Guatemala, Travel

Guatemala: Lake Atitlán

Continued from Part 1

The shuttle from the airport took us to a tiny town called Antigua. We booked yet another shuttle to Lake Atitlan….and missed it! The departure time of 12:15 was lost in translation. Buying another ticket, we spent the hours getting lunch, a massage (for me) and pricing out scooter rentals (also for me lol). At 4 pm we departed for Santa Cruz.

Arrival at Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan at Sunset

On the shuttle, we met a man from Colorado.  It was his first time in Guatemala too. He was heading to San Pedro, the little village across the lake from Santa Cruz (our destination). In San Pedro, he was doing a homestay to learn Spanish. Placed with a local family, they would provide his room, board and plenty of Spanish conversation. It lifts my heart when I meet people (especially Americans with the way things are lately) who are seeking out culture exchange.

After that, I slipped into a merciful Dramamine coma, as I was starting to become one with the Guatemalan roads – twisty, mountainous and dizzying. When I awoke it was dark out. The time was about 7pm when the driver shouted, “La Iguana!” That’s us! Time to get off. We followed the driver down a steep hill to a rickety dock. Directed to a boat, the captain helped us put our bags on atop while we shakily climbed inside (I’ve since gotten my sea legs and could board these things in my sleep).

Praying our bags would make it, we zipped across the lake. Shattering the black mirror of water beneath us, the breeze was cool and the passengers quiet. Except for the guy who sat next to me.

My family jokes that if we are the only customers in the entire restaurant, the next set of customers will, out of all that free seating, sit next to us. Seriously, its like a curse. I have the Hoffman-Allure even here it seems.

Initiated by a compliment to my dreadlocks, we chatted with a man who, as it turns out, is the resident musician at the hostel next to ours.  When the boat slowed at a dock announced as “Santa Cruz!” he led us to his hostel where he introduced us to the owner (henceforth known as the Witch Doctor Man). They invited us to return the following night for ladies’ night. We never made it – a huge storm brought the power down right after dinner.

Arriving at our own hostel, La Iguana Perdida, we were escorted to our room by a gentleman from Cleveland, Ohio. Even now, countless states and countries south of home, it’s a small world. Entering our room, we changed into PJs and collapsed for the night.

The Iguana Family

We spent the next 6 nights as members of the Iguana Family. I say “family” because the hostel’s missive is an environment of interaction. No internet, nightly family-style dinners, plenty of activities (trivia/costume/open mic night) and intentional opportunities to make connections.

Our first connection was with a couple from London. They recognized my tattoos from various Hayao Miyazaki movies, which outed them as fellow nerds.

Side Story: On the way to Mexico, an elderly couple recognized my Burning Man tattoo since they’d been several times themselves! Burners are so nice. All I need now is a trekkie to recognize my communicator tattoo.

We only had one night together because they were leaving the next day  – but it was probably the best night I’ve had on this trip so far. The conversation flowed like music across bars of politics, entertainment, travel stories, and an extended bout of life-threatening-laughter at a picture Hayden would prefer I didn’t share (but see below).

Hayden found himself atop a hill in Santorini, Greece with the perfect opportunity to take a picture designed to scare his mother. Asking a stranger to take the photo, if all had gone according to plan, he would have looked as if he were hanging from the side of the city. Here we have a photographic example of “lost in translation”. BAHAHAHA

Laughter really is dangerous here. The elevated air is so thin that too much laughing simply ends in gasping. Note to self when traveling with Hayden in the future: avoid high elevation.

That night, we had an intruder come in through the window. Normally, one would not like to be joined in the night. But in this case, I was delighted to be encroached upon by the hostel’s resident feline, Chicago (though we didn’t know that was her name until the day we left. We called her Poco for “little”).

Nightly, Poco continued to slip in through the window for some face/pillow snuggles. I guess even she couldn’t tolerate the feel of the hostel bed springs poking you in your soft parts through the mattress. By the 6th night, we were ready to move on.

Casa Sweet Casa

Through conversation with other travelers, we learned that Costa Rica was going to be more expensive than initially estimated. It was even compared to New York! Yikes. Beaten down by the bumps in Mexico City, along with no desire to stress about money, we opted to look for a place where we could have our own kitchen and create an affordable extended stay. Venturing deeper into Central America was discussed, but the idea of reliving Mexico, or sleeping blanketed in the fear we felt in Guatemala City was a big deterrent. Lake Atitlan offers a safe, quiet, restful paradise where we felt no need to fix what wasn’t broken. Through Airbnb, we met a local couple who own three apartments just up the hill from The Iguana. All it took was a quick tour and amazing price to seal the deal.

To be continued ….

Guatemala, Travel

Guatemala: Machete Paradise (part 1)

DISCLAIMER: This may be upsetting to some readers. To the moms reading this, don’t worry – we are safe.

A Brief History

No, this isn’t some sort of weird-Al parody. That would insinuate we are in gangster paradise, which we are not. But we are in machete paradise.

At its core, a machete is a farming tool. Useful for chopping trails through thick brush, variations of the machete are used by cultures and civilizations all over the world. While it seems in North America we simply use the machete for entertainment purposes, the machete is still a popular multi-tool here in Guatemala…and it’s a little unnerving.

Safety In Guatemala

After the rough start in Mexico City, we were wary of coming to Guatemala. It didn’t help that Guatemala is ranked “reconsider travel” on the US Travel Department’s website. Crime is, of course, a factor in the ranking system, but a large weight of it is the ability of the US government to intervein on your behalf should something happen. Only recently establishing any sort of political stability (following a 30-year civil war), Guatemala is struggling with widespread corruption, extortion, volcano disasters, and heavy drug trafficking.

Disembarking from our flight into Guatemala City, we leave the airport on foot for our hostel. We’re going to stay there one night to get our bearings before entering the logistical foray of making it to Lake Atitlan. The area surrounding the airport is zombie-apocalypse-grade deserted. Between our blue location dot on Google Maps and destination is a high concrete wall topped with razor wire and doorways shadowing guards with pump-action shotguns. We discover this wall encloses a small compound of hostels and hotels for both citizens and touristisas alike. Finally finding the front gate, the guard lets us through. At the hostel we are greeted by an incredibly friendly man from Belize. His impeccable English gives us the freedom to ask how quickly we can get Pizza Hut delivered….because we were not going back outside the compound.

Making Friends

In typical American fashion, we got (2) pizza(s) delivered. Eyes bigger than stomachs, we made friends with the various Latinos that were milling around by sharing our slices. They all accepted our offer graciously and were very thankful.

The following morning, we awoke to a text message from Hayden’s mom – “Call me.” A news channel ran a story that morning that a bus full of tourists was boarded, the driver shot, and the vehicle commandeered. Doing some research of our own, it turns out this has been happening since 2009 with over 900 bus drivers being killed at the crime peak in 2013.

Gangs are extorting the bus companies for money and if the company doesn’t pay, their drivers pay the price with their lives. We vowed to only take private transportation for the duration of our stay.

Author’s note: No ONE should have to worry about seeing their bus driver murdered on their daily commutes. Because the bus was full of white tourists, it’s suddenly newsworthy. This has been going on for OVER A DECADE. I know things are hot in the states right now surrounding immigration, but this is one example (of dozens I’m sure) of why people might want to seek better lives in the USA. Even during the latest Chicago night, I wouldn’t have ever worried about any sort of attack on public transit. Maybe we can make a little room in both our hearts and our country, hmmm?? Here are 12 great ways you can help refugees – not all of them involving money. 

Having made friends via pizza, we got a ride to the airport the next day and were escorted directly to the driver of a shuttle who would take us the next leg of our trip….into machete country.

To be continued ……

If you’d like to be notified when part 2 is published, subscribe via email! Don’t worry – you’ll never get an email other than a new post notification. I promise.

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Mexico, Travel

¡Adios Mexico City!

Despite the poor introduction we’ve had with Mexico City, I still love it and would seriously consider moving here someday (semester abroad?).

So, what were the highlights of the city? And, more importantly, how much did I spend?

#1 The Food (La Comida)

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Travel. Is. Affordable (if you just suck at saving, I feel you. Check out my mind-tricks here). As Americans, it can seem expensive because it is so hard for our brains to comprehend a $1 meal that didn’t come from a dollar menu. Coupled with the expensive flights to make it over the pond to the rest of the world, I know it seems like you’re off to an expensive start. But seriously, once you get there, SO affordable!

Thanks to said affordability, we got a little crazy and ate our faces off in CDMX. Most meals were about $1-$2. Even the sushi dinner wasn’t that bad, coming in at about $20. We ordered things we recognized to see the authentic take on them (tacos, quesadillas etc.) and they are nothing like back home. In short, Taco Bell is ruined for me and I can’t wait to come back here someday and have even more time to try all the food – we barely scratched the surface.

#2 The Locals (Los Locales)

Its obvious by our dress, attitude and accent that we are American. Haunted by the terrible policies of the Trump administration and the issues going on at the border right now, I wasn’t sure we would be overly welcomed in Mexico city. Aside from being teased once about being here to “visit or invade”, everyone has been very nice. While we interacted with a lot of locals, there are three interactions that I won’t be able to forget.

Interaction #1

In the US, Mexico City seems to be surrounded by a negative stigma that its this super dangerous place. Just like any major city (P.S Mexico City is the biggest city in the world), there is crime – theft, murder, rape – but Mexico City is doing a great job at taking steps to combat that. Upon one of our first train rides, a Metro employee approached us and offered his assistance. He led us to the train platform that we needed to be on, explaining that at the end of every train platform is a designated safe area for women and girls where they can board train cars specifically for ladies.

While I was in Japan I noticed a similar system. While it’s sad to acknowledge a need for this, Japan and Mexico are setting wonderful examples that America could follow.

Interaction #2

Standing in line at the McDonald’s ice cream window, a kid comes up and begins speaking to us in Spanish. Between the three of us, we decipher that he is asking for money. We chatted with him for a bit, learning that he was 7 years old and that his mom was at home. He was a nice and funny kid who looked well fed and was just hoping to get some spending money. We didn’t want to support the begging habit, but ended up buying him a twisted ice cream cone which totally made his night! What a random thing.

Interaction #3

While visiting the ancient Aztec city of Teotihuacan, the sound of jaguar noises echoed across the plain. It turns out they are made from a tiny toy being sold by the local merchants. I wasn’t confident I’d be able to make the same sound, but after a little lesson and a purchased toy, I’m a pro! Check out the video below.

Jaguar Noises


#3 The sights (Las Vistas)

Mexico is famous for its ancient Aztec history. So naturally, Mexico is chock full of interesting sites. It was hard to choose which attractions to see, so we opted to do a blend of touristy and non-touristy.

Pyramid of the Sun

Guys, I’ve always wanted to see a pyramid.

Pyramid of the Sun
My first pyramid, Pyramid of the Sun, outside Mexico City.

Before planning this trip, I didn’t even realize that there was any outside of the infamous Egyptian pyramids. Doh! Counting “ceremonial structures”, Mexico is home to hundreds. My tribe visited one of the most popular, The Pyramid of the Sun, located in the old Aztec city of Teotihuacan (pronounced “teo ti hu can”).

Group selfie in front of Pyramid of the Sun Mexico
Ashley, Hayden and me in front of the Pyramid of the Sun

The Pyramid of the Sun is one of the largest pyramids in Mesoamerica and the third largest in the world. During its life (200 BC – 750 BC), it was used for ‘religious, administrative and community tasks’. At a height of 65m (195 ft), it takes about 250 freaking-steep stairs to reach the top. If your kneecaps and lungs can take it, its an incredible view from the top.

Museo del Juguete Antiguo

This is one of those “non-touristy” things. I often reference Atlas Obscura to find unusual things to do.  Here in Mexico City, they did not disappoint. Hayden and I visited Museo del Juguete Antiguo – a “freak toy” museum….and freaky it was! First, it looks like its just in some random guys’ house that is nowhere near the touristy part of town (sorry mom). Second, its filled to the brim with thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of obscure, weirdly positioned, and [sometimes] freakishly common, toys.

In the tech industry, we have a motto. DRY: “Don’t repeat yourself”. Basically, don’t do work twice. In the spirit of DRY, if you’d like to read more about Museo del Juguete Antiguo and support Atlas Obscura for helping me find it, you can read their wonderful article with all the history here.

¡Adios (but not to my budget)!

Just like our time in Mexico City, its time to wrap. But before I go, I’d like to share with you just how affordable this trip could be for you:

Expenses (in $USD)

Now, these numbers are representative of my share of things. If dinner for 2 was $20, I’m logging it as $10 because that is what I paid. These numbers are totals for the entirety of my time in Mexico City.

Food$78 You can tell where my priorities are. This is for all my meals, snacks, drinks, treats and “oh I just have to try one bite”‘s. It also includes a sushi dinner which was $20 and boozy Olive Garden (hey, I was homesick). 

Lodging: $53.25 My share of 6 nights at our hostel in a private room, including a free breakfast that I ate every day.

Entertainment & Souvenirs$16.20  This includes the Pyramid of the Sun (includes round-trip bus fare), a festival, several museums and a few hands of blackjack at the casino.

Transportation$10 With an amazing infrastructure, trains were the transport of choice coming in at $1 per ride. Uber is also insanely cheap and a great alternative after I got pickpocketed on the train.

Misc (tips, donations etc): $5. Unlike Asia, tips are welcome in Mexico. Honestly, I like it better this way – its more like home. Tips are appropriate for cab drivers, waiters, or warrioresses who choose to pose with you or bless you. Total I spent $10 in tips (I know, I know, it sounds so cheap but I promise it was the appropriate amount).

Total Spent: $162.45 for one week.

Not too shabby, right?

I hope you’re enjoying the information so far – what do you think? Would you ever visit here, why or why not? Please leave any opinions, questions or comments in the comment section below. 🙂

Mexico, Travel

A rough start in Mexico City

Mexico City Wins

Guys, this is not how I envisioned my getaway starting!

Originally, my travel tribe planned to stay in Mexico City about 3 nights. It’s now been 6 nights, and we are missing several travel tools we originally came with:

  • Our group member, Ashley
  • My iPhone X
  • Hayden’s Debit Card

I’m grateful our month-ish timetable gives us the luxurious flexibility to move as we please – or in this case, as needed. But WTF happened?!

Let’s go down the list.

Missing Member

First, this type of travel is not for everyone. There is a reason it’s called “roughing it” – its rough! Ashley gave it a great go coming with us – I’m so proud of her for prepping, planning and trying. The unknown is scary and its a lot of work. Ultimately, it wasn’t for her. As proud of her as I am for trying, I’m equally as proud of her for doing what she needed to do for herself (we should all follow her example) – even if it meant she wouldn’t be continuing on with us. She’s now at home hugging kitties and, after the week we’ve had here, I could seriously go for some kitty hugs too.



Mexico City has a connotation of being dangerous. While it isn’t very outwardly violent, there is a lot of crime. Not sure how since never before in my life have I seen so many police in one city. Even though there are always at least 3 officers in eyesight, to fight crime here you must catch it in the act.

My iPhone X was taken from my pocket on a crowded train. I’m talking crowwwwwwwded. I didn’t feel it happen but I realized it as soon as I got out of the train car. Thanks to the quick catch, Hayden and I were able to track my phone location to a nearby market filled with people selling [what look to be stolen] phones. We have returned the past 3 days waiting for it to crop up in hopes of buying it back. Being our last day in Mexico City, today I broke down and bought a cheap throw away smartphone.

I’m angry. Not about the phone or the money it will cost to replace it, but rather, because I feel all the planning I put into this trip has been snatched away – along with my perception of personal space. To compound it, I’m now dependant on Hayden (who has been LOVELY about this whole disaster). Though Hayden could not be more gracious, my inner control freak and radical-self-reliant burner soul is very uncomfortable in this position.

Being pickpocketed isn’t as jarring as nearly being kidnapped, but I still felt shaken. I even considered coming home. But, after a pep talk from my mom (I can’t believe I’m typing that almost as much as my mom couldn’t believe she was saying it), Hayden and I are going to continue on….even though Hayden is down a debit card.

ATM Fiasco

ATMs work here just like they do back home. Insert card, enter pin, take cash, blow money. Notice a missing step? Take card from machine – very important and time sensitive! If you don’t do it, it eats it. Unfortunately for Hayden, his debit card became an ATM midnight snack. Luckily, he was smart and divided his dollars across several accounts with different debit cards. Hmmm…wonder who gave him that idea? 😉

The Adventure Continues

Tomorrow, we’re off to Guatemala City! From there, we’ll be heading to Lake Antitlan for some scuba diving and volcano climbing. We specifically chose a remote area where we won’t have much connection. Even though I’m just regaining my connectivity, I’m looking forward to voluntarily losing it again.

I’ve been great about keeping track of expenses this trip, so look forward to a post with a cost breakdown for the Mexico City leg of the trip (hopefully your budget won’t have to include a new phone).


Perplexing pre-trip perceptions

All vacations & trips are accompanied by a sense of excitement and anxiety, right? I find that the magnitude of the adventure always scales perfectly with the level of excitement.

When I was planning my trip to Asia, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d never been abroad and all I knew of the Orient was based on half-remembered history lessons, American interpretations of cuisine, and a sampling of anime friends forced me to watch (and I’m so glad they did!).

Now that we have left Dayton and are in Chicago, it’s starting to sink in – I’M GOING TO CENTRAL AMERICA (henceforth known as ‘CA’)! What will it be like there? In Asia, I was surprised at the [lack of] traffic laws. So many scooters going all the time with no lanes or order what. so. ever. Are scooters a primary form of transport in CA? Will there be plentiful street food? How about stray animals abound? Or will it be very similar to America with blue jeans and cellular service?

Of course, the obvious answer is: It will be just like it is – Central America, its own unique culture. I enjoyed traveling through Asia successively, it allowed me to notice the differences across the various Asian cultures. With each nation having its own language, and CA being primarily Spanish speaking, will the countries be as notably different as they are in Asia?

Tonight, I’ll start finding out. We arrive in Mexico City this afternoon. I’m crossing my fingers for some overlap in the “street food” category – I’d love to get my hands on some street corn (elote) for dinner!

Wish me luck!



HellloooooOOOOoOOooOOooo!!! Guys, I haven’t updated you in forever. That means something big must be cooking, right? Right!

Just like everyone else in the world, I’ve just been ‘so super busy’ that I haven’t been able to sit down and post. There’s some truth to that – this last year was crushing. I’ve been super busy with school & work, but deeper than that, I didn’t feel I was doing anything that was so awesome it was blog post worthy. I try to have little adventures and change it up, but do you need to know about that strange new road I took to work? I wouldn’t want that info clogging up my inbox! This post though, yeah, totally inbox worthy.

While it wasn’t announced on ZoomGoes, this time a year ago I fearfully took the first step into an adventure I wasn’t sure I was ready for – folding back into the ranks of ‘college student’. Up until this point in my life, I was a terrible student. Like, barely-graduated-high-school terrible.

Its been a wild 12 months. I’ve sprouted more gray hairs than a rotten potato, completed 1/4 of a bachelor’s degree program for computer science, worked 5 months at an internship I didn’t have to apply for, received my first EVER academic award, was on the Deans list the entire year, and suffered through a litany of digestive issues. My friends, this has been a different type of adventure. Asia was immersive while I traveled, but this adventure was a lifestyle.

Now that its summertime (omgyayayayayayayay!!!), I’ve been reflecting. The transformation is incredible – and I’m not just talking about the freshman -15 (yes, I lost weight)! Mental math is easier, I can code a solid web framework without any Googling, and I’m much better at problem-solving/creative thinking. In short, school is working!!! 

I’m so proud of my accomplishments this semester – it feels incredible to know I can actually do it. While we are still at the base of the mountain, I’m excited about the climb.

SPEAKING OF CLIMBS AND MOUNTAINS…… I’m going backpacking in Central America this summer!

A pillar of support for me this semester has been my job at our local pizza shop. The owner is wholeheartedly supportive of our personal goals, and I have some amazing coworkers who inspire me in my studies and support (indulge) me in crazy ideas like backpacking near the equator in the middle of summer. As such, myself and two of my coworkers (I’ve already introduced one of them to you) will be spending about a month-ish backpacking through Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Panama! Will you be with us every step of the way? We’ll be bringing you funny stories, wild ordeals, itemized spending for budget building and trend recognition purposes….oh, and PLENTY (maybe mostly) food pictures.

With the clock ticking (we fly to Chicago the 11th) my excitement is building for this new type of adventure. Not just a break from the grueling year-that-was, but for the experience of traveling with friends vs. solo. Of course, each will have its pros and cons, but I think with this group, I’m going to have the best pros I could have and the least con-y cons I could have.

In closing guys, this is the tip of the perverbial exitement-iceberg…so stay tuned for future annoucements!