I’m delighted to introduce a new guest blogger just in time to kick off my new blog. Anastasia Zhivotov is still in high school, but has already developed a delightful and distinctive creative voice that I believe will make you eager to visit her ancestral home in Ukraine. As you’ll also see from her post, I remain committed to a spirit of adventure, although I’m moving away from the Girls Trek Too name. Some days my posts will be shorter, in hopes that I can post more often while also devoting more time to my historical novel, Tortillas from the Chungking Cafe. And guest bloggers will continue to be welcome, in my ongoing quest to support fellow writers and share new voices with readers. In that spirit, please welcome Anastasia:
Coming Home To Someplace I’d Never Been
By Anastasia Zhivotov
After over ten years of shitty Skype calls and poorly translated emails, I was meeting my extended family. First were my great-great-uncle and his son – waiting outside baggage claim with flowers. I was barely learning to use my legs again when a hug, a kiss, and a bouquet of pink flowers came from men I’d only heard and not truly seen. I finally understood the phrase “a camera adds ten pounds” because what on Skype seemed to be a pudgy man and full-figured son were really a short well-fed uncle and a well-dressed cousin with predominant cheekbones.
Home, the place others might call Lviv, Ukraine.
Finally, after flying halfway across America and hopping along Europe, I was home. Home, where the air was thick with moisture and the clouds hung bloated with rain. Home, where women wore heels across cobble roads and men walked with their toes turned out. Home, where age was determined by width, but gender couldn’t be defined by color. Home, where the tongue was foreign but somehow I understood everything. Home, the place others might call Lviv, Ukraine.
Nov 6, 2012
Just before nine a.m., Dale and I visit the vague square of dirt next to the Hotel Aaculaax, where a sign advertises kayak rentals. It will cost us 25 quetzales (three dollars) per kayak per hour. Neither kayak is high quality. Dale’s is one of those tippy toy-kayaks in which the paddler sits perched on top with nowhere to press his knees or rest his back. Mine allows my butt to fit inside, but is so shallow my knees poke out. Dale must envy my apparent ability to rest my back against the lip of my kayak. But in fact, this offers no support, only a thin hard line of fiberglass digging into the scar from my recent back-surgery.
We shrug it off. Third-world rentals: what do we expect? Surely we can stand anything for an hour or two.
This is a tippy toy-kayak in which the paddler sits perched on top. (This is not Dale, however. I often don’t carry a camera when kayaking.)
Our paddle in the volcanic caldera of Lake Atitlán is tranquil at first. We round the lush hill called Cerro Tzankujil and skirt the pretty cove on the other side, enjoying a closer look at the homes of expats and Guatemala City weekenders. The houses are painted brightly as flowers, complementing the tropical scenery, though the owners would surely get kicked out of any Home Owners Association in America.
November 5, 2012
As Dale starts the shower, built into the natural rock of a hillside above Lake Atitlán, a natural visitor drops in on him. A mouse falls from an unseen crevice overhead to land at his feet with a plop. The mouse is stunned for a moment, so Dale puts a bucket over him and calls me in to meet his new friend. When he lifts the bucket, the mouse lies very still, understandably leery of the giants chuckling overhead. We put the bucket back over him while we discuss what to do with him.
The mouse is stunned for a moment, unable to move, so Dale puts a bucket over him and calls me in to meet his visitor.
Our discussion is interrupted by a loud, wet kerplop, as a hairball falls before our eyes and lands next to the bucket hiding our captive.
If I’d taken the Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, I would have had to share it with some 500 people a day. I prefer something off the beaten track, where I can feel more attuned with nature and experience something unique. A Community Inca Trek gave me the opportunity to venture out in a smaller group and stay in remote villages along the way.
I prefer something off the beaten track, where I can feel more attuned with nature and experience something unique.
In between long hikes, clear blue skies, archaeological beauty, and sun-blushed views of the snow-capped Peruvian Andes, I camped with locals and gained an understanding of what it’s like to live there. I also had a chance to volunteer in the villages. Many tourists don’t realize their impacts on the local environment, so it’s good to be able to give something back.
I went to Hanoi expecting to be filled with anger and rage only to leave it with a sense of hope and peace. That was in November, 2012 – my first time to visit the Vietnamese capital – during one of those business trips that I often mix with some leisurely sightseeing. Hanoi was on my must-see travel list. I was intrigued by the city’s French Indochina sine qua non. Unlike its southern counterpart – the brash, ambitious, and masculine Ho Chi Minh city – I found Hanoi refined, mystical, and feminine.
I found Hanoi refined, mystical, and feminine.
But my impression of Hanoi had to take a back seat while I sat in the cab with other journalists on a Friday afternoon. We were on our way to a center that is now home to victims of Agent Orange.
Nov 4, 2012
Today when my husband, Dale, and I leave our hotel, instead of turning left toward town, we turn right along the shoreline of Lake Atitlán. After only fifty feet, we spot the sign for the Reserva Natural del Cerro Tzankujil (Nature Reserve of Tzankujil Hill). A stone stairway leads to a loop trail, featuring a series of miradores, or viewpoints, amid tangled jungle and hanging flowers. It costs 15 quetzales, about two bucks each, to enter. The young guy who sells us our tickets says if we follow the loop to the left, we’ll see the trampolín first. We decide to turn right and save trampoline-jumping for last.
At the Reserva Natural del Cerro Tzankujil, a stone stairway leads to a loop trail featuring a series of miradores, or viewpoints.
It’s always fun and interesting to receive a visit to the Girls Trek Too blog from guest trekker Gillian Rhodes, a young American expat in Cambodia. She made the following daytrip last fall, three-and-a-half-months into her eight-month stint as a dancer/choreographer in Phnom Penh:
By Gillian Rhodes
The girl sitting next to me looks terrified. But when I say quietly, “Sok-sa-bai, own?” (How are you, little sister?), she smiles briefly, before her brow re-furrows and the look of concerned fascination returns.
When I say quietly, “Sok-sa-bai, own?” (How are you, little sister?), she smiles briefly, before her brow re-furrows.