Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Trip Home

It was a long trip.  It went well, but it was long.  We had decided to fly out of Honduras rather than Guatemala City.  We had heard the airport in San Pedro Sula, Honduras was closer, but we are not sure it is now.  Also we are charged an additional airport exit fee that we would not of had to pay had we flown out of Guatemala.  The cost of a private shuttle to either location was the same cost.

We were up too late the night before, but that was to be expected.  Last minute checking over everything.  I had gotten all the packing done earlier, but to leave the boat for 6 months is a long time, and there is a lot to prepare and check over.  And then I ended up spending a few hours on the phone with the airline as their new online system wouldn’t check in half of us. 

After getting a few hours sleep, the alarm was too soon.  At 4am, we were up and unloading our bags from the boat and taking care of all the last minute things—turning off the fridge/freezer and any other power source that was not needed—have I mentioned how expensive power is there?  Anything source not needed had a breaker flipped to stay off. 

Our driver arrived at 4:30am and started loading our bags.  Suzie took all the kids out to the van and attempted to find seat belts for them.  Compared to our last shuttle van to Tikal, this one was smaller and older.  It was clean, but we barely fit.  And we only found 5 working seat belts, which thank goodness was enough for the kids.  I know it is a different culture and seat belts are quite unused there, but when we are driving on one lane roads, passing cars and trucks for hours, I prefer a seat belt.  I was happy each kid had one.  The Marina had arranged our shuttle, when we come back I will need to make sure they know we need something bigger, with seat belts that work.

By 5am we were on the road.  The sun was starting to come up and there was a lot of traffic—but not in cars.  We passed dozen after dozen of people on bikes headed to work I assume.  There were also dozens walking on the road, some with machete in hand, I guess headed to the fields for work.  We passed a palm tree farm—maybe they grow pineapples?  And we passed a big banana farm. 

We thought the airport was 2.5-3 hours away, but it was much closer to 4hours by the time we arrived.  We had to stop at the Guatemala border to clear out, and then the Honduras border to clear in.  This was not expected, as I had read that they had an open border.  But if this is an open border, then I wonder what it was like before.  The EU has open borders, you literally just drive thru, like in the US from state to state, nothing to stop at.  Not the case here.  Clearing out of Guatemala was easy, but took about 20 mins.  Clearing in to Honduras wasn’t too hard, but it took a little longer because we had to refill out 8 visas—identical to the ones we already had for Guatemala.  The top of the Visa says it is for Central America, it does not list one particular country, so why we had to fill out another, I don’t know.  The border patrol did not speak English, so I couldn’t ask.  We also had to pay an entrance fee of $4US each.  They wanted Honduran Lempira, but we didn’t have any because we weren’t expecting any fees at an open border.  Luckily they accepted our Guatemala Quetzals, and luckily we had enough extra to pay, we still had to pay our driver, and Guatemalans don’t like to be paid in USD.  

After we left the Border, we drove about 50 ft.  then stopped for them to spray down the outside of the van with I am guessing pesticides.  Another 100 ft and we had to stop again at a police barricade, where they checked our passports and walked around the van.    Another mile down the road we were stopped again at another police barricade to check passports, again. So much for that open border. Finally on to the airport, it was still a little over an hour away. Our drive thru this part of Honduras looked a lot like they area we had seen in Guatemala.

It was a small airport, reminded me of the one we flew from in Krakow Poland.  We were able to get our bags all checked in easily.  We then had to go to the bank in the airport to pay our $38 USD per person exit tax.  This they wanted paid in USD.  They stapled receipts to our boarding passes.  We then headed to the security check point.  They checked our passports, then we stepped thru a doorway where they checked our receipts.  Then up an escalator, where the security screening was, and they checked our passports again.  Then on thru security like the US, where they screened our bags and shoes and so forth.

Just before boarding one of the airline agents came looking for David.  TSA wanted to search one of our bags but they wanted him to supervise.  We think they thought we had a bomb in one of our bags.  When he came back he told me it was our water pump that we were bringing back.  One our water pumps quit working on us, and we planned to return it since we’d bought it less than a year ago.  It may have still had a little liquid inside it too so they wanted a closer look at it.

About 30 mins prior to take off, they started boarding the plane, at which point they notified David that he had been upgraded to a first class ticket.  I had already been upgraded when we checked our bags—I have higher priority with our mileage program over him.  But they wanted to know what our plan was with all the kids.  We let them know we had a 3rd adult with us to sit with the kids.  They wanted to know how old the adult was.  I would think the work adult would suffice… but we informed them she was 30.  They okayed the “plan” and gave David his upgraded ticket.  We all headed down the hall to the plane they first did a visual search of all bags entering the plane, we even had to re open our carry on suitcases.  And then they needed to collect our departure tax receipts that had been stapled on our boarding passes.  One or 2 had fallen off earlier—it’s a good thing I had held on to them, I didn’t know we’d have to turn them in to get on the plane.  I thought they had already checked them back before security. 

David and I had seats in the back of first class, and the kids were 3 rows behind us.  We helped get them situated and started on their school work with Suzie and then settled in for a 3 hour flight to Houston.  Matthew even went right to sleep for half the flight.  Shortly after take off I looked out the window to see the beautiful blue waters of the Caribbean below,  I could see a few islands of Belize and the reef.  The colors were gorgeous and calling to me.  After the month in Guatemala I was missing the islands and Caribbean blue.  It really does call to my soul.  I told David to lean over and look, and of course he had to pull out his phone and chart program to see where we were—flying over the Sapodilla Islands of Belize, which I had guessed. (we missed them on our way to Guatemala, but plan to stop in the fall on our way north)  He agreed it was just beautiful and like me, wanted to be there, below.  It is interesting how the water just tugs at us.  Ten years ago, or even five years ago, neither of us would have ever thought we’d find ourselves traveling on a boat.  I have always loved the water and swimming, but sailing or motoring thru Islands as more of a lifestyle, than a vacation, is nothing I ever imagined we would be doing, especially with our young family.  It is something we never knew we would enjoy so much.

As the plane landed in  Houston we were happy to have all of us near the front of the plane as we had a short layover and needed to get thru customs.  As we arrived at Houston and headed to customs, it was empty.  We were able to walk right up and clear in easily.  Have you ever had a customs agent smile at you?  I never have, the US customs agents at the airport are always so serious.  I am always making jokes and they just look at me with their so serious face.  David ends up shushing me because my jokes aren’t that funny to begin with and are even less funny with a serious customs agent staring at me.  We answered their short questions and went to collect our luggage for inspections.

This is where we spent most of our layover, waiting on our bags.  Once we had them all we walked thru inspection, turned in our form and redropped our bags on the other side.  Very uneventful.  Off to find our gate, as our flight was suppose to leave in 15mins.  We had to pass thru security yet again before reaching our gate.  No time to stop for a bathroom or water break.

At the gate they again told David he had been upgraded to first class.  So we again had 2 first class seats.  After pushing back from the gate and taxing out to the runway the captain informed us that the plane had a weight and balance problem and we had to return to the gate and off load a few passengers.  I think they had let a bunch of people on that were flying standby.  They removed 5 of them and said that the weight would now be okay.  Then 5 minutes later they came back on the plane and said they needed another 10 to get off.  During this time I asked one of the economy flight attendents if they could fill up one our water bottles as we had rushed thru the airport and the kids were all thirsty—they told me No, they were too busy.  And then proceeded to stand at the front of the plane chit chatting waiting to be told that their weight and balance issue was resolved.  I finally had David go ask again, he asked the first class attendant who politely proceeded to get us 5 cups of water.   I had traded seats with Savannah, letting her sit with David in First class for take off and a bit, while I sat with Isabel and Matthew—who does not seem to like seeing the ground go out from underneath him.  (He had problems with rides at Disney World too)  With the window shade closed he would do okay, but with the plane speeding up at take off I think he could tell what was going on and he did not like it.  He is a little different in this way from the rest of our kids, who count down to blast off.  Once in the air he was just fine.   After an hour of waiting and deplaning passengers they were ready to really take off. That would leave us with a 50min layover in Chicago. 

United recently merged with Continental, and I am pretty sure this was a Continental plane and crew, just not as nice as United.  The first class attendants were great, but the economy attendants were completely upset with us wanting to check on our kids sitting again 3 rows behind us.  They told us it was unsecure for us to go back and forth.  I only went up to the front where David had his back pack with had our IPAD and IPOD for the kids to use to watch shows on or play games with.  I guess if they would rather the kids be loud and obnoxious because they are bored, than we could do that.  The first class attendants had no problem with it, at one point they offered a couple blankets to give to the kids because it was soooo cold on the plane.  An hour into the 3 hour flight I switched with Savannah.  She enjoyed her time up front with Dad, getting a blanket tucked over her legs and being served warmed a warm cloth to wash up with and a bowl of warmed nuts to munch on.  She thought it was great.

Luckily our arriving gate was somewhat near our departing gate in Chicago and we arrived before they started boarding.  I thought it funny that our longest flight, a little over 3 hours was on the smallest plane ( 2 seats on each side).  David again was upgraded to sit in first class with me.  This time he traded the first part of the flight with Calvin, so he could sit with Matthew thru take off.  As soon as the plane was in the air Matthew went to sleep, it was aft 8pm at this point and it had been a long day.  Benjamin laid down in his seat and went to sleep and so did Isabel.  Savannah I think even slept a bit too.  They were all quiet and taken care of.  Calvin loved sitting in first class with me.  On this smaller plane it is not as roomy and no early snack, but he thought it was great sitting in the very front row.  He told the flight attendant all about our trip and all the countries we had been to, and how excited he was to go home.  She had to ask how long we had been gone as it sounded longer than a simple week or 2 vacation.  Calvin just chatted away.

David joined me after an hour in first Class, and Calvin was sad to return to his seat next to the sleeping Matthew.  They were again just sitting 4 rows behind us, so we could hear if there were any problems, but they were all so quiet.  After we landed this lady in the row behind me remarked how terrible we were to leave 5 children back there all alone.  I mentioned to her that their aunt was sitting with them- did she not notice the 30 year old adult with them.  I guess in her judgment of us, she had only heard we had 5 kids in the back, and had missed knowing that Suzie was sitting with them.  Not to mention how well behaved the kids all were in sleeping thru the long flight.  They all awoke for landing, and were sooo excited we had made it to Idaho!

It was after midnight by the time we pulled into our driveway.  20 hours of travel.  It was a really long day, but we were glad to be home in Idaho.  We have thru our time away, as the kids have talked about “home” reminded the kids that where ever we go, if we are together than we are “home”.  Home is where our family is.  But we were all excited to be in our house in Idaho, and home together. 

I will note—those 20 hours of travel took 4 days of recovery.  I must be getting old, and 8 months pregnant with sore kidneys made it a hard trip on me.  So grateful for family nearby that are thrilled to have the kids around again.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Hospital Visit

The kids had started the countdown till we fly to Idaho.  5 days to go and I woke up with a little pain in my back, and a little pain when I pee.  I told David—I think I have a kidney infection.  I thumped on my back, like they do at the Dr’s office and it was quite sore.  I got up to dress and all of a sudden the soreness went to flaming, blinding pain.  I started to feel dizzy and nauseous.  After a blessing, laying down for a half hour, Tylenol, and ice packing my back, I started to feel manageable.  I had brought some macrobid antibiotic from my DR, in case I got a UTI, as they are common in pregnancy, so I started the macrobid and tried to call my OB to see if I needed to do anything else. 
A few hours later I was feeling really tired, sore and achy where my kidneys are on my back, but the intense blinding pain was mostly gone.  I had reached my DR via her nurse and was told I should drink A LOT of water, which I was already doing, take the macrobid, and if I really thought it was a kidney infection then they  thought I should go to a DR.  Hmmm…  not really sure how to do that.  We are in a fairly rural area.  So David asked around.  David had made a friend with Captain John.  He owns a few boat businesses here and the gals who have been cleaning for us work for him.  We have enjoyed getting to know him.  He was kind enough to call his DR in Guatemala city, who said—they can either send a helicopter ($1000US) or I can take the 5 hour ambulance ride ($250US) to Guatemala city and see him at the hospital.  We have been told that the medical services in Guatemala city are first rate, DR’s highly trained in the US, nice facilities, and so forth.  But I didn’t want to go all the way to Guatemala City, we are leaving in 5 days, I have A LOT to do.  We asked if there was someone closer to see.  John was able to get a referral from his DR, for a DR in a city only 1 hour away, in Puerto Barrios.  We called the DR-we had been given his personal cell phone number (that never happens in the US) and he spoke English fairly well. He knew we would be calling and said to come and see him today.  We arranged for a driver to take us to Puerto Barrios and we were on our way.  David was excited for a first hand experience of the Medical system here in Guatemala.  I was not too excited to be pregnant and sick anywhere. 
We arrived at the hospital which was more like a good sized clinic.  It was a nice facility.  We were able to meet with Dr. Aldana after only waiting a few minutes.  We went over my symptoms and then straight to the ultrasound machine.  Baby looks healthy, but my kidneys-- not so much.  What he found was 2 dilated kidneys.  My left worse than my right.  He said he didn’t know if there was infection, but something was definitely obstructing my left kidney.  He sent me to the lab to get a urine sample to find out more.  About 20 mins later we were called back in to see him.  Lab work confirmed the obstruction with a large presence of blood in my urine, along with signs of infection.  So he diagnosed me with both a kidney infection and kidney stones causing the dilated kidneys.  He said if I wasn’t pregnant they would recommend Xray’s to see the obstruction better, and most likely surgery to clear it.  But I am pregnant. So, now his recommendation was a stronger antibiotic and pain meds to help till I can fly home on Tues.  He suggested we call a urologist for a consult as he is a gastroenterologist.  We called our friends DR in Guatemala City, the urologist that had recommended us to see Dr. Aldana, and his recommendation was to admit to the hospital for IV antibiotics with the pain meds and anti inflammatory to try and get the kidney stones to pass and clear up the infection, and then recheck everything tomorrow.  Well the question now was – stay there in Puerto Barrios or go to Guatemala City.  David was up for going to Guatemala City.  We have been told they are wonderful there at the private hospital, with excellent care.  Dr. Aldana said he would take good care of me here in Puerto Barrios if I stayed, he would have an OB come see me, and that he felt confident they would provide me good care.  I wanted to stay closer to the kids, 5 hours by car was just to far being in a foreign country, so after further consideration we opted to stay in Puerto Barrios.  David’s only concern was IF this turned worse we would probably be better off in Guatemala City.  I felt good about staying put, that everything would be okay,so that is finally what we decided.  By 6:30pm I was checked in to the Hospital Del Carmen.  Before sending the driver back to Rio Dulce, David had him run him over to the cell phone store to get another cell phone.  We had left the other one we had on the boat, so for $20US we picked up a second one so we could call the kids and Suzie and let them know what was going on.
They brought both of us dinner and then started my IV.  I was given antibiotics, a shot of a non steroid anti inflammatory to decrease the swelling and allow the stones to pass easier.  And a pain tablet.  Our room had a TV with cable and surprisingly we found a few shows in English with Spanish subtitles.  We hadn’t watched real television, beyond movies we had or were able to stream, in many months.  It was a good distraction.  My hospital room was nice, reminding me of the maternity rooms where they try to make them less “hospital” like.  It had nice homey curtains and a few porch chairs.  For an extra $30US we could request the room to be private so they would not bring in another patient to the room.  The room and bathroom was very clean and had AC, so that made me happy to stay. 
Around 9:30pm the OB came to see me, he had been at a nearby town seeing patients late.  We went over my diagnosis and then he asked to do an ultrasound to check on the baby.  We went out to the clinic, which is in the front of the building, to his office.  Ultrasound #2 showed the baby doing well.  He checked the heart rate, measured bones, amniotic fluid, and checked the placenta.  All looked well.  He even reconfirmed it’s a boy.  Measurements showed the baby weighs nearly 4lbs, and that my due date should be 5 days sooner, but close enough.  While visiting with the OB he noticed I had a contraction—very normal for me, I have them all the time, but in light of my current situation he was concerned that it was more than Braxton Hicks and wanted to prescribe a muscle relaxant, phenolbarbitol to calm my uterine muscles.  I was more concerned about the effect of the muscle relaxant on the baby than the contractions.  I know my body, and it was most definitely not in labor—and if I were in labor, I would be more afraid of the muscle relaxant moving it further along, than the contractions, just knowing my body works a little backwards.  So, no Phenolbarbitol for me. 
In the morning the nurses were in bright and early to start more antibiotics and pain meds.  Soon Dr. Aldana was in to see how I was doing.  He sent the nurses for blood and urine tests, and then had me brought back to his office for Ultrasound #3.  Baby still looks good, kidneys not any better.  Lab work was much better, although the blood work showed I have anemia—that explains how tired I am.  He said I should continue the meds and stay overnight again.  My pain was gone, only left with soreness on both sides where my kidneys are and in lower abdomen.  After breakfast David went for a walk down to the shopping area, they had a real shopping center here, he found a charger for my Iphone so we could use it longer on the internet. We hadn’t come prepared to stay overnight, but luckily I had put my phone in my purse in case I wanted to listen to some music on the drive or for David to play a game on while we were waiting.   
After Lunch the OB dropped in to see me again.  He brought a dopler to listen to the  baby’s heartbeat, and all sounded well.  He asked about how I was feeling and if I were having more contractions.  Everything seemed to be going well.  He said he’d come back later before heading home.  A few hours later I was still feeling so much better that we asked Dr. Aldana if I could head home to the boat, rather than stay another night.  He said he’d order the last round of IV antibiotics and give that to me about 5:30pm and then we could head back to the Rio Dulce.  He ordered some meds for me to take with me, antibiotics of course and pain meds. 
The billing lady came and dropped off our bill for review.  The grand total—24 hour hospital room and care, IV and medications, 2 DR’s fees, 3 ultrasounds—it all totaled about 4000.00 Quetzals.  In US dollars, less than $600.  WOW!  I wish I could get that price in the US.  I am pretty sure we could have taken the helicopter to Guatemala City and back, plus the hospital and care there and it still would have been less than just the hospital care in the US. 
Our driver arrived to pick us up and an hour later we were back on the boat.  The kids were excited to see us, we hadn’t told them we were coming early, they thought we would stay another night.  Exhausted, I hugged them all and headed off to bed. The next morning, with little pain, sure enough—a kidney stone.  4.6mm in size.  I am told that is large.  It wasn’t jagged at all so maybe that is why there wasn’t really any pain with it.  There should be more, but they are yet to be seen.  I am still exhausted, but able to get work done in shifts with rest.  The kids and Suzie have been a huge help in getting things ready to head home.
I feel very blessed.  I felt so overwhelmed with being sick and the pain when it first started and after first seeing the DR and finding out it was more than a kidney infection.  The timing was just terrible, but I feel so blessed.  It could have been soooo much worse.  The pain could have been much much worse, it could have lasted longer, I could have not found a DR, or received great medical care nearby.   I am so grateful for the priesthood blessing I received that I would be well, and… I was.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Shopping in Guatemala


Fronteras, the town here in Rio Dulce is mainly one main street of markets with small streets of homes that spur off the mail road.  There are no sidewalks so walking down the main road with traffic and large trucks coming and going is a bit unnerving especially with a kid or 2 in tow that aren’t use to watching for such traffic.  DSCN2196  


We had been told that Walmart had a store here, but it is not called walmart.  David and I headed into town the first time looking for it, not really knowing if by walmart they meant an actual large building or what exactly, because all we saw were open air markets along the main road.  We didn’t find it.  The next time we went to town we got a little more info.  It is called Dispensa Familiar, and Walmart bought it a year ago, they own several Dispensa Familiar through Central America.  It is the yellow building in the picture below.  The launcha (boat) driver for the marina dropped us at the dock for it.  It is small, but Walmart like, in that they have food and household items for sell.  I was mostly looking for produce and their selection was terrible.  I got a few things and a few Guatemalan products to try for fun too, chocolate and candy.  I also picked up some tang packets.  I had seen them in Mexico and Belize and finally decided we should try some and picked local flavors, such as Tamarind, Guanabana (soursop), fleur de Jamaica (Hibiscus)…  These are Koolaid type packets.  I decided to use them for slushy drinks at lunch.  They were a fun treat on a hot day and neat flavors to try.  I had been making slushy drinks with gatorade mix, but the kids all preferred trying a new flavor over the gatorade.  Made me happy that my kids were excited to try something new and different to them!  We are bringing some home to share, so if you come over for a swim this summer ask to try a tang slushy mix.DSCN2210

After trying out the “walmart” store and not being impressed, I decided that next time we would stock our produce from one of the larger markets on the main road.  All the shops are outdoor little cabana’s.  Some larger than others, most sell some sort of produce. Grains, rice, beans, and spices are sold from large buckets or bags just sitting on the floor or a table.  Often we’d see women walking with their large bag or bucket or dried corn or rice on their heads.  



Savannah and I headed into town this week to grab some fresh fruits and veggies.  It was fun just the 2 of us exploring.  David had found out a week ago that the boaters use Bruno’s marina to lock up all their dinghy’s when visiting town, so Savannah and I headed there to dock and lock the dinghy.  The last time I had gone to town with David, there were lots more sidewalk vendors at Bruno’s because of Semana Santa.  I had purchased some honey and sugar coated nuts for way to much.  But the guy selling them to me cracked me up when he pulled this homemade “scale” out of his back pack to “weigh and measure” the bag of nuts.  I should have bargained lower for the price, but I was too amused by the scale that I paid the 50Q he asked for the bag.  It was about $7US for a quart sized bag.  They were a yummy snack too.


He wasn’t there this time to sucker me into some nuts, so Savannah and I headed straight up to the main road to look for one of the larger produce markets.  We didn’t have to go too far till we came to one with really nice looking produce.  We bagged 2 zucchini, 10 bananas, 2 avocados, 6 apples, and a pineapple.  A worker approached us and asked me something in Spanish that I did not understand, but he pointed at the pineapple with a bag.  I said “si”, hoping he was asking me if I was ready to pay because I was.  He grabbed the pineapple and tore off the top greens, tossed them aside and into the bag it went.  He went thru all the other stuff we had and then told me a price.  I handed him a nearby calculator so I could be sure I understood.  I knew the total started with a 3, but didn’t hear the rest.  He typed the number in the calculator—35Q,  really? I thought, that’s all?  That’s less than $5 US.  Sounds like a bargain to me.  I paid the 35Q and we were on our way.  So happy with the price, we headed to the ice cream shop.  It was only 11am, but it was hot out already, so ice cream sounded like a great idea.  We stopped in a few other little shops on the way looking at clothes or shoes.  It was fun checking stuff out with Savannah.DSCN2205

At the ice cream shop we each got one scoop.  Savannah wanted cookies and cream, and I went for Carmello.  Everywhere else we’d been 1 scoop of ice cream was more than $2 US.  While the half gallon of ice cream is still pricy here, to get just 1 scoop is less than $1 US, a good price.  David had to head into town the next day for some hardware items, so I suggested he do the same, take one of the kids with him and stop for ice cream on the way back.  Calvin whispered to me when he came back “dad and I got ice cream!” with a big grin on his face.  He must have been told to not tell any of the other kids.  I told him Savannah and I did the same thing the day before.  He had picked strawberry flavor and said he loved it.


DSCN2198Several days later, we needed more fruits and veggies.  This time David and I headed into town with Benjamin and Matthew.  We bought like 15 bananas, 4 large carrots, and a cantaloupe for 20Q, less than $3 US.  We also got a dozen eggs for about $2US.  The eggs aren’t as cheap, but I am always just amazed at the price on the produce.  Of course I have to put more time and effort into cleaning them when I return to the boat.  We had Matthew and Benjamin with us this time so we took a few less busy side streets.  We walked by the fish market where the fishermen sell their catch right out of a cooler on a dock off the river.  None for us—we are headed home next week so we are trying to finish off all the food we have, the only thing I really run out of is fresh produce.  When we return in the fall I’d really like to try the homemade tortillas.  There are always ladies or kids with baskets of fresh little tortillas and they look so yummy.  But with eating all we have on board I haven’t needed any AND I am a little worried about getting sick.  I won’t be pregnant when we return and will feel a little more daring then I’m sure.  What I really need to do is find a local to teach me how to make them and other Guatemalan food!  Same in Mexico.  We really need to learn Spanish—that would help us asking for things like that so much easier.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


With less than 4 weeks left to go I have been doing some inventory to see how our provisions are lasting.  We did really well on planning some things and in others, I wish I had brought more.  We ended up using more chewable dramamine for the kids than I had planned for.  We still have some, but I started giving the older kids the regular, swallow, dramamine the last few rough days in southern Mexico.

We have plenty of wheat left for grinding and making bread.  I spent the first 2 months on the boat, August and September tracking how much wheat we used, or how fast we went thru a bag and how many loaves it made, so I could figure out how much to bring for the next 7 months.  Just before we left Florida I worried we would come up short and I found a LDS food storage center to sell me an extra bag.  We still have 3 left to use, so we’ll have plenty still when we get back to the boat in the fall.

We also planned to use a mixture of frozen milk and powdered milk, knowing we couldn’t fit enough frozen milk in our freezer to last as long as we’d be gone.  Milk is one of those items that is much more expensive out side the US.  David reminds me that our government subsidizes the cost of milk so it is generally cheaper in the US then in other countries.  Milk seemed rare in the coolers in Mexico; I always saw many brands in the baby dept, on the shelf, unrefridgerated, but there was never a large milk section in the fridge areas of the store.  Here in Guatemala, it seems more common in the fridge sections, but is still a bit more than in the US, not by much, maybe $1 US more.  Not knowing what we’d find, and from our experiences in the Bahamas, we just planned to use powdered milk.  We definitely brought enough, but there won’t be much left after we head home.  I still have 2 gallons left in the freezer, that I have been saving in case we ran out of powdered, so we’ll have to get those out and use up soon so we can empty the freezer before heading home. 

Before we left MD, I had made over 30 freezer meals.  Along the way I would add a few here and there by making double or triple of our favorites.  Having my freezer stocked with meals rather than food has helped immensely.  First off, I am more likely to keep a list of all the freezer meals I have, therefore I have a better idea of what exactly is in our freezer.  Second, I know I have all the components of a meal, I don’t find myself thinking, I have ground beef, but do I have the other ingredients?  I know I have all the components of those particular meals.  And third, it allows me to do less cooking when the day gets away from me because we were at the beach till dinner time, or driving or docking the boat till dinner time, most of the cooking has been done I just need to finish the final steps once thawed.  At this time I still have a dozen meals left, so now I know how many nights I have set meals for and how many nights I need to “figure” out what’s for dinner from the random ingredients we have on board.

The hardest part of provisioning I find is the trends.  Sometimes we fly thru certain things, and other times it seems like we have way too much.  Peanut butter and jam are some of those things.  We weren’t going that fast thru it when we left MD, but then after we left the stores of Florida behind, it seemed like we started flying thru peanut butter and jam, and I felt I had to pay the much higher price in Mexico for a couple extra jars so we didn’t run out.  Instant Oatmeal is another one of those trends my kids go thru.  Sometimes we go months without anyone eating even 1 packet, and then for days on end it will be all they want.  We ran out a week ago, but no worries, even in Guatemala I can use the internet to figure out how to make my own instant oatmeal, and even tastier than store bought of course. However I am using up my Oats.  I use to alternate between all whole wheat bread, and an Oat Whole Wheat bread.  A month ago I saw my diminishing supply of oats and stopped alternating, only making whole wheat bread now.  So, oats is on my list of what I wish I had brought more of.  Yummy oatmeal raisin cookies are my favorite, and I believe I have saved enough oats for one more batch over the next month—if only I have enough brown sugar, otherwise I‘ll have to sub in honey—something else we are getting a little low on.

I wish I had stocked more canned fruit and veggies.  I brought some, not many, thinking that I would just restock with local fresh produce because that is what I would prefer to eat.  But I didn’t take into account the lack of fresh produce in Belize.  And when we left the US we didn’t plan to come to Guatemala.  And while they have ample fresh produce here is Guatemala, I am still a little concerned about catching a bug from something we might buy.  I still have some frozen fruits and veggies which we will use up over the next few weeks but I so much prefer using fresh.  I wish I had filled some random hole in one of the kids rooms with cans, for just in case.  Next time.

I worried I didn’t bring enough crackers or snacks for the kids, but we still have a couple boxes left.  Matthew is a big cracker eater, so I didn’t want him to run out.  Cereal is one thing we are close on.  We will see how it works out, I think we will have enough, but it will be close.  That was one of the items I thought I had enough of when we left MD, but in Florida I was worried we’d run out, so I bought a bunch before we left there.  Seems to have been the right decision.  Corn Flakes aren’t a bad price in Mexico or here in Guatemala, but I am pretty sure my kids won’t want corn flakes everyday.  There’s always pancakes or eggs, but that requires me getting up and making them, and I am not much of an early riser unless I have to be.  I prefer to let my kids eat cereal-because they can do it themselves.  We call it promoting self reliance skills, but really—I am lazy and just want to lay in bed longer.

When the Despain’s came out to visit in December, Diane mentioned that she had started using powdered eggs for baking and said they worked well.  When I went home in January I brought back a can that I had in my food storage—it was time to rotate it anyway.  They do work well, and that has been a great idea!  We usually fly thru eggs, and while they haven’t been hard to find, they were a little pricey in Belize.  David and I eat eggs most mornings for Breakfast—cereal is just way too many calories for me-even the supposedly “healthy” cereal.  So we go thru them quite quickly splitting 3 eggs everyday, that is almost 2 dozen in a week.  Add in any kind of cooking/baking with eggs and it’s a lot of eggs.  I haven’t tried powdered eggs for breakfast, not really interested in that, but I do use the powdered eggs for all kinds of baking-pancakes, cookies, cake, sweet bread dough, whatever.  I have been very happy with the results and we don’t notice a difference at all. 

Another great idea Diane talked me into was buying an electric pressure cooker.  I had been debating it for a few months, and after she came to visit she convinced me I needed to do it.  I had switched to using only dried bean—way healthier for you and easier to store.  Cooking them in the pressure cooker is a breeze and takes WAY less time.  Plus I have a few meals I make at home in my stove top pressure cooker that I miss making.  Country style ribs in the slow cooker is just not the same.  So I bought an electric pressure cooker before we left Florida—I can use it when we are out at anchor easily.  The stove only works with power at a dock or when the generator is on, but the plugs work all the time on the battery system.  I use that pressure cooker 3 to 4 days a week.  Whether I am only making rice in it, or a huge batch of beans for freezer meals, or putting in a meal dinner that night.  It has been a great addition.  I am going to have to replace my old stovetop one at home with the electric one as the set it and forget it option just makes it a little nicer.  No more having to babysit the stove while it reaches pressure and adjust.  And I can throw in my ingredients and completely occupy my time with other things till dinner time.  Plus it all turns out yummier than my slow cooker and I don’t have to put the ingredients in hours before, 4 o’clock rolls around and in goes my meal; done by 5pm.  Thanks Diane for making my life easier!

Sunday, April 8, 2012


IMG_5998Thankfully a quiet day!  After days of noise and loud music playing outside all day for hours, Sunday brought some peace and quiet.  There was still a bit of boat and water toy traffic out and enjoying the sunny day, but no loud music and craziness today.  That made for a peaceful Sunday.

We are sad to say we did not make it to church.  The closest branch is in a town about 20 miles away called El Estor on the North bank of Lago Izabel.  20 miles does not sound far, but here in Guatemala it is.  It is too far for us to reach by boat in a reasonable time- it would take us 2.5 hours to travel 20 miles,  or by dinghy- our limit is 5 miles in smooth conditions, 3 miles in choppy water, which is typically how we find Lago Izabel.  And the road, from what I read is a small dirt road.  We could have found a Taxi or shuttle driver to take all of us, but the one who’s number we had, only had a small car that would not fit us. The kids asked why we didn’t ride the bikes there. cute kids!  If we are here next Sunday we will really have to try harder to make arrangements to get there and back.  


Last Monday for FHE we were able to stream over youtube The Lamb of God.  Benjamin has been describing portions of the video in his prayers all week.  He is remembering that Easter is about Jesus dying and then living again and folding his clothes.  He brings a smile to our faces each time. Through out the week as we have watched the busy activity in town increase we have had a chance to discuss again with the kids Easter and what we will remember on that day and this time of year. 


I had prepped the kids a few days before that we would not be celebrating Easter this year as we had in the past.  I think they were most disappointed with there being no egg hunt, or any kind of hunt at all.  They really just like to hunt and search for things. Then I told them there would be no candy either, and they were a little sad, but not too much.  They then asked if they could dye eggs, and I said “of course, but we only have brown eggs”  and they then asked if we could wait till we got home to Idaho to celebrate Easter. They were quite concerned about dying the brown eggs and didn’t think it would work.  We reminded them at this point that Easter is really about Jesus being resurrected, not all the other Easter activities.  It was nice to really be able to focus on what Easter was about without all the outside pressure from friends and neighbors and all that they are getting from the Easter Bunny. 





IMG_5967We did color eggs as a family activity.  I used my cake decorating gels to make the dyes, that was a first for me, but it worked out really nicely.  I haven’t seen white eggs in any store since we left the US, so brown eggs is all we ever buy.  I boiled 4 eggs for each of the kids and 2 for me.  They turned out quite pretty.  The kids of course had a great time dipping and redipping their eggs, coloring them with crayons for designs and redipping again.  The brown eggs were a little bit harder to dye and Calvin and Isabel took to using a timer to help them leave their eggs in the dye longer.  They all came out colored in these earthy tones.



After we each picked and egg to peel and eat.  I don’t think I have ever let my kids peel and egg before.  This was a first for each of them, and it was fun to do together.  We of course had egg salad for lunch and I used the last of our marshmallow supply to make a batch of rice krispy treats.  In the afternoon Savannah taught a primary class and they sang primary songs. 


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Semana Santa, Holy Week in the Rio Dulce


While there is a decent sized foreign boating community here, it appears that most of the visitors to this area—at least this week-- are from Guatemala.  This week is Semana Santa, or Holy Week, for Easter.  All week long the Rio Dulce as been filling up with visitors and tourists from all over Guatemala that have come for vacation. The wealthy fly in by helicopter landing on a pad near our boat.  Many have taken their faster power boats out to the near Caribbean islands and waters for their week vacation.

This weekend the river is filled with lancha boats taking tourist groups around, or fast boats with jet ski’s or tubes behind them, or wave runners riding all around.  The bridge is filled every day with tourists stopping for the view.  We haven’t ventured much into town, but there is a carnival set up in the park under the bridge where we usually see homeless sleeping and the poor bathing and doing laundry. It is filled with picnics and swimmers cooling off from the heat and enjoying the holiday weekend.  Main street is lined with traffic and the shops are all full of produce and items to sell to all the visitors.  It is a non stop party at the fuel dock near us, music all day long for the parade of boats that come in to gas up.  Reminds me of 4th of July.


This is the beginning of summer here and the dry season.  It is very hot, in the 90’s every day, with a heat index usually over 100 degrees.  It’s no wonder everyone is swimming in the river.  Even our kids are out riding the hotdog behind the dinghy or swimming off the back of the boat at the marina just to stay cool.


Friday, April 6, 2012


DSCN2119With it being Holy Week, we were told most of the workers would not be in on Thursday and Friday.  So we decided those would be the days we would venture further inland, specifically to Tikal, a huge Mayan site.  In fact, Tikal is the largest Mayan city they have uncovered, an empire really. It controlled all the other Mayan cities across Central America during its peak.  Chichen Itza was neat to see, but Tikal is amazing. 

The small hotel I picked to stay at is 20 minutes from the ruins.  They were fantastic.  I made all the arrangements over email with them for 2 rooms, a private guide and shuttle to the park and bagged lunches. Once that was all arranged I mentioned to them that I just needed to solidify our private shuttle to their Hotel, 4 hour away from the Rio Dulce.  They emailed me and said they could book us private transportation from and to Rio Dulce as well, and for a few dollars less than the company we had been planning to book with.  How easy did that make things for us.  La Casa Del Don David, in El Remate is where DSCN2123we stayed, and their service was top notch.  We planned the trip with short notice, and I was worried with it being Holy Week, and a big travel/vacation time for Guatemalan’s, that I would have trouble booking, but this place took care of everything!

They are a family run business, and everything went as smooth as could be.  Their shuttle driver arrived 20 minutes early to pick us up at our marina.  We loaded up and hit the road.  The drive to El Remate in the Northern part of Guatemala called Peten was beautiful.  Of course it took a bit to get out of the crazy traffic in Rio Dulce, but after leaving the town, the countryside was beautiful, hills and mountains all around.  Cattle grazing in the fields, skinny cattle, not like our fat cows in the US. We could see farms where corn would soon be growing after the dry season passed.  We made one bathroom stop along the way, but I am sure the driver, Rene, would have stopped anywhere we asked.  He did not speak much English, but he answered our few questions as best he could.

We arrived less than 4 hours after leaving and were shown to our 2 air conditioned rooms.  David happily volunteered to stay at the hotel while Matthew took his nap in the cool rooms.  The accommodations were very simple and maybe a bit old, but super clean, so I had no complaints.  Their 5 star service more than made up for the simple rooms.  Besides, a clean room and beds to sleep in were all we needed.  It was large homesite with 2 or 3 buildings of hotel rooms, each building had 3 or 4 rooms in it.  They had a lovely yard, and covered gazebo where they hung hammocks and had a chess board.  The kids enjoyed swinging in the hammocks—even though Benjamin fell out and gave himself a large goose egg on his head.  It was very hot, so after Matthew was settled in for a nap, the kids and I went for a short walk to the lake.

El Remate is situated on Lake Peten Itza.  The water is extremely clear and parts of it look like Caribbean turquoise waters.  The hotel told us that all docks are public so you can walk down the road and pick any dock you wish to swim from, she said the best dock was about 2 km down the road though.  The lake does not have any “beach” areas, everyone swims from a dock.  And everyone was indeed cooling off in the lake. We didn’t make it to the “best” dock.  We made it about 1/2 km, before the kids really wanted to pick any dock.  So we picked a dock and walked out to the end, and in went the kids.  There were a few other people swimming off this particular dock and many at the other docks nearby.  It seems there is a dock about every 100 yds.  The kids had a great time swimming around, jumping from the dock into the water.  I chatted with a couple of teenage girls that came to swim.  One of them knew a few phrases in English and she really wanted to try to talk with us.  They were nice girls and swam with the kids for a bit.

After we headed back to the hotel, the kids wanted to play in the hammocks again.  I had notice driving thru the small towns here, that most homes do have hammocks hanging on their front porches.  In Mexico either I never noticed the hammocks, or they don’t use them there, but it always seemed like a hammock was just another “thing” to sell to tourists.  Here as I walk down the main market street and see hammocks hanging, I believe they really are for the locals to buy and use.


While the kids were playing in the hammocks, David and I got Matthew up and went for a walk into the village.  Isabel decided to come with us too.  El Remate has several woodworkers in the village, but only a couple of shops.  Most of the wood workers take their items to the hotels to sell to the tourists.  We stopped at the few shops and I purchased a wooden spoon set.  I really do love to use wooden spoons or kitchen tools, so I love that I can buy something locally made here that I really will use and love, rather than a knick knack that will collect dust and eventually be tossed away.  They have several types of wood here that they carve from, and they make many different Mayan statues and items representing the culture.  At the hotel the kids were told they could each pick a small carved wooden gift.  Calvin had already picked a little Cayuca, or canoe.  The others were waiting till tomorrow.

Dinner was included with our price of the rooms.  At 6pm we headed for the small restaurant above our rooms.  Because the hotel is so small the menu consists of one meal option, and a vegetarian option.  We all had rice with Chicken, vegetables and a white sauce.  We were told this is a traditional Guatemalan meal.  While waiting for our food, the owner brought us a local fruit picked from his trees to share with us. He has lots of different trees in the garden local to the area with signs about them.  This fruit is sapodilla also called chikoo sapote.  He easily broke them open for us, gave us a couple of plates and spoons and said to scoop out the fruit and eat.  They sort of tasted like the custard apple we attempted to try in Belize.  Sort of like a cross between brown sugar and a papaya.  Different and interesting.  He then told us that the sap of the Chikoo Sapote trees are used to make chicklet gum.  They are locally grown in Guatemala. love trying stuff like this.  We had been told about the sapodilla fruit at Tijax marina, but I hadn’t found any in the markets to try, so this was a great experience.


 DSCN2138The next morning came early for us, rising at 5am.  We decided to leave as early as we could to get in as much of Tikal before the heat and crowds hit.  The park opens at 6am, so we met our guide and driver, Rene and Samuel outside the hotel at 5:30am.  It took about 20 mins to drive to the park entrance, and once the gate opened, another 10mins to the parking lot.  Tickets to enter the park were about $20 US per adult, free for the kids.  From the parking lot it was at least a 1/2 mile hike into the Grand Plaza.  Along the paths we looked for crocodiles in a pond, but didn’t see any.  We looked for birds, we saw a few parrots and other pretty birds.  And we watched for monkeys too, but didn’t see any yet.  We did find a colony of leaf cutter ants.  We know, ants don’t seem cool enough to mention, but these are ordinary ants.  They are hard working and busy ants, and they seriously cut a road in the leaves at least 6 inches across and 25 feet long to carry their food to their nest.


Samuel our guide was great.  He had an ear for the birds so he could point them out to us, and had a lot of info about the ruins we were seeing.  He was great with the kids, holding hands with Isabel or carrying Matthew on his shoulders.  He has 4 kids himself, his youngest now 14 years old.  We were able to see a small variety Toucans, we heard the large kill bill Toucans, but weren’t able to see any.  But along the trails we did see spider monkey’s swinging over head a few times.  We also saw several Coatimundi’s foraging around for food and the most beautiful turkey I have ever seen. Yes a turkey, oscellated Turkey, with beautiful irridescent colors.  We had to keep Calvin from chasing the turkey.DSCN2142



This tree is central to the Mayan Culture and sacred to them. It is a Ceiba Tree.  They believed the 4 main roots pointed on each compass point, N, S, E, W. And that the roots helped them reach the underworld just as the branches help them reach heaven.

Just after arriving at the Grand Plaza, I was able to take a photo or 2 of Temple 1, and then my camera battery died.  It said fully charged when we left that morning, and then it died.  Not fair.  Savannah had brought her 2 MP camera, so many of our photos are from her photography.  She has been watching Kylynn, and is gaining a unique eye for photos and I am often surprised at how great many of her pictures are, like the one above of Benjamin wrapped in the hammock.  In fact she really probably needs a better camera.

Back to Tikal… When we told the kids we were planning a trip to Tikal, they got excited.  We didn’t P1010072need to explain to them that it was an ancient city.  One of their favorite activities is listening to the books Tennis Shoes among the Nephites, by Chris Heimerdinger, on audio file.  Over the last few months we had been working our way thru books 10 and 11 while under way on the boat.  In these books the characters visit and talk about the city Tikal, the evil Teotihuacan Army, and Prince Jaguar Paw, along with many other characters and places.  This got the kids really excited to go to Tikal, as it was in their book.  And they started asking if some of the characters were real.  I told them they would have to ask our guide.  So they did.  The Teotihuacan’s did invade Tikal sometime in the mid 700AD century, and the King of Tikal at the time was Jaguar Paw, in fact he built what today is called Temple 1 and the Teotihuacan’s killed him.  The remains of his body were excavated from Temple 1 by archeologists.  Calvin and Savannah couldn’t believe it!  The picture to the side is of Savannah in front of Temple 1, Temple of Jaguar Paw.




Across from Temple 1 is Temple 2, which you can climb.  David, Benjamin, and Calvin made the trek up the stairs.  I was saving my energy for the big climb of Temple 4.  Savannah and I explored the North Acropolis or what our guide had called the Cemetery, where many of its rulers were buried for over 500 years.  There are several stelae and artifacts in this area supporting this.  It was a large structure in its day and much of it was restored, but the restorers had dug so many holes and tunnels looking through the structure that much of it collapsed.  They saved what they could, but the roofs are gone. There are restored masks of the Rain God and the Sun God.  This area of Tikal was occupied for over 1500 years. Incredible.


Across from the Cemetary is the Residential Plaza or Central Acropolis, where many of the noble or Royal families of the Mayans lived.  We explored that on our way out as we had to pass back thru the Grand Plaza to exit.  It is kind of like apartment or or condo buildings.  You can walk thru and see stone platforms for sleeping and areas sectioned off like in a living area.  Samuel explained to us and showed us in the buildings that part of their collapse over the years was a lack of building with the Roman Arch.  Had they understood the necessary component of a keystone in an arch their buildings may have survived in a better condition.P1010087

DSCN2144_thumb[1]Leaving the Grand Plaza we walked past Temple 3, the most recently built Temple at Tikal.  Only the top of it has been restored, but you can see how most of the other temples would have appeared when the Spanish discovered the city in the 1800s. The stone structures sticking up out of mounds of earth that had since been growing on top of the structures.

We finally reached Temple 4, the largest Temple in Tikal and built before the others.  Here we climbed a wooden staircase attached to the side of the Temple, over 200 steps to the top.  The view is amazing.  Birds flying thru and above the trees.  You can hear the howler monkeys in the distance and Toucans and other birds singing.  The temples poking up thru the jungle.  It is beautiful.  When the Mayans built Tikal, there was no jungle here, not much water either.  They built large reservoirs to catch the rainwater.  The landscape was different.  But as the city was abandoned and the environment changed and became a rain forest, the jungle grew over the city to how we see it today. It now rains 10 months out the of year here.

David had carried Matthew up the temple, but he climbed down every step himself, holding a hand of course.  On Isabel’s way down a monkey swung thru the trees right in front of her, just a few feet away.  Calvin was keeping a running total of all the steps he went up and down for the day, so he climbed Temple 4 twice to increase his count.  He ended the day with a total of 1554 steps climbed.  P1010102_thumb[1]

From Temple 4 we walked over to the Astronomical Complex.  These were some of the first structures built in Tikal beginning in 600BC.  It is often referred to as the Lost World.  From the largest structure the Mayans would climb to the top of the flat platform to watch the sunrise.  Behind the structure, built in a row are 7 temples.  As the sun would rise each day they would note which building it was rising over to mark their calendars.  When the sun rose over the temple to the farthest left, it was summer solstice. Rising over the center and largest of the 7 temples, would denote spring and fall solstice.  And over the temple to the far right, winter solstice.  The plaza surrounding these 7 temples were all built prior to the Grand Plaza structures, and in its time would have been considered the Grand Plaza.

From here we walked to Temple 5.  This temple is different from the others.  Built mid 700AD, it faces North.  Samuel pointed out that it is directly south of the North Acropolis.  All the other temples at Tikal either face east or west. It is also built differently than the other temples, and looks more like the Temples we saw while visiting in Mexico.  Samuel told us that was because the Teotihuacan’s influenced how this temple was built, and they brought their style from Mexico.

DSCN2140_thumb[1]Stelae, or slates of hieroglyphs were discovered all over the city explaining the rulers that built the different temples and including the calendar or timeframe they were built.  Many of these are hard to read to our untrained eyes, but you can still see the calendars or markings on many of them.  Samuel showed us on the stelae how the Mayan calendar was written and even had the kids help read one with him.

DSCN2130_thumb[1]We missed many of the other structures that have been uncovered, but Tikal was a city of thousands of buildings.  We also missed seeing Temple 6 and its complex as it was about 1 mile walk to the north.  We had been exploring the park for 5 hours when it was time for us to leave.  The kids did a great job, considering the amount of walking, we think close to 5 miles by the time we reached the van waiting for us.  The heat was setting in so we were grateful for the shaded jungle paths.  The park crowds were growing and growing.  As we headed back thru the Grand Plaza on our way out, it was so crowded.  When we had arrived after 6am, there were maybe a dozen people exploring the plaza, now there were hundreds.  We had to walk against the crowds to exit.  We were really glad we arose so early to see the park at the time we did and enjoy it in the cooler hours and without the crowds. 

After a quick stop in the tourist markets to pick up a few postcards, and a plain hat that David had been searching for and was happy to find in Guatemala for $7 US, we loaded into the van with Rene, who had been waiting all this time in the parking lot for us.  We headed back to the hotel to drop our guide, Samuel.  The kids remembered that they needed to pick out their little wooden gift DSCN2132_thumb[1]from the hotel.  Calvin already had his, so David took Benjamin, Savannah, and Isabel inside.  I also wanted to make sure our charges had been paid in full.  The other great thing about this hotel was they provided an online payment system.  Since we had our visa credit cards cut off from the fraud charges in Mexico, I had grandpa use his Visa to make our deposit on the trip online.  After we arrived, they emailed him the balance so he could log in and pay the remaining bill.  I wanted to make sure that was taken care of, and it was.  This allowed us to keep our needed cash, not to mention the little amount of Quetzales we had managed to get for other things.  Benjamin picked out a Cayuca like Calvin, Savannah picked a little wooden Coatimundi, and Isabel picked a little cloth Guatemalan girl in traditional clothing.  Suzie picked a wooden Toucan.  We said our thanks and goodbyes, and back to the van for the 3.5 hour drive back to the Rio Dulce with Rene. As we travelled back we passed thru several small towns or villages.  A few of which had “processions” occuring as we drove thru.  Processions are the religious parades of Semana Santa.  It was interesting to see even these small groups of people walking down the street carrying their small float depicting Mary the mother of Jesus, or of Jesus on the cross.

The entire trip was great, and one I would love to do again, to see more.  It was also a great time to go, while so hot during the day, it’s not rainy and there were hardly any mosquitos.  Which made it nice to not have to worry about catching Malaria or Dengue.  We were glad we had paid the extra money for the private shuttle so we did not have to worry about traveling on the bus or the safety of the kids.  And the private guide for our group made it so we could go at our own pace and the kids could ask as many questions as they wanted or stop and look at birds or animals when they wanted, or swing from the vines like Tarzan.  Now I just need to plan a trip to Copan in Honduras to round out our Mayan Adventures.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Casa Guatemala


I forgot to take my camera with me!  Sorry.  One of the things I had read about in the area was an orphanage.  I mentioned them in another post.  I had looked them up online and emailed about going for a visit with the kids.  One of the things we have hoped traveling does for our kids is to shape their understanding of the world around them.  We have been blessed with many things.  Aside from the material blessings of “stuff”, we have a lot of family around us.  We have food, clothes, plenty of the necessities of life as well.  I feel that my kids are often sheltered from how little so many in this work have.  So with travelling we have tried to provide the experiences to help them be aware of all that is around them.  It is easy for us to forget that not everybody has a washer and a dryer, or a refrigerator, or floors in their house, when everyone we associate with has all of those things.  My kids complain if they have peanut butter and jam 3 days in a row for lunch, could they know that some kids ONLY get rice and beans, every day for EVERY meal.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

I received an email from the orphanage letting us know we were welcome to come for a visit at anytime.  The orphanage is more than an orphanage, it is also a boarding school for the kids in the surrounding villages whose families are too poor to take care of them.  They get to go home to their families about every other weekend and on holidays.   This week is holy week, Semana Santa, in conjunction with Easter, a big holiday week for Guatemala, and so only the actual orphans were left at the school.

If you look up their website like I did, if you are interested in that sort of thing, it doesn’t seem like things are that bad.  It seems like they are pretty well funded.  They support a lot of kids, close to 200 kids, and that is a lot to manage, but they have a nice website and it doesn’t quite depict an extremely dreary place.  Maybe that is to show their donors that they are spending the money wisely, and to help attract more donors and volunteers?  I don’t know. 

But, they do not have as many ophans as their website says—they do have a lot of kids from the villages, so they are still taking in a lot of kids.  Adoptions in Guatemala have increased over the last few years, and so the volunteers there said they think that is why they do not get as many orphans as they use to.  There were about 15 kids there between the ages of 3 and 14 when we visited.  They have more that are older, but they live in town at a hotel/restaurant owned by the orphanage.  They work there and it pays for them to attend the high school in town.

There were about 7 volunteers there the day we visited.  They told us that they pay the orphanage $300 dollars to come volunteer for 3 months.  Most leave after 2 months.  The orphanage is remotely located outside of town with access by boat.  There are villages all around, but they are extremely poor.  They work 7 days a week and get to go into town one morning a week for a few hours to run “errands” 

The grounds consist of half a dozen buildings.  There is a boys building, a girls building, a school, a dining building, a gym area, and a few other buildings, like living quarters for teachers and staff.  They have 15 teachers for all the kids.  The volunteers jobs include taking care of the kids in the morning before school and then after school.  So they sleep in the boys/girls buidlings, get them up, make sure they shower, dress, do their morning chores. Each child gets 3 sets of clothes.  They send off clothes into town to the hotel for laundry everyday.  Each child has a bed and a mosquito net and shares a dresser cabinet with their bunk mate, as the beds are bunk beds.  The volunteers said they are often woken in the middle of the night by a child crying for their mom or dad, or because of abuse and traumatic events in the kids lives.

There is no power; they run a generator for a few hours in the morning and a few hours in the evening.  They have a small battery bank that provides a little necessary power through out the day.  They eat rice and beans, 3 meals a day.  Sometimes they get tortillas.  Sometimes a cruise ship docks at Puerto Barios, 20 miles down the river, and does tours up to the RIO DULCE, and they will bring in extra food and donate to the orphanage, then they may get a meal with veggies or fruits.  But it was pretty rare.  The volunteers said that after a few weeks with the heat, and the lack of nutrients they can feel their bodies being depleted.  Add to that the trying circumstances of taking care of the kids and they just get worn out, so they rarely make their 3 month commitment.  There are a few that have been there a while.  We met 2 that had been there at least 6 months.  We asked them how they found Casa Guatemala, and they all said online.  And that it was one of the least expensive volunteer experiences in central and south America. 

We enjoyed our visit there.  We took our dinghy the few miles down the river to the orphanage.  Savannah said it looked like a summer camp, and it does.  After we arrived the kids were going to play a game.  Our kids were a little shy just thrown into a new situation.  Along with not knowing how to speak Spanish.  One of the volunteers introduced them to a few of the kids.  The game was sort of a spin off of hide and seek.  The kids had to find the hiding volunteers and collect a card for points to be tallied at the end.  We joined the ranks of the volunteers and hid around the grounds.  Our kids started to warm up to the other kids as they came searching for us and collecting point cards.  Soon enough our kids were running around playing tag with a few of the other kids.  Even Benjamin was playing with a cute little 3 year old girl, Shana, who was following him around. 

David and I toured the buildings and chatted more with the volunteers before it was time for us to go.  Our kids were wanting to join everyone else swimming in the river, so we knew we’d better leave before they jumped in fully dressed.  I’d like to go back during school and see the place with all it’s kids. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

First Week in Guatemala

We have been here 1 week now, and life is different here.  I guess in Belize we did not really go to the mainland at all, except for a couple of days in Placencia, which is a coastal town.  We saw a lot of the life mixed with tourist there.  Here, we see a lot more of rural life.  There are tourists here, along with the sailing community.  We see boat tours go up and down the river every day, but mostly we see regular Guatemalan life, well when we venture off our boat and out of the marina.


It is hot here.  Hot and humid.  We sweat all day, even just sitting.  Sometimes there is a good breeze, and that feels really nice.  The mornings aren’t too bad, and after 4pm as the sun starts to head down, it cools off a bit.  By 6pm it is usually nice and breezy, but the mosquitos start to come out so we have to close up the boat windows and doors before the inside has a chance to cool down.  We are not interested in getting malaria or Dengue.  This is when we turn on the AC. 

Once we left Puerto Aventuras in Mexico we anchored every night—for close to 3 weeks.  In the Rio Dulce we are at a Marina.  1. It is safer and 2. paying to dock at a marina is cheap, $275 for a month.  But we have to pay for electricity and that is expensive.  It ends up being close to the same amount if not more for the month as the dockage fee.  So we suffer all day with only fans on, windows open, and no AC.  At night we run the AC’s only in the bedrooms downstairs for 3 hours to cool them off, and then we turn the AC off for the rest of the night.  Usually by the middle of the night I am plenty warm and it can be hard to sleep.  But that may be the pregnancy too.  We haven’t run the water heater at all since we have been here.  Our dish washer makes its own hot water to clean the dishes, so we haven’t missed the water heater at all—even for showers.  With the hot weather we have taken to showering at night, and a cold shower to wash away my multiple layers of sweat feels really good.

On Saturday we rode the dinghy to the opening of Lago Izabel where the old Castillo or fort is.  It was built a few hundred years before to protect the villages on the Lake from the pirates that would come up the river and raid them of their supplies.  It was fun to walk thru the fort and check out the tunnels built through out to get from room to room, and of course the view from the top.  The park at the Castillo was filling in as the day got hotter and hotter.  Many come with friends and families to spend the day swimming and picnicking.DSCN2173

We are having a few projects done on the boat while we are here.  Labor is extremely cheap.  Today we had our engine room cleaned—it is oily and dirty—from the engines and heat and tools.  We paid $40 US total, for 2 ladies to clean for 8 hours.  Tomorrow they will be back to scrub down our dinghy and work on other household cleaning, removing wallpaper and such.  At Tijax marine, included in the price of dockage was a free boat wash down once a week.  Labor is cheap.  We have been trying to explain to our kids the differences in economy; it is a hard concept for them to completely understand. They don’t understand why people work so hard to make hardly any money.  And how there are so many people here that are so poor they are willing to work to get any money at all, even if it is just a little bit. 

There is a bridge here spanning the river.  Every time we drive under it in our dinghy, on the one sides of the bridge we always see several people with their laundry, washing their clothes in the river.  We always see them swimming and sometimes bathing, or a mom soaping up her little ones.  I so much would like to take a photo to share, to remind me and us of how much we have and that so many are without, but I feel like it is an invasion enough to have us pass by in our little boat watching them, that I can’t bring myself to take a photo.  And yet many of them smile at us as we pass by.  The kids swimming are laughing and having fun.  It is a memory I hope my kids will not forget.


One of the other boaters told us that on Saturdays workers from the orphanage come by in a little boat with food items for sale, meats, produce, yogurt or cheeses.  I had been trying to email the orphanage to see if we could come for a visit, so I was happy we could at least participate in their cause by buying food from them.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect maybe a boat load of food, but it was just a man and a woman in a small boat with a couple of baskets of food and a cooler with meats in it.  The boater that had told us recommended their pork chops, so we bought some of that.  They did not speak English, other than the names of the food they had to sell.  I learned how to say watermelon in Spanish, sandilla.  They had some fresh great looking asparagus that I could not resist, and some bell peppers that I had been needing.  I hoped that the Biocyde treatment I had bought and washing them really well would work good enough to kill anything lurking on the produce.  So far we have been fine and haven’t gotten sick.  Let’s hope it stays that way. 

One of the difficulties that we did not expect here was exchanging or using our US cash.  In Mexico and Belize you can easily use US dollars or exchange them easily at any bank.  Here we were sent away from a few banks saying they would not exchange the money, nor would any shop or restaurant take our US cash for payment.  We have come to learn that in order to exchange US dollars the government requires paperwork on where the money came from and rather than fill out the paperwork, the banks would prefer to just not take in any US dollars unless in very large amounts of more than a few hundred dollars.  Luckily Marina Tijax was willing to exchange a few hundred dollars for us at a little lower exchange rate.  If we had working ATM cards then we would just withdraw Quetzales from our home checking account, but again the fraud in Mexico has prevented us from doing so.