After 6 weeks of living here, followed by two trips of departure to visit Northern Guatemala, Belize and El Salvador, we finally arrived at our last two weeks of living in Panajachel, Guatemala. Our almost 3-month adventure was coming to an end, so we had to savor every last moment, and squeeze in all the things we hadn’t done yet, and repeat the things we loved.
(Click below right to read more . . . )
11. Leaving wonderful expat friends
12. Loading up the car to overflowing again and testing the van’s suspension system to the limit
1. Seeing the “alfombras” or street carpets of Semana Santa – Easter is a very big deal Guatemala. In fact, the largest celebration of Easter in the world happens just down the road in Antigua. Luckily, all the festivities that have been made famous in Antigua actually happen all over Guatemala, including in Panajachel, so we didn’t have to brave the insane crowds, going elsewhere. The tradition is to decorate the streets in patterns and pictures with colored sawdust and fruit and leaves, a bit like the rose parade floats, but flat on the street. Then the processions come through, with throngs of people slowly walking down the street, trampling all the carpets, following a large heavy float of Christ with the cross, carried on the shoulders of the villagers. Sometimes there is an accompanying band with a truck and speaker system. The carpets are beautiful to look at, and the devotees are pious and faithful.
2. Watching all the sessions of General Conference at the lake house – Since our Airbnb house was rented for the weekend of Easter, and having returned from our trip to El Salvador, the Kelly’s graciously extended an invitation to spend two nights at their Lake house to watch General Conference with them. It was a lovely weekend, tranquil and spiritual, full of conference and sharing meals and reading with a gorgeous view of the lake.
3. Climbing the Acetenango Volcano (see post #20) – This deserved a post all of its own.
4. A lake Atitlan village tour to San Juan and San Marcos – We hopped in a “lancha” or lake taxi with the Bytheway family and some accompanying Kelly and Jensen friends. Our guide was the intrepid Josh Jensen, and he guided us through San Juan, an artsy town with a very local flair. We stopped at a local art gallery, a medicinal herb garden and market, a local artisan weaving cooperative and store, and a local chocolate factory, all of which had demonstrations with local English-speaking demonstrators. It was a fun and interesting and I even bought two local shirts, which properly bled the dye all over my undershirt after a rainy evening.
5. Jumping off the “trampolin” or platform and swimming in the lake – After visiting the local lake town and a lunch of curry and chips and salsa, we headed to the natural reserve park, which had a platform built in the side of the hill, jutting out over the lake at a height of about 30 feet. All who dared changed into their swimsuits and we spent an hour jumping out into the lake. A few of the most daring did backflips and gainers, but most of us just jumped feet first.
6. Final Cultiva Box-building day – We spent one final day with the Bytheway, Jensen and Kelly families going out to build more garden boxes for local families. Cultiva had planned a big day, and we completed 11 boxes - complete with chicken wire fence to keep the animals out, and a fully planted 15 section garden box to help families grow and eat nutritious food. It is a charity that we love and will continue to support.
7. Family music Recital at Solomon’s Porch café – As we customarily do to help with the kids’ practicing goals, we planned and held a family music recital. We had some new music that the kids had learned and practiced while in Guatemala, and we also included some old favorites. We were happy to include the Kelly kids in some of our fiddling group numbers and in the premier of the kids’ musical rendition of “A Million Dreams” from The Greatest Showman
8. Finishing the “Million Dreams” recording and video and posting to youtube – A few weeks into our Guatemala stay, Nathan decided to arrange this song for piano, cello, violin, bass, guitar, percussion and ukulele. During the last few weeks in Guatemala, the kids learned it and recorded it in the home sauna which became the home “recording studio”. The kids spent dozens and dozens of hours recording each individual instrument, then arranging and editing the piece with recording studio software until it was almost professional studio quality. In addition to making the recording, the kids also made a video, complete with drone video shots, onion field panoramas, and ensemble playing. The video and audio recording was a labor of love that consumed almost 150 hours in the last few weeks, but when the final version was played, it was an awesome culmination of work and effort and talent and digital wizardry. A huge highlight from our time in Guatemala!
9. Parasailing with Tera – Tera and I took the opportunity to go parasailing with a local company. We headed to the top of a cliff overlooking the lake, waited for the wind conditions to be just right, buckled into the tandem gear with the instructor, filled the wing with air and stepped off the steep hillside as the wind carried us up and over the trees. Our 30 minute-ride was exciting and peaceful at the same time, sailing through the air, and catching the uplift and flying back up and over the mountain. It was much less scary than I thought it might be, but I don’t think I’ll pay to do it again. Flying is not one of the thrills that I crave.
10. Numerous dinners and game nights and playing a whole lot of Spades with friends – In the final weeks of being in Pana, it seemed like almost every night we had a get-together with some or all of our friends. The kids played together as we ate potluck dinners. And the spades games were constant: 4-person spades, 8-person spades. It seemed like whenever there was a group of kids together, cards appeared: in the car, in the boat, at the house, before and after dinner, always and everywhere. They even tried, unsuccessfully, to beat Tera and I playing together as partners.
11. Leaving wonderful expat friends - So we finally had to say goodbye to everyone. Everything has an ending, and our time in Pana ended on a Sunday morning after church. There were pictures in the parking lot, hugs and well-wishes, and some tears as we said goodbye, with possibility to return in February next year. Even as we loaded the kids in the car, they were playing a spades game out the window ;-) .
12. Loading up the car to overflowing again and testing the van’s suspension system to the limit – The thing I anticipated with the least amount of joy was loading the car back up to overflowing, and loading down the back end and beginning our drive on sketchy mountainous roads. Luckily, we did end up shedding quite a bit of stuff in Pana, and we brought back much less food than we came down with, so the packing itself of the car was much easier, less of a tricky puzzle to make it all fit. Plus, I had long since gotten over the pain of hearing the hitch grind on the pavement. It was something I certainly tried to avoid, but hearing it grind was no longer a hair-raising sound. It was normal and frequent, and with the number of speed bumps throughout Guatemala and Mexico, unavoidable.
Plan? What plan?
Our first Gap Year was a fabulous "2017-2018 School Year" of travel: from the Netherlands to Jordan to Texas to Hawaii to Mexico to Central America to London and back to the Netherlands. Our "2018 Summer Vacation" took us all around Western Europe, back to the USA on a transatlantic cruise, a road trip through New York and into Canada, and ending up in Utah. We have now kicked off the "2018-2019 School year" with a trip to Asia. Follow along with us on our visits to new places, as well as revisiting some of our favorite places from our time living there. It's going to be great!!