Tuesday, January 24, 2012

2012 January 10-20 Coatepeque

January 11, 2012

It's the end of my second day in Coatepeque and things couldn't be more different here. The family is more like a typical American family than a Guatemalan family; the house is huge and practically like a mansion in comparison to every other place I've been. Instead of playing games or talking in the evenings the family sits around the TV just like many families in America. Though it's not as interactive as I became accustomed to at Mimi's, having the TV to watch is good for my spanish comprehension!

The guy, Fernando, tries to be funny and sometimes he is but a lot of the time he just comes off as quite brash to me. He's made several comments about “gadorades”- what he calls gay men- so that's obviously quite uncomfortable. It's been years since I lived someplace where people ever crack jokes about gay people, and I've never actually met someone who does it with such frequency. Despite my obvious discomfort (several times he has said “sorry, I'm just joking” so he must be able to tell I'm not amused!) he keeps doing it. He spoils his little girl (Angie) like crazy; she is very sweet most of the time but can throw a hell of a tantrum if she doesn't get her way. Fernando's son, Jaggar, and his wife, Arely, are both very friendly.

So far my days have no structure whatsoever and I hardly know what I'm doing in half an hour, let alone the next day. There are less students at the school that I had thought there would be (about 7-10 total?) and there are large portions of the day where I'm just hanging out or running around with Fernando doing errands or handing out fliers for the school. I don't feel like I'm making much of a difference here and can't see myself staying here very long.

On the other hand, most of the students at the school are amazing. I feel like I could probably do some real good with them, especially these three boys names Adolfo, Franklin and Esly who are from some village outside of Coatepeque who decided to do this schooling all on their own. They have only been studying English since the end of November and they aren't much below me in their comprehension of their second language, and I've been studying much longer than them! But they are young (in their mid teens) so I know their brains are little sponges in comparison to mine! I know I won't be here long enough to make as much of a difference as I would like but they are obviously learning just fine without me so I can be secure in the knowledge that they will succeed even without me!

The view looking north-east from the balcony of the school, with Volcan Santa Maria on the right.
Looking north from the balcony of the school.
On top of everything, I am sick once again! This cold is a real doozie- much worse than the one I had in Mexico. So sick of being sick all the f-ing time.

January 15

On Saturday I was planning to go to Tilapita, a little town on the coast I had read about in my Lonely Planet Guatemala, with one of the girls from the school but her family decided not to go so I just chilled at the house during the morning. Fernando went to work but I decided to take the weekend off! There aren't really many students on the weekends, and my boys (Adolfo, Franklin and Esly) only come during the week. They are so cute. Yesterday when they were getting ready to leave they asked how long I would stay and I said not much longer but I would try to stay as long as I could and Franklin said “Esperamos” which means, “we hope”.

I went out to check my email and returned to the house around 2:30 to find Fernando rushing everyone through lunch and subsequently out the door to go to Xela to pick up books. He had mentioned that he was planning to go to Xela on Saturday but half the things he says will happen never do so I figured that was one of the things that wouldn't happen. He made it pretty obvious that he preferred me to go with them rather than stay at the house alone so I bolted down some lunch and off we went.
Pretty valley on the way to Xela.
Xela was pretty fun; I had been there before but literally for about all of three minutes when I made my transfer from Huehue to San Marcos. We walked around the central park area a bit and then went to Fernando's brother's house, where Fernando proceeded to tell more gay jokes, about his brother this time. We ended up getting there right as they were getting ready to celebrate some kid's B-day (possibly he was a nephew of Fernando's but he didn't introduce me to anyone so I don't know anyone's names) so there was cake and tea which was pretty awesome. lol

It was pretty late by that time so we decided to stay there, but we hadn't eaten dinner so we went back to the central park area for that. We arrived back at Fernando's brother's house pretty late and basically just called it a night then.

In the morning we went to McDonalds for breakfast, where I got a mcmuffin, hashbrown and coffee.  It was one of the most balanced meals I've had since I arrived here, which is pretty sad! I'm not sure why but for some reason the family eats really poorly. I don't understand it because they obviously have plenty of money but most of the time we eat stuff like bread, eggs and hot dogs for meals. I've had hardly any vegetables or fresh fruit since I arrived here. The mcmuffin was pretty interesting- it had black beans and ham instead of the traditional mcmuffins I am used to from the US.

When we got back to Coatepeque I repacked my day bag with a change of clothes and a few other “essentials”- some toiletries, mosquito repellent, my computer and camera, passport, sleeping bag liner, a couple books and my sarong. Then I headed to Tilapita. From what my book said it sounded perfect- a sleepy fishing village where you could get away from the hustle and bustle found in other towns in the area.

As I was handing out Fernando's fliers on the way to catch the bus I ended up chatting for a minute with a guy who was unloading his car (getting ready to sell his wares on the street) and when I left him he gave me a strange flaky pastry that I think had marshmallows in it. I also purchased some fruit (yay, FRUIT!) from one of the street vendors for 5 Q, so I ate my fruit and pastry on the bus to Tilapa, the town that was the “end of the road” on the way to Tiapita. I arrived in Tilapa an hour and a half after departing Coatepeque and was immediately approached by a kid who wanted to help me find the lanchas (little boats which are the only transportation between Tilapa and Tilapita). Despite numerous attempts to tell him I didn't need his help and it wasn't necessary for him to walk with me he continued to walk with me to the lancha landing.

The kid tried to tell me the fee was 25 Q but when I started talking to the owner of the lancha I told him I had heard it was more like 15 Q and he let me pay that, though at nearly $2 for about a 5-10 minute ride I think even that was more than I should have paid, especially considering that the bus fare from Coatepeque to Tilapa is 10 Q! The guy, Miguel, I think his name was, was actually really sweet and talked to me the entire ride, while the boy who had walked me from the bus drove the boat. Miguel gave the boy 5 Q of my fee- no wonder he insisted on walking with me! When we arrived in Tilapita Miguel and boy walked with me to the hotel- I think Miguel was hoping to sell me a tour of the wetlands near here but I had already been on the one in Rio Lagartos so I told him I wasn't interested.

To the left (south-east)
To the right (~north-west)
The hotel I am staying at is called El Pacifico and it came highly recommended in my Lonely Planet. Not for the first time, I think that people are paying Lonely Planet for good recommendations. The hotel is perfectly adequate but that's all I could say about it. The rooms are fairly good-sized concrete cells (yes, like a prison cell!) but have only one small window (like 8” x 14”) on the ocean-side wall that is too high up to be able to see out of unless you stand on the bed and do a pull-up on the edge of the window. There is another larger window on the opposite wall but it opens to the hallway so you don't particularly WANT it open- not that there are lots of people- I think it's just the owner and his family here but still... There is a toilet, sink and shower in the room, which is nice but those aren't things I feel I NEED in my rooms. It's quite hot here on the coast so I am happy that there is a fan in the room. There are two beds, one single that sags dramatically and a double or queen that's actually quite comfortable.

There is a pool but the owner spends 95% of his time lounging in the hammocks near the pool so for me it's not as inviting as the solitude of the beach, which is almost completely deserted. There's a pretty wicked undertow off the coast so it's not the best beach for swimming, though it reminds me of the Oregon coast, or what the Oregon coast would be like if the water was warm! I spent a couple hours there this afternoon and ended up catching a pretty nice sunset while chatting a bit with a local guy (whose name I can't remember, of course!) while his two adorable kids played in the sand around us.

I was actually feeling pretty good about this place and even considering staying another night until the owner, Alex, totally ripped me off on dinner! To be fair, I should have asked what the price was before I ate it but when the room rate was close to what my Lonely Planet said it would be (50 Q, about $6.50) I assumed dinner would be too. Wrong! Alex charged me another 50 Q for my seafood soup, which was very good but seriously should not have cost more than about 30 Q, max. I know that doesn't sound like a lot but I haven't paid more than about $2-3 for a single meal since leaving the US. It isn't even the fact that it was that price but it's more the fact that I know he was jacking the price because when I asked the lady who prepared the meal how much it was she had to ask him, which I have learned is a sure sign that you're being ripped off. When I told him I was surprised it was so expensive he tried to justify it by talking about the fact that it had all these fresh ingredients in it, like tomato and onion. LOL I will admit that the soup was quite delicious, even if it was double the price it should have been. It took me about an hour to eat my soup because it had a bunch of unpeeled (whole- complete with heads and antennas!) shrimp and crabs and a large chunk of fish complete with skin and bones. So. Even though I was seriously thinking about staying for one more night I've decided this dude won't get another centavo of my money so I'll be going back to Coatepeque tomorrow.
MMMmmm delicious!  Don't miss the fact that my shrimp have eyeballs... Luckily I am not picky when it comes to food!
Beautiful sunset from the beach (don't miss Venus in the upper left-hand corner!).
January 16

Before leaving Tilapita I enjoyed an hour or so of lovely solitude on the beach, until some guy walked by and then decided he should take a swim RIGHT in my section of beach! You have to understand, there is literally not a soul as far as you can see in either direction, except for the occasional 4-wheeler that zips by. Not sure if the guy was just hoping we could chat or hoping I would enjoy the site of him but I was not impressed! I returned to the hotel for a nice cool shower (lol yes, I am aware that I've been complaining about cool showers for some time now, and here I am talking about how much I enjoyed one...!) and then I was off to return to Coatepeque.

I arrived in Coatepeque around 2 pm, bought some more fruit as well as a taco from the cart on the corner by the school (where I have been tempted daily by the site of whole roasted pigs), chatted with a guy in the park while I ate lunch, checked my internet and then went to the school for the last part of the day. The boys had a test today but only Franklin and Esly showed up so Adolfo has some explaining to do tomorrow!

I have decided that I will stay here through Wednesday because Fernando has a meeting with some teachers on Wednesday. These teachers are the “English” teachers for the schools, though some of them don't actually know much English at all. Tomorrow we will spend some time working on his presentation and trying to develop the best strategies for teaching the teachers how to teach English!

The only other thing to report is that I am STILL sick. My nose is somewhat clear most of the time, but I am still pretty congested, have tons of mucous production both in my nose and in my chest and I feel the need to pop my ears frequently. I feel ok but definitely not great! This is by far the worst cold I have had in a long long time! :o(

January 20th

On Tuesday night I made cappuccinos for the family and then Fernando and I worked on his presentation until like 11pm or so. The meeting on Wednesday went pretty well. There were supposed to be 35 people but we ended up only giving the presentation to 11 people. Some people from the local news station showed up and took video for a bit; we watched the news that night and the next night but we either missed it or they decided not to run the story.

Fernando had asked me the night before if I would please stay for another meeting he was supposed to have on Thursday with like 200 teachers, which I agreed to do. I arranged for my boys to have class at 10 am so I would be able to see them one last time.

At 8 am on Thursday we were back in the same room where we had given the talk the day before. We had a grand total of 13 people at the talk (lol so much for 200!). It was different from the one the day before but Fernando thought it went well (I couldn't say because it was all in Spanish).
Working with my boys
Me and my boys- from left to right, Franklin, Esly, me and Adolfo.
From left to right, Alams, me and Douglas.
Working with Carly
Carly, me, Fernando and Angie.
I decided to stay one more night so I could finish out the week with my boys, but I left Coatepeque right after the lesson on Friday. I took the direct bus from Coatepeque to San Marcos, which traveled a different path than those I had previously taken so that was awesome, though the 3.5 hour bus ride wasn't something my ass really appreciated. The seats here are so close together, which works for the indigenous people and even for the ladinos but for me, not so much! I am so much taller than basically everyone I spend about 50% of the time I'm on a bus with my ass completely asleep. I had three different seat partners during my time on the bus but the best was the third one, an adorable little old mam lady who seriously probably weighed about 60 lbs. She was really cute because she obviously wanted to sit with me and talk to me (she was looking at me a lot as she walked down the isle) and once she sat down she got closer and closer to me until she was sitting RIGHT up against me (like, she was sitting in the middle of the seat, as if there was a third person in the seat but there wasn't, except for about 20 minutes at the end of the trip!). She bought some watermelon and I bought some pineapple from a guy selling fruit. She shared her watermelon with me and I shared my pineapple with her. I barely understood a word she said because I think she was missing most of her teeth but I understood her attitude and that was enough.

And, because I know you are all just dying to hear about my health (or lack thereof!), I still haven't completely shaken “the gripe”, as people call the common cold here, though I feel better today than I have yet so I have hope that it's almost gone!

Thus concludes my Coatepeque post...

Huge pack of dogs (1 female and 10 males hoping to get lucky!).

Monday, January 9, 2012

San Marcos and El Migrante, part 2

December 24

Since we were in Chichi I didn't have classes on Wednesday or Thursday (the 21st and 22nd of December) but I did have class on Friday (the 23rd).  Then on Friday night there was a free concert in the park in San Pedro so Patrick picked me up on his motorcycle and we drove there and met up with Stephen (whose name I have been mis-spelling) and Lindsay, who had been moving stuff into Steven's new apartment in San Pedro earlier that day, as well as Leivy (yup- been mis-spelling her name as well!) and her husband Evar.  The opening band was ok but the main band was really good; it was skaa so it was fun to hear skaa in spanish!  There were groups of people, mostly guys, who would jump up and down while they had their arms around one anothers' shoulders, often forming a circle.  It was pretty entertaining because they didn't have really good group coordination so they often weren't jumping together and thus were vaguely reminiscent of one of those “smack the prarie-dog” games at the carnival!  Also, they would move all over the plaza, careening into people all around them.  :D

Again there were awesome, dangerous fireworks.  Love it!  One of the launchers was set up right beneath this tree so the fireworks were hitting the branches on their way to the sky.  We were pretty sure the tree would catch on fire but, amazingly, it didn't!

It's now the day before Christmas and it has completely snuck up on me.  It has been so wonderful to have spent this time almost completely devoid of Christmas music- so unlike in the US where you start hearing it in stores like the first of November.  I have decided to remain here for another 10 days or so.  I have two days of Spanish classes to make up but I plan to do that sometime in the first week in January; I have made a deal with Mimi to stay at her house (paying for my food) and help Otto with his English while he helps me with my Spanish so that's a priority for me now.  I think it will be beneficial for us both, especially for me because it will give me an opportunity to think some about what is important to learn in English and formulate some “lesson plans” for the English school that I will go to teach at after this, though Otto is much further along with his English than those kids will be with theirs. 

December 27

The family celebrated Christmas by eating dinner at midnight (Christmas morning) and then exchanging gifts.  I was really hoping that the family wouldn't get me anything but Mimi gave me a scarf and Leo and Faviola gave me some traditional Guatemalan houses, so of course I felt awful because I hadn't gotten anything for them.  :o(

On Christmas day we all drove down to the “coast”, which isn't actually the beach but just the lowland area below San Marcos.  It was very warm down there; at ~ 80 it was definitely the warmest Christmas I've ever had!  We went to a public swimming area that was near a river and were able to find some tables close to the river, a bit away from all the hustle and bustle of the pools.  We cooked meat on a grill and the family brought a ridiculous amount of food so we were stuffed by the end of it!  It reminded me of “pointy sticking” back in Portland (Hi Pam, Elliot, Craig, Molly, Kelly, Katie and Crenshaw!!)  On the way home we stopped for popsicles and I had the most delicious (home-made, I think?) mango popsicle I've ever had, courtesy of my very thoughtful family.

It's now Tuesday and my second day of “lessons” with the family; I've actually been spending time helping anyone who is interested with their English so I feel like I am contributing something, which is nice.  Yesterday I did a lesson with Mimi and Diana, both of whom are actually quite fluent but really just need to practice speaking so that they have more familiarity with words and phrases.  Then I had a brief lesson with Leo and Otto.  Today I spent a fair amount of time working with both Diana and Otto (separately) and then Leo came for his lesson in the evening.  Tomorrow I have more lessons with Otto in the morning and I hope to spend some time doing introductory lessons with Faviola and Feorella in the afternoon.

Mimi is so sweet; she is now crocheting me a hat!  I love this family.  :o)

December 28 11:25 pm

I was just in my first earthquake!  Well, ok, I've been in others in Portland but this one I totally felt!!!  I am sitting here in the café going through my photos and it totally shook the building!  At first I thought it was a super strong gust of wind making the building creak but then it kept creaking and Mimi's windchimes were shaking and I realized it was totally an earthquake.  It wasn't huge or anything, maybe like 4 or so, but it was big enough that I think I would have felt it even if I had been walking on the street.  It only went on for about 15 seconds- long enough for me to consider getting up and moving to a doorway but not long enough for me to think it was really necessary.  Crazy!!!

December 29

Today Patrick, Otto and I went to some hot springs near here called Las Castalias.  They are about 5 or 6 miles away, in the same direction as Cucho but on a different road.  We walked there and took a collectivo on the way back because the elevation change is pretty significant; I'm not certain exactly what it is but it was enough to change the climate and it felt like about 1500 feet.  The walk was beautiful and the hot springs were fantastic; there was even a natural sauna where we hung out for about 30 minute and the water (which dripped from the roof of this cave and collected in hot pools on the ground) was warm enough to heat up the spaghetti that Silvia had prepared me (when I rushed into the kitchen 10 minutes before Otto and I were supposed to meet up with Patrick and explained that I wouldn't eat a full breakfast because I was running late!) so that was pretty cool.  We didn't do much besides just hang out in the hot water and chat but it was a pretty nice way to pass the day.

Otto and Patrick chillin´ by the waterfall.
Otto and Patrick in the sauna.
The sauna.  My spot was behind the piece of wood you can just barely see poking over the edge.
Chillin´ at the edge of the sauna.

Patrick told me that the earthquake was a 4.6!  The epicenter was like 25 km from Huehuetenango, if I remember correctly...

January 1 2012

Yesterday there was a lot going on in the kitchen.  Mimi had several orders for pollo or turkey relleno, which is a chicken or turkey stuffed with this meatloaf-type mixture of ground beef and pork with veggies like carrots and peas.  It's a lot of work, as she (or Diana) has to remove the meat and bones from the bird, leaving only the skin, wings a bit of bone at the ends of the legs (I know it's a little morbid but it reminds me of a pair of pajamas!).  Then they pack the cavity with the meatloaf mixture and bake the bird on the stove-top.  It's delicious, and one of my favorite meals I've had here so far!  My favorite so far is this traditional Mexican meal that Mimi made on Wednesday (I think?) night, chicken tacos with a delicious mole sauce.  I am definitely getting both recipes from her before I leave!
Mimi, sewing up a chicken after stuffing it.
Chicken rellenos, almost ready to bake!
Diana, putting the chickens in the pot.
Turkey relleno, almost ready to bake!
I was in the kitchen for most of the afternoon on Saturday, as I made cabbage rolls and a chocolate torte for the family, and we invited Stephen and Lindsay to dinner (Patrick was going to Cucho so he couldn't come).  I made the cabbage rolls with finely diced chicken instead of beef since Mimi prefers chicken, and since Stephen and Lindsay are vegan I made some of the rolls with lentils instead of meat.  I think everything turned out ok except for the torte, which was edible but nothing like the original, as I couldn't find the baking chocolate or the cayanne that I usually use to spice the torte and the pecans that go on top.  Despite the fact that the torte didn't set up properly (since I had to use all “mexican” chocolate [which is for beverages and is much sweeter than baking chocolate!]) and was more like a sticky pudding, it tasted pretty good and everyone seemed to enjoy it. 

After dinner Stephen, Lindsay, Otto and me walked to Stephen's apartment, which is in San Pedro (about a 10 minute walk from the café).  The apartment has a roof-top terrace, from which we watched the fireworks of San Pedro, San Marcos and some of the surrounding communities I don't know the names of.  It was insane.  There were fireworks going off all around us!

It's now Sunday and unfortunately this week has not been as productive as I had hoped.  Otto has been very busy with his school preparations and thus unable to commit the amount of time I had thought he would be able to, to both learning English and helping me with my Spanish, so whatever time we DO have we usually spend on English, which is fine because my priority right now is to help him but even spending most of our time on English I don't feel like I've helped him as much as I had hoped to.  We will write letters to each other once I leave so hopefully that helps some...

Diana, Mimi and Leo have all committed whatever time they can, especially Diana.  She is very dedicated and taxes herself with a fair amount of “homework”, which is good.

I'm nearing the amount of time I had planned to be here and I'm not sure I'm quite ready to leave.  Honestly, I would like to spend some more time here because I am quite comfortable with this family and I don't feel like my Spanish is quite where I would like it to be; however, if it's not going to be productive for both me and anyone else involved then it is probably time to move on.  I haven't decided if I will go to Flores first or if I will go to the “coast” for English school; I'm really leaning toward going to the school first since I will spend much less time on the bus that way, however, I am worried that I won't be as beneficial as I'd like to be without having a better grasp on Spanish.  Decisions, decisions...

January 5

I have now finished with my spanish school here; Monday and Tuesday were my last two days.  Otto left on Monday after I had left for classes; he wasn't awake yet when I left so I wasn't able to say goodbye to him.  Mimi and Diana went with him and were gone for most of the day yesterday so it worked out perfectly for me to have postponed my classes to those two days.  I spoke with Mimi and she said I am welcome to stay here as long as I want, which is nice.

Tuesday night I met up with Patrick, Leivy and her husband, Evar.  I took some video of the tree and then we went to a little café where I had the most disappointing sandwich of my life.  :o(  I am sure it would have been just fine if I had been expecting a sandwich but it said "steak" on the menu I thought it was going to be a nice juicy steak.  :o(  So sad! 

Here is a link to the video I took of the tree; it was too large to post here on my blog...

As if I haven't been sick enough during my time so far, for the past 4-5 days I have had some sort of low-level sickness going on... It's nothing serious but I've had a minor headache upon waking for about 4-5 days now and I've had a vaguely upset stomach for about 3-4 days now- nothing close to nausea, just a sort-of unhappiness there that I can't really describe... it just feels unsettled much of the time and I'm spending more time in the bathroom than usual!  The other thing that is odd is that on Tuesday, and even more so on Wednesday, I had pretty serious sound sensitivity.  The constant noise of vehicles driving past outside was really bothering me and even people talking or moving stuff in the café seem really loud to me.  It is better today but yesterday was pretty bad and at one point I was very seriously considering getting some earplugs.

I don't know if the cold has something to do with it or if it is something I ate or what, though I have eaten here at the cafe for practically every meal since I arrived here so it seems unlikely that it's something I ate...  On Sunday and Monday nights it was very windy and on Monday and Tuesday it was pretty cold here; I didn't know it would be cold on Monday so I wore shorts and a tank-top to school, though I did have my coat.  I was so cold!  I was wearing one of Patrick's sweatshirts around my legs for the last half of classes.  I took a hot shower when I finished classes and dressed in many layers afterward so I have been pretty warm since then.

I'm thinking that my time here is about over.  As comfortable as I am here and as much as I enjoy the people, I think it may be difficult for me to really learn much more Spanish here as everyone in the family is very busy and doesn't really have the amount of time to devote to language exchange that I feel would be necessary to really be mutually beneficial.  I usually spend between 2-4 hours a day helping someone in the family, or a friend of the family, with their English, but I spend very little time on my Spanish actually with other people; though I spend most of my days studying on my own and practicing what I can I know that I learn more by talking with people so it's hard to not feel as though I am languishing here... I do most of my “teaching” in the evenings, as everyone wants to do their lessons in the “afternoon” (which means about 6 pm) or evenings.  It means that my days feel somewhat unbalanced, as I have large portions of the day where I am doing my own thing but then the evening/night feels rushed and a bit hectic, leaving me feeling as though I haven't really helped any one person as much as I would like.  Though, it HAS been fun learning all the slang here and teaching Pocho and Feorella words like “awesome” (and hearing them struggle to pronounce them!). 

Along those lines, I have a funny story to relate... A week or so ago I had asked Otto for the Castellano (people in Central America prefer you to say “Castellano” instead of “Spanish”) equivilant of “awesome” or “really cool” and he told me “de a huevo”.  A few nights ago when I was talking to Pocho and Feorella I was explaining how I knew how to say all these great things in Castellano and I said “de a huevo”, which sent both of them into peals of laughter.  After much questioning I arrived at the conclusion that Otto had told me how to say something equivalent to “F-ing awesome”.

A night later I was explaining the situation to Diana during our lesson and got a more detailed explanation from her, leaving me to realize what it was that Otto had taught me to say, which I later confirmed with Patrick.  “De a huevo” = “the shit”. 

January 7th

Yesterday Patrick, Stephen, Leivy, Luis, Lee and Elli (Lee's wife) and I had a BBQ at the school.  I bought a pound of pork and a pound of beef, plus some veggies, guacamole and tortilla chips.  I spent a bit more than I should have but it was delicious so I don't regret it!  We picked fresh limes from the tree in back of the school and made beergaritas Guatemala-style.  For anyone who doesn't know, beergaritas are one of my favorite things.  Here's the actual recipe:

1 (12 oz) can frozen limeade
12 oz cheap tequila
36-48 oz cheap light beer

We spent the afternoon chatting on the second-level terrace of the school where there was a nice mix of sun and shade, ate a ton of food and drank more beergaritas than we probably needed to.  :o)
The terrace.  Sometimes Leivy and I did our lessons here... 
The front entrance of my El Migrante.  Very nondescript, but it gets the job done!  :o)
I returned to the cafe for the late-afternoon and evening, sort-of did a few spanish lessons and then went out to the Longe Café, which is this odd little place that looks like it belongs in Hawaii or Mexico; it has a palapa style roof with a tree growing right through the middle of it!  I met up with Patrick, Stephen, Lee and Ellie and one of their friends, whose name I don't remember.  We danced a bit, Stephen and I less than the others as neither of us have much rhythm and we didn't really know any dances!  It was fun but I called it a pretty early night around midnight or so.

I have decided to go to Coatepeque for a bit.  I think I will learn more Spanish by working in the school than I am learning now; also, I think my days will feel more productive there than they are feeling here, though the past few days I feel like I can understand a fair amount of what is being said around me and I do feel pretty close to actual comprehension, which is nice.  I plan to leave on Tuesday with Patrick and Stephen.  Stephen is flying to Mexico City to meet up with some friends but as of right now it looks like Patrick will be going to Coatepeque with me at least for a day or two. 

The only other thing to report is that I have fully recovered from whatever minor ailment was afflicting me.  I now feel “right as rain”!  Though, half the family is sick with “the gripe” (the flu) so I have my fingers crossed that I won't catch that!

January 9th

Yesterday I was planning to study all day but Patrick showed up in the late morning and asked me if I wanted to go to Tejutla, which is a highland community, and I couldn't refuse him. It was a beautiful day and the last thing I wanted to do was spend it inside studying! Plus, a ride on the motorcycle (I can't remember what kind he rides but it's 500 cc, which is considered quite a beast around here, where most people ride something around 125 ccs!) sounded fantastic.

We had lunch with some friends of his there and hung out for a bit on their farm. I saw a giant hairy pig and some cute piglets. :o) The farm was really tranquil, set right next to a nice little stream, and the family was very sweet and accommodating, as I've found everyone around here to be! After lunch Patrick and I drove up to "Piedra Partida" ("Split Rock") with two of the guys in the family (whose names I don't remember!), snacking on toasted faava beans on the drive. Many families in this area grow faava beans. It's impossible for me to not think of Hannibal Lecter every time someone says "faava beans". I'm sure they are delicious with liver and a nice chianti but I prefer them toasted; they are slightly reminiscent of a peanut but much harder and not so oily.

Hairy pig with piglets.
The piglets are scared of Patrick!
Cute piglets!
Faava beans.
At around 1000 ft, Piedra Partida is one of the highest non-volcanic points in Guatemala, and possibly even in CA. The views were spectacular and the surrounding countryside was very interesting. The altitude prevents the verdant abundance I've seen at lower altitudes so it's sheep and goat country, big time. The low rock walls surrounding the fields were the first I've seen of the type here in Guatemala. It is amazing how nearly every place I go here in Guatemala feels like a completely different world from any other place I've ever been.
From the road...
The view from Piedra Partida
The two guys from the family, scaling the rock for better views. I admit, I chickened out because...
This is what was directly below where they were... It's hard to tell but it's easily a 50 foot drop!  
We got back to Tejutla just after sun-set, which was later than we had hoped as it meant a ride home in the dark and temperatures drop pretty quickly here after the sun sets. We had a cup of hot fruit “tea” (something a lot of people make in this area- it's a hot fruit “juice” with bits of fruit in it- quite delicious!) and a bit of bread and then we were off! We drove out a different way than we had driven in and the “road” was something I don't even think I would have been excited about riding a mountain bike down, let alone a 500 cc motorcycle! I was going to walk but Patrick said there may be dogs so it was best for me to ride (yeah, not exactly sure why we didn't go back the way we came...), though I wasn't sure how I felt about that as Patrick isn't a big guy so it's not like compensating for my weight is exactly easy for him! One point was super-sketchy. Imagine it- it's dark, we're on at least a 45º decline, the road is totally rutted out, Patrick has my weight to compensate for and there is at least one dog RIGHT next to us barking viciously (I was too scared to even blink, let alone turn my head to count how many!]). Amazingly, Patrick managed to not dump the bike and we made it safely to the highway and, about an hour later, home to the toasty warm café. Steven showed up only a little bit later so the three of us had dinner together; Diana spoiled me by giving me my favorite, chicken mole tacos. Delicious!

Today has been spent mostly trying to feel like I am ready to return Patrick's spanish conjugations book I have been borrowing for the past month... I think it's a losing battle! Tonight we might have a bonfire at the school but I'm not sure if that will happen or not.

I have enjoyed my time here and I have met some amazing people. Even though I am incredibly frustrated at times with Spanish, I know I have learned a lot and I am able to express most of what I want to say and I understand bits here and there of what people are saying around me; I am sure I'm not far off from feeling somewhat comfortable in conversation, though I know I am far from fluency. At the very least I think it is safe to say that I speak excellent “Spanglish”.

Clouds with Volcan Tacana (the second highest volcano in Guatemala) in the background.

Monday, January 2, 2012

2011 December 21-23 Chichicastenango

Wednesday Otto and I got up at 5:40 am, had some breakfast and headed to Chichicastenango for the Festival of Santo Tomás, where we hoped to see the Palo de Volador.  Here´s a link to what that is...

The views from the bus were fantastic; I realize how redundant I sound because I am always saying this but it's true.  The country here is like a blend between my two favorite places, the jungles of Kaua'i and the Bighorn mountains in Wyoming.  There is often fog in the valleys, making the scenery seem like something out of The Lord of the Rings or The Mists of Avalon.  

Here are some pics from the bus ride...

The Palo de Valador is a performance that happens in parts of Mexico and (I think?) much of Central America, or at the very least all over Guatemala.  Apparently there are performances several times each day from the 13th-21st of December, but I had read in my book that the Festival of St. Thomas goes on for a week and it culminates on the 21st of December with the  Palo de Volador .  Sadly, the last performance of the day was at like 10 am and we didn't arrive until about 11 or 11:30.  People kept saying that maybe there would be another performance but there wasn't one the entire time we were there, which was a bit sad.  However, the festival itself was really cool and there were tons of (really dangerous!) fireworks.  In the space of about 24 hours I heard/saw more fireworks than I think I've seen in my entire life!  The people of Guatemala love fireworks!  There was a church where they were setting off fireworks (like black cats- that made lots of noise but didn't look pretty) constantly; the steps of the church were constantly on fire until someone would stamp the fires out, which wasn't really high on anyone's priority list so it's pretty accurate to say that the steps were on fire quite often! 

Cartoon character parade.  Don´t miss the fact that one has a gun!  lol
The spanish conquistadores!  And, a guy with a very large load!
more conquestadores!
cute purse I bought for $2 US.  :o)
Palo de Volador guys, NOT on the pole!  grrr!
Otto and I stayed at a little place called Posado El Teléfono, which I had read about in my CAOAS.  There was a tourist guide guy (the like of which I had also heard about from my CAOAS- people who find tourists and help them “find” hotels, costing more than it would because the hotel pays the guides a portion) who tried to talk us out of going there, and got pretty bitchy with me after I explained to Otto why I didn't want to use his help!  Despite what the guide said- that the place was dirty and unsafe- we found it to be absolutely fantastic.  The rooms and bathrooms were actually very clean, it didn't feel at all unsafe and the family that ran it was very sweet.  The “kitchen” was less developed than I would have liked (only a barbeque grill to heat water over, and no real space in which to prepare food) but most places don't have kitchens available for the guests to use so it was better than nothing!  Also, there were several cute little communal areas, one of which was a rooftop terrace that had a spectacular view of the cemetery on the west side of the city.  A couple of the staircases were a little rickety but they, and this little bridge right outside our door that went to another part of the hotel, were very charming. 
Steps leading to our room.
Bridge outside our room.
Our room

Cute communal area on the floor below our room (from whence the pic of the stairs leading to our room was taken).
Steps leading to the rooftop terrace.
Terrace from outside our room (it was too small to get a really good pic).
The cemetary, taken from the rooftop terrace.
We met another traveler at the hotel, a guy named Leandro who was from Argentina, and hung out with him on Wednesday evening with a Finnish guy named Sami and a Czechoslovakian girl named Suzanna.  There was a firework show at 6:30 with some of the coolest fireworks I've ever seen in my life; there were the normal ones that I'm used to seeing in the US but there were so many others that I've never seen before.  It definitely ranks pretty high in my list of favorite firework shows- at least in part because of the fear factor!  There wasn't much of a space cordoned off so the crowd was very close to the fireworks and I was pretty sure that the tents lining the area where they were setting off the fireworks would catch on fire, as some of the fireworks were exploding less than about 10 or 15 feet above the tents!  Also, there would occasionally be stray fireworks that had been assembled incorrectly or something, causing them to shoot off in unpredictable directions, sometimes exploding very near the crowd! 

On Thursday morning Otto, Leandro and I hiked up this hill on the south side of the city to check out the Shrine of Pascual Abaj, a Mayan Shrine I had read about in my CAOAS.  It is a shrine to Huyup Tak'ah, the Maya Earth God.  It was a short hike, but a pretty steep climb so it was a nice way to start the day.  Upon our arrival at the top we were pleased to see that there was a sacrifice going on!  There was one “Brujo” (priest/shaman) and five people who were praying and participating in the sacrifice.  I didn't take any pictures but I will try my best to describe it!  (These pics are from the hike on the way up.)

A moreria on the way to the shrine
Another moreria
The shrine itself on the east side of the site, and there the priest lit five bundles of candles, each formed from about 10 candles tied together.  There was a rock there that was shaped like the shoulders and head of a person (Huyup Tak'ah) and there were some handkerchiefs folded into triangles and stacked atop the “head” to make it look like a woman.  I guess Huyup Tak'ah is female?

In the middle of the site the priest had assembled a huge pile of offerings.  The pile had what I think were charcoals as the base and was about 3 feet in diameter.  A yellow powder, probably cornmeal, was sprinkled on the perimeter, encircling the pile, and 9 (I think; 9 is a sacred number to the Maya people and though I didn't count the eggs I think it's likely there were 9) eggs were placed at regular intervals around the circle, right outside of the circle of cornmeal.  Inside the circle of cornmeal was the charcoal, on top of which was piled two huge blocks of sugar, each about 4-5 inches x 8-10 inches, and tons of candles, bread, cookies, chocolate, gum and marshmallows. 

We must have arrived just as the ceremony was beginning.  There were a 3 Chinese people watching the ceremony as well but we were the only other people there besides the Brujo, his helper, and the five people who had come to pray, who knelt down on the south-west side of the site holding bags of cornmeal that the priest gave them and prayed aloud for at least 45 minutes, most likely an hour (we had to leave before the ceremony was over because we needed to meet up with Sami and Suzanna at 9 but it looked like the ceremony was almost over when we left). 

While the people prayed the Brujo also prayed, chanting around the fire and the people who were praying.  One thing that was a little amusing was that at one point he was holding a handful of about 7 or 8 candles and he was chanting around the people who were praying while smacking them all about their bodies with the candles, especially on the head.  You could tell he was hitting them somewhat hard because you could see the peoples eyes blink every time he hit them!  After he smacked each person about 40 or 50 times he would hold the candles in front of their face for them to kiss, then move on to the next person.  He then sacrificed the candles to the fire.  He had two boxes full of stuff to sacrifice to the fire- candles, alcohol, chocolate, marshmallows, cookies and what I think were pumpkin seeds or seeds from some other type of squash.  When he offered the squash seeds to the fire (and also to Huyup Tak'ah) he made a noise with his lips that sounded a lot like the noise the vehicles make on the Jetsons, which was pretty funny because it seemed completely incongruous!  For a lot of the time he just walked around and chanted while offering candles and other things to the fire but after a while he had the people who were praying stand up and he gave them things to offer to the fire.  At one point the eggs started to explode which was pretty exciting as there were bits of egg flying everywhere!

Here is a link to some pics of a ritual at Pascual Abaj.

I really wanted to see what they would do with the cornmeal but we just didn't have the time, unfortunately.  We rushed back to town, passing at least 50 tourists on our way down the hill!  We were very thankful to have gotten up early enough to miss the hoards!  We grabbed some breakfast with Suzanne and Sami and walked around town a bit afterward, checking out a large indoor fruit and veg market with some of the biggest carrots I´ve ever seen in my life!  We had heard that there was a performance of the Palo de Volador at 2 pm so we waited around for that but it didn't happen.  :o(  So, that was a little disappointing considering it was the whole reason why I had wanted to go but it was fun to see Chichi and we still had a great time.
Mayan men in traditional garb.
View of part of the market from a bridge.
Single serving hot dogs!
Giant carrots (compare them to the cauliflower nearby).
From left to right, Otto, Sami, Suzanne, Leandro and me.
Some Mayan women in traditional garb.
The Mayan people consider gold teeth very beautiful.  :o)

I will continue my escapades in and around San Marcos in my next post.  :o)