actually see the floating garbage we were swimming with). I jumped off a rock that was maybe 8 feet high. Big day!

Walking along the streets in San Pedro

For the rest of the day we just walked around the streets and ended up going out again that night. The call of youth was hounding us again. It was a fun night, but I definitely was ready to return to Xela the next day. I needed to get back to a structured week!

The worst part of going home was the lack of direct busses. On the second of three legs the roads were extremely curvy and I got quite carsick. It was one of the only times I actually wished I was crammed in with people so that I wasn’t getting flung around the bus. I was literally green as I got on the third and final bus, and one of our travel companions gave me a plastic bag in case I had to use it. As I sat curled over in the aisle, praying I would feel better I reflected on the fun weekend. Definitely a touristy mini-vacay, but also well worth it. And we even got back in time for me to watch Spain beat Netherlands. Woop Woop!

I swear I was comfortable! Outside our hotel in San Pedro

3 More Weeks!

So, it’s official! I’m going to stay in Guatemala for 3 more weeks! I’ll now be returning on the 27th of July. I chose to stay longer because I’m enjoying improving my Spanish, I like participating in all the projects, and (duh) I love it here.

Along the lines of the projects, I’ll post an update on the stove project. The stoves are built in three steps. Step 1 is the base, step 2 is 3 rows of bricks, and step 3 is adding the plancha, chimney and smoothing a concrete border. I learned how to complete step 3 a few weeks ago. Even though the stove is officially completed it needs to dry for two months before the family can use it.

Completed stove

Mynor working on the stove, showing us how to smooth the concrete

Our team learning the art of step 3

So, after learning from Mynor, Stacy and I got to become jefes! That’s right, we were in charge of step 3 all by ourselves! I had a great group of volunteers who were very energetic, and helpful when it came to problem solving. Our stove was flush to the wall, which is kind of unusual, so we were unable to use a frame for the concrete border. We ended up forming one from spare wood that the stove recipient provided.

Mike sawing through our temporary framing in front of an audience

It was very satisfying to complete a stove, and it was doubly so because I was directing the process. It makes me feel good that I actually am helping at least a little bit, rather than just aimlessly going around participating on various projects. We only have two or three stoves left, and they will be completed soon. This coming week Stacy and I are going to help go around and interview people who want stoves in their homes, and we are going to see if we can scrape any money together. Funding is such an integral part of this project, as without any money we can’t build any stoves, no matter how many volunteers there are.

'My' stove, before framing and cleaning up

We piled in the bed of a pick-up to get to Tierra Colorada one day. What we'll do for a free ride...it was way worse than the chicken bus.

The Writing on the Wall

One of my favorite pastimes here is walking around and photographing the graffiti. Guatemala has such a tumultuous political history, and it is often expressed in the graffiti around the streets.

Mural at the public university

I went to the public university with my teacher one day and she explained the significance of a lot of the murals. It was quite an interesting and educational experience. I compared it to the murals around Skidmore and University of South Carolina. I don’t remember many political overtones at either of my U.S. schools, but everything at the University in Guatemala reflected the tumultuous past, whether it was a mural of Che Guevara or one depicting the corruption in the government.

Political Street Graffiti

I just found this one walking on the streets. The skeletons represent student revolutionaries, the suited person is either or a solider or government official. I can’t remember (or read) all of what the words say, but it’s for the abolishment of something…

Dark suited figure

True Love


Fat man

Not all of the images have actual political context. I’m sure many are just artistic expressions. I like coming across them. It’s like a private art show…because often times they are located on streets that don’t get as much traffic or are more out of the way. I hope to find more treasures to share.

Mercado in Chichicastenango

Luckily it didn’t rain

This weekend looks to be a chilly rainy one, hopefully it will keep me inside studying! Between volunteering and taking actual classes I feel like I have no time to let anything stick in my head. Plus, there are some good side trips that take away my weekend study time.

For example, last Sunday Stacy and I went with a few of the medical students to a market in Chichi.

Market Day

It is basically a huge market for traditional crafty objects, like woven and embroidered clothes and carved masks. I intended to bring only Q200, about 25 Dollar, but I let Stacy borrow some, and then she ended up taking out her own money anyway, so I had Q400…and I spent almost all of it!

Part of the fun of the day was haggling. I’m not a good haggler, but here it is pretty much expected of you. Considering it is a specifically tourist market most objects are marked up pretty high. I ended up buying 2 scarfs, a small bag for cash and one for coins, some jelly shoes, a gold plated necklace chain (nice and long), and a beautiful traditional embroidered belt. Half the fun (and disappointment) was getting home and showing my host mother, who informed me of how much I should have paid.

Stacy in the hand embroidered poncho she purchased
Turkeys for sale
Church in Chichi
Parrots at the nicest hotel I’ve seen in all of Guatemala … so far

Soooo…Gas or Electric isn’t an Option?

As I believe I’ve written, my days are pretty full. I volunteer in the morning, and take Spanish lessons in the afternoon. The volunteer projects vary throughout the week, and we’re assigned a few days, but basically allowed to participate in whichever ones we choose, with the expectation that we’ll work at least 3 mornings a week.

The fire where all food is cooked

One of the ongoing projects that I’m assisting with is building stoves for the community. Many people who live outside the city proper use a configuration of large stones and wood to cook their food. They burn trash, wood, furniture, plastic…basically whatever they can get their hands on that will burn. The fires aren’t very efficient, and they contribute to localized deforestation. So, Pop Wuj social work group has a project that builds stoves out of cinder blocks, terra cotta bricks, clay, cement and a few other materials. These stoves burn more efficiently and they keep the smoke out of the house. They also help prevent burns, which are fairly common over the open flames.

This is our group mixing clay.

Here's how they mix clay.

The family we were helping today was very grateful. The matriarch is an 80 year old woman and she insisted on helping us. Even when we tried to tell her she didn’t need to help. It’s an interesting experience for the families when a bunch of gringos come in and starts some construction. Stacy let the children play with her camera, which was also a big hit.

The stove we were working on.

Sometimes large groups come to work on the stoves, but if it’s just Pop Wuj students volunteering then there’s only one day of work per week. It’s a slow process, but it will make a large change in these families lives.

Some of our helpers

And they had PUPPIES!!!