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.

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