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!).


  1. Laura, I have been missing you and today was able to catch up with your travels. Laughed out loud several times and am so happy to come along with you because of your blog. Avalon is wearing those adorable onsies that you had made so I am reminded of you often. We are all doing fine but I personally am suffering due to the lack of snowfall this year but have not really gone up any less, just have a new vocabulary for the conditions... today was doable but much of bridger was what seemed like frozen paint on cement. It was still better than working though. The 30 inches of base was white and the sky was dark blue, and no wind. You take what you can get, I guess. Thanks for the pictures and can't wait till I read again. You are lucky you will have such a detailed account that will not be regretted. Love ya... Lori, Dee and Avalon

  2. Hi Laura,

    Checking in to see how your travels are going. Looks like you are having an amazing time, AND I hope that you're feeling better. By the time you get back to the states, your immune system is going to be amazing!! Can't wait to see more of your travels!!