Three Things You Should Be Grateful for Today… But Probably Won’t Be

Water Tank Antigua Guatemala

I’ve meant to finish this post since last week, but I’ve been busy with a few other things.  Turns out this week couldn’t be more perfect, since Thanksgiving Day is in the minds of most Americans (my Canadian friends already had their Thanksgiving day, so they’re well ahead of everyone else when it comes to Christmas preparations).

 

Sometimes, we do a whole lot more complaining that we should.  Living in a third-world country does tend to open your eyes at the vastness of resources and opportunities people in first-world countries have.

 

Here are three things you should be grateful for and that, at least for today, think about those that don’t have them:

 

1.  Clean Water

 

So abundant in richer nations that we often forget that humans can’t live without drinking water for more than 5-6 days.  We often forget how essential it is.

 

We use water for more than just drinking.  We cook with it, wash with it… our lives revolve around access to clean water.

 

Water Tank Antigua Guatemala

Take a moment to give thanks that you have water access.  Then think of the ONE BILLION people in the world that do not.

 

You can do more than think about it too.  John Bardos, from JetSetCitizen.com has excellent information about what you can do to help those who most  desperately need access to clean water.  Check it out here.

 

2. Electricity

 

Electricity is one of those things that seems to always “just be there.”  We don’t notice it, pay attention to it, or care that we have it… until it’s gone.

 

And even when it does go, it’s either briefly, or during emergencies, like when a hurricane hammered New York and the East Coast not too long ago.  Eventually, things always seem to go back to normal.

 

electricity shortages
Flickr @ vl8189

 

For some people, not having electricity is the “normal”.  In Guatemala, about two out of every ten people lack access to electricity in their homes.

 

India has massive problems meeting its energy requirements and the poorest of the population have to do without it for hours, sometimes days.

 

Experiment and try to go without electricity for an one or two one night.  You’ll be amazed how much you rely on it to make your way around your house, to relax and entertain yourself, to keep your food from spoiling in the fridge, to power your gadgets…  Now imagine going without electricity for days at a time.

 

Support Habitat for Humanity, who has ongoing projects all over the world to help villages get the basic services most of the world has.  Do what you can to be mindful of the resources you consume.

 

3.  Access to Education

 

That you can read this on a computer puts you in a very small minority in the world.

 

A computer, or even an Internet-enabled smart-phone, gives you access to all the information you could ever want in this and next lifetime.

 

Could you imagine what this kid could do with a computer and unlimited Internet access?  Many children will never get the opportunity.

Mayan Child

It’s a common sight here in Guatemala to see otherwise bright, smart children, working on the streets to support their families.  They often lack access to schools and other basic resources we take for granted, like libraries and school supplies.

 

This Thanksgiving week, don’t forget to be thankful for what you have, the dinner you’ll enjoy, and the presents you’ll be able to buy others come Christmas time.  But also remember that billions out there will also join you in giving thanks…

 

…For making it through another day.

 

What are you thankful for?

 

Earth Lodge, Antigua Guatemala: Visitors Guide

Earth Lodge Antigua Guatemala (14)

One of the great things about living in Antigua Guatemala is that you can “get away from it all” by heading in almost any direction for about five minutes.

Since Antigua Guatemala is located in a valley, there are a few spots in the surrounding hills that afford great views, all with free admission. There’s a hill for every taste and mood you’re in.

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Spots Overlooking Antigua

There’s Santo Domingo del Cerro, with its open-air art gallery and white-tablecloth restaurant (Tenedor del Cerro). There’s another nice restaurant worth a visit, Cerro San Cristobal.

And also Cerro de la Cruz, a no-frills, barely landscaped and nevertheless gorgeous viewing spot.

And then there’s tourist-friendly Earth Lodge, a “mountain lodge and avocado farm” just outside Antigua Guatemala.

Their Story

Earth Lodge is located 6,000 feet above sea level and it’s the highest vantage point of the three hills. The air is definitely chillier up here.

Drew and Brianna, a Canadian-American expat couple, have an interesting story. The came to Guatemala in 2003 and built their own little slice of paradise, with no construction or farming experience. Similar to what Pauline over at ReachFinancialIndependence.com is doing with her property in Peten, Guatemala.

From up here, the views of the valley are amazing.

View of Finca Filadelfia from Earth Lodge Antigua Guatemala

View of Finca Filadelfia below

Getting to Earth Lodge

To get to Earth Lodge, you first have to reach Aldea El Hato, a small hamlet about 3.5 miles north of Antigua.

The easiest way to get to Earth Lodge Antigua to call Earth Lodge and they’ll arrange someone to pick you up at Antigua’s Central Park. Costs are as follows.

If you’re arriving from 6 am to 9 pm: For one person, 60Q. For two people, 35Q each. For three people, 25Q each. For groups of 4-9 people, 20Q each.

If you’re arriving from 9 pm to 6 am: For one person, 120Q. For two people, 60Q each. For three people, 40Q each. For four people, 30Q each. For 5-9 people, 25Q each.

El Hato, Antigua Guatemala

The public bus stops in front of the church

You can arrive via public chicken bus (camioneta) – cost is only 2Q each way. However, you’ll be dropped off at El Hato village, in front of the church. From there, it’s a 15-minute walk to the parking lot for Earth Lodge. Buses bound for El Hato leave the back of the bus terminal every hour and a half or so. Make sure to ask when the bus returns, so you can time your exit from Earth Lodge properly.

Driving to Earth Lodge

To drive to Earth Lodge, just follow the same road that leads to Cerro de la Cruz, drive past it, and about 2 miles later you’ll reach El Hato.

Right when you get to the small main plaza, there’s a small one-lane road that will lead to Earth Lodge. There isn’t what you can call a parking space per se, but you can leave your car on the side of the road. There were two other cars when we visited and a fourth car would’ve been hard-pressed to find a spot.

UPDATE: Earth Lodge now has a secure parking lot just a few yards from the spot pictured below. It costs 15Q for 12 hours (good for overnight parking).

Parking at Earth Lodge Antigua Guatemala

Free parking on the side of the road

Word of advice: If staying here, don’t even attempt to arrive late at night. The road, pleasant during the day, can become treacherous at night because it’s narrow and there isn’t any illumination (that I could spot) anywhere along the path.

Walking Down the Hill to Earth Lodge

Car safely parked, we made our way down the dirt road that leads to the property.

dirt path, earth lodge

It’s an easy walk downhill – uphill, not so much

It’s not a good idea to stagger down this beautiful path drunk or late at night, or if you have bad knees.

nice hiking path at Earth Lodge

Dirt path – more steps have been added since the photo was taken

After a pleasant walk downhill, we arrived at the nicely paved driveway, useful if you have a flying car and need a runway.

Earth Lodge path Antigua Guatemala

The path becomes nicer as you get closer

At last…

Earth Lodge entrance sign

One more set of stairs to go

Restaurant

Earth Lodge has a laid-back atmosphere. The staff was really friendly and the food outstanding. The fruit smoothies, salad, and sausage burger were worth the visit. They also have great vegetarian options. Take a look at their menu here: Earth Lodge Menu

Unfortunately, I couldn’t try their famous guacamole because I was a week too early and avocados hadn’t fully ripened yet.

Earth Lodge's main house

Main Lodge

There are a few quiet places inside the property, Adirondack chairs, and hammocks to lounge around.

Earth Lodge views

Volcanoes look impressive from here – when there aren’t any clouds

Lodging and Camping

Earth Lodge Antigua has lodging options at all price levels.

From dorms with shared bathrooms…

cabin at Earth Lodge

Cabins at Earth Lodge

… to camping spots…

Earth Lodge camping spots

Nice, flat areas for camping

 

camping spot view

Good views from the camping spots

… and even tree-houses!

treehouse, Earth Lodge Antigua Guatemala

Treehouse – there are several on the property

Shortly after we arrived, the skies got cloudier and a light rain began to fall.

avocado farm, Antigua Guatemala

Avocado farm

We could literally see clouds rolling in and forming around us.

Pretty soon, the view of the valley gave way to clouds and even trees a few hundred yards away started to get lost in the mist. Such is winter weather in Antigua Guatemala. Sunny mornings followed by cloudy and often rain-filled afternoons.

Getting concerned about having to navigate a muddy, one-lane road, lacking guard-rails, we high-tailed it out of Earth Lodge before we really wanted to.

Road to Earth Lodge

Leaving Earth Lodge

Don’t even want to imagine what navigating these roads look like during torrential rains.

Earth Lodge road

The road can get muddy

Narrow road

The road can get treacherous if two cars are trying to get by

Narrow road, El Hato Village

The road looks narrower than it is

At last, we finally made our way to the main road and into the main plaza of El Hato. It was awesome to spend a few hours among the clouds.

*****

See our list of activities: https://www.okantigua.com/things-to-do-in-antigua-guatemala/

*****

What’s your favorite thing about Earth Lodge?

Share in the comments!

Cerro de la Cruz Visitor’s Guide – Plus Stuff TripAdvisor Misses!

Cerro de la Cruz Antigua Guatemala (11)

I’d been waiting to go up to Cerro de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross) for some time now. I wanted to show you some pictures from this gorgeous lookout point, but the rainy weather (which runs from May to October), was making a muddy mess of my plans.

The best days to visit are cloudless days, or at least when the view towards Agua Volcano is clear. It’s a great picnic spot. There are snack vendors on the hill, in case you want to buy bottled water, soft drinks, nachos, or potato chips.

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Hiking to Cerro de la Cruz

The road to Cerro de La Cruz, while very close to Antigua, has been the scene of holdups, so Tourism Police advise everyone to wait around Central Park and at designated times, Police provides an escort to the top. As we were leaving, we actually saw a Police truck arrive with two tourists on board. Incidentally, there was a Police Officer at Cerro de la Cruz and saw more than three officers patrolling the area on foot, motorcycles, and a truck.

Since we were driving, this wasn’t really a concern. The uphill road is fairly deserted, so it’s best to hike up during daylight hours.

After the two-minute car ride up, we approached the clearly marked entrance.

There’s actually another point of attraction near Cerro de la Cruz, which I’ll show you later. The same uphill road takes you to Aldea El Hato, a small village where EarthLodge is located.

Driving To Cerro de la Cruz

Signs for Cerro de la Cruz

Signs for Cerro de la Cruz

Admittance to Cerro de la Cruz is free, although if you drive up, there’s a parking fee of 5Q for cars, bikes, and taxis.

Parking fees at Cerro de la Cruz

Parking lot fees

The place where the actual cross is located is called “Mirador de la Cruz” (Cross’ Lookout).

Driving to Cerro de la Cruz

At the top of the hill

When To See The Best Views

The view of Volcan Agua was great. This time of year, mornings are the best time to go. It often gets cloudy in the afternoons, making the vista a bit less scenic.

During summer, the volcano looks stunning on late afternoons.

View from Cerro de la Cruz Antigua Guatemala

View of Antigua

That’s what I call “breakfast with a view”!

picnic at cerro de la cruzNice place for a picnic

One can actually see all three volcanoes from here. From left to right, Volcan Agua, Volcan Fuego (quiet that morning – usually spewing smoke) and Volcan Acatenango.

Three volcanoes are visible from cerro de la cruz

All three volcanos in view – From left to right: Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango

Since the last time I was here, they’ve added steps and have begun to decorate the landscape with flowers. According to the landscapers that we spoke to, the city allocated some money to “pretty up” Cerro de la Cruz. Unfortunately, the Mayor was recently thrown in jail for misallocation of funds and they’ve stopped working on the project about a week ago. Hopefully, the issue gets resolved and they can complete the work since it’s a really nice area that seems like it has potential to be a very pretty attraction. It’s all finished and pretty now!

The famous stone cross was installed in 1930. The road between Guatemala City and Antigua Guatemala were damaged when Guatemala was hit by a massive earthquake in 1976. Huge American Chinook helicopters landed on this hill when it was time to deliver medicine and supplies to Antigua.

Cerro de la Cruz park, Antigua Guatemala

The famous cross atop the hill

Plaza del Apostol (Apostle’s Plaza)

After breakfast, we headed to the other attraction at Cerro de la Cruz. Plaza del Apostol Santiago is pretty much that: A plaza and a statue.

Plaza del Apostol, Cerro de la Cruz, Antigua Guatemala

The statue was donated by Spain and installed in 1971. Santiago Apostol (Apostle James) was the patron saint of the conquering Spaniards, back in 1543 and remains Antigua’s patron saint to this day.

According to legend, when Conquistador Pedro de Alvarado was in his genocidal quest to submit the Mayas, he saw a vision of Saint James coming to his aid on a white horse during a crucial battle, which he took as a sign he was on God’s side. When de Alvarado was defeated, he decided to burn the Kaqchikel Mayas’ capital of Tecpan and settle in Panchoy Valley, naming the new capital after Santiago.

Saint James, it seems, didn’t like other races very much – iconography in Guatemala and Spain frequently depicted him on a horse, stomping on whatever race happened to be at war with Spain, whether the Mayas in Guatemala or the Arabs in Spain. In fact, he’s often referred to as Santiago Matamoros (James the Moor-slayer).

It’s always baffled me that the Municipal Palace displays a distinguished, life-sized portrait of de Alvarado and has a festival to honor Maya-slayer Saint James – no such portrait exists of Mayan heroes, like Tecún Umán. But such is the complex history of Guatemala and a subtle reminder of who still rules over who.

Santiago Apostol Statue, Cerro de la Cruz

Saint James in battle gear ready to stomp on the Mayans

There’s also a great view from Volcan Agua from here.

Agua Volcano, Cerro de la Cruz

Another view of Agua Volcano

Cerro de la Cruz is a “can’t miss” attraction if you ever visit Antigua Guatemala.

NOTE: Article was originally published on 11/9/12 and was updated on 4/22/2018.

*****

See more activities here: https://www.okantigua.com/things-to-do-in-antigua-guatemala/

*****

Have you visited this place?

I’d like to hear about it!

Sumpango Giant Kite Festival – Barriletes Gigantes De Guatemala

Sumpango Kite Festival

November 1st, All-Saints Day in Guatemala, holds a very special meaning to its people. It seems almost everyone pours out to the cemeteries to pay a visit to the dearly departed.

There are two important events on November 1st: The Giant Kite Festivals (held simultaneously in Santiago Sacatepequez and Sumpango) and the Todos Santos Drunken Horse Race. Since it’s physically impossible to visit both places in one day (unless one gets a hold of a helicopter, and even then it’s quite a trek), we chose to attend Sumpango’s much nearer Giant Kite Festival (Festival de Barriletes Gigantes).

Getting to the Sumpango Festival of Giant Kites

Getting to Sumpango is not hard since the town is located on CA-1 (Pan-American Highway), about a 35-minute ride from Antigua Guatemala. Since we had heard there would be massive traffic jams later in the day, we chose to arrive by 9:00 AM. and ahead of the crowds.

Apparently, we weren’t the only ones thinking about the same plan. After we parked in a private lot, we spotted crowds already heading towards the soccer field on the outskirts of Sumpango. Later that night, we heard on TV that close to 125,000 people had attended the event.

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Sumpango´s main road

The soccer field is located on a hill, right next to Sumpango’s cemetery. While not a particularly hard climb, it made up for it in length.

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Not a big crowd if you go early

Food stalls were being set-up on both sides of the road, and not-quite-ready yet. It was early in the morning, but the smell of grilled churrasco meat and sausage was making me hungry again.

We packed a lunch and bought some fresh-baked bread to avoid the temptation to eat at the street stalls. I’m okay with never have indigestion ever again in my life. Skipping on delicious-looking food is a small price to pay.

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Typical food everywhere

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Also sweets

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Roasted meats

Kite sellers were everywhere. Was almost tempted to buy one, but held off and decided that taking photographs would keep me plenty busy.

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Traditional paper kites for sale everywhere

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Plastic kites also – probably from China

As we climbed one hill after another, we unexpectedly came upon the colorful cemetery, full of activity. It was a sight to behold.

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Sumpango’s cemetery

I was somewhat surprised by the significant number of foreign tourists. While there were all sorts of vendors and a happy atmosphere throughout, I still felt slightly uneasy watching tourists laughing it up and happily snapping pics of the colorfully decorated graves. Sometimes as somber family members were standing right next to them.

I took a few discreet pics from a distance and quickly hurried out of there.

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Entrance to cemetery
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Colorful crypts
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Wide alleys

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Relatives decorate burial grounds

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Busy locals

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Besides cleaning tombs, relatives spend time with the deceased

As we approached the soccer field, we spotted the giant kites.

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Kite field is behind cemetery

Kite construction is not only labor-intensive but cost-intensive as well. For the bigger kites, it can take as long as 3-4 months to build and when materials’ costs are added, the price can climb to well over Q40,000 ($5,000).

Families take on kite-building as a project, others do it as a group effort.

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Building kite frame

The story of how this festival got started is similar to that of Halloween. According to residents, spirits came out on November 1st to annoy and bother Sumpango’s residents. Exasperated, they asked a witch doctor what they should to do to scare away these spirits.

The witch doctor suggested they take big pieces of paper, let them fly in the wind and make lots of noise. Eventually, somebody figured out that kites were a more efficient spirit-scaring device. And thus, a tradition was born, one which has been recorded as occurring as far back as the 1940’s.

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Even Police get in on the pic-taking action

The real event is a competition. Kites are slotted into categories, according to their size. The biggest kites, while flight-ready, rarely get off the ground due to the lack of a strong enough wind.

These guys prepared to lift up their kite off the ground…

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… but the size and wind were high enough that the pole supposed to hold it broke.
Sumpango Kite Festival (20)The smaller kites get to fly first and are graded on design and actual flight time.

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“Small” giant kite

We found a great place to check out the scene, high up on a hill facing the soccer field. Watching huge kites take off and smack people in the crowd as they came down brought a lot of amusement to the crowd.

The crowds were massive, and even Optimus Prime and BumbleBee made time to check out the kites (see if you can spot the Transformers below):

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Giant kite field

After checking out the show for a good three hours, it was time to head back home. We also took the opportunity to take some pics of the kites up close, now that they were all in place.

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More kites

Messages asking spirits to leave residents alone have been replaced by messages preaching love, peace, and understanding.

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Giant kites up close

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The “butterfly kite” below was one of the more creative ones.

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Gotta do the ol’ perspective shot ;) …

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Took one last pic of the cemetery on my way out.

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This guy below was drawing a crowd with his busking act.

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Found the “Internet” sign amusing, as this town is not a hub of commerce or tourist activity. The Internet has reached far and wide.

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I have to say Sumpango is one of the least picturesque towns I’ve visited in Guatemala…

Sumpango Kite Festival (1)Sumpango’s main plaza

… but I have to say they certainly work hard to put on a good show every year.

Had a great time at the Sumpango Kite Festival and would at least think about coming back in the future.