Sunday, 24 February 2019

Postcard from Guatemala City

Greetings! In January I took a trip to Guatemala in Central America. I wrote three blog posts on the first three stops in my itinerary as follows:

Today I'm sharing my tour and photos in Guatemala City, the capital of Guatemala and the largest city in Central America. Its official name is Nueva Guatemala de la AsunciĆ³n (New Guatemala of the Assumption). The population of Guatemala City is about two million, however, with the addition of the neighbouring municipalities, the total increases to about four million.

Guatemala City is divided into twenty-two zones, which are numbered in a spiral fashion starting in downtown Guatemala City. I decided to book a half-day city tour to explore the various city zones. The tour included hotel pick-up and drop-off. There were eight people, including me, in the tour group, plus an English-speaking tour guide and a driver. Our shuttle van could accommodate twenty people so we had lots of room in the vehicle.

Our tour began with a visit to Plaza Berlin which offers a good view of Guatemala City and its surrounding mountains. From there, we made a few stops to see Iglesia Yurrita, a Catholic church known for its ornate Gothic features, and the Central Post Office which has the arch way similar to the Santa Catalina arch in Antigua.

View of Guatemala City from Plaza Berlin

Plaza Berlin, Guatemala City

Yurrita Church in Guatemala City

Main Post Office in Guatemala City

We continued on to Central Plaza, also known as Constitution Plaza, at the heart of Guatemala City. Here, we viewed the Cathedral, built between 1782 and 1815, and the National Palace, one of the most important Guatemalan architectural achievements of the last century. Formerly the seat of the government, it is now a museum and venue for government affairs.

Cathedral in Guatemala City

National Palace in Guatemala City

Constitution Plaza , Guatemala City

The tour also took us through the residential, the educational, and the business districts of the city to gain a full understanding of life in Guatemala City. We visited a gated residential district where many embassies and consulates are located. Photos are not allowed in this area. We also viewed at a distance zones that are deemed unsafe to visitors due to gang-related crimes, and passed by the Zoo.

The Zoo, Guatemala City

We walked through the city's Historic Centre, part of it is being converted to pedestrian-only area, and the Central Market where fresh produce and colourful handicrafts are visual treats.

Fruit in Central Market, Guatemala City

Fruit juice selection in my hotel

Guatemala City is a clean city as the municipal government has educated and encouraged its residents to keep the city clean. I was pleased with my decision to take the Guatemala City tour. It covered a lot of ground in three and a half hours. The tour guide was very knowledgeable, and with a small group, the pace was relaxing. This is my last stop in Guatemala, before flying home from La Aurora International Airport (airport code GUA) the next day.

My trip to Guatemala, known as the Land of Eternal Spring, was amazing! I hope you've enjoyed visiting (or revisiting) Guatemala through my lens.

I'd love to hear your comments.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Winter Fun List Final Update

Greetings! About two months ago, I posted my Winter Fun List for the period of 2018.12.21 to 2019.03.19 here, and provided my first update here where more than half of my list was checked off. Today, I'm sharing my Winter fun list final update.


1. Enjoy my family holiday party: Yes, as mentioned in my Update #1 here.

2. Start the New Year 2019 at home: Yes, as mentioned in my Update #1 here.

3. Visit the Winter Flower Show: Yes, as written here and here.

4. Explore Guatemala in January: Yes, my itinerary took me to beautiful colonial Antigua, a colourful market in Chichicastenango, and a wonderful boat trip on Lake Atitlan to visit Santiago village. I was thrilled to see the active Fuego volcano. I plan to write a post on my stay in Guatemala City next week. The warm weather and vibrant colours in Guatemala made me feel happy while I was there and long after I returned home to our winter.

Guatemalan woman in Santiago village

5. Attend the Icefest event in February: Yes! I greatly enjoyed a 'fit and fun' outing to Icefest 2019 and wrote about it here. This is an outdoor event that showcases incredible ice sculptures and live ice carving demonstrations in Yorkville Park, in the heart of Toronto. This year's theme is Hollywood North, inspired by the success of the film industry in Toronto, and Yorkville known as the home of the stars. On the day of my visit, the high temperature was minus 5C, with the windchill it felt like minus 10C so there was no chance for the ice to melt :)

Icefest 2019 Hollywood North

6. Check out the Ice Breakers 2019 winter exhibition: Yes! I checked out the five winners of the Ice Breakers 2019 International Design Competition. They were installed outdoors, with the theme Signal Transmission. A post is coming up on this topic.

My kind of Christmas tree

7. Photograph snow-covered objects: Yes, as shown in the header photo and in my photo collage below. We've had a few snow storms in the past four weeks so I got to enjoy the beauty of winter during my morning walks. Mother Nature is truly amazing because she usually gives us a break with several good days after each snow storm and all is right again.

2019 winter scenery

8. Book a trip in the Spring with my sister: Yes! We've booked a guided tour to Croatia, Bosnia, and Slovenia. We're going in March. I'm very excited about this trip for the sights that we'll see and the memories we'll make.

So I've completed all eight items on my Winter Fun List and winter is officially still here until March 20. For the next four weeks, I plan to continue with my goals for 2019, read to prepare for my upcoming travel, and do some spring cleaning at home.

A friendly reminder that our next monthly Wellness link up is on Wednesday, March 13. The optional prompt is Indoor or Outdoor Fitness. I look forward to reading what you have to say.

How are things going with you? I'd love to hear your comments.

Inlinkz Link Party

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Wellness Post #2: Icefest 2019

Welcome to the second Wellness link up of 2019! We had a great kick-off in January. My first Wellness post of the year, A Fresh Start with Winter Flowers, was posted here. Feel free to join in on the fun with your recent or past wellness-related posts every second Wednesday of the month.


I believe I'm doing well with my health goals which include daily meditation, walking 6x/ week, strength workouts 3x/ week, yoga 2x/ week, and swimming 1x/ week. While my meditation is fifteen minutes long, my walks and swimming sessions are forty-five minutes each. My strength workouts and yoga sessions are one hour each.

I use a simple sheet to keep track of all my goals for 2019, and write a monthly wrap up on my blog. My January wrap up, including my Health activities, is posted here.


For this month's Wellness post, since the optional prompt is Healthy Heart and February is Heart month, I planned a 'fit and fun' outing to Icefest 2019. This is an outdoor event that showcases ice sculptures and live ice carving demonstrations. Its location is in Bloor-Yorkville area, in the heart of Toronto. This year's theme is Hollywood North, inspired by the success of the film industry in Toronto, and Yorkville known as the home of the stars.

The Icefest event sponsors also support the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation. Volunteers from the Heart and Stroke Foundation were on site to accept donations and answer questions. Their banner says "Life. We don't want you to miss it." I'd encourage readers to have a look at the Get Healthy section on their web site for heart-healthy tips on how to eat well, get moving, maintain healthy weight, stop smoking (if you smoke), and manage your stress.

    • Choose a point of interest: Icefest 2019.
    • Bring what I need: Warm clothing, winter boots, a hearty winter spirit, my purse, and camera.
    • Arrive at the start time before the crowd arrives.

    • Walk briskly for 20 minutes outdoors to arrive at the event location.
    • Walk around to view the ice sculptures and take photos for about 1 hour.
    • Choose a nice spot in a coffee shop to warm up and reflect after.

    1. Visual: There were about thirty amazing ice sculptures on display and a dozen live ice carving demonstrations. I include some of the photos that I took below.

    Lights, Camera, Action!

    Film reels, paparazzi, and an iconic Oscar

    An iconic Oscar, cinema facade, and a giant popcorn


    Director's chair


    Marilyn Monroe ice sculpture



    Maple Leaf Hollywood North

    Car Crashing the Berlin Wall

    Maple Leaf and Oscar

    There were several more ice sculptures to promote the local businesses. Yorkville Park was also nicely decorated with lights and red balls. The park must sparkle at night with the lights and the crystal-clear ice sculptures.

    Light decorations at Yorkville Park

    Red ball decorations at Yorkville Park

    Yorkville Park

    2. Auditory: The ice carving competitors were working hard using various saws and carving tools. The spectators commented on the ice sculptures and the work in progress. Icefest Lounge had live DJs who played a special selection of music. It was a fun and festive atmosphere.

    Ice carving in progress

    Ice carving in progress

    3. Olfactory: The aroma from food trucks, hot chocolate stands, and surrounding coffee shops and restaurants were welcoming on a chilly day. Sassafraz Patio, one of the local restaurants, featured Icefest cocktails and hot beverages.

    4. Tactile: Spectators could touch the ice sculptures. Many people posed to take pictures at the Icefest photo booth and next to the ice sculptures. Some even climbed to sit on the giant ice Director's chair.

    Icefest 'Photo Booth'

    • Raised heart rate from the brisk walk outdoors.
    • An enjoyable walk in Bloor-Yorkville area in the heart of Toronto.
    • Positive sensory experiences.
    • A coffee break to relax and warm up.

    OVERALL RATING - I gave this outing 5 out of 5 points, one point for each of the following:
    • Affordability: Admission to the event is free.
    • Elements that support wellness: The site is walkable, with a small park nearby.
    • Fun: The ice sculptures were impressive and artistic.
    • New experience: It was my first visit to Icefest 2019.
    • Uniqueness: The Icefest is annual and its theme is unique every year.

    I was pleased with how well this winter outing turned out. I left the Icefest feeling energized and joyful. The brisk walk and the incredible ice displays were good for my heart and mind.

    Be kind to your heart and have a happy Valentine's day!

    Heart-shaped #BeKind ice sculpture

    How are you keeping your heart healthy? I'd love to hear your comments.

    Inlinkz Link Party

    Saturday, 9 February 2019

    Boat Trip on Lake Atitlan and Santiago Village

    Greetings! In January, I visited Guatemala in Central America. My itinerary took me to Antigua, Chichicastenango market, Lake Atitlan, Santiago Atitlan village, and Guatemala City.

    I had a wonderful stay in Antigua, one of Guatemala's former capitals and a UNESCO World Heritage site. You might like to see my post on Antigua here. From Antigua, I booked a shuttle van service to visit the open-air market in Chichicastenango. You might like to see the colourful handicrafts and textiles that I posted here.

    From Chichicastenango, I continued on and stayed overnight in Panajachel, the gateway to Lake Atitlan and the twelve indigenous villages around the lake. The next morning I woke up to a beautiful view of Lake Atitlan at sunrise.

    I took a boat ride across Lake Atitlan to visit Santiago Atitlan village and had a fantastic time there. I interacted with a few local women, visited the village church and market, and explored the village on foot, before taking another boat ride back to Panajachel.


    Guarded by the volcanoes Atitlan, San Pedro, and Toliman, Lake Atitlan is a great combination of scenic beauty, peaceful atmosphere, and rich in Mayan culture. The Lake is Guatemala's national and international main attraction.

    On the morning of my visit, the weather was sunny, with clear blue skies, and the wind was calm as I waited for my boat to arrive. Knowing that Lake Atitlan is the deepest lake in Central America, with its maximum depth at 340 meters (1,120 ft), I was pleased to see life vests handed out to the boat passengers. The boat that I was on could accommodate twelve passengers and three crew members. Fortunately, we had a smooth ride both ways and did not need to use our life vests.

    Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

    The boat is coming!

    At first, the sound of water hitting the bottom of the boat seemed loud but I soon settled in the rhythms and enjoyed the spectacular scenery around us. The lake water glimmered in the bright sunlight. At a distance, I could see Fuego volcano actively spewed ash into the air every ten minutes or so.

    Glimmering Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

    View of active Fuego volcano from Lake Atitlan

    As we got closer to our destination, I got a better look at the surrounding volcanoes and the local fishermen. It was very peaceful and beautiful. The boat ride lasted about twenty five minutes and we soon arrived at the dock of Santiago Atitlan village.

    Volcanoes surrounding Lake Atitlan

    A fisherman in Lake Atitlan


    Santiago Atitlan (or shortened name Santiago) is one of the twelve lakeside Mayan villages around Lake Atitlan. The first inhabitants of the Lake settled here and it's where the Mayan villagers keep their traditions at its purest.

    Upon landing, I followed the pier and walked slightly uphill to the main street of the village. There are small shops and local businesses lined up on both sides of the street. No matter where I looked, it was a visual treat. Fortunately, there was no tourist crowd so I took my time to walk and enjoy the village.

    First view of Santiago Atitlan village

    Boat by the pier, Santiago Atitlan village

    Boat dock, Santiago Atitlan village

    The main street in Santiago Atitlan village

    Paintings at a local art gallery


    Santiago Atitlan village is known as a boat building and arts and crafts center by Lake Atitlan. The village is also famed for its striking purple clothing.

    I had read that if possible, visit Santiago Atitlan village on a Sunday to see literally every local woman wearing their best typical clothes as part of their traditions. Well, I was there on a Friday so when I saw two local women in a textile shop, I stopped to browse and spoke to them with my basic Spanish.

    I learned that the older lady is 73 years old and was a mid-wife in the village. Both women wore colourful tops and long skirts with a fabric belt. Their tops showed embroidered birds and flowers. The fabric belt was a mix of Mayan red and purple, the colour of Santiago Atitlan village. The older lady gave me a shy smile and showed me how she created her head dress.

    First, she let her long hair loose on one side. Then she wrapped the thick and very long red band around her hair. Next, she wrapped the band around her head several times until she reached the end of the band and tucked it neatly into the folds. It was an interesting process. The best part was she calmly sat down with her complete head dress and gave me a smile with pride. I thought she looked beautiful!

    1. Let loose of the hair to one side

    2. Wrap the band around the hair

    3. Wrap the band around the head several times

    4. Done! Here's the front

    5. Here's the back

    6. A beautiful smile with pride

    The women in the village keep the Mayan culture alive by wearing their traditional clothing. I saw a few men wearing traditional shorts or pants with embroidery, however, most village men were wearing khakis or jeans.


    Santiago Atitlan village is known for its worship of Maximon, a Saint created by Mayan priests back in the days. I visited the local church but did not take any picture inside.

    The village market was busy and lively with many local villagers when I arrived. Once again, the colourful handicrafts were eye-catching. The vegetables and fruit were fresh and abundant.

    Santiago Atitlan village market

    Making corn tortillas

    Woven baskets at Santiago Atitlan market


    There are many buses and tuk tuks in Guatemala. All the buses are painted in bright colours. One of the well-known local bus lines is Esmeralda. The public bus tickets are charged by kilometers and gas price! The tuk-tuks are usually red.

    An Esmeralda bus in Santiago Atitlan village

    A tuk-tuk in Santiago Atitlan village


    A boat ride is a wonderful way to enjoy the scenery by Lake Atitlan and the surrounding villages. Once you arrive at any of the twelve villages, it's straightforward to walk from the dock to the village main street as I had done in Santiago Atitlan.

    Santiago Atitlan boat dock

    Boats by Santiago Atitlan village

    All in all, I had a perfect day by Lake Atitlan and a wonderful visit to Santiago Atitlan village. The vibrant colours and what I experienced there will stay with me for a long time. My next and final stop is Guatemala City, before flying home.

    What do you think? I'd love to hear your comments.