Editor’s note: This post has an inexcusably large amount of pictures; proceed with caution.
Before I left London, Kenz and I got out for an early Valentine’s evening. In fact, we made an entire day of it. It was like old times; we walked around the city for hours, popping into stores and corners we’d never been to before.
I finally convinced her to step foot inside the Liecester Square M&M store. Depending on what you like in a city, you’d either call it an eyesore or awesome. Kenz falls into the first category. She was miserable and wore it on her sleeve, saying things like, “this is the worst place in the world.”
|Kenz's feelings on the weather, in a face.|
|Kenz's feelings on the M&M store, in a face.|
|Again, with the face.|
For Valentine’s, Kenz had booked us a couch (that’s right) at the Electric Theatre on Portobello Road. It’s a movie theatre with big, comfy leather seats, a few couches in the back, and velvet mattresses in the front row. Each seat has its own cashmere blanket as well. There’s a bar that sells all sorts of drinks, hamburgers, sausage rolls, cheese plates, and hummus. We ordered too much (per usual) and snuggled in for Hitchcock.
|View from our couch|
|Mattresses in the front|
|Happy Valentine's Day!|
It was a delightful evening.
I will say, however, that I’d been on a pretty strict diet for the preceding three weeks – one that consisted of no wheat, gluten, dairy, or sugar. I wasn’t thinking ahead to the next morning wherein I’d be boarding a nine-hour flight to Miami. I strongly recommend avoiding a fundamental change in eating habits prior to boarding a trans-Atlantic flight.
The flight was, as I’ve grown accustomed to saying, uneventful – just the way I like it. Despite an extraordinarily rude passenger in the seat next to me, it was smooth sailing.
|Quite different than sitting next to Kenz. This guy took both arm rests, had his legs splayed into my ‘area’, and even fell asleep on my shoulder…on second thought, maybe it’s just like travelling with Kenz!|
After picking me up at the airport, Papo confirmed my long-time assumption that he and I are cut from the same cloth: for the next four days, he proceeded to behave as an amateur-yet-capable-of-professional-status-tour-guide. We toured his house, went shopping for Guayaberas (traditional Cuban formal/non-formal shirts - for the wedding), ate meals with his family, toured South Beach, toured his neighborhood, toured his parents' house, toured his old high school, went to the Cuban-American eatery (Versailles), went to the gym, toured Miami’s art district a.k.a Wynwood ‘walls’, went to a Miami Heat game, and had a BBQ with several old Camp friends.
We hardly even had music on in the car, because Papo was constantly pointing out things for me to see while slamming on his breaks (for me to see something) and then gunning the gas (in order to catch up with traffic). He’s a madman in the car, claiming it’s the way all Miami natives drive, saying, “everyone in Miami assumes it’s better to be an aggressive driver – it’s a shark tank out here, bro; sink or swim.”
In fact, he used his horn more in one day than I’ve ever used it in thirteen years. “It’s really something of a social service I do,” he claimed, tongue in cheek. He’d honk if someone was "blocking the box", if someone veered a bit too close to his lane, if there was a pretty girl walking down the road, etc. Of course, there’d be a running commentary on why, in fact, he’d found it necessary to honk as well, despite the inability of the other drivers (or pedestrians) to hear him.
In the four days I was in Miami, we sat on the couch for roughly five hours. Two of those hours were devoted to the most recent movie Papo is hype on: Temple Grandin. He’d been to seen Temple speak at an event the week prior, and watched the movie when he got home. You see, Papo is the kind of guy who’d rather read books and news articles than watch a movie, so whenever he actually watches a movie that he likes, he becomes an ardent advocate for it.
I’m sure everyone has this type of person in his or her life – I know at least two more that I’m familiar with.
Each time we hung out with people, Papo asked them if they’d seen the movie; invariably they hadn’t, so Papo would begin to extol the virtues of the film, of Temple’s life, and of Claire Daines’ skill as an actor. By the end of the trip, I’d be laughing internally, anticipating the talking points he was about to embark upon. Let it be known, however, that his advocacy is not in vain; the movie is exceptional, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.
He even did that thing that people do where they watch you watching the movie. He paused it while I folded laundry because he was uncomfortable with me taking my eyes off the screen for any amount of time. I do the same exact thing to Kenz. Now I know what it feels like.
The rest of the time we were out and about. Cut from the same cloth.
|The house tour|
|Meeting Chewy, protector of the hearth|
|Papo's dad gifted me a Guayabera!|
|Papo found one of his own in the most badass Cuban store in Miami|
|Me, stunned to be wearing sunglasses and shorts|
|Outside his parents' house|
|Papo orders necessaries for us at Cafe Versailles|
|The croquetas were the best - fried pork tubules.|
|Cuban coffee. "David, you need to understand that the little cups represent how many servings are in the big one."|
|I forgot to get a translation|
Me: Hell naw!
Papo: Ok, well hold on one moment. I'm just going to investigate.
Investigate...yea right. I knew the second Papo left my side that he'd be on camera within five minutes. The team came to Versailles in order to secure interviews with local Cuban-Americans about the GOP's choice of Marco Rubio to deliver the response to the State of the Union. Papo, of course, had an opinion worthy of filming.
|"I'm just going to investigate"|
|Marinating chicken for the Camp reunion BBQ. Mojo sauce is nectar of the gods.|
|Top to bottom, left to right: Andy, Adam, Papo, Carlos, Chip, and Alex. Stud crew.|
|Chewy investigated the shower to make sure everything was to my satisfaction.|
|Miami from the South Beach side|
|The Coral Gables water tower|
|The class I'd expected to see on South Beach; stereotypes confirmed.|
I thought we had a good nook for street art in London's East End, but Wynwood was on an entirely different level. It's truly exceptional for someone who likes this sort of stuff. At the BBQ the night before, more than one person said, "oh, you gotta take him down to the walls."
I knew this would be my one chance to catch an NBA game live this season, so I booked tickets for the game immediately after purchasing my flight tickets. The Heat were celebrating the Chinese New Year, so there were some performances prior to the game.
It was funny to be in a town where people are allowed to like the Heat.
Despite the fact that I loathe the Heat, they are one of the best teams to watch. The game we attended was the one where LeBron broke an NBA record for consecutive games above 30 points while, at the same time, maintaining above 60% shooting average. I wasn't sure if he'd do it; he was relatively quiet in the first quarter, sat much of the second, but truly came alive in the fourth. He flew through the air, dunking, alley-ooping, and getting offensive rebounds.
I had mentioned to Papo that this was the quietest sporting event I'd ever been to (and I've been to a lot!). The only thing we could hear for the first three quarters was the white noise of chatter among the crowd. The only time everyone yelled was when the opposing team (the Portland Trailblazers, who happen to have Damian Lilliard - frontrunner for this year's Rookie of the Year) was shooting free throws. But, even that wasn't so loud - just a meddling 'boo' being shouted by two hundred or so 'genuine' fans. They didn't even get out of their seats when waving their hands behind the glass backboard. I was full of contempt.
However, during the fourth, when LeBron was putting on a show, everyone (including me) woke up. Each dunk was like a shot of electricity through American Airlines Arena.
|During the intros, LeBron stands alone, mid-court, with a spotlight on him. Everyone else is on the sidelines.|
|The pyrotechnics would flare after each player's name was called.|
|I love big heads, no matter what the team. Everyone promptly sat after the intros, though, not to rise again until the fourth quarter.|
|Papo and I giggled incessantly as we made 'Chris Bosh is a Velociraptor' jokes.|
|LeBron, Bosh, and Wade. The 'new' big three.|
|I'm still mildly heartbroken to see Ray Allen wearing a Heat jersey. Norris Cole's high-top makes another appearance.|
|Who wears a Lakers jersey to a Heat game while sitting courtside? No wonder he's by himself...|
|Carlos couldn't make the game, so he gave Alex his season tickets. Alex: I had to wear a Heat shirt for you, David, to show my support.|
|One plus about AAA: during halftime you can walk out on a patio, enjoy the weather, the bay view, and exorbitantly priced Cuban coffee. (Papo wore matching red shoes, natch, in case you were wondering)|
|Good seats? Good seats. We could hear players yelling on the court.|
These days, I don't get to as many concerts as I used to, but I get the same satisfaction from attending an NBA game. It's as much of a party as a good show is, has superstars that are, for me, on the same level as many of my favorite musicians, and I can hear the person I'm with well enough to carry on a conversation. I can't wait to live in a city with an NBA team...so long as it's not Miami (!).
Among the errands we had to run while in town was a trip to the suit store to get me a suit. I'd not realized that all of my suits were in storage in Knoxville, so I 'enjoyed' the opportunity of procuring a new one. We did so on the 'Miracle Mile'.
|We also ran into these guys. I had the window rolled down and heard a passer-by stop, turn to these two men, and simply ask: Really?|
|Coffee with Carlos; sneak attack!|
|I got to FaceTime with Kenz as she showed off Patti's V-Day gifts!|
And, just like that, Miami was finished.
|Playing the airport waiting game.|
We were staying in the same town as the wedding: Antigua. No, not that Antigua - this is a small colonial town about 45 Kilometers from Guatemala City (the capitol, also where we landed). Getting through customs was super pleasant. In fact, everything about Guatemala was super pleasant. I didn't know what to expect, so I didn't really bring any expectations at all. I figured I was just along for the ride. I was blown away at how hospitable everyone was, how beautiful it was, and, natch, how cheap it is. Before I forget, lemme just say that I recommend a visit.
It helps if you can speak Spanish, though.
There were about twenty of us on the flight from Miami, and we all collected in various shuttles that we'd reserved. Papo and I were in a shuttle of about seven other folks, all from Miami, all bilingual. I felt like an idiot, trying to catch snippets of what was being discussed with our driver in his country's tongue. They were berating him with questions about local customs, Antigua, things to eat, etc. I just sat there, slightly despondent, upset that I'd let my lackluster Spanish language education atrophy over the past ten years. I knew a few of the other passengers from Mikey's wedding two years ago. It was good to see several of them; they're an optimistic, gregarious, enthusiastic lot.
I had mentioned to Papo, while in Miami, that it was strange (and somewhat disappointing) for me to come all the way over the Atlantic and not see mountains. As we climbed the 5,000 feet above sea level, into the town of Antigua, he looked at me, grinning: here's your mountains...
|No hable Espanol|
As we walked into the lobby, we were greeted by the bride and groom (Cristina & Alex). Hugs and laughs were exchanged. Rudy (from Mikey & Liz's wedding two summers ago) stayed at the front desk to help me check in (as a translator) without even being asked: "Bro, I got you; I'll help you check in." Rudy is that kind of guy who has never met a stranger and operates by an unspoken principle that says it doesn't cost anything to be nice. It's hard not to like a guy like him. Most of the guests were like that - just a bunch of people travelling down to the wedding to have a good time, be friendly, and celebrate Cristina & Alex. They had come from Spain, NYC, and all over Florida (and surely other places that I never sussed out).
I choose to believe that's a reflection on the character of the bride and groom.
|Our room was right next to the groom's! And friends were underneath us!|
|A few of us got out to grab a slice of Guatemala's finest pizza and stroll for a bit.|
|Criado sneaking a bite|
I crashed early as a result of lingering jet-lag and the lack of sleep I'd gotten in MIA.
The next morning we had a tour of the Filadelfia coffee estate, home to R. Dalton Coffee. I thought I knew something about coffee before I went. By the time we left, I was sure I'd earned a diploma. You'll never hear me complain about the price of coffee or see me drink dark roast ever again.
|I thought our transportation was pretty slick...|
|...until I realized how bumpy they were on the cobblestone streets.|
|I had to go in the 'English Only' tour group. Ironically, the guide said, "If you can only speak English, come to me; you're in my group" entirely in Spanish without realizing what he'd done.|
Apparently I lucked out with the tour guide; after comparing stories back at the hotel, I realized I had been taught a lot more than the other groups. I'll do my best to be brief about what I learned...
Arabica is the most popular type of coffee grown in the world (70% of all coffee). Guatemala, however, has 36.5 volcanoes (don't ask me how you have half a volcano - I'm just reporting what I was told). Inside the volcanic soil lives a microscopic worm that loves to eat Arabica roots; apparently they're sweet.
Robusta coffee, a less popular variety, has a much sturdier (and less tasty to the worms) root. So, in Guatemala, Arabica is grown to 12 cenimeters, and then grafted with a Robusta root! The coffee is still Arabica; the roots don't affect the nature of the plant.
This is done only by women because of the Ph balance of their skin; men's is too acidic (or the other way around, I can't remember). It's only done during the rainy season. The harvest season is December to April.
There is one pesky beetle, however, that'll go unnoticed (or unwanted) by the birds. It'll burrow in a berry, lay eggs, and when the berry is ripe, all the eggs hatch and the larvae eat the sugar. There can be as many as 90 eggs in one berry. Apparently it makes the coffee taste like crap: "Have you guys ever had instant coffee? Yea, those beans come from these berries." I couldn't tell whether or not that was a joke; our tour guide seemed pretty sincere when he told us that.
|Showing us an infected berry|
|Each collection is raked every 45 minutes as it dries. A collection will dry for 10-12 days out in the sun.|
Outside of the rainy season, the weather is fairly predictable. However, if the rain does come, all the guys responsible for this part of the process will run down from the side of the mountain and collect as many of the batches as they can before the beans get wet. They live on property, so "it only takes them two minutes to get here if they run fast enough."
|You can tell different stages of drying by the color of the batches.|
Once the beans are dry, they need to be husked. Inside each husk are the two coffee beans we're used to seeing. They go into one machine, get lightly rubbed together to get husked, and then move into an air machine. The air is calibrated in order to blow all the husks vertically as the beans stay at the bottom. The husks are used as flooring in the horse pens instead of hay and later combined with the cherry layer for compost.
|The air machine|
|The gravity machine|
|Josh showing us how to sort through beans.|
|Can you tell the difference? The big group on the right is good. The next biggest group, counter-clockwise are Elephant beans, the pairs of two are discolored, and the final group are too small. I know, I know. And that conveyor belt goes fast!|
|"This is our laboratory."|
|Spitoons! "You can't drink coffee all day; you have to spit it out"|
That took about two hours. Finally, we'd earned a cup of coffee.
|The view from our tables.|
|And then we were off!|
One last thing:
It takes six years to grow one cup. It'll take five years for a plant to begin to produce. There's about ten pounds of fruit on one plant in a harvest, which makes one pound of coffee.
Liz arrived that afternoon. The three of us strolled around town and found a bite to eat.
|It was the best Horchata I'd ever had.|
The rehearsal dinner that night was in some old church ruins across the street from the hotel. I'm kicking myself for not having learned more about it. I went in thinking it'd be just another old church, the likes of which I'm relatively used to seeing in Europe (and had been seeing in Antigua for two days). Part of the problem is that I'm much more interested in geography and people watching than I am architectural history. It's a shame, I know.
I didn't even expect to go inside (what was I thinking?).
I did learn later that the doors stay locked unless there is an event happening. I considered myself lucky to get to see the inside.
|Papo purpled out (the shoes are purple, too. and the socks. and the pocket square)|
As we drew closer, I realized everyone was lighting fire-driven-mini hot air balloons. Talk about baller...
|Everyone had written well wishes to the bride and groom on the parchment.|
Frustrated that I hadn't brought my 'big/real' camera, I snapped countless cell phone pics of the luminaries floating up into the air. That frustration was trumped when the doors to the church were opened. Inside were two loooong tables and dozens upon dozens of beautiful flower arrangements.
|One of two tables|
|Poor quality, but you get the idea.|
Lots of pictures and four courses later, the dinner was over. Several folks went to a bar down the street that is owned by an American expat that many knew. I, on the other hand, dipped out, unnoticed, to snag some more of that shuteye that had been evading me for the previous week.
Saturday morning, Papo and I took it easy around the hotel. I had another massive breakfast, read my book, FaceTimed with my lovely, lonely wife. Papo took my camera around the hotel and snapped a bunch of pictures.
|The working chimneys in each room|
|Breakfast: refried beans w/cream, tamale, omelette, chicken & tortilla casserole, papaya juice, orange juice, and coffee.|
We eventually got motivated to roll out and shop around town. Papo wound up buying so much stuff he had to purchase an extra bag to bring stuf home. I found it hilarious that he would stop at each street vendor and haggle/discuss merchandise. Partly because of the size of the locals; Mikey kept mentioning how tall he felt while walking around town. At one point, while walking along the sidewalk, I looked to my left and made direct, parallel eye contact with a fully grown man. And then I realized he was standing vertically in the bed of a pickup truck. I guess I felt tall, too.
|We started out with a tour of the Catedral de San Jose, which faces the plaza mayor - the center of town|
|Papo, naturally, collected a tour guide (and translated for me)|
|The clergy's quarters|
|A few years ago, a piece of the ceiling fell and opened up an underground burial pit.|
|Even though the church was against cremation, there were two crematoriums for those who died of comunicable diseases.|
We then headed out into the town to see what was up.
|The fountain in the middle of the plaza mayor|
|Art class? I dunno.|
|Super legit flute musician playing all the hits from 1972-1995.|
|Papo getting swarmed|
|That's a nice image on the information booth.|
The thing about this town is that everything looks a bit busted or broken down from the outside, but as soon as you look inside, through a door, it's entirely different.
|I haven't mentioned the buses yet. All of them are chromed out, sweet paint all over the sides. It appeared, to me, that they were all operating a public service but privately owned.|
|Bodyguard, guarding the car while the owner is inside. Papo confirmed this in conversation.|
|Candles in a store|
|I got a melon smoothie with lunch.|
|Papo enjoyed it as well.|
We stepped inside a Jade 'factory' & store. Again, Paps collected a tour guide to explain to us what types of Jade are exclusive to Guatemala (black and lavender), what types of properties the Mayans associated with it, how it's mined, shaved, and turned into jewelry.
|Still holding onto that Nat Geo cover from '95|
|Note the guy with the HUGE shotgun in the corner.|
|This is likely the most photographed street in the city|
|Folks were out, hanging, shopping, etc|
|Papo shopping. Again.|
|Leaving the market with her birds.|
|Buying a bag to fit the things he bought...|
|Locals pronounce the country's name "whatemala," thus, "guatever" and "guat's up"|
|Every town's got one: the street preacher. Note that this guy's page had blown over his thumb. I watched the wind blow it as I was photographing him. He acted as if he was still reading the original page, completely unfazed.|
When we returned to prep for the wedding, a horse carriage was sitting outside our hotel. There were two weddings at our hotel that Saturday. Pretty popular spot.
Papo, being the only one able to tie a bow tie, had to help Jimmi and I.
|It wasn't without a false start.|
|Papo working on mine.|
|He did well.|
I counted at least two different museums on the property, but art was littered all over the grounds. It ranged from local to historical to religious to contemporary.
There was a bar, restaurant, and convention centre on property as well.
And, of course, a 600 year old church. Naturally.
And hundreds upon hundreds of tea lights for the wedding.
I made a big mistake once the sun went down. I tried to take all my pictures without a flash. As a result, three quarters of the rest of my pictures from the night are ruined (I couldn't hold still long enough for the aperture to collect enough light and everyone's hazy/streaky). Of what little remained, I selected a few that were good enough for the blog. However, none really reflect the spectacular nature of the evening.
|A busy groom|
|The wedding party prepping|
|Mikey & Liz|
|I mean, c'mon, right?|
|Sneak attacking their selfie!|
|(post-wedding; Papo: bro, get a shot of those flower towers)|
After the wedding, fireworks erupted. Literally. I got a picture of Sam and Jimmi before they finished.
'course that one didn't turn out so well, so I went with the flash.
We all strolled over to the other side of the property and were met with a small (awesome) band, hors d'oeuvres, and a selection of bevvies.
I, of course, began wandering around, finding new little nooks and crannies in the hotel.
|I saw some more art.|
|Checked out every hallway that wasn't blocked.|
|And, whoops(!), happend upon the bride and groom taking post-wedding pictures. I snuck away, thinking I went unnoticed. Cristina informed me, later, that she'd seen me. Busted.|
Then it happened again. I was standing by some doors I didn't think were going to open, looking at the table of envelopes with names on them, finding mine, seeing what table I'd been assigned when, all of a sudden, those doors opened. Just like the rehearsal dinner, the night before, I thought we were set for the night - in a place that was already as beautiful as I could've imagined it - and a set of doors simply open up to an entirely new room that much more spectacular.
The reception room had a stage for the band at one end, tables in the middle (complete with hugagous floral centerpieces), and a grotto bar/lounge area at the other end of the room, off to one side.
I climbed up some stairs to get a few photos of as much of the room as possible.
Not long thereafter, Alex & Cristina arrived, descended the stairs, and danced. Speeches were given, another five courses were consumed, and everyone enjoyed some phase of mingling, hugging, dancing, and laughing.
|Liz & Mikey - more table 19 folk.|
|Sam & Rudy|
|Likely my favorite picture of the entire trip.|
|I'm pretty sure these two got to eat at some point, but boy did they get swarmed for most of the night.|
|Becca, Alex, Sam, Jimmi|
|Happy Wedding to #Callado!|
It was a magical evening.
Everyone partied well into the late night and early morning. I, on the other hand, knew that my shuttle was picking me up at 6am for the start of 24 hours of travel back to London. Antigua to Guatemala City. Guatemala City to Dallas Fort Worth. Five hour layover. Dallas Fort Worth to London Heathrow. London Heathrow to our little nook on Albany Road. 6am CST on Sunday until 11am GMT on Monday. I needed to pack and try to sleep.
|Is my shoulder just a sleepyhead magnet?|
We had a freaking blast in Grapevine, TX - a small tourist trap about ten miles from the airport. None of the three of us had been there before; it was just the closest town (I get paranoid about missing flights).
I got to give Taylor the friendly '20 Questions' over a meatloaf sammie from Weinberger's Deli. We sat outside, and I soaked up the last few rays of sun I expected to see for a while. We eventually just walked around town, window shopping and laughing. Conversations between Dustin and I invariably reach a point where we both discuss when and how we're going to move back to Knoxville. Neither of us has as of yet, but we keep talking about it!
|Middle right: "Burgers, Beer, & Atmosphere", Bottom left: "Have a Willie Nice Day"; Taylor's going to be mad at me for posting the sneak attack pictures, but she's got a long way to travel to get in my face about it. I'm safe for now.|
|A Texas memorabilia store!|
|This just screams Amurca to me|
|A "Live Well" walking path (endorsed by the American Heart Association) in the Dallas Fort Worth Airport? After security? Who, exactly, is this for? Who goes through security at the airport to get their exercise on?|
|The murals that signify the walking path. I mean, they're cool, don't get me wrong, but really? Am I the only one that thinks this is strange?|
|And then this happened. The entire flight. I felt like a dentist about to operate on a patient. Dude was in.my.lap.|
Whereas the trip was amazing, it was nice to return home to Kenz. We did nothing but sit on the couch and chit-chat on Monday. Life is quickly returning to normal.
If you made it this far, congratulations; you're a trooper.
Have a great weekend! Thanks for reading!
|Street art under a bridge in Borough|
|Look at this little cook!|