Hello, faithful readers, it’s been forever. I am still in Guatemala, living in my little Antigua apartment. I’ve made some good friends here, mostly Guatemalans but a few expats as well, and am enjoying my time immensely. My Spanish has improved significantly. In one-on-one conversations I can generally hold my own in Spanish; I usually understand somewhere from 50-80% of what is being said. In group conversations its a bit more challenging for me, but I’m learning more every day. I’m no longer afraid of going into businesses by myself because I’m confident enough that I can negotiate even semi-complex transactions alone.

I will be heading back to the US to return to work at the beginning of April. I’ve decided that although I love Guatemala and firmly believe that I will end up yo-yoing back here for the rest of my life, right now, at least, is not the time for me to stay permanently.

The next two and a half months, however, hold some exciting things for me. I am a sucker for good flight deals, and with so much time on my hands I’ve been able to find some excellent sales.

First of all, this coming weekend I will be going to the east coast of Guatemala with a group of travelers, some Guatemalan, some from other nationalities, that all found each other on CouchSurfing. I have been to this area before, in July, but my visit was somewhat brief and I look forward to exploring it further. We will be taking a bus from Guatemala City to the town of Puerto Barrios and then a boat to Livingston, which is on the Caribbean. Livingston is an interesting place, accessible only by water and inhabited by the descendants of shipwrecked slaves. It has a culture that is unique in Guatemala, much more similar to Jamaica than to the Spanish/Mayan culture common to the rest of the country.

At the end of the month I’m taking a short trip to Panama, by way of Nicaragua and Costa Rica. I’ve discovered that it is frequently possible to take long layovers without paying more for the ticket, allowing me to explore extra places at no additional cost. In this case I will leave Guatemala early in the morning, then arrive in Nicaragua by mid morning. I will have five or six hours to see Nicaragua before I have to go back to the airport to catch a flight to Panama. I will spend two days in Panama, seeing the Panama Canal and exploring Panama City, then catch a flight to Costa Rica, where I will again have several hours to explore outside the airport before I catch a return flight to Guatemala. I’ll tell you, nothing motivates packing light like knowing all your luggage has to come with you on sight-seeing layovers!

My next trip will be in mid-February. This is my most recently planned trip; Avianca Airlines had a spectacular sale and I couldn’t resist the tickets which were less than a quarter of what they would normally cost. I’m going to Peru, to see Machu Picchu, which has long been a bucket-list item for me. I will spend two days in Lima, the fly to Cusco. The next day I will go on a two-day trip to Machu Piccu, one day to Agua Calientes, the town nearest the ruins, and then one day to see the site and return to Cusco. I also tentatively have tickets to climb Huayna Picchu, which is the mountain across from the ruins in all the iconic Machu Picchu pictures. The following day I am going to go to Rainbow Mountain, a location about three hours drive plus a three hour hike from Cusco where the landscape is an array of fascinating colors. I am very excited for this, although I am slightly concerned about the altitude, another reason I chose to do this trip now rather than wait.

Here in Antigua I am at 5000 feet elevation, which gives me an edge over coming to Peru from sea level. I have previously been up to 11,000 feet elevation here in Guatemala in Alta Verepaz in 2007 and suffered no ill effects, although people I was with had symptoms of altitude sickness. Altitude sickness is fairly common among tourists in Cusco, which is also at 11,000 feet. Machu Picchu itself is at only 8000 feet, so Cusco is the concern. For me, the concern is Rainbow Mountain, the hiking portion of which starts at an elevation of 14,000 feet and ascends to a maximum elevation of 16,500 feet. For reference, the summit of Mt. Rainier in Washington State is 14,409 feet and base camp at Mt. Everest is at 17,500 feet. This elevation is certainly high enough to cause issues for people ascending from sea level and even for me, with two days of adjustment in Cusco and coming from 5000 feet, its a concern. I will likely take altitude sickness medication preventative and hope for the best, because I really want to see this area.

My next trip will be in March. This is my long-planned trip to Paris, Ireland and Madrid. I will have three plus days in Paris, where I will do all the touristy things and also meet my penpal Samantha for the first time. Samantha is French and we have been penpals since we were both eight years old, so twenty years. It will be fun to finally meet her in person. Then I will head to Ireland where I will spend ten days doing a whirlwind tour of the country in a clockwise direction. Then I have a long, sight-seeing layover in Madrid and then return to Guatemala.

I’ll only be back in Guatemala for about a week before I return to the US, but even my US return is not without some sight-seeing. Because there’s a concert I want to see in New Jersey in the beginning of April, I am taking the long way home via two days in New Jersey/New York. One day will be spent with the concert, and then the following day I’ll do New York City, seeing as many iconic sights as I can in a 12 hour period or so. Then I’ll return to Seattle to go back to work, find an apartment, buy a car and become responsible.

But fear not, my travel does not end there. I am already planning a spectacular trip for November, but those plans can wait until next time!