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How to Check Off Your Bucket List More Regularly

Lessons for and from a Weekend in Antigua


I’m fairly excited this week because, after waiting patiently for nearly six months (for, of all things, my mother-in-law to visit), I got to experience three of the five things I most wanted to do in Antigua that I had yet to do. It only took a weekend and about $50. And, it occurred to me how easy it was to do them, how little effort it really took, and how rewarding it felt. It got me to thinking about “bucket list” type things we tend to make and, ultimately, our ability to ignore them.


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I—and I think many of us—have spent a lot of our lives disregarding the things we want to do. I recall putting off great weekend camping trips because of a two-hour drive then watching six hours of television instead, sometimes 90% of which was composed of nature programs. I was too tired or hadn’t taken the time off to do it or needed to get this or that done. There was always a reason to procrastinate, and it was—is—usually enough. Why do we do this? It’s so unfulfilling and so easy to change.


1. Schedules are worth ignoring for a day. (Friday)

Schedules are a pain, no matter how much you've stripped them down. Since I’ve been living in Antigua, my average day consists of 3-4 hours at Bagel Barn working on the writing side of my life, and 3-4 hours at Oxford Language Center working on the still got-to-pay-for-stuff side of my life. In between, there are lunches, grocery shopping trips, walks across town, occasional basketball games, and a night or two out on the town. I managed to negotiate a schedule of a 15-hour work week before agreeing to my current job then take that and fill up the rest of my day with seemingly non-negotiable obligations. It’s life.

Visiting the Choco Museo this past Friday, however, defied the busy-ness of things. I rearranged my life a little, going to Oxford earlier than normal, putting the writing side of things on hold, and doing something I’ve wanted to do for over a year. But, was it really necessary to wait until there was a mother-in-law here to do it? It seemed that with very little sacrifice or effort I was able to do something that was on my list. My mother-in-law’s presence simply provided the outside influence necessary for me to do what I wanted.

And, the Choco Museo turned out to be awesome, something I’d highly recommend to visitors. Our guide, Pablo, was fun and lively, able to mix a good wealth of information with a healthy dose of tourist-y foolishness, and in the end, I got to make my own chocolate. In fact, we made two types of hot chocolate—Mayan and Spanish (they are very different)—and I made a tray off imaginative chocolates, the type of fabrication that involves a table full of ingredients and someone telling you to mix them and make something funky.

2. If you don’t know how, it’s not that hard to figure out. (Saturday)


Valhalla is an organic macadamia nut farm about 20-minutes outside of Antigua. It’s too far away to walk to, which means for Emma and I, a visit either required talking someone else into going or braving the chicken bus system, which I’ve been told is not even that difficult and even been given directions for. Whatever the case, it’s something that’s been on the backburner for months now because it required…something new.

Then, again, with the mother-in-law in town, it was time to wow her something else, so Friday morning, I talked to Bryant (my boss at Oxford) about going this weekend. He’s a Valhalla veteran, has a car, and loves to host folks. Saturday, a mere fifteen minutes late (Bryant, Guatemalan at heart, is late for everything), he picked us up outside our apartment, our friends Jeff and Salina in tow, with their two children. It was a proper outing, with friends and family. All it took was asking.

And, Valhalla was our type of place. The food was amazing: Macadamia pancakes topped with homemade blueberry jam and macadamia nut butter, coffee grown by people who work on the farm, and free samples. The farm was beautiful and open for exploration, nooks with cool machinery invented by the owner, crannies stuffed with vegetative oddities and experiments. There are opportunities to volunteer there, to camp, to get free facials with macadamia beauty products…The owner, Lorenzo, will entertain you with an old-school, welcoming wit.


3. It’s not too far if you can do it in a day. (Sunday)

We joked at six a.m. over coffee: Emma, her mum, and I had gotten up go to Chichicastenango, and Emma’s mum, let’s call her Sheelagh, has been studying Spanish. Here in Guatemala, many places end with “-tenango”—Acatenango, Quetzaltenango, etc. In Spanish, boobies—read it again, BOOBIES— are often referred to as chi-chis (odd that I used to eat at restaurant called Chi Chi’s). So, to the point, I was caught up explaining to Sheelagh how Chichicastenango was a “land of boobies”. I’m clever that way.

Anyhow, the shuttle picked us up at seven a.m. Emma got a little queasy on the ride, and we were there by nine. Chichicastenango is famous for market shopping (not the aforementioned) here in Guatemala. It’s one of the big destinations to “experience”. I found it a bit disappointing. Perhaps, I’m tainted by having been to a plethora of foreign markets and bought more Guatemalan tourist tat than any one person should ever. We walked around for about two hours, slithering through throngs of people, stopping for the occasional picturesque photo op, and wound up finding a bar balcony to kill time on.

Still, it’s not on my mind anymore. I’m not wondering if I really do want to go to Chichicastenango. I don’t regret going. Most of the time, we don’t regret going, doing things that we want to do. For me, for the weekend, two out of three ain’t bad. I loved the Choco Museo, and I’ll definitely be back at Valhalla. Going to the market at Chichicastenango means, when I leave here this November, it’s one less thing I’ll be wishing I would have done. That makes me feel good, a little more complete.


Admittedly, Antigua is a top tourist destination in Central America. It’s got stuff to do, but as I think back to my life in Baton Rouge, in Memphis, and other places, I know that I had similar lists there: Taking an airboat swamp tour, bike-riding along the Mississippi River, overnight canoe trips, taking full advantage of Memphis in May, the Jazz Fest…there were things, things to create those lists wherever I’ve been, things—new and old—wherever we are, and there are lessons to be learned from a good weekend in Antigua. Yes, we can.

Posted by jonathonengels 07:40 Archived in Guatemala Tagged chocolate shopping guatemala farm antigua expat Comments (0)

Saying Adieu: Celebration of Life on the Go

(For Charlie, Bobbi, & Max)


Yesterday, I delved into what was supposed to be this week’s blog sampling of expat life, a harrowing tale of our recent and epic visa run to Mexico. Last night, though, we attended a leaving party for our friends Charlie and Bobbi. They’ve been Antigua regulars for quite some time now: home owners, parents with children enrolled in school, frequent attendees of Earth Lodge Sunday music shows. Quietly—and I use this word loosely in Charlie’s case, they’ve been people with wide smiles and warmth whose presence always made a day a little more pleasing.


They are leaving at the end of the week. It’s been coming, and we all knew it, slowly growing colder to the idea. It’s a bittersweet goodbye I’ve experienced many times in my life abroad: Friends, fellow expats with adventures of their own to undertake, set off on the next phase of their particular path. Charlie and Bobbi are heading to Kenya to take new positions at an old craft: teaching. Max, their awesomely bright son, has talked incessantly about the animals he’s going to see and maintained a running count of the days until. It sucks, but more so, it’s fantastic.

Last night at the party, a Mono Loco event with a locally star-studded cast (including Mike Tallon—whom I hadn’t seen in ages, which is far too long), it became very clear that this week’s expat rambling, despite the 2000-plus words I’d already written, would need to be changed. It became clear when I walked back in after a smoke break to find Charlie, Bobbi, and Billy atop the bar dancing to some eighties tune about going to Africa. There were the smiles and, on the faces of the customers, looks of mild confusion. Billy began shouting down to Grant (the bartending maestro) what to play next.

I’d heard of nights like this at Mono Loco, where sports gave way to juvenile madness and Billy and Co’s devious sides take over. I’d never seen it, which made it all the more enticing and all the more painful to see my friends go. Charlie has one of the faces that is raw expression: happiness bursts like bliss from his smile, surprise seems to spring from his eyes, and laughter echoes from somewhere true and deep within. It was in not-so-rare form atop that bar. There has been a rash of man-love going out to him lately, a lot of us grieving his inevitably disappearance, but alas the world tour must continue.

So, I’ve let my departing friends inspire me to remember the many I’ve met along the way to today, from those that remain in Baton Rouge, in Memphis, to those that passed through in Korea, Russia, Turkey…Guatemala and those on the travels in between. It’s been a hell of an adventure getting here, and it’s been even more fun for having met, gotten to know, and gotten to say goodbye to so many memorable, impactful folks. I hope to see Bobbi and Charlie and Max again, and I really hope to do so in Kenya next to a giraffe or some such thing, if only by photo should I not make it there.

A great thing about life on the go is that that—seeing them again—is entirely possible. In the past few years, I’ve met up with old friends in Istanbul, in Nablus, in Guatemala, England, Oregon, and Missouri. I’m never without somewhere to go, never without someone to see in some place I’ve never been, and that’s a fantastic excuse to keep going. I’ve kept in touch with many, if only by scrolling through a few photos on Facebook every now and again and dolling out a Like or quip, gawking at the great places they are seeing.

And, I suppose that’s why it’s worth it to take those arduous visa runs to Mexico every now and again: To get but a slice of fine folks to take with you to the next place and, at our best, give a piece of ourselves to them. Bon voyage, guys. See you soon.

New articles for old friends: How to Survive and Thrive Living in Korea as an EFL Couple and Traversing the Mississippi on Mud Island in Memphis, Tennessee


Posted by jonathonengels 10:49 Archived in Guatemala Tagged guatemala antigua expat Comments (0)

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