Friday, October 28, 2011

What I am looking forward to in DC

Next week, I am headed to DC for training.  I haven't been to the U.S. since February, making this the longest I have ever been outside the U.S.  Here are definitely a few things that I am looking forward to in DC.

  1. Friends - I will get to see friends from high school, college, possibly law school, work in DC, and people from Belize.  A lot of people to fit into a short week.
  2. Halloween - Even though Saturday will be the big night out, it should be fun going out to a bar on Monday.
  3. Bars, Pubs, Happy Hours - Drinking a beer that is not Belikin will be such a delight.
  4. Food - Steak, Roast beef, Ray's Hell Burgers, Five Guys, Pot Bellys, yummm
  5. Chilly weather - Hope the snow that is supposed to hit DC this weekend is gone by the time I get there Sunday night, but crisp fall weather will be pleasant.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Fun with kids

Spent this past weekend in Hopkins celebrating my friend Kevin's birthday.  There were about twenty of us who went down there, including seven kids ages 1.5-10.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Who done it?

When I joined the foreign service, I assumed that I would spend much of my time attending fancy foreign dinners.  I had images of downing vodka in Moscow with toast after toast following the signing of an important treaty (note - much of my images of diplomats may come directly from Tom Clancy novels).  During my time in Belize, I have been to a grand total of two representational events which were not thrown by our Embassy.  I attended the Lebanese Day celebration my first month here and the Brazil Independence Day celebration.  Neither of these involved fancy sit-down dinners with multiple forks.  Last night I finally got my fancy dinner.  It wasn't a celebration of a fancy treaty, a major holiday, or the birthday of an Ambassador.  No, it was a murder mystery dinner hosted by Margarita and Emile.

The theme of the night was an island wedding gone awry when the bride is murdered.  I played Michael Cavanaugh, an international croquet champion and gigolo who has a preference for rich women in their 70s and 80s with one foot in the grave.  Joining us for the evening were the groom, his father, the wedding planner and her ex-husband lounge singer, the bride's hippie half-sister, the groom's secret half-sister and the groom's ex-girlfriend.  Despite the incredible hokiness of the game, we had a lot of fun with it.

In addition, the food and the decor were fantastic.  We had five or six courses, champagne, wine, and all the fancy forks you can imagine.  Margarita went all out with her decorations.  She even went so far as to have a "rehearsal dinner" with her kids the night before.  I would happily let Margarita organize any party I would ever host or attend.

The dinner table.  How amazing is this?

Check out the wine bucket on the left.  It is an ice sculpture with flowers frozen into the ice.
It took her 4 days to make this.
Dean Cash and his awesome lounge singer mustache.

The second course - lobster and fruit salad served in a coconut half.

The wedding cake - she even had a bride/groom wedding topper next to the cake.

Turns out that the ex-girlfriend (and beauty queen) did it!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Guat's Up Dude?

Last October, my friend Chris from A-100 came to visit me in Belize.  This weekend, I got to make the return trip.  All in all, it was just about a perfect trip - the complete opposite of my disastrous vacation in Panama.

Chris with US Embassy
I arrived on Friday afternoon and after Chris picked me up, we headed to the Embassy for a quick tour.  The US Embassy in Guatemala is located in a fairly central part of town.  The building is a 3 story concrete office building straight out of the 1970s.  Compared to our Embassy in Belmopan, there is a lot less green space.  All of the offices seemed fuller and a bit more cramped - given how many people work there compared to Belmopan, it should be no surprise.  Despite being 3 pm on a Friday, the Embassy was actually closed.  Everyone works 9 hour days Monday through Thursday and gets a half day on Friday.  I wouldn't mind adopting that in Belize.

Three volcanoes outside Guatemala City
(note the middle one is smoking)
Chris's apartment in Guatemala is amazing.  Guatemala does not have a housing pool like most posts.  Instead, the officers are allotted a specific amount of funds and have to go find their own place.  Chris did pretty good in finding this place.  He has a view of three different volcanoes from his balcony, a roof top pool, two living rooms, an amazing kitchen, maid's quarters, and a jacuzzi in his bathroom.
After a few beers on his balcony, Chris's girlfriend, Monica, joined us for dinner.  We went to a local steak house and our dinner was delicious.  The next morning, Monica made us a traditional Guatemalan breakfast with plantains, eggs, beans, and guacamole.  It was delicious.

Overlooking Antigua
After breakfast, we headed to Antigua.  Antigua is actually "Antigua Guatemala" or "Old Guatemala."  It was the capital of much of Central America during Spanish Colonial times.  An earthquake destroyed much of the capital, so the Spanish moved it to the current Guatemala City.  Only about 45 minutes from Guatemala City, the quaint town is a great get-away from the hustle and bustle that is Guatemala City.  The town is surrounded by the mountains and has a nice little town center.  There are lots of shops, restaurants, and bars.  It really is a great place to spend a leisurely afternoon or a nice weekend.

The highlight of my weekend was Saturday night.  Two months ago, when Chris and I planned this trip, I mentioned to Chris that I would like to be able to watch the Nebraska-Ohio State game.  Chris is also a college football fan, so he understood.  We went to watch the game at pretty big sports bar, where we had the largest plate of nachos I have ever seen.  The first half of the game I was miserable.  The Huskers were playing awful.  The game was conspiring to ruin my weekend.  THEN, the Huskers started turning it around.  When Taylor Martinez scored in the 3rd quarter, I jumped up and yelled, forgetting I was in a bar full of Guatemalans who couldn't care less about this game.  After the next TD, I didn't care who stared at me.  By the time, Nebraska scored the winning TD, several Guatemalans were cheering on Nebraska with me.  I know that I am way too emotionally attached to a football team, but this comeback really made the weekend better.

Celebratory shot after Nebraska's win
The other major revelation of the weekend came when the bar played the classic Richie Valens' hit "La Bamba."  I have always known the chorus of that song to be, "La la la la la bamba."  I was singing along when Monica called me out.  She insisted that the words were "para bailar la bamba."  I called bullshit and we playfully argued about it the rest of the night.  The song was even played at another bar that night and I still heard the lyrics my way.  It wasn't until the next day when I looked up the lyrics online that I was convinced.  This is truly mind-blowing.

Sunday morning, we drove through the mountains to Lake Atitlan.  Lake Atitlan is formed by a volcanic crater and is surrounded by three volcanoes.  The lake is gorgeous and the surrounding cliffs are majestic.  Our hotel was fantastic.  They had a botanical garden and an aviary.  There was an infinity jacuzzi and TWO helipads.  The nearby town of Panajachel was a fun little town.  Nearby, there were a variety of adventure sports - SCUBA in the lake, kayaking, zip lines, hiking.  If I were to come back to Guatemala, I could see spending several days in the area.

My favorite photo of the weekend - Antigua

Check out Chris's chicken bus t-shirt.  After spotting it in Antigua, we  made fun of the shirt all night.
So when we saw it in Panajachel, Chris had to buy it.

The view from our pool at Lake Atitlan

One of the Macaws in the aviary.  These guys were nasty.
They would screech at me if I came near and raise their talons at me.

This waterfall was right off the road.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

National TV

Last Thursday, and again this morning, I started my day off by appearing live on national TV and radio to promote the Diversity Visa Lottery.  It sounds so much cooler to call it national TV than to point out that as Belize only has a population of 300,000, I likely reached no more than 15,000 total people.  Still, it is nice to get out of the office and being on TV (and simulcast on the radio) is fun.

(If you happen to be a non-U.S. Citizen reader and are interested in immigrating to the U.S., you can go to to register).

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Congratulations Katie

I've been looking forward to October 1 for weeks now.  It was jam-packed.  Nebraska's first Big Ten game against the Wisconsin Badgers - possibly the biggest game of the year.  The first ever Scavenger Hash, which I was "setting."  Rotary's annual Wine and Cheese fundraiser, one of the biggest social events of the year in Belmopan.  It was my little sister's 25th birthday.  And last week, the St. Louis Cardinals had completed a miracle comeback to win the wild card and would start the MLB post season on Saturday.

So, I had been looking forward to this day for a while.  But though some of the things I was looking forward to were awesome (the Scavenger Hash) and some were not (the Huskers game), the biggest news came from my little sister.  At just after midnight on her 25th birthday, her boyfriend Paul proposed to her and she said yes.

Congratulations Katie and Paul
Katie and Paul in San Pedro