A Travellerspoint blog

Guatemala in Retrospect

A Year's Worth of Articles about My Expat Home

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The last year and a half of living in Guatemala has been an unexpected bonus in my life. Somehow a three-month visit/art project turned into a series of delayed departures and fantastic opportunities to remain in a place that I’ve come to affectionately refer to as home. There is so much to appreciate while here, so much to miss when I’m gone, and alas so much more of the world to see.

This will be my last blog entry (at least for this go round) about Guatemala as a travel destination. In November, Emma and I will be embarking on a long-awaited adventure to South America, a trip we’ve managed to forego at the end of our two previous stints as expats here. Knowing we can always return, as we’ve done twice now, our desire to see more of the world has finally outweighed our desire to stay here longer. It’s no reflection on Guatemala (or our great friends here) but more on the equally inescapable intrepid traveling spirit.

For this grand finale, I thought that, rather than rehashing all the great things yet again, I would compile for my dear readers an easy-access collection of all the articles I’ve had published about this place, a source of great inspiration, over the last eighteen months. So, I hope this finds you on a lazy afternoon or in a state of procrastination in which you are able to explore just exactly why we keep returning to Guatemala and why we find it so difficult to leave.

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Teach English in Guatemala (published by Transitions Abroad): An overview of my experience as an EFL teacher in Guatemala, specifically Guatemala City, as well as links and thoughts on the nuts and bolts of getting a job here

Entering Tikal, Jungle Heart of the Mayan Empire (published by BucketTripper): A quick look at Guatemala’s premier archeological site, a beautiful Mayan city over 1000 years old

Dual Voluntourism: Help More for Less (published by Transitions Abroad): A guide to working at hostels as a means to helping with the cost of living while volunteering with NGOs

On the River at Finca Tatin in Guatemala (published by Bucket Tripper): An appreciative remembrance of an awesome trip into the bio-diverse jungles surrounding Rio Dulce

An Expat Rite of Passage in Guatemala (published by Matador Network): A labor of love that delves into what is enticing about living here, a country noted for being a difficult mix of danger and beauty

Feeling Antigua, Guatemala's Local Vibe at Earth Lodge (published by BucketTripper): A well-deserved love fest with Earth Lodge, where Emma and I have spent two fantastic years living and working and playing

New Life in Old Guatemala (published by Travel Thru History): A look at the history and historical progression, the making of, one of the Central America’s top tourist destinations, my home, Antigua Guatemala

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Swimming in Sacred Water: Semuc Champey of Guatemala (published by BucketTripper): A brief how-to on experiencing one of the most beautiful and tucked away places in Guatemala and, many would say, the world

Ode to Antigua: Central America's Tourist Capital (published by BootsnAll): A confession of love for Antigua and an expat coming to the defense of this fair city, often referred to as the Disneyland of Guatemala because of the abundance of tourists that frequent it

The Shopping ‘til You Drop Tour of Antigua (published by BucketTripper): A blow-by-blow walk through Antigua in which followers get inside info on all my favorite shopping spots and how to make that spree a little more culturally defensible

Your Guide to Traveling Long on the Cheap (published by the Expeditioner): Another look at the hostel culture and tips on how to stay here indefinitely by doing work-trades with hostels, guesthouses, and eco-lodges throughout Guatemala

Most Popular Destination Blog Entry: La Antigua Detestable--A look at the really irksome things about living in a wonderful place

Well, welcome to the end of the list. Hopefully, an article or two enticed you to read on, but looking back at the collection, I notice that it doesn’t take reading all of these to know what a special place this is to me. Let's sum up: Highly recommended.

==Read more here:==

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Posted by jonathonengels 09:39 Archived in Guatemala Tagged travel guatemala writing expat Comments (0)

Traveling with Purpose & Panache

Lessons from the Greasy Rider & via Getting Stoned with Savages

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Visit The NGO List, my new labor of love, built to connect international volunteers and grassroots NGOs from around the world:
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Make no mistake, I like to tell myself in fits of reflection, one learns lots from books but just as much from experience, from going out into the world and doing, grabbing the good of what there is to be grabbed. This month’s contributions to the blogs de book reviews are two fine providers of both of these lessons, and not just that, these are two divinely entertaining specimens.

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Inspired (as I can relate) by a very conscientious wife and perhaps a sense of mischief (also, relatable), Greg Melville sets off on an innovative and groundbreaking adventure across the continental US: He and his sidekick, an old college buddy called Iggy, are going to be the first men ever to traverse the country by car without buying gasoline. It’s not exactly On the Road. It’s not exactly Travels with Charley. But, it’s a hell of an interesting adventure.

Unlike other road trip memoirs, Melville’s is unique in that, more than a search for the nostalgic American identity, he and Iggy are getting there as fast as possible, hoping to avoid dive diners with that much-beloved small-town charm, and driving towards the future. The two characters play off each other so well, just like buddies will do, rather tirelessly annoying and challenging one another but stepping up when the time is right.

The result: Iggy challenges Greg to go beyond just the symbolic French fry car trip and investigate several green-themed items, which provide some fantastic detours from the main narrative, including trips to Al Gore’s house (in search for the greenest house in the US) and a visit to Arkansas and Texas to find out about Wal-Mart’s green initiative.

As for me, I moved through this one quickly. I love the idea, the mix of travel and social conscientiousness with Greg and Iggy’s somewhat opposed personalities but shared background. I was reminded how important the trip is, and I was reminded why the trip isn’t enough. Like the Greasy Rider, we as people, as travelers, and as writers must accept the challenge to investigate beyond point a to point b, to move ourselves mentally as well as physically. And, keeping a sense of humor about the whole thing isn’t a bad idea, either.

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J. Maarten Troost becomes the first author to appear in this blog twice. A follow up to his very funny (and different) bestseller, The Sex Lives of Cannibals, this book starts with Troost bored of the D.C. corporate life, missing the simplicity, even the diet of rotten fish and threat of lurking sharks, of living on an isolated atoll in the South Pacific. His wife, Sylvia (the girlfriend he’d followed to Kiribati in his first book), who works with development organizations, finds the solution: Another new job in the South Pacific.

This time Troost knows exactly what he’s getting into: a land where cannibalism has been practiced for centuries, where volcanoes are gurgling molten lava and burping ash, where cyclones decimate cities, where young boys chew the root of pepper shrub to produce a saliva-based intoxicating drink called kava, where life is different and maybe easier than on Kiribati but is still filled with all the things that go along with a life abroad.

For me, from a writing perspective, this book is much better than the first. Troost feels in control of his rants and language, his observations still ring hilariously true but more like an investigation on which we are invited along. And, it’s fun. Knowing that this trip was supposed to produce adventures for a new book, he goes out of his way to pursue whatever seems interesting, things we all (or, at least me) want to do but sometimes just don’t manage to.

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I dig these books, and I’m excited about the idea of traveling with purpose and panache, especially knowing that my own trip is coming up soon. In support of The NGO List and our own seemingly unquenchable sense of adventure, Emma and I will be setting off this November, from Guatemala to Patagonia by May, with plans to volunteer and check out cool projects doing good things in the world and linger in places that suit us. I can only hope for the wherewithal and drive (literally and figuratively) these two authors had. Some great writing coming from it would just be gravy.

For more writing and ramblings, visit Jonathon Engels: A Life Abroad--more blogs, articles, and more:
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Posted by jonathonengels 08:06 Archived in Guatemala Tagged me travel books living ngo writing expat Comments (0)

UPAVIM: United for a Better Life

The DoGoodery Marches On In Guatemala

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As many of you know, last week Emma and I did our first official promotion of our new website, The NGO List, which was a great success. It never ceases to amaze me the readiness of people to help us. We can throw whatever crazy new project we scheme—an Amazon wish list material drive, a yarn-bombing program, and now another website—and friends rally to the cause. Thank you.

Appropriately timed, this week’s blog entry is my monthly NGO profile, and oddly enough, not twenty minutes ago, I was introduced to this NGO by my friend Bri. She’d come in to find me, as usual, perched in Bagel Barn, flipping through social media sites as my little workday warm up. She told me she’d checked out the site, loved it (of course), and that I should check out UPAVIM for the Guatemala page. Bri is a smart cookie, so I did as she instructed.

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UPAVIM (Unido para viva major/United for a Better Life) is a super cool organization originally founded on a sort of fair trade model. They began by making simple handicrafts to employ women and help to pay for a program for the community. The women in the organization wanted to get out of relying on foreign aid for social improvement. So, they took charge.

The handi-craft project was a major success, so much so that it garnered a national award in 2001 for non-traditional exporting. With the cash flowing in from UPAVIMCrafts.org, the ladies who have taken charge of their own fates have helped to start several other amazing ventures. The business has grown so successful that they’ve had to start building an “Annex”, a second complex to house all the good things happening:

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1. First and foremost, UPAVIM Crafts has been the lifeblood of the organization since 1991, providing the funds to run a nursery and school, as well subsidize a clinic. A member of the Fair Trade Federation, UPAVIM not only produces its own crafts but also buys from organizations around Guatemala, ensuring that everyone receives adequate money for their work. UPAVIM has an inventory of products in the United States, and the company has shipped to several other countries throughout the world. It’s truly what all NGOs should be trying to do: Creating a sustainable model not reliant on donations and truly empowering the people involved.

2. The Bakery & Store employs a few people from the community: a baker, an assistant, and shopkeeper. Like UPAVIM Crafts, these folks were given a hand up, and ultimately, they have taken charge of their own thing. The bakery and store support themselves and contribute to a general UPAVIM fund, which helps to pay for more expansion.

3. UPA Soya products are another project finding great success. While dairy milk is really expensive, soya milk can be sold at a much more affordable price throughout the community and provide a much-needed nutritional boost. Milk alone, though, just didn’t do the job, so UPAVIM soya production facility uses the pulp to create protein-rich additions for sauces, the base for veggie burgers, and pancakes. And, there’s ice cream! This branch is currently working on being a milk and cafeteria supplier for local schools. Um, as a raging veggie boy, I’m pretty hip to this.

4. The Annex, aside from housing the awesome aforementioned businesses, is also devoted to being a building for building the future. Tutoring programs, a library, and classrooms are spread throughout the complex. Kids are getting cared for and educated, the community now has access to an awesome library (with hopes to expand it) and computers, and there is a plan to start a senior program where elderly folks could come in a get a little something to eat.

5. I haven’t mentioned a lot yet: the medical programs in place, especially the Growth Monitoring program to insure the children are doing well but also the affordable clinic with $2 consultations, the scholarship program helping kids who might not otherwise be able to afford to attend even public school, the English program, and on it goes—cool stuff centered around people finding a means to better their situation through their own efforts.

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Want to take part? There are great volunteering opportunities available through UPAVIM, including tutoring, teaching English, and providing medical care. Or, do it from home: Visit their online, fair trade shop to buy a few of your upcoming Christmas gifts--free shipping in the continental US for purchases over $75.

So, there you have it: Another great NGO for the Jonathon Engels: A Life Abroad blog and another great volunteer opportunity added to list on The NGO List. Thanks for the tip, Bri, and if by some off-chance someone has made it to this last line of today’s blog but hasn’t visited The NGO List yet, I cordially invite you to take a look after you’ve checked UPAVIM’s website.

Posted by jonathonengels 09:00 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Shamelessly Seeking Devotion & Love

8 More Ways to Help Your Friend, the Writer

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It wasn’t until I started writing semi-professionally that I realized how important it is to have people gush over you. Not only does my fragile ego need it, as there are still more rejections than victories, but my writing—from the first words on the screen to the articles on the sites—needs it as well. It’s nice to be reminded what you are laboring over matters to someone other than you and that, in the end, people will be reading it, if all goes well, voluntarily.

The support I’ve received over the last two years has been incredible. Old friends have come back into my life to Like & Share & +1. New friends have rallied to the cause and helped me promote my writing. I honestly couldn’t ask for more, and what is incredible is that people still often ask me what more they could do. So, as a service both to myself and to those other writers still nickel-and-diming their way into a living, I’ve compiled a list of things that might honestly help me…us. (But, if you’re reading this, mostly me.)

1. Drop a line letting us know you’ve liked or simply read something. To be honest about being shamefully self-involved, I become consumed with everything I put out there, revisiting sites to see how many people have “liked” it. I’m giddy every time somebody bothers to leave a little comment on Facebook or at the bottom of an article or blog post. For me, it means someone actually read it, possibly even from top to bottom, and that is just awesome. I was never a particularly needy writer before being published, but after a little recognition, it seemed my need for more grew insatiable: Did they like this one, too?

2. Share what you like. It’s amazing what happens when people start to share on Facebook (and like—but sharing reaches more people), retweet, and/or +1 an article. More often than not, my articles settle in somewhere between twenty and fifty likes, but a few times, I’ve watched the good stuff skyrocket: 100+ Likes, a dozen Tweets, etc. I don’t know how it used to be, but these days writers spend a lot of time promoting their publications on social media. To see something get this sort of visible applause is so reassuring, both that the writing is okay and that the incessant posting isn’t annoying the hell out of people.

3. Join in on all the social media outlets you use. When I promote an article, I put it up on no less than five different outlets at a time. These outlets have become so important to writers. The number of followers, friends, connections, and links we acquire means a tremendous amount in terms of the likelihood our latest article will be read by as many people as possible and, in turn, of our writing being a viable commodity for publishers. Writing now must compete with YouTube!, Vimeo, and the like, so it’s becoming unprofitable for sites to buy anything but bulleted lists and Miley Cyrus stunts.

4. Let us know what you want to know. I started off as a poet, and one that expected readers to recognize genius (whatever I decided to write). Now, I realize that what I really want to write is what people are interested in reading. Fortunately for me, the expat life is one that yields a lot of material, and unfortunately, a lot of that material becomes a little too typical after a while. Sometimes it’s a struggle to weed through what’s too basic and what’s too specific. Publications, especially, want those articles people (you) will click on, which might not be “Four Awesome Multi-Purpose Tree Projects in Guatemala”.

5. Actually visit our website from time to time. The cyber world keeps track. The same way an article that receives a lot of attention will benefit its publisher, a website that gets a lot of traffic will benefit its creator. One of the first things I do every morning is check how many people visited my site the day before (usually between 50 and 150 a day). When the site’s traffic gets to a certain point, I’ll be able to monetize the site selling ad space, using affiliate programs (where I’m paid a commission), and garnering more attention from paying publishers. It’s a more stable income than selling article freelance.

6. Set our websites as your homepage, if only for a week or month. This is crazy devotion and beyond any realistic expectation, but essentially, it would mean that you visit the website daily, possibly distracting yourself with an article before getting down to business. In my case, I update my website Welcome page about once a week, which would mean opening up to the same thing so often it might drive some friends into an intense hatred of me and all things associated. I wouldn’t want that, but…
My mom asks me a lot about how she can help. Like moms tend to be, she’s really proud I’ve managed to get my name up in luminous places, glamorous websites like Transitions Abroad, BucketTripper, and BootsnAll, and she wants to show me. I know she has likely shared my every publication with my aunts and uncles, her friends and colleagues, probably a few people down at Friday happy hour. She’s never been bashful (though I may have been) about talking me up. This sort of devotion…she’ll love me no matter what, no matter how many times she sees my stupid website when she logs on.

7. Paying attention to certain monetization efforts, and when possible (not costing you any extra) use them. Namely, affiliate programs. This week I’ll be launching a new website www.thengolist.com, which I’ve monetized through affiliate links. These links are sort of like ads (that I’ve personally selected), only I’m paid by commission rather than for the ad space. The idea would be that, if you are going to buy a book from Better World Books anyway, knowing that my site has a link to it, visiting my site to get to the Better World Books website would mean the same cost for you and little money for me.

8. Include links on your pages and personal websites. Similar to sharing through social media, including hyperlinks or quick routes to articles you like or a website in general is an amazing way of promoting us. Many websites these days don’t even offer meager sums for articles (I’ve been paid as low $10 or, sometimes, nothing), but they offer to promote your website or blog as compensation. And, truth told, the more avenues that lead to a writer, the more likely that writer will find a fan. The fan means one more person to possible do the aforementioned things.

So, for those hundreds who have supported me and sought to support me more, I hope I’ve not overstepped my boundaries with these suggestions. Typing up the end of this blog entry, it seems a bit presumptuous to compile a wish list to tell others what it is exactly you can do to help me. But, it’s a question I’ve fielded often, a genuine interest from some, about things that genuinely make a big difference in my sometimes reclusive, overly obsessed life.

My wife, who has suffered neglectful evenings and my head-scratching frustration more than I’d like to admit, has been incredibly supportive. She’s listened to me read manuscripts aloud, offered ill-received criticism when I needed it, and always believed I could do it, whatever “it” was. She’s endured a new growing obsession with SEO-related stuff and the onset of social media fixation. She’s always asked how she could help, and she’s now partnered with me in the creation of our new, truly useful site: The NGO List.

We are doing our first big promotion of The NGO List this weekend. It’s a website that is meant to link travelers who would like to spend some time volunteering with organizations that would like to have volunteers. So, if this latest blog has you at all inspired, spend a little time on the site, maybe like the page on Facebook, follow on Twitter, and help us build a big audience on our first weekend. Like always, thanks so much for your interest.

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Posted by jonathonengels 12:53 Archived in Guatemala Tagged travel ngo writing expat Comments (2)

Guatemala by Headline: 3 Quick Vignettes of the Month Gone

Earthquakes, College Football, and Independence Day in September

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Whole Lot of Quaking Going On

“You feel that?” The question kind of hangs in the air, everyone twisting their heads a little as if switching on the sensors, faces growing blank with concentration. Then, the whole damned building starts wiggling, continues wiggling, completely nullifying the need for the head-twisting and focusing: When shit is rattling all around you, there’s not much question as to what’s happening.

Earthquakes have been making a comeback round these parts, and this past Friday (6 September) a six-point-five eye-opener shook the tattoo shop for a good thirty seconds while we resisted the urge to run flailing to safety. It just kept going. I’ve probably experience a dozen earthquakes here, ones that registered on my fairly dull internal Richter meter, but I’ve never felt one go on so long.

For those of you unfamiliar with this Guatemalan pastime, earthquakes, along with volcanic eruptions, a regular occurrence here, are part of what makes the Antigueño/Chapin lifestyle so exciting. In fact, quakes are the very reason that Antigua Guatemala (“Old Guatemala”) is not still the Guatemalan capital. In 1773, the Santa Marta earthquakes laid waste to Antigua, then known as La Cuidad de los Caballeros de Santiago de Guatemala (the Second—the first was destroyed by mudslides coming down from Volcan Agua).

Hey, in some ways, we should be thankful. These days, we get to this beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the temperamental earth below it. Otherwise, Antigua might have been lost to industrialization and stoplights.

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Mono Loco Displays Impressive Clout

The LSU Fighting Tigers have been a regular feature on Mono Loco’s gargantuan flat screen TVs for three weeks running. Hey, I’m a shameless college football fan. Shameless? Hell, I’m a ridiculously proud college football fan, and praise be to Boudreaux for whatever satellite connection Billy Burns has mustard up over at Mono Loco. I talked to him in early August about the possibilities of getting the games with lesser opponents. He assured me, with IPA-infused confidence, that I’d at most miss one game. I was impressed if not a little doubtful.

Sure enough, though, come game time in week two, there it was: LSU vs. UAB. UA-who? Emma had asked, as we watched the Tigers commence to delivering a lethal romping. Week three, the stakes went even a little higher (or lower, depending on how you are gauging things) when LSU took on Kent St. Where are they from? Emma had asked. I couldn’t even answer her. Kent St.? But, Mono Loco had it and, not just that, broadcast that puppy on one of the prime screens for me.

In return, it’s time to deliver a heartfelt shout-out to my hosts at the Funky Monkey, “where everyone knows your name”. Thanks for understanding the demands of college football fans abroad. Not everyone graduates to the NFL. It has been a delightful start to the year, both because of LSU’s rockin’ offense and because, unlike years past, I’m not constantly reloading my live feed on a weak internet connection that causes me to miss half the game.

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Independence Day—Not Just a US Tradition

Growing up, I never really thought of the fact that other countries couldn’t give two smoked sausages about the 4th of July or that, in fact, they had their own Independence Day, like say September 15th. This past weekend, Guatemala and Central America at large set off even more fireworks than normal in celebration of the expulsion of the Spanish so many years ago. And, a lot of us—foreign and local alike—got a couple extra days off.

I’m perhaps a little remised to say that we largely skipped the holiday. Emma grew up in England, where there is no Independence Day because…umm…it was the British half the countries were winning Independence from. She never got to experience M80s in toilet bowls or disposable patriotic picnic-ware. For me, I don’t know: Aside from a day off, what is an expat supposed to say about the independence of the nation you’re not from.

Penning this on the 16th of September, having spent the 15th indoors watching “Sunday” movies with Emma, I feel a bit like I’ve signed onto Facebook and discovered I missed an old friend’s birthday (Sorry, Ellen). It’s a guilty feeling but one I (and Ellen) have learned to live with over the years. Regardless, just as on Facebook, happy belated birthday wishes are due. Guatemala, you may be getting old, but you’re still looking good.

Until next week…

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Posted by jonathonengels 15:03 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

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