Since we are getting ready to leave Guatemala at the end of this week for Colombia, we figured it was time to update the blog.
We arrived in Antigua about 4 weeks ago after 2 pretty horrible days of travel. We took the overnight bus from Oaxaca to Tapachula, Mexico and although we got the primo seats at the front of the bus I was unable to sleep all night because of horrible motion sickness. Arriving in Tapachula with the sticky feeling of being on a bus for 13+ hours, we found the next bus to Guatemala wasn’t for another 4 hours. So we rolled the dice and took a taxi to the Guatemalan border hoping there would be more buses on the other side. We ended up walking across the Guatemalan border and paying a couple unexpected “taxes” to find the Guatemalan border town wasn’t exactly teeming with buses either. The next bus wasn’t due to leave for another 4 hours as well, and didn’t end up leaving for another 6 hours. We were stuck in the “restaurant”/”bus station” in this scary border town and I’ll admit, there were a few tears, but the bus finally came and we were on our way to Guatemala City. We were pleasantly surprised by the lush Guatemalan vegetation and passed by many rivers. Since the bus left so late and traveled at what felt like 45mph the whole way, we were due to arrive after the last shuttle to Antigua had already left. After reading the guidebook about how dangerous Guatemala City is, we arranged for the bus driver’s taxi-driving friend to pick us up at the bus station and take us on the one hour journey to Antigua. It cost alot more, but it was worth it! We finally arrived in Antigua and could breathe a huge sigh of relief.
Antigua is a colorful colonial city in the valley of volcanoes (its also a UNESCO world heritage site). There are so many touristas here, but the locals are famously friendly. People will meet your eye on the street and smile or say hello even if they are not trying to sell you something! This is unique so far on our trip. For our time in Antigua we have been staying in a wonderful hostel call the Yellow House. You might have seen our posts about the breakfast, which has been a highlight. We’ve also attended 3 weeks of Spanish classes, which has really helped us to be more confident. One of our big successes was when we noticed that the bread we had bought in the supermarket was moldy before we had even opened the package, so we took the bread and the receipt back to the store and talked to the store manager entirely in Spanish and got to exchange the bread! Tenemos exito! Through the school we participated in a few after-school activities including visits to a cemetery, a hot spring, and a macadamia farm (where we drank the kool-aid and bought anti-aging macadamia nut face cream).
During one of our weekends here we traveled to Lake Atitlan, about 4 hours from Antigua. The lake is huge and completely surrounded by mountains. We took a full day boat tour to 4 very different towns around the lake. We visited San Marcos, San Juan, San Pedro, and Santiago. It was a beautiful calm morning, that turned into a terrifying afternoon. The wind picked up (a phenomenon known as “Xocomil” according to my Spanish teacher) so the boat was equipped with saran wrap “windows” while the passengers were handed life jackets. The lucky passengers in the “splash zone” (Rachelle and myself included) were handed a tarp and it was our job to protect ourselves and the other passengers from the forceful sprays as we got some serious air over the waves. Once safely back on land, Rachelle and I admitted to each other that we were thinking of every boat accident we knew of and what we were going to do if we capsized. Better to be prepared than taken by surprise! But fortunately, we were fine.
The weekend after that we hiked Volcan Pacaya to see the sunset. We got lucky with a beautiful clear day. The hike itself was difficult only because the trail was entirely black volcanic ash, so it was like hiking up a volcano-sized sand dune. It was a bizarre mix of green mountains and lunar-esque landscape. As we hiked up closer to the peak, you could feel the heat rising from the ground below you and we were concerned our shoes might melt. When you kicked up some of the volcanic rock, steam would rise from the ground. Rachelle was thrilled when we roasted marshmallows over a particularly hot spot. We saw the neighboring Volcan Fuego erupt big plumes of smoke a few times, which was exciting. We hiked up far enough to actually be above the clouds and watched the sun set into the cloud horizon. It was thrilling.
This past weekend after our last day of school, we took a cramped 15 person van for 8 hours to Lanquin. The road to Lanquin is nauseatingly curvy, but it was definitely worth it! Our 3 days in Lanquin was the first time we had an extended amount of time away from diesel fumes yet on our trip. Our first day in Lanquin was plagued by cold “chipi chipi” (a misty rain that falls frequently there) so we relaxed by the river and explored the tiny town. That evening at sunset we went with a group from our hostel to Grutas de Lanquin. When we arrived, the cave was alive with bats streaming out for their nocturnal feeding. The cave was like a huge amphitheater with the biggest stalagtites columns we have ever seen. There were thousands of bats streaming by us and some even got close enough for us to feel their wind. Like many of our adventures in Lanquin, it was a truly unique experience. The sun showed the next day, so we met up with new friends Nicolas and Ni and dared the 45 minute white knuckle ride on the back of a pick-up to Semuc Champey. We hiked up to the look-out to see the crystal clear turquoise pools that sit above a swift moss green river that runs through the valley surrounded by mountains. It was shockingly beautiful. Afterwards we hiked back down to the pools for a refreshing swim. The next day we decided to take an official tour of Semuc that was pretty much the same as what we had done the day before, except that it involved a candle-lit spelunking adventure. Basically, the guide gives you a candle at the mouth of the cave and you walk in. There is clear swift mountain water running through the cave. As you’re walking through the freezing cold water, you notice it keeps getting deeper and deeper until you are holding your candle above your head SWIMMING through the cave. I was scared, but after Rachelle lost her water shoe and replaced it with a men’s size 13 flip-flop I was terrified that something worse would happen. Not only were we swimming with our candles, but also climbing down wobbly wet metal ladders with our candles, squeezing through narrow openings between stalagmites/stalagtites, and climbing up waterfalls using a rope holding our candles in our teeth. And without your candle, the cave is blindingly pitch black. There are no LED emergency exit signs. I’ll admit it, I peed my bathing suit…a few times. But we made it out unscathed and got to enjoy the clear blue pools again.
As we prepare to leave Central America, we are reflecting on all the wonderful people we have met and had to say goodbye to here in Guatemala. Anna and Peter from Minneapolis, Anna from Washington D.C., Brie from Suffolk, Alice and Kris from Melbourne, Gisel from New York City by way of Paris, Peps from Grenoble, Chloe and Robbie from Toronto, Sophie and Matt from London, and of course our first friends who we met in Oaxaca and had one great night together in Antigua, Toby and Georgia from Bristol. We feel so lucky to have spent our time, however short, with such wonderful people.
Hola from our second destination in Mexico and trip. We are currently writing from our second and vastly better hostel. Unlike our first hostel, this one has an outdoor courtyard with trees in the center, balconies, a fresh breakfast made by the staff that consists of eggs, cheese, (meat that we do not opt for), beans, coffee, fruit, bread and pie filling (used as jam). The bathrooms are clean and there is drinking water always accessible! But the hosetl is the least of the excitement in Oaxaca. But first…to finish our Mexico City adventures… Our last week, we did homework in our (new) favourite park, admired the inexplainably gorgeous grounds of Museo Delores Olmedo, explore the zocalo, a did a lot of walking and snacking on pastries and fruit and finished the week with craft Mexican beers with our classmates and a couple teachers from the school (in total representing 6 different countries…and of course spoke English). The grounds and various buildings of art at the Delores Olmedo museum were so beautiful…there were, what seemed to be prehistoric cacti, peacocks wandering the grounds that would walk right up to us, the almost extinct Xoloitzcuintli aka Mexican hairless dogs and amazing architecture. Delores was a patron of Diego Rivera and we got to see many sketches and additional works and photo of both he and Frida in addition to other Mexican art. Best of all, we went on the free day!
This brings us to our current residence in Oaxaca. The colors are brilliant, the people are friendly, and the streets are clean. After our 6.5 hour busride passing mountainside homes, possible slums, a lot of clothes drying in the air, and some of the most incredible cacti covered mountains I’ll ever see, we arrived amidst a Mexican holiday! Our first meal out was streetside to a church with a brass band, a ton of people and loud fireworks. This town is known for it’s markets and crafts and we have certainly not lacked exploring! We have seen everything from colorful hand woven clothes and home decor to whole pig heads, chicken feet and the (in)famous baskets of insects. I am working on the courage to actually put one in my mouth! Additionally there are a lot of ceramics and fresh fruit and vegetables.
Sunday we watched our first American football game of the year…the super bowl! But in Spanish and without the puppy bowl or the million dollar commercials. We watched it at our hostel and enjoyed an 8 pack of beer for just under $7USD!
Again, we are surrounded by people from every continent and…everyone speaks English. Today, however, we got to use our Spanish when we spent our afternoon volunteering at Oaxacan Street Children. There, we met the only two other Americans of our trip so far. We drew pictures and helped them with homework and, in turn, they helped us with our Spanish! While Meg was helping one little boy with his math, I learned that his father was an alcoholic and his sister was just sold into marriage and that the meal he eats at the center might be his only for the day.
Tonight we will catch a free movie at the local art house and attempt to figure out our stupidly expensive flights from Guatemala to Colombia!
Oh silly us. We forgot to add the ruins we have attended. In Mexico City we climbed the 3rd largest pyramid at Teotihaucon with Victoria and yesterday we traveled to Monte Alban which is the first group of people to have used written language and we saw structures dating back to 300-100 BCE! Incredible!
We will try to post photos, but not having a laptop is proving the task to be difficult so keep up with our instagrams or facebook photo posts!
We thought we made a mistake our first night in Mexico City. I´ll be frank, the hostel was a disappointment. All we saw in our future was a series of bare mattresses, fluorescent lighting, and terrifying bathrooms. And while I´m sure we do have some of those things in our future, we learned that at a certain point, you get too tired to care. Fortunately, for us and our bestie from Portland, Oregon, Victoria, it only took us one day of touring the incredible pyramids of Teotihuacan to be too tired to care.
50mgs of benadryl each was all it took to wake up refreshed and ready to visit Casa Azul. Victoria had specifically pilgrimadged to Mexico City to see Frida Kahlo´s dresses, which were on view for the first time ever. The collection was very inspiring. Frida definitely had an eye for fashion because when I see similar shirts and dresses hanging in market stalls today, I am underwhelmed. Somehow, she made the dresses pop.
Last Sunday, Rachelle, Victoria, and I visited Bosque de Chapultepec. Many of the museums there are free on Sunday, so we visited the Museo de Arte Moderne. We all enjoyed the exhibits of Fernando Garcia Correa´s repeatative patterns and Hector Garcia´s black and white photography of Mexico in the 50s and 60s. It seemed like all of Mexico City was enjoying the sunshine and the fresh air. Chapultepec definitely has a carnival atmosphere on the weekends. Victoria bought coconut ice cream covered in chili powder. Now if that doesn´t say party, I don´t know what does. Later that day, we checked out of the hostel in Roma and walked our huge backpacks down to our homestay in Col de Valle. I had told Rachelle that it would only be a mile, because that´s what I thought it would be. Two plus miles later, we arrived at Thelma´s (pronounced Tellma) wonderfully clean and comfortable apartment.
Thelma´s apartment is just a few Metrobus stops away from our school. Rachelle was placed in the high beginner class and I am in the beginner beginner class. Rachelle is learning things like future, future progressive, and past tenses. I am learning basic grammar and verb conjugation. Strangely, its really bringing me back to 8th grade English class. Thank you Mrs. Ross for your under appreciated work! We are really enjoying our teachers and our international classmates. Thelma serves us a full breakfast every morning before school. Coffee, juice, bread and jam, fresh fruit with coconut sprinkles, and eggs with nopales (cactus) or cereal with coconut soy milk! What?!
After school, we usually treat ourselves to a pastry or a fresh fruit cup with lime and chili and walk all over town. We´ve covered the Centro Historico, the Zona Rosa, the Reforma, the Roma, the Condesa, Insurgentes Sur, and Obregon Avienda.
This weekend we were really ladies of leisure. Yesterday, we took a 2 hour subway ride to Xochimilco where there is a 180km network of ancient canals. We teamed up with a friendly Canadian couple, Nancy and John, and hired a private gondola for a one hour tour of the canals. A one hour tour. It is definitely not the huge beer that Rachelle and I shared talking, when I say that Xochimilco is a truely unique experience. The gondolas are colorfully decorated and equiped with a table and chairs enough to seat 20. Smaller boats float around selling beer, grilled corn, tacos, and mariachi songs. It might have been the most relaxed hour of my life. When we returned to the Salitre embarcadero, the 4 of us rode the colectivo to the artisan market. It felt like everything went our way in Xochimilco. It was beautiful day and fortunate to meet Nancy and John.
After dinner we went to a ¨Twin Tones¨ show and met up with new friends, Arden, Jacobo, and Jamie. We highly recommend that you check TT out.
Today we spent most of the day in Parque Mexico. It is maybe our favorite park in the world! From our bench the sounds of the Dixie Jazz Band drifted over to us, children made crafts and rode their bikes, vendors sold food, people walked their well behaved dogs off leash. We feel very happy, healthy, and lucky!
If you read all the way to this point, thank you! We will try to post more often.
Thank you for your love and good thoughts,
Meg and Rachelle
See you on the other side!
Meg and I have moved out of our house and in with our respective parents home.
We will be in the air 12 hours from now!
It’s all pretty surreal and most likely will not sink in until we land in Mexico City tomorrow afternoon.
We received great news that one of our besties will be flying down the night we get there so we’ll have a few fun days to explore with her before we settle into our homestay and start school!
Let the adventures begin!
over and out
rachelle (and meg)
Hello! Meg here.
I wanted to share the latest completed task on our pre-departure checklist…our packing list.
We’ve been working for a couple months gathering supplies and deciding what nonessential items we must leave behind.
One of the more difficult things is preparing for the variety of weather we will encounter. For example, Mexico City in January can be as warm as 70*F and as cold at 45*F. As we work our way south, we’ll cross the equator around Quito, Ecuador where it is pretty much 65*F year-round, but in more coastal cities it could be in the 90s. Towards the end of our trip we’ll be in the southern hemisphere’s winter where it could get down to the 30s-40s. Brrr! So that explains why we need to make room for bulkier items, such as our L.L. Bean waterproof raincoats, our EMS warm jackets, and our Under Armor cold gear long underwear. Full disclosure: our L.L. Bean raincoats match. It’s not something we’re proud of, we don’t think its “cute,” it was a matter of the youth raincoats being on clearance and if it wasn’t the lovely ladylike deep purple that we both chose, our options were baby blue or bright fuchsia. So, so no need to worry that we are letting ourselves go and breaking the rules of lesbian fashion, it was simply a matter of necessity. But come to think of it, it is hilarious to see matching couples (i.e. Disneyworld), maybe I’ll give Rachelle another photo assignment…
Over and out,
Hello friends and family
Welcome to MR Adventures! (MR=Meg Rachelle Adventures)
We will be leaving our jobs and home in Philadelphia to take the opportunity to travel, do language immersion, volunteer and do some WWOOFing (World Wide Organization of Organic Farms).
We tried to plan this 4 years ago until I (Rachelle) had an injury that required me to need 5 surgeries over 3 years. THEN we bought a house. NOW, we’ve finally saved enough money and got our health and strength to leave our jobs and take this daring adventure!
This site is place that you can follow us and see what we’re up to!
(and a place for our family to know that we’re doing ok)
We will be counting down the days until we leave our jobs, our home, and then the country!
We will be going to Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil! Click on the country to the right to see updates as they happen OR just stay tuned on this main page.
For any of you that have been to, or have contacts in these countries… we’re always looking for tips or people to meet.
Shoot us an e-mail at MR.Heart721@gmail.com
we will have a short descriptor here
post trip adventures