Sunday, December 25, 2005


It's starting to look like Christmas around here! Well, maybe not exactly the way that we're used to Christmas looking...

This huge artificial Christmas "tree", about a 10-minute walk from our house, is the largest public christmas tree in Xela. For some reason, besides being made from some gaudy plastic material, it is adorned with neon Gallo beer signs, both on top and all over the sides. At night it looks more like a bar district! (Gallo, which is pronounced "GAH-yo" and means "rooster", is Guatemala's most popular lager.) And you thought rampant commercialism was out of hand in the USA? Well then, check this one out...

...the Pepsi tree! (Also not a real tree, this one consists of fir branches draped over chicken wire) This one is the 2nd largest public tree in Xela, and it's located just outside La Pradera, which is Xela's version of a shopping mall.

Yet another of the ubiquitous "Gallo Trees". This one is in Flores, in the department of Peten. As it turns out, we spent our Christmas in Peten, camping at the beautiful Finca Ixobel.


Saturday, November 05, 2005


Satellite image of Hurricane Stan on October 4, 2005

On October 4, 2005, Hurricane Stan made landfall in eastern Mexico and quickly dispersed southward into the western regions of Central America. The damage caused by the hurricane was really extensive throughout many parts of Guatemala - not because of high winds, but rather due to 4-5 days of non-stop rain, which caused almost every river and stream in the mountainous parts of the country to overflow (some quite severely).

This highway was completely washed out by what is a normally small stream passing through a culvert under the road. During Hurricane Stan, the stream apparently swelled to more than 10 times its normal size.

The result of an overflowing stream coming through someone's house, in San Marcos La Laguna. (Thanks to for the photo) Images like this can be seen throughout many of the mountainous areas of Guatemala, as the heavy rains caused virtually every stream in the country to overflow and turn into raging rivers for several days.

In some cases, the heavy rains caused entire mountainsides to collapse in huge landslides. One particularly bad landslide buried an entire village near Lake Atitlan, killing more than 500 people.

The aftermath of a deadly mudslide near Tacana, in western Guatemala. This mudslide killed around 80 people.

Besides the more than 800 people killed, tens of thousands more were severely affected, with many losing homes, crops, livestock, and other necessities for their survival and economic livelihood. (Read more about the damage here)

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005


The month of October 2005 was our wedding month, and we took the whole month off from Guatemala and went back to the US to visit family and friends.

The wedding itself was at Carley's parents' house in Tupelo, Mississippi, at around sunset on October 15. It was a beautiful, intimate ceremony on the back patio, with about 40 of our closest family and friends (mostly Carley's friends from Mississippi).

Carley's parents' house in Tupelo, Mississippi, where we spent the first 2 weeks of our trip.

The deck behind Carley's parents' house, where we had our wedding ceremony

The proud father and mother of the bride (at the rehearsal dinner)

Carley and long-time friends from high school and college, at the rehearsal dinner

Rob escorts his mom Karen into the ceremony

Here comes the bride!

Happily married!

The subsequent reception inside the house featured an incredible spread of food and drink, and we relished the spotlight as everyone tried to get a minute or two to talk with us.

The reception gets started. Our flower girl and niece, Adrianna, is at Carley's side.



After the reception, with Rob's sister Brandi and brother Chris (the best man for our ceremony)

Post-wedding bliss

Here you can view an on-line photo album of the wedding ceremony and reception. (free, but registration required)

*** We're expecting to have more photos of the wedding ceremony and reception available soon, so you may want to check back here. ***

At the end of the night we headed off on a quick little "southern honeymoon".

After 2 weeks in Mississippi, it was time to fly out to San Francisco, California, where the majority of our friends live these days. On October 22, exactly a week after the wedding ceremony, we held a blowout party for about 100 of our closest friends at the beautiful and classy Cafe Du Nord, featuring 2 live bands (Somethingfour and Alan Hertz Project), an open bar, and an awesome spread of food.

Ellen gives a toast at the San Francisco party

Our friends waiting to toast us


Uh oh...tequila shots!

View the official photo album, thanks to our friend and ace photographer Sue Weiand.

Also here are a couple of other on-line photo albums of the party, thanks to our friends Elaine and Noah:

After the wedding party on October 22, we headed up to beautiful Mendocino County in northern California for a 4-day "California honeymoon". On this trip we enjoyed mineral hot springs, massage, spa, fantastic gourmet vegetarian food, wine-tasting at local wineries, and hiking on the spectacular Mendocino coastline.

After the honeymoon, we spent one more week in San Francisco, where we got to catch up some more with our friends, as well as catch some concerts by 2 of our favorite bands, Galactic and Sound Tribe Sector 9.

On November 3, thoroughly blissed out from our fantastic wedding vaction in the US, we got on a plane and flew back to Guatemala.

Check out our "southern honeymoon"
Check out our "California honeymoon"
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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

WEDDING TRIP - Mendocino

For our "northern California honeymoon" we visited spectacular Mendocino County. Mendocino is a large, rural county about 3 hours north of San Francisco. Its primary agriculture is wine production, though it's not nearly as touristy as Napa and Sonoma counties (closer to San Francisco). Most of the area is heavily forested and undeveloped, and reportedly a large number of marijuana farms are tucked away in the wooded hills.

We spent our time in two picturesque towns. First was Ukiah, located in a wine-producing valley a couple of hours from the coast. Here we stayed at the famous Vichy Springs resort.

At Vichy Springs, we enjoyed their famous hot mineral baths. These particular baths have been popular for 150 years, and the list of distinguished guests includes 3 US presidents as well as famous authors Mark Twain and Jack London. One eason for their popularity is that they are the only naturally warm and carbonated baths in North America. When you sit in the bath, your body is covered by tiny, stimulating bubbles, almost as if you were in a warm champagne bath. Very nice!

Somebody bring me a pillow!

At Vichy Springs, we enjoyed a beautiful hike through the autumn forest of inland Mendocino.

Our hike took us to a pretty little waterfall, where Carley went for a quick swim in the icy cold water

Rob "goes for a ride" on a rusted-out old truck we found out in the woods

Carley poses for a "calendar shot" with the truck

In Ukiah we visited the Parducci Winery and tasted several of the excellent wines that this area is famous for. In Mendocino, wine-tastings are free, unlike the more touristy Napa and Sonoma wineries. At this winery they even gave us a free bottle of wine as a gift after we told them we were on our honeymoon

Grapes ready for the harvest at Parducci Winery


The second part of our California honeymoon brought us to the beautiful little coastal town of Mendocino.

The tiny town of Mendocino clings to the cliffs in the distance

Here we stayed in a luxurious little cabin at Sweetwater Spa.

Carley enjoys a glass of wine on the deck outside our sweet little cabin at Sweetwater Spa, in Mendocino

The view from inside our cabin at Sweetwater Spa. From the large picture window we could see the ocean beyond the trees. In typical fashion, almost the whole cabin is constructed from the prized local redwoods, which are endangered from over-utilization. Even the wood for our fireplace was redwood. We did have a minor guilt trip over all of this, but then we just had another glass of wine and forgot about it. After all, this was our honeymoon, right?

The 2-person jacuzzi in our bathroom at Sweetwater Spa. Red wine (Zinfandel in this case) is a good accompaniment to a jacuzzi session.

We hiked around several spectacular parks along the Mendocino coastline...

...including Glass Beach in the town of Fort Bragg

A couple of seals chilling on a rock at Glass Beach

The beautiful Mendocino coast

A beautiful secluded beach in Mendocino (the water was far too cold for swimming here!)

A river meets the sea at Russian Gulch State Park, crossing under the coastal Highway 1

The ocean has carved a tunnel under the land here...

...which emerges in this inland crater called a "blowhole"

Rob poses with the "blowhole" tunnel

These little sea plants called "sea palms" grow on numerous coastal rocks in the Mendocino area. They are a local delicacy, and we enjoyed a gourmet vegetarian meal one night that featured the sea palm in a Japanese fusion-style of cuisine.

The prevailing political attitude in Mendocino County. At least sanity prevails in this part of the USA!

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Check out our "southern honeymoon" in Mississippi and Tennessee

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

WEDDING TRIP - Mississippi and Tennessee

The first thing we did upon arriving in Mississippi was take the 90-minute drive up to Memphis, Tennessee, to see a Widespread Panic concert. Widespread Panic is a southern jam-rock band from Georgia that we've both seen a number of times in the past 15 years, but we've never seen them together. The concert took place at Mud
Island Amphitheatre, a nice, relatively small venue located on an island in the middle of the Mississippi River. The concert was a great opportunity for us to reconnect with a part of US culture that we had really missed during our 6 months abroad, and we really enjoyed the parking lot scene outside the show, where traveling Panic fans were selling a variety of food (including excellent veggie burritos!), quality microbrews (much better than Guatemalan beer!), clothes, crafts, and other goodies.

The view of downtown Memphis from the concert venue at Mud Island

Widespread Panic in action

After the wedding ceremony at Carley's parents' house in Tupelo, we took a quick "southern honeymoon" trip. The trip started on our wedding night with a stay at Carley's parents' house on the shore of Pickwick Lake, a reservoir on the Tennessee River located right on state lines separating Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama. A skinny-dipping foray into the chilly lake waters around midnight really stimulated all of our senses to full appreciation of this incredible day that we will certainly cherish the rest of our lives. Afterwards we enjoyed sipping wine on the porch overlooking the beautiful lake.

An aerial view of the cove at Pickwick. The house where we stayed is located just above the smaller white rectangle on the far right of the photo

A backyard view of Pickwick Lake

The next day we drove up to Carley's old college town, Nashville, Tennessee, with Carley's brother Barrett and his girlfriend Molly. Our destination was an NFL football game featuring the hometown Tennessee Titans. The Titans lost the game, but we couldn't have cared less, as we enjoyed the beautiful day in the sun, tailgating in the parking lot with the excellent leftover food (including shrimp cocktail!) from the wedding ceremony the day before, and the tasty beers on tap inside the stadium (especially the excellent locally brewed Yazoo Pale Ale).

The stadium in Nashville

The view from our VIP club seats, thanks to Carley's dad!

After the game, we walked around the Vanderbilt University campus and visited some of Carley's old haunts from her college days. We spent the night in Nashville and had dinner at the South Street Crab Shack and Smokehouse, a delightful southern-style treat.

For the final leg of our "southern honeymoon", we made the 4-hour drive back to Carley's parents' house in Mississippi on the Natchez Trace Parkway. This parkway is part of the US National Park Service and stretches almost 450 miles from Nashville down to southern Mississippi, passing right through Carley's hometown of Tupelo. Carley, after several years driving on and at least as many speeding tickets from the Trace, finds it anywhere from boring to infuriating (50 mph on a completely straight road for 4+ hours? come on...), but Rob was completely delighted by the lack of billboards, houses, businesses, commercial buses and trucks, or almost any other sign of civilization except the 2-lane road, bordered on both sides by a seemingly endless forest. This superbly-designed road is truly a national treasure, flowing through the countryside like a meandering stream, the wooded buffer on both sides of the road obscuring all the while the numerous towns and farmer's fields we were surely passing. Occasionally we stopped at a scenic vista or to hike on one of the numerous nature trails and gawk at a waterfall or a beaver dam.

Natchez Trace Parkway

Fall Hollow, a beautiful little waterfall alongside the Natchez Trace Parkway

Another cascade at Fall Hollow

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