Hiking Lake Atitlan

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It felt wonderful to be hiking again against the spectacular backdrop of Lake Atitlan. When the roads ended it was a treat to be only on trail. And when the trail ended at Santa Cruz we took a boat to our final village of Panajachel.

San Juan
San Pedro. A typical Guatemalan stove
A small cabana hotel in Jabalito where, for a fee, we were allowed to pitch out tent. Such a gorgeous setting but the barking dogs and disfuncional night crowing roosters were still in attendance.
Hiking the trail

I finally had a chance to try the traditional dish of cervechia – a cold seafood soup in Panajachel. It was a combination of shrimp, crab, calamari, oysters, avacado, lime juice, hot sauce, salsa, with tomato vegetable broth and some brown liquid she squirted in. I will be having it any chance I get and I think when it’s no longer available my taste buds will be yearning for it. I savoured every bite!

Today we say goodbye to Lake Atitlan and head to Antigua. Hopefully our muscles are conditioned enough to tackle the upcoming volcanoes.

Guatemala

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We are now in Guatemala and have been exploring Lake Atitlan for the past few days. Getting here was pretty straightforward. We walked across the Mexico/Guatemala border into the town of Tecun, took a five hour bus ride, the driver let us off at a random street corner and pointed us down the intersecting road. We started walking, ten minutes later a chicken bus stopped and picked us up.

Chicken buses are easily recognizable by their bright colors, rickety appearance, noxious fumes belching out of the back, and the quantity of people and chickens aboard. The drivers often delight in passing on blind corners as they speed up and down the steep curving roads. Gord said that if a volcano blows, our driver is the man we want.

An hour later we were let out on a corner in Panajachel (the little town on the northern shore of Lake Atitlan where I had asked to be let out at). We walked up the road and found a cheap hotel. After three days of exploring we realized that we were not in Panajachel – we were in Santiago Atitlan, a town across the lake on the southern shore (no wonder I couldn’t get my bearings following the rough guide map 😂). Nobody here speaks any English at all and while I’ve been thrilled at how well my humble Spanish has been serving us, it’s clearly not foolproof. Too funny!

My go-to food has become fresh avocados, sweet onion, tomato and lime juice on a couple of fresh warm tortillas. So delicious! And cheap! I bought a bizarre looking brown drink on the bus (where vendors also sell food and drinks) that looked like mud water with floaties. From my past experiences, I anticipated it would be cold and delicious regardless of its appearance. Nope! It tasted like warm mud water with floaties. I figured it was some kind of oat, rice or bean water and good for me so down the hatch it went.

Lake Atitlan is a beautiful, turquoise lake encircled by three volcanos, at least 340 metres deep, it’s shores dotted with villages. Yesterday we left Santiago and hiked to San Petro along a steep volcano road lined with coffee and avocado trees and corn. Pickers and farm workers dotted the countryside. The farming is all done with a hoe, a pick axe and a machete, not one tractor to be seen. We’ve seen old men carrying loads on their back that defy logic and gravity (one man was staggering under the weight of three -one hundred pound bags). Truly astounding!

View from our little corner room

We camped for the night in small sheltered area out of sight and high off the road. We woke at 6:30am to people already working and chopping corn husks around us and were greeted with “buenas Dias amigos”. The Guatemalan people we have come across are all helpful and kind.

Our camp spot

We are now in a little hotel room in San Pedro with a gorgeous view of the lake. Like the room in Santiago we are paying $10 each a night. We will stay here for a couple of nights before hiking to the next village.

A village lady making tortillas

Holy Quacamole

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Our friend Elvis and his girlfriend Andreas picked us up at the Tapachula bus terminal after a 21 hour (comfortable) bus ride from Mérida, drove us to his hometown and then turned over his cozy room behind his welding shop to us for our stay. We met him through my friend Nancy when he was visiting Canada last summer. He lives in the border town of Ciudad Hidalgo and we are having an enjoyable week with him roaming the countryside seeing local sights, hearing great music, meeting his good friends, all while experiencing the most delicious authentic mexican food.

Had an amazing fajita feast with the best quacamole I have ever tasted in the little hill town of Union Juárez
Hill town of Union Juarez
A nice hike up to Pico de Loro
A feisty 85 year old abuela (grandmother) made the steep climb to the top

At the home of Elvis’s friend, Ipolito, we had a wonderful lunch of taco’s (the tortillas in Mexico are made fresh every day, sometimes with a mixture of wheat flour, but often with just corn flour), and a variety of exotic fruits that he has on his tilapia farm. He gave us a tasting tour and we enjoyed so much fruit.

Tasting fresh Yucca
On the way around our tasting tour we came across an opossum in the eavestrough. Poli swung it down bare handed. The dogs went wild, the opossum was ferocious and a hair-raising time was had by all, with no injuries to man or beast…but it was a narrow miss. The picture doesn’t show the snapping and thrashing.
The opossum was not impressed!

Andreas (Elvis’s girlfriend) made us an awesome breakfast one morning of deep fried cauliflower, spiced rice, black beans and salsa.
Illegal (but accepted) trading and traveling across the River between Mexico and Guatemala is a common practice.

Chichen Itza

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Chichen Itza is one of the seven wonders of the world and the ruins, ancient pathways and sacred cenotes were indeed a wonder. I had downloaded an audio tour was able to listen to the history and stories of each ruin while looking at it, making the experience even more absorbing.

After a long period of prosperity Chichen Itza was attacked (roughly around the 10th century) by the Toltecs (a tribe that came from central Mexico) and the two cultures merged to create a massive metropolis that dominated the Yucatan for more than 300 years.

The massive temple of Kukulkan (the serpent God) is a pyramid that is basically a huge calendar constructed with incomprehensible precision that can measure time using just the sun. There are 91 steps on each side (and one at the top) making 365 steps over the four sides. Each side represented a season and was used to figure out the best times to plant and harvest. The temple has nine terraces (one for each level of the underworld). The terraces are divided in half by the stairwells giving 18 terraces on each side of the temple. There 26 panels on each side of the stairwell giving 52. With this math they were also able to create an amazing phenomena twice a year, during the spring and fall equinox when the light patterns from the sun shine on the northern stairway. The light connects to the big snakeheads at the bottom and as the sun moves it looks like the serpent God himself is coming down the stairway. Wild! And to think I patted myself on the back when I built a little bookshelf that stayed standing.

The ball field was a big stone court with a very small stone opening on each side and felt like a quidditch court. The Mayan ball game was a celebration that recreated how the holy twins defeated the nine evil Gods of the underworld. (A brief history – the twins won challenges against the evil Gods with the ball game being the final challenge. Soon after the twins were victorious they were transformed into the sun and the moon. As a reward for this great deed the Gods released the souls of 400 of their ancestors and they were transformed into stars. So it’s thanks to the twins victory that the world exists as we know it today :)). The Mayans created several ball courts in every city but the only one that was used for ceremonial purposes was Chichen Itza, the largest one. Each team of seven players prepared themselves in advance to be worthy by fasting and sauna and other interesting rituals for days. The game lasted several days and the first team to score a point was the winner. To score the point a six pound rubber ball was put through a small hole high on the wall. The trick was only the shoulders, head and hips could be used – hands and feet were not allowed. The game ended with the captain of one team holding the severed head of the opposing captain. They are still not sure which captain was sacrificed – the winner or the loser. Some say the losers but since being a gift to the gods was a great honour it’s also believed that only the winner was worthy of the sacrifice. Honour or not, I think I’d pass on being a captain.

The city was abandoned in the 13 century around the time of the crusades for unknown reasons.

Hola

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On arriving in Cancun we made our way to our hostel where, at the reception, we were greeted with a bed sheet and a pair of ear plugs. Cancun’s reputation as a party town is well deserved. Not being a party girl I made use of the ear plugs, got some sleep and we set off first thing the next morning for Valladolid, a less boisterous town in the Yucatán that is close to Chichen Itza and cenotes which were our next destinations.

A cenote (pronounced say-NO-tay) is created over centuries by eroding limestone caves that collapse and fill with water either by rain or underground rivers. They come in all shapes and sizes, some with closed roofs and some with open. With over 6000 cenotes in the Yucatán we lucked into a great one that was only an hours walk from our hostel.

We descended the narrow, winding cement stairway of the Oxman Cenote into the underworld, or so the ancient Mayans believed. They also believed that all cenotes were sacred ceremonial spaces. At the bottom sunlight filtered through the open roof high above the crystal clear (45 meter deep) water, tree roots and vines hung all around, and vertical, blackened rocks reached way up. It truly felt like a sacred and magical place.

A group of young folks were taking turns gracefully flying off of a swing rope into the turquoise water. Naturally I wanted to try it. Standing on the sketchy wooden platform clutching the slippery dowel it looked way higher than it seemed and was much scarier than the youngsters made it look. I did it and was glad I did…but no one could call it graceful.

We have enjoyed some great street food. Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures. I’ll do better next post. I did remember to take a picture of our little homemade tacos. Fresh warm tortillas with chopped tomatoes, onion, cheese and doused with some delicious red Mexican blend of sauce. It wasn’t fancy but the freshness (and of course the sauce) sure made it yummmy.

Our homemade tacos. (We got 10 warm fresh tacos for 50cents)

Tomorrow we are off to Chichen Itza and then on to Merida.

Adios Amigos

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It’s that time of year again! Time to pack up my sleeping bag, tent, solar charger and trail clothes into my beloved back pack and head to kinder climates. While this years winter has not been hard so far, I’m still itching for T-shirt weather.

On January 18th Gord and I will fly to Cancun. The plan is to travel through Mexico and into Guatemala. With no set trail or itinerary, we will go in whatever direction we feel inclined, on foot and by bus, steering clear of the dangerous areas.

I love Mexico! I love the food, the people, the scenery, the history, the weather, the language and the culture. I haven’t spent a ton of time there – mostly traveling back and forth en route to Belize when I briefly lived there – so it will be great to get to know the country better. And I’ve never been to Guatemala so that will be another new and interesting place to explore. I’m looking forward (read super intimidated) to practice my oh so meagre Spanish skills. But it’s good for the old grey matter. And I really want to come home with better speaking fluency so I will push past the fear of ridicule and humiliation. I just wish they didn’t speak so crazy damn fast!

I’m going to miss my little granddaughter, Cadia so much! At almost a year and a half she continues to amaze and delight me in every way and the thought of not seeing her for two months literally makes me tear up. But I’ll try to utilize technology to get me through. Wow – those are words I’d never thought I’d say!

As always, I’ll blog all the adventurers. Next post from Mexico! Or should I say – Siguiente mensaje de Mexico! (Imagine that I’m speaking with a really awesome Spanish accent.)

The Bluebs are ready!

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Just a little update on the 2022 season! I am open on Sunday July 31st from 9am -1pm for the first ‘open to the public’ pick-your-own blueberry day! I will also have pre-picked berries for sale along with blueberry pastries and our famous blueberry coffee.

The plants took another hit from Mother Nature when the buds above the snow line were damaged just enough from the -30 winter days (that happily took care of the caterpillar problem for us) to stop them blooming. So it’s another year with limited berries but hope springs eternal that next year will be a full harvest.

The good news is there are still lots of berries on the bushes! I am super excited to be harvesting the Toros and Nelson’s (two new cultivars I planted a few years ago) for the first time and they are awesome! Sweet and big!

So if you would like to enjoy some fresh-off-the-bush berries, come on out – I’d love to see you!

Ride to Conquer Cancer

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Once again, I am participating in the Ride to Conquer Cancer to support the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation. Below is a photo of the details of a fundraiser that I am having if you would like to attend. If you cannot attend but would like to help me reach my $2500.00 fundraising goal the link is below. Thank you in advance!!

https://supportthepmcf.ca/Ride22/ArleneKeith

I was hoping to be better prepared for the two day 200+ bike ride from Toronto to Niagara Falls but since getting home from Egypt I have been immersed in digging trenches to replace my irrigation system here at Balderson Blueberries. I honestly couldn’t have done the mammoth job without the help of my three kids so a giant thank you to them (Sabrina said it was like prison work 😂 – she’s not wrong). But as of yesterday, the system is up and running and it is such a relief as we plunge into summer.

Now it’s on to pruning my plants and bracing myself to do battle with the dreaded caterpillars. But I’ll get a few rides in before June 11/12th. At least to get bum-ready. Because if I don’t – well, I just will. 😬. Once again, sincere thanks!! I’ll let you know how it goes.

Alexandria

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Ever since I saw the movie Agora I have wanted to go to Alexandria. The movie is about a 4th century woman named Hapatia who was a mathematician, astronomer, philosopher and teacher. Her father was the curator of the library of Alexandria, whose mission was “collecting all the knowledge of the world”. It is a movie about ideas and the ongoing controversy between science and superstition but what I really loved about it was that it centers on this wonderful, brilliant woman who, in 391 A.D. when women were not generally treated as equals, taught scholars. I fell in love with the notion of Alexandria and the library as the place where Hapatia was admired and celebrated by learned men during turbulent times. How heartbreaking it must have been to live and breath the preservation of knowledge and then to witness its total destruction. An estimated 40,000 – 400,000 scrolls of priceless information were lost forever when the library was burned.

Even though the current library is new (2002), it has a connection to the past. I am thrilled to be here in the largest public reading space in the world where 250,000,000 books and scrolls are housed (though sadly not on display). I feel like I should be studying something profound or saying something philosophical but I just sit here…writing my post…in the bibliotheca of Alexandria!

The outside of the library is covered in scripts and letters from almost all the languages of the world.
Looking down on the main hall
If you ever find yourself in Alexandria, love seafood and want to experience the ultimate local restaurant, go to Hoda Gondl. It’s open street food and our dinner included fish broth, calamari, ginormous shrimp, seafood gumbo, and two kinds of whole fish. Bread, rice, tahini, and salad on the side. It was all totally fresh and amazing and less than $15.
TraysThere were large trays of every kind of fresh seafood you can imagine. You just told them what you wanted. And they gave you samples!
The view from our hostel window
The Mediterranean
The castle built in the 1400’s was made partly with with the stone from the original lighthouse of Alexandria (which was in that spot) and one of the ancient wonders of the world.
The mosque in the castle
The light stone gave the castle an airy feeling.
Just before leaving the black desert. I know – its out of place. I was going to include it in the last post but thought I had too many pictures. 😂. We are heading back to Cairo to spend our last few days before heading home.

What a Ride!

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Buses, boats, trains, hiking, history, hostels, cities, covid, weather, people, food! And at night, dreams! Of which my most recent is me trying to maneuver a car through a non-existent gap in a Cairo traffic jam (a normal day for residents of this sprawling 25+ million metropolis). I’m frantically yelling into the din that I need to get back to my blueberry field. I wake up in a cold sweat!

We mainly travelled around Cairo by metro

We have spent our last few days roaming through ancient churches, resting, and walking around the Souk (the Cairo Islamic market) where the crowd was crushing. It brought back a high school memory of going to a Queen concert at the Civic Center before they had reserved seating.

Carrying fresh bread for sale on his head

We also went to the Zabbaleen City (the literal translation is Garbage City), a Coptic community who’s entire thriving economy is based on collecting and recycling Cairo’s garbage. Coptics represent the majority of Christian’s in Egypt and the religion dates back to 42 A.D.. As we walked we could see women and children through doorways sitting in large, dark spaces surrounded by, and sorting vast seas of spread out garbage.

Overlooking a street in Zabbaleen City
St. Simon Monastery (also known as the Cave Church) is the largest church in the Middle East and is located in a cave in Mokattam Mountain in Zabbaleen City, in southeastern Cairo.
The walls were full of biblical carvings
Looking across ‘The City of the Dead’ at Cairo.

This trip has been a great adventure! There was less hiking than hoped for and more time spent in cities (which is challenging for me) but overall, it was a feast for all the senses, not the least of which was taste. I have eaten my way through Egypt and Jordan both, and now my work here is done.

Last supper in Egypt. Shawarma meat, fried veggies, olives and sauce are wrapped in large thin fresh bread and fried again.

We leave for the airport in a few hours and we are eager. The only thing better than travelling is coming back home. I am excited to see family and friends and if my night dreams are anything to go by, I’m also ready to get back to my blueberry field. And Gord is also ready to start planting seeds on his farm.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for reading and for your comments and emails. It has been a real pleasure sharing this extraordinary adventure with you. See you on the flip side!

Salaam.