South of Socal

April 15, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Posted in Culture, United States | 3 Comments
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This is my second (and final) name change for my blog. I wanted something unique at first: this blog has turned into a wellspring of my musings from my travels and I wanted the name to reflect that.  But the more I think about it, the more my identity is, and always will be shaped by my growing up in Southern California… and my journeys south.

And thus, “South of Socal” is born.  It´s name reflects the “South of Hope” article that was written about my Kiva Fellowship in the latest Pepperdine Magazine. More than that, it represents my worldview. One that has been shaped south of the border.

All this introspection started this Wednesday. The Wednesday when 45 minutes before a phone interview the carne asada burned and my mom asked me to head to downtown Camarillo to the Mexican meat market.

Carnicería. That´s what they are called. I kept looking at the clock on my phone impatiently thinking about how I wanted to be home and settled and ready to answer my phone. I walked through the shop to the back and not a single one of the butchers turned. Where´s the stupid bell on the counter when you need one.

Finally one turned around with a “Hey, Amigo” and after a brief debate, I settled on speaking English. Let´s stick with no surprises and less unnecessary conversation. Get in, get out. A “I would like four pieces of carne asada marinada dripped off my tongue”. No blonde kid should have that good of an accent and his face showed his surprise.

Get in, get out. I grabbed the bag of carne asada and headed to the check-out. Good. Only one lady in line. An old Mexicana grandma with handfuls of groceries and who constantly was browsing the snack counter behind the register. They were chatting in Spanish and I wanted to join in. Now, it feels like such a part of me, but still here in the U.S. I feel so out of place in South of the Border, Camarillo.

I was rushing remember? A second register opened and I blew out of the store without thinking about it and showed up to my house with 20 minutes to spare to answer the phone.

And in a month had forgotten all the best parts of the Latin culture. The stuff that has caused me to spend almost two years of my life there. The no rush, the never feeling like you have somewhere more important to be, the chat with strangers, the community that you create with every single person you meet. All of those great feelings came rushing back to me and I vowed to take another trip to downtown Camarillo.

Yes, I think I like it south of socal.

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My Last Peruvian Post

February 9, 2011 at 9:47 am | Posted in Culture, Guatemala, Kiva, Kiva Fellows Post, Microfinance, Peru, Travel | 4 Comments
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This is a hybrid post. Half consists of pieces taken out of my last Kiva Fellows blog. And the other half from my final musings and future plans (I won´t be blogging for at least a month). Feel free to cry now.

Click above to read the full post “Last July, I sat in Kiva headquarters listening to speaker after speaker desperately trying to get a grasp on what life as a Kiva fellow would be like. Despite all my “international” experience, I don´t think anything could have prepared me for the adventure that was to come.  Personally, I set out to discover how microfinance worked, IF it worked, and how it impacted the lives of the people it touched, but I really had no idea what lay ahead of me.

My two Kiva fellowships have allowed me to work with four separate institutions: FAPE and ASDIR in Guatemala and Arariwa and Manuela Ramos in Peru.  I have been able to meet and talk with hundreds of borrowers posting new loans and doing loan updates…

On the flip side, I have had a chance to surf in four new countries, to climb four volcanoes (including Concepción in Nicaragua with some other Kiva Fellows!), and hike the Inca Trail.  On the down side, I have been robbed once and assaulted another time, but I wouldn´t trade my two Kiva fellowships in Guatemala City and Cusco for the world.

And as I see my second (and final) Kiva fellowship come to a close, I have been asking myself what I have learned from the last eight months in the field… My second reflection on microfinance is that the most effective microcredit programs that I have witnessed combine education and training programs with the loans that they offer.  I personally perceive education programs highlighting business management, budgeting, family, nutrition, or health allow the borrowers to develop not only economically, but in all aspects of their life.  Which is the positive impact that all of us wish to see.”

As far as the future, I have a road trip through Patagonia planned with Devin Dvorak (starting on Feb 14th!). Coming back to the states, I’m heading up to Portland for a week, and after trying to find a job in Los Angeles.

My experiences with Kiva in Central and South America have truly been an adventure, one that I wouldn’t trade for the world. Thanks for all your prayers, support, and for reading my blog! I promise to blog when I’m back in the states about my exploits!

The Cusco Restaurant Guide

February 6, 2011 at 11:00 am | Posted in Cuisine, Culture, Cuzco, Peru | Leave a comment
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The most common questions I get from travelers arriving in Cusco involve where to go for coffee or a drink or a bit to eat.  Although I would not claim to know all or even most of the restaurants in Cusco, I definitely have some favorites! (look at my travel map for restaurant locations)

For Breakfast or Snack:

The Meeting Place: Delicious Waffles, Quality Bacon, Juices, Pastries and the best coffee in town.  All profits go to local orphanages and ministry projects. Can life get any better? I submit that it can not (Brian Regan) On the San Blas Plaza.

El Buen Pastor: Decent coffee, but absolutely spectacular pastries. I´m talking chocolate croissants, peach and apple filled baked goods fresh out of the oven, and delicious donuts. On Cuesta San Blas.

La Bondiet: My favorite coffee shop in town.  Mouthwatering cakes, cones filled with dulce de leche, small brownies, great smoothies, classy atmosphere, and great coffee! Located a block off the Plaza de Armas on Plateros and on the small plaza next to the Plaza de Armas.

Lunch:

Be brave and head to the markets. I personally find the San Pedro market a little dirty, but recommend heading to Garcilaso and the Wanchaq market for a bite to eat (walk away from Garcilaso until you get to the food stalls in the building).  Ask for Sr. Jamie and try his Lomo Saltado or Arroz a la Cubana (S./7 and S./3) and try a juice from one of the ladies opposite his stall!

Jack´s: alternatively, try the lonely guide / rough guide favorite at the bottom of Cuesta San Blas for big and late breakfasts (El grande), gourment sandwhiches, and soups like Tuscan vegetable or pumpkin that make your mouth water (my Mom went 3 times in 9 days! That says something for the quality of their food).

Olas Bravas: Ceviche is excusively a lunch food, and Olas Bravas on Mariscal Gamara near the start of Av. La Cultura does it well. Try the Jalea, the Lomo Saltado con Tacu Tacu, and the Ceviche Mixto (warning, huge portions).

Dinner:

I think I could eat at a different restaurant every night in Cusco and still have thousands to try.  Some of my highlights have been fusion cuisines near the town center.

Cicciolina: Located a block off the Plaza de Armas on Truinfo (second floor).  Absolutely incredible tapas, wine list, and the best Pisco sour that I have had in Cusco.  (U.S. prices and reservations suggested in high season).

Two Nations: An Australian / Peruvian fusion restaurant a few blocks off the plaza that has a giant burger, good soups, and solid Peruvian cuisine.  Walls decorated by happy diners.

Los Perros: Two blocks off the plaza. And makes this list because it is the home of one of the most delicious burgers I have had (and one of the largest) with great potato skins, and other sides.

Some shout outs: Paddy´s (corner on the plaza, good quesadillas and wings), Real McCoy (for some real British cuisine on Plateros), and Numa Raysi (Triunfo for some real good, real authentic Peruvian cuisine!)

Shocking and Mouth-Watering (A Food Post)

February 4, 2011 at 9:00 am | Posted in Cuisine, Culture, Cuzco, Peru, Travel | Leave a comment
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I have been severly lacking in food posts lately.  Especially considering that Peru is know for gastronomy and its unique fusion cuisines.  And especially because Peru has an array of foods that we, as Americans, wouldn´t dream of eating.  Here´s a few highlights:

Cuy: I don´t think a Peruvian food post could escape without mentioning the family pet that ends up on Peruvian´s plates as a delicacy on holidays.  Also more commonly referred to as guinea pig.

Before....

And After!

Besides the unusual presentation, it wasn´t half bad. A little greasy, and difficult to eat around all its little bones, but when it’s stuffed with herbs, served on a bed of noodles with a rocotto relleno (stuffed pepper), it was definitely edible. Just close your eyes and take a bite!

The other “unique” food served in Peru is alpaca.  Alpaca steaks are low in cholesterol, slightly gamey (think along the lines of venison but to a lesser extent), and generally free of excess fat.  My Dad mentioned the similarity in taste to an excellent pork chop and that´s a pretty good description too!

Good Morning Alpacas

As I previously mentioned, fusion cuisines are pervasive here in Cusco highlighting everything from French/Peruvian or Australian/Peruvian to Chinese/Peruvian.  One of my favorite fusions we encountered last weekend in Aguas Calientes after seeing Machu Picchu at Indio Feliz, a French/Peruvian restaurant.  For about $15, you started out with a soup or salad (such as the Avocado / Mango salad or Bacon and Egg Quiche below), main course (such as my Dad´s pineapple chicken or my Mom´s Mango trout), and finished with a dessert. Delicious.

A Bacon and Egg Quiche, Fresh Baked Bread with a Cusqueña at Indio Feliz in Aguas Calientes

The Avocado and Mango Salad at Indio Feliz

Finally, let´s top it all off with some dessert.  The Barack Obama Chocolate cake from a bakery in Lucre.. mmm

The Barack Cake in Lucre

A Bit of New Year´s Luck

January 3, 2011 at 9:56 am | Posted in Culture, Cuzco, Peru, Travel | Leave a comment
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Some of the things I will do for luck in the New Year… Or  Luck of the Peruvian´s? Does that exist?

I started my new year´s preparation early.  After Christmas, a bunch of bright yellow “pica pica” started appearing on the streets. Yellow 2011 glasses, yellow underwear, noisemakers, fireworks, confetti, yellow beads, balloons.  Hold up, let me fill you in: New Year´s Traditions revolve around “yellow”. It represents luck in the New Year, so you wear as much yellow as you can (including yellow underwear).  Not wanting the “street” underwear, I got a local tailor to make a more comfortable pair of yellow boxers (when in Rome right?) Alternatively, you can wear red for love in the New Year or green to be wealthy.

And started getting ready for our New Year´s Party at our house.  My roommate had ordered a 13kg lamb to roast on our roof, with a lemon yellow garlic glaze and a cilantro peanut sauce for eating. Served up with sweet potatoes and an apple salad (be jealous).

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Ok, so that wasn´t for luck (but it was delicious).  In the week leading up to New Years, I visited seven Nativity scenes and tossed coins into the wishing wells of each (another Cusqueña tradition for luck).  And at midnight, our group went to the Plaza de Armas (sorry no pictures because of the crowd, I decided it would best not to bring my camera).  To run a lap around the plaza (for luck) and eat grapes (twelve wishes, one for each month of the year as you eat them).

Most Peruvians put a boutique of wheat and fake money on their doors for New Years to bring prosperity (but I figured I had enough luck saved up for the New Year and left that one alone.)

Resolution: make this year better than the last.

Resolution: eat another lamb like the one above.

2010 Year in Review

December 31, 2010 at 9:29 am | Posted in Aldea Nimasac, Costa Rica, Cuisine, Culture, Cuzco, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guatemala City, Kiva, Microfinance, Nicaragua, Peru, Travel, United States | Leave a comment
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I usually don´t have new year´s resolutions, but the last few years, it has been a generic “make this year better than the last”.  Whether that be traveling to 15 countries or graduating from college or working for Kiva, this year has been both un-forgettable and equally hard to top. Here are some highlights!

January. I´ll bring this full circle. Last New Year I spent in Frankfurt, Germany with Sandra Nymphius lighting off bottle rockets. A subsequent trip to the glorious dutch nation of Holland to visit Shamir, eat herring, and see Amsterdam make January 2010 equally unforgettable.

February-March. Columbia with Devin Dvorak. This whorlwind tour of Medellin, Cartagena, Santa Teresa, and Bogota involved a lot of beach side eating, mojitos, salsa dancing, and monkey chasing.  Never forget that day in Cartagena eating Ceviche… And back at Pepperdine for Songfest! Half the time I think I hated doing the practices, but at the end (and KTD´s almost win), I wouldn´t trade it for the world.

April. Wine tasting for my birthday. Getting the Kiva Fellowship. Graduating from college. My favorite month / memories of 2010…

May-June. Cruising the Mediterranean with Princess Cruises with the parents. Highlights: seeing Venice, quads in Mykonos, the spice market in Istanbul, Florence, Rome, and going back to Barcelona (easily one of my favorite cities in the world).  Road tripping up to San Luis Obispo with Hallie. The 24 hour drive out to Houston for Andy and Trudy Smith´s wedding.

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July-August. Kiva Training. Visiting with the cousins in San Francisco. Moving to Guatemala City to start my fellowship. Getting robbed on Roosevelt in Guatemala City (not a highlight but definitely memorable).  Moving to Aldea Nimasac in Guatemala. Visiting Lago Atitlán.

September-October. Kiva Vacation in Nicaragua (one of my favorite vacations of all time). Kiva Vacation in El Salvador. Surfing. Visiting with Devin Dvorak in Costa Rica. Seeing the Kite Festival in Sumpango.

November-December. Visiting the U.S. My weekend in San Diego. Moving to Cusco, Peru. Finding the meeting place. The near miss with a Machete Robbery. Having Marc Capule come visit. Exploring the Incan Culture and Ruins. Christmas with Peruvians and brunch in San Jeronimo.

A Christmas Story (Cusco Traditions)

December 27, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Posted in Culture, Cuzco, Peru, Travel | 1 Comment
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What do you do when you are abroad for the Holidays? Here´s what I did….

Making Kids Smile.  On both the 23rd and the 24th, I contributed  (first with my coworkers and then with my church) to buying small presents, candies, cookies, juices and then handing them out on Bélen Pampa and in San Blas.  The idea is that whole families from surrounding villages always to Cusco over Christmas to sell pine branches, moss, and other greenery to make the Nativity sets.  They sleep on the street or plaza with their kids in the freezing cold and rain.  Kids with mild frostbite and mud on their cheeks.

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I remember Christmas when I was 5 years old. And thought that maybe, somehow, if I could give these kids a little of the joy that I have had over the holidays, it could make theirs a little brighter.  But, in the end, you never know.  Countless kids left without presents, making the two days of handing out presents seem like a drop in the bucket.

Arariwa Christmas Party. The 23rd, all the workers from all branches of Arariwa got together for a night of food, drink, and a lot of dancing.  The party was held over at Arariwa Promoción, and within the first ten minutes, I realization that I was out of my league as far as the dancing was concerned.  Men would line up to dance with the women and begin flailing their arms and rapidly stomping their feet.  It was a mix between off-beat salsa and a traditional campensino dance.  All in all, a fun night!

Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, I didn´t bring my camera to Christmas Eve or Day, but hopefully some friends will post pictures on Facebook soon! Christmas Eve is characterized by waiting up till midnight here in Peru, to 1) put baby Jesus in the Nativity 2) to pray and toast minature glasses of champagne 3) to light off fireworks from the roof 4) to eat a small meal, have hot chocolate and paneton (pretty sure it is more directly translated fruitcake).  I got to join a coworker, Andy, and her family that night.

Christmas. I spent the morning with some American missionaires eating brunch and watching Elf, and then the afternoon (after it rained) with Andy´s family eating turkey and drinking wine until the early evening where I crashed in my house for a good 12 hour Christmas sleep.

The Cusco Christmas Market

Tradition. Good Catholics bring baby Jesus to mass on the 26th and place him on the altar for the entire service.  And in Cusco, you visit at least seven Nativity scenes in churches across the city tossing coins in the wishing wells in each of the Nativities for good luck in the new year. 5 down (Plaza de Armas, Cathedral, San Francisco, La Merced, and Santo Domingo), 2 to go!

Cuzco Ruins Travel Guide

December 23, 2010 at 6:03 pm | Posted in Culture, Cuzco, Mountains, Peru, Travel | 1 Comment
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This is the best information you are going to get on the ruins around Cuzco.  Which ones you can get in for free, which ones are the best.  Here, I´m evaluating Tipón, Pikillacta, Moray, Chinchero, and Q´enqo.

So, this past week Marc Capule came to visit.  Being a shoestring traveler like myself with a strong adversion to paying the gringo tax that Cuzco imposes, we decided to try to get into as many ruins as we could for free.  To prove my point, we walked into a bookstore to find him a notebook, and when the lady behind the counter said 80; he assumed it was 80 soles ($40) and said, “Ok, I don´t need it that badly” and started to leave. Soon everything got sorted out (the notebook was 80 cents), and we started a week of awesome food (will be in a following post) and touring around Cuzco.

 

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Tipón is my favorite ruin so far.  To get there, take a cab to the Urcos taxi stop on Av. La Cultura in front of the Universidad.  Get off at Tipón.  Cabs cost S./10 a person and another S./10 to get in.  Alternatively, walk down the road 4 km.  When you get to the base of the hill, don´t go up the pedestrian steps, but walk up the road past the giant Tipón sign.  About 20m up the road, there is a small path leading up the ancient Incan steps to the ruins (and bypassing the control).  Tipón is a beautiful series of terraces interspersed with canals.  You can walk up the Incan steps in the wall (generally rocks sticking out of the wall) to climb the terraces to the natural spring at the back of the ruins. Or alternatively, check out the view from the fortess that you passed coming up the Incan steps.

Pikillacta. Similarly to get here, you take the taxi from the Urcos stop, and get off at Pikillacta.  The only cool part of the ruin is the giant wall alongside the road and views of the lake. (see slideshow). Sneaking in to the main ruin is easy.  From the road, take “the high road” instead of walking down the path to control.  The path leads you past control directly to the ancient city.  Now, merely crumbling rock walls. Place this at the bottom of your list.

Moray. I thought (and had been told) this was one of the closest ruins in the Sacred Valley.  My verdict, go to Tipón first.  It´s better maintained, greener, and with the natural spring, more beautiful. To get here, take the bus to Urubamba from Pavitos street in Cuzco.  Get off Moray.  Your options of getting to the ruin are limited (they are 14km away).  The cab runs S./15 each way.  Alternatively, you can do a bike ride to the ruins.  The circular terraces were used for crop rotation (each terrace differed by .5º C so they were experimenting with temperature differences) and the larger one as an amphitheater.  The cab will drop you off at the control, but a dirt path leading down to Urubamba suggests that you could sneak in from the valley.  There is a nice hike from Las Salineras to Urubamba (another S./15 to get there).

Chinchero. Second favorite ruin in this list. Take the bus/ convey/ taxi from Pavitos street in Cuzco.  Get off at Chinchero.  From the big sign that talks about the ruins, walk up until you see the plaza on your left. Walk through the plaza, and take the street up that is closest to Urubamba (away from Cuzco).  Although there are three controls in the city, going up the left hand side (if you are facing the ruins) lets you avoid all three.  The ruins, the church, and the market are all worth checking out.

Finally, Q´enqo. These ruins are a short trip from Cuzco and a lovely afternoon hike.  Walk up through San Blas until you hit the road going to Sacsayhuaman.  On the road should be a small sign for rock climbing.  If you cross the small creek and follow the path up, you reach the Moon Temple (when you get there, make sure you go into the caves).  For Q´enqo climb the hills on the other side of the creek until you pass a massive Inca stone wall. You can reach Q´enqo from the backside by crossing the bridge.

Happy Travels! Cuzco Restaurant and the Rest of the Sacred Valley Ruins Soon!

Getting in the Christmas Spirit (Read This)

December 1, 2010 at 6:00 am | Posted in Culture, Cuzco, Kiva, Microfinance, Peru, Philosophy, Travel, United States | Leave a comment
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Merry Christmas! This post is a MUST READ and is partially a carry over post from my minimalism post on Black Friday, and partially its own entity about making the holidays worthwhile.

First of all, I love Christmas. The tree, Christmas lights (you can ask my parents about what I did to our house when I was a little kid), hot cider, going over to Grandma´s house on Christmas Eve, eating tamales (everyone has their own Christmas traditions), the stockings, Eggs Benedict Christmas morning, watching my Beagle open up his gifts.  The feeling of being around those who you love and those who love you.  I love all of it.

As I search for meaning over the Holidays, I reflect on what I would change about all of it if I could.  And (I know I am not original saying this) I think that we mistake all the great feelings that culminate in Christmas for what we give and what we receive instead of the traditions and the people that really matter.  More than that, I–and I´m sure I´m not alone in this–find myself buying gifts that people don´t want just for the sake of giving them something.

My advice: if you run across that person that has everything this holiday season, instead of buying them another thing that they don´t want or need, get creative.  Buy> my shameless plug goes here: buy Kiva gift cards (you are giving something and helping entrepreneurs around the world!) Or buy gifts from social responsible and cause related not-for-profits like Ten Thousand Villages or Nightlight International *great handmade jewelry! Or give the gift of time: I remember one of my favorite gifts as a kid was a book from my Dad full of outings to the beach, ice dream, hiking, Disneyland, etc. It becomes more than a gift, but an excuse to spend time with your loved ones.

 

The Cusco Christmas Market

My final thought for the 1st of December concerns my own holiday plans.  With some of the people in the office, we are pooling our money to buy food, toys, and small gifts for the poor that come to sell handicrafts at the Cusco Christmas market on the 24th.  I am putting forward $50 with another $100 or so from my co-workers.  I have never been one to ask for money; however, if this is something you are interested in giving money to, feel free to donate (right hand side of the page) and (like Kiva) 100% of the money given will get to the families that need it most on Christmas Eve.  And you can count on me taking pictures and blogging about the project after its through!

Merry Christmas from Down South

Closing Thoughts

November 4, 2010 at 8:48 pm | Posted in Culture, Guatemala, Guatemala City, Kiva, Microfinance, Peru, Travel, United States | 1 Comment
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This is my last blog. At least in Guatemala. Today is my last day.  Tomorrow, I jump on one of those planes that I hear fly every night over the house to take me back to the good ´ole US of A. So, I offer you some closing thoughts.

The experience has been amazing.  Besides learning about microfinance, I have learned about myself: who I am, how I confront challenges, and how to live alone in a country that isn´t my own.  And, I have gotten really good at speaking Spanish.

The pictures are from FAPE, the microfinance institution where I have spent the last few months working as a Kiva Fellow.  From working on repayment reporting and strengthening the Kiva connection between borrowers, lenders, the MFI, and Kiva to implementing lengthy social performance evaluation managment surveys and doing a lot of training on the Kiva process in Spanish, I can say that I have been blessed to have been assigned to such an awesome field partner.

Unrelated, I have begun to discover a few things about microfinance.  It isn´t the “silver” bullet that will eliminate poverty by itself.  It will take people from around the world contributing their skills, talents and resources, and it will take big picture policy changes on the parts of governments throughout the world.  However, I (personally) agree with Muhummad Yunus when he said that “Access to credit is a fundamental human right”.  The access to financial services will allow the poor to smooth their income streams, preserve capital for future disasters, and obtain capital for their businesses (in that order).

Access and provision of financial services to the poor will introduce competition to the market and as the laws of supply and demand dictate, the relevant price of financial products to the poor will fall.  There has been a lot of negative press in microfinance lately, concerning the apparent suicides in India and a recent conference in New York.  But both beg the question if microfinance does more harm than good.  To which I (and most of the microfinance community) would respond no.

All of the clients that I have met have expressed their deep gratitude for the loans and services provided by FAPE, and the key to all of this as I mentioned earlier is access.  Microfinance provides something that was almost inaccessible for most people in poverty (or at the very least unaffortable): financial services. And through these financial services (as their progress and impact is closely monitored and controled) and policy changes, I believe that we may begin to see people escape from poverty.

Figured I´d end my last Guatemala post with the Guatemalan ruins of Iximché that I visited last week.  All the Best!

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