Chicken Sh_t and bat poop

Dear diary,

I’m scared.  Tomorrow we’re leaving the relaxing and peaceful Lake Atitlan area and I’m scared of what comes next. This house has been so amazing. Why do we have to leave?  The last week has been relaxing, tranquil and simply wonderful.  Can’t we just stay here?

We’ve had a great time  enjoying this very fancy house, cooking in the amazing kitchen (my favorite dish was the homemade vegetable soup I made) and exploring towns around the lake area. But now we’re headed back to Antigua for two days and then the real adventure begins. Am I ready for what comes next?  I don’t think I am!

I’m mostly scared to visit Semuc Champey . First, I’ve heard it’s very hard to get to. On the final leg of the trip, people report standing in the back of a pick-up truck for 45 minutes going five miles an hour over something that barely constitutes a road!  I’m really too old to be hanging onto the back of a metal bar in a pick-up truck, but there are no other options.  The journey to get there is just dreadful.  Andy told our travel agent that I really needed a front seat, and she said she would see what she can do, but I’m not holding out much hope. Of course, Andy is excited to go. I’m already imagining how happy he’s going to be standing in the back of the pick-up bed.

Oh, and then there’s our lodging situation once we get there. We’re staying at a youth hostel/echo lodge in the middle of the jungle. Because the falls/pools are so isolated, there were not  a lot of options to choose from.  It really looks rustic. No wifi, and zero hot water.  Good thing the temperature will be fairly hot.

We’ve been assured we’ll have our own room and bathroom at the lodge, and it’s only for two nights, so I’ll suck it up no matter how rustic it is. I’ve had worse lodging for sure.  Despite all this anxiety, I really do want to go to this part of Guatemala.  Semuc is supposed to be the best part of the country.  The photos of this area are unbelievable.


This is a view from above. There are turquoise pools to swim in everywhere. 

Then there’s the underwater cave hike. The one with the bats. I did an underwater cave hike when I was a wee one of 16, spending my first summer in Israel. Everyone linked arms and got candles to hold. The water was up to our necks so we had to swim for part of the cave hike.  It was dark, scary and fun. This cave hike is supposed to be very similar to that one, but I’m not 16 years anymore. Will I be able to do it?   I’m not a big fan of bats either. We told our Antigua neighbor about this hike and she told us that she had heard about it, but she was hesitent to do it because she heard that inhaling bat poop is bad for one’s immune system.  I’m getting ready to hold my breathe for as long as I possibly can!!!

Note to self…I’ve got to be a little bit braver and a little less of a chicken shit!


I can’t wait to dive (well gently walk in)

So much to look forward to before we return to Mexico on December 1.  We’re going to a massive kite festival to celebrate Day of the Dead outside of Antigua. The kites look amazing.  Then we’re going to Tikal to see the ruins.


The kite festival celebrates Day of the Dead and it’s going to be awesome!

And then after Semuc, we’ve rented a private boat (not a yacht, just something very simple with an outboard motor).  We’re going to be staying at a hotel and tooling around the Caribbean Coast of Guatemala. Every day, a boat driver  will take us wherever we want to go to visit some small towns. Do I hear the beach calling?  We’re also going to be staying in some really cool youth hostels which I’m really looking forward to. If only I could get rid of this damn anxiety!



A good, old-fashioned dose of hippiedom

Peace and love from San Marcos, Guatemala, on the shore of beautiful Lake Atitlan.

We’re in a state of culture shock. Maybe it’s the vast amount of poverty in this lovely country (way more than Mexico). Maybe it’s the Mayan culture. Or maybe it’s just the hippies. Yeah, I think it’s probably the hippies.

When I researched coming to San Marcos La Laguna, I read that it’s a small, mixed community of ex-pats, indigenous Mayans and travelers seeking spiritual enlightenment. San Marcos is also a place for yoga seekers, truth seekers and seekers in general. There are many other small towns to explore on the shores around Lake Atitlan, but this one caught my interest, especially because it has so many yoga studios. I started taking yoga in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, then in Morelia, Mexico, and continued it in Antigua, Guatemala. I wanted to keep things going in San Marcos, where they have a place called The Yoga Forest up in the hills, as well as this gem in the central village.


To get to San Marcos La Laguna, we first took a 3-hour tourist shuttle from Antigua to Panajachel, then caught a public lancha (boat) for a 30-minute lake crossing. The VRBO we are renting has its own dock, and the captain said he would drop us there. Well, at least he nodded like he knew the place.

After a beautiful boat ride offering gorgeous views of the lake and the three volcanoes that jut up from its shores, El Capitan dropped us off at a dock near San Marcos. But after we got out, laboriously unloading all our gear (including three bags of groceries), it became clear it wasn’t the right dock. A Guatamelan about 20 years old, who worked at the house attached to that dock, tried to tell us we were in the wrong place, but we could “easily” get to our house, a mere four houses away … along a trail hugging the shore. He grabbed my big bag  (a rolly backpack) and the biggest grocery bag, and bolted down the tiny trail, which soon turned into a jungly trail. We followed, with Andy carrying his own rolly backpack, and each of us wearing our backpacks and toting groceries.

Navigating loose soil, muddy patches, rocks and overgrown vegetation (and parts of the trail that actually went through the shallows of the lake) wasn’t easy … for us. But this guy must have been a sherpa in a previous life, because after about 30 seconds, he was long gone. Completely out of sight! We both couldn’t help but think he was an opportunist who had seized the opportunity to run off with our bags. Goodbye to all of my clothes and a lot of food and provisions. In a bit, Andy started shouting, “Amigo! Amigo!” But we couldn’t see him anywhere. We didn’t know if he went up the hill to one of the houses we were passing, or continued along the trail (which at times we weren’t even sure was a trail anymore).

We stood there for a few minutes, befuddled. We inched ahead, confused. Then we saw a Mayan family on one of the docks, and they pointed ahead, letting us know that the young man was up around the bend. Indeed, from a better vantage point, Andy could make out the flourescent green of the reusable grocery bag we were using. But we were still a far ways away. So the half-mile jungle hike continued. And then we figured out why the young man had lit out like a champion sprinter. He wanted to put those bags down at our destination and then return and help us carry our other bags — which he did.

Here are two important lessons I learned: (1) Four houses away in Mayan culture is very different than four houses away in American suburbia, and (2)  I am way too old and too uncoordinated for jungly hikes.

Truth is, I am not a good hiker under any circumstances, so this excursion was very challenging indeed. Andy held my hand tightly to make sure I didn’t go down. And after the guy came back, he relieved me of my backpack, which helped make the remainder of the trek a little easier, although, for his part, Andy still was carrying  quite a load. Finally we reached the correct dock, where we met up with the man we were supposed to meet in the first place: Jesus!  (No, not the biblical dude, but the caretaker of our rented house).  Hey-Soos! Hoo-Ray!

We tipped and thanked the young man, and then our new man, Jesus, grabbed much of the luggage and bounded up the 55 stairs from the dock to our amazing VRBO rental. Andy, for his part, was still carrying quite a load. But we both made it up the winding stairs (a portion of which had been damaged in the Oaxaca earthquake a few months ago, and hastily repaired) and finally reached our destination. Paradise found.

If you ever want to stay at Lake Atitlan, I can’t recommend this house enough.  Check it out at this link:

Here’s a great photo of the view from our living room. Those are the bases of two volcanoes in the background, and a stained-glass window in the foreground. With two comfy couches perfectly positioned to look out those huge windows, it’s my favorite part of the house.


This house has killer lake views from all angles, and it’s an easy 20-minute walk to the town of San Marcos. There are three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a huge kitchen and several things that we never have accessible to us, wherever we stay, in Mexico or Central America, especially in our long-term rentals: a bathtub, a clothes dryer and a dishwasher. And the kitchen is to die for! I’ve been cooking dinner every night. It’s stocked with marble countertops, an island, great utensils, extra spices and cooking ingredients … and a modern, six-burner, gas stove! The master bedroom is upstairs, with its own balcony (again with amazing views), and the bed has a thick, foam-top mattress.  We are in heaven. I really don’t want to leave this place!

This morning, shortly after we woke up, Andy decided to go jump in the lake. To play it safe, he wore a life vest and climbed down the ladder on our little wooden dock. He said it was cold, but he enjoyed it. I might have to join him before we leave on Tuesday.


After swimtime, we ate breakfast and drank amazingly rich Guatemalan coffee on our huge deck and watched the boats ferry people to the towns dotted around the lake. Then we walked into little San Marcos, taking the main road (dirt) from the top of our hillside property, after climbing up more steps (100 or so!) to get to our front gate. We didn’t see much along the way, just a few Guatemalans, all of them wishing us “buenas tardes,” even the two men carrying machetes. The landscape was super lush, and there were interesting flowers and plants everywhere. Another jungle path, pretty much, although this one was much easier to traverse (aside from the one huge mud pit created by some rain the previous night).

Once we got into town, we saw free-spirited, young (and more than a few old) hippies everywhere! White dudes with dreadlocks, battered sandals, tie-dyed clothing, colorful Mayan pants … the whole tofu enchilada (which is pretty much what we had for lunch; see below). It was almost like being at a Grateful Dead concert, sans the smell of reefer, although that’s apparently pretty easy to obtain, should one want to.

Many of you know we are from the Bay Area. As such, we are very used to seeing and interacting with free-spirited folks (some might even say I am one myself).  I lived in Berkeley, for crying out loud. I went to Antioch College in Ohio — home to everything hippie. Santa Cruz. The Haight. We are hip. But for some reason, the vibe in this small town surprised us.  Everywhere we looked, there were  signs for yoga classes, silent meditations, mushroom cultivating workshops, Reiki classes and many other spiritual enlightenment activities. There was a “sound bath” meditation class (Google it) and one property on which every structure was shaped like a pyramid. It was all pretty cool. The stores sold incense, homemade lip-balms, kambucha, homemade soaps and tons of patchouli thingees.


I don’t even know what emotional kinesiology is. Do you?


After walking around a bit, we had lunch at a great place called Moonfish Cafe. I had a yummy tofu scramble, and Andy had a falafel burrito along with some kick-ass coffee grown in the Atitlan region and roasted on-site. All of it was outstanding.

When we continued our walk after lunch, we saw yoga studios, massage studios, tons of Mayan clothing for sale, and we sauntered through some very cool pedestrian pathways with beautiful murals.  San Marcos has one actual street midway between the lake and the Mayan part of town, but mainly the village is patchwork of footpaths surrounded by shade-grown coffee, various other crops, jungle vegetation, fruit trees, and various fences and microbusinesses . Funky, colorful murals lined some of the pathways. Did I mention how lush everything is? Guatemala has got to be the most lush country we’ve ever visited. It puts Hawaii to shame.  Everywhere we look we see greenery.

SanMarcoslaneOn our walkabout, we went to a few small health food markets and natural stores. There are no large grocery stores in San Marcos, just small tiendas. We bought some fresh fruit and vegetables and a few staples items including eggs. Groceries are quite expensive here; a little cheaper in the bigger town (Panajachel) across the lake, but still not exactly cheap cheap.

Tonight I cooked up some fresh vegetable soup for dinner, along with some vegi-burgers purchased in Panajachel.  Andy’s listening to the World Series and reading Lonely Planet — and all is good. (P.S. The soup turned out great, but the vegi-burgers were yucky.)

In the next few days, we’ll check out some of the other towns surrounding the lake, all of them a bit less crunchy than San Marcos, but each with their own cool vibe apparently. Lake Atitlan is beautiful. We’re happy campers. Even thought we’re a bit far from the village, we’re enjoying the beauty of the lake and the peaceful surroundings. Yet another adventure.

(with a bit (stacey says a lot) of editing by Andy)

Out of my comfort zone in Guatemala

Yesterday I spent most of the day completely out of my comfort zone.

I’m glad I did.

Captain Andy and I decided to take a three-hour bus journey to a one of the largest craft markets in Central America. We left the house around 9:30 AM and boarded a bus know as a Guatemalan chicken bus. A chicken bus is an old U.S. newly retired school bus.  Once these buses have about 150,000 miles on em, they get tossed aside and purchased by other countries to live new lives.  You see chicken buses all over Guatemala. Most are colorfully painted and have interesting names.


We had been warned that traveling on chicken buses especially in Guatemala City was dangerous because gangs frequently target them and rob passengers.  But since we’re not in Guatemala City, I decided to give this method of transportation a chance. But to be uber safe, I left my purse, phone, and Kindle at home and just brought me.  Andy didn’t carry anything except some cash and his phone.

Over the course of six hours, my life passed in front of me perhaps 15 times. I can’t possibly describe the sheer panic I felt sitting on the bus. The drivers seem to have little regard for human life.  Playing chicken with cars, animals, and other buses must be in their genes!  While driving on tiny, windy mountain roads, we were slipping and sliding all over the place. They were taking corners so fast, I felt like I was sitting in a vat of Crisco!  I was hanging on to Andy for dear life.  And, to make matters worse, we were packed into the bus like sardines. Each seat barely accommodated two people, (remember the bus is used for transporting kids, not adults) but there were so many passengers, we had to sit three to a seat. On the way home, a very obese man had his gigantic tummy stuck in my face (I was repulsed) and there was a very drunk young man on the other side of me. I  thought he was going to hurl all over me. No joke. Not the typical first class bus experience we’re used to in Mexico!

Even at the cheap rate of $4 for a 6 hour trip ($2 each) we’ve decided to bag the chicken buses from now on.  We’re going to try traveling  via tourist shuttles instead. I wouldn’t mind being on the chicken bus for a very short journey,  but anything over 30 minutes is too long.  It was a journey we shall never forget.

A few comments about the market… it was fantastic!  What a feast for the eyes!  Many many women were dressed in traditional clothes and the colors of the fabrics in the market were just spectacular.

Andy brought a really nice woven hat.   I didn’t buy anything,  but I really enjoyed walking around. The harassment factor was high, with several women following us around, trying to give us the “hard sell”,  but we still had fun seeing everything.


Interestingly enough, I think some vendors were trying to misrepresent their merchandise because I saw a lot of clothes I see in Mexico being passed off as authentic Guatemalan clothes.  Ha!  I knew better. We were also told certain things were hand-made, but I’m pretty sure they were machine made.  With traditional embroidery, it’s often hard to tell.

Shabbat Shalom!

On Friday night, after watching an incredible bluegrass concert in the smallest bar I’ve ever been in, Andy and I went in search of dinner. All of the sudden,. we passed a very large looking building. We peered into the courtyard where we noticed a large photo of an old man with a beard. Could it be? No way!!!  Yes, it was!  It was the Rebbe!  We ran smack into the Antigua Chabad House!  All of the sudden, happy young travelers were waving us in.  For those of you who don’t know what Chabad is, it’s a Orthodox Jewish religious organization.  They provide social services to Jews from all religious denominations including community centers and camps.  They have Chabad houses all over the world and on many college campuses. Since it was Friday night, they had just started Shabbat and a spirited song fest had just begun.

There were about 18 young Israeli travelers there, no Americans and one person from Mexico City.  The young rabbi and his wife warmly welcomed us.

Shabbat dinner was fantastic!  We munched on fresh Challah, Israeli salads, vegetarian soup, and a main course of couscous, kosher chicken and kosher meatballs. Shots of rum appeared too!  There was tons of singing in Hebrew and everyone was super happy to be together.

I’ve celebrated Shabbat in many, many places in my life, but this was one of the lovelist Shabbats I have ever experienced.  I really want to go back next Friday night.

Housing probs

Two small housing problems in Antigua have plagued our visit.

  1. We had no water last night at all!  The management company came over this morning and fixed it. Perhaps they filled up a tank we can’t see?  Now we have water again.  I had enough water last night to do dishes so I’m not sure when it crapped out. I think about 9 PM.
  2. Our hot water barely works. I’m getting a warm shower each day, but certainly not hot.  But I’m getting used to it, and it’s bothering me less and less.
  3. We can’t get wifi downstairs, only upstairs, but this is a minor inconvienance.

Otherwise, everything in our house is good.

Green Acres is the place to be

On Saturday we went to a local urban farm located a 10 minute walk from our apartment.  They had an organic market we wanted to check out. It was such a cool place. It was really a large farm and they had live music playing. We toured the property and hung out with the sheeps, and chickens. I inhaled fresh lavendar and looked at the beautiful volcanos off in the distance. Then we read in their lovely yoga/chill space and enjoyed some fresh juice and some fresh ginger ale.  I’m hoping to return next Saturday or on Thursday night when they have live music. They have a large organic cafe located on the farm and the food looked incredible.

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Habla Espanol???

I can’t use chemo brain as an excuse any longer.  I’ve been done with chemo for almost two years.  I just have to admit that I have sh-t for brains.  I can’t seem to remember any Spanish verbs.  I study them,  I think I know them, and then they go out of my brain. It’s so frustrating!   I’m committed to studying Spanish, but it’s so bad!  I know a ton of words, but I can barely put a simple sentence together.  You’d think something would start to click by now. I’m taking classes two hours a day of instruction for the next week. My teacher speaks to me mostly in Spanish and while I think my comprehension isn’t too horrible, I can’t carry a conversation with her.  However, I refuse to be defeated!!!  I shall persevere.

con estoy yo si adios

See, I couldn’t even get that right!!!   Andy had to fix it.

Con ese, digo “Adios!”


Goodbye Mexico, hello Guatemala!

Greetings from Antigua, Guatemala. We arrived late last night after a wonderful, and very relaxing 10 day stay in Zihuatanejo. It was nice to see my mom and visit the beach. Now we’ll be on the road for the next 7 1/2 weeks, experiencing life in Guatemala and in Oaxaca, Mexico.  We’ll return to Zihuatanejo to start a four month stay on December 1.

Now we’re staying in a one-bedroom VRBO that’s a ten minute walk from the city center. It’s GIGANTIC.  It’s got a ton of classic colonial charm including beautiful colonial light fixtures, amazing Guatemalan tile work, and it even has a bathtub.  However, it’s not the place we booked, so this morning I contacted the management company and asked them why we had been put in a different apartment. The company explained that the apartment we had originally booked had recently experienced water damage, so they gave us another apartment. Late this afternoon, we were able to peek into the water damaged apartment and it’s much, much smaller than the castle we are currently living in.  Score one for the Ohr’s!   The apartment is a little rough around the edges, with scrapped walls,  some sewage odor from the toilet, and a bit of peeling paint,  but its bones are simply beautiful, so we are not complaining. The neighborhood seems very safe, too. And I’m excited to go to yoga class right across the street. Here are a few photos of this cool place. Notice how high the ceilings are, and how beautiful the tile work is?

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We arrived late last night and the property management company picked us up from the Guatemala City airport (for free) which was nice since we arrived on the late side.  Guatemala City is home to at least ten Golden Arches, a bunch of Taco Bells,  a few Denny’s thrown in for good measure, and a bunch of other American restaurants.


We were happy to see William when we arrived. He drove us to our apartment which was about a 45 minute ride.

This morning we started our day with coffee and a typical Guatemalan breakfast of fried plantains, eggs, beans, tortillas, and avocado.  I liked the black beans and fried plantains.

Then we went exploring.  Antigua is a very old colonial town, but it’s very, very touristy!  And prices are substantially higher than in Morelia. It’s not as expensive as the United States, but the prices seem quite high to us.  We are in sticker shock and we’re in gringo shock!

After breakfast, we went to a very good fruit and vegetable mercado and bought some peppers, (yellow or orange are my favorite), some grapes, tomatoes, an artichoke, bananas, avocados,  and two new fruits never seen before.


Then we walked to a large grocery store. The market was well-appointed, but I had to get used to many new products.  I wasn’t able to find my coveted hummus, but I was able to score some incredible tofu. They also had a good selection of cheese.  We spent about $85.00 total and I anticipate the food will last us about 10 days.

Now a bit more about this apartment…

Unfortunately, this particular VRBO unit did not provide much in the way of supplies.  No cleaning supplies, no spices, no dish soap, not even a sponge for washing dishes.  I will have to mention this in my on-line review at the end of our stay.  We ended up having to spend money on simple spices and on other assorted things. It’s a drag!  We try to closely watch our expenses, and we hate spending money on things that should be provided as a part of our rental.  It’s one of the downfalls of choosing to move around so much. This is also one reason I’m in favor of bunking at youth hostels. They seem to have really well-appointed kitchens with spices galore and pots and pans so we don’t end up having to spend as much at the grocery store. But two weeks in a youth hostel (even with a private room) is a lot of time for people as old as us!  It’s fine for a few nights, but I don’t think it would work long-term.

Over the next two weeks and I’m hoping to attend Spanish school for a few hours a day to improve my Spanish.  We’ll also take  few day trips. Then, after Antigua, we’re headed to Lake Atilan for a week.  After that, the ruins of Tikal are on the agenda and some other assorted travel in Guatemala. Then we’ll fly to Oaxoca.


This colonial town has a lot of nice churches.


Now that we are wandering for the next 7.5 weeks, I wanted to share a few thoughts I have on making a nomadic lifestyle work.  It’s been a steep learning curve, but I do feel like I have some good suggestions to share for those of you who are considering hitting the open road for more than a few weeks.

  1. I highly suggest booking properties through Airbnb or VRBO that have more than one apartment unit on-site.  The more apartments the better.  I think multi-unit apartments are safer, (because others are generally around) and because they almost always have staff around to assist you if you run into problems. But even more importantly, when your apartment is lacking something like a bathmat, or kitchen towels and hand towels or even frying pans, you simply contact the property management company and they will borrow stuff from other apartments. Today we were missing all of the above, and I found the on-site housekeeper who quickly went into another unit and got us everything we needed.  This is the second time we’ve stayed in a multi-unit establishment, and the same thing happened then.
  2. If you are moving around a lot, you won’t be able to take a lot of things with you, so the things you do take with you must serve multiple purposes. One thing we really have found useful is two small, yet highly portable bluetooth speakers. We can easily move them from room to room and we like taking them to the beach too.  We just added an echo dot into the mix and so far, so good.
  3. We haven’t perfected the art of  traveling with so many electronic cords yet…but we’re working on it. Traveling with so many multiple cords for all of our electronics is a bit of a drag, but manageable. I think we may eventually invest in a charging unit like this one.  It probably would come in handy.chargingtetacle




4. I’m finding that I still have to make hard decisions about what to take and what to leave behind. I thought it would become easier, but it’s not.  For example, I packed an electronic scale to weight and measure food because I’m watching my weight. I also travel with a set of measuring cups, and spoons.  It’s kind of a drag traveling with them because they take up a tiny bit of space. And in order to find space for them I had to take one less pair of shoes. And sadly, I only took about five pairs of earrings instead of my usual 20 plus???  It’s not a big deal, but something had to give!!!

For this particular trip, I really downsized my wardrobe  collection.  I didn’t bring as many dressy clothes. I don’t think I will need them in Guatemala or in Oaxaca.

I’ll write again after we’ve explored Antigua a bit more.

Ciao for now.