Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Week in Panajachel, Guatemala

Yoselin, Humberto, Aracely, Eddy, Paola, Vanesa, Paulina, and Yasmin at Lake Atitlan

We just returned from an incredibly enjoyable week-long visit with Humberto, Paulina, and the kids in Guatemala. The trip started out on the right foot when we got a surprise upgrade to first class on the first flight. Our connecting flight in Houston was a bit delayed, but we still arrived in Guatemala City in the early afternoon. After a three hour van ride, we arrived in Panajachel at around 5:30 p.m. to find Humberto, Paulina, and the kids (Vanesa, Paola, Yasmin, Yoselin, and our godchildren Aracely and Eddy) waiting for us.

Even though we had been there a mere 6 months ago, much had changed since our last visit. All of the kids had gotten taller. Aracely's burgeoning English skills were even better! Humberto had made various improvements to the guest rooms, and Vanesa and Paola were now sharing one of these rooms. In sadder news, Terri the dog had passed away.

Eddy, Steph, and Aracely at Lake Atitlan
Yoselin and Yasmin at Lake Atitlan

We spent the first few days around the house, playing with the kids and enjoying as many hugs as we could get. We made several visits to the local market with Paulina, Eddy, and Aracely to buy fresh food.  On Sunday the whole family walked down to beautiful Lake Atitlan. The four youngest kids got to play on a trampoline and we all got some ice cream while we took in views of the stunning volcano-rimmed lake. They are so lucky to live right down the street from a world-renowned destination.

Paola and Vanesa cooking dinner

Aracely, Abuelita, Eddy, and Paulina

On Tuesday, we went with Eddy, Aracely, Humberto, and  Paulina to the soccer field for some exercise. On the walk home we stopped in to see Paulina's sisters' house. We saw Olga and her kids Pamela, Juan Isidro, and little toddler Allison Margarita. We also saw Estela and her girls Loren and Laisa. Estela has a new baby, little Michelle, who is tiny for a seven-month-old. She has a wonderful disposition and I enjoyed holding her.

Craig, Vanesa, Humberto, Paola, Paulina, Yoselin, Yasmin, and Aracely

On Wednesday night, we went to Paulina's sister Isabela's new restaurant. It is right around the corner from Humberto's house, on Rancho Grande. She previously had a place up near the market, but she just moved to this location last week; it's so new she doesn't even have a sign. We showed up with a party of 10 and took over the place.  She made fantastic tacos with soft corn tortillas, chicken, onions, and peppers.  The kids had fun watching their aunt cook in the kitchen and then playing in the restaurant.

Isabela's daughter Heidy came in to help her make all the food, and Heidy's husband then showed up with their adorable little kids Chino and Diana. All of the kids played together and there was much laughter as they chased each other around the restaurant, playing soccer with a bottle cap. Eddy pretended to cook food and took people's orders. Humberto, Paulina, and Craig shared some large bottles of Gallo beer. It was a wonderful time with lots of laughs which culminated with Paola squeezing 3 limes into the remnants of Humberto's beer while he was in the bathroom. It was great to get to patronize Isabela's restaurant, and we wish her the best in her new location. As Humberto says, "When you're good, the locals find you." She is an amazing cook, and the bill was quite reasonable considering the mountain of food, 3 grande bottles of beer, and about 7 sodas that were consumed.

Dinner at Isabela's restaurant
On Friday night, Humberto and Paulina threw a party at the house and invited both of their families. We had met many of them during previous visits, at Eddy and Aracely's baptisms, Vanesa's quinceanera, and this past New Year's Eve party. It was great to see everyone again: Humberto's nephew Victor, his wife Rosa, and their kids Julisse, Alex, Andrik, and Neli, Humberto's other nephew Juan, his wife Yolanda, and their kids Junior and Fatima, Humberto's sister-in-law Prisceda, her daughter Blanca and husband Pablo with their son David, Paulina's brother Carlos and his wife Vilma and daughters Erica and Elizabeth, Paulina's sister Olga and her kids Pamela, Juan Isidro, and Allison Margarita, Paulina's sister Estela and daughters Laisa, Yesmy, Loren, and baby Michelle as well as some friends and their daughter Gisele. Humberto's mother also attended, which was very nice as her health hasn't been that great lately.

We feel so accepted by both families. Even though our poor Spanish makes it more difficult to communicate, we share smiles and laughs. We love all of their kids and give them each some candy when they arrive. Even with so many people present, circumstances don't always allow everyone to attend,  and they are missed. Humberto's sister Juana and her daughter Rocio (who used to be inseparable with Humberto's kids) were not there this time.

The kids all had a blast with our netbook and our older camera. The women cooked up some excellent blackened chicken on the grill along with fresh home-made guacamole, rice, and corn tortillas. The adults enjoyed Gallo beer and rum and orange juice. A lot of the guests had also been at the New Years Eve party so I showed them the video that we made out of pictures from that party. They got a kick out of seeing themselves in silly 2012 plastic sunglasses. Before we knew it, it was 4 a.m. Vanesa and Yasmin were the last kids standing, after others had long since gone to bed.

Gisele, Steph, Fatima, Craig, and Loren at the party
At 9 the next morning Humberto had made an appointment for us to visit Atitlan Multicultural Academy. Aracely will be starting her third year there in the fall (1st grade), and Eddy will be starting preschool.  Every time we have visited within the past two years, the school had been closed for vacation, so this was our first time to see the interior of the renovated hotel which houses the school. The school is also under new ownership, so this waas our chance to meet some of the staff and learn about their plans for the school. The new leadership consists of a group of passionate "founding parents" whose children have graduated from AMA. They were quite nice and we could tell what a "family" the small school is.

We have been very impressed with Aracely's education thus far. Her spoken English is amazing. Her reading and writing abilities are impressive, especially given that she knew no English before attending, and now she is totally immersed. In kindergarten, she was doing the equivalent of pre-algebra ( 19 -  ___ = 12)!?!  We are  very excited for her, and we are also excited that Eddy gets to start attending at age 4 in the fall. He seems ready; at the house we did several activities with him and although he can be very intense and impulsive at times, he does have an attention span necessary to complete quiet activities.

Vanesa and Yoselin on the boat

Kayaking on beautiful Lake Atitlan

After our visit to the school, we went back to the house and quickly got our things together for an outing. Humberto's nephew Victor and his wife Rosa are caretakers at a beautiful set of rental villas right on Lake Atitlan (Villa B'alam Ya). They had invited the family for a day of relaxation there since none of the villas were currently occupied, and were kind enough to include us. So shortly after 11 o'clock, Humberto, Paulina, their 6 kids, Blanca, Pablo, and David, Prisceda and Humberto's mother got onto a private lancha (boat) which brought us to the villas.

Rosa, Prisceda, Eddy, and Paulina at the grill at Villa B'alam Ya

Paulina, Aracely, Rosa, Pablo, Victor, Blanca, Prisceda, and Craig enjoying lunch at Villa B'alam Ya

As you step off the dock, you step onto an inviting span of nicely manicured lawn. Victor, Rosa, and their kids Andrik and Neli were there waiting for us. We disembarked and Neli, Victor, and Rosa gave us a tour of two of the four villas. They are absolutely gorgeous - a mixture of modern and traditional architecture and interior design.  Rosa and Paulina were cooking in the modern well-appointed kitchen of the biggest villa. Every room had patios and terraces with exquisite views of the lake and volcanoes.

Humberto, Pablo, and the kids were swimming and taking kayaks out for a ride. Craig and I hadn't realized the nature of the place, and had left our bathing suits back at the house. We decided to just go for it, and we took a two person kayak out for a quick spin and followed that up with full-fledged swimming in our clothes. Afterwards we headed back up to the large villa for lunch of grilled steak and fresh guacamole. We enjoyed the tranquility of the place and the gorgeous vistas until 4:30, when we took the boat back to Panajachel.

Paulina and Eddy at Villa B'alam Ya

To celebrate the last night of our visit, we took Humberto, Paulina, and the kids out for pizza. It is always bittersweet to have to say goodbye, and the kids were a bit solemn at dinner. We had a wonderful visit and can't wait to go back. We appreciate the hospitality and love shown to us by the entire family. Panajachel is truly a home away from home.

Farewell pizza dinner

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