today is my mama's birthday.

I love my mama!

The show on my birthday was Really good! I danced like crazy amidst all the gringos in town, most of whom it took at least an hour to start moving. I kept thinking, ¨It's my birthday!¨ It was good. The fliers said it started at 8, but it actually started at about a quarter after 10, and then only after two rather young women dressed in tiny, tight clothes with the Gallo logo all over got on stage and skankily danced for about 15 minutes. The gringos did not like this part of the evening. It was great, though, and there were loads of folks salsa dancing between everyone. I really enjoyed it, felt so happy and smiling the whole time. It was a great birthday. We left at the break, since it was almost midnight, and we knew we´d have to wake our host family. At the bottom of the stairs from the show, I got to tell Ignacio many thanks, and how beautiful the music was, and he very graciously bowed and thanked me in return. It was the perfect ending, aside from the lovely long walk back to the house.

As an aside, I´m doing rather well at the school. I hope to make a complete sentence by Wednesday! :D



Yesterday, after finishing up my last blog entry, Mike lost $250 to an ATM, we got in a big argument because he blamed me for telling him to take money out of the ATM, I cried a lot, we watched a man across the small street (more like an alley) have a seizure, crash into a moving truck, then fall into the street seizing and bleeding while no one knew who to call for an ambulance, and then Mike's shoe busted a strap.

But equally good things happened, I suppose. We got to our homestay, which is really quite nice, and the international coordinator who was bringing us to the home took us also to the bank to explain in good Spanish what happened at the ATM (maybe that'll get resolved, but I'm not holding my breath or worrying much).

It was stressful, yesterday, but I slept well, and now it's my birthday! Mike and I pretty well gave each other space last night, so things are a bit smoother today. Off to buy tickets to the show tonight... <3



Tomorrow I will be 24 years old. I admit, that means very little, but I want to enjoy it, so we´re going to see Ignacio Perez Borell from the Buena Vista Social Club with his new group Buena Vista Corazon, with Ignacio busting it out on the drums. This is my hope, and for 100Q each, it´s a fairly economical birthday extravaganza. You only have one a year, my friends.

Mike´s folks left Pana last Monday, and since then we headed to San Juan, San Marcos and San Pedro before coming here to Quetzaltenango, or Xela as it is generally called. In San Juan we visited several women´s weaving cooperatives, and I bought two scarves and an awesome purse all colored with natural dyes, one scarf from an 84 year old woman, and Mike bought a warm scarf. Í dig San Juan for that, there aren´t any tourists at all, and there is also a women´s collective of communal midwives who grow medicinal herbs and sell the preparations to make money to pay for their activities. It´s really an awesome place to go specifically for naturally dyed, traditional collective textiles.

We then headed to San Marcos where we stayed for two days. We searched and searched the first night and eventually found this really pleasant little Japanese restaurant where we had all you can eat sushi and miso soup for 50Q (about $5.75). Two folks let us join them for dinner, and it was all rather pleasing, and at some point a live band started playing guitar, flute, drum, with a little stray dog drumming action. The first night we had an amazing view over the lake and the mountains, and the second we stayed in an ecologic hotel with incredibly beautiful stained glass with recycled bottles, compost toilets, and cool alternative constructions. San Marcos is sort of a hippy commune, where you can eat fresh food from the garden, natural local foods, and see a body worker or tarot card reader. Our second morning Mike went to a hypnotist to help him connect to subconscious murmurings (Mike says it was a little unsuccessful), and I had my first ever professional massage, a full-body massage that about blissed me out.

Unfortunately, we had to leave San Marcos immediately to (fortunately!) meet up with our friend Josh who we interned at Mountain Gardens with and his gal-pal, Lisa, in Panajachel. Since Mike´s folks left, and his brother sort of disappeared (he´s now in Honduras), we had two extra rooms, so they stayed with us for about three days ´til the rent was up, which was great. There was a giant, delicious meal for every dinner, and Josh made coffee in the moka pot before we even got out of bed! It was really nice having friends around to share the journey with a bit before finally heading out of Gringo-landia, Panajachel. While they figured out where to go to find voluntary work and free housing, we readied ourselves for leaving Pana. We also drank a bit too much wine, but it´s always fun to have a few days of something different. We also went to this meditation class over the bridge in Jucanya with a clairvoyant. It was OK, but five hours in the first day, and it was mostly in Spanish. The woman knew we weren´t understanding. The second day we decided it was best not to go back, for many reasons, mostly that we had a crap load of stuff to do to ready for this trip to Xela, so Mike tried to get us a little refund for the day we didn´t go. He actually tried to show up before class, but it started early, and we didn´t know! In any case, the clairvoyant told him no, that he had some blocking energy about the meditation, and that´s not how it works, rather Condescending. So, Mike asked for a short reading in exchange for the $40 worth of time we missed, and she said she didn´t know, she´d have to have a long think about that. For whatever that´s worth. It was too weird, which is why I´m recounting it.

Yesterday morning we went to the coffee shop at Crossroads Cafe for the last time before leaving town. They are closed on Sunday and Monday, and we found out when we got there that Mike (the ownder/barista) and his buddy had gone several hours away to pick up about 200 pounds of organic coffee from the area around the highest point in Central America, which is an old volcano. It was the entire harvest from this farm, owned by an 89 year old man, and his wife sells cinnamon from their cinnamon trees. Made in the drip-pot, it´s the most mellow coffee I´ve ever had. It´s got no bitterness or anything, and so we bought a pound for 95Q, which is about 40Q more than most all of the other coffees! It´s super rare, though, and delicious, and Mike and his pal risked their life getting down the mountain roads in the dark of night to get back in time to roast it early yesterday morning, just before Mike and I got there. He had his daughter take a photo of him giving us the bag of coffee and exchanging money and change, as it was the first pound sold of this exclusive coffee. It was fantastic, perfect for our last morning in Pana. It´s weird that coffee was my favorite thing about Pana, but quite fitting for Guatemala in general.

So! We split on the shuttle yesterday around 11 for Xela, which is west of Lago Atitlan, the second largest city in Guatemala, with tons of Spanish schools. The one we chose is called El Nahual, and it´s quite involved in the community, as well as having a small organic garden using the compost from all the local host families with whom its students stay, a bike shop, a very active volunteer program, and an entire first floor devoted to kids, art, english, and super cheap english classes for adults. It also has other programs, but I can´t remember them all! They´re just outside of town where the cows and goats begin. So that´s exciting.

We had this really long plan to travel to Semuc Champey, Tikal, and Rio Dulce, but we just kind of decided we needed more language to make it more enjoyable. I think we´ll maybe still end up travelling a bit after this week of classes, but maybe just up to El Remate near Tikal and over to Rio Dulce. It´s a bit hard to say at this point. We seem to always have a bit of trouble coming to a quick decision, and when we think too hard the plans seem to fall apart. It´s best to flow a bit whilst travelling. Otherwise there´s a bit of arguing, a bit of bickering, a bit of shut the hell up-ing... :D OK, so Mike and I are still kind of working out the frustration thing in regard to decision-making, since neither of us is so great at snap decisions, and we seem to be faced by them regularly. We´re cool, though, just keep reminding each other about our mutual frustration.

So that´s it for this transmission. I miss the states, but I know it´s gonna be really hard to pay the money for food and everything else when we get there after paying so little down here, and the rules of everything are so much more relaxed down here, and there´s so much adobe, so much farming, so many kind people. It´s inspirational, yes, but it gets conflicting to be leading such a different life down here than the one I have set aside to come back to up there. It´s all starting over again and again. I think next time it might be easier to set up volunteer work beforehand, or rent a place in one spot for a long time. I have no idea. Who knows if I´ll ever come back here?

For now, in a bit of confusion, but general great spirits,
Abigail with love
ps my new favorite youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlfKdbWwruY



Though I am still coughing in a way that does not sound very good, I am much better than yesterday. It has been a looong time since the only thing I wanted to do all day was lay down. It felt so good on my poor body. We had incredible winds for 4 days and nights here in Pana, especially along the Rio where we are staying, and it seemed to bring me a very runny nose which, as usual, brought on a very nasty and painful chest cold. I am definitely through the worst of it, thankfully, with partial thanks to hot toddies. Last night as I was laying on the couch staring out the window I noticed the first star of the evening and a tiny little spot of a star right next to it which may have been my blurred out eyes, and I wished that if it were in the best interests of the area and my body that the wind would stop today and I would get better. Both happened, and I am Quite grateful. That kind of wind really does something to your sense of stability.

Since last writing, we met a great German-Guatemalan gallery owner named Tomas who reminds me of Bill Hannaford, but willing to listen just a little bit more. Brilliant guy, really, with great priced prints of fantastic work by a woman who goes by Angelika and lives around the lake here. Also lots of other beautiful things, really good work, and it feels good to be able to actually purchase something, anything in a gallery. He claims his is the oldest gallery in Central America, and I believe that, for no other reason than that I like Tomas. He is also a carpenter of sorts who does things in the best way he knows how, using materials that last, some that are actually extinct now, and he owns a sort of wood working shop (more like a hole in the wall with a door that leads to an open area about the size of two shops here) where he employs rather good carpenters and pays them accordingly. Also, after the civil war he employed several ex'soldiers and trained them to be good woodworkers in a hundred thousand dollar program. He is definitely a cool dude, an anarchist by claim and action. He filled us in on the lack of real government, the ability that affords to do things yourself, the fake police and what woods to use in construction. It was quite good.

Then we met on Mikes birthday last Friday night a guy who sails boats across the Atlantic for a living, and he was pretty fantastic. I dont know what else to say about him, but we talked all night, me and him and Mike and Nick. It was a good night, wish I had more to say about it. He told us about Morocco, travelling through Mexico and what it is like to travel across the Atlantic. Made us all want to be sailors to varying degrees.

There is a hole in the wall restaurant in town here called the Cordon Bleu, which is this old ass guy who employs one of, he says, the best cooks of her generation in town. The food is very good, quite reasonable (which is asking a lot in Panajachel), and the prices are phenomenal. The room is pretty crap, but fresh double pina coladas for 10Q is something. Actually, the food is great, but the drink prices are really the winner about this place, there is an entire page of drinks for around or just over a dollar, some just under. It is like happy hour all the damn time.

Also, Crossroads Cafe, another one like Cordon Bleu which is not in the Lonely Planet guide. It serves the best coffee I have ever had. The guy who runs it, Mike, is incredible, funny, entertaining, and quite love-able, his wife, Adele, makes delicious pastries upstairs, and they homeschool two kids. I highly, HIGHLY recommend the coffee, which you can have shipped to your door for 11 dollars per lb (www.crossroadscafepanajachel.com). These folks pay up to twice fair trade prices for coffee that is sometimes moved by mule from the farm over the mountains to the closest airstrip. They buy the heart of the harvest from the same farms as the UN in NY, Virgin Atlantic, and Starbucks. and Mike roasts them better than anyone, I say! They are great people, and it makes no sense to buy from anywhere else if you pay the same cost. Also, some of his coffee is organic, but he says he doesnt care about that marketing label, that the best coffee is always shade-grown, bird-friendly and raised with very good farming techniques. Buy it.

What else, hm... Maya Traditions, Tradiciones de Mayas, they are great, too. But I think I already blogged them. Look them up if not.

with love,