About Rachel Denning
Rachel Denning is an unassuming mother of five who never really did any international traveling until she had four children. After a second honeymoon to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, she and her husband decided to sell most of their belongings and move their family abroad.
Driving from the United States to Panama, they settled in Costa Rica for a year, until the U.S. financial market crash in 2008, when they lost their location independent income. Returning to the United States to look for work, they knew they'd be back 'out' again, having been officially bitten by the travel bug!
Despite adjustments to living a simpler life (or perhaps because of it), they were able to save enough money to move to the Dominican Republic in 2009. After six months they came back to the States once more, where they were offered employment working with a non-profit organization in India.
They spent five months living in Tamil Nadu, then returned to the States once more (to Alaska) so they could have baby number five - Atlas.
From there, they set out in April of 2011 to drive, in a veggie powered truck, from Alaska to Argentina, visiting every continental country in North and South America.
Travel is a part of their life now, and they can't imagine doing anything else. Rachel photographs and writes about their incredible family travel adventures on their website, and they also have resources that encourage others to live a deliberate life.
Latest Posts by Rachel Denning
It didn’t START out awesome… but it ended that way. We arrived in November, which (we learned later) is notoriously bad for mosquitoes (since it’s the end of rainy season.) And we were really ready for a house after our rough week in El Salvador.
Nicaragua is not less expensive than beach rentals in El Salvador, but not as much so as housing in Panajachel, Guatemala. When we arrived, we went beach combing and took sunset walks and ate great Nicaraguan food.
Tostones (fried plantains) with fried cheese
The truth is, Las Peñitas doesn’t have a lot of options for nice places. It’s kind of a run-down, up-and-coming beach town, but one with a lot of potential. It’s small, it has great surfing, and it’s got a nice, kid-friendly beach (you do need to be careful of the rip at high tide), but it does lack housing options. Nicer places will run you on average about $1,100 a week.
We still took fabulous beach walks each evening, and these moments made it worthwhile.
The days were spent working building websites while ocean breezes blew in the open windows and palm trees swayed outside. At sunsets we walked on the beach. Greg and the kids took some surfing lessons, and once or twice a week we’d drive into León to do some shopping, watch a movie at the theater, go to church, watch a play (that was an interesting experience) or participate in local festivities.
Sunset on the way home from León
We’d last visited Antigua Guatemala over a year to celebrate Semana Santa (Holy Week.) It was a gorgeous day, and I was excited to explore the city, and meet up with some friends, old and new. After returning, I decided to discover the city anew, and reflect on why I really love Antigua. Maybe I have been in Guatemala too long, and visiting Antigua felt akin to visiting another country.
Whatever the reason, I enjoy the city so much, I’d consider living there: here’s a few reasons why:
It seems like such a silly little thing, but in a country where there’s no shoulders on the side of the road, let alone sidewalks, having a designated, ‘safe’ place to walk is so nice (even if those sidewalks are small, crowded and large window sills sticking out into them, which is how Kimball cut open his head while we were here during Semana Santa.)
Sidewalks are great for resting when you’re tired, too.
Clean, Pretty and Quaint
There’s still some litter here and there, and a couple piles of dog crap, but for the most part, Antigua is clean.
And not just clean, but they take pride in how their city looks, as in they all have painted their homes and stores in various colors of orange, yellow, pinks and browns. In a country where most homes and buildings remain ‘unfinished’ and unpainted, this really makes a noticeable difference.
Antigua has cobblestone streets… which can be kind of challenging to walk over, but add a lot of character. (And they have horse drawn carriages… cool!)
This city also has many beautiful cathedrals and other old buildings.. I love taking photographs of these aged, stately structures.
Antigua still has some of the culture of the highlands (people wearing the typical dress), and it has a lot of tradition — festivals like Semana Santa. We even were able to see a similar type procession while we were there — this one was celebrating Day of the Dead.
As a general rule, we try to support local business while we travel by shopping at the markets, etc. So when we visit a place, it’s nice if they have a good market with plenty of variety. Antigua has one of the largest we have seen, and it’s fairly clean (always a plus.)
We ate lunch/dinner at this lady’s comedor all three days that we stayed in Antigua.
Things to Do
I’m sure if we’d just come from some big city with lots of options for entertainment and shopping, our experience would be different. But we have been living in Panajachel, and then San Jose Chacaya where there’s nothing to do… so to us, Antigua was hoppin! Restaurants, museums, yoga classes, and lots more.
After the Kite Festival in Guatemala, we were headed toward Antigua where we intended to stay the night, when traffic suddenly stopped. Slightly annoyed at the interruption in our journey, I figured I would at least go check out what was going on (we could hear music blaring.)
I walked up with some of the kids, but as we approached, the music was so loud that Atlas was scared and wanted to go back to the truck with dad (the speakers filled up the back of a large flat bed truck!) Suddenly we saw a bunch of costumed dancers in the street. I don’t know what it represents, or why they do it, but I do remember seeing a similar performance in Panajachel the year before.
It was so hot, the dancers must have been sweltering in those costumes, especially with all the movement they were doing. I kept wondering what kind of dehydration issues they might be facing later. They weren’t going anywhere, so we kept watching…
I wondered if they were ever going to stop. Drivers on both sides were already honking and angry. They chose to close a major road, creating a forced audience.
I decided to return to the truck, and soon after I heard the band stop playing (I thought it was a CD this entire time, but the band was in the back of another truck.)
I have wanted to go to Chichicastenanago, the largest market in Central America, ever since we arrived in Guatemala over a year and a half ago.
From Los Encuentros, we took the road heading northeast. It was windy and steep with lots of tumulos (speed bumps). The roads in the highlands of Guatemala are notoriously windy, but this one… woah, it was bad. We knew how bad it was when Aaliyah suddenly called out, “I think I’m going to throw up!” And then she proceeded to blow chunks everywhere.
I managed to hand a bowl to her before her ‘second round’, but by then it was all over the seat, the floor, her pants and shoes. We’re out of the habit of this travel thing, so we were totally unprepared. No wipes, no toilet paper, no towels. Nothing.
I ran into the ‘store’ next to where we pulled over.
“Do you have any toallas (towels)?”
“Yes,” she told me, then pointed to some feminine pads. Hmmm… that’s not going to work.
“No, wipes, napkins, anything??”
Arriving in the town of Chichi, a man waved at us then ran ahead to show us where to park… on lot was too full of pigs, another was too small for our truck. Finally he jumped on and showed us where to go. Their lot was too full for us, but they did have space on the street in front. When we came back from the market, they charged us Q25 to park on the street!
Walking into the market, I was a little worried that it was going to be just like every other market. I see many of the same knick-knacks and handicrafts that are available on Santander in Panajachel — bags, pillow cases, quilts, table runners — made out of discarded huipils and cortes, the traditional clothing of the Guatemalan women.
But we keep walking, and discover some novelties — an old man selling old silver coins, another man selling ‘artifacts’ and stones, ‘miniature’ pineapples, antiques — but most interesting of all is the people.
Men and women, old and young, some in tipica, others in regular clothes, sitting, waiting, selling, spending their lives, day in, day out here in the streets of Chichi.
Entire generations who’s livelihood is based on the markets of Chichi.
Then we came to one of the churches. Camped on the steps were men and women selling flowers. At the base of the stairs, and at the church steps, incense was being burnt and offerings were being made.
As we stood on the steps and watched the people, Greg said, ‘This is really cool! I love this stuff. It makes me want to travel more!” (Oh good, our trip to Chichi wasn’t an entire waste )
Inside, men and women were praying. One woman approached me an offered a tour, explaining that the altars in the walkway were offerings to the Mayan gods, the rest of the cathedral was typical Catholic, devoted to the Saints and Christ. It was an interesting mix of multiple religions.
I knew that we needed to experience the Giant Kite Festival in Sumpango for Dia de los Muertos… it’s one of those ‘must see’ things in Guatemala. I wanted to be a part of this traditional festival, where the giant kites are supposed to represent the souls of departed ancestors who are ascending to heaven…
This was an all day event, sort of ‘fair’ style and they apparently only fly the smaller ‘giant’ kites, not the colossal size… which I could see why. These things were HUGE and must have weighed several hundred pounds.
Impressive works of art, each kite was created out of tissue paper that was taped together.
We walked in awe and took photos. Our favorites were the big black one in the back, and next to it, the peacock.
But just as we were standing next to it, admiring it, a gust of wind ripped it from it’s frame (watch the video below). It was sad to see something like that ruined, that must have taken so long to create… but before we left, they had it repaired and back up.
A couple of other kites also ripped off or blew over, frame and all… kind of dangerous considering how large they were (the kids were sure someone got squashed.) I later heard that this was the first year they’d had so many problems with kites blowing over.
We had to eat, of course… and there were lots of yummy options.
This is what we got.
It’s 3:42 a.m.
The bombs are bursting in air, along with firecrackers and rockets, and music is playing over a loud speaker, while a man yells into a microphone in Spanish.
I nudge my husband. “Are you awake?”
“Yes,” he grumbles.
We get up to embark upon a day of celebration of motherhood. Incomprehensibly, how they celebrate in Guatemala is by waking up mother’s with fireworks and blaring music, before dawn begins to crack. How this honor mothers, I do not know…
The music and fireworks continue until I finally pull myself out of bed at 5:45 a.m. to study. Greg has already been up for almost two hours.
But it was the day before that most families in town actually celebrated the holiday, because May 10th this year fell on a Friday… and Friday is market day.
For this reason, the local school held their Mothers Day program on Thursday, so more mothers would be able to attend, instead of being gone making the trip to Solola to shop at the mercado.
The daughter of our guardian here at The Homestead — Marina — invited us to attend the program with her, her mother and her grandmother. We accepted.
Their family lives on the 2 acres of The Homestead. We were told to meet them at their house at 8:30 a.m but when we arrived, Grandma was still washing her hair.
Finally at 9 a.m. we were ready to go, including momma with baby on her back.
It was such a beautiful day, I was inclined to walk, but we decided to drive because we thought we were running late. It’s a good thing we did. It was far.
When we finally arrived at the school, we heard children yell, “The gringoes have arrived!” I guess they’ve heard about our recent move into the area.
They weren’t ready to begin the program (we later discovered we were actually an hour early, but Marina was excited to introduce us to her friends.) So we spent our time playing basketball, talking to the kids, and taking pictures. (I took lots of pictures.)
The kids were very fascinated with the camera, but had mixed reactions. Some wanted their picture taken, others ran away or hid if I lifted it to my face to take a shot (one little teeny girl even started crying.) We’ve heard before that some of the older generation believes having their picture taken steals their soul. Maybe some of the kids believe it?
Aren’t they beautiful?
The girls really wanted a picture taken with Aaliyah.
This kid knew a few words in English.
An impromptu portrait session began. I took more than a dozen individual photos of the kids. Here’s a couple.
She was so serious…
But then I got her personality to come out. Her name is Sofia.
They asked me lots of questions. “Where are we from?” “What kind of food do we eat?” “Where did I buy my camera?” “How much did it cost?” They had a hard time understanding that it was from Amazon.com…
Some of the classrooms…
This is where they keep the toothbrushes… interesting. This tells you something. (Many of the kids have rotted teeth already.)
The older grades are learning English. Kaqchikel and Spanish are also taught.
The toy section… notice that one of the toys is a toilet brush… ???
This beautiful lady was fixing her hair.
This is how many of the indigenous women wear their hair.
They’re finally getting set up for the program to start.
The M.C. said some nice words, about how mothers do everything for us (including wiping our boogers), and are filled with unconditional love for their children. He said some funny things about how fathers get up after their wives, and go to bed before them, and the mothers do all the hard work in the house.
Each of the grades did a dance.
I had mixed feelings about this, especially because these beautiful girls changed out of their traditional traje into their ‘costumes’ (Western clothing — the girl in the skirt borrowed her clothes from Kyah), then did a dance which is essentially shaking their bodies to hip-hop music with lyrics such as “I love your body, come with me to bed,” and “Condom star, hey sexy lady.” Hmmm… pretty sad. I even teared up thinking about the destruction of culture and tradition due to ‘Western’ influence.
After the performances (which lasted quite a while… every song seemed to be ten minutes long), the mothers were called up and presented with cards, then given gifts, and finally we ate lunch.
Many of them were carrying babies on their backs
These pots were HUGE!
It was lots of fun.
A beach sunset in Guatemala.
Of course, this was our accommodation as usual… nothing beats camping on the beach!
And dogs too.
My favorite — young coconut. You can scoop it like yogurt.
This was good for breakfast too.
Playing in the waves…
Watching and learning from the fisherman…
Practicing the ukulele…
Exploring the town (that didn’t take long)…
Watching the sunsets…
Cooking and eating, of course. (We were like a swarm of locust on any food placed on the table. Our hosts had never seen anything like it)…
To maintain oneself on this earth is not a hardship, but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely. — Thoreau
The post The 2nd Annual Unconventional Family Convention — On the Beach in Guatemala appeared first on Discover Share Inspire.
We just celebrated 12 years of marriage and to commemorate the joyful event, we stayed the night at La Casa Del Mundo on the shores of Lake Atitlan. I love this place. Excellent food, quaint and very comfortable lodgings, delightful gardens and unbeatable views (from every room.)
Taking the boat from Panajachel toward Santa Cruz, we asked to be dropped of at the hotel dock (expect to pay no more than Q10 or 15 per person.)
This is the view from the dockside cabana.
Then we climbed the steps up to the office. La Casa Del Mundo is built right on the side of the mountain which juts out of the Lago, and contains plenty of rock stairs. Be prepared to climb!
Greg checked in at the oficina which is also the cafe. Isn’t it lovely?
Then we chilled at the Descanzo located below the cafe.
These are their ‘World Famous Smoothies’. Make sure to get the orange juice, banana, strawberry (fresa), berry (mora) mix. It’s not on the menu, but they’ll make it upon request. (Smoothies are Q18 each.)
They served our lunch here as well. I ordered the Nacho Grande (Q40) and Greg got the Chicken Burritos (Q38). Both were excellent.
After eating, we were shown to our room.
First up the stairs that lead out of the oficina/cafe.
Then up more stairs to our lodgings – Number 10 (they must have known it was our anniversary, which is the 10th of March. ). This room was Q490 a night.
The view from our balcony.
Isn’t it so cute? I could just take it home with me.
Inside it looks like this…
We… ahem… relaxed together for a bit, then spent time in our favorite activities — reading and discussing great ideas (and now we could do it without a million interruptions by kids, thanks to our great friends who babysat for us.)
My current read is Walden by Thoreau, and Greg is reading Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. We shared our favorite parts, and philosophized, theorized, moralized and pontificated on ‘the world as we see it’.
Too many people are living ‘lives of quiet desperation’, and what they call ‘resignation is confirmed desperation.’
“It appears as if men had deliberately chosen the common mode of living because they preferred it to any other. Yet they honestly think there is no choice left… The incessant anxiety and strain of some is a well-nigh incurable form of disease…We thoroughly deny the possibility of change. This is the only way, we say; but there are as many was as there can be drawn radii from one centre.”
“It is so possible to live as to gain all the advantage (enjoyment) of life, and none of the disadvantage.”
How passionately we believe this! It burns inside, so that we want to shout it to the world!
Too many are ‘endeavoring to solve the problem of living by a formula more complicated than the problem itself… we are all poor, surrounded by luxuries… Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them.’
Soon it’s time for dinner. Cena (dinner) is served family style, with a single multi-course meal (with a vegetarian option). Tonights dinner is tomato soup, chicken chimichurri, vegetables, rice and cheesecake for dessert. (Dinner is Q90 per person.)
The table is set up family style, and by the time dinner is served (6:30pm), the only light is by candle.
During dinner we chat with Germans and Americans, sharing travel stories and other fascinations. After finishing our cheesecake, we head back to our room, and by 8:30 pm Greg is fast asleep. Walden kept me awake until almost 10pm.
In the morning before breakfast (which is served from 8:30 to 11:30 am), we go for a little hike into the village ‘next door’, Jaibalito. (Just FYI, the hotel suggests that guests do not hike along the trail from the hotel to Jaibalito or Santa Cruz without a local guide, but we knew better. )
We walked down the trail and then into the streets of town…
Past kids going to school…
And this old man who was hiking up into the woods. Where was he going and what was he doing??
We did a loop in the canyon above town, then came out on a trail through the Vulcano Lodge, which looked like another nice place to stay.
We hiked back to the hotel, then explored the grounds before going in to eat.
There you can see the hotel boat dock.
And this lovely place is lakeside next to the dock
If you want, they’ll fill the hot tub for you. It’s an additional Q230 for that experience.
Here you can see how much the lake level has risen in the past few years. The lake level has gone up at least 1 meter (3 feet) just since we have lived here the past year.