the end is the beginning

The best decision of my life. And I don’t know what the second best was, but it’s not close. A year ago I didn’t have a motorcycle license, had never taught a kid a thing, and didn’t speak a word of French. Now I’ve been a ski instructor at Vail, rode 10,000Km through South and Central Europe, and can almost fluently say “mon francaise, c’est pas tres bien”. I spent a night on the ground by my bike in Mljet (a nature reserve/paradise island in Croatia), I learned to do backflips (into water), read more than I did in college, swam in the Mediterranean a hundred times. I saw an F1 race for free (from afar), biked through Croatian islands, sailed across the Aegean, and contemplated more sunsets and sunrises than in my last ten years combined.

I met so many great people it’s hard for my brain to process how many people one can meet and care about.

Why did I stop? All this travelling has made me more human, more eager to contribute to the world. Travelling seemed like it was about to become a routine, I’m ready to contribute with more than my good humor.

So here I am, in New York City, figuring out what the best way to do that is.

Thanks to everyone that was a part of this, the good times spent together will not be quickly forgotten. Thank you for your smiles, for your help when I needed it, for being a voice that yells out how great the world is and how many great people are out there, ready to teach you something, and to be your friends.

If I had one recurring thought, it has been on how to make the world a better place. To me, it is key to realize we are humans before being anything else. We are ALL human, we ALL come from the same tribe millions of years ago. Thinking of ourselves as human instead of (American/Catholic/Hispanic/Arab/etc) will not solve every problem, but I believe it’s a good start.

Hope you enjoy the pictures… please keep in touch!

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So, here’s what I’ve been doing in the last month, I’ll try to keep it to one highlight per day (if you have only one minute, I suggest watching the videos from Siena).

One random thought before I start. Tiana, who I met in Cinque Terre, had an idea that I think is brilliant: “why don’t we call places by their real names in their original language?” in other words, Florence should be Firenze, Spain should be España, and Italy should be Italia. I’ll try to keep true to that one here. There is one that’s kind of problematic: Switzerland is called four different names (Schweiz, Suisse, Svizzera, Svizra) BY ITS OWN CITIZENS! I’ve read the history of the country, but I still cant believe how one of the richest, most educated, peacefulest (screw you autocorrect! I’m leaving in peacefulest), countries in the world is composed of states that speak four different languages, is land-locked, and divided by the Alps that must have made it impossible to cross in the not too distant past. OK, so here is my little travel blog from the past month…

Forte dei Marmi: the best two plates of pasta I’ve ever tasted: penne scampi and fish-filled ravioli with a shrimp curry sauce, thank you Luigi!

Meeting and instantly organizing a crazy night out in Florence with Rishav (India), Sara (Australia), Stans (Holland), and Karl (Canada), now known as The Pussy Posse… the greatest nights are better left pictureless.

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I met a pretty girl from Brooklyn, we had good drinks and great conversations, we kissed in one of those automatic photo booths, she left me two of the four pictures but forgot to write down her contact… some nights are better left as memories?

I spent like 10 minutes without blinking, looking at this sculpture at Piazza di la Signora, trying to figure out how the fuck did this guy turn a huge block of marble into three humans interacting like this?

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I swam at night in the Mediterranean at Riomaggiore, kudos to Tiana for coming up with the idea, sorry about the lacerated foot, hope it’s healing well.

2015-06-30 02.03.49 Sea Kayaking in Monterosso. 2015-07-01 19.12.36 Ridiculous sunsets in Cinque Terre 2015-07-01 21.13.18 2015-06-30 20.46.56

The 12 seafood antipasti at Tratoria dal Billy in Manerola, and the two plates of pasta that followed (smoked swordfish and truffle spaghetti anyone?)

Got caught up in the middle of the celebration of July’s Palio in Sienna… I can’t understate how absolutely insane these people are about winning that horse race. 

And that’s only the first week!

Drove 7 hours Siena-Marseille and the next day rode my bike 9 hours (7 hours road time) to Schweiz with temperatures reaching 38C. I met our family friend Rene and after a cold Swiss brewsky, we walked 20 minutes up the river that borders his farm, then swam back with the current, exiting to say hi to his local pals who were grilling by the river, and offered us a beer while watching the sunset behind at least 50 balloons in the distance. IMG-20150704-WA0005

Chilling next to the lake in Luzerne with Christin and her friends.

Riding across the Swiss Alps, alternating between 38C and 13C at the top of the passes, definitely the coolest bike ride yet. 2015-07-07 15.13.42 2015-07-07 15.14.12 2015-07-07 15.39.25

Canyoning at Chli Schliere near Interlaken with 15 California kids who just got out of highschool. Watch the video to understand the level of adrenaline this entails (I don’t have pics from that day, sadly)… I’m proud to say I pulled off my first backflip, another reminder 36 is not late to try new things.

Making friends with four Korean girls at my hostel in Salzburg, making due backpacking Europe with really bad English… respect.

Memorable nights in Brno with some Italian Biology PhD’s and Alexis the Cell Biologist from Singapore, traveling solo around the world.

Wien, where I met for beers with Lauri from Finland through We found ourselves having a pretty intense chat with an Austrian economist at an outdoor film festival. The economist had very strong views on every topic from the Greek Crisis to the potential bankruptcy of Germany to how the US Fed is controlled; and he would not be swayed by anything we said (or researched). After the guy went on his way, Lauri turned to me and said some of the wisest words I’ve heard:

“An argument is worth having only if each party involved is willing to change its opinion”

Watching a Queen concert on a giant screen mounted on a palace’s facade in Wien, talking about Guate with Mariana, una maestra del Austriaco. 2015-07-16 23.05.21 2015-07-16 22.58.58

I spent the weekend in Budapest, never ceases to impress with its architecture and sheer size. This time I got to experience a bunch of ruin bars: ancient or soviet buildings that were about to be run down, and instead were decorated and turned into some really cool pubs. One of the greatest weekends of my life.

Guatemala’s Real Hidden Gems – Pedro’s Top 5

I recently read one of those “list” articles with this same title and was like “whoa! What a great idea!” Guate has so much to offer beyond the standard Atitlán – Tikal – Antigua tour. But when I read the article I was disappointed because none of the places were actually hidden… so I’m stealing the title and giving you my own version of Guatemala’s Real Hidden Gems. How hidden are these places? I’d bet less than 95% of Guatemalan’s have heard of all 5, and less than 1% of Guatemalan’s have visited even one of them.

I would love to hear feedback and get some controversy going on what other gems should have made the list. So! here we go…

Not “hidden” enough – the aforementioned Tikal (and Yaxhá), Antigua, Panajachel (not a gem, either) / Atitlán and its towns, Semuc Champey, Pacaya Volcano “Lava River Hike”, Chichicastenango Market, Sportfishing in the Pacific, La Reunion Resort and Spa.

Honorable  Mentions – Las Conchas, Alta Verapaz; Acatenango and Santa María hikes; Grutas de Candelaria, Alta Verapaz; Finca Ixobel, Petén (; rafting Río Cahabón; Laguna Lachuá, Quiché; El Cimarrón, Huehuetenango.

#5 – Laguna Petexbatún and Ruinas de Aguateca, Petén

Take a one-hour water taxi from Sayaxché up Río La Pasión to arrive at the pristine jungles of Petexbatún. Stay at Chimino’s Island Lodge, where each of the 4 bungalows seems to be in complete solitude, with thatched roof and mosquito net instead of windows, it’s an intimate way to take in the sights (360 degrees of dense jungle or lake), smells (“de tierra mojada” like we say in Guate), feelings (the humidity of the jungle) and, specially, the sounds (howler monkeys live atop the trees in the island). To round out the 5 senses, the ultra-friendly staff cooks up some of the best home cooking I’ve ever had for breakfast and dinner.

You can walk around the island to find remains of an ancient Mayan site with a “Juego de Pelota” court and sacrifice temple, still standing; or borrow a kayak from the hotel and go for a cool tour around the island.

The Aguateca ruins are a 10 minute boat ride away, a local guide will tell you about the history of the old city and its relationship with the others nearby (Ceibal, Dos Pilas). Although smaller than Tikal and Yaxhá, the city has a special charm from being right on the lake, as well as the large “hikeable” fault that parts it down the middle.

#4 – Volcán Tajumulco, San Marcos

At 4,220 meters, the highest peak in Central America is a little harder to get to than Acatenango and Santa María, but it’s worth it. The 4-6 hour hike is lined with very well kept forests, and the views from the top are simply stunning. The campsite is relatively flat, about 200 vertical meters from the summit, and although sleeping at over 4,000 meters (and subzero temperatures in Jan-Feb) is never easy, the price you pay in comfort is more than made up when you take your first peek of the sunrise from the top.

#3 – Laguna Brava, Huehuetenango

The most hidden of these gems! Stay at Finca Chaculá Lodge, a really really old farmhouse converted into B&B, very clean and comfortable, nice food, and super friendly staff. Take a 2 hour horseback ride down a steep mountainside that reaches a beautiful small river that leads to Laguna Brava: one kilometer of green-blue freshness, with no houses or people, except for the (extremely) rustic bedrooms and kitchen that you can rent for dirt cheap and spend a night there (I didn’t spend the night there because I didn’t know about it before, but next time I’ll bring my sleeping bag and stay there for sure. I’m sure you can get locals to cook for you for very cheap also).

#2 – Cueva de Caxlampón and Finca Paraíso, Izabal

A 30 minute drive from Finca Paraíso and a 45 minute hike will take you to the entrance to the cave, say goodbye to sunshine! Afer a 30 minute hike inside the cave, you find your first real obstacle, a 25 meter drop you must rappel down (in complete darkness), after you catch your breath and regroup with your mates, you restart your trek, going over and under boulders for another hour until you hear something familiar… yup, a river just entered the cave, and you will spend the next 2-3 hours (in total darkness) alternating between hiking, splashing, and swimming, with the eventual 7-9 meter (pitch black) plunge into the river pools below.

After 5-6 hours in the cave, you come out to the beautiful Guatemalan jungle, where you hike downriver for another 30 minutes and then walk a bit to your tent in Finca Paraíso on a beach at Lake Izabal. The next day, walk a few minutes up the same river to a beautiful pool where the cold river meets with a hot-springs waterfall, and you’ll understand where this farm gets its name.

#1 – El Mirador Trek

Arrive in Carmelita before dawn, make sure your guides and mules are ready and your bags are packed with the right things, lie on your sleeping bag in the “tourism office” and get some sleep, this is the most comfortable you’ll be for the next few days. For the next two days, you’ll be trekking through dense jungle, so dense the only moment you see the sun is by summing the main pyramid in the Mayan city of Tintal, your home for the first night. A 7-hour trek later, you’ll see the first remains of El Mirador, the largest Mayan city, whose barriers to access have helped kept it a relative secret.

The only inhabitants of El Mirador (and a 40 Km. radius) are the archeologists who are uncovering the city and studying the ancient Maya. Walk around El Mirador and hike up to its numerous pyramids, including “La Danta” the most massive Mayan pyramid, and larger than either of it’s more famous Egyptian cousins. After a couple of nights, head back on the 2-day hike to Carmelita through the “chiclero” camp La Florida.

Being in the jungle for five days or more will give you a new perspective on what the Maya had to endure, and perhaps, like me, you’ll discover a part of yourself you didn’t notice before.

FOOTNOTES: How to get there and other important information.

  1. El Mirador:
    • Bus or car from Flores to Carmelita is about 1-2 hours (you can also shell out about $5,000 for a group of 5 to get to El Mirador by helicopter… but that would be cheating)
    • Contact the Carmelita tourism office 2-3 months in advance if possible, to arrange guides, mules, food and water. That said, I know people that have just shown up without reservations and were able to secure a guide.
    • Best time to go is dry season (late March and April), and I highly recommend it, since during rainy season some parts of the rainforest turn into waist-high or chest-high wetlands.
    • Make sure you have the right attire and equipment.
  1. Caxlampón:
    • Contact La Rocalla well in advance to reserve guides and gear, they can arrange your stay at Finca Paraíso (or a nearby hotel) and transportation as well.
    • I recommend practicing rappelling a little before your adventure, you can do that at any rock-climbing center.
    • Make sure you have the right attire and equipment.
  1. Laguna Brava:
    • Contact Finca Chacula Lodge well in advance and arrange the expedition through them, it should be cheap, like Q80 per horse per day.
    • To get there, I recommend you rent a car and drive, it’s a 7 hour drive from Guatemala City, but it’s well worth it with enough attractions in the area to fill out 3 days. Maybe you can combine it with Tajumulco.
  1. Tajumulco:
    • Arrange a guide in Quetzaltenango or through Inguat, I don’t recommend you hike it without a guide.
    • Best month is November, then December through March.
    • You can take a bus from Quetzaltenango or Guatemala San Marcos, then another to the starting point. Drive from Guatemala is about 5 hours.
  1. Petexbatún:
    • Get to Sayaxché on a bus, taxi or car from Flores, about 1.5 hours south.
    • Book in advance and Chiminos Island Lodge will arrange everything for you (taxi/bus, water taxi, day trips).

In general: Guatemala is less dangerous than its reputation, but I still recommend you arrange for local guides prior to your trip, buy a local cell phone, don’t carry unnecessary valuables, and be discreet at all times.