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Entries about guatemala

Guatemala in Retrospect

A Year's Worth of Articles about My Expat Home



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.


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


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:==


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

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.


A New Article on Transitions Abroad: 10 Ways to Experience a Culture Authentically While Traveling. I would love this one to get some attention, some likes and love, maybe a Tweet or two, a comment if you are feeling especially generous. This site is tops in my book, the best paying (for me) and truly informative (for you).


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)

Saving Sea Turtles in Hawaii—Guatemala

& Another Attempt at a Blue-Green World for Akazul


To those of you who enjoy my blog, you are cordially invited to befriend me on Facebook, include me in your Twitter feed, Link up, Pin me, and/or encircle me with your Google-y world. It's a great way to let us lowly bloggers know we are doing something worthwhile.

Hawaii, the city not the state, is located on the Pacific coast of Guatemala, a mere stone’s throw from the border of El Salvador. It’s a place famous for sea turtles, particularly the endangered leatherback and the olive ridley, and in the same breath, it is known for being one of the last commercial distributors of sea turtle eggs. Herein lies the inspiration for another great NGO working in Guatemala: ARCAS.


ARCAS, a non-profit formed by concerned Guatemalan citizens in the late-80s, has centers throughout Guatemala: in Peten, where monkeys and jaguars are; in Guatemala City, where environmental education takes precedence; and in Hawaii, home of the ARCAS sea turtle hatchery. However, today, perhaps because I’ll soon be visiting the Pacific coast and the hatchery, I’ve come to talk turtles.

While much of the southwest region’s volcanically fertile land has given way to agriculture, the brackish mangroves along the shoreline have remained a healthy contrast and are still rich with life. ARCAS has been working here since 1993 when, alarmed by the depletion of leatherback turtles in the world, the NGO settled in Hawaii to try to prevent the over-harvesting of turtle eggs by the local communities. (Not to be left unnoticed, adult turtles are often victims of the tuna and swordfish industry.)

As it seems is often the case with over-harvested things, the big draw to turtle eggs was not the makings of a really wicked omelet but the belief that it was an aphrodisiac, a la tiger penis and bear bile. (How the world does fall into the whims of impotent men!) Sadly, there are reportedly only around 2000 leatherbacks—the second largest reptile in the world—left in the Pacific, and eggs are pretty important to repopulation. In its hatcheries in Hawaii and El Rosario, ARCAS manages to collect 50,000-plus eggs a year.

But, ARCAS hasn’t stopped at turtle eggs. The NGO also has programs for community development and conservation in the area, with opportunities to volunteer. They are petitioning the Guatemalan government to create 4000-hectare protected park centered on the important mangroves around Hawaii, and ARCAS has even gone so far as to purchase Finca El Salado to start the project off and buffer the mangroves from the encroaching sugar cane farms, as well as monitor the factories effects on the coast. The Hawaiian ARCAS branch also does a lot of work with local iguanas and caiman, two indigenous species, like turtles, in need of population recovery.


Another of the many great turtle projects in the area is Akazul, a UK-born NGO located in La Barrona, not far from Hawaii. In 2010, Akazul was formed by members of a program, Project Parlama (the local word for the olive ridley), that was begun by ARCAS and another UK-based NGO, Ambios. Akazul, derived from the Mayan word “ak” (great cosmic turtle) and the Spanish “azul” (blue, as in the ocean), is also working hard to make sure these turtle stick around a while longer.

Akazul is trying to connect all the turtle hatcheries along the coast in order to build up and standardize the conservation efforts here in Guatemala. As well, they do a lot to educate local communities, preserve the environment, and monitor how all the various projects are going. Like ARCAS, Akazul offers volunteer opportunities, or for those interested in helping from afar, the NGO accepts outright donations, membership fees (which includes a subscription to an e-zine about the project), or nest sponsorships.

Both of these organizations are worth exploring online. I can’t wait to check them out in the flesh in a couple of weeks.

Interested in more awesome Guatemalan NGOs? Check out my NGO page with fresh profiles on some of the great projects to be discovered in Central America's do-goodery capital.

Posted by jonathonengels 08:55 Archived in Guatemala Tagged animals guatemala profile ngo 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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