Traveling as a Young Woman vs. Traveling as a Middle-Aged Mom

The past few weeks have been filled with travel for me. As I sit on shuttles and buses and bounce around in the backs of pickups, my thoughts are often pulled back to when I first started traveling. Fourteen years ago, I was young, naive and terrified, but I stepped onto a Greyhound bus and headed out into the unknown. Things have changed a little since then. It’s interesting to compare traveling back when I was barely out of my teens and care-free and now, with three kids and a husband back home.

Safety Concerns

This is an interesting issue to consider. When I was 22, I was far more paranoid than I am now . . .but I also didn’t really understand the real dangers back then. I was nervous and suspicious of everyone and everything. I wanted to travel, but I hadn’t really learned yet what people were like. Everything was new and frightening.

Fast forward to now. I am far more aware of the actual dangers and know more about how to watch for potential issues. However, I’m also more likely to strike up a conversation with someone interesting, because I now know that there’s a lot to miss out on if you stay clammed up and scared of everyone. I’ve also learned that there is a lot of kindness in the world.

Something else that affects my decisions and how I see the world is having children. When you have kids, it changes everything. If something were to happen to me, my sons would grow up without a mother and that is something I think about frequently. On the other hand, I’m far more comfortable in Guatemala than I was over a decade ago and that helps me navigate new places with more ease.


Oh, the places you’ll go and the ways you’ll travel when you’re young and on a tight budget. I’ll admit that I’ve been spoiled lately, traveling with these tours and adoptive families in shuttles and staying in nice hotels. As I jounced along on a wooden bench in the back of a pickup to Semuc Champey last week, it brought back memories of what I thought was cool and interesting back in the day.

Chicken buses were a fun novelty when I was 22. Youth hostels, with their lumpy mattresses and coed bathrooms were interesting places, even for a reserved introvert like me. These days? I like my comfort thank you very much. I’d really rather not sleep on the floor and my bones just don’t hold up to the bouncing over rough roads on no springs as well as they used to.

Fitness Level

At 22, I was still recovering from anorexia, somewhat overweight, but overall, in good shape. I hit the gym pretty much every day back then, rode my bike to towns around Antigua and walked all over the city every day. I was in good shape!

At 36, I’m still packing quite a bit of “baby” weight, though my baby is now four and even he admits he’s not a little kid anymore. I spend many of my days sitting at a computer and don’t walk nearly as much as I ought to. That being said, the past few weeks have been filled with hikes that have taken me through jungles and alongside roaring rivers, up steep hills and down ravines. It’s been challenging, but pushing myself to go further has been good for me . . . and for encouraging others in the tour groups. After all, if an overweight woman like me can make it, surely others can! 😉

Sense of Adventure

Something that really hasn’t changed much, apart from possibly growing, is my sense of adventure. As I climb slippery rocks in a cavern, my way lit only by a sputtering candle held in one hand while my other hand grasps for a hold on guano-covered rocks, I find myself elated to be exploring new places and seeing new things.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve hiked some pretty amazing trails, seen beautiful sights and met amazing people. I’ve eaten in five star hotel buffets and shared toasted bread with a family in their one room home. I’ve ridden an elevator up to a hotel room . . .and I’ve hiked up muddy paths to the tops of hills, carrying gifts to make someone’s life a little easier. I’ve led people down narrow alleys that end up in a tiny courtyard to visit Maximon and I’ve ridden across the waves of Atitlan in a little boat. Have there been bad times? Sure, but they just make the good parts better.

Human Interaction

When I was traveling through Mexico and Guatemala as a young twenty-something, I was very reserved. I would talk to people, of course, but I tended not to really connect with many of them. While most people here were interested in my travels, we rarely had a common language and I just didn’t know how to open up.

Today, not only can I speak Spanish, but I have so much more in common with the people around me. Coming from another culture, I can relate to the tourists and travelers and expats, but I am also able to sit down  and bond with a birth family, chat with a local tour guide or share information with another translator. Having children has been one of the biggest connections. Every mother in the world has something in common with every other mother and there is an instant bond there. All you have to do is pull out your phone and show someone a photo of your children and they’ll do the same . . . it’s an instant conversation starter! It also tends to help smooth the way for other conversations and once you have something in common, it’s far easier to talk.

Things have changed a lot in the past 14 years. I feel so much older now, but I wouldn’t change anything (except maybe the weight thing). All the experiences I’ve had in life have led me to this moment. Sitting down with a group of strangers and getting to know them over a meal, whether they are travelers or Guatemalans, Spanish-speaking or English-speaking or even something else, and getting up with new friends, is priceless.

The more I travel around Guatemala, the more connections I make, and the more people I get to know, the more in love I am with this country. That has only strengthened over the years and I expect it will continue to strengthen in coming decades.

The Case of the Disappearing Blogger

I know, I’ve been mostly absent lately and I apologize. Life has picked up and it’s been a little insane. Good, but insane!

What’s going on around here? Well, I’m doing a lot of translating these days, for adoptive families that are here to meet up with foster and birth families. It’s interesting and fun, but rather draining. These tend to be pretty emotional meetings and it’s sometimes hard to distance yourself when you’ve spent time with the families. As they all say goodbye, the emotions can become pretty overwhelming. However, I’m really enjoying it.

Of course, the tours are picking up for the summer, as well, so I’m going to be away from home quite a bit  in the next couple of weeks. I do enjoy the traveling, though! In fact, this month, I’m going to be in Coban twice . . . after fourteen years of never having been. Last week, I went to Semuc Champey, which I’ve wanted to see for years. It was pretty neat. I’ll be doing a post on Into Guatemala soon on that trip . . .but I’ll also be back there in another week or so.

On top of all the traveling and tours, there’s quite a bit of writing work coming in! I was surprised at the number of clients contacting me recently to book their projects. It’s been a bit of a challenge to balance everything, but I think I’ll manage.

And then we have home life! The boys are growing fast and while they’re handling their mama being gone so much very well, when I’m home, they’re all over me. :) We have to be pretty flexible with school these days, but they’re always learning anyway. Irving has to hold down the fort while I’m gone, but I think he’s secretly in his element because he can clean and organize the house without me freaking out. This last trip, he reorganized all my sewing supplies! I will have to see if I can find everything again . . .

What’s up in your world right now?

Kids Say the Darndest Things: Episode 93

Me: “Dominic, brush your teeth and let’s get you into bed.”
Dominic: “What will happen if I DON’T brush my teeth?”
Me: “They’ll rot and hurt.”
Dominic: “The sky’s not brushing its teeth.”
Me: “The sky isn’t a person, so it doesn’t have to brush its teeth. Go brush.”
Dominic: “Maybe the sun, or the moon could help the sky . . . ”
Me: “Is the moon a person?”
Dominic: “Well, it could pick stuff up if it folds in half. And then it can help the sky with brushing the teeth.” Demonstrates how this would work by bending in half and pretending to brush with his whole body.
Me: “Is the moon helping you brush YOUR teeth?”
Dominic: “Um, yes?”
Me: “Well, go brush then, don’t keep the moon waiting!”
Dominic: “FINE!”

Dominic: “What this red thing in my eggs? Is this a ruby?!”
Me: “No, it’s a red pepper.”
Dominic: “Oh. Wait, red peppers are hot! I can’t eat this!”
Me: “It’s a sweet pepper, not hot.”
Dominic: suspiciously “Vat19 says red peppers are hot.”
Me: “Just eat it. It’s not hot, I promise.”
Dominic: eats it. “Is my face red?”
Me: “No.”
Dominic: “Okay, it’s not a hot pepper.”
Dante: “Why do pens even have lids?”
Me: “Um, I guess so the ink doesn’t dry out?”
Dante: “Then why is there a hole in the lid?!”
Me: “Google . . .”
SO, it turns out that lids are to prevent big leaks, but the reason they have a hole is because if you choke on a pen lid, you can still get air through it.
Dominic handed me a sheet of paper with three colored splotches on it. “Do you like it?”
Me: “Um, what is it?”
Dominic: “Well, this is where I drew with crayons.”
Me: “I can see that, but what were you drawing?”
Dominic: “Lines from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
Me: “The colors are very Ninja Turtle.”
Dante: “Everyone in the family has their own talents. I’m good at building and art. Dorian is good at reading and games. Dominic is good at bugging.”
Dominic at bedtime: “HEY! Take this Snoopy . . . this is not the real Snoopy, it’s just a fake Snoopy, but I don’t want it in my bed. Put it in my brothers’ room.”
Me: “Uh, it’s your Snoopy, it can stay in here.”
Dominic: “NO! It has to go in their room! IT ALWAYS GOES IN THEIR ROOM!”
Me: “It’s fine in here. Are you just trying to stay up later?”
Dominic: “YES!”
Dominic: “Mama, wake up. I want hot milk that`s not too hot, but not cold, with foam on top . . . and bread with jam.”
Me: “You think this is Starbucks? Let me sleep!”
Dominic: holding up a piece of cheese. “I can’t eat this! It smells like . . . cheese!”
Dominic: “Hey, let’s have a pillow fight!”
Dorian: “No. That always ends badly.”
Dominic: “Mama, are you my biggest fan?”
Me: “Yes, I am.”
Dominic: “Because I’m small and you’re so big?”
Dorian: “OK, let’s see if I can open the door without breaking it . . . oh, no! I actually DID break it!”
Overheard: “He’s a gringo Spiderman who’s my friend.”
It’s bedtime and I heard a series of huge sighs coming from Dominic’s bed. Then, “Mama, can’t you hear me?” Another big sigh.
Me: “Yes, I can hear you sighing. What do you want me to do about it?”
Dominic: “I’m just so tired.”
Me: “Well, that’s why you’re in bed, so you can go to sleep.”
Dominic: “Oh. Right.”
Watched a video on army ants with the boys. Afterward:
Dante: “So, army ants like to eat flesh, huh?”
Me: “Yup.”
Dominic: “Zombies also like flesh.”
Dorian: “You’re so weird.”
Me: “Well, would you really want to have a normal mom?”
Dorian: “Nah, that would be boring. I’ll stick with you, weird and all.”
Dominic: “What are we in?”
Me: “March 10th.”
Dominic: “No, I mean the other in. Like the world.”
Me: “Guatemala?”
Dominic: “YEAH! Guatemala!”
Dante: “I’m thinking of making a game called Dead Selfie. You take a photo and a zombie shows up in it.”
This brought on a round of proposed hashtags to add to said game, including: ‪#‎IKnewHimWhenHeWasAlive‬ ‪#‎Deadonmyfeet‬ ‪#‎ZombieSnap‬ ‪#‎Lookinggoodforadeadguy‬ and ‪#‎Zombiebombing‬
Me: “What are you looking for in the fridge?”
Dominic: “I’m looking for to eat my favorite flavor (ketchup).”

The Dangerous Tree Roots of Antigua

Over the years, I’ve seen many, many tourists with broken legs, arms and twisted ankles from the difficult streets and holey sidewalks in Antigua. Despite the fact that this isn’t exactly an easy place to walk in, I had never seriously injured myself . . . until this year.

In February, while still recovering from the massive, whole body infection that knocked me for a loop during that time, I was in Antigua to meet with a potential Spanish teacher for Spanish on the Go when I wrecked my ankle.

As I crossed the Calzada with Irving, I misstepped and nearly fell into a hole in the sidewalk that was made by a tree root. My right ankle bent under me and I grabbed Irving to keep from falling on a small child that was directly in my path. Fortunately, I didn’t squash the toddler, but the intense pain had me sobbing like one in the middle of the street.

At first, I thought it was a twisted ankle. It’s happened to me many, many times. It hurts a bit and then goes away. Except this didn’t. I stood there, crying into Irving’s shoulder and trying to ignore the stares, my ankle kept throbbing. He finally helped me hobble to McDonald’s, where I was meeting the teacher and I did the interview and everything before hobbling back to the car, using Irving as a crutch.

By the time I got home, my ankle was somewhat swollen and bruised on one side, but not overly so. There was no point tenderness, so I put some heat on it and went on with life, trying to avoid walking on it too much. Everyone told me to wrap it and keep off it. I didn’t. And it didn’t get better. In fact, it got worse.

After the whole being sick deal for over a month, I was so over being in bed, but finally realized that I was going to have to do some serious recuperating if I wanted to be up for the tours in March. So I bought an ACE bandage, wrapped the ankle and  kept it elevated.

It took six weeks for the darn thing to finally work properly without too much pain. I was still wrapping it for the tours and while I could walk fairly well, it hurt each night at the end of a long day of walking around the lake. I rested up after the tours and eventually didn’t need to wrap anymore, though the lump on the side of my ankle never actually went away.

Weirdly enough, today,  several weeks after it seemed to be healed, my ankle started to ache again. I’m not sure if that means I re-injured it or if it’s a sign that rain is coming, but whatever is going on, it hurts! I wrapped and elevated again, after a massage with Cofal and it seems to be doing better. Irving suggested that I may just be getting old and this is something that will simply bother me for the rest of my life. Uh, no thank you!

So, watch out for tree roots and holes in the sidewalks in Antigua. Those suckers can put you out of commission for a good long time!

Lake Atitlàn

The tours that I’ve been working on have been really fun and exciting for me. Not only do I get to meet new and interesting people, I get to travel around. I’ve missed traveling. Really missed it. My wanderlust never went away, I just don’t have the funds for it with a family, so this is the perfect solution!

I love the lake. While I prefer the Antigua area simply because it’s home, the lake is beautiful. I mean, who can say no to this view?!

lake atitlan

Each week that we were there, we took the group on a trip around the lake, which was a lot of fun. The first week, we visited Santiago and San Pedro. The second week, we went to Santiago and then to San Antonio Palopo. It was hot and sunny both weeks and I ended up with a killer tan.

This is San Pedro, which I hadn’t visited in nearly 13 years . . . it’s changed a LOT. Back then, it was mostly trails through cornfields. Now it is a fully commercialized city.

San Pedro La Laguna

We spent much of our time in Panajachel, the main tourist town on the lake. Pana, as it’s known, is home to Mayan Families, an organization that has multiple projects going on to help the poorer people in the area. I’ve been there many times, since my sister sponsors a family through them, but this was the first time I really spent a lot of time with the organization.

Since everyone who came on the tours brought down some donations (a pre-requisite for their trip), we ended up distributing some of the items early on. These children were thrilled to get new shoes, socks and toys.


new shoes

new shoes

The shoes were much needed.

old vs. new shoes

Each group put up some money to provide a bed, an Onil stove and a water filter for a needy family, so that was part of the service trip. We learned to build the Onil stove and then delivered it and the bed. We also took food baskets to each family that received help.

In one house, this is what they cooked on before . . . a sheet of old corrugated tin set on a platform of wooden beams. The beams were burnt and I’m pretty sure they would have had to replace them soon.

Unsafe stove in Guatemala

And this is the stove we left them. It is much safer, since it has a chimney that takes the smoke out of the home and helps prevent respiratory infections. It’s also a very fuel-efficient stove, so people don’t have to spend as much time looking for firewood.

Onil stove

One of the best parts of the trips was the party we held at a different Mayan Families preschool each week. The organization helps children learn Spanish before they start school (otherwise, most of them are thrown into first grade with no clue how to speak it, and are expected to receive passing grades), gives them nutritious food and teaches hygiene. Basically, they give these little ones a good start in life and it’s also a form of childcare, allowing mothers to work outside the home in the mornings without worrying about taking the kids with her or worse, leaving them at home on their own.

The kids were adorable and they loved the piñata and cake that we brought. It was a good opportunity for everyone to meet the children and choose one to sponsor. It was also a good way for the tour groups to really participate and get to know some of the kids here.


kids eating cake

The second week, Dorian was with me and he helped serve cake to the kids at the preschool we visited that week.

Dorian helping

We also checked out the textile market in Panajachel, where you’ll find used huipiles (traditional blouses) and cortes (skirts) for sale. They were available at amazing prices!


Exploring is so much fun! If you want to read more about the places I’m traveling these days, don’t forget to check out Into Guatemala. 😉

Panajachel church

And I’m Back

March was a bit of a crazy month. I was hired to translate and help with a couple of homeland tours (families with children adopted from Guatemala) for the last two weeks of the month, so that was exciting. However, before I headed out, I ended up getting quite a bit of writing work. I didn’t want to turn it all down, so I took the best jobs and worked my butt off for the first half of the month, finishing up edits the night before I left on the tours.

We did back to back tours, heading to Panajachel for four nights and then to Antigua for the remaining three nights. The tours were pretty amazing!

I think I’ve learned more about Guatemala in these two weeks than I have in years of living here. People were asking me so many questions that I often spent the late nights in my hotel room Googling information to make sure I could give them the best answers. It has definitely been an interesting time!

The first week was a trial run, with two families and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but it was during Semana Santa! That means crowds and craziness like you wouldn’t believe. While the Pana part of the trip was mostly volunteering with Mayan Families, things were pretty hectic. The second week, however, went much smoother. I took Dorian along since all the kids were girls, except one boy, who would have been pretty lonely.

While we’re in the depths of preteen angst with Dorian, he did an excellent job on the trip and quickly became best friends with the other boy. They were sad to separate at the end of the tour and made plans to Skype each other.

Overall, the past month has been a whirlwind of travel, work, translating and meeting new people. I’ve made so many connections and discovered new skills. On top of all that, I found out that I’m not in such bad shape! That last trip, with the cornfield hike, had me convinced I was pretty bad off . . . but in March, I was able to hurry up and down hills to help tourists with their shopping and keeping them all together, much to my own surprise. That being said, I now have a very good reason to get into better shape . . . the next trip is in June and I intend to be somewhat lighter and much more agile.


Being a Tourist Again

When you’ve lived in a place for so long, it becomes pretty normal. Even when that place is as exotic as Guatemala. While I enjoy new experiences and checking out new restaurants and such, I really don’t consider myself a tourist anymore. Well, didn’t. That’s changed a bit now.

My friend Claudia and I recently set up a new website, Into Guatemala, to put our knowledge of the area to good use. At first, I was just writing the usual stuff, based on  my years of experience from living here, filled in with a few tidbits from Irving on cultural stuff. But, we set up a Facebook page and an Instagram account and suddenly I found myself in the bizarre position of being a tourist again.

Mayan girls

Walking through the market, I see things with new eyes. I’m looking at the piles of tomatoes and limes and then taking photos of them. It’s been a long time since I’ve taken photos in the market!

It’s interesting, after all these years, to look around with fresh eyes, snapping pictures and writing descriptions for those who may never have been here before. It’s exciting and fun and something I am thoroughly enjoying. While we do hope to eventually make money off this blog, for now, it’s enough that it is reawakening my passion for Guatemala.

Around Here

I’ve been sewing up a storm lately (more on that in a future post), and Dante has decided to take it up, too.

He’s previously made some fun stuffies and a pair of shorts for himself, but the other day, he told me he wanted to make something bigger. So, he made himself an “adventure” bag . . . which was a child-sized messenger bag, pattern found here.

Child's messenger bag
He learned all about seam rippers with this project! He added a pocket to the inside of his bag in case he needs to carry extra items and some Velcro to the flap to help it stay closed. While the bag is certainly not perfect, he absolutely loves it and is super proud that he made it himself!

Dante told me that he plans to go on a 10 day walkabout, to test his survival skills. Hence the bag. I didn’t want to tell him no way, absolutely not, so I suggested he try camping out in the yard first. I suspect he’ll be too frightened during the night to dream of going out on his own. If not . . . well, I guess it’s time for some family camping trips.

Also, I’m rethinking my plan to read My Side of the Mountain to the boys soon . . . don’t want him to get any crazy ideas!

Cornfields and School Supplies

Last week, my friend, Annalisa, invited me to go with her to distribute school supplies for her organization, Eduacion con Esperanza. I jumped at the chance, of course. It was just a short, overnight trip, but I was excited to A) check out her project, B) travel a little bit and C) hang out with her.

We left on Sunday afternoon with our backpacks and a bag of supplies that hadn’t gone up with a friend the day before. I haven’t traveled longer distances on a chicken bus in many years now, so it brought back memories, climbing aboard the bus and wedging myself into the tight seats. All part of the adventure!

On the first day, we arrived at Pujijil II and were picked up by Manuel, the project leader in Solola (yep, back to the lake!). We headed to interview one of three families in a rural area where we had to walk quite a ways through cornfields. That wasn’t a problem, but the terrain was up and down. Despite living on the side of a volcano, I’m not used to hiking up and down and up and down!

After about 20 minutes, it became obvious to me that my legs weren’t going to hold out much longer. They were on the verge of collapsing and my eyesight was pretty much narrowed to directly in front of me. After passing a couple of houses with rather aggressive dogs (nothing like a bunch of snarling dogs to make those legs work!), I stopped to rest, waving everyone else on. Of course, they waited for me, but it was getting late and I didn’t want to hold everyone up.

Once we reached the top of the hill we were climbing, the guide, a local woman, pointed out the house. It was downhill and then back up again. I told them I’d stay put and wait. So I sat down, accompanied by Edgar, Manuel’s teenaged son, and we talked chickens and corn and education while we waited. It was incredibly beautiful up there, with the cornfields stretching down around us, no sounds but the occasional distant shout of a child floating up the hill and the chortling of the chickens scratching around us.

When everyone returned, we headed back to the truck. Manuel was nice enough to take pity on me and bring the truck closer so I didn’t have to walk up the last hill, which, quite frankly, may have been the death of me.

We saw two other families (thankfully much closer to the road) and headed to Manuel’s house in Solola to have dinner with his family and sort school supplies. He has four sons and a daughter, all really neat kids. His wife made a huge amount of tortillas to go with the chicken soup she served us and later left the remaining tortillas on the wood stove to crisp when she went up to bed. I had to laugh when the kids came bouncing back down the stairs and gobbled up the crispy tortillas around 10 pm. That is EXACTLY what Dorian would do!

In the morning, this was the view that met us. Amazing!


We met up with the women in Annalisa’s project. The meeting place was at the top of a steep path and I once again struggled up it, my legs not fully recovered. Word of my weak legs had preceded me, I realized, when everyone was chuckling at me as I finally made it up. Our guide from the day before was animatedly telling the story of how I’d stumbled my way up the hills the day before.

Annalisa and Manuel began to sort out the supplies and give them to the women while the children played. I particularly liked this one idea . . . a Pepsi box turned into a swing!


School supplies distributed, we were ready to head home, but first, I had to use the bathroom. When I asked where it was, one of the women called out, “Half a kilometer!” and they all started laughing again. Well, it wasn’t half a kilometer, but it was down a steep path! I made it safely there and back and we were ready to jump on the bus and go home to where the boys were eagerly awaiting my return.

It was a fun trip. I have to admit that I miss traveling like I used to do, so this was a great way to get out for a bit, even just for a one night trip. Though, in the future, I will be making more trips to the area, because I’ll be working as a translator for some upcoming tours!

New School Year and Next Steps in Health

Today was our first day back at school. Hard to believe the boys are in grades 4 and 5 now, with Dominic doing a mixture of preschool and kindergarten work. Seems like they were just getting started last year! But no, now we are entering the world of higher math, where Irving will be called upon more often, and writing reports and doing crazy science experiments.

We started off slowly, with just a few pages or a simple activity in each subject. Dominic was thrilled to start school and worked diligently, writing out his answers in his book and eagerly taking everything in. Funny to think how his schooling will be different because he has much older brothers!

The older boys are learning about hoaxes and will later move on to Guatemala’s history. We plan to take a few small field trips this year and the kids are pretty excited about that idea.

On the health front, I’m done my treatment, which was nearly as bad as the infection. I took the last antibiotic yesterday and I’m feeling much better. In fact, yesterday, I even spent the morning climbing stairs and walking around the hospital on a tour, something that would have been completely impossible for me a week ago. Thank goodness for modern medicine.

The next step is to see the doctor in a week or so, to get checked out. I’m going to have to do some tests to see if any permanent damage was done from the infection going untreated for so long, then we’ll get a plan in place to get my immune system back on track. So far, so good!

One of the fringe benefits of being so sick is that I lost quite a bit of weight. I doubt it will stay off, but you never know!