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Monthly Archives: June 2010

My people

There are a lot of reasons I choose to visit Guatemala. Right now my research interest is heavily focused on Blacks in America- in the future I would like to expand that to also include other parts of the African Diaspora. It was very important for me to visit Livingston, the city where the Afro-Latino culture is the strongest in Guatemala.

On Thursday morning I took a bus from Santa Elena (Peten) for Rio Dulce. Once in Rio Dulce I had to take a boat to Livingston. I survived the bus ride over without my pills (I think they are a Guatemalan form of Dramamine but they just make me really sleepy). I knew I couldn’t make it through a 2 hour boat trip without some sort of assistance. Thankfully in Guatemala they have pharmacy everywhere and they love to hand out pills to foreigners. I was on the boat with a 2 Germans, a Canadian and an American. I had pretty good conversation with them until the pills start kicking in and I went to sleep. As I woke up from my nap we were pulling into this place. Apparently this was part of the boat ride/tour. We were at a natural hot spring. Everyone got off the boat and begin undressing. The Canadian took off his shorts and jumped in; while the German man tastefully changed into his swim trunks under his towel. As the boys swam in the hot springs one remarked how it had been 5 days since his last shower. I had on my usually travel outfit, boots and long pants. I rolled up my pants and took off my boots. There was also an option to tour the caves which make a natural sauna, no one wanted to go. All my stuff was in the boat and I kind of thought it was a diversion to get us off the boat and steal our stuff. We got back on the boat and the next stop was Livingston.

I have not seen more than 10 black people since I left this country. I was excited to see some. I mean I do like black people- my parents are black.

Upon our arrival we were greeted by a group of black men “Let me take you to an Africa hotel” “You want a Rasta man” “Where you going Africa (referring to me)”. Oh My People. After getting past them I found lodging. Then I went off to search for travel agencies. Only to find out the trips that I wanted to take were not going out- the horseback riding, mountain biking and Belize trips. They claimed that they never had horses on the island and did not know what my guidebook was talking about. I decided to go to the Garfinua Museum which was close to further notice.

One man had the audacity to tell me “Welcome home”. Dude, we are in Guatemala- this is not Africa and this for DARN (I have to be good my mom reads this) sure is not my home.

After deciding not to go to Belize by myself- it is expensive and I know nothing about the country. I decided to go on the one tour that was available in Livingston- an all day walking tour to the waterfalls. At 8 am I went to the 2 travel agencies and town, both were unsure if they were going to do the tour that day. The tour was slated to start in an hour and half, they told me to come back later. I decided to have breakfast at my hotel. After pouring the honey on my waffles (they don’t really use syrup here) I discovered the honey was filled with little ants. The lady tried to give me a napkin to wipe off the ants. I called the hotel that the boys I meet on the boat were staying at, since I know they were going out on a tour. Of course, I got the same thing- call back at 9:15 and we will let you know. The guy at the hotel told me that all the guides were watching the World Cup game, which was one reason for they didn’t want to work.  At this point I was annoyed at the whole town. Why should I beg them to take my money? So I packed my bag and took the next boat out of there, that next boat dropped me off in Puerto Barrios. All I heard when I got off the boat in Puerto Barrios were “You want to go to Belize? Honduras? The woman at my hotel told me to go to Honduras, it was cheap and the water was nice. I went to the “information” office, to figure out how I could get some place more desirable (my guide book said Puerto Barrios had a prostitution problem). The man had almost convinced me to go to Belize but he was getting too pushy. Going to Belize with no information on hotels, sights, etc was not a good idea anyway. I took a taxi to the bus depot.

After two buses and 2.5 hours I was back in Rio Dulce, where I started the day before. Tired-I picked the first hotel that mention Wi-Fi to stay the night. Of course, I picked the only one that you needed a boat to reach. After thinking the random Guatemalan in the street were trying to play me about needing a boat (my book didn’t mention this), I figured out how to get the hotel to pick me up. I meet a nice man name Ray (from Tampa) while waiting for the boat, he was going over to the hotel as well. Hotel Hacienda Tijax Ecolodge & Marina – my first Jungle Lodge. The place is made up of all these little cabins on the water; it was actually really nice and peaceful.

After eating I join Ray and his friends at the pool for the swim. Ray is 60 year old white man who had just spent the last month helping his 2 friends take their boat to Guatemala from Florida. The couple is spending their retirement traveling the world in their boat. While chatting with them I notice a couple and their child checking in- I had seen the couple in Tikal and later in Flores. They immediately recognized me when they came to the pool, not many black girls with short hair in Guatemala. They were recognizable because there weren’t many ethnic pregnant couples traveling with adorable 2 year olds. They looked really earthy- I assumed they were traveling the world and having babies. Turned out he was a 4th grade teacher and LA and she was medical doctor/ yoga instructor. Never judge a book by it’s cover. I ended up having a great time at dinner talking to all the different people at the lodge. The lodge was a little more expensive than most “backpackers” want to spend, so it helped keep out the dirty backpackers.

The next morning I planned to take a horseback riding trip with the teacher and his little girl. They got a little nervous due to the rain so I went solo. Raul was the “cowboy” who took me out. It was wet, muddy and fun. We rode for about 2 hours around a rubber plantation and the countryside. I was a tad bit nervous because of the language difference and the last time I had gone riding was in the Poconos with Jen in 28 degree weather. As always everything turn out fine and I had a great time.

After the ride I packed my bags, boarded the boat and left the Jungle Lodge for my bus.

Next Stop: Antigua

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2010 in Guatemala

 

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The Ruins of Tikal

If you are in Guatemala you have to visit the Tikal ruins in the Tikal National Park. It is like going to Florida and not seeing beaches- it is an icon of Guatemala. My original plan was to visit it this weekend after I was done with my Spanish classes, because of the change in my plans I went Wednesday. It is located in the Peten region of Guatemala 40 miles from Flores, where I went when I left San Jose.

Tikal is the site of one of the largest known Mesoamerican civilization. The park encompasses 220 sq miles and the ruins contain over 3000 structures many not yet excavated. The city was prominent from 400 BC – 900 AD, at its peak it had over 130,000 inhabitants. The Mayans were very sophisticated people who were very technological advance according to their calendar the world ends in 2012 (you know like the movie 2012). I wouldn’t hold my breath. Another movie Tikal was in was the first Star Wars, which is not a sappy love story thus I have not seen it.

I decided to do the early 4:30 AM tour to beat the crowds and some of the heat. Since I lost my phone I do not have a clock or alarm. So I woke up every hour or so and checked the time on my computer until. I waited outside in the dark in front of my hotel for about 45 minutes for the shuttle, which was of course late. I walked to the back of the bus and begun speaking to Piper and Kim- my friends for the day. I normally try avoid white people with cornrolls…

While waiting for my tour to start the people started talking about their mosquito’s bites and sun burns. One girl had huge red welts on her legs because of the bites. Another girl showed me pictures of her “water blisters” which apparently happens when you are in the water for a longtime and you also get sun burned. Her whole back was cracked and peeled- I told her it look like the slaves in Roots after master beat them. I really feel bad for white (and my light friends) people and what they have to go through just to be outside.

My group of 13 was guided by Boris.

As we made our way to the first set of Temples- we found a tarantula.

Of course all the (non black/me) people wanted to touch it.

The first complex we came to was the metropolis…like the downtown

The climb up to the top of these ruins were intense. 100-150 foot up in the air on a steep ladder.

But some might say the views were worth it.

You can see the other Temples poking out from the jungle.

It takes a ridiculous amount of money to restore these- 5million for 5%

I was dying of heat- it was 9 am. Those man had been working since 7 am.

It was no joke hiking through the jungle in 80% humidity.

These monkeys sounded like lions, they scream the whole time- they are called howling monkeys.

I was so done walking around at 11. The crowds were starting to come in and kit was HOT! I walked back with Boris to eat and wait for the 12:30 bus. While walking I think he was hitting on me as he told me about how white woman love him but he like dark girls. Ok, Boris. We also talked about Mayans. He made it very clear to me that he was not Mayan. I knew the other term for people in Guatemalan Latinads through one of talks with Nabila. They are basically Mestizos. I asked him what he thought of Mayans. He then responded that they were good people…before telling me that they were cultureless and had no respect for anything. It was so interesting to hear his thoughts about them after spending so much time with indigenous Mayan people. Especially when he makes his living showing Mayan ruins. To foreigners all Guatemalans are the same, just like all blacks are the same to whites. Of course, many of us believe there are huge differences within us economically (low/middle/upper class) and culturally (continental/ American/ Caribbean/etc). For some is always someone holding down a people/country and for many Latinads in Guatemalan those someone’s are Mayans. Boris clearly identifies more with the colonizers blood in him then with Mayans- whatever works for him. I enjoyed talking to Boris I learned a lot about him and his country I even know how much he makes a day. Side note his siblings have “Latino” names- he got his name from a Russian man who was his father’s best friend.

We finally made it back to Flores at 2:00. The city and my room were no cooler. I have been relatively cool throughout this journey in Guatemala. In Coban, I asked Yohana everyday “Donde esta mi amigo sol”, she assured me I would find the sun in Peten. The Peten region is so much hotter than what I could have imagined- and no AC.

The next stop is Rio Dulce/Livingston- The Caribbean Side.

 
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Posted by on June 25, 2010 in Guatemala, Travel

 

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I am way to pretty for this…

Perhaps Nabila had raised my standards for what a teacher should be- young, attractive, funny, charismatic, patient, etc. But I was not feeling my new teacher – at all. After giving me a 100 question test, to access my abilities she begin copying random stuff that I already knew from a book and not really going over it, I barely spoke the whole class. Plus she was sick and kept spitting out the window- not at all attractive. What I need to work on is speaking Spanish and that was not happening. After inquiring about the possibility of shortening the hours of my classes, I was informed that it was possible but I would not get any money back. Then my thinking changed to perhaps I will just leave a day early. I choose the school mainly because of the activities- learning to make soap, typical food cook, jewelry making and volunteering. After spending the rest of my Monday in ridiculous heat, searching for internet- my mind was made up I was leaving on Tuesday. I could learn to make soap on youtube. I was not learning anything and more importantly I was not happy.

My life, my happiness is in my hands. I understand that the fact that I DON’T DO ANYTHING I DON’T WANT TO, makes me privilege. Any job I have had, I had the option of quitting the moment I wanted to, without worrying how the rent would be paid or how I would eat. I have a choice to spend years studying a subject I love or entering the work force.  I have a choice whether my shower would be cold or hot in the morning.  Going to Guatemala and not a more luxurious destination was my choice. My life is filled with a million choices and rarely is money a factor in my decision making process. This makes me very blessed and I acknowledge how very blessed I am. I think it is my responsibility to choose my happiness when so many people do not have a choice.  So I left San Jose, which happens to be a beautiful town. I do not have the time or the energy to do anything my heart is not into. A little bit of money is a small price to pay to make me happy…

When I told the director I was leaving she asked me if I wanted to change teachers but my mind was made. It was a bit awkward in the class, after telling the teacher I rather lose money then continue my lessons with her. There was another student on Tuesday and her teacher did not seem much better. The girls seem cool- I sent her info on Casa Jackson and my Spanish school in Coban (since that was her next stop and I want to share Nabila with the world). I felt bad leaving the family; the grandmother asked me if I wanted to change families. I assured her it was not her, the food was REALLY good, her grandson was adorable (he had the flyest haircut and we painted the night before) and her daughter was also really nice.

I boarded a chicken bus (I am real bold now traveling with the locals alone) and headed to Flores. From here I will see the ruins at Tikal. Back to the land of private rooms/baths and eating alone. I promise I will practice my Spanish with my Spanish book everyday…

Oh and a flying cockroach about as big as Texas in my room on Monday night had very little to do with my decision.

~Just Tab.

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

The teacher’s pet…and something about a cave

My teacher was Nabila. Nabila was pretty much an amazing teacher and not just because she was beautiful, young and laughed at my jokes. I think part of my issue with my last teacher was the lack of patience and the inherent machismo found in Latin American men dealing with woman.

She easily explained the problems I had with grammar in a way that did not make me frustrated. We spent the majority of the sessions talking about her ex, daughter and the challenge of being a single mother in Guatemala. I taught her all about DNA testing on the Maury show and why she should not like Alicia Keys.  Our trips to make copies for my homework often turn into trips to find ice cream.

I think I got her in trouble one time-since we were gone an hour. The sessions flew by because we spent so much time talking about things that I was interested in, with someone who I would have a conversation with outside of school.

I also enjoyed the coffee/tea and cookies that were prepared for our break time by Jamie’s mom.

I am always surprised by how open people who just meet me are with me. Somehow it was decided that I will find her an American cowboy, she was inexplicably attracted to cowboy boots and cowboy hats. After she told me this I begin to notice the amount of people in Coban with the “Cowboy” look. Strange, but who am I to judge –I love Oprah.  This Thursday was Father’s Day in Guatemala and since Nabila daughter was at a program at her school with her father which meant Nabila had a little extra time after school and she was feeling a little down we went out for drinks. We spent the majority of our time searching for wine for me, when we finally found some it was a bit expensive. It is kind of hard to be “down with the common man” only sipping wine and champagne. I decided to have my first beer ever…two beers were cheaper than one glass of wine. By the time I decided to drop some of my bougie ways, Nabila’s ex was ready to drop off her daughter.  So Nabila’s daughter joined us, again my knowledge of the Jonas Brothers, High School Musical and Hannah Montana made me an instant hit with her daughter. Beer is not totally disgusting, but I do not think it is very ladylike. I will indulge solely in 3rd world countries.

The next day was Friday which was my last class with Nabila as my teacher. During class Nabila invited me to come to her house on Saturday. Nabila lived in Tactic, a very small town about 40 minutes outside of Coban. She gave me directions on what bus to take and how to find her house. The plan was me to meet her around 1:30, after I left the Rey Marcos Cave with Jamie in the morning.

Saturday was my last day in Coban. I woke up early to wash some of my clothes. After hearing that I had never hand washed clothes before, Yohana suggested I have her lady come and wash my clothes. I gladly agreed to this, but made sure I knew the lady name before relinquishing my clothes. To clarify, I have hand wash clothes before but in the United States completely different. The soap they use look like a bath bomb/fizzy thing, their whole method is completely foreign to me.

I left the house in order to meet Jamie and Amy (another student at the school from China/USA) for our trip to Rey Marcos. We took a bus to San Juan Chamelco

waiting for the bus to leave...then another bus to road leading to Rey Marcos.

The van was packed full of Guatemalans and it smelled better then the tourist shuttles with 4 “travelers”.

Once we got to Rey Marcos, Jamie decided that we should go explore the park and wait for a smaller group entering the caves.

Amy is a very free spirit…she decided to take her clothes off and get into the cold water. Also Amy was not a slave to the Western definition of beauty that tells us that we should shave…I am.

While I was freaking out about getting a little dirt on my pants.

When we return to the front of the park, we were told we had to wait about 30 minutes before we could tour the caves. By this time it was 11 am and Jamie since Jamie told me we would be back by 12:30-I was a little annoyed. An hour later we finally had begun our tour. I spent most of the time trying not to get dirty, as we climb through the muddy cave. I was relatively successful at this. At one point in the tour they make us hold hands and turn off all the lights- very eerie standing in cave in total darkness. The guys on the tour thought it would be a great ideal to put mud all over their bodies. I was very close to falling several time climbing out, because the walls were muddy and I didn’t want to touch them.

Upon exiting I went straight to the bathroom, took off my shirt and tried to scrub off any mud.

When we finally got back to Copan it was around 2pm and I still needed to make arrangement to get to Peten on the following day. After arriving at the travel agency and discovering the price was different from one I was quoted earlier. I begin hunting for this bus to Tactic, which no one on the street could help me with and Nabila’s map was not helping.  I was finally on my way to Tactic at 3pm, my first time on a chicken bus alone. Nabila’s “easy” directions to find her house were far from easy. Searched for a phone and waited for her to come find me. Her father informed me that she was waiting for me all day. Nabila showed me her house before taking me to see the construction for her new house (Habitat for Humanity is building a house for her). She took me to lunch outside of Tactic at a really nice café, I had my second beer ever- she is such a bad influence (this one was light-more lady like).  As we ate she casually mention she had to tutor someone at 5:30. It was 5pm, she mention I could wait for her at her house or go back to Coban.

As I thought about what I should do, her brother walks into the café. Apparently she had called him to entertain me as we waited. Her brother and I had a nice chat as we walked back to their house- just before the rain begun.

I chatted with Nabila’s brother, sister and father as I waited. Her 3 year old nephew who was acting very shy before was slowly coming around to me. Her daughter and her daughter’s friend ran in and out of their room to ask me questions about Disney World (I was instantly cool because I had been). When Nabila finally arrived back to her house it was raining very hard. She asked me what I wanted for dinner, I told her I was still full from dinner but she insisted. Although, she said she didn’t like to cook dinner was great. The first time I didn’t have eggs or black beans for dinner in a week. While she was cooking her daughter made a poster with her name and her best friend name/ ages, Nabila name and age and of Jesus Christ- with the caption “mejor amigos” (best friends). After dinner with her family, she suggested that I spend the night in Tactic. I was in no hurry to get on a chicken bus at 9 at night alone to go back to Copan. The only problem was I knew my family would be worry after trying to get their number from Jamie with no luck, I decided to stay the night. Early that night her nephew had ask me if I wanted to sleep in his bed that night (along with his mother and his mother friend), since that clearly was not an option I begin to wonder where I will sleep.  Everyone was going to bed so I went into the room with Nabila and her daughter. After we all changed for bed and were watching “Parent trap”, the ridiculousness of sharing a bed with not only my Spanish teacher but her 7 year old daughter begin to run through my mind. How do I get myself in these situations? Luckily, Nabila decided it was a bit crazy for all us to sleep in the same bed and decided that I would sleep in her room while she and her daughter slept in her father’s room. Great!

I went to bed woke up around 5:50 am, got dressed and said good bye to Nabila. Her father walked me to the bus and I headed back to Coban. I still had to secure a bus to Flores. I was dreading the walk of shame, when you have to come the next morning wearing the same clothes you had on when you left. I did not want my family to think I was out having a wild night with some boy. Thankfully, they knew where I was, although Jamie had not responded to us he had relayed the message to the family. I grabbed my clothes (which was still wet from the rain) showered, ate breakfast and said my good bye.

Leaving Coban was sad; I really liked both the family I stayed with and my teacher. I think you can tell a lot about people by how they treat strangers. I am forever grateful for the hospitality that the show to this tall, goofy black American with no hair and horrible Spanish. I am sure I will see Coban again…

On to Peten.

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2010 in Guatemala, my friends, Travel, Uncategorized

 

Coban

I left San Pedro Sunday, June 13 at 8:30 in the morning. Instead of taking another boat and leaving from the city in which I arrived-Pana; I decided to leave directly from San Pedro. Five hours on a overcrowded van on the horrible unpaved and winding roads left me very car sick. Thankfully, on the second half of the trip the shuttle bus was not as packed and one of the passengers shared her Dramamine with me.

Entering Coban, the city-like atmosphere was very apparent. One of the first thing we saw was a huge McDonald’s on the main road- very different from San Pedro. I took a cab to the school where I would be studying at and the school coordinator walked with me to the house I would be staying at.

I was dying to drop odd my stuff and find dinner. I assumed that the Yohana (the mother) would not be cooking dinner on the first night because of my experience in San Pedro.  Yohana asked me would I rather her cook me something or go out at night by myself (it was around 8:30/9pm). Of course, I took the cheaper and easier option of her cooking for me. She prepared a plate of eggs, black beans, creama, and tortillas for me. I quickly finished my meal (minus the creama which was disgusting) little did I know this would some minor changes- my dinner for the rest of the week. All of Yohana movements were closely followed by her 11 year old daughter Marie Jose as they both checked me out.  Before going to bed I briefly meet her husband Rubén, her 5 year old daughter Maria Renee was already in bed.

Before arriving to their house Jamie, informed me that I would be sharing a room with her daughters. I know weird, I was apprehensive at first. The living arrangement actually worked out for the week, we all had our own side of the room.

There were many social and economic differences between the family I stayed with in San Pedro and with the family I stayed while in Coban. For one, there was a “father” present in the family in Coban and the grandparents did not live in close proximity. I saw Inez brother, sister, niece and parents on a daily basis; often dining with them. They whole family also spoke an indigenous Mayan language; Yohana’s family in Coban did not.  The twins in San Pedro watched Disney channel and enjoyed Disney movies, while the girls in Coban’s room was littered with every type of Disney paraphernalia possible. The oldest girl was very much into everything Hannah Montana.

In the morning after the father left for work in his car, I discovered even more difference between the two families. Unlike Inez, Yohana did not work and had a helper for the house work in the morning.  They had 2 televisions, a refrigerator, microwave and even family computer- things that were not at all present in San Pedro. Oh and the water was oh so very hot!!!!

The city of Coban was pretty ugly and there were not many things for visitors to do in the town. Due to the amount of students at the school I was studying at I had to take classes in the afternoon. While I was not too happy with this arrangement at first it actually worked out well, since it rained the majority of the afternoons I was in Coban. I spent the mornings exploring the town, running errands and hanging out with Yohana.

One place I visted was the coffee farm in town and brought my parents some lovely Coban coffee. The majority of Guatemalans look at me like I have 4 heads when I tell them I don’t drink coffee.

One morning Yohana invited me to come to the doctor and the children school with her. Yohana is 3 months pregnant and I was curious to see how doctor offices looked in Guatemala. Her access to prenatal care firmly cemented her as middle class in my mind. After we left the doctor’s office we went to the children school. Why? I still have no clue, but we visited Maria Renee’s kindergarten class- Yohanna said something to the children and passed out a paper about her husband job.

I am guessing it had something to do with the father’s day celebration later in the week. Finally we went to market to get food for my lunch. I had the pleasure of seeing a woman pick up the chicken (with her bare hands) that I would eat a couple of hours later and chop it in half.

The evenings I spent with the family- lip syncing/ playing the “air” instruments or coloring with the girls.

It has been years since my dad has had a “real” job, so it was nice to see the girl’s excitement when “Daddy” came home.  The whole family usually tried to help me with my homework and by help I mean do it for me. Ruben (the father) taught me some Guatemalan slang and we discussed the day’s world cup game at dinner.

In the last 2 years, Yohana has had 5 students stay in her house. Since she only allows single girls this greatly limits the amount of students. She informed me that she didn’t really like the other girls because they were closed off. She also mentioned that brown people were more approachable and pretty much better overall. I am probably one of the few people who eat meat and I can promise you that I was the only one who asked to use the iron. By Wednesday Yohana begin constantly telling me how much I would be missed and how sad the girls would be when I left. I promised to keep and touch and she promised to call me when she found out the sex of the baby. We are all hoping for a boy. On the final day Ruben told me that I would always have a place to stay in Coban- I think they liked me.

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

San Pedro (Lake Atiltlan)

My family

In San Pedro, I decided to do a home stay while taking my Spanish lessons, to aid in my “immersion” of the culture. I had heard some not so good stories, so I was a bit apprehensive. Thankfully, I loved the family I stayed with. Inez and her two twin daughters- Barbara and Isabel.

The girls are 11 years old and just really well raised. On a couple of occasion they invited me to their room to watch TV with them; we watched Hannah Montana (which is funny in any language), some plastic surgery makeover show and while watching music videos they helped me pick out boyfriends. The family was used to random foreigners staying in their house and was very patient while communicating with me. The grandparents, Inez’s sister and niece were always around but I couldn’t figure out where they slept; until the girls showed me the “other house” with an entrance from their room.

The food

I really enjoyed having Inez prepare three home cooked meals for me every day. My meals were served at 7:20. 12:30 and 6:30. The meals were simple but good. My favorite thing she made was the banana pancakes, they were amazing. My least favorite was  this guacamole and onion salad concoction. I ate everything she gave me, I was not going to be the rude American “I don’t eat this”. This being Central America, we ate tortillas with everything. For every meal her mother would make fresh tortillas out of maize on her concrete/wood burning stove.

When traveling alone mealtime can be somewhat lonesome, whenever I dine alone I bring a book for company. It was nice having a family to eat with and converse with doing meal time.

The house.

Inez lived in a 3- floor house at the top of a very steep hill. On the first floor was Inez’s sewing machines (she make blouses), her bed room and the bathroom.

On the second floor was the girl’s room and my room.

I like my room. I even had a key.

And I woke up to a nice view of a Volcano

On the third floor was the kitchen. The kitchen was not finished, it “open air”. No real stove, just a burner. There was a wood oven.  Very basic, very simple but it got the job done.

Oh and about San Pedro, they don’t have their own water supply. They get their water from the mountains through a pipe. Well, since the tropical storm the pipes have been acting up. They had just received water again right before I came.

In order to wash our hands, wash clothes, dishes whatever we had to get the water from this well thing next to the sink. In the “bathroom” was the shower (with an electric heater) and toilet. There was no door separating the bathroom from the rest of the house, just a curtain. Cool, no problem. I am in a village in Guatemala; I am not expecting the Taj-Mahl.

Wednesday morning I went to use the bathroom and discovered the toilet was not flushing- there was no water. So no shower that morning! I am glad I know how to use water to flush a toilet. Saturday after my hike I was so ready for a shower, when once again there was no water. I enjoyed the pleasures of bathing in cold water from a bucket.

The School

A major purpose of my visit to Guatemala is to practice my Spanish, although I took Spanish in high school and college I am far from proficient. My strength is in reading the language and my weakness is speaking Spanish. This is why I choose to stay with a family, rather than a hotel/hostel (and because travelers are dirty hippies).  In San Pedro I studied at Flor del Maiz, which consisted on daily 4 hour one-on-one tutoring sessions with my teacher Juan.

I liked Juan…enough. I don’t know if his teaching method was right for me. Again, since I had roughly 5 years of Spanish I did have some concept of the language, which made him think my level was higher than it was. He went way to fast on different verb tenses and kept confusing me. When I am frustrated I shut down, which is not good for learning. I never knew when he wanted me to repeat something. We normally got about 2 good hours in before I was ready to flee. I did enjoy the activities and the snack time at the school. I even tried a new food…

The Activities

Depending on the day the school hosted activities to aid in our comprehension of Spanish as well as our knowledge of the local culture.

On Monday I was taken on a tour of the town by Jose. The other student Stacey got lost coming to the school and did not come with us on the tour. As we walked around the town Jose shared with me about the town’s rapid growth in the last ten years. This was especially evident in the town’s cemetery (which he took me to) with the increasingly embellished manner in which they buried their dead. During the tour we stopped by the indigenous Mayan cultural center, where arrangements were made for me to volunteer/teach a lesson at the end of the week.

On Tuesday we watched a movie about the  36 year long Civil War that wrecked havoc on Guatemala and the Mayan way of life.

Wednesday we had a lecture on the history of Lake Atitlan. After the lecture, Stacey and I went down by the docks to do a little shopping. She was looking for a purse, while I was looking for ketchup. While in Antigua, I was complaining about how nasty this sweet Guatemala ketchup was when a man told me where I could find some in San Pedro. I was overjoyed to enjoy French fries with my beloved Heinz.

Later that evening Stacey and I meet up once again to take Salsa dancing lessons with Enrique (the coordinator of the school cousin).

I had to roll up my pants because they were wet from the rain and of course slip on some heels for Salsa! Oh, and I had  to rock the Jesus piece…

We learn some basic steps. I was focused on being the better dancer, I could not let some red head from Australia out shine me! Then we practice together.Since I was taller I was the guy, but Stacey kept trying to lead.

Then we both got a chance to dance with Enrique.The hour flew by.

Thursday we were suppose to climb The Mayan Nose, but it was reschedule till Saturday because of the rain.

Friday I went back to volunteer at the Mayan Cultural Center. Everyone was so nice. I help them prepared for the monthly birthday celebration, the staff was eager to practice their English with me. When the event started they kept leaving me alone with the children all 20 of them. Me. You know the girl who doesn’t really speak Spanish. So I kept asking them simple questions “What is your name” or “How old are you”. It all worked out. It was cool watching them play games from my childhood in Spanish, like “Hot potatoes” and “Duck Duck Goose”. I taught them the English words to some of the games. I was supposed to do a craft with them, but we ran out of time.

In a nutshell

San Pedro was a very close knit Mayan community. One day I decided to take a tuk-tuk home instead of walking in the rain; in San Pedro there are no real street names but all I had to do was say I am staying with Inez. “Oh, Inez who makes blouses and has twins?” Everyone knew each other. The people spoke Tzu’tujil, which was as evident as Spanish during my stay. Traditional dress and way of life was very apparent. While the Western influence was there, it was kept at a minimum. I love San Pedro, the people, the culture…I learn so much while I was there.

The randomness:

Walking to the school one afternoon, I stumble upon a funeral. They were blasting music from a truck while carrying the casket during the street.

On Friday/Saturday  there was a wake down the street from the house, I heard funeral music all night. Inez said she the man who died was her friend and she was too sad to cook Friday night…

Next stop: Coban!

(I left San Pedro June 13, I was just really late posting this)

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2010 in Guatemala, Travel

 

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Climbing Mountains and other randomness…

I have a tendency to forget that my outside does not always reflect my inside. This became very clear on Saturday when I climbed my first mountain. I had been climbing hills and doing a lot of walking since I arrived in Guatemala. So foolishly I thought a mountain would be no problem. On Saturday morning at 7am, I meet with Stacey (a student at the Spanish school from Australia) and Pedro (our guide) to attempt to climb Nariz de Mayan (The Mayan nose). I had on boots, cargo shorts, sports bra and tee- I was ready! I even brought along my pocket knife. Stacey and I joked during the 30 minute walk to the base of the mountain, teaching each other phrases in slang from our respective countries.

I was ready for the climb! When we begun our climb our guide gave us two options a. climb the smaller mountain and then go to the market in Santa Clara b. climb the Atitlan Volcano. Pedro told us that we would have the same view from both mountains. I let Stacey make the decision and she decided to climb the bigger mountain. It did not matter anyway because I was young and strong; ready to conquer any mountain. This might be a good time to add that I have never climbed a mountain in my life.

About 45 minutes into our climb of the actual mountain I begin to feel a bit tired. My legs were beginning to hurt from the rough terrain. My breathing was not as easily as it was before; I ceased joking with Stacey in order to conserve energy. This liquid begun to come out of pores/skin, I believe people refer to this as sweat. Normally when I see any signs of this liquid I stop what I am doing and find AC. This was not possible a quarter of a way of the mountain. I allowed Stacey to pass me as I continue to climb. I was told we had another 2 hours to the top. Then a 45 minute walk to the base of the volcano and another hour hike up the mountain.

Thankfully Stacey began to stop to take pictures of spiders and random stuff, giving me time to rest. I tried to prolong those photo shoots as long as possible in order to catch my breath.

I begin to seriously question why I thought I could climb anything and why was I on a mountain in Guatemala instead of on someone’s beach!

After many breaks I made it to the top!




After admiring the view we decided against climbing the volcano. Instead we walked about 30 minutes to Santa Clara for their market.

My boots got very dirty during the climb.


When we approach the market little boys begin clamoring to shine our shoes. The kids look about 6, but the price was right. The boy who shined my shoes says he was 10 years old, so it wasn’t really child labor. I even tipped the kid.

The market was very interesting. We were probably the only non-Mayans/ Guatemalan there. Stacey with her red hair and me with my no hair and dark skin attracted many stares and points. After seeing how they were handling raw meat in the open air, I became very grateful that my host family did not cook much meat for me.

Our guide Pedro suggested we take a pick up, instead of walking back to San Pedro. A pick up is basically people jumping on the back of a truck.

As we waited for the San Pedro truck, I begin to dance to the music from the stand across from where we were. They were playing the “wave your flag” song from the World Cup Soundtrack. Of course me being black I started to dance in the street. Very soon there was a lovely crowd formed watching the strange foreigner dance in the street.

Eventually the Pick-up came. Along with about 15 people on the back of the truck there were 3 chickens and a kid sleeping on the floor. Normally, this is not a smart idea for foreigners but we had out Guatemalan pass- Pedro. At some point we jumped out the truck and took a tuk-tuk back to San Pedro.

I return home to eat lunch before meeting up with Stacey to go to San Marcos to get her passport. On our way to catch a boat, we stopped in a bar so she could watch the soccer game.

Everyone here is caught up in World Cup fever. Stacey managed to find the one attractive person in the bar. When we entered the bar there was this girl there who helped me out earlier in the week. The restaurant did not have any change and I did not have enough money in smaller bills. This girl gave me 3Q to pay for lemonade. It was kind of embarrassing. So I was happy to see her again, I tried to pay her back and she told me not to worry about it. We spent the game talking. She was from New Zealand and was spending the year traveling the world. I normally have no interest in talking to backpackers, but maybe it was her brown skin (I think she is Indian) or the fact that she was not a hippie and spoke English.

She lived by the docks, with all the other gringos and since I stayed with a family away from Gringos. I had not really gone out. We all decided to go out that night. I gave her my contact and we said our goodbyes.

Stacey and I board a boat to San Marcos. This boat ride was much nicer and shorter than my previous experience.

San Marcos is very tranquil and is known for it’s retreats. It has a real hippie vibe. I actually met a woman later that night (at a bar) who said she was going to attend rehab in San Marcos in 2 weeks. We retrieve her passport and she had lunch. Meet a nice German man named Alexis who own the restaurant. I really thought homeboy was gay till he started hitting on Stacey (and she liked it).

When I return home, I discovered that there was another student living with my family. Her name was Lucy; she was from Atlanta and let’s just say I know why the world hates Americans.  Somehow she invited herself to come out with me. It was just as I expected people from around the world all talking in English about randomness, trying to hook up. I was glad I went out though, so I could talk to my new friend. We might meet up in a couple of weeks, when I go to Livingston. I also met another cute British boy, who happened to be on my bus leaving San Pedro the next day.

SN: There are dogs everywhere in San Pedro; I counted about 5 in the restaurant/bar.

So that’s what I did on my last night in San Pedro…

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2010 in Guatemala, my friends, Travel

 

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