The first and only time I went sky diving, my Dad was my partner in crime. He planted the seed of interest when I was a little girl telling me stories of how he had always wanted to try the sport. My imagination would whirl wondering how amazing it would be to tumble through the sky feeling completely weightless. I envisioned this type of adventure to be the perfect daddy-daughter activity, for a couple of dare-devils like us. Continue reading
The good news is we made it to Hong Kong in one piece. It was not nearly a perfect journey and the effects of the 3 days of travel plus a 12 time zone difference are still weighing heavy.
We woke at 5am on the 26th after only 3 hours sleep. Continue reading
Thanks Guatemala, We Will Miss You But It’s Time For Us To Move On!
The most difficult part about leaving this beautiful country behind is that we are knowingly walking away from so many other extraordinary places we still have yet to discover. Guatemala has been our home for the past 6 months and while we did explore magnificent locations like that of Lake Atitlan, Antigua, Semuc Champey, Livingston and Rio Dulce, there just never seems to be enough time to see everything. I wanted so much to learn more about Guatemalan culture and through our experiences during Semana Santa, I definitely feel a deeper connection to and a greater understanding of the Guatemalan people. I can say with pride that after attending language classes I was able to further develop my Spanish speaking skills. I know without a doubt that I will end up back in Guatemala once again so I can discover even more of the country’s attractions while continuing to practice effectively rolling my R’s. Plus, there are so many different types of Guatemalan street food I still have yet to try! Continue reading
Entering a Guatemalan marketplace is like stepping through the gates to Narnia; you never know what sort of extraordinary journey will await you on the other side!
I have documented for your entertainment, a somewhat bizarre chain of events that occurred as we explored a Guatemalan market at Christmas time. The adventure actually unfolded chronologically as described below. (Also check out some of the video footage we captured in yet another market, with a completely different twist.) Continue reading
Guatemala’s coastal borders with the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea could not be more different. La Costa, refers to the fertile lands between chains of volcanoes and the Pacific Ocean. It is coarse, black volcanic sand continuously pounded by the raging Pacific. By contrast, Guatemala’s narrow coastline on the Caribbean side is a tropical jungle opening where the Rio Dulce, or ‘sweet river’ follows its path to the sea.
Take a daytime walk over the bridge for the best views from high above the ‘sweet river’.
Rio Dulce is a sweet water haven surrounded by massive jungles that connects the enormous fresh water Lake Izabal with the open sea on the Caribbean coast. In contrast to the crowded, gateway town of Fronteras, the waters edge is spotted by small and isolated Mayan towns, a few eco-lodges and the weekend homes of Guatemala’s wealthy elite. Beautiful mansions complete with thatch roof ranchos covering enormous luxury boats shine a spotlight on the massively uneven distributions of wealth in this country. Continue reading
Adventures with my Dad were always kept pretty close to home when I was little. He would often help me collect gardener snakes to wrap around my neck as I played about in the woods nearby our house. He sat me on his lap when I was 9 years old and taught me how to drive our family van. When he was doing small repairs on the roof of our house, if my mother wasn’t looking, he would allow me to join him. To this day I will never forget the rush brought on by the impending sense of danger, as I hung my legs over the eaves trough and stared down at my friends on the ground below.
From the beginning he always understood the adrenaline junky in me.
Now the tables have turned and I am the one introducing adventure into HIS life. For just over a week my Dad joined Karina and I on a wild excursion in the tropical jungle of Livingston and the Rio Dulce, followed by our exploration of Guatemalan traditions in Antigua. We had the time of our lives together and in order to showcase our little expedition I created a 3 minute video summary of my Dad’s very FIRST backpacking trip.
He is living proof that it’s never too late to become an explorer.
~ An Extraordinary Story by April Beresford ~
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Guatemala’s coastal borders with the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea could not be more different. La Costa, refers to the fertile lands between chains of volcanoes and the Pacific Ocean. It is coarse, black volcanic sand continuously pounded by the raging Pacific. By contrast, Guatemala’s narrow coastline on the Caribbean side is a tropical jungle opening where the Rio Dulce, or ‘sweet river’ follows its path to the sea. (Part II click here)
Where the river meets the salty ocean stands the Garifuna town of Livingston. This is a corner of Guatemala so unlike the rest of the country, it is hard believe you are not some island far, far away. The remote location and lack of connecting roads have helped to preserve this completely separate culture. Descendants from the Black Caribs of St. Vincent (Nigerian slaves mixed with Carib locals and consider themselves a separate race) the Garifuna people brought their own language, music, delicious seafood based gastronomy and some still practice an Afro-Carib religion know as dugu.
Livingston is still a small community, though a few roads have been paved and virtually any car you see will operate as a taxi (20Q to anywhere). The main strip from the public dock is packed with Western style restaurants and a few hostels. Shops there are clearly targeting tourism with all kinds seaside souvenirs such as giant conch shells, carved coconuts and sea stars as well as traditional Garifuna ailment cures and natural oils. The waterfront on the river side is lined with small hotels, perfectly positioned to invite in the fresh breeze on balmy, humid days. (See accommodations below)
The beaches around town are generally not nice. Most people will take the popular full day tour to Playa Blanca or White Beach. Living up to its name, this white sand, sparkly blue sea water is a bit of an anomaly for Guatemala. There is a 20Q charge to use the beach, money goes to cleaning up large amounts of sea trash that washes unto the entire coastline. Better yet, make your way to Siete Altares (Seven Altars). A cool, freshwater river waterfalls into pools beneath the soaring jungle. Hike up the pools through a series of makeshift paths to bathe, relax and jump off the rocks. 20Q entrance fee.
A lancha departs at 9am taking the group to Siete Altares first for a brief swim before dropping everyone off at Playa Blanca for the day. A sandwich is provided for lunch and the lancha returns at 3:30pm. Entrance fees not included.
Unless you’ve never seen a white sand beach before, skip the tour (and the crowds) and make your way to Siete Altares by land. It’s a long but straight forward walk from Livingston that affords you looks into how people really live and work. Distinct architecture, alternating concrete palaces and thatched huts, abandoned homes reclaimed by the jungle, makeshift shops, a colouful cemetery and plenty of characters along the way. Follow the paved road past the Mayan village where it’s hard not to marvel at how different and separate these two groups of people are.
When the road ends, cross the hanging bridge and keep walking along the black sand coastline another half an hour until you see the pier.
Depart early so you can avoid the midday heat and drink lots of water 🙂
Return trip: Walk back to the bridge where there is often someone willing to drive you back into town for a fee. We paid 20Q for 3 people.
Everyone we spoke with assured us that this is a very small and tranquil community. We never felt unsafe walking about.
- There is only one luxury option in Livingston.
Villa Caribe is tucked perfectly into the edge of the peninsula. It can easily pass as an all-inclusive with its waterfront location, on-site restaurant, elevated suites for the best views and the golden ticket, a huge palm tree rimmed swimming pool.
Prices start at US$115per night based on double occupancy and includes 2 breakfasts and 2 dinners. firstname.lastname@example.org +(502)2223-5005 ext.116
- Backpacker Budget
Most backpackers head straight to Casa de la Iguana. Unfortunately it is not by the water so it can get scorching hot but they have a large range of options. Share a private room for 3 at 120Q, a dorm bed for 50Q or spend the night under the stars for 20Q They pride themselves on being a party hostel, in fact, some of the on duty staff were simply “too f*cked up to help”. Happy hour is 6-8pm… or all the time. +(502)7947-0976
- My choice
Casa Rosada. Simple and rustic bungalows with a fan, mosquito nets and separate bathroom and shower areas. Clean and well maintained with an excellent little restaurant that serves 3 course meals and attracts guests from all over Livingston. Very quiet and relaxed. Selling point: long pier over the water complete with a rancho and hammocks to laze the day away.
160Q per bungalow (we paid 180Q for 3 of us to share) +(502)7947-0303 www.hotelcasarosada.com
High Season in Livingston is June, July and August. Prepare for fully booked accommodations and rising prices.
We went in April and it was absolutely perfect. Hot sunny days with a cool ocean breeze, few tourists and NO mosquitos!
Personal Recommendations for Food
– Across from Hotel Delfin, on calle (street) Marcos Sanchez Diaz is a little tienda (store) without a name. The matriarch of a friendly local family cooks up delicious and filling chicken or fish empanadas for just 2Q each (less than 25centUS). It can literally fill up two grown ups for less than $1.
Just ask for empanadas de Vilma and send our regards 🙂
– Restaurante Margoth
The most authentic TAPADO in town as vouched for by locals. Tapado is a Garifuna dish made with coconut milk, plantain and includes fish, crab, shrimp, octopus and lobster; all still whole and in their shells/skins/tails 90Q One of the most delicious meals I’ve ever tried. Totally worth the splurge.
– Breakfast at Casa Rosada
30-35Q Pick from traditional eggs and beans or fresh fruit and big pancakes. Real coffee for 10Q (not the unfortunate instant crap they serve at most places throughout Guatemala).
There are only two options.
- Puerto Barrios
Whether you are coming from within Guatemala by road, or boating into the country from Honduras or Belize, all trails meet in Puerto Barrios. Head straight to the dock (where 12th street meets the water). Lanchas leave every half hour to an hour. 35Q for the 45 minute ride into Livingston. (Larger and much slower ferries also depart here twice a day).
2. Rio Dulce
Lanchas from Rio Dulce leave twice daily, 9:30am and 2pm. 125Q one way for a 2 and half hour journey through the extraordinary jungle canyon (A lot more on this trip in Part II, coming next week.)
Take the morning boat. Waters get a lot choppier in the afternoon making the beautiful journey a little hard to enjoy.
From Guatemala City:
Litegua offers Central Americas most modern and efficient transit system. The buses are large, clean and safe. First class busses include free water, AC, and your own personal TV/gaming system. Fares range from 80-125Q depending on class and route to/from Guatemala City (6-7 hours)
The Puerto Barrios station is just a short walk/taxi ride from the dock.
April and I invited April’s dad along on his very first backpacking trip!
~ An Extraordinary Story by Karina Noriega ~
Check out the Cost Breakdown for Travel Through Guatemala
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Choosing the best language school accomodations for you: Homestay vs Hostel
The big question you will ask yourself, once you have selected the best language school for you , is “Where am I going to live while I am studying?” If you don’t have friends or family who are able to host you, you are likely to go with one of two options:
Stay with a local family (which can be arranged through your school).
Live in a hostel.
I spent three weeks living with a family and three weeks living in a hostel. Both options are relatively low cost but each option has its own benefits. Here are 6 helpful tips I learned from first-hand experience that can help you decide which environment is right for YOU!
Three Advantages To Living With Locals While Attending Language School
1. Peace of Mind
The homestay experience allows language students to pay a reasonable fee to live and eat with a local family. When I signed up for language classes in Xela, Guatemala I opted for the homestay experience as it was my first time living in a foreign country. I appreciated the peace of mind I received paying one fee to have all of my food and shelter arrangements taken care of. This relieved significant weight from my shoulders so I could concentrate my energy on my studies.
The weekly fee of US$155 included 25 hours of private classes at the Celas Maya school plus the homestay package with a local family. Meals were provided by the family 6 days a week. On Sunday, students must make their own arrangements for meals which is a common practice for most homestay contracts in Central America.
2. Meals Are Prepared For You
The meals prepared by my host family were very basic and there wasn’t much variety from one day to the next. I found them to be hearty enough that I did not need to purchase additional food. Students eat whatever the family eats and while each household is slightly different, a staple in most Latin American homes is beans and rice which was served at least once per day by my host family. Families are open to supporting dietary restrictions but in order to ensure the cost benefit ratio serves their interest, they will not increase your food budget. If you want to increase your meat intake or eat extra veggies every day, you will need purchase those items yourself and the family will cook them for you.
3. Socializing In Your New Language
The best way to create a more authentic immersion experience is to live with a local family. This increases the opportunity for engaging with locals in your immediate environment. Every time you sit at the dinner table for example, you will have the opportunity to practice your new language. You can’t help but pick up a language faster when everywhere you turn, you are forced to communicate in that new language.
Also, living in the same space as a local family will allow you to connect more deeply with their culture.
Homestay families will provide the quiet environment necessary for you to study and get your required rest so you can maximize your potential for learning.
Three Advantages to Staying in a Hostel While Attending Language School
1. Paying For What You Want
Hostels provide basic services to customers and in turn, provide very inexpensive accommodations to travelers. Most travelers only stay a few nights while they are passing through town, so hostel managers are willing to negotiate a deal on the price when customers are able to commit to a longer stay. While pricing out hostels can be more time consuming than paying for a homestay, in the end you will have more selections to choose from. Also, hostels often provide customers with free wifi access. Your homestay family is unlikely to provide this so your internet access would then be limited to being on-site at your language school. Many hostels will provide free coffee, tea and water throughout the day whereas in a homestay situation, you will be limited as to when and how much you can use of these items.
2. Preparing Your Own Food
Often guests have access to a shared kitchen space where food can be prepared and stored. You can eat whatever you want, when you want (as long as you respect the kitchen’s hours of operation). When committing to a homestay on the other hand, you must respect the families designated meal times and this creates obvious barriers to your freedom if you prefer to come and go as you please. Living in a hostel, if you purchase food at a local market and prepare it yourself you can stay healthy, and keep costs down or you can choose to attend restaurants as you please. The point is, that by utilizing a hostel for accommodations you operate on your own schedule at all times.
3. Immersion Diversion
Learning a new language will be mentally draining. Staying at a hostel will open you to the opportunity of potentially interacting with people who speak the same language as you do. This will give you a break from the immersion experience if you are finding this type of environment too isolating. Lots of new people from all over the world come and go from hostels every day which will expose you to a diverse range of cultures. The hostel environment does however, run the risk of diverting your attention from your studies as they often cultivate a party culture. This can be very distracting as you might be easily swayed to stay out late, getting to know a stranger, when you need to wake up early for school the next day. If you possess unwavering discipline, you will remain a step ahead of the game.
Still have questions?
The strategies presented in mind will definitely help set you up for success as you take on this new venture. If you have any additional questions about selecting language schools , or creating strategies to optimize your learning, please feel free to comment on one of the 3 articles in our Language School series. We are happy to help support you on your quest to learn a new language.
~ An Extraordinary Story By April Beresford ~
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Chicken buses are the way of the people in Guatemala. No trip in this country is complete without at least one experience flying down the potholed roads on one of these refurbished school buses packed with white knuckled locals.
Thanks to the competitive system of the chicken bus world, even short ride between towns is destined to be a wild one. Bus drivers here pay a flat fee to the company per day and have an assigned route where passengers are picked up and dropped off at will. Any money that stands to be made depends on the drivers ability to pick up as many passengers as possible on every route. This only encourages the chauffeurs to drive faster and more dangerously as they battle to overtake fellow bus drivers, even on single lane cobblestone city roads.
Chicken Bus Tips #1
1. Greet the bus passengers and bus driver as you enter the bus. It is not common for locals to say hello or rather, ‘Hola’ to one another. Be a respectful and knowledgeable traveller by saying “Buenos dias” (Good morning) or “Buenas tardes” (Good afternoon). Continue reading
Now that you have selected the language school that is right for you, find out:
How To Make The Most Out Of Your Language Classes
Learning a new language is tough work and your task will be more challenging if you don’t put into practice effective strategies that facilitate your learning. Based on my experiences studying Spanish in Guatemala, I have developed a list of must-know tactics that will maximize your learning both inside and outside of the classroom.
How Much Is Too Much? Maximizing Your Potential For Learning
After consulting with the owners of several different language schools, it appears consensus recommends 4 hours of conversational language classes per day. If you are a beginner, any more than 4 hours will be excessive as your brain can only take in so much new information. Studying a little extra on your own every day is better than pushing too hard in a classroom, leading to burn out.
Lesson Planning For Conversational Classes
Make sure that you come to class prepared knowing exactly what you want to work on. Conversation classes are completely different than studying a language in high school or college. Your teacher will not take complete charge of what you learn and when. Instead, for the most part, you will lead the discussion and determine the focus of each lesson. Come to class having prepared specific questions concerning grammar, verb conjugations and topics of conversation that interests you.
Keep it Interesting
Learning how to communicate with locals is the best way you can position yourself to connect more deeply with the local culture. I found it fascinating to learn about local values and traditions from my teacher. After we grew to know one another better, she would tell me funny stories of her childhood which we both found to be very entertaining. Remember that you will be chatting with this person for hours throughout the day. It won’t be productive for either of you if the conversation becomes dull. Continue reading
Part One: Selecting The Best Language School For You!
The Best Way To Learn A New Language
I hopped on a plane heading for Guatemala knowing that complete immersion is my best chance to fulfill my aspirations of learning Spanish. I had pre-scheduled my language classes and arranged airport pickup through a reputable organization, so when I arrived in Guatemala all I needed to do was focus on was my education. I learned a lot throughout this experience and I am happy to share my knowledge to help support others in their quest to converse in a new language.
If this is your first time taking conversational language classes in a foreign land, I know how daunting it can feel. I want to help set you up for success so you can tackle the language immersion experience, with efficiency and enjoyment.
How Do I Select The Best School?
Do your research online. You need to first define “the best” school, based on your individual priorities. For example, the more formal education and years of experience the teachers have, the more you will pay for their teaching skills. School’s located in larger cities will charge more because overall, the cost of living and running a business in this location will be greater. Is it a priority for you to study somewhere easily accessible and centrally located? Look to language schools in smaller, off-the-beaten-path towns to help you keep costs down. It will also minimize the opportunities to speak your native tongue therefore strengthening the immersion experience. Continue reading
Antigua Cultural and Karina’s Extraordinary Life have teamed up to bring you a new series called Preserving Culture. Preserving Culture will feature short films on cultural aspects of Antigua, Guatemala seen from a new perspective.
Join Antigua Cultural and Karina’s Extraordinary Life as we take you to Antigua, Guatemala to get a new perspective at Guatemala’s alfombra (carpet) building Easter tradition in the first educational segment of Preserving Culture. We speak with local school children during Semana Santa who teach us all about what it means to build one of these traditional works of art. — Alex Jones Continue reading
The idea behind embarking on this journey around the world had always been that the world is full opportunity. To find it though, we must be completely open to it. I don’t mean searching through a job site. I mean doing what you are passionate about. For April and I, it is travelling, writing, filming, learning and experiencing local culture. Since our arrival in Antigua, Guatemala we have found so much support for our work featuring local places, people and events. We’ve already had our articles shared on huge social media platforms, been on television and networked with amazing people who respect and admire our choice to put our faith in the universe. Most recently, April and I were invited to partake in a collaborative project creating a traditional alfombra with local school children from Escuela Luis Mena. The project, a yearly tradition sponsored by George’s Travel Club, is intended to educate and encourage participation of children. It also gave us an opportunity to learn a new perspective on the activity, normally a labour of devotion, gratitude and penitence. (More on the cultural understanding of alfombras here.) We teamed up with talented videographer Alex Jones for a new channel called Antigua Cultural. The mini-documentary will feature a complete birth to death time-lapse video of this temporary work of art by the children, through the moment where the single anda Santa Ines procession carries Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary over the alfombra offering. We also had the opportunity to interview the children and their teacher, Alejandro, about the meaning of their project and get first-hand insight into how their young minds attribute significance to this beautiful tradition.
Street meat, is a slang description for a meal containing an animal product that was prepared by a pop-up street vendor. These meals are quick and unbelievably tasty when you approach the right vendor. If you are feeling adventurous while travelling in a foreign land, you can end up with a quality local meal and avoid paying tourist prices in an expensive restaurant.
The 10 Rules of Street Meat
- Pay attention to where and how the meat is being stored. Refrigeration is not easily managed by a chef without access to electricity. Look for people who are using coolers as this is a sign they understand the need for proper refrigeration.
- Be wary of stands that have piles of pre-cooked meat that is being served to customers slowly over time. Don’t eat meat that was already prepared prior to your arrival as there is no way to know how long the meal has been sitting out. Watch the person cook the meat in front of you!
- Examine the colour of the raw meat. It should be bright red. If it appears slightly cooked (brownish or grey), there is a good chance that bacteria has already begun to set in. One night in Santa Ines, Karina and I were lured by delicious smells to a street side hamburger stand and after watching the apparent ‘perfect’ patties smoke on the grill, we peaked behind the counter for further inspection. The uncooked patties were green; BRIGHT green.
- If you typically prefer to have meat prepared medium or rare, when it concerns street-meat you should air on the side of caution and always ensure that it is well done (especially with chicken.) There should not be any pink in the middle.
- It is common in Guatemala and other Central American countries to serve dishes with meat and beans with cream on the side. Opt out of the cream and avoid items containing mayo.
- Look around the makeshift kitchen area to see how sanitation is being handled. Are they wearing gloves? Are they handling both the raw and cooked meat with the same utensils? Do they have a wash-bin for utensils and the cook’s hands, or do they have a Saint Bernard out back who washes the plates clean when customers are not looking?
- In countries with hot climates locals have adapted their cuisine to include many antimicrobial spices to help battle food-spoil microorganisms. How the food is flavored by spices could protect you. More Info: http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/1998/03/food-bacteria-spice-survey-shows-why-some-cultures-it-hot)
- The food must be covered at all times to protect it from exposure to bugs, stray animals and other contaminates from the street (car exhaust, people, and dust).
- If you have several vendors to choose from, seek out the one with the long line up. Trust the locals to help you judge the best place to eat, even if this means you will have to wait a little longer in line.
- Many places in this world will serve you barbequed flesh from animals you are not accustom to eating back home. If you are squeamish about this fact you might want to avoid eating street meat. Be comfortable with what you are about to eat. You won’t enjoy the meal if you are preoccupied, worrying you might regret it.
In the weeks leading up to Semana Santa, entrepreneurs from all over Guatemala have been eagerly anticipating the explosion of local and foreign tourism that occurs in Antigua every year during the Lent celebrations. As the population rises in Antigua with each passing day, vendors flock to the city in search of potential customers. With nothing but a small pile of charcoal, a rusty grill and a slab of cast-iron, women begin preparing food in the streets. Over open fire they make fresh tortillas, grilled meats, guacamole, rice and beat-salads which they market to passers-by from the side of the road. Observing the incredible resourcefulness of Guatemalans is nothing short of impressive. Small cash businesses seem to emerge overnight as vendors flood the streets marketing heaps of textiles, elaborate rosaries, small toy sized replicas of the cucuruchos, and of course, typical Guatemalan food and candy. Continue reading