Finca El Paraiso & El Boquerón Canyon

Let me just say, these two sites are extremely underrated in the guidebooks on Guatemala! Everything I read barely glanced over them, but these are a must see, trust me! 

Finca El Paraiso

This is a hot waterfall...yes hot, painfully hot at the top, actually. But don't worry, you won't have to touch that part. First things first, you can visit both these sites from Rio Dulce, you should visit both in the same day, and the whole entire thing including all transportation and entrance fees is about 70Q, around $9! Insane. 

 Gui having fun in the water. 

Gui having fun in the water. 

 This is the top of the waterfall. The water is VERY hot!

This is the top of the waterfall. The water is VERY hot!

Grab a collectivo from town. You'll most likely be dropped off at the Sun Dog Café when you get into Rio Dulce, and they can tell you where to get the collectivo. But ask any collectivo driver, and they will help you out. The ride is about 10Q. 

They will take you to your first stop which is the hot waterfall. You'll pay an entrance fee of 5Q. You'll walk back through the woods along a river which flows from the waterfall. You'll begin to smell the sulfur. Once you arrive at the waterfall, you can drop your things off to be watched by the guard. The guard can also help you explore the many wonders of this waterfall including the cave, jumping off from the top, and the white lava mud bath! 

Swim around and play at your leisure, make sure to find the creepy small cave. When you are ready, ask the guide to take you to the white lava mud. You'll crawl up an awesome steep path, using vines to help, to reach the top of the waterfall. Up top, the water is nearly boiling, and not safe to stand in. You'll walk back a ways into the woods and the guard will disappear further back, and come back with a ball of white mud. He'll use the hot water to thin the mud and lather it all over your skin for a natural spa day. Later, when it comes off in the water, your skin will be baby soft. This experience was so fun!

 Gui's first spa experience

Gui's first spa experience

 Covered in the white lava mud

Covered in the white lava mud

When we were done, the guide brought us back and showed us where we could jump from the top (video here) of the waterfall back into the water. Sadly, we were the only ones of about 15 people there who took advantage of this whole tour! Everyone missed out on the jumping and the mud because they didn't want to make the climb. So make sure to ask the guard! 

Once you're done, head back out to the road, and jump on the next collectivo to El Boquerón. It should be about 10Q. 

El Boquerón Canyon

This was so $#%! cool. And you know what's crazy? Everyone I spoke to said I could miss it, that it was nothing that special. But that's because they didn't go deep enough into the canyon! Yes you can just pay the entrance fee (10Q) and just take the 10 minutes boat ride into the canyon until your young guide drops you off onto the "beach" (15Q)....but what no one will tell you is that if the water is low enough, you can walk deep into the canyon! Hours into it in fact! 

WARNING: This is NOT a guided tour. No one goes back there with you. Sometimes the water is deep enough that you must swim. You will be swimming against currents, climbing over rocks, etc. It was exhilarating, but at times a little frightening, and I did wonder if we didn't return if anyone would even come looking. With that being said, if you are careful, this is a stunning experience. 

We ended up adventuring in about an hour until we got to a point where we couldn't figure out a safe way to keep going so we went back. It was amazing to be alone (well me and my boyfriend), nothing with us, our belongings left in the canoe with the boy who dropped us off, swimming, walking, looking up at the high canyon walls, wondering if anyone or anything was around us. My boyfriend, who has been skydiving (something I would never do...I think) said adventuring deep into the canyon was the craziest things he'd ever done. 

Overall, well well worth it!

The ride back into town is about 20Q and there you have it! If you are in Rio Dulce, do not miss these amazing sites! 

Semuc Champey

I just returned from an amazing trip to Guatemala and Belize. I'll be posting my full itinerary soon, but wanted to go in depth on some of the highlights of the trip. The first thing I want to talk about was our adventure to Semuc Champey which was undoubtedly one of the most fun days of my life (and I promise I've had a lot of fun days!).

What It's Like

Semuc Champey itself is seven tiered pools of crystal clear green waters. You can swim in all the pools and the way to access the next one down is just to jump in, or "slide" down small waterfalls. It's one of the most stunning and unreal places I've ever been. 

When you go to Semuc, if you take a tour which I highly recommend, it's an all day adventure. From Lanquin, you ride on curvy and bumpy dirt roads for about 45 minutes, standing in the back of a pickup truck holding onto steal rods. 

You'll start your adventure in the K'anba Caves. They are caves with a few bats and lots of water which you sometimes have to swim through, but mostly can walk through. You'll scale rope ladders up waterfalls, jump into black waters from 15 feet up, and slide through a small tunnel into the abyss all in this adventure. 

Then your guide will take you to a rope swing, video below, and then a waterfall which turns out is the very end of the seven pools. You can swim to the waterfall which is so fun because the current is tough to fight! 

After this, you can do some river tubing down the river until you reach the 11 meter bridge which you can then jump off of. Of course I had to do it. I was very proud of myself; I don't think I realized how high it actually was because once I started falling it felt like forever! Be careful here, you definitely want to pencil in. Landing anywhere on your side will end in large body bruises! 

Then your guide will say you can hike to El Mirador which is a nice view point of the pools from above, however I do not recommend this. It's a difficult hike alsmot straight up for 30 minutes and then 20 minutes down to the pools. This leaves you with only an hour to experience the pools. The view was not a worthy trade-off, and if I had to do it over I would prefer to spend more time in the pools. 

 El Mirador, the view from the top

El Mirador, the view from the top

How to Get There

We stayed in Lanquin which I highly recommend. We booked our tour through our hostel the night before. You can also stay in Coban but its almost 2 hours away from Semuc, where Lanquin is a nice 45 minute back-of-a-pick-up-truck ride away! 

 You can get a nice massage (or shower) from the waterfalls that cascade in between each pool!

You can get a nice massage (or shower) from the waterfalls that cascade in between each pool!

Where I Stayed & What I Paid

We stayed at El Retiro Lodge in Lanquin and paid 150Q which is about $20/night for a private hut, but they have much cheaper accommodations as well. Bear in mind there are NO ATM's in Lanquin so come prepared. The amazing all day trip to the caves and Semuc which included transportation there was about $25 US. Astounding, right?! 

If you have any questions about this adventure, leave a comment below!

World's Best Brownies

I've been searching for the best brownie recipe for quite some time. If you are going to do boxed brownies, you get Ghirardelli, or anything called triple fudge...always. But if you feel like making them from scratch, these are the way to go. They are like the dense, fudgey brownies you pay too much for at the cute but over-priced bakery. They also have a thin layer of frosting on top that is almost a ganache-consistency that adds another level of flavor and helps keeps the brownies moist. And besides that extra complexity of making the frosting, these brownies are really simple. You won't regret trying these. And you won't miss the box. 

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips

Frosting Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened, bordering melted
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup powdered sugar

Directions

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch square pan.
2. Melt 1/2 cup butter in a large sauce pan.
3. Transfer melted butter to a large bowl and stir in the 1 c. sugar, 2 eggs, and 1 tsp vanilla. 
4. Next, beat in 1/3 c. cocoa powder, 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/4 cup baking powder. 
5. Fold in the chocolate chips, and spread into prepared pan. 
6. Bake in oven for 30-40 minutes or until a knife comes out clean. Do not over-bake. 
7. While the brownies cook, make the frosting. Combine all the ingredients and stir until smooth. Frost the brownies 5 minutes after they come out of the oven. 

6 Unexpected Items You Need on Your Backpacking Trip

Packing is one of my favorite parts of the trip-planning-process, partly because I'm a freak for organization, but also because it means you are getting very close to the trip! This is a great place to start, but I actually think there are a lot of things on there you don't need to bring. Don't bring items "in case" (like an umbrella)....you can buy that stuff during the trip if you do end up needing it. Try to keep your backpack as light as possible, around 20 lbs at the most. I'll definitely be taking all 6 of these things on my upcoming trip to Guatemala and Belize! 

1. Headlamp — I brought this on a whim to my first backpacking trip to Europe and wouldn't travel without it again. From late night trips to the hostel bathroom, to the random cave adventure you didn't expect to go on, this is a very useful item! 

2. Quick Dry Towel — These towels are super thin and light; they won't take up much space in your bag. They are great for water-related adventures, but also at hostels. Every now and then you need to rent towels and you can avoid the hassle and the extra expense with one of these. 

3. Journal — You need a journal! Just trust me, you need a journal. 

4. Nylon String — I use this mostly for laundry (in use in Peru here), and since it's virtually weightless and very small, it's no problem to add it to your bag. But I have no doubt the string will also prove valuable for more than just laundry. 

5. Carabiners — I mostly used these to attach random things to my purse, like my water bottle or scarf, but these end up coming in handy for a million things you'd never expect! 

6. Suction cups — I use the netted bag from my quick dry towel for my toiletries (shampoo and such). Throw a suction cup or two in the bag as well and use it in hostel shower to hang the toiletry bag from so you don't have to set it on the floor.

Chocolate Croissants

I've been wanting to make croissants for a long time, months probably. But these things take time....and so I had to wait for a weekend that was fully open. I started these on Friday night and then on Sunday morning had a very flaky, buttery, and chocolatey breakfast in bed! It took about 20 minutes Friday night, about 4 straight hours on Saturday, and about on hour on Sunday. The back-breaking work is on the middle day. You need a lot of energy to roll these out! Luckily I was able to bribe someone into helping me for a little bit; but honestly I did most of the work. 

This was a really fun weekend project that I would definitely recommend! Although after all the rolling out, my whole body was sore for 2 days! Also note, I usually like to roll things out with a bottle of wine (or a beer can on bad days) because I don't own a rolling pin. But you definitely need a rolling pin for this one! 

Ingredients

• 1 1/4 cup warm milk
• 2 1/2 tea. instant yeast
• 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling dough
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 2 tea. salt
• 2 1/4 sticks butter
• 1 egg
• chocolate chips (optional)

Directions

1. In a large bowl, stir together 1 cup of flour, yeast, and warm milk. Let the bowl sit for 20 minutes so the yeast can bubble. 
2. Add the remaining 2 1/4 cups of flour, sugar, and salt, and stir until combined. Place the dough on a floured surface, and knead for about 2 minutes by hand. Form into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

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3. Once dough has rested in the refrigerator, prepare the butter. Cut cold butter length-wise, about 1/2 inch thick and lay them on parchment paper in a square about 7x7 inches.
4. Cover with another sheet of parchment paper and use a rolling pin to roll into a uniform slab. Uncover and cut edges as needed, placing scraps back onto the top. Roll again, and continue until you get the 7x7 inch square of butter. Place it back into the refrigerator while you roll out the dough.
5. Remove dough from the refrigerator and roll into a 12 x 12 square on a floured surface.

6. Place the cold butter slab in the center of the rolled out dough, at an angel as shown.
7. Pull each corner of dough over the edge of the butter.
8. Press lightly to seal the butter in the dough and expel excess air.

9. Roll out to a rectangle about 12x24 inches. I enlisted a bit of help for this part!
10. Fold 1/3 of the dough over itself.

11. Fold the bottom third of the dough up.
12. Place the dough on a baking sheet, cover with plastic, and let it rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour. Play with the cats during this hour. 
13. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Place on a floured surface so it is perpendicular to the rolling pin. Repeat steps 9-12 two more times. 

14. Remove the dough from the fridge, and cut it in half length-wise. Wrap one half in plastic wrap and keep it in the fridge while you work with the other half. 
15. Revel in all of your hard work that is now layers and layers of butter and dough!!!
16. Roll the dough out into an 8x15 inch rectangle. Cut into even triangular shapes. 

17. Take a triangle, and very gently roll it out to about 10 inches. It's easy to squish or break the dough at this point so be delicate. If you want chocolate croissants, insert chocolate chips now at the bottom end of the triangle. 
18. Roll the triangle from the wide end up until you form a crescent shape. Bend the legs inward to form the C. Repeat with remaining triangles. 
19. Place all your croissants (12-14) on a cookie sheet (covered) and let them proof overnight in the fridge. 20. Remove the croissants 2 hours before you intend to bake to allow them to come to room temperature.  
21. Preheat oven to 400°F. Whisk the egg and paint some on each croissant. Bake for 15 minutes. Rotate, and bake for about 5 more minutes if necessary. 

Saltine Toffee

Saltine toffee is sooooo delicious. I made it over the holidays for my boyfriend's family. It's really fun to make and has a nice rustic look when it's all said and done. You don't really taste the saltine, it's basically just a vehicle for chocolate and toffee that disappears in all the deliciousness. The toffee turns out with a soft crunchy texture. It's really hard to stop eating! I made half just plain chocolate, and half with crushed up candied cashews on it. 

Ingredients:

40 saltine crackers (about one tube)
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
Something to sprinkle on top (I used crushed up candied cashews I'd made) 

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and spray it very well with cooking spray. 
  2. Place saltine crackers in one layer on the bottom of the pan. 
  3. Combine butter and sugar in a sauce pan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Once the mixture has boiled, reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 3–5 minutes. The mixture will thicken slightly. Stir mixture the entire time to avoid scorching. 
  4. Remove it from the heat, wait 30 seconds, add the vanilla extract and stir.
  5. Pour this over the prepared pan with the crackers. The crackers may move a little bit; this is fine.
  6. Bake it for 5–7 minutes, or until toffee becomes bubbly.
  7. Remove the pan and let it rest for 3–5 minutes.
  8. Sprinkle on the chocolate chips and wait for 4 minutes. The chocolate will soften and melt a little bit, and you can spread it out with a spatula. 
  9. Once the chocolate is smoothed, add the candied cashews, or whatever else you have on hand that sounds delicious. 
  10. Let cool very well. Refrigerate or freeze to expedite cooling. Break or cut into pieces. 

Holiday Gift Guide (for Your Girlfriend)

It can be hard to figure out what to get your girlfriend for the holidays, especially if you've waited until the last minute. PSA: Christmas is next week! I always like a good mix of practical vs. impractical gifts...though I lean heavily towards practical. So I've put together a gift guide for each. Pick 1 or 2 items from each guide depending on which way your girlfriend leans. 

For the impractical girlfriend. Although she doesn't need anything, you still have to get her something: 

1. Fujifilm Instax Mini – Purchase on Amazon, Urban Outfitters, Michaels and more. I wonder if Michael's will let you use their 40% off coupon? Either way, this is a fun gift for your girlfriend to preserve her memories. 

2. MeUndies – Matching underwear for both of you? How sweet! Check out their sweet Christmas pattern on their website

3. Jewelry – Find a unique piece of jewelry that you feel represents her. 

4. Semi-permanent Tattoos – These are awesome two week tattoos that would be fun for an occasion like a music festival or a party. 

5. Something for her homeSociety6 has thousands of patterns that you can apply to products like pillows, blankets, pictures, and more. 

For the practical girlfriend. Although she says she doesn't want anything, here are some fun and functional things she'll love:

1. Something functional – Get her something that simplifies her life. Is she carrying around an old wallet or purse stuffed with things you both know she doesn't want? Find something beautiful that will encourage her to lighten the load.

2. Something to do together – Whether it's a book to read together, or an activity you found on Groupon, practical girls love to collect experiences. 

3. A gift for someone else – Buy her a gift card to Kiva where she can distribute the money to someone in need. Or take her on a date to volunteer or do something meaningful. 

4. Her favorite snack – This reminds her you notice and love the little things about her. Splurge on a snack she wouldn't normally buy for herself. And if it's pancake mix? Might as well do breakfast in bed...

5. A Candle – What's nice about a candle? It gets used up. It has a function and then it's gone; a practical girl's dream gift. And hey, when this one is finished, it's also a cute bowl. 

Biscuits

I'm sitting here, compelled to write a great story about why I made these biscuits. But do I really need to explain a biscuit craving? Nah. This is an easy and delicious recipe that will not disappoint, I promise. I made them for bacon, egg, & cheese biscuits, but I think I'd even prefer them with just butter; that's how good they are. But, hey, I have to sneak some protein in my diet somewhere....preferably right between two flakey, buttery biscuit halves.

I will add that I went to an awesome music festival last weekend. This is relevant because when I needed biscuit-making-music, I chose this awesome band I saw there — Driftwood.  There's something healing about listening to something meaningful while working with your hands. 

 Baking the biscuits just 1/2 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. 

Baking the biscuits just 1/2 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. 

These biscuits end up having a really imperfect and rustic look to them which I like. I also think this recipe would lend itself well to a Bo-berry Biscuit knock-off, so that will definitely be my next endeavor. 

♥ 2 cups all purpose flour
♥ 4 tsp baking powder
♥ 1/4 tsp baking soda
♥ 3/4 tsp salt 
♥ 2 Tbsp shortening
♥ 3 Tbsp salted or unsalted butter, (grated with cheese grater)
♥ 1 cup cold buttermilk
♥ extra buttermilk for biscuit tops

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. 
3. Using your fingers, cut shortening into flour mixture.
4. Use a fork to cut cold, grated butter into the flour mixture. Work quickly so the butter stays cold.
5. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in the buttermilk.
6. Working from the outside in, use a spoon to bring the flour into the center, folding until the buttermilk is incorporated into the flour. (just until combined) 
7. Gather dough into a ball, and turn out onto a well floured surface.
8. Flour your hands, then lightly fold it in half in a gentle kneading motion 10 times.
9. Pat dough into a rectangle just under an inch thick.
10. Cut the dough into squares. This will make 9 large biscuits. 
11. Place biscuits onto an ungreased baking sheet, close together but not touching.
12. Brush tops with extra buttermilk and bake 15-17 minutes until golden brown on top.

Recipe adapted from The Merchant Baker