A Masaya Morning

Heart racing from a deliciously strong coffee, typical of this area I lay on the top bunk of a hostel bed, alone again. The friend that I was traveling with went back to California yesterday and it was sad to see him go. I’m excited though, to start journeying again solo, I do love it so.

We spent a measly week in El Salvador, that was definitely not enough. Friendly people, beautiful architecture and great
street art. Although most guidebooks boast of San Salvador’s nightlife, we were found it virtually impossible to find live music in our time there. Maybe next time around..
After that, Leon, Nicaragua for three days, a liberal, university town and haven for women’s activists, poets and other free spirits. It also possesses Central America’s largest cathedral. Lion statues every where symbolized the city’s strength and left wing ferocity.

20130120-112741.jpg From Leon to the Pacific Coast for some beach time; then the beach to Masaya, Nicaragua where I lay now.

The next week I’ll be working, meditating and contemplating life at El Finca Coco Loco, a large organic farm slightly easy of Masaya, situated on the slope of an ancient volcano.

I have so much to share that I can’t find time to express it all on this tiny little computer. My heart feels like its bursting from contentment with the present and excitement for the next part of my journey alone. Perhaps it’s just the coffee. Who knows.. Maybe after a week of meditating I’ll have more collected thoughts.

By the way… The people in Nicaragua are stop and stare beautiful. Proof of this fact shown here…

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Carnivals to Circuses: Leaving Guatemala

An eventful 2 weeks has passed since I last had the time to write. Christmas in Copan consisted of a 24 hour hour barrage of fireworks, ranging from sparklers to straight up sticks of dynamite, lit by children as small as 5. The city wide debacle started about noon on Christmas Eve and headed into Christmas Day, with the biggest crescendo falling on Midnight between the two. My travel partner and I attempted to attend a Church service on Christmas Eve but we were met by a big screen tv showing an animated video depicting the tales of an angel in present day. Candles, hymns and sermons I can handle.. Bad graphics and improbable storylines? Not my idea of Christmas. We headed back out into the street to light off some fireworks of our own.

After two more days in Copan, Honduras, we traveled back into Guatemala, and Northeast towards the Caribbean coast, stopping at Quirigua on the way; the ancient Mayan city that was the commercial city and close partner to Copan.483204_510167445671548_27144787_nNext? Livingston, Guatemala. Located on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala, and only accessible by passenger boat, Livingston is it´s own world. The city is very unique due to the eclectic mix of Garífuna, Afro-Caribbean, Maya and Ladino people and culture.
IMG_0239Reggae and dancehall tunes blare from car speakers while local Mayan women quietly do their morning chores. Mobs of amazingly cute Garifuna children, go from restaurant to cafe playing handdrums and showing off their booty dances. Seemed like a perfect place to celebrate New Years. And it was. The night started off right with a rooftop candlelit bottle of cheap champagne, that we drank while intermittently throwing fireworks off the roof to the unexpecting streets below. After this, a short stroll to the local carnival that had been set up, with the usual rackety rides, fairgames and hotdog stands, made all the more sketchy by the torrential rains. Thankfully the rains cleared long enough for me to convince my friend to brave the ferris wheel. Oh look at that.. just in time for midnight. Where did I ring in the New Year? On the top of the sketchiest ferris wheel in town, engine sparking slightly from the rain, and hundreds of fireworks going off in every direction. Perfect. I think this was the first NYE I have spent outside… maybe I´ll make it a tradition.

After Livingston, we took a short trip down the Rio Dulce (large inland river, that opens out into the sea) to stay at a beautiful jungle lodge called the Roundhouse. Nestled into the rugged forest backdrop this hostel was a IMG_0252 IMG_0245great retreat after the hustle and bustle of Livingston. Kayak rides, jungle treks, river swims and hammocks. No complaints here. The owners of the property were kind and accommodating, even going to the extent of driving us by boat to our next destination, and helping us find our next hotel. As we were trying to get to El Salvador the following day, we spent a night in Rio Dulce, where we luckily caught the last show of a traveling circus. Slightly impaired by more torrential downpours, the cast and crew proved that the ¨show must go on¨, no matter what. Bleacher seating was dismantled to create walkways through the insanely deep puddles, a clown wailed on a trumpet in darkness while electrical problems were dealt with, and children used their parents for cover from the rain. It was an entertaining show to say the least.

Over 24 hours later I sit in Santa Ana, the second largest city in El Salvador. Resting here for a day to make plans for exploring the country. El Salvador is renown for its friendly and accommodating people and already I´ve felt welcomed. Today, I look forward to checking out the city. The sun is shining and there´s a beautiful breeze. Life is good.

Copan, Honduras

Swinging in a hammock overlooking a major street in Copan Ruinas I reflect on my past few days. The Mayan ceremony on Friday consisted of drums, pan flute, and chanting rituals over a carefully constructed fire. Black coals made of a sweet smelling substance flickered with energetic flames, rolling and changing with the wind; thick smoke bathing us all in its scent. The wind itself was monumental, changing direction every second, with gales unusually strong for the area. Perfect for bringing in new energy. After the ceremony everyone made the trek back down the jungle covered volcano in silence, smiling inwardly together.

That night I was lulled to sleep by the sound of fireworks and street fiestas back in Xela. I was tempted by the parties but Saturday I had a 12 hour
bus ride to Copan Ruinas the city close to the Mayan ruins of Copan. Next to Tikal, this site is one of the biggest in the area and is known for particularly detailed carvings and hieroglyphics. Of course this is the day after my good camera gives up on me but I managed to snap these photos here.

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The End of an Era

Just returned to Xela, after spending 4 days on the deepest lake in Central America, Lago de Atitlan. Nestled in Guatemala´s highlands, this lake is world renown for it´s natural beauty and picturesque views. Three major volcanoes loom over the area like watchful giants, ever present and protective. The lake itself is “volcanic in origin, filling an enormous caldera formed in an eruption 84,000 years ago.¨

IMG_0488I spent the first three nights in San Marcos, a smaller town overrun by yoga enthusiasts and holistic healing nuts. A great place to take a Reiki course, brush up on your yoga skills, fast silently, or overdose on organic goods. The nights were quiet in the ¨gringo¨ streets but lively in the other parts of town, busy with combo-celebrations of the coming change in the Mayan calendar and Catholic Christmas. The first night I arrived I found myself swept up in a procession consisting of a large majority of the villagers winding their way up through the hills to a neighbouring village, chanting hymns, carrying crosses and burning incense. Small children helping each other up the hill, women in the most beautiful indigos and maroons, and humble hombres hunched over their canes. Step by step, chorus by hymn, up the hill to meet the moon that smiled over the lake. Eventually we returned back to the village as the stars continued singing songs of worship.

IMG_0493The next few days I spent my time, meditating at my casa the Kaivalya Yoga Hostel, swinging softly in a hammock, and dining on simple veggie meals not readily available in other parts of Xela. San Marcos was a quiet piece of wellness heaven.
IMG_0556Yesterday I sped over by boat to San Pedro La Laguna, to meet up with two beloved friends from Vancouver who have been traveling a similar path as me the past few months. Only having 24 hours together before again parting ways, we caught up on travel tales over tea, beer, a boat ride to another lakeside town, and dinner at a San Pedro favourite; The Buddha Bar. Continued chats and cervasas on the roof of our lakeside hostel, watching the moonset and relishing in familiar company.IMG_0677

Alone again I´m back in Xela, ready for a very exciting day tomorrow. I´m honoured to be able to witness a Mayan ceremony held by the Mam people for the realization of the end the 13th Bak Tun. The ceremony will be held on the edge of a laguna situated in the crater of the Chicabal Volcano (northwest of Xela), a sacred and mystical place, revered and protected by the Mam Mayans.

My mind is open and ready for any change that this solstice will bring to the world. 2012 was a powerful year for almost every person I´ve encountered, and various systems of faith and religion predicted this in some shape or form. The year of the Dragon (my Chinese birthsign), the ending of the Bak Tun, and other celestial alignments. I am thankful for the amazing opportunities the universe provided this year and my heart is bursting with love and respect for every single soul I know.

Catch you on the flipside…

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Segundo Semana

Things are grand here in Xela. Finishing up my second week of classes I already feel at home in this city. My host family treats me like the daughter they never had, and I´ve established a friendly relationship with my Spanish teacher. I feel a little sorry for him though because I´m constantly interrupting verb conjugations to ask for the Spanish translations for nonsensical words like Leprechaun, Elf, Magic.. etc. ¨All very important in my line of work¨ I struggle to explain.

Both the school and my home are close to Parque Central, apparently the oldest central park in Central America. I toured the main municipal office, the local church and the Museum of History after the second day of classes, and have explored the majority of the downtown core in the afternoons. IMG_0231The first week I was the only student at my school, and although it was nice that there were no distractions, I was happy to welcome twoIMG_0331 other students for the second week. Together we ventured to the local hotsprings, Fuentes Georginas, and visited a wonderful cooperative called Trama Textiles, which  helps local women sell and display their various textiles and connects them with other useful organizations in the area. They have volunteers working daily, and if yoIMG_0310u´d like IMG_0306you can learn how to weave your own fabric. I quickly realized that I didn´t have the time or the craftiness to make anything for myself. It´s inspirational to watch though to get a sense of how complicated the process is. The fabrics in Guatemala, are world renown. The indigenous clothing is colourful and warm. It´s common to see groups of brightly dressed women strolling the streets, balancing their wares precariously on their head, laughing toothy grins at each other while hawking the fabrics to anyone and everyone. It´s a comforting sight and I´ll definitely miss it when I leave Guatemala.

On the weekends, I like to visit a local park that is on top of a nearby mountain-hill.. called Baul. It has the coolest slide in the world (pictured below), and a beautiful view of Xela. This might be my last weekend in town so tomorrow I plan on attending a Catholic Sunday mass with my family and making them dinner in the evening. Perhaps pasta?

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Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

One of my favourite things about travelling is the surreal transitions that occur. One night I´m peacefully camping in the Redwoods of California, a few nights later, fitfully trying to fall asleep amidst the cacophony of streetdog wails, sporadic firecrackers and the other city squeals of Quetzalnango, the second largest city in Guatemala. The trip here was smooth and uneventful. An evening flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles, followed by a brief 4 hour flight led to my arrival in Guatemala City last Thursday at 8am. I grabbed my hideously overweight backpack (endearingly named Ethel for companionship) off the baggage cart and found a taxi to the bus terminal. I am certain that the bus ride from the nation´s capital to this city was beautiful, alas, I slept almost the entire time – face shmushed up against the tinted window.

Once I arrived in the city, I went directly to the Spanish school I had previously made arrangements with. They welcomed me with warm smiles, gave me a quick tour of the school and soon after introduced me to my host family who took me to my newest home. Here a few photos I snapped the first night. For the first time in months, I have a place to call my own!

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I´ve spent the last 4 days exploring the city and orientating myself in Quetzalnango. More commonly known by it´s indigenous name Xela (pronounced Che-la), this place is reminiscent more of a large town then a city. It´s surprisingly cold at night, sunny but mild during the day, and surrounded by a family of protective mountains. The streets are cobblestoned, the nights are noisy and the days are short. My sleep schedule has taken a complete turn, and I now rise with the sun and return home at sunset. Today was my first day of Spanish classes and I´ll remain at this school for about 3-4 weeks. During my time in Xela I plan on finding a local volunteer organization to commit to, taking various dance-yoga-wellness classes to keep active and exploring the surrounding region on the weekends. I´m excited to be in a classroom setting again, and can´t wait to feel more comfortable with the local language. I found a great internet cafe close to mi casa, so I´ll definitely be in touch!

Northern California

I wrote this post last night while sitting in San Francisco’s largest ”party hostel”, skillfully avoiding drink invitations, eagerly awaiting my first night’s rest in an indoor bed. I’ve spent the better part of November camping on a WWOOF farm 1 hour north of Arcata, California, which was the longest consecutive stay I’ve done in one place. Previously I’ve used this program to find work in Southern California, Canada, Australia and Turkey.  The work on this farm consisted of tending organic vegetable and herb gardens, prepping the crops for the winter season and I actually got to do a bit of cooking for the kind hosts and some of the other workers which was a pleasant surprise. The evenings were spent swapping travel tales with the other volunteers, drinking local microbrews and admiring the moon and her twinkling companions. The weather was mostly beautiful, with a bit of rain and snow here and there. I expected it to rain the whole time so I was pleasantly surprised by all the sunshine! The farmers had a very professional approach, and were extremely helpful to the volunteers. They were honest, open and answered any questions we had work related or otherwise.  The evening meal was always delicious, made with fresh local ingredients.

As I spend more and more time on organic farms, I’m beginning to grasp an understanding of just how difficult it is to maintain pesticide free approach. The crops are extremely sensitive to everything and your work has to be much more detailed or you’re left with too much rot. We spent a few days volunteering at a neighbour’s farm packaging some of their vegetables, and although they had delicious looking produce, it definitely did not taste the same.

Humboldt, California is an interesting place to volunteer, as there are hundreds of travelers in the area for similar reasons. It was a great stereotypical California experience. I made great friends with the other workers, and managed to see quite a bit of the surrounding areas on different day trips. Halloween was a blast, and we decided to celebrate a very unique Thanksgiving on Novemember 10th which is perfect because I missed Canadian Thanksgiving and I’ll be missing American Thanksgiving.

I finally leave for Central America tomorrow! The flight leaves at 8pm, and I’ll be arriving in Guatemala City at 8am the next day. Now the real journey begins. I should be posting a bit more regularly once I cross the Equator.

Here are some photos from my time on the farm. Unfortunately I left my good camera in San Francisco so I just have a few shots.

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