Saturday, July 25, 2009

La Aurora Zoo, Guatemala City

La Aurora National Zoo

On our last day in Guatemala, the whole family (Humberto and Paulina with children Vanesa, Paola, Yasmin, Yoselin, Aracely and Eddy, Humberto's sister Juana and her daughter Rocio, and Humberto's mother) accompanied us to Guatemala City. La Aurora Zoo is right next door to the airport, and Humberto had come up with the idea that we could all go to the zoo together before our flight. The kids had never been to the zoo before and they were quite excited about it.

Arrival at the Zoo

Craig and I woke up at 5 o'clock to shower pack all of our things. Shortly after 6, we headed over to the house to find everyone up, dressed, and finishing up breakfast. Humberto gave the kids motion sickness medication, but Aracely refused to take the pill. Yasmin found a mariquita (ladybug) and gave it to us as a present, and we tried to explain that mariquitas aren't allowed on planes to the United States.

Rocio and Eddy

The van arrived at 6:30, and we met Enoch the driver. We all got situated in the van and were on the road by 6:45. We had some gorgeous views of Lake Atitlan on our way out of Panajachel. As the roads got more windy, Aracely got sick, but Paola handled it quite well and took care of her. Paulina handed a sleeping Eddy off to Juana, and held Aracely on her lap for the rest of the ride.

Eddy, Paulina, and Paola look at the zebra and giraffes

It was certainly a more enjoyable ride to Guatemala City when we were accompanied by everyone! Eddy was sitting right behind me on Juana's lap, and when he woke up we never even knew it because he was so quiet. He removed the ashtray from the back of my seat and held it, studying it carefully. We all laughed...he's a smart little guy with great fine motor skills! Then he started to play with the seatbelts.

Before we knew it, we were on the outskirts of Guatamala City and we stopped at a mirador (lookout point) which ordinarily has a view of the city, but today clouds impeded the view. We got back into the car and continued to the zoo, arriving at 9:30.

Yasmin in front of the giraffe exhibit

While Humberto purchased the tickets, Aracely was bouncing up and down with excitement. This outing was originally supposed to have taken place on the Tuesday that we arrived, but our late plane and rainy weather had forced a postponement.

The zoo was very clean and well-maintained, and the habitats were modern and as close as possible to the natural habitat of the animals. At the entrance, there was a large amphitheater, and a place where you could pay to have a photo taken. We noticed that the zoo rents out digital cameras - what a great idea in this day and age of digital photography. Rent a camera, burn the photos to a CD, and voila!

Juana and Eddy

We knew we only had an hour before Craig and I would have to take our leave, so I snapped photos like a madwoman as we walked around the zoo. Paola was taking photos with Humberto's camera. Eddy was wide awake and enjoyed looking at everything. The girls didn't seem to know what to do next and they hurried from one exhibit to the next. Paulina had packed them some snack mix, and they munched on it as we wandered around.

The first exhibit was an African habitat which housed zebras and giraffes. The two giraffes were inside a very tall building with a thatched roof. It was dark inside and you could only vaguely see them through the doors. Across from this exhibit was a meerkat colony surrounded by plexiglass so that you could see them from all angles. The girls happily watched them as one dug a hole while another sought higher ground in sentinel stance.


Rocio stuck by Craig and I the entire time. I think she realized that we would be gone soon, and wanted to spend as much time with us as possible. It was very sweet. She knew I was taking pictures and would always direct my attention to the next interesting subject.

Yoselin in front of the peacocks

We saw two enormous hippos on the perimeter of their habitat which included a pond and lots of mud for wallowing. Next was an enclosure with green grass, goats, and birds such as peacocks ("traditional" as well as an entirely white variety), and ostriches.

Next was an African-looking enclosure with a tribal-looking building and some termite mounds that were so enormously tall that they had to be fake. Water buffalo were milling around. Next door was an enclosure filled with boulders, grass, and "ruiins" of buildings. A lioness laid lazily on a horizontal tree trunk while a male and another female laid in her shade on the grass.

Aracely, Humberto, and Abuelita

There was an Australian habitat which contained wallabies and emus, and next to that was a caged bird area containing parakeets and love birds. We got a great view of an Asian elephant and noticed just how much smaller his ears were than an African elephant's. Aracely rode on Humberto's shoulders for a while, and Juana carried Eddy.

We arrived at the brown bear enclosure and peeked through the plexiglass and couldn't see a bear anywhere. Then we looked down and realized that he was sleeping right in front of us, so close that we almost couldn't see him. We walked around the corner to have a better view.

Water buffalo

We saw a sign for a "binturong" next to an empty enclosure. From the photo it seemed to be some kind of otter / fisher cat sort of thing. Next it was on to the monkeys: Japanese macaques. "Mono!" the girls cheered excitedly. Next we saw a turtle enclosure. From our vantagepoint we could look down on the turtle pond. Two tigers cuddled in the shade in an enclosure decorated to look rather like Angkor Watt.


We went inside a dark building to see such things as crocodile eggs, snakes, and nocturnal animals. We had to peer through little portholes to see them. Back outside, we saw rhesus monkeys, and a gorgeous jaguar resting under a large tree. Spider monkeys were quite playful, although these are old hat for the girls, as there are resident spider monkeys in the nature preserve in Panajachel.


We also saw monitor lizards, llamas, and foxes. Somehow we had managed to get a cursory look at every exhibit in the hour that we were there. It was now 10:30 and we realized that we had to get to the airport. Humberto gathered the family together and we all said our goodbyes. It is always difficult to say goodbye - we enjoy our time with them so much. We gave everyone hugs and kisses...and they each handled it in a unique fashion. Yoselin was clingy and seemed sad, like she didn't want to let go. Yasmin was all about denial - both Craig and I had hugged and kissed everyone except was as if she thought that if she didn't acknowledge us, we wouldn't go. But we each gave her a big hug and a kiss. I asked if I could get one photo of the entire family before we left, and they all huddled together for a perfect photo. Everyone was looking (even Eddy). Sure, Paola and Yasmin look rather sad, but it was a bittesweet moment.

Asian Elephant

As Humberto walked us back to the van, we looked back at the family and wiped away a tear. We were glad that they would be able to stay at the zoo for as long as they wanted - it would help to distract them from feeling sad. As we walked to the exit, we realized how much more crowded it had gotten. We were lucky that we had been able to see every exhibit without a large crowd - especially those where you had to peek through a porthole.

Juana and Eddy

We said goodbye to Humberto and then Enoch drove us around the corner to the airport. When he got our bags out of the back of the van, we noticed the ladybug from this morning had stowed a ride on our bags. We got a good chuckle out of that and placed him on the sidewalk. He was a long way from his home in Panajachel!


Brown bear

Rocio in front of the brown bears


Aracely and Rocio

Lookin' at the turtles

Paola takes some photos

The family watches the tigers


Paulina, Yoselin, Aracely, Yasmin, Paola, Vanesa, Rocio, Juana, Abuelita, Humberto, & Eddy at La Aurora Zoo

Saturday, July 11, 2009

4th of July in Guatemala

Paulina, Yoselin, Aracely, Yasmin, Paola, Vanesa, Rocio, Juana, Abuelita, Humberto, & Eddy at La Aurora Zoo

For the third year in a row, we spent our 4th of July holiday with our “family” in Guatemala. After a couple of highly stressful flights (circumstances conspired to bring us within 10 minutes of missing our connecting flight in Miami – which would have meant we would have had to wait until the next day for the next available flight), we arrived in Guatemala City 2 hours late. Humberto, Paulina, their six children (Vanesa, Paola, Yasmin, Yoselin, our godchild Aracely, and baby Eddy), Humberto’s mother, Humberto’s sister Juana, and her daughter Rocio took the three hour drive from Panajachel into Guatemala City to meet us.

Family lunch at Pollo Campero

This was the kids’ first trip to Guatemala City, and it was very exciting for them. Prior to picking us up, they had gone to the commercial center of the city, where they were impressed by the skyscrapers, and the kids and Humberto’s mother got to ride escalators for the first time. The kids poured out of the van to give us hugs and kisses. We hadn’t seen them in a year, and that was way too long. Aracely was no longer a toddler; she was now a little girl who talked much more than she had previously. And we got to finally meet 8-month-old baby Eddy, whom we had previously seen only in pictures.

Eddy looks at the world through rose-colored glasses

We hopped into the van and Aracely sat in my lap. Baby Eddy was very happy and friendly. All of the girls were very excited. We went to Pollo Campero for lunch, a very popular fast food fried chicken franchise. It was raining when we arrived, and the staff met us at the van with large umbrellas and escorted us to the door of the restaurant. Now that’s service! We enjoyed our chicken lunch.

Birthday boy Humberto at Pollo Campero

It was Humberto’s birthday, and we got him to wear a paper Pollito Campero crown (much like the crowns Burger King used to give out to kids). The restaurant was full of families and had an indoor play area which the girls utilized after they were done eating.

Aracely, Craig, & Yoselin

Humberto had planned for us to all visit the zoo, but the rain persisted after lunch. The kids were disappointed, but took the news quite gracefully. We drove back to Panajachel in the rain, and the girls slept most of the way. When we got back to the house, we toasted Humberto’s birthday and played with the girls. It was so nice to be with them again. They are so loving, and we always had at least one of them giving us a hug or sitting on our laps.

Yoselin, Craig, Steph, & Eddy

Baby Eddy was an absolute joy – very happy, no stranger anxiety, etc. He would talk (“ba ba ba!!”) and sing to himself, smiling at everyone. He’s very strong, and we predict that he will be walking very soon. He also has excellent fine motor skills, and can manipulate things very adeptly with his hands. He is probably the best-behaved baby we have ever encountered. Several weeks before our trip, Humberto surprised us by asking us to be Eddy’s godparents as well, and we are honored. We were so happy to get to meet him!

Aracely and Craig

Over the next few days we enjoyed the day-to-day routine of life in Panajachel. The older girls went to school, and we would go to the market with Paulina, Eddy, and Aracely. Paulina prepared delicious fresh meals for us. We walked with Humberto, Paola, Eddy, and Aracely around the corner to Lake Atitlan and enjoyed the view of the gorgeous crater lake surrounded by volcanoes. We taught the girls how to play Uno, and that provided hours of family fun. I was able to practice my Spanish with the kids, and while I still have quite a ways to go, there was definitely an improvement since our last visit. The girls will be starting English classes soon, so little by little our communication is improving. But we are always able to communicate via laughter, smiles, and hugs.

Lake Atitlan

Humberto surprised us again by saying that the whole family (grandmother, Juana, and Rocio included) would go with us to Guatemala City to see us off on Sunday. We left the house bright and early to try to make it to the Aurora National Zoo before we needed to be at the airport. We arrived at the zoo at around 9:30. Luckily, the airport was right next door to the zoo, so we were able to spend a good hour at the zoo before taking the short drive to the airport. Aracely was literally jumping up and down with excitement as Humberto bought the zoo tickets and we entered the turnstile. The zoo was quite nice, with pleasantly designed animal habitats. We saw elephants, bears, monkeys, kangaroos, giraffes, meerkats, lions, tigers, a jaguar, hippos, zebras, buffalo, and many other animals. We were there early enough to beat the crowds, so we were able to see everything we wanted to. Rocio stuck to us like glue, knowing that we would soon be leaving. At 10:30, we said our goodbyes to the family. It is always hard to say goodbye – we love the kids so much and wish that we could spend even more time with them. But this was a good way to do it, as the kids could continue to have fun at the zoo while the van driver took us the short distance to the airport. We got an excellent group portrait of the family right before we walked to the van.

We look forward to returning for Eddy’s christening, which will most likely take place in January.

Aracely strikes a pose

Rocio, Steph, Yoselin, and Craig

Yoselin, Craig, & Steph

Humberto & Eddy

Craig takes Eddy for a walk

Steph & Paola at Pollo Campero

Steph & Eddy

Vanesa going to school


Craig, Rocio, & Steph

Craig, Paola, & Yasmin