A Weekend on Lake Atitlán

Ok, so it was more like 36 hours on the lake, but at least it was beautiful! We arrived in Guatemala City around 10 am last Friday and had a shuttle coming to pick us up around 11. In reality it arrived around 12:30, and with the other stops and our driver getting lost, we didn’t make it to Panajachel until a little after 5 pm that night. So much for having Friday to explore!

Exhausted from our far too early flight that morning, we promptly set out to find some highly anticipated Guatemalan coffee. It was so good! Just as we were told, if you ever make it to Guatemala: drink as much coffee as you can! Instilled with caffeine, we made our way down to the lake just in time for sunset. It was a beautiful setting, with multiple volcanos surrounding the lake. Once it was dark, the street vendors came out and we had a tasty dinner of steak and chicken tacos.

Our first taste of Guatemalan coffee from Cafe Loco, and the sun setting over Lake Atitlan.

Saturday, we spent the day exploring the small and (what turned out to be) incredibly touristy town. There were markets full of colorful souvenirs, several expat coffee shops and restaurants, and that’s about it. We probably should have taken a boat to one of the other small towns along the lake, but we didn’t know where we wanted to go to. Plus by the time we realized Panajachel didn’t have anything to do, it was late enough in the day that we wouldn’t have had more than an hour or two in another city before the boats stopped running.

Mother nature seemed to know that we needed a little excitement that evening, and while we were out at an expat bar socializing with other gringos, the power went out in the entire city due to incredibly strong winds. The locals said it’s been an exceptionally windy February, and since it was a Saturday night, the power probably wouldn’t come back on until Monday. We lit candles and chatted a while longer until we ventured out looking for any place that might be selling food despite the blackout. We found another awesome taco truck working off a generator, and then went back at our hotel for the night. The power still wasn’t on in the morning, so we grabbed an early shuttle back to Antigua. Despite the picturesque setting, we probably wouldn’t go back. At the very least, it was pretty to look at and a good way to relax before Vesper had a week of Spanish school in Antigua.

Cervezas by candle light

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A Week in Mexico City

¡Hola! We’ve just wrapped up a week in Mexico City and are about to depart for Guatemala. We’ve spent the last week staying with Vesper’s college roommate, Claudio, who generously let us crash at his apartment. It’s been a busy and delicious week here!

After our crazy layover in Panama, we were pretty exhausted when we arrived here last Wednesday and didn’t do much other than hang out and eat some delicious street tacos. The next day we hit the ground running with a trip to the National Museum of Anthropology, where we learned about the history of Mexico. We finished up the night with dinner at a delightfully cheesy restaurant, with mariachi bands and dancers who performed while we ate.

The architecture of the museum was pretty cool
The Stone of the Sun and our dinner platter at the mariachi place

Friday we had the opportunity to drive outside the city to Teotihuacan, one of the largest ancient Mesoamerican cities and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here we walked along the Avenue of the Dead to climb up the Pyramid of the Sun (one of the largest pyramids in the world!) and the Pyramid of the Moon. We’re blaming the altitude (or maybe the smog that you can see in the pictures), but our legs were so sore the next day! After hiking up all those stairs, we had worked up an appetite and stopped at La Gruta for a late lunch. They had caterpillars, ant larvae, and grasshoppers on their menu, but we were all too scared to snack on bugs and went for some more traditional appetizers and cervezas artesanales instead.

Detail of Temple of Feathered Serpent, Pyramid of the Moon, and Pyramid of the Sun
La Gruta is located inside of a cave!

The next couple of days were spent back in Mexico City. We visited the Chapultepec Castle, which is located on top of a hill in a beautiful park that offers excellent views of the city. Saturday evening, we had a delicious cookout with Claudio and several of his friends, which was a great chance for us to talk to more locals and get travel tips on other locations in Central and South America. Sunday, we spent a lazy day exploring the historical city center’s landmarks, museums, and churches.

Angel de Independencia
Looking down La Reforma, Metropolitan Cathedral, and Javier Marín's Terra

Monday was a national holiday in Mexico, so Claudio had the day off and we went about two hours northeast to the state of Hidalgo to check out the Basaltic Prisms. We left the city fairly early (for us, that is), and along the way stopped for breakfast on the highway. Not an exit off the highway; we literally pulled off onto a shoulder to eat at one of the numerous barbacoa stands along the road. It was amazing! Barbacoa refers to the way they cook the meat (we’re assuming sheep based on the picture), where the meat is either slowly cooked over an open fire or in a pit in the ground. We had huge barbacoa tacos that are currently winning best street food of the trip, plus some soup made from the drippings of the meat - good, but not as good as those tacos. After stuffing our faces, we finished the drive to the Basaltic Prisms, which are these crazy hexagonally shaped columns formed by cooling lava millions of years ago. It was a super interesting phenomenon and a great way to spend a beautiful (smog-free) day outside the city. We rounded out the day with a visit to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which was beautiful but also surprisingly slanted due to the front part of the church sinking.

Basaltic Prisms formed by volcanic activity
Barbacoa, overlooking the waterfall, and Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our last few days in Mexico were spent at a slower pace, particularly as we begin to plan our next leg of the trip. We saw a few more museums, ate more street food, and did a last few loads of laundry. Overall, we had an amazing time here, but couldn’t have done it without Claudio’s awesome help! It was great to have an insider’s perspective (and car) to show us around the area.

Here are a few final overall impressions/observations from our week here:

  • Barbacoa on the side of the highway is amazing. Street food in general here has been pretty delicious overall.
  • Women dress up much more here than the do in the US. We’re talking heels all the time, no matter what.
  • PDAs are everywhere. Sometimes you just want to tell people to get a room.
  • Mexican cervezas tend to be lacking in anything hoppy, dark, or pretty much any flavor in general… which is probably why they add things like lime, salt, hot sauce, tomato juice, etc. to their drinks. Check out Micheladas for more on this.
  • The prices here are great! At about 1 dollar to 18 pesos, our travel budget was very happy.

We know a bunch of these probably carry over to other countries, but guess we’ll have to keep moving to find out!

Thanks Claudio!

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A Long Layover in Panama City

Flights from St. Martin to Mexico City were either ridiculously expensive or had some ridiculous legs and layovers. Since we’re on the cheap this year, we chose the latter. Using some leftover Untied miles, we flew from St. Martin to Mexico City via a 15 hour layover in Panama City. Our incoming flight flew right past the canal, providing us with an awesome view of the structure as well as an impressive amount of ships going to/from the port. We landed around 5 pm, made a reservation at a cheap hostel near Casco Viejo (the old Spanish historical district), and spent the next several hours exploring the area.

Our walk to Casco Viejo was spent along Avenida Balboa which - in addition to being an insanely busy road - has an awesome pedestrian walkway right along the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Our stroll here provided some amazing panoramic views of the city’s skyline and sunset views over the roofs of the old city. We joined the countless amount of people out biking, jogging, or just enjoying the beautiful evening.

We then got lost in the streets of the old city, wandering around and enjoying the architecture, smells, and people. We stumbled upon a gathering outside the Cathedral, Vesper found a cheap watch at a local market, and for dinner we had some delicious street food consisting of stewed chicken, lentils, and spaghetti all served over rice. It seemed random, but was quite delicious! As evening settled in, we walked back along Avenida Balboa to see the city lit up at night before heading back to our hostel.

Skyline at night along Avenida Balboa
Wandering around Casco Viejo

We had a cab arriving at 4:30 the next morning to take us back to the airport, for another short layover in San Salvador, before we finally arrived in Mexico City around noon - 24 hours after leaving St. Martin.

We’ve been in Mexico City almost a week now, and we’re planning our next leg of the trip. It looks like it might involve either really long bus rides or some more goofy layovers - hopefully they’ll turn out to be just as successful!

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Celebrating a Birthday in St. Martin

Although our original plan was to start our year abroad in Mexico City, last weekend we spent a whirlwind four days in St. Martin to celebrate our friend’s thirtieth birthday. We said goodbye to America far too early on Friday morning to start our travels. Of course we ended up running through the Atlanta airport to barely make our connecting flight. Nothing like beginning a marathon trip with a sprint!

Once we were all at the St. Martin airport, we got in our dinky little rental car and followed our AirBnB host to the villa for the weekend. This involved some creative driving - namely jumping a few curbs in a roundabout - as we experienced Friday rush hour on the island. Once we reached the house, we couldn’t have been more pleased. We had a small private patio with a pool and lounge chairs overlooking the beautiful water and views of St. Barts in the distance. We had officially found paradise.

Over the next few days, we explored the island’s beaches (some nude as we accidentally found out), cooked delicious meals in our house, and relaxed in the perfect weather. Monday we celebrated our friend’s birthday on a private speedboat tour. We spent an amazing day exploring some small islands and beaches, snorkeling with sea turtles and tropical fish, and lounging in the beautiful blue clear waters. Our day wrapped up at the famous airport beach, where the incoming planes fly right overhead and everyone gawks to take pictures.

We left St. Martin Tuesday afternoon, the two of us only slightly sunburnt, and began our 24 hour trip to Mexico City. Why did it take 24 hours? Find out next time…

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After a short four-day jaunt in St. Maarten and a brief layover in Panama City we have finally arrived in Mexico City! Our year of travel has finally begun and we could not be more excited.

We are so ready!

We are still getting into the travel groove and hope to start posting on a regular basis, but I think it depends on the quality of internet.

One of the many iterations of packing, paring down each time.

In case you were curious what someone would pack for a year long trip, here is a slightly abbreviated list of what we ended up bringing along:

  • Passports
  • Cards and some money
  • Toiletries
  • Meds and first aid
  • 5 changes of underwear and socks
  • 5 shirts
  • 2 pullovers
  • A warm fleece
  • 2 sets of pants
  • Sandals
  • Sneakers
  • Hiking boots
  • A raincoat
  • Water bottle and UV sanitizer
  • Swimsuit
  • Laptops
  • Camera
  • Cell phone
  • Kindles
  • Knife
  • Clothesline
  • Duct tape and para cord (just in case)
  • A deck of cards

It all fits in the bag and it’s not too heavy, but I imagine we will find that we brought too much and have to whittle it down a bit on the road.

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