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Tag Archives: Lady travel

Guatemala

27 Nov
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Santa Catalina Arch in Antigua

It had been a long time since I had gone on an adventure. When I decided to go back to school, I also made a decision to be frugal and work extra in order to save for nursing school. As summer approached, I noticed that even though I had cut my hours at work, my increased pet sitting volume meant I had saved a lot of money. So I googled “Best Places for Solo Travel,” and I picked the country with the cheapest/shortest flight from NYC: Guatemala.

I was so excited when I booked my trip, but I immediately became stressed once I began doing my research and noticed the state department had listed warnings for travelers to Guatemala. I read a story about a girl robbed at gunpoint, and most everyone I told about my trip told me I was insane and going to get kidnapped.

When my trip was over and I landed back in New York and made it back to my apartment, exhausted from a full day of flying, I collapsed in my bed, the experience of Guatemala still percolating through my synapses, I began to giggle. “I’m alive,” I said to myself, smiling.

SAFETY

To be honest, I was very careful in Guatemala. I think any person (especially a woman) solo-traveling the world at large has to take extra precautions. I never stayed out later than 10pm (I was usually exhausted by that time anyways), I avoided the more crime-ridden areas of the country and stuck to the extremely safe highlands, and I only carried the money I expected to spend per day with me. I was quick about taking pictures with my cell phone. I kept a copy of my passport with my luggage and one on my person, and I simply stayed aware. In the week I was there, I never felt unsafe.

What shocked me the most was how many other solo travelers (many female) I met in Guatemala as well. So many people in the US looked at me like I was insane, and I was happy to meet other people just as “crazed” as me. Everyone I met had nothing but good things to say about their experiences.

HIGHLIGHTS

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View from my room in Casa del Mundo in Lake Atitlan.

Lake Atitlan

My first two days in Guatemala I went on a hiking/kayaking trip with a company called Old Town Outfitters. I can’t recommend it enough. The tour was just me and one other girl who was solo-traveling from Colorado, Bridget. Our tour guide, Arnold was incredible. A local from Guatemala who made sure we had an incredible two days. He answered all our questions about Guatemala and went the extra mile for us at all times. Showing us places to jump off cliffs into water, helping us bargain in the market, explaining local politics. He was invaluable.

We had a guide drive us up into the mountains, then Bridget, Arnold, and I biked for a couple of hours down to Panajachel, a small lakeside town where he had a packed lunch and some Guatemalan beers. We then took a small water taxi to our incredible hotel, Casa del Mundo. Easily the most beautiful hotel I’ve ever stayed at. That night we sat in a fire-heated hot tub and watched active volcanos across the lake erupt, their lava lighting the clouds in the distance. The next day, after breakfast, we kayaked across the lake and hiked back to the hotel.

It was my favorite part of my whole trip, and I wish I had booked the whole week with Old Town Outfitters as Bridget had. The two of us grabbed dinner in Antigua the night before she left, and her week with them was incredible. She booked her trip through a website called The Clymb. Based on her review of the trip, I’m considering my next international trip with them.

Antigua

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My time in Guatemala was based out of Antigua. Per suggestions I had read from other travelers, as soon as I landed in Guatemala City, I hired a car to take me to Antigua. It is the former capital of the country. A small, colorful village surrounded by active volcanos and full of beautiful abandoned churches, bustling markets and a decent population of ex-pats.

I stayed at an AirBNB, in a room I rented from an adorable Spanish couple, Ana Maria and Mario in a suburb of Antigua. Every morning, Ana Maria made me breakfast, and we chatted. I got big hugs when I came home and plenty of travel advice. They don’t speak any English, so we muddled through with my broken Spanish. I loved them both, and it was much better than staying in a hostel or a hotel.

I spent my days wandering the markets which are sprawling and full of everything imaginable, brought to town my Mayans that live in the neighboring villages. I took a chocolate making class at the Choco Museum, and I wandered the ruins of churches destroyed by earthquakes.

During the evenings, I hung out at two different ex-pat bars Snug and Cafe No Se. I was in Guatemala during the rainy season (I technically never saw a drop of rain though), so there were never a lot of tourists around. It was usually a handful of travelers in the bars that I would easily join in conversation. It felt nice to speak English and to get advice and swap stories with other travelers. One of the bartenders even invited me to her birthday party the following week and tried to convince me to just move to Guatemala and bartend with her. It was a tempting offer. Extremely tempting.

De La Gente coffee tour

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On one of my days, I took a tuk-tuk (a small golf-cartish taxi thing) up into the mountains of San Miguel Escobar to take a tour of one of the coffee plantations. A guy I met at Cafe No Se recommended it to me, and I wanted to get some Guatemalan coffee.

De La Gente is a collective of coffee farmers that also gives tours to increase their revenue. I had a British tour guide who translated as a farmer (Gregorio) gave me and a traveling couple a tour of the fields, explaining the process of cultivating coffee from beginning to end. We then went back to his house in the village where his daughter showed us the rest of the coffee process. We roasted and ground our own beans and all shared a cup. Again my broken Spanish came into play as I chatted with the Gregorio family.

As a coffee lover and former barista, it was eye-opening to see the process. I had lunch with the family and bought an extra couple of bags from them. I actually ordered some more from them this morning. Their coffee is pretty exceptional. With shipping to the US, it is only $16 a bag. I’ve been making coffee at home and saving a lot of money, instead of buying a $2 cup of drip every day. And I know I’m helping support Gregorio!

Earth Lodge

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Volcán Fuego erupting on my last morning in Antigua

My last night in Guatemala, I spent at a hippie dippie place in the mountains called Earth Lodge. I had spent the week hiking a lot, biking a lot, kayaking a little, and just in general being really active. I wanted the end of my trip to be relaxing.

For a modest price, I had my own private cabana with my own swinging hammock. I could hear birds and celebrations from nearby villages ringing through the mountains. I mostly read in my hammock and napped. Read. Nap. Read. Nap. Eat. Drink. Read. Nap. Honestly, that’s what I wish my entire life could be.

They had a nice central area with a bar with a decent happy hour. Earth Lodge is actually an avocado farm, and they grow most of their food there. Dinner every night is communal, and it was delicious. Fresh, healthy, vegetarian fare (I think there was a meat option though) and another chance to get to know some fellow travelers. I had to leave early the next day to get back to Guatemala City in time for my flight. Looking back, I wish I had planned two nights there. That way I could have done the morning yoga, the birdwatching class or a hike.

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Just a girl who traveled to a “dangerous” country during the “rainy” season.

I’m kicking myself for waiting so long to travel to Central America. I loved Guatemala, and I can’t wait to visit other countries in the region. Nicaragua, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama. Finally being able to use my Spanish was a blast, and I found the people in Guatemala to be more open and friendly than any other place I’ve traveled. If you’re questioning about whether or not you want to go to Guatemala, and you stumbled upon my humble blog with this bare bones post, may I suggest that you book the trip and go. Go! Nowhere in the world is completely safe. It’s really about how aware and careful you are. But I didn’t find Guatemala dangerous at all. Do your research. Take a deep breath and take the risk.

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Paris, France

24 Jun

2013-06-10 11.46.41My dear friend Danguole and I had been talking about taking a trip abroad together for a long time. In fact, we were thinking about going to Columbia together a couple of years ago. I ended up moving to New York, and she (being the brave, little toaster that she is) went on her own. But finally, we got ourselves together and decided to go to Paris. A lot of people were surprised by our choice. The trend for people our age is to go to more exotic places, like Asia or Central America. Those are places we discussed, and it just came down to Paris. D had never traveled around Western Europe, and I’ve been dreaming of Paris for years. It’s kind of a mainstream option. But not liking something because it’s popular is just as sell-out as liking something because it’s popular. Like what you like, do what you wanna do. We had an amazing time in Paris.

Nutella crepe in the Tuilleries Gardens

Nutella crepe in the Tuilleries Gardens

Our trip was divided into thirds. Paris the first third, Normandy the middle third (later post), and back to Paris for the last third. We spent the first third doing all the things one has to do and see. Eiffel Tower, Louvre (outside, we didn’t go in), Musee D’Orsay, Notre Dame, Arc du Triomphe, Place de Concorde. All the major things one is supposed to do. But it got to the point where we were weary of our guidebooks and didn’t want to be herded like sheep along with thousands of other tourists. We had seen that side of Paris.

The French don't fuck around with salads. This one has foie gras, duck breast, and roast potatoes.

The French don’t fuck around with salads. This one has foie gras, duck breast, and roast potatoes.

The French have the idea of how to live right. They take their time with things, they enjoy everything. If you’re going to eat a meal, why not eat a delicious one? If you’re going to drink coffee in the morning, why not have a delicious espresso while watching the rain inundate the streets? If you’re going to get dressed in the morning, why not look stylish and amazing all the time? Some of the laws the French have might sound unnecessary, but they make life more enjoyable, so why not? One of their laws is that all bakeries have to make bread both in the morning and the afternoon, so that your evening baguette is as fresh as your morning one was. So. Logical.

10AM watching storm clouds roll in

10AM watching storm clouds roll in

So much of Paris is an experience. While I was there I was reading a book called, “The Most Beautiful Walk In the World: A Pedestrian in Paris” by John Baxter. It’s written by a man who gives literary walking tours in Paris. While he talked about his favorite places in Paris, he likewise talked about how Paris is at its best when it becomes your own experience. D and I stayed in the Northern neighborhood of Montmarte, and it got to the point where after a day of sightseeing, we were so happy to be back in our neighborhood. OUR neighborhood. Our last couple of days we didn’t even leave Montmarte.

Having a picnic of baguettes, cheese, and strawberries in front of the Sacre Couer, Montmarte.

Having a picnic of baguettes, cheese, and strawberries in front of the Sacre Couer, Montmarte.

So I can tell you how we ate two meals at La Marmite on Rue de Clichy. But I can’t guarantee that when you go there you will also have Linda, the most badass waitress we’ve ever met or that it’ll be pouring rain just beyond your table. I can tell you that we drank beer and chain smoked cigarettes at the bar across the street, but I don’t know if you’ll have as much fun as we did playing “Marry/Murder/Sleep With” as French boys walk by. You can go to Les Deux Moulins where “Amelie” was filmed. But if like me you sit and write for an hour, I can’t guarantee that two French boys will wave at you and go to great lengths to get your attention and make you smile. France was an experience. It was a true vacation with relaxing, eating, drinking, laughing, staying out late, getting soaked in the rain. It was perfect.

View of Paris from the Sacre Coure, Montmarte.

View of Paris from the Sacre Coure, Montmarte.

  • Travel Notes
  • Learn a little French- Just a little! Know how to say hello, goodbye, know how to order in a restaurant, please, thank you. I’ll take you a loooooong way. The French were so warm and kind to us, and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we made a bold attempt to speak their language.
  • Sacre Couer- I know I said that Paris is your own experience, but if there is one touristy thing I can recommend, it’s going to the Sacre Couer. We went a lot. We had picnics, I laid in the sun reading, we drank beer at 1 in the morning while someone blasted pop music from their car nearby. Best view of Paris.
  • Eat with abandon- I gained 5lbs in Paris. I’m not ashamed. I ate duck, foie gras, escargot, stinky cheeses, weird pastries. I regret nothing!
  • Dress your best- This is Paris after all. When I travel, I often opt for the comfortable walking shoes, layers, maybe even a backpack. In Paris, people are on display. The seats in cafes all face the street, none face the other way. Parisians love to watch one another, to inspect your fashion choices. So give them something good to look at. It’s the least you can do.
  • Find your hood- Paris is divided into arrondisements (neighborhoods). We loved Montmarte and were happiest exploring every nook and cranny of it. But there are many other neighborhoods that are lovely as well. St Germain de Pres was incredible, the Latin Quartier was beautiful. Enjoy your neighborhood, don’t rush through it.
  • Take your time- Enjoy that beer. Sip your coffee. Taste every last bite of your Duck Confit. Stare at that piece of art for 20 minutes. At one point, I saw a little old French woman let go of her husband’s hand, walk toward a beautiful rose bush, lean in and take a deep breath. She literally stopped and smelled the roses. That’s the way to enjoy Paris.