The Guatemala Cloud Forest

Wednesday, January 30, 2013, Rio Honda, Guatemala

We stayed put the last few days on a farm in the Guatemala cloud forest. Thanks to Faye and Janice, Dave’s wife, we spent a few days in the bunk house of Janeen Simon. Janeen has been in Guatemala for 30 years and owns 350 acres of prime cloud forest that she is working to protect.  In addition she is the executive director of Wings, a non-profit organization that educations indigenous women  about family planning and does cancer screenings. Click HERE to learn more. We visited the Wings office in Coban and observed a class. Janeen’s passion for her work and the local people she is trying is help was obvious. Dave, Janice and Faye, who have been involved in Mercy Corps and similar organizations for years spoke only with the highest regard for the Wings organization. If anyone is interested in supporting the indigenous population I would highly recommend supporting Wings.

But let me back up… from Antigua to Coban we decided to take the smaller secondary road through the mountains, CA-5, according to my GPS. The road started out nicely paved but suddenly turned to gravel.

Here was one of the better sections

At least the rivers had bridges

When we finally got close to Coban and found what we thought was the road to Janeen’s, it was muddy and slippery with some tough downhill sections. We weren’t sure it was the right road so they sent me to investigate. I rode 1k down the road looking for something that looked like a gringo house hoping I was going the right direction.

Finally I came to her house and saw Faye and Janice coming out to greet me. Evidently they arrived in half the time by car by sticking to the better roads. The other riders wisely decided to not attempt the muddy road and parked at a nearby hotel. I used Janeen’s truck and shuttled them to the house for dinner.

The end of the road:

It’s hard to get much traction with mud packed tires.

The next day Keith, Michael and Jim wanted to ride to see the ruins in Tikal Mayan Ruins. Deby and I decided to stay on the farm with Dave, Janice and Faye.

Also visiting was Andrea, a friend of Janeen’s from San Francisco, here she is with Faye. Nice slippers…

Janice had arranged a visit with a local Mercy Corps project that was focused on educating pregnant and mothers of young children about nutrition and child care.The program is called Procomida you can learn more about it HERE.

We visited a classroom in a small village down this path.

Waiting for class to begin

Class in session

Another part of the program is teaching nutrition, we observed a class where they taught women who were being trained to go to the villages and teach how to prepare nutritious meals.

Next we visited the USAid food distribution warehouse.

We learned about their messages and how they present the classes. Food is distributed in one month amounts.

Deby demonstrates how to carry the load in Guatemalan fashion using her head.

Overall I was pretty impressed, the whole operation seemed well organized and well run. We spoke with the operations manager and it was clear they have a clear passion for their work while being realistic about the long term impact. I give it a thumbs up!

That night we met Rob and Terra who are working on a cloud forest conservation project on Janeen’s land. Their organization is Community Cloud Forest Conservation. They happened to have a group of young adults, mostly from Canada, working on the property helping build a school, or learning center, as Rob prefers to call it. Here is a picture of the kids moving logs to be used as beams in the structure.

True teamwork and a learning experience for the kids.

Here are a couple of pictures of their work site.

Janeen and Rob.


Tuesday – A day on the farm.

Janeen took us on a tour of part of her 350 acres, including two caves.

Walking through the jungle

Into the bigger of the two caves, this thing was huge! We were told it went back 1 kilometer. The section we were in was a large cavern, almost the size of the USAid warehouse. All of this is privately owned by Janeen.

Beams of light poured through cracks in the top of the cave.

Deby is always looking for a little sunshine.

Looking out from the cave

This river goes into the cave and under the cave floor we were standing on.

Think there are any rocks in here?

Oh yea!

Next it was a short hike to cave two.

This cave was full of huge stalactites and stalagmites.

We ended the excursion with a picnic on the beach next to the river.

Today was back on the road to Rio Hondo where we reconnected with our riding partners.  The cool temperatures in the cloud forest has been replaced by 100 degree heat in the valleys. At dinner tonight we had a short meeting to plan our next few days. It looks like we will skip Honduras and ride right into El Salvador.

This was a tough post to put together because it’s just a brief, brief overview of an amazing few days. I can’t say enough about Janeen, Rob, Tara or the work of Mercy Corps. These are truly amazing people who are taking the time to care about an amazing place. Check out their links, consider supporting Wings and spend some time on Rob’s website.

Whew… thanks for following. D&D 🙂 🙂





Lake Atitlan and Santiago

Saturday, January 26, 2013, Antiqua Guatemala

See, it helps if I put the day, date and city I’m in when I write these posts to help me keep track of the days…. crazy. I didn’t mention that Dave’s wife Janice and her friend Faye flew down to Guatemala and have been hanging around with us for the past few days. They are two amazing women who have traveled the world and spent extended periods of their lives in other countries. I think Deby was glad for some women to hang out with.

We arrived in Panajachel (or Pana for short) Thursday evening early enough for a walk through town and dinner. Faye and Janice had been here before and recommended we take the boat across the lake in the morning to Santiago, a Mayan town on the south side of the Lago. Faye called a woman she know who worked as a guide and arranged a private guided tour of the city.

Boat ride across the lake, volcanos in the background

We were greeted by a woman demonstrating a Mayan headpiece wrapping technique that is steeped in tradition which was explained by our guide.

Just wrap around the head

Some more

All done

Deby and Faye walking with our guide, Delores, into Santiago, most of the roads in the city were better than this.

Vendors along the way

Guess what? It was market day! This one was pretty wild, you could absolutely buy anything there.

More market pictures are in the Guatemala Pictures folder online HERE

I had to take a picture of the power lines…. safety third!

The next stop was to visit the local shaman idol Mashimo in his shrine, Delores filled us in on the story of the Mayan religion, their deities and traditions as we walked the steep and narrow roadways.

The path to the shrine

I didn’t take any pictures at the shrine because there was a charge. Mashimo was a wooden mask under a cowboy hat with a big cigar sticking out of his mouth. He was covered in woven cloths and was sitting in a chair in a room smoky with burning incense. On each side was a man who where the local medicine men ready to cure any ailments that needed curing. Every item represented a tradition with a long explanation, it was very interesting but I wasn’t sure exactly what to make of the whole deal.

Next stop was a special ceremony in a small room filled with incense smoke. Our group of seven tall gringos ducked into the back door to observe a blessing that was going on. In the corner was an older man playing a Mayan folk song (with a long tradition) on a out of tune guitar. He played the same two chords over and over while singing a song that was more like a chant. In honor of the large group of guests they decided to to give us a blessing as well, who am I to argue? Turns out that later in the day we probably needed it. Part of the blessing was passing of the swinging incense thing to each of us, we were instructed to swing it under our armpits. Nice, given our lack of showers it certainly served two purposes. The second part of the ceremony involved drinking Coca Cola out of Styrofoam cups, the phrase “drinking the cool aide” came to mind  but it seemed safe enough. I managed one picture.

The next stop was one of the best parts of the trip, Delores took us to meet her mother who is a weaver.

Her “studio” was a mat on the floor of her house, which was mostly some tin over a couple of walls.

Here she is demonstrating her craft. This wasn’t a demo just for the tourists, she sits here everyday weaving, did I mention she’s 70 years old?

This is serious business, look how she sits, ouch.

We found out she has work in an art museum in Belgium after being discovered by a curator who was visiting Guatemala. Deby bought one of her beautiful pieces for the asking price which was a screaming bargain, about eight US dollars.

I took a few more pictures on the way back, these things are used as cabs and are everywhere. They drive like crazy!

It started to rain pretty hard on the boat ride back across the lake, here is a picture of Jim demonstrating the proper wearing of foul weather gear. Did I mention he used to be a Commander in the Navy?

The weather cleared by the time we were ready to leave for the short 45 kilometer ride to Antigua. As usual traffic was crazy and the group was immediately split up when we exited the hotel driveway. Deby and I were in the rear trying to catch the other bikes when we totally lost sight of them on the winding road out of town. Somehow we thought they turned left at an intersection and turned around. About that time my GPS (now I know why they call it the Devil Box) said the route was behind us and since I thought that’s where the group went I followed the GPS. Bad move. We rode pretty far before it seemed clear we were going a different way than the other four bikes. I should have followed the rule and went back to the last place we were all together for a re-start. It turns out the rest of the gang did and was waiting for us. Somehow Deby and I decided to continue on our way since it was a short distance and I had an address in Antiqua. I learned later that they were on the NEW highway 1 and we were on the OLD highway 1 which explains why I kept seeing highway 1 signs and mileposts. The old highway was paved (barely) and in rough shape. I kept expecting the road to just end anytime. The worst part was when a bridge over a river was out and we had to detour and cross 2 foot deep water on the bikes. I wasn’t in the mood to take pictures and was worried that I should have went back and everyone was going to be really pissed. In the end it all worked out and we met about 7:00 pm in time for dinner. Yes, they were slightly upset but in a nice way (thanks guys, I deserved it).

Today was spent hanging around Antigua, here are a few more pictures

Deby loved the colors

One of the local churches

Love these doors

And walls

And women

Deby thought I needed a picture of the fountain

I saw a professional photographer taking a picture of this cart so when he was done I stood where he was and took this picture.

This old church from the 1500s was damaged in an earthquake and is now just in ruins. It shares a wall with the B&B we stayed in It is run by Marie DeLattre, an amazing French woman with stories that kept going all night. Of course, it was market day in front of the church.

Tomorrow we are heading to Choban where Janice has arranged a stay at a farm where there is a Mercy Corp project going on.

Hey – I have my new SPOT tracker and I should have it on tomorrow. I think the same link will work. SPOTWALLA LINK

Thanks for following!

Donn and Deby 🙂 🙂











Checking In

Thursday January 24, 2013,Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Hi, just a short post today as I’m on a slow connection and my battery is getting low…. sorry for the lack of posts but we haven’t had WiFi for the last few nights. We crossed into Guatemala yesterday and blasted to Chichicastenago so we could get to one of the best markets (so they say) in Central America. We arrived well after dark which was crazy because the road is solid switchbacks and there were trucks, buses, kids and animals everywhere.

The border crossing:


I’ll try to upload a few pictures here but I created a SmugMug Gallery for all my Guatemala pictures, click HERE to see them.

The market was crazy, crowded and fun. Here are a few shots that hopefully give you the idea

On Tuesday we were at the ruins in Palenque wow is all I can say.

Need to wrap up. I still don’t have my SPOT, according to my tracking info it’s on “hold” somewhere. We are doing fine and having fun. Thanks for your comments, we read them all! Hopefully we’ll be at a hotel with wifi soon so I can do a longer post.

Remember you can follow Mikes SPOT HERE.