Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 December 10 Huehuetenango, Guatemala

2011 December 10 Huehuetenango, Guatemala

In the morning I checked out of my hostel in San Cristobal de las Casas, took a cab to the bus station, and purchased my ticket to Ciudad Cuauhtémoc.  I was relieved to see that the Mexican girl I had been hoping to travel with for the boarder crossing was on the bus, along with two Brazilian guys who she was going to be traveling with to Lago de Atitlán.  The bus ride was largely uneventful, with the mixed blessing of being seated right next to the bathroom (positive in case I needed it, negative because of the smell factor!), and though the scenery was interesting I was still quite tired so I got in a little nap prior to reaching the boarder. 

The boarder-crossing experience was less painful than I had feared, and somehow I didn't have to pay the $20 exit fee that I had read was necessary so that was a plus!  The four of us shared a taxi to La Mesilla, 4 kilometers away from Ciudad Cuauhtémoc, where the three of them opted to take a collectivo to Lago de Atitlán while I made my way to the bus station- not as difficult as it could have been but it still required inquiries to several local people in my broken Spanish and about a 1- 2 kilometer uphill hike- not exactly a picnic with all my bags and due to the fact that, though I hadn't had any bathroom incidents yet I was still not feeling exactly at the top of my game. 

Chicken bus driving through the market in Chichicastenengo.
The "bus" turned out to be a "chicken bus", which are retired school buses from the US, painted garishly in bright color combinations.  I had read about them but this was my first experience with them, and how packed they can get!  They stop along the road for anybody and everybody, packing on as many individuals as possible!  At one point I seriously think there were probably about 80 people on the bus-  there were 7 people in my seat alone (!)- myself, a sweet Mam (one of the many groups of Mayan people- there are over 20 different groups of Mayan people in Guatemala, all of which speak their own dialect of Mayan language!) woman with her two children and another lady who may also have been Mam, with three children of her own!  

I was very interesting to basically everyone on the bus, especially the children, who stared open-mouthed at me pretty-much the whole journey.  The Mam woman's two children were super adorable- the girl was 4 and the boy was 7 and they were completely enamored with me, my books (the pictures in them) and my watch.  I considered getting out my computer and showing them pictures but thought better of it since there were so many people on the bus and I have heard so many times to avoid PDA (public displays of affluence).  Similarly, I really wanted to ask the woman if I could have a picture with the three of them but didn't want to commit PDA, plus I've heard that some Mayan people don't like having their picture taken.

After briefly considering remaining on the bus all the way to Quetzaltenango (Xela) I decided to get off in Huehuetenango (Hue-hue, pronounced "way-way"), which had been my original destination, because it was 3:30 pm and I worried about trying to find my way around Xela in the dark.  I had worried a bit about my bag, which was on top of the bus, but was relieved to find it still there.  After asking around a bit on the street I located the collectivo that went to the center of town (the bus station was on the outskirts, about 2 km from the city center), found my hotel and secured a room for the night.  The hotel is called Hotel Central, and though it does not have a kitchen or internet access the lady who runs it, named Marta, is very sweet and my room, which I have all to myself, is perfectly adequate and cost me only 30 quetzals, about $4.50.

After dumping my things I went to have a little walk-about 'round town.  There were vendors on the streets selling everything you could possibly imagine but the three most common items I saw, usually at the same stand, were marshmallows, grapes and fireworks!  Bizarre!  

La Cabaña del Café
I was developing a bit of a headache from all the noise (collectivo drivers trying to get fares, music pumping from shops, cars, motorcycles and mopeds honking at each other) so decided to treat myself to a cappuccino at a little cafe I had read about in my CAOAS, called La Cabaña del Café, a cute little establishment with a log cabin facade.  It was very homey, my cappuccino was delicious and I ended up deciding to get dinner there as well.  I thought I had ordered some chips and guacamole and a taco with black beans and was a little surprised when the "chips" actually turned out to be one large tortilla chip, about the size of a small taco, with guacamole spread over it and garnished with onions.  Also, the "taco" ended up being two thick tortillas with a thick paste of black beans sandwiched between them.  I had read that tortillas were different in Guatemala but had forgotten until then.  They are sort-of like a cross between the tortillas I am used to and a pita.  Total for my dinner + cappuccino- 26 quetzals, about $3.  :o)  The food was delicious and apparently a good choice for my stomach because I am starting to feel back to normal, though my headache persists so I intend to get in a shower and call it an early night.  In the morning I am off to Xela and then San Marcos (the little town where my Spanish school is located).

2011 December 11 Xela, San Pedro, San Marcos

Church near the center of Huehuecastenengo.
In the morning I went out with my camera in case I saw anything interesting and took a total of about 3 photos.  The first was of the church, directly after which I had my first uncomfortable experience in Guatemala.  A Mayan guy came up to me and started saying “it's very good, eh?  Es bueno?” a bunch and then proceeded to get very touchy with me, grabbing my hands and arms and then putting his arm around me and saying “Quiere?  Es bueno!”... Pretty sure he was propositioning me, as that means “you want?  It's good!”  It was pretty uncomfortable but I just said “No quiero!”, pulled away from him and walked off without looking back and it was over before I even had time to get freaked out so that was good.

My breakfast, after I had eaten half of it!
I was hoping to have breakfast at my favorite little coffee shop but they were closed so I chose another place near the hotel, a little restaurant called La Fonda, where I had a huge, delicious breakfast and seriously about the worst cup of coffee I've ever had in my life (pretty sure it was made with dirty dishwater), for 18 quetzals (just over $2).  I collected my belongings from the hotel and was off to Xela on another chicken bus.

My transfer in Xela was so quick and effortless it's barely worth mentioning and I was soon zipping along in a “Pullman”, cushy buses that are similar in style to the first (and second?) class buses in Mexico but cost the same amount as the chicken buses!  Everything was great until some guy, who I had asked earlier if a town was San Marcos, told me we were at San Marcos so I got off the bus.  After wandering around for about 15 minutes looking for an internet cafe I walked into a bar and was immediately the center of attention, being not only the only girl in the bar but also white!  One of the guys in the bar was overly friendly in a way that kind-of freaked me out, and everyone in the bar was laughing.  It was hard to tell if they were laughing at me or what.  I left the bar but the guy followed me and appeared to be trying to be helpful, because he took me to several places that were supposed to have internet but apparently didn't because it was Sunday.

(a blurry pic of ) Edgar and his family.
After about 15 minutes of this the guy said we would go to his house and there was internet there.  I was a little concerned but he really seemed genuine so I went with him.  Turned out that there was no internet at his house but he introduced me to his entire family and wanted me to sit down.  I said I really just wanted to find a place to use the internet so he led me back out again, with my bags still in the house!  I told him I didn't feel comfortable leaving my bags and he assured me that his intentions were good and his family was a good family.  Most people probably would have been freaking out by now and I admit I was a bit but for some reason I felt I could trust him.  So, I went along with him and we went from place to place some more until finally we found a guy who recognized the name of my school and said “Es en San Marcos”... at which point I realized I wasn't even in the right damn town!  Grrr!  What is up with “helpful” people pointing me in the wrong direction!?  In any case it was actually fine, the nice man (whose name was Carlos) actually got the keys to his car and drove me (and my new amigo, Edgar) to San Marcos, which wasn't super far away but still, it did take us about 20 - 30 minutes of driving around and asking questions to figure out where I needed to be!  On top of that, neither Carlos nor Edgar would accept any money in exchange for their help.  How amazing!  

Me and Carlos on the street near the school.
We eventually got into contact with Patrick, the guy who was my contact at the school, and Carlos and Edgar were back on their way to San Pedro.  It was like pulling teeth to get even a phone number from either of them; they both seemed perfectly content to just drive off having done a good deed and without leaving me any way to contact them in the future but I wanted to be able to send them the couple of pictures I had taken.  I was happy that I had thought to put a couple of the matchbox cars and little pink necklaces I had brought to give as gifts to children into my day pack (otherwise they would have been buried in the bottom of my big bag), which I gave to the children at Edgar's house.

Patrick then took me to meet my host family.  I couldn't feel more lucky!  The mother is named Mimi and she speaks English as well as Spanish.  She is so sweet and really just bent over backwards to make me feel welcome, feeding me fruit within minutes of me arriving, some bread about an hour later, then a little sweet bread and finally actual dinner about 2 hours later!  I am definitely going to put on weight here!  She also gave me cup after cup of coffee.  She has 4 sons (Leo, Mario, Marco and Otto) and one daughter, Diana.  Leo and Mario are married and both have children; Leo and his wife Faviola have two boys (Leito 4 and Adrian, 4 months) and Mario and Marisela have a little girl named Valeria who is 3.

There are also two ladies who work for Mimi who have children; one, Marina, has at least two children but she only works during the day and the kids aren't around much.  The other lady, Silvia, has one little girl named Feorella, who is 10; the two of them live at the house as well and Feorella is very friendly and interested in everything I do.  She is adorable. 

So many people, and so many names!!  But, it's great.  There is conversation flowing around me all the time and I feel like I'm learning a lot already.  Mimi is so sweet; I asked her to please correct me if I make any mistakes so she has been doing that and that's awesome.  Diana speaks quite a bit of English as well, as does everyone, it seems, so I can ask a question (very slowly) or what a word means and they can usually tell me or describe it well enough for me to guess what they mean.

Tonight we played a couple of games of scrabble (in Español!) and I actually did ok, though I had Diana's (and later Marisela's!) help so I can't take too much credit!  It was a lot of fun, even though I didn't understand much of the conversation going on around me.  I think this is the best possible way for me to learn, and everyone is so sweet and welcoming; it's really wonderful.

On a side note (skip this paragraph if you don't want to hear about my intestinal problems!), my stomach/intestine are still not back to normal!  I haven't really pooed in like 2 days and I feel super bloated and gasey.  Going to stop taking the f-ing cipro because I think it's killing all my good bacteria too.  Will try to buy yogurt or some probiotics or acidophillus on the way to school in the morning, or during a break, because this sucks!

Tomorrow I begin my first day of classes at 8 am!

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