Sorting through Antigua’s “danger” reputation

The idea that Antigua, Guatemala might be especially “dangerous,” never really occurred to me until after I arrived, and was putting on my jacket to go grab some street food that first night.

“Make sure you don’t walk down dark streets,” my host, Cesar interjected.

Sensible advice, of course, no matter where you travel, but usually people don’t take the time to say it. He continued, off-handedly, as he stirred a pan of sautéing mushrooms.

“Tourists gets robbed a lot. Girls get robbed a lot.” He eyed me. “And you’re a tourist and a girl.”

At his direction, I unloaded half of what was in my bag back into my bedroom before heading out into the evening, including the professional camera I had planned to use to photograph the street cart cuisine.

“One more thing,” he said as I thanked him and told him I’d see him later. “If you do get robbed, just make sure you don’t die.”

Live Inspired: that healing fresh air

• Brought to you by John Reamer and Associates •

I live outside now.

Maybe that seems obvious, but I didn’t really think about it until a couple weeks ago, when I was working on my casa’s terrace in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico.

I started calculating how much time I was spending completely indoors, and I realized it was almost never. I’ve become accustomed to this without realizing it, but already I can’t imagine it any other way. I believe all this fresh air has somehow healed me.

How to be sick in Guatemala in 22 steps

Let’s get one thing straight: This is not a guide telling you how to avoid sickness while in another country, bereft of our mothers and boyfriends and best friends and anyone else that will listen to us whine, because look at us, we’re already here.

Maybe we neglected to eat vegetables for two or three months. Maybe sensible sleep has been elusive due to spiny mattresses and bottom sheets that won’t stay on and stifling humidity and crowing roosters and 4 a.m. explosions. Maybe, last weekend, we decided to consume a bath tub full of mezcal and beer and then dance the Macarena on top of a bar.

The reasons aren’t important. 

The fact is, we’ve been holed up in this 20 x 10-foot room with no ceiling fan and no moms and no BiteSquad, hacking up one of our prized lungs and wilting faster than a dandelion in Death Valley for three days now. It’s time for a game plan for at least managing this thing.

Here we go.

Live Inspired: old beauty, new discovery

• Brought to you by John Reamer and Associates •

I rounded the corner and gasped a little. 

That sounds a little dramatic, but you’ll have to trust me that it was warranted.

Between the crumbling stone pillars, I had caught my first glimpse of the garden and the kind of beauty that makes you lose your breath for just a second.

Surrounded on all sides by stately arches bordering a broad, open-air cloister, the space was carpeted by soft, green grass except for a x-shaped walkway, converging at the masterpiece at center stage: a faded but stately fountain that sent delicate streams cascading down the sides. Behind, the Sierra Madre mountains, blue and green water color paintings from this distance, were framed through every aperture.

It was immaculate. I tried to remember the last time I had seen something so beautiful that it sort of hurt my heart (then I remembered it was less than a week ago at Lake Atitlán).

The sound of the water falling was magnified because except for a couple of maintenance workers floating around the edges of the complex and the cooing pigeons fluttering through the nave, I was completely alone.

Suddenly, I felt so fortunate to be right here, right now, gifted the opportunity to see the Convento de Santa Clara — a church and convent built at the start of the 18th century and preserved beautifully in the city’s core — as it was originally destined to be; peaceful, quiet.

I wondered if the pigeons knew how lucky they were to abide in such an incredible home.

GALLERY: Panajachel, Guatemala

Scenes from around Panajachel, Guatemala, one of many villages set on Lago de Atitlán, a  crater lake surrounded by mountains and volcanos, and referred to by many famous travelers as of the most beautiful views in the world.

Read more on Panajachel and its surrounding watery paradise, here.

Falling in love with Lago de Atitlán in Panajachel

A handful of tins held still-fresh flowers against the little makeshift houses. Some of the colorful, stacked mausoleums boasted new, glossy coats of paint. But now, as the sun dipped lower, the graveyard was empty except for swallows passing overhead, called by the approaching evening to the watery grasses beyond.

I walked past the dusty memorials, an above-ground maze set against the backdrop of the Sierra Madre mountain range, and down the sloping path that bordered it. 

Then there she was: the tremendous Lake Atitlán, always there but ever in a different state — often peaceful, often vengeful and sometimes, at sunset, impassioned.

I was on the edges of Panajachel, one of the many towns lucky enough to perch along Lago de Atitlán, a translucent crater lake surrounded by hills and volcanos in Guatemala’s highlands. 

The shores of the town, now a center for tourist trade, offer rows of lakeside restaurants, built predominantly for white faces and heavier wallets, jutting out over the cerulean water. A short boat ride away, magnificent castle-like resorts built into the cliffs are stocked with every luxury.

But the real beauty of Pana, as its called locally, is that the best its star attraction is free to anyone craving it — the wealthy tourist, the poorer local, even the dead, who are graciously permitted to continue in the afterlife atop the dirt, in sight of perhaps one of the world’s most enchanting views.

Live Inspired: the language barrier

• Brought to you by John Reamer and Associates •

It wasn’t until I’d finished my first beer and had ordered the second that we first spoke.

I had arrived in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico half an hour earlier, wandered onto the main street and sat down at a table with another diner, not an unusual move in Mexico when the tables are full.

The conversation, in Spanish, started simply. I felt good.

Aldo was there with his pet Collie who boasted a name I attempted to pronounce for two hours, but never quite mastered. Occasionally someone walked by and called the Collie “Lassie,” to the great annoyance of Aldo and I’m sure the Collie as he was *clearly* a manly, manly dog.

“Que embarazoso,” Aldo said, rolling his eyes and petting his wounded manly dog whose name was difficult to pronounce but definitely not Lassie.

GALLERY: San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico

Scenes from around San Cristóbal de las Casas, a mountainous town in the southern state of Chiapas known for its diverse population and cuisine, it’s cultural bounty and its natural beauty.

Read more about San Cristóbal here.

Early morning explosions, culture, diversity in San Cristobal de Las Casas

The first blast rattled the contents of my bedside table, jolting me from sleep.

I pushed aside the covers and sat straight up. 

Then there was another — BOOM.

The sound reverberated throughout the valley that snuggled San Cristóbal de las Casas, a picturesque Mexican mountain town near the Guatemala border, echoing off the dark hills. 

Fireworks? I looked at my phone. It was 4 a.m. No way. 

The blasts kept coming, doing their best impression of bombs dropped from the sky. Were we under attack? (By… someone? I wasn’t aware we were in threat of war, here.)

Live Inspired: how to be a rubber band

• Brought to you by John Reamer and Associates •

It seems far away now, but I haven’t forgotten the frustration that once bubbled up, regularly.

Sitting in a cubicle, under fluorescent lights, abiding to stiff work hours, I felt like I was going a little insane. I was trying to be creative in the most uncreative space I could imagine.

How much better could I be, I thought, if I could remove this bulky structure, if I could write when and where I was inspired? If I could wander and discover, until creativity struck. And certainly it would strike all the time.

Those urges were among the reasons I decided to take this leap, and I expect a lot of people who make major change in their lives have similar motivations.

Yet, as I’ve discarded that resented framework, I’ve found, the pieces within it sometimes threaten to unravel, too.