Culture Shock! And The Sorry Complex – Hong Kong

Welcome to the new series that basically named itself! We’ve just landed in a new continent that is about to challenge us in completely new ways. Some will undoubtedly be intriguing and funny little things we’ll have to adjust to. Others will surely be frustrating or beyond comprehension. Finally, there will be cringe-worthy moments certain to have us questioning why we ever left the comforts of home in the first place.

Each article in the series is intended to be an opportunity to learn, grow and share. It is our collection of observations and information from the different cultures we visit from our subjective anthropological perspective. We never intend to shame or shed negativity on anyone else’s way of life. Wherever we can, we will do our best to understand and explain how to respect and behave in a given place. Though sometimes, we may only be able to share on what NOT to do, as we figure out life as a local through our embarrassing mistakes and faux paus moments.

Pandamonium! Arriving in Hong Kong -- Karina's Extraordinary Life

Pandamonium! Arriving in Hong Kong — Karina’s Extraordinary Life


Culture Shock! And The Sorry Complex

To kick off the series I definitely want to poke fun at one of the most famous stereotypes we deal with as Canadians. Most have heard the jokes, especially if you watch ‘How I Met Your Mother’, about how apologetic Canadian culture is. That’s saying it nicely I guess. Most jokes state that you could punch a Canadian in the face and spill their beer and said Canadian would apologize for running into your hand and offer to buy you a drink! I’d be willing to bet that has never happened, but to a certain degree, absolutely, we apologize for everything. It’s more of a reflex than a heartfelt “I’m sorry”, and most of us may not even think about it, but that absence of acknowledging that you may have possibly, in some minor way bothered, obstructed, touched or dismissed another person has become a very loud silence since we arrived in Hong Kong. Not once have I been apologized to for anything here! Not even when the airline lost my bags!

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Travel Rollercoaster – A Journey From Guatemala To Hong Kong

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.

#OneWayTicket Starting with #HongKong #Taiwan #Macau #China overland to #Mongolia and so many more. Have you been there? Live in any of these country? We'd love to hear your tips :) don't forget to follow along with our journey www.KarinasExtraordinaryLife.com. #Travel #Asia #GirlsvsGlobe #Wanderlust #Travelgram #traveltuesday

#OneWayTicket Starting with #HongKong #Taiwan #Macau #China overland to #Mongolia and so many more. Have you been there? Live in any of these countries? We’d love to hear your tips 🙂 don’t forget to follow along with our journey http://www.KarinasExtraordinaryLife.com. #Travel #Asia #GirlsvsGlobe #Wanderlust #Travelgram #traveltuesday

 Guatemala

We woke at 5am on the 26th after only 3 hours sleep. Continue reading

Adios Guatemala, Hello Asia

The magnificent Lago De Atitlan --Atitlan, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

The magnificent Lago De Atitlan –Atitlan, Guatemala — Karina Noriega

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

An Extraordinary Guide to Caribbean Coast of Guatemala: Livingston (Part I)

Waterfront pier over at Casa Rosada. Livingston, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega
Chilling in a tiny pool of the most refreshing water while hiking up to the waterfalls of Siete Altares, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

Chilling in a tiny pool of the most refreshing water while hiking up to the waterfalls of Siete Altares, Guatemala — Karina Noriega

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.

The Tour

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.

Travel Tip:

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.

Safety

Everyone we spoke with assured us that this is a very small and tranquil community. We never felt unsafe walking about.

On our coastal stroll outside of ‪Livingston‬, Guatemala‬ we came upon a massive and beautiful ‪SeaTurtle‬ only to discover that someone, or something had completely severed it's head right off. Even though it's likely it was not a human, it's still completely heartbreaking frown emoticon I was told by a ‪Garifuna‬ man that people here still eat them as well as putting great value on the shells for instruments and decorations. April posed with the turtle just for the purpose of gaining scale. The turtle was gone on our return trip through. -- Karina Noriega

On our coastal stroll outside of ‪Livingston‬, Guatemala‬ we came upon a massive and beautiful ‪SeaTurtle‬ only to discover that someone, or something had completely severed it’s head right off. Even though it’s likely it was not a human, it’s still completely heartbreaking frown emoticon I was told by a ‪Garifuna‬ man that people here still eat them as well as putting great value on the shells for instruments and decorations. April posed with the turtle just for the purpose of gaining scale. The turtle was gone on our return trip through. — Karina Noriega


Accommodations 

  • There is only one luxury option in Livingston.

    Poolside at Villa Caribe. Livingston, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

    Poolside at Villa Caribe. Livingston, Guatemala — Karina Noriega

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. villacaribe@villasdeguatemala.com +(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

Enjoying our stay at Casa Rosada. Bungalow, pier, rancho and hammocks delight. Casa Rosada. Livingston, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

Enjoying our stay at Casa Rosada. Bungalow, pier, rancho and hammocks delight. Casa Rosada. Livingston, Guatemala — Karina Noriega

Travel Tip:

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

April and I made multiple visits to Vilma's empanada emporium :) Livingston, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

April and I made multiple visits to Vilma’s empanada emporium 🙂 Livingston, Guatemala — Karina Noriega

– 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.

Tapado is the most authentic Garifuna dish and an important part of the culture. And it's absolutely delicious!! Livingston, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

Tapado is the most authentic Garifuna dish and an important part of the culture. And it’s absolutely delicious!! Livingston, Guatemala — Karina Noriega

– 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).


Getting here:

There are only two options.

  1. 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

Entering the Rio Dulce jungle canyon. Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Entering the Rio Dulce jungle canyon. Rio Dulce, Guatemala

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.)

Travel Tip:

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.

www.litegua.com +(502)2326-9595


Our Trip

April and I invited April’s dad along on his very first backpacking trip!

We spent 4 days in Rio Dulce and Livingston plus another 4 exploring the ruins of Iximche and the colonial city of Antigua. Watch our adventure coming up on our next post.

Part II of the extraordinary guide to the Caribbean: Rio Dulce and Lago de Izabal

~ An Extraordinary Story by Karina Noriega ~

Check out the Cost Breakdown for Travel Through Guatemala

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Lost My Face

Monument Valley at Sunset, Utah, USA -- Karina Noriega

Monument Valley at Sunset, Utah, USA — Karina Noriega

For nearly a decade, my dark tinted, thick framed Oakley’s have become a part of my face. I wore them everywhere I went, from down to the store to across the planet. Those sunglasses have dominated the foreground in nearly every photograph taken of me around the world. I even wonder if people would recognize me without my beloved Oakley’s. I love those sunglasses.

For a traveling nomad, my worldly possessions have come down to owning only what I can carry on my back. That minimalism creates certain bonds with particularly important items; like my passport and those really good underwear’s! You know the ones, they dry really fast and protect you from the awful humidity induced chaffing. (Travellers relate?) My Oakley’s, hair ties, pens that work and excellent shoes often make the list as well. I love those sunglasses.

My sunglasses didn’t just protect my eyes from harmful UV rays. Those glasses had blending powers! Due to the glorious colour of my skin, it’s not difficult for me to pass as a local in a multitude of cultures. That helped me move safer and unnoticed in many places where I could otherwise experience some harassment. I even got the local prices! (Not the inflated tourist rate.) That was only until I removed my sunglasses of course… or opened my mouth. Ha haha! I love those sunglasses.

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In fact, I could not face parting with my Oakley’s despite the fact that the plastic frames would no longer stay fixed on my head and the lenses where irreparably scratched. Every time I turned my head, leaned over, or if the wind blew, I had to hold on to them, or new scratches would appear from repeated escapes. I hated those sunglasses!

This weekend – almost 10 years since they were gifted to me – while exploring terraced gardens over the mythical Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, my Oakley’s simply evaporated! Hours of searching yielded nothing. They truly vanished. It’s a mystery. I even applied superstition to the cause given the recent discovery of a sunken Mayan city below the lake –  perhaps my very distant ancestors are telling me that time has come. My heart aches for the loss. My brain sensitively reminds me of the years now spent cursing those lenses.

I feel like I lost a part of my face. I have long hidden emotions like wonderment and fear behind the impenetrable darkness of my Oakley’s. Perhaps, it is time for a change.

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Guatemala – Growing up in the Land of Eternal Spring

Temples of Tikal Tower above the jungle canopy -- Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

When I was young girl growing up in Guatemala, my mom would delight in dragging my siblings and I around the country in search of history, culture and adventure.

A wonderful coincidence I should find a photograph the 3 of us riding a pony led caravan with the heading "Turistas" (Tourists) -- Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

A wonderful coincidence I should find a photograph the 3 of us riding a pony led caravan with the heading “Turistas” (Tourists) — Guatemala — Karina Noriega

“But Maaaaaam,” I frequently whined, “it’s just another bunch of rocks!” I was of course referring to the legendary and renowned ruin cities of the great Maya civilization. Back then, the derelict pyramidal structures were mostly jungle covered mounds (with exceptions such as Tikal). I certainly lacked the appreciation, negotiating my attentiveness for today’s history lessons in exchange for a chance to slide down the hills on a battered cardboard box.

Sometimes my mother would heave us into the back of the 4X4 or onto one of those famed ‘chicken buses’ if we were lucky. We’d ride endless hours on ramshackle roads (that disappear during times of heavy rains) into remote villages of the Western highlands. These volcanic chains are the heartland of Mayan tradition, unchanged for thousands of years. On any given weekend, exuberant and vibrant celebrations take place. My mom revelled in educating us about Guatemalan culture and heritage. The colourful dress, energetic dancing, hand carved masks, and superstition based performances, were fascinating teachers for our young minds and short attention spans.

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Tropical New Years – Chulamar, Escuintla, Guatemala

A new film for www.karinasextraordinarylife.com

As we set the stage for a perfect New Year’s celebration (crystal blue waters, black volcanic sand beach scattered with coconut trees), we are reminded that no explorer’s adventure is complete without a worthy a perilous battle against a worthy adversary. Witness a stubborn ‘Gringa’ face her opponent head on and the passionate rage that ensues when she loses the fight. Wait for the final moment when our two heroines ride towards the sunset, in style, hoping that next year will be filled with even more adventure than the last.

A film by April Beresford


 

Find out how this impromptu New Year’s celebration came to be and check out some more pics –> Lighting up 2015

 

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