She Came, She Conquered

As most of you know (and have been awaiting photographic evidence), half of my parental package, Gina, met up with me in Guatemala. If you’ve never traveled with my Mom, you should try it. I’ve finally gotten my shit together enough to post some photos from our fully loaded, three week, backpacking adventure fun fest, where I became the Robin to her Batman antics. Yeah, at one point she scaled up a rope in a dark cave. …Who the?

This is my Mom:

THIS is my Mom on travel:

Getting comfortable on a shuttle bus with a sucker and pillow

Getting comfortable on a shuttle with her pillow and sucker

But I guess the story actually begins with puke. We don’t know why, but Gina puked her-little-self all the way to Guatemala from Portland. She swears she maintained “dainty, feminine” pukes, and she successfully maneuvered every “hiccup” into the bag, so that’s good. When I met her at the airport, she looked as if a slight breeze might tip her over at any moment. She was too nauseated to even talk. I like to think she was so excited to see me she literally could not contain herself. The trooper she is, she was up the next morning feeling better and we finally got in a good catch-up session over breakfast and coffee on our hostel’s sunny roof. And she brought my Christmas camera!

La Merced

La Merced, Antigua, Guatemala

Plunged into, not only Latin American culture, Gina was quickly introduced to the backpacker lifestyle as well – one of buses and bunk beds, late nights and dirty kitchens, loud music and beer.

Gina: “Are you sure they changed these sheets?” Me: “…uhh…no?” This ain’t no resort livin’. I tried to ease her into hostel life by reserving a private room for our first few nights, but her adventurous spirit proved to be game for anything.

Gina's super stealthy photography skillz

Gina’s super stealthy photography skillz

Boob Juice Fountain, Central Park, Antigua, Guatemala

Boob Juice Fountain, Central Park, Antigua, Guatemala

It was great to show her around Antigua and introduce her to my friends there. We went to a hookah bar for a friend’s birthday (first time for both of us), tried some salsa dancing, visited La Merced, and she learned how to NOT have a personal bubble while taking a chicken bus ride to visit my Guatemalan family. I told Gina about the girls’ love for JB, so she brought them a few simple JB related gifts which, of course, they LOVED. She has international fans now.

Life of the party

Gina meeting the family I lived with.

Pimped out chicken buses

Pimped out chicken buses

Since I had traveled around Guatemala for a couple months, I had a few favorite places in mind to show her (Lake Atitlan, Livingston), but there was one place I had saved especially to experience with her – Semuc Champey.

bloop bloop

Semuc Champey

I had heard from multiple people how great Semuc Champey was, but I I tend not to immediately believe ALL people’s gushings. “Oh my god! You haven’t been there?! You HAVE to go!” When a girl told me, “It was, like, the best day of my liiiiiiiife!” I thought, “You’re 18? Makes sense.” …But then, it was, actually, like, the best day of my adult life.

Photo by Thor Janson

Photo by Thor Janson

So pristine and private, you felt like people should need to be helicoptered in to visit this garden of Eden. The color and clarity of the water was stunning. You could splash around and cannon ball from one pool to the next until even your inner child got exhausted and annoyed at all your giggling.


As truly AMAZING (and now I’m gushing) as the pools were, they were only half of the Semuc Champey experience. There were also caves. Unfortunately, since we had to swim while holding candles above the water as our only source of light, neither of us took a camera. I regret this decision. It was stunning, thrilling. The guide ushered us through a maze of different depths. We came to a waterfall that could be passed one of two ways, climbing a ladder to the side of the waterfall, or a climbing a rope directly up and over the waterfall. Gina just got tired of waiting for people on the ladder so she climbed up the rope. “Dude! Your Mom is so cool!” Said everyone all the time. “I know. I know! Everyone, relax.” Lol.

photo from

photo from

After we’d climbed up and down and swam (swum?) down long hallways dog paddling with one arm, and unsuccessfully keeping our candles above the water with the other, a little cavern opened up and we were encouraged to climb up one side and jump off one of the walls into a black pool below. Gina climbing that rope gave me the courage to jump into this pit of darkness, which was basically your only option for getting down once you climbed up the 15 feet.

This feat called for a jump of precision – hitting the water exactly where the guide pointed, and 1000% percent trust in our guide (…who was, like, 15?) that he wasn’t just pointing to a rock shelf below the surface. You really could only see… nothing.

…Except the few candles being held by your fellow spelunkers. The candles made it all feel magical, like we were about to preform an incantation or conjure up the old Guatemalan gods of backpacker spelunking immunity. We probably should have tried that, but we all still made it out alive.


When in doubt,  hold a beer

There is also no photo evidence of the swing that went so high, waiting in line for it made my knees wobbly. I swung it. Me and my nervous knees did it. Unfortunately, fear made me close my eyes as soon as my ass left the seat and I basically flew through the air blind and landed on my face. This was a learning experience. I learned how much water I could fit in my nasal cavities. Totally worth it.

Hour-long truck ride

Only the most sophisticated, luxury ride for my Mother.

Giant Jenga

Good way to cap off the day – a fantastic dinner and Giant Jenga with friends

That bruise on her arm? She got it from keeping herself upright in the back of the truck. Badass.

That bruise on her arm? She got it from keeping herself upright in the back of the truck. Badass.

Next stop: Livingston! Livingston can only be reached by boat, so this included a few steps – 5-hour bus ride to the town of Rio Dulce, a night’s stay, and an hour boat ride up the Rio Dulce River to where the river empties into the ocean.

On our way to Hostel Casa Perico, only reachable by boat.


Honey Bear

Casa Perico in Rio Dulce

Casa Perico, Rio Dulce

I had stayed at Casa Perico before and wanted Gina to meet Honey Bear. Every evening this little nocturnal creature (animal name – kinkajou) comes down from the trees to hang out on the hostel’s open air deck/restaurant. He has a bad habit of chewing on fingers, but if you can distract him with a piece of fruit, he’s sweet as sugar.


The hour boat ride up the Rio Dulce River was WAY better than another bumpy, stuffy bus.




Girls paddle over and sell things like conch shells and bracelets out of their boats.


Livingston, located on the Caribbean coast, is one of my favorite towns in Guatemala. Livingston boasts an unusual amalgamation of cultures: the Garifuna, Mayan Indians, and Ladinos all share this little Caribbean town nestled snugly between Belize and Honduras.

Livingston = Pelicans

Livingston = Palms and Pelicans


Photo props: Gina

Two guys bathing

Two guys bathing         Photo props: Gina


The famous Garifuna seafood soup, Tapado. A little work intensive with a full crab, a full fish, and full snails to deconstruct, but oh so delicious!


Family Lunch            Photo props: Gina

We found a little beach hotel a 20-minute cab ride from town, then a 10-minute walk over a bridge and down a sandy path. The room was a little dodgy, but thankfully the beach was so fantastic, we rarely used the room. We spent our days swimming and sunning, and our nights playing speed scrabble and drinking beer.

Beach yoga

Morning beach yoga in front of our hotel



Haggling with a smile

Our lovely Swedish friend, Sanna, serenading us.

Our lovely Swedish friend, Sanna, serenading us.

With only a week left, we packed up and headed back to Antigua for one night, and then on to Lake Atitlan, a 3-hour ride from Antigua:

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

San Pedro

San Pedro

We spent a night in San Pedro after walking around with our packs for an hour sweating our butts off trying to find a hostel. That night we enjoyed a moonlit dinner in front of family’s little convenient store. It’s common for a family to set up a BBQ, grill up some meat, pull out some plastic chairs, hand you a beer, and all of a sudden you’re in a “restaurant” eating dinner for $2 a plate. The next day we moved on to San Marcos (more of a hippy, yoga vibe) feeling it would be a more laid-back match for us.


And after staying in dorm rooms like this:


Hostel in Antigua

Gina generously treated me to a gorgeous hotel for our last couple nights at the lake. …It was AWESOME!

Our fancy hotel room with a view of the lake

Our fancy hotel room with a view of the lake

The hotel deck

Our hotel deck. Not a bad view for your morning coffee.

We didn’t get around to any yoga, but we did sample some delicious restaurants, stumble on an open mic night, found a rope swing and swam in the lake, and had our own little jam night, drinking beer and singing songs with a guitar guy who was also staying at our hotel.

As we arrived back in Antigua for our last night, we rounded out our three-week adventure by counting 10 boats, 9 hostels, 2 hotels, a double-decker bus, a chicken bus, 3 shuttles, a pick-up truck, 3 taxis and 2 tuktuks! Well done, partner!


First tuk tuk ride!


Gina is impervious to the embarrassment that keeps me from getting great shots of the locals. Nice job on this one, Mom!


Antigua at night, Guatemala

Our last night together was spent at Earth Lodge. On a hill, 20-mintues out of town up a winding road, sits a hostel/restaurant on an avocado farm with fresh air, live music, and a fantastic view.

Earth Lodge

Earth Lodge, Antigua, Guatemala

Dude, my Mom is the coolest.

Before this trip, I’m sure we both wondered how our first international travel experience as adults would go. I knew it would be great, but what I hadn’t expected was to be so impressed by my travel partner. I have one adventurous, brave-as-fuck, thoughtful, generous, tough, energetic, slightly crazy, funny, easy-going, rad friend for a mom. I’m really fucking lucky. (I know how much you love it when I swear, Mom) I love you. Cheers to our future adventures! Cambodia?

6 thoughts on “She Came, She Conquered

  1. love this. Your mom is pretty great, glad you had this advebture with her! Gina, if you read this… Hellooooo!

    love, Kel oxo

  2. Ashley and Gina-that was amazing and I’m sure you had a wonderful time together and having some quality time with each other. The pictures were wonderful and we look forward to hearing more.

  3. Oh, you bring back the memories Ash, I love your writing and I love your mum as much as I love you, and I think you’ve captured her in a just and honest way- ´Gina rocks! Lots of hugs to you both

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