Archive | April, 2019

Take a picture, it’ll last longer (another sort-of slideshow)

30 Apr

April brought a lot of beautiful things like….



These gorgeous pink flowers


  • Planning and embarking on a trip to Guatemala! (posts to come!)



Hiding a note in the Pittsburgh airport



Patrick’s birthday!!! ❤ ❤



Helen’s birthday!!! ❤ ❤


  • …At Helen’s birthday party where I got to pet Victoria’s cat and micromanage some seating arrangements 🙂 — so it was really like I was the one getting the presents.

  • “They call me Crash.”
  • A visit to Findley Lake where I got to see my cousins Wendy and Paul! (and, at the local restaurant, briefly meet that weirdo.)



Photo credit: the beautiful Wendy


  • THE RETURN OF GAME OF THRONES, which brought about the smiles below.  And then, spoilers, took away the smiles below.





  • A fun brunch (but not a delicious brunch) at Enix Brewery with April, Emily, and Laura.
  • But then a stopover at the super cool Voodoo Brewery, plus VB shirts!
  • An emotional breakdown after The Improv.
  • Eating, with Matt (all the way from Australia!) and Col (a hometown favorite) in the Northside at, what the sign referred to as “the best chicken salad in town,” (it’s not) and, on a different day, getting to actually eat the best chicken salad in town (it is) back at my parents’ house.  



A party at my new friends Joe and Trisha’s with Emily, Erin Tobin, and April ❤



This VIEW outside of my bedroom! I love this season!


  • A bad-beer power hour with Bella.



And lots of board game days ❤


….Which we were assured would be fun.



Peppered reassurances are as good as a money-back guarantee



The peppered reassurances were accurate — It was fun!


  • Spicy, yummy soup delivered to me when I was sick.
  • A Federal Galley date involving the question game.
  • The Table celebrations edition was published!
  • A(n annoying) closure of our 9th street bridge.
  • A gorgeous dinner party for 5 hosted by my best friend, VB.
  • Inspired by outdoors-y films, in particular a mother daughter movie, at the Banff Mountain Film Festival ❤


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Great lightening in the Byam Theatre loo!


  • Victoria Pinksburgh coming out for the year!!!!!  Huge shoutout to Laura who babysat, and by babysat I mean stored the little cutie. ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤



Her maiden voyage.


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Full bloom.


  • A new tradition with Emily and Laura, we eat lunch together every week!



All this friendship is making us hungry. 


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LUNCH WITH LAURA’S DOG CHARLIE (AND HELEN) – who also gets her name in caps because, honestly, it’s just as exciting


  • April 12th: My and Victoria’s best show ever!!  Drinking champagne, celebrating, sitting next to the Wildys.
  • April 19th.  At The Improv again.  Sitting next to Victoria.  Always glad to be there together! But this time wishing we had ordered our small drinks earlier.




Helen got to do a guest set on Ray’s show.


  • MATT FROM AUSTRALIA COMING TO VISIT!! ! !!! !!!! !!! ! !! !  HOW EXCITING!!!!!  



    Forever friends.


  • Going with Matt to Bingham Tavern to watch the Penguins game (FYI: I’m a fan now) and getting involved in trivia on accident, which, thanks to our bonus player, we ended up winning ON PURPOSE.
  • And then, taking Matt to the Micro Diner for pancakes and listening to his accent while he spoke with Dana, our server, whose Yinzer accent (and openness!) served to remind me (thanks for the service, Dana!) how there are people in each corner of the world with a genuine eagerness to show off their hometown (#hometownpride)  — and to help someone from a different place realize why ….(whatever city they’re in)…. is so great. 



Battle of the accents, except not a battle because everyone wins.


I always love this time of year,

4. GUATEMALA: A Grand Finale

28 Apr

Slightly delayed but no less hilarious and all the more detailed, here is the wonderful, final installment:

Patrick’s actual birthday continued with more festivities! We went on a long, winding road trip to Lanquin where we would spend the night in a gorgeous resort to wake up early and visit Semuc Champey. We rocked out to our new CDs on the drive, while watching out for speed bumps and stopping at every fruit stand. Unanimously, our favourite CD was a Spanish version of 60s Rock and Pop songs. There’s something so fun about hearing a familiar song in another language. I highly recommend checking out this Spanish version of “Under The Boardwalk”



We’d stop for fruit but there’s nowhere to park.


Semuc Champey, in Lanquin, was one of the few things we knew we were definitely doing in Guatemala at the beginning of our trip. In fact, it helped shape the rest of our journey. Because Semuc Champey was a 14 hour bus ride from Antigua, where our journey began, we decided to instead rent a car and make our way there slowly. Thankfully, the journey to Lanquin was just 3.5 hours from Biotopo del Quetzal. We knew it would be a bumpy, mountainous journey and were grateful to have the luxury of our own vehicle for the sake of our favourite frequent stopper. We knew we had to be in Lanquin before dark because our only plan for the evening was TO SEE BATS LEAVING A CAVE TO GO HUNTING FOR THE NIGHT. The bats, very punctually, depart their cave at 6 PM with ne’ery a timepiece to be seen. So after a relaxing birthday morning hike and taking our time leaving the Central Highlands, even Sammi was down to make as few stops as possible to get us there in good time. We did research on the drive #passengersjob to learn more about the history of Guatemala and to decide which hostel would be our home in Lanquin. It came down to two which sounded equally beautiful and fun. With two nights to spend in Lanquin, we thought “Why not spend a night in each?!”


Pics on-the-go = #passengersjob. Double the passengers, double the JOBS! I mean fun.


The long and winding road.


After winding up and down one-lane mountainside roads for hours, pulling over any time another car had to pass, we finally saw a clue that we had made it to Lanquin:


Nosotros tambien!


We opted to do a quick drive by of each of our two hostel choices to see which one felt like home for the night. But the first one proved to be impossible to find. After going miles down a bumpy, dirt road — terrified that we would get a flat tire — we opted to turn back for the other and spend two nights there. A choice that ended up being terrific. Not only did they have free parking for our truck, they also had views like this:


Home, Sweet Home


We were thrilled to be out of the truck and back in the world! We checked in and went to our room, where you could rent a fan for a few bucks. It was a must. More like HOTamala #amiright Excited to leave our truck tucked in for the night, we walked in to town and hopped a tuk tuk to take us straight to the bat caves! Upon arrival, we were asked if we wanted a guide to walk us through the caves. After much deliberation, we said yes. Edwin, a sweet 18 year old Guatemalan, was thrilled! He walked us to the caves and offered to take photos for us. He didn’t speak any English which was a fun challenge. #allearsondeck

Fun fact: The word “bat” in Spanish is “murciélago” which uses all of the vowels! It’s a great word to practice your vowels on when you’re learning Spanish.

Bonus fun fact: Unlike most languages, the vowels in Spanish always sound the same. So murciélago it up!



Edwin was an incredible tour guide. He offered to take us on a secret bonus tour down to touch the river at the bottom of the cave. He asked if we were adventurous and we said “Claro que si!” This cave was made of 5 massive “rooms.” If you’ve never been in a cave, it’s pretty standard to be shown different rock formations in the cave and told what animals they look like. It was fun brushing up on our Spanish animals. Spanimals, if you will. Edwin would point his flashlight on a rock and say “Tiburón!” We’d all look at each other and the rock and say “Ah, yes. A shark!” It’s classic cave entertainment. He took us to the top of the cave to where there used to be Mayan rituals. The rocks on the way to the top were slippery. Each step we took required all of our focus. “Is everyone being so careful with each step?” I asked. Sammi responded “Yes but we really need you to be. Especially.” I have a history of falling. Guat-a-fall it would have been. Edwin took us to the ritual site and launched into the historical significance. At the end of Edwin’s speech about the Mayans, Patrick turned to me: “Helen, can you translate that for us?” Unfortunately for our team, I had been zoned out thinking about going back down those cave steps the entire time.. I looked at Patrick and Sammi apologetically. “…..No.” We laughed. It was far too long of a speech to ask him to repeat so we nodded to him that we totally got it and headed back down, again with all of our focus. Upon seeing our sad display of coordination in the cave, we assumed Edwin had changed his mind about offering us a bonus adventure. We joked about how he only took us the easy way and we still struggled. When we got back to where we had entered, he asked us if we wanted to go down and touch the river. We couldn’t believe it. We asked, in Spanish, how hard it was. And he assured us that we would have no bother. We started climbing down the rocks to the bottom of the cave, and realized we had made a huge mistake. It was super challenging. Not as much for Patrick, who does climbing, nor as much for Sammi who works out. But I was convinced I was going to have to start a life as a cave-dweller. We made our way down the treacherous path to the river to the river, and by “path” I mean a series of massive, wet rocks that were not connected to each other where one could have easily plummeted to a stoney death. We made it down to the bottom and touched the freezing water where the river began. From the bottom, we realized getting back up would be the REAL challenge. Edwin said “Just bend your left knee up on this rock. Then reach up with your arms and PULL yourself upwards.” Translating correctly had never been so important. Edwin was highly overestimating my athletic abilities. If you do it wrong the first time, there is no do over. You fall into a rocky abyss. I was quite certain I would not be able to do it. “I guess I live here now.” I said, sadly, to Patrick and Bam. Edwin went first to do a demonstration. Patrick went next. He nailed it. It was my turn. I looked desperately at Bam. And like the best best friend of all time that she is, she made me a wee step out of nothing but her hands. All before she had to launch herself up. The terror of falling coupled with my best friend’s makeshift step, launched me up to freedom. I would have kissed the ground had it not undoubtedly been covered with bat guano. Sammi was last to bat (pun intended) and made it up with no problems! We made our way out of the cave just as the sun was about to set. Edwin gave us a pro tip on the way out of the cave: He told us to go wash our hand IMMEDIATELY and then pointed out where we should come back and sit for the best bat views. He said goodbye to us as we washed our hands (friction under water!) and made our way back to our spot. The views were incredible. Por ejemplo:


A river runs through it.


That protruding, shadowy rock to the right was where we set up bat camp.


“You’d hate to be a bat, Patrick. They do so much backtracking.” #batrick #battracking


Enter the cave scared, leave a batliever.


As we sat, anticipating the bats’ departure, we were nervous. Sitting at the opening of a cave at night is a bit spooky. A group of German tourists came (thanks, Edwin, for securing our terrific seats before the rush!) and their tour guide shined his flashlight at the cave walls and roof and they were COVERED IN BATS. Watching the bats leave the cave was one of the most magical moments of our lives. We sat there for hours, in awe, as we watched thousands of bats leave the cave for their nightly hunt. We didn’t realize how much we loved bats until we sat amongst them, in their home. Big thanks to bats for eating bugs. A true bat mitzvah! You could feel them flutter by as they just managed not to touch our faces with their bat skills (though one did brush Patrick’s ear). Eventually, the tourists gave up and left and it was just us and the bats!



There was a steady stream of bats for hours. Thousands of them. As the sun set completely, and with only two iPhone flashlights to get us out of the cave (reminder: Patrick did this trip sans phone), we decided it was time to go. Bats were still leaving the cave hundreds per minute. We kept stopping every few feet out of the cave to watch them exit from a new perspective. It was incredible. We made it back to the road and realized there were no tuk tuks this far from town, so we’d have to walk. A few minutes into our walk, a kind trucker stopped and asked if we wanted a ride. No one said anything, so I sent him away, misreading Patrick and Sammi’s thrilled silence from this surprise offer for discomfort. What a hilarious mix up. We started walking miles back to town as I apologized for the misunderstanding. But thankfully, a tuk tuk came along on its way to the gas station and filled up and tuk tuk us back! Yay! Saved by the tuk tuk. We got dropped off in town and saw our new favorite Comedor! If we hadn’t been all Comedored out, we’d have absolutely had a quick bite.



CAPTION: They tuk us for a ride

All tuk-ed in


That night, we sat by the river in our hostel’s bar/game/lounge area and reflected on what a great birthday it had been. Bats! Cloud forests! Quetzals! Road trips! Hostels! It was a magical day. It was hard to believe less than 24 hours before, we awoke to Mike at the door to sing Happy Birthday in Spanish. The next morning, we started the day early. It was time to take the truck back out to head to Semuc Champey! Once again, we were incredibly thankful to have our own vehicle. There were lots of ways to get around but none of them looked easy:


The original rideshare



When we arrived, we learned from the sign above that that Semuc Champey means “donde el río se esconde bajo la tierra” (where the river hides under the earth/stones) in the inidingous language Q’eqchi’. We were also told it translates to “slippery rocks over a river that runs underneath it” which is exactly on the nose. But it doesn’t sound as pretty in English. Semuc Champey is a must see. The Cahabón river passes underneath 300 meters of natural limestone, which forms a bridge. The limestone rocks fill up with fresh water, which gets warmed by the sun. It’s nature’s hot tub.

At the entrance, we were again asked if we wanted a tour guide. Coming off such an incredible experience with Edwin, we had no hesitation. “Absolutely!” This time, we got Charlie, a 14 year old boy. Charlie took us on a hike to see Semuc Champey from the top. The hike was quite hard. The first half of the hike was straight up many flights of stairs cut into the side of a mountain to get that sweet, sweet, view. We talked to Charlie about his life. We learned he went to school just one day a week. Sunday. Patrick asked him about his curriculum and was shocked. He teaches kids Charlie’s age in Seattle. Charlie went to school one day a week and worked the rest of the week to help provide money for his family, mostly by giving tourists a guided tour of Semuc Champey. Going straight up the mountain for the view was not a challenge for him. He does it multiple times a day. When we got to the top, we were gobsmacked by the Earth’s natural beauty.


CAPTION: Started at the bottom now we’re here.

Charlie had been a bit snippy to us on the hike up. Probably because we were taking longer than we should have (100% uphill hike, Charlie! Give a girl a minute!) But at the top, he very kindly asked if we wanted a group photo and then climbed up even higher to get the perfect shot for us. And with that, he won our hearts.

Photo cred: Charlie


It was hot. Even with the shade from the trees on the hike up, it was uncomfortably hot. We were so excited to get back down to swim in those sweet pools on those “slippery rocks.” On the way down, we could hear howler monkeys in the trees. We caught a glimpse of those cute howler monkeys including a baby howler monkey! (Which would later inspire us to watch this cute monkey video over and over: What a good dad!)

Do you see what I see?


Curious about wild monkeys and the threats they faced, we asked Charlie what, if anything, preys on a monkey. He said “nothing.” We asked what kills monkeys. He told us that they don’t die. We’re pretty sure they’re not immortal but Charlie knew these lands best. After some downhill discussion about possible predators of monkeys, we landed on the unfortunate conclusion that it’s humans. Climate change and deforestation. Let’s get it together, humans. Our theory was confirmed by signs like this:

Semuc Champey is in danger from human behaviour!


Buena vista


Having a wee foREST.


At the bottom, we had a team huddle. These rocks are slippery. Famously slippery. Pennsylvania isn’t the only one with a famous Slippery Rock. Everyone (especially Helen) be extra sure of your footing. We do not want a “Nicarockgua” situation. We removed some layers to reveal our swimwear, and, since we had forgotten to bring a lock to use the lockers provided, Charlie advised us to leave our stuff under our clothes while we went for a dip. We were nervous but we trusted him. This would have been the perfect time for a sting operation. Thankfully, Charlie was right. It was fine. We walked out on the incredibly slippery rocks and got into the water. The sun had warmed it to the perfect temperature. We floated, chatted, and treaded water. Once again we spent hours. Charlie took us down from pool to pool. Getting to each pool was a journey. Some of them you jumped in (again, making sure you were not at risk of slipping) and some of them had natural waterslides. It was incredible. Charlie was doing flips into the pools and going up and down the natural water slides. He was a pro. Eventually, he brought us all the way to the bottom pool and took us underneath the rocks! We were suddenly spelunking with just our heads above the water. Charlie said it’ll take 5 seconds under water to swim down and get out. Based on the athleticism Charlie had shown on our hike and his proficiency in the pool, I calculated 5 seconds for him was going to be about 15-20 seconds for me and got claustrophobic and exited back the way we came.


Slippery when wet AKA always.


After a full morning and afternoon of enjoying the natural wonders of Semuc Champey, we decided to spend the rest of the day swimming in the lake at our hostel and have a fun night in. Down time turned to up time turned back to down time?! Our only item on the calendar was watching whatever was happening live at the end of Taylor Swift’s Instagram countdown. We kept a careful eye on the countdown all night until what was apparently the debut of her video for “Me!” featuring Brandon Urie. What a fun surprise! It WAS new music, not a boutique store in Upstate New York. We needed more Swift music. Thanks, Taylor!



The hostel was full of young travelers speaking in many languages and accents from all over our planet. It was so inspirational. Some folks were passing through on a gap year, others were studying abroad in Guatemala or Costa Rica and had come to Lanquin for a weekend away. The river was gorgeous. It passed right by the hostel and came in to a cove, which had made a perfect swimming hole complete with a diving board. The water was FREEZING. After all, it was coming from our bat cave a few miles away. We sat at the edge of the river, with our feet dangling, until we got so hot we had to jump in. We took turns jumping off the diving board into the freezing water and made our way back to our spot where we would warm up in the sun in a few minutes. It was a perfect, watery day.


Crystal blue river water.


When the time came, we watched Taylor’s new video and discussed it in depth. We couldn’t wait for all of the Swifties to make a list of every Easter egg we definitely missed. We FaceTimed with Katie Barbaro and I managed to break my toe. You can’t take me anywhere. Even with a broken toe, it was the perfect day. We were sad our time in Guatemala was coming to an end. Any sadness would have been quelled by the knowledge that the next day, we’d get to repeatedly encounter some real life bandits.

The next morning, we packed up and started the long drive to see some Mayan ruins. However, the road was long and hard and eventually required a boat ride, so we abandoned the idea and turned back towards Antigua. We spent almost the entire day in the car, driving up and down winding mountain roads, listening to our Spanish music CDs, and debating if we should turn back. “How many more miles? Is it the paved road or the dirt road?” It was the dirt road every time. We drove for hours on dirt roads and finally experienced the BANDITS our Dutch friends had warned us about. Every so often, we passed down a one lane road and saw one or two men shoveling it with a piece of rope hung across the street to stop the passage of any vehicles. The first few times, it was quite scary. These men would make us wind down our windows and tell us (in Spanish) they had been fixing the roads in the hot sun and we needed to pay them 100 quetzal ($13) to pass through. We told them we didn’t have any money (though clearly, everything we had brought on the trip was in the car). Thankfully, our perfect truck had tinted windows in the back and it was the passengers job to make sure nothing valuable was visible. To the first set of bandits, we gave out 10Q and were grateful to be on our way. It was terrifying. “Pay them for fixing the roads?!” Sammi exclaimed, once we were free. “These are the worst roads I’ve ever been on! Nothing but potholes!”  The second time, we followed the advice of our Dutch friends and put a 5Q note on the dashboard and told them that was all we had. They took the 5Q and looked into the car for other things. Sammi wisely offered them up our least favourite bag of snacks #wrongshape, a bottle of water we had already been drinking, and our least favourite Spanish music CD. They took the deal and let us pass. We were coming across bandits every 30 minutes or so. We were out of small bills so we made a wee stop on the side of the road for change and more cheap snacks and water to give away. By the third time we were stopped by bandits, we pretended not to know any Spanish which was easy because we didn’t have to do too much pretending. We were super friendly and confused while trying to understand. We all panicked when we noticed one of the bandits eyeing up the birds. Our beautiful, matching birds from our first day in Antigua. The bandits again settled for a 5Q, a CD, and snacks and let us carry on our merry way. We put our birds safely out of sight until we were back on paved roads. At our last bandit encounter, we refused to give up any money. We told them we didn’t have anything and they wouldn’t let us pass. We waited with them for a while until a bus came behind us and they had to let us pass. Huzzah! Soon after, we were back to paved roads and our birds were flying free!

Matching birds + paved roads – bandits = happy driver!


We found a place to spend the night in a town called Coban and figured it would be fun to see a movie together in Guatemala. We looked up a cinema and upon arrival, realized it was in a massive mall. GuateMALLa, if you will.


A parking spot for storks!


It was incredible (and by incredible, I mean air conditioned). It was the perfect place to spend a cushy penultimate night in Guatemala. We got to the cinema hours before the movie and for some reason didn’t think to purchase tickets. We explored the mall, which included a GROCERY STORE and debated which snacks we should buy.  (PRO TIP: Grocery stories are always fascinating in other countries)


Not your Uncle Sam’s Pringles


Leche de cabra! Goat milk!


Sammi and I spent half an hour debating whether or not we should buy this goat milk caramel syrup knowing we’d have to check one of our bags to send it home. We opted not to because not having a checked bag when travelling internationally is the best. Looking back, I’m not even sure what the appeal was or what we would have done with goat milk caramel spread. Good choice, team! Sammi and Patrick were excited to finally try Guatemala’s raved about fast food chicken place, the KFC of Guatemala: Pollo Campero.




We were so excited exploring, eating, and being air-conditioned — “I’m wearing sleeves for the first time all week!” — and we were ready to wrap up the night with a movie. Unfortunately, we didn’t buy our tickets when we first got to the mall and when we went back, it was sold out. Turns out those Avengers are popular.


Got tickets?


PRO TIP: Get your tickets BEFORE you burn hours waiting for the movie. With no movie to see, we headed back to our hotel rooms. There were no 3-person rooms, so Patrick had his own room and Sammi and I shared. It was fun to have a TV for the night as Sammi and I lived together with no TV in the dreamflat. Lots of channels offered baseball #americaspastime, and Sammi got me some ice for my old broken toe.


She takes such good care of me.


I was beside myself with excitement because episode 2 of the final season of Game of Thrones was on that night and we had the channel to watch it in our hotel! Move over, Avengers. I’d take Arya Stark over Tony Stark EVERY TIME.


GoT in Spanish. All ears on deck = 70% comprehension


Aww. Hometown shout out in English so I could understand 100% of it!


PRO TIP: You can’t flush the toilet paper.


The next morning, we had and savored our last traditional Guatemalan breakfast with coffee on the side.


Desayuno típico guatemalteco


Patrick and I ordered coffee with ours and we each were given a tiny jug of heated milk. Naturally caffeinated, Scrappy (Sammi) didn’t need any coffee. But she was not gonna let that not-free jug of milk go to waste.

We decided to spend our last night in Guatemala City to return the rental truck (and hope no one noticed the dent on the side). We knew we had to make it to Guatemala City before dark due to its sketchy reputation. The drive to Guatemala City was a few hours #alwaysbedriving but found bonus time to stop at any fruit stand that looked beautiful along the way. After all, this was our final day in Guatemala and therefore our last chance to have fresh mango. We go wild for fresh mango.


Buen provecho! #neverforget


We stopped over and over. It was Sammi’s dream road trip. Every time we stopped, we asked for fresh mango to be chopped up. “Y… una más. Y tal vez una más.” You can’t beat fresh mango from a roadside stand. You just can’t.


Last call for street food!


Getting in to Guatemala City was a challenge. With a population of 2.45 million people, The GC (don’t call it that) is bustling. It took all 3 of us 100% of our concentration to get in to the city to find the car return. Everyone had a job. Sammi was our heroic driver. Patrick was our brilliant navigator. And I was on hardcore LOOK OUT. Looking out for moto drivers coming up the side unannounced. Making sure we were clear all around for any merging or lane changing. We were so thankful for the tinted windows as we drove into the city. It was the most stressful time of the trip. BUT WE DID IT! We love the cooperative game we call travelling abroad together. And together, WE WON! We made it to the rental place and sweated together while playing it cool as the gentleman who worked there asked us about a dent on the side. We gulped. “Es broma!” he said. Oh, good. We love jokes! Thankfully, it was already on our PAPER we had painfully filled out at the start of our trip. Don’t cut corners, kids. Especially if another truck is coming up a narrow mountain road. #scuffle

At the airport, we got a taxi to our hotel a few blocks away and couldn’t believe it was in a gated community. The safety precautions to enter were impressive and intimidating. Our taxi driver made sure we were let in before he drove away. Those Guatemalans are so polite! Once we were safely inside, it was time for a lengthy trip recap, final snack division, and a receipt review for cost per day calculation.

These two are so generous they even do the MATH.


Snack of the trip: Cebollitas!


We took advantage of our wifi to do all of our last minute urgent things like watch that spider monkey video over and over. We looked up the answers to our burning questions we’d be saving all week like which quetzal came first, the resplendent bird or the currency? Questions like those lead us to watching a video of Guatemala’s national anthem (which shouts out the resplendent Quetzal! The money is definitely named after the bird) and reading the English translation of the lyrics. The anthem is over 5 minutes. Here’s how it starts:

Fortune Guatemala, may your altar, Never be trampled by the tormentor

Nor should slaves lick the yoke, Nor should tyrants spit in your face

If tomorrow your sacred soil is threatened by foreign invasion

Free into the wind, your beautiful flag to victory or death it will call


Free into the wind, your beautiful flag to victory or death it will call

Since your people, with fiery soul will be dead before enslaved.

Go on then! Have a listen! It’s pretty in Spanish.


Guatemala is a gorgeous country with lovely, polite, welcoming people and a fascinating history. 10/10 would recommend. Our entire trip, we felt like Guatemala is Central America’s best kept secret. Costa Rica has become a tourist hub. We predict Guatemala is next.

Sending all of the love,

Helen (and these two cuties pictured below!)


3. GUATEBUENA: The one with the birthday!

24 Apr

Hello! Helen here again! Fresh off the trail, literally, we went exploring for the perfect place to spend the night and to wake up on Patrick’s birthday. We had one set birthday goal: Hike a cloud forest in search of Guatemala’s national bird for whom their currency is named: the RESPLENDENT quetzal. If you’re not using the word resplendent in your day-to-day vocab, I recommend throwing it in your rotation.

RESPLENDENT, adj.: attractive and impressive through being richly colorful or sumptuous.

The word you didn’t know you were missing in your life. We first learned it in Spanish when we were reading about the quetzal and it was described as “resplandeciente.” After a quick Goog, we learned “resplandeciente” was Spanish for “resplendent” which, I’ll remind you, was English for “attractive and impressive through being richly colorful or sumptuous.” I’m using the full definition twice so you feel comfortable using it, too. Go ahead! Try it. You might like it. Here’s an image from Google of the quetzal as a visual aid:

Shining, shimmering, resplendent.


We found a place to stay near the cloud forest and ventured into the nearest town, Purrulha, to find snacks and supplies for the night. If there’s one thing we love, it’s matching. If there’s a second thing we love, it’s going on a quest. We knew what we needed for the night: Snacks and a few birthday Gallos. After finding FREE PARKING(!!!), we took to the streets of Purrulha, exploring the stores for ice cream (always), snacks to take to the hotel, and Gallo.


Little town, full of little people, waking up to say……. Hola.


She’s the leader of the pack. Vroom Vroom!


First, we found a stand selling CDs and games. We were so excited because we had been wanting to pump some jams in our perfect rental truck and had only been using whatever music was downloaded on our phones and a wee bit of radio. We each picked out 2 Spanish language CDs (which had 100+ songs on each), and spoke in Spanish to the store’s owner. We told him we were visiting from the United States, staying nearby and going hiking in the morning in hopes to see a famous Quetzal. He immediately said “You can’t hunt them. It’s illegal to kill them.” Apparently, we Americans have a reputation. We assured him we just wanted to look at them and had no interest in killing them. He was thrilled. Glad we talked that out!


Continuing on our quest, we popped into another Comedor to give it a shot. This time, we were the only people there. We asked if we could order a meal, pay in advance, and come back in 15 minutes to eat it after we ran through the grocery store on a snack mission. They were confused, but they decided that would be fine. We meandered through a grocery store on our timed side quest and found all sorts of delicious snacks. Our ever-wise Sammi told us it was important to pick snacks with funky shapes and she was right; the more unique the shape, the more delicious it somehow tasted. Two women who worked in the grocery store followed us around and started speaking to me in Spanish. They told me they wanted me to teach them English. I spoke to them in English and told they responded in Spanish. It was very sweet.




Hen’s pic of hens.


SNACKTRICK, n.: Our best friend who is always on the hunt for fun, interesting, and delicious snacks. Keeper of the Snackpack (n.: a backpack full of snacks) and distributor of the snacks. Happy birthday, Snacktrick! #alwaysbesnacking

Patrick saw one of these baseball-themed gumball machines from his childhood and scored a gumball homerun!

I scored an out! Does that count as scoring? Negative points? This is why we prefer cooperative games. #pandemicforever


Come once more to the Comedor! (We actually don’t recommend them.)


We made it back to our hotel which was beautiful. It was rustic and cozy, with wood-burning fireplaces in the corner and private huts for sleeping. There were wild birds that were allegedly turkeys, but they looked even more terrifying somehow (am I the only one who is afraid of turkeys?) and squawked at us as they roamed the property. One thing you may not know about Guatemala is that 40% of the people are indigineous. There were parts of Guatemala that spoke in tribal languages, rather than Spanish. There was a traditional dish called Kak’ik, which is a spicy turkey soup. Our resort served its own, homemade Kak’ik with the wild turkeys they raise right there on the property. As a vegetarian, I didn’t try any but Patrick and Sammi said it was delicious! This random place we found to stay for the night served some of the best food we had in Guatemala (except the Macadamia Nut Farm #neverforget). We put on our matching Gallo hats (reminder: WE LOVE MATCHING!) and had a few birthday Gallos outside.



Birthday feast-esta (This is a fiesta pun. Is that coming through?)


Kak’ik-ing up with the Kardashians


Never been more thankful for a window.


They’re simply the best. Better than all the rest.


As it turned to night, we moved inside and continued our bestie fun by a wood-burning fireplace. Our waiter for the evening, Miguel aka Mike, was the sweetest. It was our entire experience that Guatemalan men are super polite and respectful. We were never catcalled, approached, or bothered in any way. Over the course of the evening, we grew to love Mike more and more. We were thankful he didn’t speak any English so we could practice our Spanish. And, with a few Gallos in us, we were feeling more confident than ever in our team’s ability to speak Spanish. “I feel like we know enough Spanish to ask questions, but not always enough to understand the answers,” Sammi observed. “Okay, team!” I declared before every interaction with Mike, “I’m going to ask some questions and I need all ears on deck for the answers!” Together, we could usually figure it out. Our Spanish was taken to new heights as we asked for wood (madera) to burn in the fire, and to arrange a surprise at midnight for Patrick’s birthday. We couldn’t believe the vocab words that were coming back to us. Thanks, Gallo!


What would Usher do? Let it burn.


Mike was sweet and helpful and got us everything we could ever ask for. He was on board for our midnight surprise. We told him our plan was to stay up till midnight to ring in Patrick’s birthday, and then we would go to bed. We sat around the fire for hours, laughing, chatting, translating, admiring Mike (and Guatemalan men, in general), and bonding. It was the best.


Fireside chats


Birthday boy’s birthday joy


After a delicious dinner, we had another round of Gallos and then were pretty exhausted. It was only 10 PM. We realized, unfortunately, there was no way we were going to make it to midnight. Patrick promised us he was not disappointed and was excited to start more birthday fun in the morning on his actual birthday. We pulled Mike aside so Patrick wouldn’t hear, and explained to him that we were not going to make it to midnight after all, so the surprise was off, and thanked him, verbally and financially, for everything he had done for us. On the way to our beds, Patrick made us promise we could sleep through the night and we wouldn’t wake him up at midnight. It would be his birthday all day (“It’s the day all day!”) and we had an early hike in the cloud forest to try to catch a glimpse of that sweet, resplendent Quetzal, afterall. We promised and went to bed.


Our home for the night.


“I’ve never slept in a room of this shape.” – Dr. Patrick Marti


IMAGINE OUR SHOCK, when we awoke to a knock on the door at midnight. We were all terrified. We had no idea what time it was or who would be knocking on our secluded cabin door. It was Mike in his pajamas with a cake and a crew, serenading Patrick in Spanish. It was jarring. We thanked him profusely, and realized our Gallofied Spanish was not as good as we had thought. He had not understood our request to cancel the surprise. But he had understood our request for a midnight surprise! Go team! We all went back to bed and fell asleep laughing.


The next morning, we awoke and gave Patrick our present! Those of you who know Patrick (and/or followed his viral #tayoftheday on Tik Tok — check it out @og_marti_parti), know he is #craycrayfortaytay. That is to say: The man is in love with Taylor Swift. (Aren’t we all?) As fate would have it, the one and only TAYLOR SWIFT had cryptically announced that she was releasing SOMETHING on April 26, 2019. However, she gave no indication of what it was. April 26th was just 2 days after our beloved Patrick’s birthday! We were excited to all be together in Guatemala for this exciting release! Based on Taylor’s Instagram messaging and colour-schemes, we knew it had to be one of two things: She was either releasing new music OR she was opening a boutique clothing store in upstate New York. Desperate for a new Taylor Swift album, we gambled on new music and got Patrick an iTunes gift card so he could get whatever it was. (SIDE BAR: IT WOULD TURN OUT TO BE LEADING US ALL TO HER 7TH ALBUM, “LOVER,” WHICH IS THE BEST.) Our girl Swift was SO good at Easter Eggs that she planned a new music video for her single “Me!” to be released THE WEEK OF EASTER. Are you kidding me? Easter eggs on Easter week?! The woman is a genius.


He never goes out of style.


After a birthday breakfast, we went hiking in the GORGEOUS cloud forest across the street. It was genuinely across the street. I highly recommend Ram Tzul as a place to stay if you’re ever in Guatemala! Ask for “Mike.” We chatted as we made our way up through the cloud forest, keeping our eyes open for quetzals and other critters. The cloud forest was called “Biotopo del Quetzal,” after all. We were optimistic.



On the top of the world, looking down on creation.


Not a bad way to start one’s 36th year, eh?


We only saw one quetzal, sadly, and it was the taxidermied one in the information center at the end of the hike. But even in death, it was resplendent as ever.


RIP: Resplendent in Peace


How do you top a birthday morning in a cloud forest?! A birthday evening in a bat cave, of course!


About to get batty,


2. Guatemala? More like GuateBUENA!

23 Apr

Hello, adventure-loving blog readers! It’s Helen (sometimes aka’d on here as Bel, Bella, Hen) here to blog about all things Guatemala! Guata-fun surprise! With a loose itinerary of what we wanted to see in Guatemala for the next few days, we picked up our rental car and (after very carefully detailing every single scratch and dent it had on a piece of paper) hit the road!

We could not have been happier with our rental truck! It was a big and sturdy 5-speed, with 4-wheel drive and air conditioning, and it had the most ridiculously good fuel economy of all time. We were blown away. It was also the perfect place to let our birds fly.

“Wow! You really get a fantastic view of the birds back here.” – Sammi


We were off to the races! The roads leaving Antigua were gorgeous: Wide and paved, with a very clear speed limit. The birds weren’t the only ones flying, am I right? I’m wrong! As it turns out, Guatemalan roads have massive speed bumps every so often to keep you (me) in check, even in the middle of highways. They would often appear out of nowhere and the first few took us by surprise. Sammi was in the back seat and squeaked every time we hit one. It was a learning curve (or a learning bump), if you will.

We made the 4 hour drive to Salama through winding, narrow, mountainous roads with only one brief scuffle. Every time we passed through a town, our stop-happy, bird-loving passenger in the back seat would request a stop. “You two really should see the birds from back here. You’re not going to believe it. OOOH! Is that a town?? Pull over!!” However, parking in the towns proved to be tricky with our massive truck. We made a few futile attempts to stop at adorable towns (one of which had an outdoor, public foosball table — my dream scenario!), but we couldn’t seem to make the parking happen. It was like a duller version of “Speed” where we still couldn’t stop but for very different reasons. It’s a bad analogy because we were super safe. Not like poor Sandy and Keanu. #dodgedthatBullock #sweetReevlief

We stopped at the first restaurant we saw with a parking lot. It wasn’t exactly what we hoped it would be. After ordering nachos, fries, and guacamole, we were surprised with what came to the table.

Not our dream chip to guac ratio.


Not a macadamia nut in sight.


We made a few more stops for ice cream, of course, and fuel. As the driver, I was alarmed. Back in the States, Bam (Sammi) and I both drive adorable, matching, manual Mini Coopers (We told you in the last blog, we LOVE matching). They’re fuel-efficient and adorable. After driving a beast of a truck up and down mountains, through winding roads and villages, for 4 hours with the air-con blasting the entire time, I was worried that the fuel gauge had barely moved. I started to talk about the gas tank as much as Bam was talking about the birds. “Just a fuel update from the driver, we still have a full tank. Seems like something is off because we’ve been driving for hours.” Having a science teacher in the group — shout out to Patrick, aka Dr. Marti — we decided to conduct an experiment. Pull over at the next gas station (that has ice cream, claro) and fill her up to see if the gauge is wrong. What we learned is that you cannot pump your own gas in Guatemala (gracias a todos), and that the gauge was dead on. This beast of a truck was barely using any fuel as it hauled us up (often in 3rd gear) and down mountains. We were amazed. We celebrated over ice cream and stretched our legs.

Pro Tip: Here’s something I’ve learned from traveling with Sammi over the years. The availability of ice cream is a pretty good (and delicious) indicator of how developed a nation is. Keeping ice cream cold requires a lot of electricity. Transporting ice cream to sell at roadside stands/gas stations/etc. requires vehicles with the ability to keep the ice cream cold in transit and the infrastructure to easily move ice cream about the country. Ice cream in Guatemala was available everywhere; we were on a mission to try as much of it as possible. Bam took over driving and from the back, I have to admit, the birds were stunning. Patrick, our faithful navigator, was in the front seat directing us to Salama.

Roadside views


We arrived at Salama right as the sun was setting and it was beautiful. However, it was a much more bustling town than Antigua had been and, once again, we really struggled to find parking. Here’s a fun twist: we also really struggled to find a place to stay. Everywhere on no longer existed (Pro Tip: When you travel abroad, download the country’s map in You’ll be able to use GPS without an internet for WiFI connection. It’s terrific but be warned: The hotels aren’t always where they say they are in Salama.) Eventually, we pulled over and I hopped out to ask someone in Spanish if they knew where any hotels were and sure enough, we were about 50 feet from one. Huzzah! Patrick and I left Sammi in the car (with the doors locked) and walked the 50 feet to check out the hotel. It had no identifying marks on the outside to let us know it was a hotel, but it was real! And they had a parking lot! Musica a nuestras orejas!

Hidden but private hotel parking with a sign you can’t see after dark


Upon checking in, we immediately noticed something odd about our hotel room’s bathroom. We had to go through the shower to get to the toilet. Bold design choice.

Hello from the other side.


We were happy to be parked, situated, and checked in to our hotel before the sun had finished setting. The night was young! We went exploring Salama and found more gorgeous churches and, you know it, delicious street food in the town square.

Small business owner


In the town square, we sat and enjoyed our street food which was 10/10 delicious. Salama had the best street food in Guatemala. There. I said it. As we sat, we were surrounded by stray dogs, interested in a wee bite of the goods. You can feed them (it’s hard not to want to) but reminder: Don’t pet them.

Our guide book had told us there would be comedores all over the country, where you could stop and get a hot meal for a good deal. We love a good deal. They were essentially diners or small restaurants that were often on the side of the owner’s house that featured a fixed menu of exactly one meal. Salama was the place to try it. Upon entering the comedor, we were nervous. The entire restaurant was full of hungry police officers and Bam and I were the only women in the comedor who weren’t working. Initially, we were nervous. But as it turns out, Guatemalans are polite and welcoming to foreigners. At the comedor, we learned that it is tradition to say “Buen Provecho” (Spanish version of Bon Appetit) to everyone at your table at the start of a meal. We also learned it’s traditional to say it to anyone you see sitting down, enjoying a meal. As the police officers started to leave the restaurant, they all passed our table and said “Buen Provecho!” respectfully to us.

You’re under a restful watch.


“I have an idea,” said Patrick. “Every time we have a meal together, let’s say ‘buen provecho’ no matter where we are in the world.” Such a cute idea but I’d say we’ve managed to nail it for < 1% of meals outside of Guatemala. Let’s raise those numbers, people!

“Cause you’re once, twice, three times a meal.” The Commodores at a comedor.


The next morning, we explored the Salama under the sun! It was a beautiful town with exciting energy. We walked the streets until we saw what we’re always looking for, delicious street food. We found the perfect spot for breakfast. It was an adorable stand run by a father and son and it was bustling! We got in line and ordered what everyone was having (but he happily made one without meat for me) and sat down with the locals to enjoy it. A business man sat next to us and gave us a smooth “buen provecho,” reminding us of the pact we had made and forgotten the night before. We ate and people watched until the cutest scene unfolded before us in Spanish: The business man asked the boy to put salsa on his breakfast and the boy accidentally spilled it all over the man’s trousers. The man laughed and good-naturedly joked in Spanish “I meant on the meal! Not on me!” The wee boy laughed, blushed, and handed him some napkins. We all laughed together. It was such a sweet exchange.


Best breakfast spot in Salama. “Sin carne, por favor?”


As we wandered through the town, we saw the cutest Gallo hats at a stand. We told Patrick he needed to get one because it was the day before his birthday #birthdayeve and they were so cute on him! Obviously, Patrick knows there is no better present than MATCHING your besties, so we ended up getting 3 matching, though individualized, Gallo hats. #welovematching #happyalmostbirthdaypatrick #weareteacher #wearebirthday


Matching in the sun. That is what we are.


We made it back to the hotel ready to check out and hit the road only to find our truck surrounded by motos. It was an adorable problem. After waiting for about 3 minutes, perplexed about our next move, the motorcyclists came one by one and took them away as if summoned by our confusion. Gracias a todos.

Stuck in the middle with you.


And just like that, we were on to our next stop, a hike to a waterfall outside of Salama. We spent half an hour driving up and down the main street of a tiny town looking for the trailhead. Every time we asked for directions, we were once again told it was in the opposite direction. Were they all telling the truth again? Were there multiple trailheads? Kids were chasing after our truck, offering to be our guides on the hike for money. We were nervous. Our guide book had warned us that Guatemalans are untrusting of white people around their kids, afraid they would take them home never to be seen again. After asking a few more adults, we finally found the trailhead and encountered an interesting Dutch couple, Alexander and Katarina, who had just finished the hike. They had just made their way to Guatemala after traveling for 18 months all over the US and Mexico, while living in their van. They warned us about bandits, telling us to keep a few small bills in the front of the car and hide everything else for when we’re inevitably stopped by bandits and told we cannot pass without giving them money. That would prove to be the biggest PRO TIP of the trip. Generously, they gave us a tour of their home, which was a converted van, and showed us all of the features. It was incredible.

Depending on the weather, they had option to sleep on the roof in the tent rather than in the mattress in the back.


All you need is love. (And a mini kitchen with some bonus storage and filtered water.)


Before we said goodbye to our new Dutch friends, we asked them a few questions about the hike. How long did it take? What was the difficulty level? Was there somewhere to swim on the way? They said the most challenging part was not missing the entrance to the trail that leads to the waterfall. “There’s a horse trail and a human trail. It’s a left with a tiny bridge. Make sure you go left.”

We began our hike meticulously evaluating every possible left turn. “Is this it? Wait, is this the horse trail?” Patrick, thankfully, chose our left wisely and we found the tiny bridge! It was a stunning hike with gorgeous views. We spent our hike playing a fun game idea in honour of Patrick’s pending birthday. As he was turning 36 the next day, he kicked the game off telling us what he had done on his 35th birthday, then 34th, then 33rd, and then 32nd. At that point, I shared what I did for my 32nd birthday (as I was a few days away from turning 33) and then Sammi jumped in for the round of our 31st birthdays. Once everyone was in the game, we took turns for each year as far back as we can remember. I think we only got to 18 before we made it back from the hike. Try this game at home!

Hike views




You must be the horse trail.


Best friends! 🙂




All together now 🙂


With the hike completed, we were onto our next mission: Find the perfect place to wake up on Patrick’s birthday. And spoiler alert: BOY DID WE!

Stay tuned,

1. Guatemala? More like GuateBUENA!

21 Apr

Two of my best friends, Patrick and Helen (pictured above), have birthdays in April just a few days apart! I guess I’m a sucker for a Taurus. We decided it would be fun to go on a trip over their birthday week to a country none of us had ever been to before. After careful consideration, it came down to South Korea or Guatemala… and Guatemala had better flights from Pittsburgh.  The plane Helen and I took from Atlanta to Guatemala City was delayed, which meant some fun lounge perks #livelaughlounge, and when Bel and I finally landed in Guatemala, it was after 1 AM. We were advised not to spend any time in Guatemala City, so we immediately took an Uber (thanks, airport WiFi!) to Antigua, a gorgeous city about an hour to the west. Our Uber driver, Jennifer, was sweet and helpful. She stopped at a 24 hour convenience store so we could buy bottles of water and asked us, in Spanish, if we minded if she stopped to get gas later on our drive. No problema! The 1 hour uber, including a generous tip, was $22 dollars. We were thrilled. Less thrilled was our Air BnB host, with whom we had been communicating all night as our flight kept getting more and more delayed. She was very patient and kind but clearly exhausted when we arrived after 2 AM. As we drove through Antigua in the middle of the night, we were shocked to see this old city (“antigua” straight up means old in Spanish) was bumping. There was a festival happening in the streets with vendors of food, souvenirs, and keepsakes as far as the eye could see. The fiesta was going strong. We were muy impressed. After being greeted by our very patient, very tired Air BnB host, we received a quick tour and matching locally-made bracelets (WE LOVE MATCHING!!) and immediately went to sleep.

Our home for the night.

The next morning we woke up excited as can be. It was our first day in Guatemala and PATRICK was joining us! Patrick had booked us a 3 person room in La Cucaracha Hostel (which, despite the name, turned out to be lovely) and he was meeting us there at 2 PM. We had all morning to walk across town to meet him. Patrick is a very savvy traveler, as avid readers of the blog will know — we met many years ago in the Peace Corps in Jamaica and have gone on many travel adventures together since. He opted to use this trip to Guatemala as an excuse to be technology-free for 8 days and didn’t bring his phone on the trip. I repeat, he didn’t bring his phone on the trip. Not for the planes, not for the layover in Mexico City, not for the maps, not for Uber, not for photos. He was a man off the grid. We made our way to the hostel early as were quite keen to meet up with him and to our delight and surprise, he was already there. “Patrick? He just checked in…” the concierge told us. He lead us back to our room and there was our Patrick, phonelessly reading a book on the bed. Helen and I often joke that spending time with Patrick is like reading a book. We walk away learning so much. This time, it was about Nonviolent Communication. Ladies, he’s single.

Found him!


After spending some time catching up in our room, we got ready to hit the streets on a crucial mission: find sunblock and ice cream. In Guatemala, the day between Good Friday and Easter is referred to as Black Saturday. As if living in a spoiler-free world, we joined the Guatemalans in wearing black in mourning of Jesus, who had died 1 day (and 1986 years) before. We had to hold off on our colorful clothes until the following day, when we could celebrate the news of the resurrection. Again, “news” being a surprising word choice. #1986yearslater We walked around the streets of Antigua and were blown away by the art. In celebration of Easter, murals had been made with dyed sawdust, stenciled on the ground into (usually) floral masterpieces. They were breathtaking.


Making a masterpiece.

Always be stenciling.


The processions (word to the wise: do not call them parades) marched through the streets and walked directly through the sawdust. Once the processions had gone through, volunteers were immediately out behind them sweeping up the trampled sawdust. These street murals were designed to be temporary.




When the Virgin Mary tramples your masterpiece


We wanted to make sure we had a rundown of the processions, so Helen asked strangers on the street, in Spanish, what time and where the processions were taking place. Every person gave us a different answer. We were very confused. We had read in our guide book that Guatemalans often will give you an answer rather than saying they don’t know. We assumed we were experiencing exactly that until we discovered there were MULTIPLE processions starting from multiple different churches. That’s when it dawned on us. Ooooh. Everyone we asked was telling the truth. GuateBUENA, indeed. As it turned out, there was a procession that marched directly in front of our hostel at 4 PM and there was a candlelit vigil #RIPJC at 8 PM in the middle of town.

We went off on an adventure and found the most delicious ice cream that looked like a frozen, upside down “Fruit on the Bottom” yogurt cup. It was DELICIOUS.

“I don’t know what this is, but I want to always have one in my hand.”


We wandered the beautiful streets of Antigua and saw many more stunning floor murals. The streets were alive with food vendors, natives, tourists from all over central America, and TV stations broadcasting live from the square. When it comes to Easter weekend, Antigua is THE place to be. We were all startled by how POLITE Guatemala was. As we stood in a square surrounded by hundreds of people, we couldn’t believe how quiet it was. “I’ve been in groups of 4 that are louder than this.” We were confused. Was this silence usual or was it out of respect for the somber nature of the day? We would soon find out Guatemala is just a very polite and quiet country. Even the ambulances would pass with their lights on but no sirens and would honk when only absolutely necessary.

In addition to the sawdust murals, streets were lined with enormous, themed vignettes — depicting different scenes from the life (and death) of Jesus and homages to the Virgin Mary — that would be motorized in a parade in the USA. But of course, this wasn’t a parade (never forget) and we weren’t in the USA. Underneath the vignettes, were a couple dozen women holding the weight on their shoulders, getting ready to march it through the streets of Antigua.



We ended up in front of the biggest church in the middle of a town square just before its procession was about to start. Marching bands (primarily consisting of different sized drums) were playing ominous music that felt appropriately like dirges. Mass was happening inside the church and, as as soon as it let out, the women started marching their tribute to the Virgin Mary around the square, one wobbly step at a time to the rhythm of the drums, before they went and onward throughout the city and made the loop back. It was 3 PM when the parade #dontcallitthat started, we’d later see them at the halfway point, passing the church with the candlelit vigil at 8 PM. These women were volunteers — members of the church who were honored to be selected for this duty.

Once we had watched them go around the block, we hung back for the 40 minutes it took them to walk up the street, and found a place to sit and eat some street food. We love street food. Street food safety tip: Look for places with high turnover. You don’t want to eat food that has been sitting in the sun for too long. Places with long lines usually move lots of food quickly. That’ll ensure you’re getting the freshest possible street food.

Delicious. And she even made a vegetarian sandwich for Helen!


So nice, we had it twice.


We hung back for a long time to give Mary a head start, and started back towards our hostel, eating anything delicious looking on the route. We came across a particularly delicious taco stand in a parking lot. Patrick and I wanted tacos but Bel couldn’t have them because they had carne. The taco stand advertised “2 TACOS!” and that was exactly what we wanted! A taco each! We ordered the 2 tacos but didn’t realize until they arrived that each order came with 2 tacos. We had 4 tacos. What a delicious accident. The tacos were INCREDIBLE. One of the tricks for staying cool on a hot summer day in Guatemala is enjoying a Choco Banana, which is just a frozen banana dipped in chocolate. (“There’s always money in the banana stand.”) Helen asked the man running the taco stand if he knew where she could get a Choco Banana while we ate our tacos. He told her the price and asked her for some quetzal (Guatemalan currency), and he sent his kids on a mission to get one from a stand somewhere else in the market. They came back with the Choco Banana and the change. Guatemala is a well-oiled machine.

Full of choco and tacos, we made our way through the shops in the market and came across the BEST SHOP OF ALL TIME: One with a rack full of birds, hand-made from beads. They were GORGEOUS. We were overwhelmed. If we had known the word “resplendent” at the time, we would have used it. There were so many birds to see, with varied color schemes. It was joyous. I entered the store and sat down and looked at each and every bird while Helen and Patrick sat on a bench just across from the entrance. Every so often, I’d call them in to show them the favorites I had narrowed down from hundreds. Just as I was about to make my selection, the woman who owned the store pulled out another basket of birds for me to sift through. “Sam, do you see that she’s getting more birds out?” Patrick called from the bench. She wanted to make sure I got the right bird. Eventually, we knew what we had to do: get 3 matching birds.

This is the one, right?


With our birds in hand, we headed back to the hostel for a nap. We were so proud of our birds. We couldn’t wait to show them off. Helen laid them on the bed and took a picture to send to her girlfriend, Victoria. I took it from her hand. “You can’t send her this picture, it’s hideous!” We spent longer than you’d think staging the birdfect photo.

The Chosen Ones


Whew! Feeling accomplished, we went out on the town! It was still only 6 PM and we wanted to circle back to a bar / restaurant that had advertised LIVE MUSIC! We wandered the streets until we found it and ended up in an adorable outdoor space with twinkle lights and a guy playing an acoustic guitar.

Hanging with the locals


The waiter came over and asked us what we’d like to drink. “What’s your favorite local beer?” Helen asked him in Spanish.” He looked excited, “Gallo!” And with that, we ordered 3 bottles of Gallo, a Guatemalan beer brewed in Guatemala City. It was delicious. Thanks to that enthusiastic waiter, Gallo would be our drink of choice for the rest of the trip.

Once we had finished our Gallos, we headed back to the streets to see the festival and the candlelit vigil at 8 PM. There was a singer, standing outside of the church, and hundreds of people watching as the same Virgin Mary vignette went through. Many people were crying as the Virgin Mary passed. We could not believe we had lived a full Antiguan adventure and these women were still carrying their Mary through the streets. They were officially at the end of their route and now had to make the 4 hour voyage back to the church where they started. We were exhausted for them.



The vibe of Antigua had completely changed at night. We meandered through the streets on our way back home.

Ta’cool for Ta’school


Once we were safely back in our room, Patrick and Helen chose their sleeping arrangements and I was SHOCKED. There were 2 bunk beds and a queen mattress. Helen and Patrick took the bunk beds, leaving me ALONE in the BIGGEST BED. “I’ve never heard anyone complain about getting the biggest bed before.” – Patrick

“Aww! We share everything!” “Sure…Except beds.”


The next day, we awoke to the good news: JESUS HAD RISEN! We took our breakfast coffees, eggs, fruit, and (lots of) Nutella to the roof and did some reading about Guatemala. We had some research to do to figure out where we would be spending the rest of our trip. Once the breakfast spread had been taken away, Patrick would occasionally run out to get us more street food. We each took on a few regions of Guatemala in the guide book (which was written by former Peace Corps volunteers!) and gave a summary of what that region had to offer. The region we chose would really determine the nature of the rest of our trip.

Breakfast cutie


Rooftop views


After reading (and snacking) for a few hours, we had finally come to a consensus: Every region of Guatemala has a lot to offer. We highly recommend this country. We chose the central region full of natural wonders, bat caves, hikes, cloud forests, and quaint towns. We decided to rent a car to best explore a region, as all of the sights were spread out. After all, a trip to Semuc Champey was a 14-hour bus ride, one-way, down a very bumpy mountain. We thought we had best take that into our own hands. (Pro tip: if you’re renting a car in Guatemala, make sure it has 4-wheel drive.)

Rooftalk the red-nosed reindeer. Oops, that’s Christmas. This was Easter. Where are the Easter songs?


From the rooftop, we could hear people singing “When The Saints Go Marching In” in Spanish! There were celebrations in the streets! And we knew exactly how we wanted to celebrate: By visiting A MACADAMIA NUT FARM. Luckily for us, we were just one town away from one. We called an Uber from our hostel but couldn’t get it due to all of the Easter parades. There were more sawdust masterpieces on the ground, but they didn’t slow us down. We decided to walk away from the city in the direction of the macadamia farm to get a head start on calling an Uber, but we didn’t have any internet service once we left or hostel. Eventually, we stopped in the entry of another Hostel to use their WiFIand they were SO helpful. Shout out to 3 Monkeys Hostel in Antigua. We got our Uber and were a short 20 minute drive from DELICIOUSNESS.


Upon arrival, we were offered a free (gratis!) tour and jumped at the chance to learn about macadamia nuts. First, we learned about the trees and the limited number of countries that grow macadamia trees in the world. Then, we learned all about harvesting of the nuts. You never pick them from the trees, you only gather them once they have fallen. Prepare yourself for a photo lesson.


The wheel removes the skin from the nut


Then we slide them down this ramp, which sorts them into bins of like-sized macadamia nuts




We fell in love with the Valhalla Macadamia Farm. The shade from the macadamia trees made the farm a cool, welcomed change from the past few days of wandering the hot streets of Antigua. They had all sorts of macadamia nut products for sale: batter for pancakes, macadamia nut chocolate, everything you could imagine. As well as a philosophy we could all get behind:

Como se dice “Preach!”?


A bathroom with an obvious love for potted plants.


After the tour, we sat down to look at the delicious menu (which I recommend checking out: which features the macadamia nut in every single dish. We had no choice but to order 4 dishes to share (Minus the chicken, sorry Helen), it was a holiday after all! We got roasted chicken with macadamia nut BBQ sauce, white chocolate macadamia nut pancakes, macadamia nut-filled ravioli with macadamia nut pesto, and a macadamia-breaded eggplant sandwich with caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and a honey-mustard dressing. We were beside ourselves with joy. We love Easter Sunday.



After a few hours of eating, chatting, and trying not to pet the dog at our feet (Pro tip: Don’t touch animals in foreign countries), we headed back to Antigua for a night on the town! The festival was still bumping and we were ready to explore.  Antigua sure knows how to celebrate a resurrection! We walked through the streets with our eyes peeled and our hearts open, ready to see whatever called to us. Our first stop was in Vagamundo, another hostel, which had live music playing in the back. A 6-piece band comprising of horns, drums, guitars, and a piano was JAMMING. This was exactly the vibe we were looking for. We made ourselves at home and did some more research for our upcoming week. When the time was right, we moved on and explored some outdoor markets. It was overstimulating. We walked around the square and looked at (read: tried) all of the street food. There were booths with candy, jewelry, games, everything you could think of. We dipped into a pub to explore with full intentions of leaving quickly and taking in more of the festival. We spent a bit of time watching a soccer match, laughing, figuring out our ratios, and ordering Gallo like the locals. Unfortunately, we must have been at the tail-end of the festivities because as soon as we came out of the pub, everything had been taken down and packed up as if we had dreamt it there an hour before.

El gallo mas gallo.


We are the Three Amigos, and Amigos forever we’ll be.



We went to bed in our beloved hostel, excited to wake up early and get to our rental truck in order to hit that Guatemalan road.

Hasta pronto,