Running Wild Travel Blog

I love, love, love to travel!! It’s one of the things that I think about most. Aside from the thrift store and a college fund for my daughter, I can’t think of a better way to spend my money. I’ve visited or lived in countries like Hong Kong, France, England, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Guatemala, and so on. I’d love to see much more. Por eso, I will discuss my travels as well as musings about travel and how to get where you’d like to go. (Note: I burst out in spurts of Spanish or Ebonics, so just google if you don’t know of a word/phrase/colloquialism I may use.) Feel free to share your experiences, advice and cool pics of fab places. That way, we’ll see the world together. Ready? Set? Go!

8 Responses to Running Wild Travel Blog

  1. I am up working on my new website and trying to pack for my summer-long trip to Guatemala. I decided to dump the typical summer camp option for my seven-year-old daughter and use those same funds to buy a her ticket to Antigua where we can take classes, explore, meet great people, gawk at live volcanoes, and eat good food. To start, we bought cheap tickets, found a school and a lovely host family to live with (I’ll explain how later).
    To get prepared, I asked my daughter to pick out 8-10 outfits and to start an “I might need this” pile. We will be there a little over a month, but we don’t need too many clothes. There’s a little invention called the washing machine that comes in handy. Always pack light.
    Although we leave for Antigua in a few days, I’m surprisingly not stressed at all. I know that everything will get done. Why? Because I’ve been here before and stressing won’t make it get done any faster or more efficiently. All will go as it should. We have our passports and Guatemala has stores, so even if we forget things, it’s not the end of the world.
    My challenge will come with which costume pieces of jewelry to bring. Oh how I love earrings, bangles and necklaces! And guess who has some of the most gorgeous jewelry in the universe?! You guessed it – Guatemala!

  2. We had the best flights ever with Mexicana. It was a first time with them, but definitely not the last. We had full, tasty meals, drink refills, plenty of leg room, and no shady additional fees for luggage. Although we had a long layover in Mexico City, we arrived safe and sound in Guatemala City where we transferred to a private pre-arranged shuttle to get us to our host family in Antigua, also lovingly known as “Gringotenango”. Antigua is a small, beautiful city filled with friendly people, gorgeous colonial ruins and travelers/ex-pats from around the world. I love everything about Antigua and the “gringo” thing that many hate, surprisingly makes me love it. I have lifelong friends from all over the globe from a previous short stay in Antigua. Therefore, in addition to Spanish, I’ve learned bits of French, German and Korean. Although we arrived muy tarde, my host was as friendly and inviting as I remember. Her new home was similar to her old home, but much bigger with 11 rooms and 13 bathrooms! Still, you can see the sun, rain and stars from the roofless ceiling. My daughter loves la comida so far and is begging me for helado. I’m holding out. She is snapping photos like crazy (of dogs, plants, the sky, etc.) and has picked up several terms in a matter of hours. We walked around parts of the city and got lost, but my Spidey sensibilities (and several helpful locals) got us back on track. It’s bound to be a great summer!

  3. Day 4 – We visited the Lago de Atitlan area and were hoping for good weather since it has rained each day we’ve been here. The mudslides in the Lago de Atitlan area are notorious and muy peligroso. We visited Panahachel, San Juan, San Pedro, and San Antonio. San Juan was a very quiet town with beautiful vista views overlooking the lake. It seemed to be a city of visual artists. There were murals and paintings everywhere we looked. San Juan is also home to natural weaving. They use various plants to achieve colors such as light blue, tan, yellow, green, and red. This fabric is better because the natural dye doesn’t stain your other clothes and your body like other Guatemalan fabrics tend to do. Since the lake is so low, for each city we got a hectic thigh workout trying to climb the steep hills to see the cities. In San Pedro we saw colorful food markets with local taffy, dozens of types of peppers, vegetables, and dried fish. We also saw an annual parade for San Pedro. The school band played beautifully as young girls twirled and swirled to the rhythms. At a local café, Khari saw three sizable flying ants trapped inside the sugar container which caused her much glee and anxiety. She was fixated on the dulce-drunk ants buzzing frantically and then falling into a sugar-induced coma (until she shook the container again). The boat rides across the lake were peaceful and awe-inspiring. The only trouble spot was when a rock got stuck in the motor and we were floating idle for a while. Due to the mudslides and torrential rains, the lake is now filed with debris such as tree branches and rocks in several spots. It still didn’t take away from the sheer beauty of the deepest lake in Guatemala with three magnificent volcanoes within it. In San Antonio, we ate at a nice restaurant where two dodgy characters slid out of the same bathroom stall together. Aside from that, the food was decent and they served the best limonada I’ve ever had in my life. Khari has an intense phobia of bees that we have been working on for years. While at the restaurant, a bee came over and landed on her arm. She stood quietly and allowed it to crawl on her sleeve before it flew away. Although she was visibly shaken, we were so proud of the progress she’s made. Bees can scary for many of us. As we were sailing back to Pana, it began to rain in a boat with no cover. We all took it in stride and kept the conversation flowing. Once in Pana, it was time for our shuttle to arrive, so we headed back. In less than ten minutes of being on the shuttle the infamous torrential rains began and we prayed and hoped for the best. With almost zero visibility, dangerous mountainous curves and loads of traffic, we were obviously concerned, so Khari and I did what most would do – went to sleep and woke up when the scary part was over. It was a great day for the family!

  4. Day 7 – So much has transpired that it is almost a blur. Jashed left yesterday and filled our little host room with sadness. To shake it, we left the house and headed to a museum. It was the ruins of a place called Conjunto Monumental de San Francisco el Grande, basically a church in the name of Saint Francis. It was stunning and very cheap to enter (5Q for adultos y 2.5Q for ninos). We met a lovely family with a rambunctious four-year-old from the DC area. Khari played with him throughout the ruins. They didn’t seem to care that it could be dangerous running and exploring all of the nooks and crannies. They found geckos, ant hills, ancient pottery pieces, and a family quietly having a picnic on the other side of a structure.
    We also tried some Nutella crepes, but it was a big disappointment. The poor girl started over three times. I’ll stick to the folks who know how to cook them. My Spanish is coming back slowly, but I clearly need a refresher course and to crack open one of my four study books. It has rained each evening that we’ve been here, but last night we had the added excitement of a strong earthquake. The whole house trembled heartily, but nothing crashed or lost its footing. Luckily, we were already in bed. I guess it was just nature trying to rock us firmly to sleep. It was mild enough to not be scary, but strong enough to cause excited conversation the next morning. Today, we took an around the city tour on the infamous “chicken bus” or camioneta (the proper term) which cost a mere 1Q. Khari had been begging me to allow her to ride these “beautiful buses” (note: these are old US school buses that have been thoroughly pimped out with dazzling colors, blinking lights and chrome). However, she wasn’t impressed with the inside. Like all chicken buses, this one drove like a machine possessed from the film Maximum Overdrive, it was very crowded (three of us to a two person seat) and had down-right regular interior. No highfalutin’ upgrades here. If you’ve seen the inside of one school bus, you’ve seen them all.
    Even though you are warned by everyone from your host family to the tour guide books not to eat the street vendor food if you want to avoid getting sick, on day seven I broke down. I had the most delicious bocadito you could imagine. One was a thin fried tortilla filled with papas and on top was a lovely cabbage relish and a hot green salsa. The other snack was a sweet fried plantain filled with sweet black beans. Who could ask for more? Of course I bragged about how good it was to my housemates and was quickly cussed out and reprimanded by my host mom. “Tinita! Remember last time?! Ay Ay Ay!” She was referring to my visit six years ago when I drank delicious Horchata almost daily from a tiny mom and pop restaurant and didn’t realize they used tap water to make this heavenly potion. I thought I was in my first trimester of pregnancy because my stomach was so nauseous, but I had just fallen prey to the “street” concoctions – tasty, but potentially peligroso. It took about two weeks of figuring out the problem and another week for the nasty, no sugar allowed, tree root tea to kick in. No Dona Ruth, I didn’t forget that horrible experience. I just didn’t care and I’m going back again when I need my next bocadito!
    I forgot to pick up my laundry today and now it’s dark and rainy outside. I hope that my clothes haven’t been donated. For 4Q, I’m a bit nervous. If so, I have another week’s worth of clothes to work from. I need to buy a local paper to find volunteer opportunities for me and Khari. To who much is given, much is required. I also checked into weekend trips. I think I may head to the Honduras for a birthday weekend trip. If I have to miss the annual House Music Picnic in Chicago this weekend, I may as well make up for it by seeing something lovely. I think we’re heading to Copan for a whopping $12. Yes, I can get to another country for $12 a person with a $10 hotel awaiting me. I love Central America!

  5. Day 10 – Khari and I left Antigua two days ago, at 4am, to explore the Mayan Ruins in Copan, Honduras. It was a sweaty six hour shuttle ride, but well worth it. When we arrived, I discovered that the recommended hostel looked more like a run-down prison, so I found a hotel nearby. Since I’m on a budget, I opted for one of the cheaper spots in town. Proving that I still need a lot of work on my Spanish, I thought the hotel manager quote 12 (doce) dollars as the cost, but when it was time to check in, he said $22 (veinte y dos). Since I only had a $20, he let me slide. Our first room was filled with various bugs, dead and alive. We quickly requested another room and got one that seemed cleaner. We then went in search of food. We found cheap panqueques y huevos with blackberry and passionfruit juice. They were both delicious and the pancakes, thick. After breakfast, we went to Parque Central, Copan’s version of downtown. There was a tiny park with tiny stores around the square, very similar to Antigua’s Parque Central. The cobblestone streets made me think of Antigua, but the vibe was different. The local faces were more diverse and the city was much smaller. You could see the African, Mayan, and European influences clearly and the fantastic Latin music with the strong Caribbean beats made me think that we were close to the coast (we were nowhere near it). The ladies dressed more sexy and contemporary where the Antiguenas are more conservative.
    We took one of the tuk-tuks to the edge of town, to the Mayan ruins which were phenomenal. You could still feel the energy of the city and saw the collective brilliance of a people through their “remains”. Beautiful Macaw birds were everywhere, watching over their sacred grounds. Since there weren’t many tourists, especially when a light rain began, it felt as if we had the ruins to ourselves. Khari enjoyed jumping from stone to stone and finding new insects. I fell in love with the decorative stela and the Great Staircase which features 63 steps and two thousand hieroglyphs telling the history of the royal house of Copan. It was truly majestic! The downers were all of the sacrificial structures where you could see how they let the blood strategically pour down, around and off the altar. Apparently both animals and humans were sacrificed to the Gods and clearly I’m not down with that. We met a wonderful Americano (Robert) and his children driving in their 1994 jeep from Costa Rica back to Colorado. Obviously, he was a colorful and knowledgeable character! He and his family were amazing and we went to dinner with them that evening. It was all in all, a fulfilling and educational experience. The only sour points were the fact that at our dinner date, we accepted (“pure” ice in our drinks) and it wasn’t so pure, so we left the Honduras with fond memories and Traveler’s Diarrhea. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Back to Antigua…

  6. Day 19
    I haven’t journalled in a week and I can barely tell you what we did. It has been a blur. Khari has been ill on and off and is going to the doctor this afternoon. We took a sample in this morning. She’s taken anti-parasite meds and anti-diarrheal meds, but she’s still having issues when it’s bathroom time. This has caused me quite a bit of stress and I hope she gets better soon and that we can get back stateside for her doctor to weigh in. At least I’ve improved my medical Spanish skills, though not by choice. In good news, the first week of class was wonderful with Senora Anna. She is brilliant and patient and helpful. She works very well bouncing back and forth between me and Khari. I’ve forgotten so much, but it feels good knowing that I can gain back what I’ve lost through the years. I have also been having small conversations with native Spanish speakers and other learners. Things are coming a little more easily than they did the first couple of weeks. Khari is having a good, but difficult time in class. She is learning a lot and the teacher speaks with her only in Spanish. There are so many new words, verbs and conjugations that it is overwhelming for both of us. The difference is she’s seven, so she has a minor breakdown or complete shutdown (a nap in the middle of class) just about every class period. Four hours is a LONG time for a small one to remain focused on a foreign language. We try to take little breaks and walk and talk, but it’s still a lot for her. We were supposed to have a class field trip to the coast of Guatemala to go to the beach, but I cancelled at the last minute due to Khari’s stomach issues that day. I didn’t want her to be stuck on a bus for hours or that far from a local doctor. Obviously, she was quite upset about this and the fact that she has been on a Saltine cracker, bland food diet for a week. As a small consolation, yesterday we visited a local hot springs spa/hotel (Santa Teresita) in Amatitlan. We stayed there for four hours in varying degrees of pools/caves. We had a fantastic time and it was the first time either of us had visited a hot spring. It was so relaxing and fulfilling that I am officially addicted and will definitely be searching out stateside springs. Desafortunadamente, the springs irritated her and now we’re back to bathroom issues…

  7. I really miss my husband and my family and the days are getting harder. I had a mini breakdown yesterday and I know it is because a) although lovely, it is hard to be with my child 24/7 with no breaks, b) travelling can be lonely business, and c) class is getting more difficult. I now know why multi-room habitats, daycare, work, and school were created – to stop mothers from going completely insane. It’s a joke, but I’m serious. Stay-at-home parents deserve medal of distinction and high salaries. It’s not for the faint of heart.
    Also, the reality is that Khari and I are lonely. We have each other, but both feel disconnected from our social networks. I think that I have viewed FB more in the past month than I have in the past year. It’s a cheap way of staying connected to the familiar. Khari has been trying to stay busy by being her creative self. She has switched careers several times since we arrived. She started out a tuk-tuk driver, then morphed into a cleaning lady, and today she is a knowledgeable travel agent that has booked trip for me, her grandmother, an imaginary customer (Melanie), and our house mom to Morocco, Japan, Brazil, and Chicago respectively – all for under $100.
    I have been grappling with hard Spanish concepts such as reflexive verbs, using indirect objects with direct objects in a sentence, and past tense. I have had a mild headache each day this week trying to figure these concepts out and not look like a complete waste in front of my teacher. I even refused to do my homework for two days because it was so hard (yes, I am a brat). However, with persistence, I am having some minor breakthroughs in class and that makes me happy.
    We hope to go to El Salvador this weekend and spend some time on the beach. I’d gladly study my Spanish fervently in a hammock with a cocktail in one hand, a book in the other, black sand beaches, and the Pacific singing in my ears. I can’t wait and if I can ever find a cheap, luxury hotel in El Tunco, I’ll be able to chill out a bit. At this point, it’s about $40 a night if you don’t want a hostel. After the supersized cockroaches in the Honduran hotel, I’d rather pay a bit more to avoid “friends” sharing the room.
    Oh, I saw two more today and met another fabulous one three days ago. What is this strange phenomenon I speak of – other African-American women travelling in Antigua. The last time I was here, I was the only “sista” I saw. It was apparent that the Guatemalans didn’t see many either because I would frequently hear “morena!” being shouted from local passerby-ers and on-lookers. At first I was offended until I realized that it wasn’t an insult, just an observation – “Ay, look at the black girl! Hello, black girl! (or something along those lines)” Six years ago, I seemed to create a genuine stir just because of the color of my dark hazelnut skin. This trip, I’ve seen at least thirteen American Blacks and four Africans in four weeks. That is called progress and it makes me happy to see us getting out of our own way and integrating more into the world – and feeling free and comfortable enough to do so – especially as women. I just finished SARK’s Succulent Wild Woman (fantastic book) and the many travelling women (regardless of race) I’ve met here are definitely that – taking a page straight from SARK’s book and living vicariously through themselves! And this too, makes me smile. It’s off to studying for me. Buenas noches!

  8. We have been back for three weeks and it feels like it was just yesterday when we were walking down the cobblestone streets of Antigua. To build on a lovely foundation in Guatemala, I have signed my daughter up for a local Spanish class and need to find one for myself. She’s been using Spanish words to express herself and point out objects, so I think that she wants to stay connected to the language. I tried to read the local Spanish newspaper and my head began to ache, so I clearly need more practice. In one of my earlier posts, I promised to tell you how to travel to Antigua, Guatemala on a budget or Guatemala in general.
    First, get a copy of The Rough Guide to Guatemala 4 from the library and go to lonelyplanet.com, aroundantigua.com, and http://www.visitguatemala.com. All of these spots are great sources of info. Then, you need to determine how long you’d like to stay and how many of you will travel. There are an abundance of inexpensive, but quality hostels and hotels all around Guatemala, but if you’d like to learn more about the food, culture and people, I strongly suggest living with a host family, even if only for a week or two of your stay. If you are a “chu-chu”, a local term for those who like to stay out in the streets all night, a hostel might be best because it’s rude to roll into someone’s home at 3am every night.
    Flights first. If you book tickets early enough, they can run from $280-$450 from the US. I saved up about $2500 and was able to stay in Guatemala for five weeks, buy three plane tickets (for my hubby, child and me) and travel to other places in Guatemala, the Honduras, and El Salvador for short weekend trips. (Surrounding countries are Mexico, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador). This low price included lodging and meals with my host family for all five weeks and school for my daughter and I for 3.5 weeks which ran M-F, 8a-12p. However, I was frugal. We didn’t eat out at many of the lovely restaurants, we found free/cheap museums, went on the free school afternoon field trips each week, and didn’t go crazy buying gifts, clothes and trinkets. There are competing travel agencies every five steps in Antigua, so traveling is pretty cheap once you are there. Ex: Round trip fare to the Honduras from Antigua for $35 per person. Border crossing fee about $3 unless they are being shady and rip off the nice American tourist. A good rule of thumb if the price sounds exorbitant or no one else in front of you was charged is to simply ask – “Porque? Este tax es porque, Senor?” They sometimes back down so that they don’t create a ruckus and alert their boss that they are doing something illegal. I would suggest you learn a little basic Spanish prior to or during your visit. It’s just the smart and cultured thing to do. There’s nothing worse than a snotty Gringo who refuses to speak Spanish when they are in a Spanish-speaking country. It fulfills every stereotype about the ignorant American that we are trying to eradicate by showing some class and respect. Trying and messing up the language is way better than expecting everyone to bow down to the English-speaking jerk with no home training or interest in the culture or customs. You won’t get far with that mentality.
    Both times, the Spanish school I attended was Spanish Academy Antiguena http://www.spanishacademyantiguena.com/. It costs $160 a week for 4 hours per day one-on-one tuition and homestay with three meals a day, except Sundays usually. The school can hook up your homestay with a respectable family, but it’s usually cheaper if you find housing on your own. Feel free to bring your laptop and earphones with mic or I-Pad because wi-fi cafes are all over Antigua and it beats the internet cafes, although those are cheap as well. My host family had wi-fi and school, so that’s a good question to ask when contacting people. I hooked up a Skype account (www.skype.com) and was able to speak to my family FREE every day or for an extremely low cost if they didn’t have a Skype account, but had a cell phone.
    The best and most efficient travel agent who booked all of my tours, my homestay and got me and my family to and from different cities and countries SAFELY was Vera L. Castillo, owner of Hotel Dia Verde and Travel Agency. She runs a small, clean hotel near downtown as well and her mother, Ruth Gonzalez, hosts families and individuals a little further out of the center of town (in a lovely, clean home with good meals, great conversation, hot-ish water and a private bathroom). Ruth’s home is a good bet if you want a more authentic, less touristy experience, but be prepared to walk 15-20 minutes to town. Vera is extremely helpful and patient (and speaks English, if necessary) and she will be able to help you plan your trips at a cheap cost. Email vera12cg@yahoo.com Beware of travel agencies that are too good/cheap to be true. You’ll end up stranded or not picked up at all. I saw it over and over again –and no, you will not get a refund no matter how much you protest.
    Okie-Dokie, so let’s do a quick and dirty budget for you:
    Flight from (big city, USA) – $360
    Schooling, housing and food with host family for four wks. @ $160 wk. – $640
    Travel/field trip budget – $300
    Random spending – $200
    ______________________________
    All of that for a mere $1500! That’s the cost of a weekend trip to Martha’s Vineyard or Hawaii.

    This is just a quick sample and will obviously be more with more people, but feel free to ask for bargains if you have more people and since the Guatemalans are good for bartering and they want your business, you can usually strike a lovely deal. Email me if you need more information about anything I’ve said at tinajfakhrid@yahoo.com. Safe and happy travels!

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