This is the place for photos and reflections of my visits to Latin America beginning in 2012. Previous blogs are linked on the main pages of my photo collections on flickr. HAPPY TRAILS!

Friday, November 15, 2019


Susie Jones and I met in kindergarten and were friends through high school. After that we sort of 'lost' each other for awhile, reconnecting 6 or 8 years ago and discovering a lot of common interests. She recently purchased a hostel on the beach in El Salvador and I have a place on Lake Atitlán in Guatemala, so we planned a trip split between those 2 countries, then tacked on a fun stop in Belize since we're both scuba divers.

We headed to the airport from her house in Gresham with an Uber driver at 2:45 on a Friday morning in mid October and had a smooth transition south with a quick but easy layover in Houston.

Anyone who has flown into Belize City and headed out of the plane and onto the tarmac likely remembers how it feels like a leap of faith to breath in air that humid. Note the “feels like 112” below.

Our 3rd flight of the day was 10 minutes in this small plane; we landed on Caye Caulker around 3pm.

We explored a bit on the bikes our lodging provides for us, enjoyed the sunset, met up with Susie’s daughter Jamaica and her traveling partner Derrick, and ate street burritos and pupusas before heading back to our lodging for the night. 

We spent most of today on a sailing tour with a tour op called Raggamuffin, starting with a visit to the tarpon reserve on the back side of the island.

Then we boarded the ‘Ragga King’ for a sailing trip that included 4 snorkeling stops before we headed back to Caye Caulker as the sun was setting: a chance meeting with manatees, Coral Gardens, Shark Ray Alley, and Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Below are a few favorite photos from this well-spent day.

Susie and I dove twice the following day in the Caye Caulker Reserve and twice the day after that near Ambergris Caye. Day 1 it was just the 2 of us, the captain and the dive master. I didn’t bring my dive camera so only have surface or near to the surface photos. In addition to interesting finger canyon geology, a great array of coral and gorgonians, a nice variety of fish including stoplight parrot fish and lots of angel fish, we got to swim with wild dolphins TWICE.

In the evening we went seahorse spotting and had a nice dinner out with Jamaica and Derrick.

Buying Key Lime pie from the cake lady

This is our dive shop, French Angel Expeditions.

The owner challenged me to darts while we waited for others to arrive. I have not played darts and was grateful shot #1 stuck anywhere. Here are shots #2 and 3. I must never play darts again because I won’t be able to compete with this former glory.

Between dives on the 2nd dive day we had lunch on Ambergris Caye - ceviche!

With our captain (in blue) and dive master (on left) and fellow divers from Israel, Germany, and Croatia. Today’s highlights were a large hawksbill sea turtle, queen and princess parrotfish, and lots of black tip reef sharks and nurse sharks.

Here are a few last photos from Caye Caulker:

Our dock at Colinda Cabañas

Our room and trusty bikes

One last sunset

The local basketball courts (we ate from a local food cart and watched the action like Mike and I did our last visit)

My favorite restaurant on Caye Caulker, Wish Willy - Susie had blackened fish and I had lobster, total was about $20.

Mike and I get a kick out of the owner/chef Maurice - he sat down and ate his dinner with us.

On to El Salvador!

The host of our Airbnb in San Salvador arranged for a driver to pick us up at the airport and take us by a neighborhood of pupuserías before heading to her home. Pupusas are filled tortillas - beans and cheese, chicken and squash, any of dozens of combinations. We bought 2 drinks, 2 pupusas each plus 3 to go for the driver and the total was about $4.50.

After a good night’s sleep we had a nice breakfast before heading out for a day of sightseeing with Edwin and Josué of EC Tours.

First stop was the huge El Boqueron crater which included a nice hike.

With Josué apprentice guide and Edwin (owner/guide) of EC Tours.

This is a motmot, one of my favorite kinds of birds. They say, ‘mot mot’.

Next stop was the archaeological site Joya de Cerén, a pre-Columbian farming village that was rapidly covered with ash from a volcanic eruption around 600 A.D. The people escaped, leaving behind an incredibly well-preserved and rare look into how the ‘regular’ ancient Maya lived; most sites show just the temples and homes of the powerful.

We stopped for a traditional lunch before heading to Lake Coatepeque. It reminded Susie and me of Crater Lake, island and all.

Josué hadn’t visited any of these places before.

This is the colonial city of Santa Ana

Final stop for the day: our room for 3 nights at Hotel Juayúa in the mountain town of Juayúa. 

The neighborhood pupusería

The next day we had a grand adventure - the 7 Waterfalls Tour offered by a hostel here in Juayúa. We hiked about 15 kilometers (9+ miles), starting through town, then through agricultural land, and eventually into the jungle.

Parts of the trail were steep and required ropes.

It was actually dozens, maybe hundreds of waterfalls but 7 huge ones and all of them are fresh springs coming out of the mountain.

The biggest challenge was rappelling down a a huge waterfall with ropes but no harnesses. (That sounds a little ridiculous but seemed like a great idea at the time.) Our guides Yesenia and Mario helped us figure out where to put our feet - Susie and I both loved it. Susie took the 1st 2 photos from the top as I headed down and I took the next 2 of her from the bottom - what you see in the last 2 photos is less than half the distance we descended.

The group plus a few of other waterfalls and our picnic lunch

The next day we took a bus along La Ruta de las Flores (Route of the Flowers) to a hot spring. We ran into our guides from last Thursday!

So many flowers around Juayúa and the park in the middle of town is beautiful.

Too many dogs - the woman on the right had had enough (note stick).

Every Saturday and Sunday there’s a massive Feria Gastronómica (Food Fair) with incredible combinations of food and beverages.

This friendly gal was happy with my leftovers and liked having her picture taken. :-)

Here are a few pictures of the hotel garden - the tree has dozens of orchids and epiphytes.


A sunrise worth waking up for! Not that we had a choice, though - I suspect someone in the neighborhood was having a birthday and the ‘bombas’ and firecrackers started around 5:30am.

Susie and Jamaica and Derrick and I headed from Juayúa to Los Cóbanos on the El Salvadoran coast on Sunday - 2 buses + something less than a mile on foot.

We stayed at Casa Garrobo, the hostel Susie and Jamaica purchased earlier this year and are fixing up - a really unique, beautiful spot of earth.

We explored the town of Los Cóbanos

and enjoyed the beach

At low tide it’s shallow and calm and you can snorkel!

This is a ‘garrobo’, the hostel's eponym. :-)

The food at the hostel is fantastic thanks to manager/chef Francisco!

October 29th would have been my mother's 100th birthday. I try to always carve pumpkins in her honor but sometimes pumpkins aren't available. Love you, Mom!

The next day I took a shuttle from El Salvador to Antigua, Guatemala, where I spent a night at my favorite little hotel there, Casa Cristina. It was gorgeous at dawn on the roof top terrace. The 2nd picture is Volcán Fuego erupting in pink.

The market was an explosion of flowers - Día de los Muertos is this week.

I wandered around the misty cemetery and passed an interesting old house.

This is the façade of the cathedral in the center of town.

Volcán Agua

Arco de Santa Catalina

Breakfast at Fernando’s with good cat Misha, 15 years old.

Then I headed by road and boat to our little home away from home in San Pedro La Laguna on Lake Atitlán, Ti Wachooch.

The last few days have been filled with the color and music and intense culture of Día de los Muertos - Day of the Dead. It is mainly a celebration but is also serious business - so many lives to be honored and so many of them gone too soon.

Days ahead the preparations start - cleaning and painting the family tombs and hanging banners in the cemetery and surrounding streets and eventually adding flowers and candles.

Kites are a Maya symbol of communicating with the heavens and the breeze has cooperated this year. The little brother here is helping an older brother with disabilities get the kite launched - a cute scene until you note the high wall and power lines - yikes.

I visited several times a day to see different moods and activities. The night of November 1st is a busy night with families placing candles and flowers.

The woman on the right is Josefa’s mother and the others are 2 of her grandkids and her sister with daughter and 2 adult grandkids - lovely people.

November 2nd there’s a huge mass at 7am.

In the afternoon the music starts. It’s still going today - a wonderful band has its base just down the hill from here and I’ve had windows open, listening most of the day.

These girls were sitting with their mother at the cemetery entrance selling pine needles to decorate the graves. I wanted to tell the younger sister I liked the art work she had created but couldn't get my point across.

The girl on the left is one of our Beca Project students with her grandmother. Lucia lost her mother 6 years ago and her father last January - she asked if I would visit the graves with her and take this picture. Life is hard for most of our students but the rest of them have at least one parent. :-(

Today we switched gears and headed up the hill above town to the enormous futbol (soccer) stadium: me, Josefa, Mynor, Antonio (9), and Manuel (15). Josefa’s brother Lipe’s family sat on my other side; Lipe and Mynor went up early to nab seats.

The home team won 4-0, an important play-off game. The crowd went wild!

The super fan bleachers at the end include a band section, lots of green smoke, and this huge banner they unfurl with each goal and then roll back up again 30 seconds later.

We walked back down through town and down near the lake to the home of Mynor’s parents for a wonderful lunch. It is really sweet of them to include me in their family gatherings and the food is always traditional and spectacular.

I enjoy the view out the back windows (dining room and bathroom) at least as much as the view of the lake out the front. The peak of Volcán San Pedro is over 10,000’.

I went birding twice last week with Mynor, Josefa, and their younger son Antonio; the 2nd time Josefa’s brother and his kids joined us. I am not much of a bucket list person but seeing a resplendent quetzal in the wild has been a dream of mine. Success! Here are some of my favorite photos from the 2 trips, first near Santiago and the 2nd in the Los Tarrales Natural Reserve near San Lucas Toliman, both on Lake Atitlán.

A toast to our guide Rolando Tol González and his able assistant before heading back to San Pedro!

A highlight of every fall visit to San Pedro is attending the graduations of our Beca Project students. I attended 3 this year and the first one was special because I was asked to be one of the sponsors of the graduation, a 'Madrina'. Dear friends Mynor and Luis were Padrinos; here we are ahead of the graduation in the garden of the Cooperativa Spanish School where they are directors.

We had 6 students graduate that day. Luis and I spoke and the 3 of us got to hand out diplomas. 

I received this beautiful hand painted 'diploma' and a present that contained a lovely traditional huipil and 'faja' (wrapped belt) which I wore to the graduations later in the week.

The 2nd and 3rd graduations I attended had 1 Beca Project student each. 

The graduations are long - often 4-5 hours - and the audience provides additional entertainment. The woman in the 2nd photo was a choir member who performed with her group, then sat next to me, eventually browsing through facebook behind the cover of her choir notebook.

I am often invited to dinners and celebrations including this one at the home of the graduate pictured above.

Another favorite activity is taking Beca Project students and their families shopping. Here are a few sample pictures from this year's shopping adventures.

Always makes me happy: running into Beca Project students, past and present including those with families.

2 more shopping photos - my favorite banana lady and Susie buying textiles 

The garden artist Delfino at La Cooperativa Spanish School

The family of La Cooperativa director Lorenzo. Some of you might remember his son from previous blog posts, pictured below in remission, who has been treated for years for an inoperable brain tumor. I’ve known him since he was younger than this little nephew and the old dog since he fit in my palm.

We spent 2 days at the new rental place Mynor and Josefa are building on the lake - amazing.

We spent our last night in Antigua and watched (at a safe distance) as Volcán Fuego erupted.

We had time for a quick walk around and breakfast before heading to the airport.

And then we headed home to Oregon. It always feels great to be home but - oh my - what an adventurous, memorable trip! HAPPY TRAILS!

There are 13 photo sets for this trip in case you're interested: