Fuckin’ cancer? – C’mon, really?

Dear faithful blog readers,

There’s no easy way to say this. There’s no mincing words or beating around the bush. I’ll tell you straight out. The motherfucker is back!  Cancer has once again invaded cells, minds and hearts. Yes, I’m mad. Yes, I’m sad. I’m so, so many things.

But I’m not the one who is sick this time … the man who I love more than anything in this world is.

Andy has cancer.

That’s part of the reason for  blog silence. We’re in Oakland, dealing with medical tests and dealing with stress — although because we’ve “been there, done that,” the journey is easier this time. But it’s just as sad.

To recap: After our winter season in Zihuatanejo, we went on a one-week, whirlwind, driving tour of the East Coast and Midwest, seeing family and friends in four cities. Then we flew to the Bay Area, picked up our fancy cruise clothes, drove to L.A. and boarded a cruise ship for a 28-day cruise to Hawaii and to French Polynesia. The cruise was great, although we agreed we don’t want to do such a long one again. There just wasn’t enough to do on the ship; I think 21 days would be quite enough. The highlight of the cruise was Bora Bora, the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. The people who reside in French Polynesia are lovely, and the color of the water in Bora Bora was indescribable. The photos you see of Bora Bora in no way do  justice to what you see in person.

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The over -the-water bungalows in Bora Bora were amazing. Our new cruise friends rented one and invited us for a visit. While hiking, Andy got bit by a pit bull; thus the bandage.

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Right after the cruise, we drove from L.A. to Oakland. We ran errands. We went to see our doctors. I saw my oncologist, and Andy saw his general practitioner to talk about some stomach issues he’d been having before we left Mexico: slight abdominal pains and bathroom visits of the numero dos variety that weren’t up to snuff. Initially we assumed it was a parasite, but its lingering nature had Andy thinking something might be up. Based on his symptoms and age (54), his doctor recommended a colonoscopy.

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Andy takes a trial run before a test. 

Hello colon cancer.

Half of us are cancer free, and half ain’t.  Bad odds. We’ve both been diagnosed with cancer way too young. Both under 55.

My husband of 21 years needs surgery to remove a tumor in his sigmoid colon, and he may need chemo, too. We won’t know until after the surgery, maybe as much as a week after. Luckily, because the tumor is in a “good” location and the cancer hasn’t spread to any nearby organs, he will have laparoscopic surgery and won’t have to be cut open. But all we really know right now is that the cancer is not stage 4. If it’s stage 1 or 2, then no chemo is necessary.

If he does need chemo, we’ll stay in California for at least six months. Right now, we’re in wait-and-see mode. In the meantime, Andy’s actually feeling pretty good. He’s occasionally a bit more tired than usual, but he’s been seeing some Bay Area sporting events, hiking, walking, drinking some good coffee and working a bit on his “job” as a freelance copy editor for J. He’s in good spirits.

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Andy drinking some orange juice at Hella Vegan Eats in Uptown Oakland.

If he doesn’t need chemo, we’ll be on our merry way,  probably back to Morelia, Mexico, where we plan on staying until the end of November (although another city or even another country could be in the offing now that we’ve been dealt a curveball). He’ll probably need a full month of recovery time after surgery, so we’ll lay low until he’s feeling up and at ’em. Fortunately, we had no obligations in Mexico this summer. No leases, no down payments, no nothing. We do have a four-month lease starting Dec. 1 in Zihuatanejo, so that’s our only known next step.

If you have seen us in the Bay Area, we thank you for your kindness and good wishes.  For those of you who have housed us while we wait for surgery, we are SUPER-DUPER appreciative. And we can’t give enough thanks to our friends Iris and Bob (who we know from Zihuatanejo but who live near Oakland); they have offered us their lovely home for three weeks while they go on a cruise! Another friend has offered us her in-law studio for a few weeks in June. Yes, there are many blessings in our lives, even with cancer once again rearing its ugly head.

Andy’s surgery is scheduled for May 25. I’ll post another blog when I know more about the success of his surgery and his future course of treatment.

You can leave well wishes for him here, or just shoot him an email if you want to.

 

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Losing my gun violence virginity

Dear readers of BelieveItOhrNot,

Chapter 1

This blog is not about travel, ovarian cancer or Mexico.  It’s about guns. It’s about my friend, Christine Loeber, the former Executive Director of the Pathway Home in Yountville, CA. Christine died on Friday when a mentally ill veteran stormed the non-profit. He took three hostages (including my friend) and everyone died.

Chapter 2                         

Christine

Now it’s Sunday night.  I’m sitting at my computer barely able to hold it together. My 48-year-old friend isn’t my friend any longer.

Not only did I lose a friend. The world has lost a passionate, talented social worker.  I first met Christine at a veterans fair. She was sitting at a resource table and I approached it to find out about the services they were offering. After five minutes of us talking, I knew we’d become friends. Her energy sparkled. When I found out that she was a social worker like me, I liked her even more. After that first day, she gave me her business card. I decided to email her and I asked her if she liked beer and pool. She liked both, and music and yoga.  A friendship was built. Once I got to know her better, I could see how devoted she was to her clients. She always spoke about the vets she worked with nothing but the utmost respect. I dug that about her.

I’m so pissed off.  I can no longer say that I don’t know anyone who has been a victim of random gun violence. I’m not in that club any longer. A mentally ill veteran took my gun virginity.  He violated me. And there’s nothing I can do to get it back or bring her back.

Now I’m in the same suckers club … Newtown, Parkland, Columbine, and I have no place to put my grief.  I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d lose a friend to something so tragic. Car accident, sure. Heart attack, maybe. Cancer, unfortunately. But to a gun at the hands of a mentally ill veteran … absolutely not. Silly, innocent me.

Chapter 3

And if her death isn’t enough, you know what hurts even more? The fact that I feel powerless to do anything about it. The fact that my grief is so raw, and so intense, I can’t fathom how to yell “enough is enough” loudly enough or strongly enough.  If somehow I do manage to get through my fog of grief, and if I did yell, I doubt anyone would hear me. So for now, I’m just stuck here in griefland.

If you want to yell for me, I’d appreciate it. I hope to find my voice once my pain stops.  If you want to share my post that’s cool too.

I hope you never have to experience losing someone so senselessly to gun violence. I want to go back to a place of innocence, but I can’t.

You can read more about my amazing friend here and here.

I miss you Christine. Our friendship was too fucking short-lived.

 

Lazy days in Zihuatanejo

Hey peeps,

I am very sorry for my lack of recent posts. I have a very good excuse. I have had absolutely nothing to say of interest. Seriously.  I tried to write witty posts several times, but each time I came up empty-handed. But finally I have a few things of interest to share.

First, I am feeling fine and my last three month check-up for cancer went great. I’m still rocking the remission thing.

Secondly,  despite the new State Department warnings against traveling to the state of Guerrero, Mexico, we remain safe.  Many of you may have read about the recent killing of an American in Ixtapa, (15 minutes away from Zihuatanejo).  The man who was killed was out at 4:00 AM and they suspect he got into a fight after visiting a sex worker.  This IN NO WAY  excuses what happened,  but extenuating circumstances led to his death. It was not a random killing.  But still, we are taking extra precautions to stay safe. In the late evenings we take a cab home from downtown now, and we are more vigilant and aware of our general surroundings.  If you are planning on visiting in the next few months, rest assured Zihuatanejo is a safe place for foreigners to visit. Most of the violence in our state is politically motivated and/or cartel related.

Overall, we are loving being back in Zihuatanejo. Our apartment is great, the weather is great and our lives are slow and tranquil. We spend our days reading or going to the beach.  I often hang out with my mom for lunch or a trip to a local beach or pool.  My dad came for my birthday and we had a nice visit, too.

That’s pretty much all I can say.  See why I haven’t blogged!   Life in Zihuatenjo is one big chill fest!

Where to next?

Andy and I have figured out our next adventure after we leave Zihuataenjo.  We’re actually going to be scooting out of her a little bit earlier than anticipated. Our lease in Zihuatanejo ends March 30, but we’re going to hightail it out a bit early because…

We’re going on a month-long cruise!!!  Hawaii, American Samoa, Bora Bora and Tahiti here we come!!!

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I’ve always wanted to take a long cruise. This is a dream of mine. The longest cruise we’ve been on has been two weeks. but I really, really wanted to experience sea life for a more extended period of time. And I wanted to go on a cruise that has tons and tons of days at sea, with only a few ports of call.   Most people enjoy port intensive cruises, but not us!  Andy and I both adore days at sea. If the temperature allows, we spend our sea days roaming the ship, out by the pool, playing ping pong, reading, watching videos and just relaxing. We’ve done several cruises with long stretches of sea days, but often the weather has been too cold to enjoy the pools–not this time!  We already have some fun stuff planned including plans to attend a first night Passover Seder with other Jewish passengers.  Last year we celebrated Passover in Kyoto, Japan. This year we’ll be at sea. Cool!

Here’s our itinerary on the Emerald Princess departing from Los Angeles.  See all the crazy sea days 🙂

Port Arrive Depart
Day 1 Los Angeles, California 4:00 PM
Day 2 At Sea
Day 3 At Sea
Day 4 At Sea
Day 5 At Sea
Day 6 Honolulu, Hawaii 7:00 AM 11:00 PM
Day 7 Kauai (Nawiliwili), Hawaii 8:00 AM 5:00 PM
Day 8 Maui (Lahaina), Hawaii 7:00 AM 6:00 PM
Day 9 Hilo, Hawaii 8:00 AM 5:00 PM
Day 10 At Sea
Day 11 At Sea
Day 12 At Sea
Day 13 At Sea
Day 14 Cross International Date line 8:00 PM 9:00 PM
Day 14 Pago Pago, American Samoa 10:00 AM 7:00 PM
Day 16 At Sea
Day 16 Apia, Western Samoa 7:00 AM 4:00 PM
Day 16 Cross International Date line 5:00 PM 6:00 PM
Day 17 At Sea
Day 18 Bora Bora, French Polynesia 8:00 AM 10:00 PM
Day 19 Tahiti (Papeete), French Polynesia 8:00 PM
Day 20 Tahiti (Papeete), French Polynesia 5:00 PM
Day 21 Moorea, French Polynesia 8:00 AM 4:00 PM
Day 22 At Sea
Day 23 At Sea
Day 24 At Sea
Day 25 At Sea
Day 26 At Sea
Day 27 At Sea
Day 28 At Sea
Day 29 Los Angeles, California 7:00 AM

Perhaps you are wondering how we’re able to afford such a luxurious and long voyage? First, it’s not that expensive because we booked an interior cabin with no window or balcony. We have bunked in an interior cabin for two weeks several other times and it worked out fine. Hopefully being in such a small space for 28 days won’t test our marriage too much!

Also because most food expenses are included (except for the specialty restaurants) we won’t have to pay for food or rent for the month of April because we’ll be living on the cruise ship. It’s a splurge for sure, but an affordable one.

Sometime in mid to late March, will be back in the Bay Area to pick up cruise clothes (Andy looks hot in his tux) and say hi to our friends and family. We’ll try to have a gathering someplace to see everyone.  I will also see my U.S. based oncologist for my three month check-up.  Then our plan is to drive to LA with our snorkeling gear, bathing suits and fancy cruise frocks in tow!

More details to follow soon!

Stacey

The short and sweet of Oaxaca City

Dear friends,

We just got back to Zihuatanejo, and we’re pretty beat from 7 weeks of traveling, but I want to write a few things about our time visiting the city of Oaxaca.  This blog will be short and sweet. Very unusual for a writer who likes to drone on and on.

Oaxaca City was amazing.  OaxacaCityThe historical center was beautiful.  The center was a bit touristy for our liking, but it had the absolute best shopping I’ve seen in Mexico. It had gallery after gallery full of interesting Mexican art.  It had colorful Day of the Dead skulls and art everywhere. It had beautiful handmade embrodered Mexican shirts and dresses dangling in storefronts. And it had tons of street vendors selling beautiful handmade shirts, shawls and rugs. Yes, I did buy one shirt from a street vendor.

It had to be the textile capital of Mexico!

Oaxaca  Mexicanshirthad modern restaurants serving amazing food too. The best meal I’ve had in Mexico was in Oaxaca.  It had lovely mescal bars beckoning happy drinkers. It had some tremendous coffeeshops too. After a week of drinking two cups a day, I finally decided to take a breather.  I think Andy was delighted I was off the juice

The central plaza was beautiful, active and the balloon sellers were quite busy!

The city felt safe, and it was incredibly clean. The outskirts of the city featured many modern chain stores and chain restaurants. I didn’t realize Oaxaca city would be so modern. I had some pre-conceived notions which turned out to be untrue.

We did toy with the idea of renting a house in Oaxaca City for a few months, but in the end we feel like Morelia has a bit more spirit and is just a little bit livelier. But all in all it was a great two weeks…except for me leaving my brand new Google Pixel phone in the back of a cab.

If you are thinking about visiting Oaxaca, it’s a great choice.

I will try to push out another blog this week with musings about our past seven weeks.

Stacey

 

FAQ from my readers!

 NOTE:  I was having some issues dealing with formatting for this blog post, it may look a little strange.  

Dear readers of Believe It Ohr Not:

Recently on Facebook, I asked you to send me questions that you might be interested in having me answer.  Thank you for heeding my plea and for sending me some very thoughtful ones.  I was touched so many of you took time out of your  busy schedules to compose them.

Here’s my answers to your queries.

Do you ever hide being American?
 No. We have never, ever hidden being from the USA.  In our travels people don’t automatically assume we are American. They assume we are either 1) Canadian
2) European 3) American, but not always in that order. It just depends.
Once we tell them we are from America, they usually ask us “what do you think of your president”. When we tell them, they smile, nod and that’s about it.  It’s never been an issue, and we don’t feel like we have to hide where we are from.   IMG_20170910_124823
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What do you wish Americans visiting Mexico would know?
I wish people in the United States really could see just how warm the Mexican people are. It’s hard to explain their warmth and vibrancy. They have a real zest for life. They live each day to its fullest. They are always smiling and joking, even though many people here have very hard lives and work very hard to support their families. They are always up for a celebration which I love!  Mexico does have its problems, politically and economically, but much of what you read and hear on the news is not reflective of our interactions with the population as a whole.     IMG_20170911_120921
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Are there ways we can help – things we can bring – when visiting to donate to local schools, orphanages, etc

Yes!  Local schools need basic school supplies, especially some of the more remote schools in Zihuatanejo. If you want to bring supplies when you come to visit us in Zihuatanejo, I can put you in touch with people I know that work closely with a local school in the hills of Zihuataenjo.

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How’s the snorkeling?

Not horrible, not great. It’s better on the Caribbean side near Cancun, but I’ve gone in Zihuatanejo before and it’s not horrible.

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How do you know where it’s OK to eat?

We don’t always know where it’s OK to eat. Generally, as a rule, I don’t eat street food, unless someone recommends it, or we see the vendors taking advanced hygienic precautions. This includes serving food on plates that have been wrapped into plastic wrap, and serving food with gloves on.  We also try to locate vendors that do not touch food and collect money at the same time. Sometimes we’ll bend these rules and I will eat plain cheese quesadillas.  Andy is not as strict as I am. He’s way more open to eating street food. The sanitation rules in Mexico are not as advanced as the U.S., but they are improving.   darngoodmole

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How do we find such cool restaurants?

We use Lonely Planet a lot!  We find that they have good restaurant recommendations. We also use TripAdvisor, (but it can be hit or miss).  While traveling, we always ask ex-pats to recommend their favorite places.

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How much Spanish do you speak now?

Not that much. But I continue to try.  I can successfully order food in a restaurant most of the time. I can tell people where I’m from. I can ask for things in a store.  Andy’s Spanish is way better than mine on all levels. But I continue to take lessons and hope for a miracle!  My comprehension is improving. Actually, my vocabulary is improving too, but I can’t string together sentences very well.   IMG_20170910_202658

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How much money do I need to do the same thing?

I can’t answer this question. This is too individual. But if you are seriously interested in doing something like we are, I will happily help you prepare a budget. And I can share our budget with you.  I can tell you that life in Mexico is way, way cheaper than life in the U.S, especially life in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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How long can you stay in Mexico?

Right now are are on tourist visas. This means we can stay in Mexico for 180 days. After 180 days (six months) we have to leave Mexico–for how long we are not sure. We’ve always left for at least a few weeks. Sometimes people do border runs to the U.S.A or Guatemala, or Belize, and return in very short amount of times.  Eventually we may decide to apply for permanent residency, but this process has to be started outside of Mexico and we’ve not had a chance to start it yet.

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What is the coldest it’s been?
In Patzcuaro, it’s probably been in the low 40’s at night. It can get very cold in some parts of Mexico. In Oaxaca at night we need jackets. Andy wears his new wool cap from Guatemala.  He won’t be able to wear it once we get to Zihuatenjo and it’s 90 degrees every day!  hatboy
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How would you define “home” now?

I think Mexico is starting to feel like home. I’m not sure I would actually call it my home, but the longer we are here, the more it feels like it.

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What has been your favorite city in Mexico u have traveled to and why?

 I cannot answer this. Mexico has tons of cities I love.  I always, always wax poetically about both Morelia and Zihuatenjo, but I also love Oaxaca where we are now.  I’ll blog about Oaxaca soon, but it has blown me away for many reasons. I guess Morelia still would have to be my favorite city, (with Oaxaca a close second) because it’s vibrant, old, beautiful and it has a certain buzz that I can’t adequately describe.  It’s a city that lives.

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How does it feel to have accomplished (and endured) more than you thought possible in terms of physical effort while traveling in Guatemala?

I’m surprised that I could do what I did. As I often recount, I’m not a good hiker, I don’t handle hills well, and I get winded easily, because I’m not in tip-top physical shape. Still it felt good to challenge myself while in Guatemala.     The water/cave hike was most memorable. Kanbucaves

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What happened to the Giant Flying Cockroach hiding in Andy’s clothes on the wall?

Thankfully, I never saw the cockroach again, so I don’t actually know.

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Is the tap water okay to drink during your travels?

It depends. It was fine to drink in Japan and South Korea. But it is not fine to drink anywhere in Mexico, (unless in a fancy resort with filtered water). It’s was not OK to drink tap water in Guatemala. I know this question is not about river water, but several months ago, I drank water from a river spring ONLY because an ex-pat told me it was a pure source, directly from  and because he drinks from it every day. I didn’t get sick, but eventually I developed a parasite. It could have been from the river, it could have been from something else.  In Mexico you just never know. No more river water for me!

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Have you discovered any different and interesting food in Guatemala?

Guatemala is not known for its food. I did really enjoy eating beans and rice, though. I liked the black beans a lot.  I also liked the fact that the food was not as spicy as Mexico, but it’s very similar. I was a big fan of a Guatemalan white fish. I also enjoyed snacking on fried fava beans. They were my favorite Guatemalan snacks.

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What do you do if you need minor or major medical attention?

 I go to the doctor!  I have a great oncologist in Morelia, Mexico who I see every three months.  I’ve had to seek medical attention in Israel, Belgium, and Japan and all of these experiences have turned out fine.  I do recommend carrying travel insurance whenever you travel.  

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Have you ever felt unsafe anywhere you’ve stayed are traveled?

I didn’t feel completely safe in Livingston, Guatemala on the Caribbean coast. But I didn’t feel threatened either. Safety, thankfully has not been an issue for us.  Livingstonwaterfall

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Have you encountered many “ugly Americans? Would you recommend retiring in Mexico? If so, which part(s)?

We haven’t encountered many ugly Americans. I would say that the opposite is true. For the most part, the Americans we have encountered love and respect Mexicans and Mexican culture. They go out of their way to show respect in their daily interactions. But, I also attribute this to the fact that with the exception of Zihuatanejo, we’ve not been in places with tons and tons of tourists. However, even when we’ve stayed at all-inclusive resorts with a lot of gringos, we’ve seen tourists trying to be respectful.

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Can you talk about finding and using travel agents?
We tend to book most of our travel ourselves. For instance, when we went to Korea and Japan this past spring, we did everything ourselves and it worked out fine. However, for this recent trip to Guatemala,  there were too many things we felt like we needed help with. Andy went into a travel agent and booked a one-day hiking trip and it worked out well, so we decided to return to the same travel agency and book many more excursions, and van travel. They did a GREAT job. They gave us their cell phone number so we could text them when issues came up, and the travel agent spoke fairly good English.

 In order to find good travel agents, I would use two sources 1) Word of mouth  2) online reviews from TripAdvisor.

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What new food have you tried that you’ve really enjoyed? Really not?

In Guatemala I really liked the black beans they served with many meals.  In Mexico, I have a soft spot in my heart for beers mixed with tomato juice. It’s super refreshing even thought it sounds disgusting. I’ve also developed an appreciation for mezcal since we’re now in Oaxaca.  Don’t get me started on the chocolate from Oaxaca, especially when combined with the local chili.  It’s fab.  grasshopper

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How do you channel your inner “superhero”? You are so courageous to be living the life you are! I’m too scared to take those kinds of risks.

I’m not sure I would consider myself a risk taker by nature, but I know many readers of my blog would disagree.  I think my “superhero” shines brightly because I simply do not know if and when I might get cancer again.  Right now, I’ve been in remission for two whole years! Amazing.  I don’t know how long I’m going to be around and I don’t know how healthy I’m going to be.  This allows me to do things I wouldn’t normally do like do a cave hike.

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What was something you expected that was true?

I expected that I would not miss working 40 hours a week. This has proven to be true.

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What was something you didn’t expect (not including your last hotel room) that surprised you… good and/or bad?

Gosh, some of these questions are hard!  I guess I’m surprised at how much we love Mexico and how much it fits in with our lifestyle.  Before we started this adventure, I had been to Mexico many, many times but primarily only to the Yucatan and Zihuatenjo. I didn’t realize what a beautiful and interesting country Mexico would turn out to be. I didn’t realize how much we would fall in love with the people.  And I really didn’t realize how much the Mexican way-of-life (cultural tempo?) would fit into our lifestyle.    beachRioDulce

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Tell us about the weavings in Guatemala.

Throughout Guatemala, many, many women (and often men) wear traditional clothing.  It’s beautiful, colorful and a feast for the eyes!  Most women wear clothing that does not match.  Every region has a different style of clothing and many indigenous people can tell where someone is from by the pattern of their clothes. Handmade clothing is for sale everywhere in Guatemala, but much of it is expensive.  I didn’t buy any shirts in Guatemala because they seemed very heavy and hot. I didn’t think I would be able to wear them while in Mexico so I passed.  IMG_20171015_123224

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 Is finding a restroom ever an issue?

Yes! Many Mexican restrooms are not nice places.  In Japan, I felt like I could eat off the floor easily in the restrooms. They were always spotless including public ones. Not true in Mexico. It’s not always easy to find a clean one. Usually, when taking a driving trip, highway gas station restrooms are decent, but often public ones are not good. I close my eyes and do my business as fast as I can!

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What do you miss the most about the Bay Area?

I miss our super big and super comfortable couch at our house in Oakland. I miss hanging out and exploring cool Oakland neighborhoods. I miss sushi and I miss dim sum. I miss shopping at Trader Joe’s.  I miss my friends and mother-in-law!! 

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Thanks again for submitting questions. I had a lot of fun answering them!

2 cockroaches– 2 ladders– and 2 much fun!

The love of my life is currently lying next to me in our hotel room in Livingston, Guatemala. He really doesn’t look so good.  About 4 AM, he woke up with stomach problems which got worse as the morning progressed, but I was fine. Then after breakfast, I wasn’t so fine anymore. And  although we both managed to go on two great outings today, once we got back to the hotel mid-afternoon, we both crashed, with Andy feeling much worse than me.

Ugh, now he’s in the bathroom making a lot of coughing and retching noises. That’s probably not a good sign. I fear I’m next. I may have to put this yarn spinning on hold to pay my respects to Mrs. Porceline–but hopefully not.

In general, I’m fairly cautious about what I eat and drink when I travel, but lately, I’ve let my guard down. It’s very hard to be diligent when you are on the road for an extended period of time. Case in point…I love me some green apples. I eat them all the time in Mexico. But, in Mexico, I always wash them in blue drops. While we’re on the road, we don’t have the luxury of soaking everything for 15 minutes. And yeah, when possible I try to eat bananas and safe things, but I crave green apples, so Andy bought me three lovely green specimens just the other day. Yesterday I snacked on one sans washing. Well, maybe that wasn’t so smart. Or, maybe it was the the ice that accompanied my dinner drink last night.  Or perhaps it was swimming in the bat infested water cave. Whatever the case, I’m pledging to be more cautious for the rest of our trip in Guatemala and Oaxoca.  Right now my head is pounding, and I’m starting to feel not-so-good. And from the sounds of retching coming from behind door number 1 either is Andy.

Trip recap

Right now, we’re staying at one of the finest hotels in the Rio Dulce area of Guatemala. We’re currently on the Caribbean Coast.  It’s quite nice, but it’s very much like a full-service resort that was built in the 1960’s and never updated. Everything is faded and crackly, but clean…except for the huge hairball in our shower that was leftover from the last guest. Our room is nice and large, it has decent (one setting) air-conditioning and it has a killer view of the Bay of Amatique.  It’s where the Rio Dulce empties into the ocean. Simply beautiful.

Today marks the 1/2 way point through our 52 day Guatemala/Mexico adventure. Here’s what we’ve done.

  • We left Morelia and spent 10 glorious days in Zihuatanejo.
  • We flew to Guatemala from Mexico City and spent two weeks in Antigua. While in Antigua, Andy hiked up some volcanoes and I went to Spanish school. We toured coffee plantations, went to an organic farm,  and drank a lot of amazing Guatemalan coffee. We also went to a really neat kite festival to celebrate Day of the Dead. And we went to the largest crafts market in Guatemala.
  • We went to Lake Atitlan and toured the lake district. We stayed in a really posh airbnb, starred at the lake and visited a lot of Mayan lake towns.
  • Then we went to Semuc Champey. It was a hellish journey.  It took us 8 hours by van, and then we had to transfer to a big pick-up truck and travel another hour. Luckily I got a seat in the truck, and I didn’t have to stand-up in the back with eight other people. Now we are in the Rio Dulce area.

Next, we’ll visit the ruins of Tikal, visit another colonial city called Xela (AKA, Quetzaltenango) and then we will spend 17 days exploring Oaxaca, Mexico. Then it’s back to Zihuatanejo for four months.

Not allowed in the United States!

During our recent stay in Semuc Champey, our tour guide took us on a tour of an underwater bat cave. This is something I really wanted to do because I love to swim and I thought a swimming hike would be fun. I asked the tour guide if the hike was difficult since I had read on-line that it was scary and very challenging. He said “no problem”.  But just to be sure, when we got to the hike location, I asked a bunch of people coming out of the cave if it was difficult, they all said “not really”.  They all told me it was AWESOME and I should go for it. Note to self…don’t ask young 20 somethings if things are difficult.  They were just plain wrong.

So the hike begins with ONE guide for 20 people. We all have lit candles and we approach the cave by hiking up  a pretty steep path. Maybe 150 steps?  Then we go down a steep set of steps and enter the water-filled cave. We’re traipsing through a very scary and dark bat cave, sometimes swimming, sometimes, holding onto a rope to guide us. Then all the sudden we’re climbing wall hugging ladders with rungs that barely have any place to place ones feet. We’re also inching along small ledges, and stepping on small and large stones in the freezing cold water that are either a) jagged or b) very slippery. And I’m having the time of my life! Really, I am. Me. The person who is scared of literally everything.

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This photo is from the internet, not from our hike, but you get the idea.

Of course, me being me, eventually I sort of crumple to my knees having just completed the top rung of a very difficult ladder: unfortunately I was right on the edge of a perilous cliff when this happened.  Thankfully I wasn’t hurt, but had I been seriously hurt, I would have had to be driven 12 hours to the nearest hospital. The guide and Andy helped me get up…did I mention there was ONE guide for 20 people????  I’m not sure how I managed to get myself up, since I can barely get myself up when I’m on the mat at yoga, but I think my adrenal must have kicked in big-time. Onward I trudged with Andy holding onto me tightly. Sometimes another hiker gave me his hand in places where I had to hoist myself up.  In a few other tight spots, the guide came to my rescue. That’s when we wasn’t helping the 19 other people!!!

After the hike, Andy told me that this was the most adventurous things he had ever seen me do in our entire relationship.

A dark cave hike would never, ever be allowed in the U.S.  They had zero, I mean zero safety standards in place. We didn’t sign any release forms, we had no proper gear (but I was wearing water shoes thankfully). The entire thing was just so sketchy. I’m not even sure the guide had any special training although he did help me a lot.  Also, there really needed to be at least 2 other guides accompanying our group. In hindsight, it’s a good thing we took out travel insurance. Other people who have done this hike came out with busted knees, broken ankles and tons of other maladies.  I know this because I read about it on Tripadvisor, and we have a few friends who told us what happened to them after I posted about my hike adventure on Facebook.

Today we went on a much easier, short river hike to see seven river pools. I only saw two pools because the hike got to be too difficult for me.  It was very rocky. It ended at a waterfall and Andy took a dip.

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I wanted to do more of this lovely river hike but it was too rocky.

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Andy had a nice dip in this waterfall. I didn’t make it this far.

After the river hike, our boat took us to a private beach. It was really relaxing, but we didn’t go swimming because the water looked murky and gross. However, the beach itself was lovely. We listened to some music and just chilled.  Instead of swimming Andy took a nice nap. Guatemala is not known for its fine beaches, although nearby Honduras and Belize have some very fine beaches.

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The beach looked nice, but it wasn’t a swimming beach.

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Andy had a nice nap in the shade.

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Why 2 cockroaches, 2 ladders and 2 much fun?

2 cockroaches: I saw two giant cockroaches in our hostel in the jungle. Faithful readers of this blog know that I’m terrified of them. One bolted out of Andy’s boxer shorts which were hanging on a wall, and I saw another spooky one in our bathroom at the hostel.

2 ladders: I had to go up at least two ladders during our cave hike.

2 much fun:  Needs no further explanation. It’s what this adventure is!!!

 

 

 

 

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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

Stacey