Ready or not, Minneapolis, here I come. I touch down in 28 hours- get the riot gear.
On the way from Xela to Antigua, there is the little town called Pastores, where nearly every shop for a kilometer sells boots. I've wanted to stop and take a look around for months, but never had the time until a few weeks ago. After the success of my first pair of handmade boots, I found two photos on the internet of boots I wanted made, but was unable to get a response from the boot shop I used previously. Instead, we drove down to Pastores, and wandered around with the photos until someone agreed to make my shoes. The variety in the shops was astonishing. You want pink snakeskin boots with green accents? Done. Stilettos, wedges, wooden heels, you call it, they make it. Pointy toe, rounded toe, open toe, metal toe to kick shins? No problem. It was almost as fun to look at their creations as it was to order my own.
My boots came back yesterday and they are lovely. Neither are quite exact replicas, but both pairs are comfortable and well made and beautiful. They will make an appearance soon if I can find someone kind enough to take my photo.
Have a great weekend. I will be home, packing and checking things off of my to do list before I fly out on Tuesday.
Has it been a long few weeks for anyone else? Our seniors are graduated and moving on. I have moved offices and am working on making the new one my own. We took several trucks to the mechanic only to have all of them fail the test. The only one that passed the seller chose to keep. My apartment decided to flood every time it rained, which is basically everyday now. I also realized that I have to make two portfolios for grad school, not one. Also, someone stole my peanut butter out of the staff lounge.
Some of these things have been resolved, others not. I was tearing-my-hair-out stressed for some time until I took a deep breath and let it go. Now is not a time to worry. We have two amazing projects coming up shortly for the Darkroom Project, and I am going to see family in exactly one week. A truck will come. A new home will come. The portfolios will get done. It will all get settled, though I doubt my peanut butter is coming back.
If you were to stand in the front, peek in the top four windows, and then enjoy the view from the roof, this is what you'd see:
I'm not sure you noticed, but the guest bed is empty and the panorama from the roof ideal. If you need a little escape, I have exactly the place for you to hide.
Mi casa es su casa.
Sometimes I can't play all day. Sometimes I have to work- and long hours at that. When I know that I'm going to be away from home for a particularly long time, I ask my friend Armando if he can take Dagny for the day. Because they do fun things like go to the doggy spa (really.) and go for rides in the car, he's basically at the top of her friend list.
On Thursday I knew I would have to be at work until after six, so Dags and Armando partied all day. He stopped by my office on his way to a meeting to show me this photo and let me know that Dagny now has her own instagram.
Evidently they were stuck in traffic for an extended period of time, so the pair went for a walk and had a nice chat with some people in the back of a pick-up. Dagny makes friends wherever she goes. To keep up with her while I'm gone, you can find Dagny on adventures @dagnytlohse on instagram.
I am behind in stating my goals as the month is half spent. I didn't make goals for any of the previous months, because I was too busy trying to keep from drowning in the ocean that is grad work. My last class until mid-July ended on May 5th, giving me the time necessary to make a pile of goals:
- Knife skills- Improve them. Become a pro at chopping rapidly without losing a finger.
- Stop motion- Figure it out. Make a little video for the sake of learning the process.
- Vocab- Boost the nouns. Learn ten new words everyday and try to use them in conversations.
- Proper dinner- Eat well. Cheese and crackers is not a well-balanced meal. Try for three meals where sitting down and eating actually happens.
- Work-out- Pump it up. Get up early and actually earn that protein shake instead of being a pansy.
Does anyone else have goals for the last two weeks of May? Don't leave me alone in this!
I am a morning person. I always have, and I always will be. Though I like waking early, do I use the early hours before going to work efficiently? Certainly not, at least until recently. We have a new neighbor in the apartment upstairs that believes mornings are for protein shakes, push ups, sit ups, and squats. Breaking into a new routine is hard, especially for those of us who only understand the concept of a schedule loosely. For the moment, he is in the states doing some work for his non-profit, so I have no required regimen, however, I am still waking earlier that normal and am finding that I enjoy it very much. Dagny still refuses to participate and stays under the covers until I shag her out to use the bathroom. This photo is from Monday morning, when the hot pink sky caught me completely by surprise.
We're already a week and some change into May, but when I found this little gem, it felt just right. The beginning of May brought the end of my last class until July. Do you know what that means? It means that I can paint again, and cook, and play like I mean it- with no guilt. May also brings hope and possibility. We are confirmed for a three week workshop for The Darkroom Project this summer. Confirmed, really. Every time I remember that it is really happening, my pulse races, and I involuntarily smile at the thought of doing exactly what my heart calls for.
I bought my ticket to come back to states for a nice visit and my doctoral residency and now it all feels real. In a month and a few days I'll be able to take my cousin Lindsay out for coffee and give her the time she deserves. I will walk around the lakes in the city, and find happy hour on a patio with my dear friends who love me even though I am far away. I will spend hours cooped up on campus to chip away at my dissertation, commiserating with my colleagues. And then, in between, I'll road trip and teach and give women a voice and celebrate their life through their work.
Yes indeed, all things seem possible in May.
Is anyone else feeling optimistic?
Is Guatemala safe?
I get this question often, mostly from my mother, but a few of you have chimed in as well. The short answer is that Guatemala is like any other place in the world. It carries its own risks, but with a good head on your shoulders, all will be well.
If you don’t have a vehicle of your own, or choose not to rent, you have primarily two options: chicken bus or shuttle. There are many travel agencies that provide shuttles to all of the major destinations in Guatemala. They generally pick you up at your hotel and drop you at your next specific destination. They are often crammed and expensive, but your belongings are safe and it is often a direct route, which is nice. The other option is to take a chicken bus. I usually ride the chicken buses. They are also crowded and noisy and you might actually see a chicken. Seriously. I have never had a bad experience, though you hear of many. Often times bags are tossed on the roof and tied down. They are cheap and worth it for a short adventure. I will hop one from Xela to the lake frequently, which takes about two and a half hours, which is fine. I end up transferring three times, but it’s a nice drive and a fun way to practice Spanish. Would I go eight or ten hours to Tikal. No way. My advice if you’re going to take a chicken bus is to keep your essentials close and enjoy the ride. The ayudantes (the guy who helps the bus driver) will keep an eye on you and let you know when you need to hop off. Try it, I dare you.
There are safer cities, there are more dangerous cities. Have common sense. Don’t walk around talking on your iPhone. If you look like you are carrying expensive items, there is a greater chance that you may have problems. I don’t walk the streets of Guatemala City, as it just isn’t a great idea and cabs are easy to find. I have never been approached, but if you were to be stopped by the ladrones, don’t fight. I promise it is not worth it. Just give them your cash. By the lake, and Antigua, and Xela, I walk nearly everywhere I roam, but with awareness and caution. Ladies, and even Gents, walk with a friend when possible, if the sun has set. It’s that easy.
Don't carry your cash in your pockets. Lock up your passport in the hotel. There is no need to bring more than the essentials. Have fun.
So this gets a bit tricky because it’s a complicated process. I will devote another post to this topic, but to touch on it, if you have to cross the border to renew your visa, I suggest using a travel agency. They do a great job of walking you through the process and are very experienced. To me, it isn’t worth it to take the chicken bus to save a few bucks. Avoid the headache- use an agency.
If you have more specific questions, please ask. But know that I feel safe. I work here, I walk here, I live here. I am aware of my surroundings and don’t take unnecessary risks. My biggest piece of advice is to have common sense and don’t let the fear of the unknown stop you from experiencing the rich culture here. People are kind and compassionate and want to help. If you get lost, ask. As someone passes you on the street, say hello. Don’t miss out on the fun.
It is hard to know where to begin. Strangely enough, it kind of feels like this project created itself. I mean, we've put in a lot of work designing the website, and all of the other aspects, but it feels self-propelled.
I met my friend Matthew through our doctoral program. We began at the same time, though in different cohorts. He has been a solid mirror for me in the last year, reminding me why I choose to stay in this program when I would rather be doing anything else. Through some of our whining, we began discussing exactly what it is we would rather be doing, and now it has a name- The Darkroom Project.
The Darkroom Project is about helping vulnerable populations tell their story. We feel that too often marginalized people groups fall through the cracks and that they are never heard. We believe in giving them a voice, and we are going to do it through photography. Children will learn photography over a two week span and in the meantime, we set them loose, completing photography assignments along way. What is family? What does life look like on a daily basis? The best of their shots will be presented in a gallery showing both in their own country, and the United States- a time for the students to celebrate their work with those they love, and an opportunity for the rest of the world to see an authentic picture of what they go through. All proceeds from purchased photos will go towards funding their education. Additionally, each child will be gifted with a digital camera so they can continue to document their life.
We do not intend to let them go. We believe in creating a family and growing together.
We would love it if you would check us out, get involved, and throw us some feedback. Find us at www.thedarkroomproject.org.
My absence had its place. I needed time for sorting and breathing and digging to see where my roots really led. It is good to remember where passion lies, though it may have been buried by school and busyness and the stresses we were never meant to carry. I say this as we prepare to launch a new project, which brings its own burdens, but this one feels meant to be. Anytime I think about it, my heart feels lighter, and my soul seems to yell, "ahhhh...this is it!"
I found it. I think I've hit my stride again and instead of walking, I'm ready to run. Stand by- we take off on Monday.
- 13 people: 9 divers, 4 vacationers along for the ride
- The oldest members: seventies, the youngest: late twenties
- Transportation: 8 drove, 5 flew (1 from Guatemalan, 4 from the States)
Where we stayed: Sea Breeze Inn
- This hotel was perfect for our purposes. While it may appear to be a bit steep regarding price, we found the cost manageable. Three of us girls shared a four person apartment and thought it was ideal. Each apartment has a kitchen with agua pura, a coffee maker, refrigerator, and any basic cooking utensil necessary. A sweet little bonus was the deck off of each with a hammock and table where we could hang out when we weren't diving.
Our dive shop: Coconut Tree Divers
- I cannot recommend this dive shop enough. They were kind and professional and I felt safe and cared for the entire time we worked with them. I was working on my Open Water Diver certification, and my instructor Tim was excellent. He was fun and engaging, and I left the course confident in the new skills I acquired. The shop was able to accommodate our group both in West Bay, and when we requested to dive Mary's Place, one of the top dive sites in the world. They set us up with another dive shop on the other side of the island, arranged transportation, and granted us use of their gear. We loved the familial feel of the gang working there, and our many afternoons hanging out on the deck having a beer once all the boats were in.
What we ate: Roatan Oasis
- This restaurant was absolutely amazing. The only menu exists on a chalkboard in the dining room with between seven and ten choices for dinner and dessert. The food was fresh and unique, with homemade curries and pastas and flat bread pizzas and I could go on. The attention to detail in spices and combinations brought us back three times. While you are drooling and watching the food come out of the kitchen, you can play pool or foosball, and hang out on their deck. The decor is modern and playful, which absolutely fits the attitude and flavor of the owners. Do not miss it.
If you have any other questions about our trip, I would be happy to help. I can provide more specific tips about traveling by land and other logistics.
I can't wait to return.
Anna, Grandma, and squeezed onto a tiny table to eat our breakfast their first morning in Guatemala. My parents followed closely, and after we wandered the city looking for sandals and finally left for the lake around ten.
Regarding whether or not I am happy here, thank you for your emails and questions and caring. I am happy. I love where I live despite the poor water pressure. I love my job and students and chance I have to adventure at any given moment. It is something that I don't take for granted, I promise. I think that my intent when talking about it a few posts ago was more about what I choose to write. I want to write about traveling and experiencing Guatemala because it is fresh and exciting and a dream come true, but I think that there is a balance of real talk that needs to happen- and I'll get there, I promise. My purpose for writing is so that my mom and Grandma know I'm here and can keep tabs on what's up, but its also for me to remember and reflect. So, brace up, there might be some real talk coming your way. I want to be authentic and genuine, which I have been, but perhaps a bit more raw and gritty as well if the moment requires.
I've received some great emails with questions on expatriation, residency, where I work, and much more, so I'm going to try to answer your questions in a number of posts. Hopefully they will be helpful to those considering Guatemala as home. I also never finished talking about Roatan, and diving. I will answer the questions about where we stayed and provide general details so you can retrace our steps. It was an amazing vacation.
Finally, I have a giant project in the works that has sucked me into a story that is so much bigger and better than the one I was living. If you would like, we will absorb you as well. But, be patient for a minute- we need this week to finish the website and polish off some of the rough edges.
When my family was visiting, fresh off the plane and feeling grimy, I knew that there was only one place I wanted to take them for dinner. Izakaya is located in Antigua, Guatemala and calling it a hidden treasure is an understatement. The food is mainly tapas, all Japanese, with a few larger plates mixed in. At this point, after five trips, I think I've tasted the entire menu and not been disappointed.
The atmosphere in Izakaya is ideal for a quiet dinner, with candlelit tables and warm ambiance. The owners/chefs fly in and out of the exposed kitchen to offer advice on the menu and then later to see how the food is received at the tables in the dining room. They are completely charming. While the dining room is beautiful, the best seat is at the low bar watching Gabriel and Lorena prepare the food and listen as the two banter and bicker and love while they prepare the meal. Watching the plate creation makes it more than a meal, but you feel like part of a bigger story that has been years in the making. For us, it was the perfect first dinner to begin our trip together as a family, and such an enchanting welcome to Guatemala.
If you are interested in visiting, you can check out their tripadvisor page here.
My family has come and gone. My grad work was late, then extended, and finally completed. My sleep cycle app tells me that my sleep quality was at 54% last night, the best its been in weeks. That is not good, but I will take improvement where I can get it.
I have many words for you about the visit with my family- the photo above was taken one evening as we lounged by the lake and dipped into the chilly water. I will eventually write about the little Japanese restaurant and Antigua, and the home that stands over the lake, but it will have to wait for now. In many ways I feel that all of my words have been expended. I feel the need to sort out why I write, and my purpose for the blog. It is an outlet, of course, but I want to be authentic, and I'm just not sure I'm hitting the mark. My friend Steph emailed, commenting that I'm always waxing poetic, and she was wondering how I am really doing.
The things that I write are true, but tailored from time to time. I want to drag you into this experience with me, with the good and the bad, perhaps leaving out the ugly in order to reach the delicate balance necessary.
I welcome your thoughts as I clearly do not have a grip on this.
But my family made it! We ate Japanese, are getting ready for bed, and excited to head to the lake after wandering Antigua.
Well, I did. My photo was taken, my information sent, and I am now a certified Open Water Diver. Bam. I had a scratchy throat on Tuesday and by yesterday morning, it had morphed into a full on cold. That means that it was nearly impossible for me to equalize my ears and my brain felt like it was going to explode on my dives. But- I did it. I was able to finish my skills and still have two pleasant dives where we saw barracudas and squid, and more beautiful fish that I can count. We also cruised under the glass bottom boat and waved at the passengers.
Tomorrow we are diving a wreck and Mary's Place, one of the top dive sites in the world.
Diving has been a treat. I feel like the door has been opened to a new world full of possibilities. However, while diving has been great, the weather has not. The ocean has been naughty as of late and dives have been cancelled and rescheduled, making it a little tricky to finish my course. Watching a storm descend upon the ocean is a spectacle. Seeing the power of waves and water reminds me of just how small I am. I find it equal parts exhilarating and terrifying.
Does anyone else have moments in nature that make them feel this way, or is it just me?
My first morning was spent in the classroom, watching safety videos. Exciting stuff, let me tell you. But- things picked up in the afternoon when we got to practice basic skills in the shallows like flooding the mask, and breathing off of an alternative air source. The first time you take a breath underwater, it feels like you are getting away with something. And then your mind goes to a place of- this can't be happening, but it is happening, and I'm breathing and there's a fish, and I'm still alive. It was completely exhilarating.
In the afternoon we went for a 40ft. dive and concentrated on playing and having fun. We hit a patch of sand and took off our fins and tried running and doing flips. The entire time I marveled about breathing underwater and felt like a superhero. The fish were beautiful, the coral was beautiful, all was beautiful.