Edwin’s Central American Adventures 2006

I kept a travel blog on Bootsnall during my travels in 2006.  All the posts can be found there online.  However, if for some reason they ever disappear, this page will be the back up resting place…

The Truth Revealed, Responding to your Comments, & Prep for my Next Trip

June 12th, 2006

It sure is nice to be back home in America. Hot running water, sidewalks, Sweet Tomatoes, Oregon rain, drinkable tap water, $3.19 gallon for gas, the Portland JailBlazers back in the news, and a home cooked meal. Man oh man, despite our domestic problems and a huge to-do list of what needs to be fixed, I love our country (cue Patriotic Music and waving flag in the background as fireworks erupt to light up the sky).

Now that I’m oficially back, it’s time to get down to business: I’ve been without the Internet for the last 10 days, so I have quite a bit of catching up to do.

 

 

– THE TRUTH REVEALED –

1. True: I did contemplate the volunteer opportunity at Finca Tatin. The opportunity was real, the place rocked, the food was fantastic and the jungle setting incredible–it would just require one month and getting used to mosquitoes sucking my blood every day. I passed.

2. True: while I was hanging out in Antigua, I did receive a job offer from Paxton to work in his little coffee garden shop. He laid it on thick and heavy and it was hard to say no, especially from a personality such as his. It was a cute little place and had I not other plans I already committed to in the US, I would have gladly taken the job.

3. True: I did visit the Church of Scientology, as my pictures proved, and even took them up on their offer of a free lunch (you know I can’t pass up free food!–in this case, BBQ burgers, hot dogs, potatoe salad, chips, melon, soda pop….)

4. Not True: I never once considered joining the organization to train in their program and recruit others in Central America. But you all figured that out, didn’t ya??? Where did I go wrong? The pictures didn’t work. My defense of the Church also fell on deaf ears. How about my friend Mike’s assessment and his jog down memory lane when I returned back from Morocco years ago with my discovery of the Muslim traditions?

5.  True:  I have been gone for the last 10 days on a family trip.  Call it a vacation away from my extended vacation.  So I am now only getting to your emails and comments.  Here’s the quick run down….

 

After Finca Tatin, I did travel with Niklas and Aliscia to Antigua, I did hike up Volcan Pacaya, and I did hang out for a few days before catching a plane back to the US.  But I didn’t return home to Portland right away.  Nope.  Instead, I eased back into US culture in San Francisco with my friends from AmeriCorps.  Unfortunately, I was still suffering from my bouts of food poisoning, and got to know Dan and Ezra’s bathroom quite well.  It would actually take me 4 days of recovery in San Francisco to get me back to 80% health.  But during that time, I enjoyed watching cheesy movies; hanging out at UC Berekley; eating Italian, Mexican and Chinese food; relishing a burger, fries and shake at a Piedmont burger joint; stuffing myself silly at a Sizzler buffet after a few hours of trying to play basketball (and my body felt the aches and pains for 3 full days afterwards); and clogging up my arteries with our traditional breakfast spot, Ole’s, the famous grease spoon in Alameda.  In addition to all of that, we also found time to visit the San Francisco Church of Scientology, where I got my cool pictures and my free lunch.

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The Church!  Not located on the lake in San Pedro in Guatemala, but rather, in San Francisco right off Columbia.

 

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Ezra and Dan finish off their food with some soda while a friendly Scientologist encourages them to come to her 7pm seminar on financial success.  Unfortunately, we were not able to make it.

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Still sick, in recovery at Dan’s.  Left over pizza from the night before doesn’t sit so well in me.

 

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Decisions, decisions.  Should we go with the special edition ”Cheaper by the Dozen” flick with Steve Martin or the romantic comedy “My Best Friend’s Wedding” with Julia Roberts?  How about NONE OF THE ABOVE.  We settle on a 1990 indie filmed RIGHT HERE IN ALAMEDA starring David Cassidy with appearances by Tommy Chong, Joyce Brothers and other BIG name stars!

 

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Immediately following our viewing of “X-Men:  The Last Stand,” we find this statue of the superhero “Many Hands Manny.”  Question:  If you had sucky superpowers such as the ability to eat 40 hot dogs in 5 minutes, wouldn’t you take the syrum to change you back into a normal human being?   These are very profound questions that I’m sure the Church of Scientology would not be able to answer.

 

So there you have it.  While I was trying to plant the seeds of joining the Church, I was actually in San Francisco loading up on carbs and weight, and then quickly losing those pounds as I sat on the toilet every hour getting readjusted to a new American food strain.  All in all though, I think I gained back 5 pounds of what I lost in Guatemala with all the food I ate in SF.

 

– A FAMILY VACATION –

 

I flew home from San Francisco for just a few days to hang low in Portland, hence my made-up story about going off to join the program in Guatemala.  I needed some time alone to unpack, SLEEP, eat, catch up on emails and bills, and then 4 days later I was off on a little vacation with my family down to Sunriver and to Reno for some gaming action.

 

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View from Lava Butte, just south of Bend, OR.

 

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Hiking in the Lava Tube Cave.  Dad, Mom, my brother and his girlfriend, Hong.

 

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Benham Falls with my mom.

 

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Dad casts his line into Paulina Lake for an afternoon of none-biting trout…..

 

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…while I take my mom on a hike up to the crater.  But we are forced to turn back when the ice and snow is just a little too much to traverse.

 

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Rafting on the Deschuttes River.

 

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Taking a break and watching the Native American Dance performance at Mills Park in Carson City, NV for their Carson City Rendevouz Days.

 

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Checking out the ol’ western town of Virginia City.

 

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My bro and I ham it up for the camera.

 

We stayed 5 days in Sunriver, 4 in Reno, and 1 long day driving back.  Don’t even ask how I fared with gambling, let’s just say that I’ll definitely need to find a job sooner than later (if I only had 25 cents more I KNOW I would have hit that 10 million dollar Wheel of Fortune jackpot…well, maybe).  But Reno isn’t about gambling and lady luck now, is it?  No, not at all.  Reno is about the BUFFETS!  Gourmet galore!  Combined with the food from San Francisco, my few days back in Portland, and my family trip, and I have gained back a total of 11 pounds!  So only 7 more to go before I reach my pre-Guatemala weight of 5 months ago.

 

– PREP FOR MY NEXT TRIP –

I’m back home for 5 days to prep my bike for my next trip, so I don’t know if I’ll be able to see many friends or hang out to discuss the role of Scientology in our US political system.  This Saturday and Sunday I’ll be attending a 2-day wedding event for my good friend Amy and her awesome fiance Reto–what is so cool is that they orginally met in Antigua, Guatemala while learning Spanish.  So I got them a little something from Guatemala so that they don’t forget where they met!  Then, next Monday I’ll be hitching a ride up to BC, Canada to start the next leg of my year off.  Check back on Friday for details on this trip, and then every Friday thereafter for my updates on the road.  One thing I have learned is that when I was in Central America, Internet cafes were pretty prevalent and cheap.  Trying to find internet on my trip to Sunriver and Reno was like pulling teeth from a bear–impossible.  And when I did find it, like at the hotel, they were charging $12-$25 per hour!  I suppose I know what business to get into when I get back.  At any rate, I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll be able to find some access when I’m on the road, and hence my Friday weekly updates from here on out.  That’s it for today, hopefully I’ll be able to see some of you this week before I take off, but if I don’t, I should be back in mid-August with 10 more pounds lost, darker skin, and longer hair and my full grown beard and mustache (yeah yeah, laugh it up).

 

My Announcement: Restoring, Nurturing and Renewing the Spirit

June 5th, 2006

Quick update for this week, as I have just a few minutes to use this very expensive Internet connection here in Flores.  I must say that I am not surprised by the comments I have received publicly and privately about my decision to continue on with my travels in an un-Edwin-like, unconventional way.  I am not hurt nor offended by the lack of support from friends and family because Geoff, Francios and others in my sect warned me about revealing the truth all at once.  It matters to me, but I do not take it personally, because I know what I am doing and I am content with my decision.  And to reiterate, I have not been brainwashed or sucked into a cult.  I am still me, with my own mind and my own take on life.  I have just decided to accept more tolerance and an open mind for a different way of living.  We are driven by a modern society that values work for money for living.  And with that we lose faith and lose sight of what we really want in life.  We get sucked into an endless cycle of a zombie-like trance, living the day to day in order to pay the bills, put food on the table and a roof over our head.

We are all different, our own minds, own values, own ideals and beliefs for how to live one’s life.  I have chosen a different path than the one I have accustomed myself to for the last 5 years of waking up every week to work my 40 hours, sit in the commute, pay my taxes and go out ocassionally for fun.  I chose a path where I do not trade off my spiritual side for profit.  I chose to positively affect the world around me through creating meaningful relationships and connections on a human, one-on-one level.  I don’t suspect that many of you will understand this, but it is my hope that by the end of 2006 you will all share in my passion for the life that discovered me through Scientology.

Tom and John Travolta may be punchlines for this misunderstaood way of living, but I am honest when I say that our intentions are true of heart and we only want to help people achieve all that they are capable of.  I have chronically been an underachiever with my life, always flying below the radar and doing just enough, but now I seek a greater maximum return of my potential through unlocking those obstacles that hold me back and keep me from being the best that I can be.  Well, no longer.

I can’t wait to get home back to Portland to share with my enthusiasm, but first I must complete my training here and improve my Spanish.  And this is my announcement.  I plan on staying for the rest of 2006, and returning back to Portland at the start of the New Year.  A new, improved New Year with a new, improved Edwin.  I can only imagine the possibilities of where Scientology can take me, and I am truly excited for the future.

But first things first.

Yeah, okay, I admit it, you all called my bluff.  Horrible poker face, no wonder I never win.  Suppose you all know me all too well.  I was hoping that I could pull the wool over yer eyes for at least another week…maybe convince 5% of you that I am for real.  I mean, come on, I had actual pictures of the Scientology Center!  Doesn’t that count for anything??

So there you have it.  I’m lying, cheating, faking, BS’ing, etc. etc.  The truth is, I’ve been home for almost one week.  Laying low, to acclimate myself back to eating full meals, flushing toilet paper in the toilet, and not filtering my water from the tap.  And catching up on my sleep, cause you know about that severe jet lag from traveling all the way from Guatemala!

But don’t try to contact me now, no, not this week.  Cause I’m back on the road.  A short, 10-day trip with my family down to Central Oregon, Nothern California and Nevada.  Then it’s back for a few days in Portland as I ready my bike for my trip down the coast from Canada to Mexico.  My best case scenario is to be back in Portland in mid-August, at least for 2 months.  Maybe I’ll find a survival job in that timeframe.  But this is my year off from doing the work thing, so then again, maybe not.  I hope to head off to Thailand and Vietnam later in the fall, so you just might see me at a highway onramp or off-ramp asking for donations to supplement what is left of my meager savings.

So there you have it.  Yes, I am technically back in Portland, but out on the road as you read this.  I’ll be back next week for a few days to catch up with friends and show off my long, curly perm-like hair-do’, and then it’s back off my butt and onto my bike saddle for the ride.  I lost almost 20 pounds in Guatemala, but have easily gained 5 back from Nestle, Dreyer’s, Sweet Tomatoes and Baja Fresh.  Ah, it’s great to be back in America.  Unfortunately, I fooled no one with my tale of Tom and John.  But you knew that already.  So have a nice week everyone, I’ll be seein’ y’all later!

 

Continuing the Journey

June 2nd, 2006

I don’t want to get on a soapbox and start telling the world what I’ve learned.  And I don’t want to use this blog as an advertising medium to celebrate my newly discovered ideas of living.  But I will admit that it is hard to contain my excitement and my feelings for the last week of training that I have been involved in.  I have been exposed to wonderful people and a cause that has inspired me to continue with my journey on another level.  My whole perspective on life and my worldview has changed for the better, and in the next few months I hope to share some of these teachings and my new experiences with you.  I’m probably not the best person to convince another to try something out, as evaluation and choices come down to the individual.  Changes come from within.  That’s all I’ll say for now about the positive changes that I have experienced.

The last week I have been learning, questioning, discovering and healing with new friends and mentors.  My learning will never be finished, but the next step of my journey will take me back to the Peten area of Guatemala, where I will spend a month or two to find and encourage new members to learn more about our program and then bring them back to San Pedro for further instruction.  I will be living with a fellow from Canada, Francios, who grew up just outside of Montreal.  We’ll be leaving this Sunday.  There is very limited access to Internet where I’ll be stationed, but we will pass through Poptun on Monday, so I’ll provide another update at that time.  But for now, please enjoy the following pictures that were taken this past week at the training center in San Pedro, housed in an old colonial style building just a short walk to the lake’s edge.

 

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We have 3 levels of space–one for our meetings (the public face), one for operations (behind the scenes admin stuff), and an upper level for housing our new members.

 

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Front entrance.

 

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We sell our books in English and Spanish.  Over 20 million copies have been sold worldwide.

 

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We also have our own newspaper publication we can hand out to the public in the capital city and other gringo trail hotspots.  We have these in German, English, Spanish and Chinese.  We talk to locals and international travelers alike.  Since my Spanish is still pretty rough, I’ll be shadowing Francios for a little while and helping where I can.  Our aim is to introduce Scientology and be available for people who have questions or misconceptions on what they may have heard from the media.  The true heart of our program is to help people live better, fulfilling lives.

Please do email me privately or via the public comments section if you’d like to learn more about deepening and freeing your mind to our understanding of the world and our place within.

Finally, depending on my Internet access, please do check back on Monday for an important announcement regarding my plans for the future with the organization.  Happy June everyone!

 

A Culinary Photo Tour, Xela Guatemala

May 31st, 2006

So I did the rounds of the street vendor food, and this post is to remind me of what I enjoyed at Parque Central of Xela, Guatemala…

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The round things on the outside of the plancha are called puposas — fried tortillas stuffed with cheese and sometimes with meat. In the middle of the plancha are las garnaches — little fried tortillas with meat and cheese topping.

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Deep fried rolled tortillas, filled with meat or veggies…a Guatemalan version of a Taco.

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Los Rellenitos… a plantano (similar to a banana) shaped into a ball and then stuffed with black beans and fried in oil (just like most things in Guatemala)

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Los elotes — corn on the cob, but they take it to another level, smothering all sides with mayo and ketchup, and then adding some chile powder and some squeezes of lime. Huh?

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My yummy yummy churros. Yeah, okay, maybe its all just oil I taste, but give me some hot chocolate to dip my fried donut in and I’m in heaven!

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Los nueganos…little donut holes fried in oil. 3 or 4 go into a plastic bag, then the vendor dumps this really sweet liquid inside, closes up the bag, gives it a turn and a shake, and hands it back to you. The sweet liquid is soaked up into the little donut holes, and the result isn’t what I expected. One time is enough for me.

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The taco stand…3 corn tortillas piled high with shredded pork, onions and salsa. Deelish!

In addition, there are other food staples that I had not gotten pictures for… tamale (basically a corn tortilla ball, very dense and not fried), empanadas (folded tortillas stuffed with fillings and then fried), chuchitos (tamales with chicken wrapped in banana leaves), los paches (rice in banana leaves) and chiles rellenos (stuffed pepper).

And I’m trying to forget black beans, eggs and tortillas for a reason, but I know they’ll always be a part of my memory regarding my life down in Xela for over a month…

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Lago Atitlan Trip Report

May 29th, 2006

Here’s the photo trip report for my 3 day hike from Quetzaltenango to Lago Atitlan. You can click on the thumbnail photos to enlarge them.

– DAY 1 –

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After eating a hearty breakfast of eggs, black beans, tortillas and fruit, we walked 30 minutes to our chicken bus and we on the trail by 10am. hiking up from a small pueblo overlooking the city.

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It was a beautiful morning, not too hot, and the steepness of the trail afforded beautiful views the higher we climbed.

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Climbing up to our rest stop.

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Breaktime.

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The trees gave way to grassy meadows and open spaces…

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The path became dusty as we crossed farmed land and village homes.

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What goes up, must come down…very carefully with this soft and dusty ground.

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We continue our hike into the late afternoon, as the clouds came in to cool the sweat on our brows.
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We hiked up to a small village, passing by these packs of dogs in the street. I had flashbacks to my scary encounter on my bike ride, but fortunately the dogs were all preoccupied with someone throwing out some food scraps to pay attention to me.
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And stayed at this abandoned hostel, which is now only used by the Quetzaltrekkers group for this very hike. The place had no electricity and was definitely a scary place to sleep in at night. It would make the perfect setting for a teen horror slasher flick. I am so happy that I brought my headlamp, because after 6pm, you look down this hallway in complete darkness and it will give you the willies.
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During the night, we all tried out the Mayan sauna, called a temaskul. It is not for someone who might be closterphobic, as the space was very small and it got hot in a hurry!

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Barely enough room for 4.

– DAY 2 –

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Early morning wake up at 6am, bean, tortilla and egg breakfast at a local comedor, and on the trail by 7:30am.
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We climbed up and up and up, and had to navigate a portion of a mountain landslide to get to this view.

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Looking back from where we came from.

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Jerri meets the local kids and they pose for pictures.
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We continue hiking down to our lunch break stop.

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A young German and his mom (I forgot their names) along for the hike.
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We hike down to the river for a quick break.

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And follow the bank, crossing the river 12 times over and back until….

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…we reach our final ascent. Up the steep section we go.

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At the top, it is another 45 minute hike along the road to our stop for the night, the home of Don Poncho.

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After all the hiking, the candle light dinner was sublime.

– DAY 3 –

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4:30am wake up. Pack up. Hike along the dark road and up a small trail for the sunrise.

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And breakfast. Oatmeal, tea and coffee.

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Unforgettable.
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Morning tea and the rising sun.

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Hiking down to the lake…

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Where we put on our bathing costumes (that’s what Brittish Marc calls em’) and take a swim in the lake.

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Then we catch a lancha boat ride across the lake to the town of San Pedro…

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Where lunch awaits us.

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Half of our group heads back to Xela in the afternoon aboard a pick up truck, while some of us stay behind for a few more days to enjoy the lake. Here’s where I slept for $2 a night. That’s right, $2 gets me a private room and shared bath. San Pedro has to be one of the cheapest destinations in Central America for accomodations and food.

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This entire breakfast cost me under $5.

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I moved on to San Marcos, the New Age/Mediation place and found a dorm room at this place.

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I spent the afternoon hanging out near the lake and stayed until the moon poked out.

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And then it was on to Panajachel via a 45 minute lancha.

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I hiked around Reserva Natural Atitlan which had monkeys, a butterfly farm, and these suspension bridges.

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Can’t get enough of the lake.

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One final look at Lago Atitlan.

 

When It Rains, It Pours (Times Three)

May 26th, 2006

The saying goes that when it rains, it pours. Let’s multiply that by three, shall we?

1. Guatemala has two seasons during the year. The dry season, which runs about late November to May, and the rainy season, which lasts from May until December depending on what area of Guatemala you are in. I can declare that I am now living it up in the rainy season. It has been raining since Monday. And when it rains, it pours. Off and on. Some mist, then drizzle, then steady rain, then deluges and then it will stop. The clouds move pretty fast, thunder rumbles in the distance. So there is not a whole lot of time I have spent outdoors on more trips. But that could be for another reason, #2…

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Another typical afternoon at Parque Central in Antigua.

2. It has been a rough week. I’ve been holed up in my hostel for most of it, not voluntarily though. Seems I ate something Monday that I shouldn’t have eaten. I’m guessing it was the frozen fruit mix bar I bought from a local vendor. It tasted great. But by Tuesday, I definitely caught something. In my stomach. Pain swelled within. But mind over matter, at least I always say. I figured that my little stomach ache would go away. So I treated myself to a chicken dinner. And when it rains, it pours.

Back to back? Food poisoning on Monday, and then Tuesday? Is it possible? I have no other explanation. I figure it was the chicken. Or maybe the lettuce in the salad. I can’t be sure what it was that put me over the edge. Tuesday night I got no sleep. Massive stomach problems. Even had a fever. Cold, then hot sweats. Hurt when I swallowed. Couldn’t breathe from one side of my nose, all plugged up. Even developed a little cough, which I still have now. I somehow made it through the night, but Wednesday day was the worst. I visited the bathroom no less than 12 times in a span of 24 hours. Yesterday probably only 8 times. And today, so far, 4 times. So dehyrdated. So sick.

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2 crepes filled with vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Now that I think about it, the whipped cream tasted off. Maybe it was the whipped cream that was the second culprit. Or maybe the 4th, after the frozen fruit bar, the chicken, and the lettuce.

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My dorm room, Antigua. Spent most of my time on the bed, and the rest in the bathroom.

3. A few days ago I had one option to consider. And when it rains, it pours. Suddenly I have three.

Option I: Finca Tatin. They need someone to volunteer for a month to help around. Check in guests, answer phones, be an available staff person for most of the day. Perfect way to extend my travels. And read more books. But I would literally be stuck there, on the river. Could I possibly get cabin fever in the jungle? So after careful consideration, I decided to let Ana go for it.

Option II: Had breakfast Wednesday morning at the El Patio Kaffee House. I ended up chatting with Paxton, the Guatemalan owner of the place. It is a cafe serving food and drinks in an open air courtyard, perfect for studying or reading or writing or just spending an afternoon. They have a book exchange where I picked up a copy of the Da Vinci Code. Long story short, Paxton enjoys to travel as much as I do. He likes to take trips here and there. And needed some extra help around the cafe. Cooking, cleaning, serving customers, etc. And he convinced me to give it a go. I would get free room and board, plus spending money. For about 8 hours of work a day, as the place is only open from 8-4. So another opportunity lands in my lap. Extend my travels. Continue brushing up on my Spanish, plus utilize some culinary skills (like I have any). Maybe even run the place when he is gone. He offered me a one month test run. The part I liked best is that I would be in Antigua, in the city and not feeling so stuck. There are still 2 volcanoes I can climb, numerous biking opportunities, and other day trips I can participate in when I’m not working. It would allow me to settle in for a bit, recover from the rigors of moving from place to place every few days. Would I accept? Yes. But wait…

Option III: Disclaimer.

I like to think that I have an open mind, and try to with hold judgement whenever possible as I gather enough information to develop my conclusions. But as we are all aware, there are always two sides of a story, and sometimes one side is more pursuasive than the other, for many different reasons including slant of the media, personal biases, personal experiences, knowledge of stories of friends, etc etc. There can be a lot of confusion and misinformation, and I will admit that at times I feel paralzyed by so much of what is going out there in the world. So with that, here’s what I will be doing.

After the Volcan Pacaya hike, I hung out with some of the hikers and even ran into Christie, one of the hikers from my Nebaj to Todos Santos hike from over a month ago. One of the people I met is a guy from the States, Geoff. Good guy, from the Clearwater FL, we’re about the same age. He’s been in Central America for the last 14 months, ie over a year. His Spanish, of course, is better than mine. Is he here for school? For work? Volunteering like many other people I’ve met? Yes Yes and Yes. And he doesn’t have a penny to his name. So, what is his secret? And could I apply that to my current situation. Yes.

So here’s the hard part, trying to explain this all. No, I have not been nor will I ever be brainwashed. I haven’t been sucked into a cult or anything, though I know some of you will think otherwise. This is a great opportunity for me to continue to travel without having to worry about the money situation. I’ll be able to travel, work on my Spanish, eat and live for free, hang out with some cool people, volunteer on different projects in Central America, and also do some teaching. But first I have to do a training program in San Pedro, Lago Atitlan. Who can complain about that? Here’s a pic from my previous visit to the lake:

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I will be leaving tomorrow (Saturday) with Geoff and three other new friends for a one week training program to learn more about the program’s history, goals, social projects and teachings. Then, if all goes well, I will be traveling south to El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras with my team to communities, villages, pueblos and areas urban and rural to assist with local projects and share what we’ve learned. I know what you’re thinking, RELIGIOUS CULT! But it’s not, because Scientology literature says you can hold on to your original beliefs and still practice Scientology. Facts: Scientology is an applied religious philosophy, and it has helped changed many lives for the better. The church says it can help people learn better, and live better, improving their communication skills, keeping believers off drugs, giving them confidence, assisting them with family life and solving day-to-day problems.

Yeah yeah I know, many churches can do that. And that is great. So why can’t Scientology reach out and help others as well? I’m not going to defend Scientology because I would be wasting my breath, but believe me, I’ve done my homework and research, and of course a big thanks to Ezra for pointing me to the website Cult Awareness Network (CAN) http://www.cultawarenessnetwork.org.

So that’s it, that’s the plan. Don’t worry, I won’t be signing my life’s savings away or cutting off contact. But the training will be over the next 7 days at their center, so I won’t have Internet access until next Friday and I can tell you all about it and where our first assignments will be. I’m pretty excited about it, and keeping an open mind because in the past I’ve been known to make fun of Scientology, but that was because I was ignorant and didn’t really know much about them aside from those cheesy personality tests and celebrities in the media. But what is that saying about walking a mile in another’s shoes?

So that’s what I’ll be doing for the next week. Tomorrow’s first teachings will consist of our “auditing”, where the program helps you locate and eliminate spiritual problems. The Sunday format will be presented on that Saturday, and will follow for the next several days, so I’ll only find out about what I’ll be doing the day before. Sounds like a fun adventure to me, so why not give it a go?!  I can always decide not to continue, its not like I am being forced to do this.  So there you go.

I guess that’s all I have for now. Have a great Memorial Day Weekend and I’ll have more on Monday and Wednesday about my previous hikes to Lago Atitlan and Nebaj to Todo Santos, and then I’ll have a fully updated status report next Friday about what I’ve learned.  So until then, bye bye May and hello June!

 

Tikal Trip Report

May 24th, 2006

Mid March, just before our El Mirador hike.  Kirk, Markus and I took the overnight bus from Guatemala City to Flores, and arrived at 8am to Tikal, probably THE most impressive restored Mayan site in Guatemala, Mexico and Belize.  It is a very large park, with huge pyramids, huge ceiba trees and wildlife galore.  Here’s the photo tour of our day…it was quite hot, and by mid day the hordes of tourists off the chartered buses arrived in mass, but despite the number of visitors, I would have to rank this attraction as the Number 1 site to see in all of Guatemala.

 

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Loading up on pancakes and fresh squeezed orange juice before we set out into the ruins.

 

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Gran Plaza area

 

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View from one of the structures at Gran Plaza.

 

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Acropolis del Norte.

 

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View of Templo II in the background.

 

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View of Templo IV from the ground.

 

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Templo IV, Tikal’s highest building at 64 meters.  Quite a bit of excerise to climb the steps and then the ladder to the top.

 

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From the top of Templo IV we can see for miles above the jungle canopy, 360 degrees.

 

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Climbing the 32 meter high pyramid at El Mundo Perdido (the Lost World)

 

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View from the top of the pyramid

 

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Templo V, 58 meters high.  The restoration started in 1991 andwas just completed in 2004.  The before and after pictures were amazing–basically a huge covered hill of jungle, stripped down to reveal this temple, which has the hardest to climb because it was basically just a long, wooden ladder you had to ascend.

 

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Markus and I in front of Templo I, the Templo de Gran Jaguar, which is closed to the public because of two too many people falling to their deaths.  It stands at 44 meters.  The picture was taken from atop Templo II, at 38 meters.

 

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Another view of the Templo de Gran Jaguar and the structures to the left are called Acropolis del Norte.

 

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One last look at the Gran Plaza, before catching the shuttle back to Santa Elena/Flores to meet with our guide for our hike to El Mirador.

 

A New Update: Infiltration, Back to the Jungle, A Possible New Plan???

May 22nd, 2006

I’m now back in Guatemala, hanging out for a few days in Antigua as I decide what my next move is.  The last week since my last full update has gone by quickly.  Here’s the quick rundown for those of you keeping score…

 

– PLACENCIA –

After Dangria, I caught the bus down to Placencia, a small beach town at the southernmost tip of a long peninsula.  Things were not as expensive as the Cayes, so I decided to stay two nights here and spent my time doing as Í’ve been doing for the last 2 weeks:  more reading, more sleeping, more lounging and zoning as my attention was mesmerized by the gentle waves, and then in the evening captured by the electrical storms.

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My guesthouse room was not right on the beach, as I had to walk a long 3 minutes across the sand to this bar and restaurant.  The town has a happy hour circuit that starts at 3pm and every hour you go to the next bar up until 7pm.

 

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It was pretty hot so I spent quite a bit of time in the shade.  Been getting lots of comments about how brown I look, so maybe I’ll be just a little lighter when I get back by staying out of the sun.

 

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My room with shared bath was perfect with a double bed, fan, window, small dresser and plastic chair.  BUT…  When was the last time you had TANG?  You know, the space age orange powder drink.  The one with the green label and orange jar top.  When I was in Campeche, Mexico, I bought a powdered pouch of TANG to flavor my water a bit and give me my daily dose of vitamin C.  And I was just about all finished with my stash by the time I arrived to Placencia.  I had it wrapped in a white plastic bag in my backpack, set my bag on the chair just like in the picture.  I was only gone for maybe 4 hours at the beach.  And when I returned…infiltration.  Ants.  Hundreds of the little demons.  I left my pack open.  They were crawling everywhere.  They found my TANG, and more.  I felt so violated!  I spent the next hour cursing and sweating as I killed the invaders, took out all my things and shook and wiped and tried to get rid of them.  The ants even found their way on the dresser.  I ended up hanging a bunch of my things from the walls and ceiling where I could.  They just continued to come back again and again.  At least the infamous cockroaches didn’t visit my room, well at least I didn’t see them.  But I did inside the room of a British gal I hung out with.  She freaked out and moved over to my guesthouse and paid more for her new room to get away from her little friends.  Despite the attack of the ants, it was a fun stay as I hung out with two Brits and a big Texan, Ollie, who likes to where the Oregon Ducks baseball cap because of the big O emblem.

 

 

 

 

After Placencia, it took almost a full day to travel south out of Belize and into Guatemala.  I ended up spending over $55 US for transportation on a bus, small motorboats and larger lanchas as I made my way to Livingston and Rio Dulce.

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Taking the 1 hour lancha trip from PG (Punta Gorda, but everyone just calls it PG), Belize, across the body of water Bahia de Amatique to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala.  After clearing immigration, I took another high speed boat to Livingston, where I had to hire another private motorboat to get me to Finca Tatin.

 

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Along the Rio Dulce.

 

– FINCA TATIN –

There are only 2 ways to get to Finca Tatin.  Take a 5 hour overland jungle trek from the town of Livingston, or take a lancha along the Rio Dulce (river).  I took the latter.  And what I did was trade the open, sandy beaches with palm trees and refreshing sea breezes for the stifling heat of the jungle forest, no electricity, no Internet, and plenty of mosquitoes and other jungle critters to keep me company.  But ah, what a fabulous place to keep a low profile.  You can swim in the river, hike through the forest to caves, waterfalls and indigenous villages, go kayaking, visit sulfer hotsprings, or just lay on the hammock by the river.  A perfect respite to continue my highly unactive vacation.

 

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Map of the area with pointers for an incredible amount of half day and full day trips you can choose to do.

 

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The finca has numerous private bungalows, some with private bathroom, set admist the forest with dirt paths, or in this case assisted by stones.

 

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A closer look inside one of the private bungalows with private bath in the background.

 

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I opted to stay in the cheaper dorm room, which was set high atop an A Frame wooden structure.

 

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The common ‘room’ area, even though there are no walls.

 

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There is no kitchen for guest use.  When you get hungry, you simply buy from their onsite restaurant, which serves simple fare like pancakes and eggs for breakfast, and sandwiches, pasta and pizza for lunch.  Dinner is something else though.  For just over $6, their communal dinner has soup, fresh pita-like flat bread, salad, bowl of veggies, another side dish and the main course.  The three nights I stayed there our main was a vegetarian potato omlette, a vegetarian cannoli pasta dish, and a delectable fish that I forgot the name of.  Everyone sits around a table and you spend the evening conversing and chatting and after dinner continue the same, or in my case you learn how to play new games like Dominoes (HUGE in Mexico) and Backgammon (seems a lot of European travelers play this game).

 

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Where I spent most of my time.

 

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View from the hammock.

 

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Ana, an outdoor education teacher from California, and Terry, world travelin’ New Zealander who is volunteering at the Finca for the next month.

 

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I got a little restless after so much inactivity, and did spend one late morning on a little hike to a small community village Ak’Tenamit.

 

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One final look before saying goodbye.  My favorite time, apart from being completely stuffed after dinner, was going to bed.  They turn off their generators at 11pm, and then you are completely lost in the darkest of darkness, and then the sounds of the forest enliven all your senses.  I spent the late night in bed trying to imagine what insect, reptile or mammal was making all the different kinds of sounds.  My definite highlight was on my last evening, when the Finca manager took us (there were only 7 of us staying by then) out on a late night lancha to the middle of the river, shut of the motor, and we just floated in the darkness (almost all the houses on the river had their generators off by this time) while looking up at the stars in the sky.  Next, he took us to the sulpher hot springs where we relaxed in the very hot waters (I had to continually mix my spot with the cold water from the river).

 

– ANTIGUA –

I left the finca with Niklas, Aliscia and Ana early Saturday via lancha to the town of Rio Dulce, where Niklas, Aliscia and I took a bus to Guatemala City.  It was a painfully slow ride and by the time we arrived to the capital 6 hours later, we didn’t feel like getting into a chicken bus.  So we shared a cab and made it to Antigua in more than half the time, then after checking into our hostel, headed out to dinner for some really fantastic food!

 

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After dinner, we hung out on our hostel’s rooftop terrace with Dave and Jessie, sipping wine, smoking and sharing stories about Loganistan, Utah.  After all the stories that Niklas, Leon de Suissa, told me about Loganistan, I will most definitely have to visit at a later date.

 

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Typical Antigua photo — it doesn’t feel like Guatamala because of all the gringos and numerous restaurants, bars and shops.  People love it or hate it, and I’m of the former.  Volcanoes surround the compact city filled with colonial churches, houses and buildings.  And of course they have a Central Parque, the heart of the city.  Did I mention the volcanoes?

 

– VOLCAN PACAYA –

 

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5:30am wake up.  6am shuttle.  8am ascent to Volcan Pacaya, one of only four active volcanoes in Guatemala.

 

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The hike itself is not that difficult, especially when compared to the other hikes I have done.  And at the midway point, I was a little disappointed.  But ah, patience patience patience, I was soon to be rewarded.

 

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UNBELIEVABLE.  My first hike up Volcan Satiaguito we camped out far away from the danger of the lava, but witnessed countless eruptions and lava flowing down the mountain at a distance.  But here at Pagaya?  Up close and personal.

 

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I’ve been the Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii, but I do not ever recall a time being just a few feet away from this!

 

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Our guide was careful to show us the correct paths on which to walk.  We scrambled over the molten lava landscape, taking care not to fall in, cause that would suck to die being scorched alive in lava.  There are no other precautions in this national park though — no chain barriers, no warning signs, nothing.  It’s walk at your own risk.  Get close enough, and the heat can singe the hairs on your neck from a distance.

 

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The tourists en horde.  Actually, there were probable more Guatemalan families here than tourists.

 

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Final reflections.

 

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Back in town, ice cream is in order!  Dave and Jessie with a toast to a fun day.

 

– WHERE TO FROM HERE –

 

Thinking of heading back to San Marcos on Lago Atitlan to look into those Yoga or Meditation courses.  I ran into Christie last night, a girl I hiked with on the Nebaj to Todos trip and she raved about her one month Full-Moon course.  So I’m thinking of giving that a try.  Or….Finca Tatin is looking for a volunteer.  To do like Terry does.  Help out at the Finca, you get free room and board, and I think maybe two or three dollars a day.  Minimum one month commitment.  Ana is thinking about doing it, but will do a week or two of Spanish school in Antigua to brush up.  My Spanish can be greatly improved with the interactions I will have if I decide to do a month at the Finca.  Very tempting.  It will allow me continue my travels for at least another month, even though I’ll be in one place.  Terry says that he has read at least 3 books a week since he started.  Most of the guests do their own thing during the day, so you have all the time in the world to do whatever.  Sounds ideal.  Decisions, decisions…could be the start of another adventure!  I’ll know by the end of the week what I’m doing, so check back to see where I’m off to next!

 

Laguna Chicabal Trip Report

May 19th, 2006

A day trip to Laguna Chicabal is a must for anyone visiting Xela, Guatemala.  On this Saturday in February, our group of students were led by two teachers from Sakribal.  We had a minivan bus take us the hour or so ride to the drop off point, and then walked along a dirt road, up and then down to the main entrance where the path would take us up, and then down again to the lake.  The lake is actually inside the crater of a volcano, and because of this it is considered a sacred place where many Mayan ceremonies take place.  Indeed, when we were there we came across at least 2 gatherings of familes taking part in some traditional ceremonies, complete with the required firecrackers that everyone in Guatemala owns.

 

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Climbing up the dirt road and looking back at the land we had just left.

 

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Continuing the walk on the road to the park entrance.  From our drop off point to the entrance was about a 45 minute walk.

 

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Park entrance.

 

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He hike through the forest on a well worn path, and then it is up up up until we get to the viewpoint of the lake below.

 

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The viewpoint behind us gives us a glimpse of Volcan Santa Maria.

 

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Another view of the lake and the volcano crater.

 

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There are steps that one must descend to get to the bottom.  There was a sign, and I’m pretty sure that it indicated 600 or more steps.  I lost count at 20, but I do believe there were surely 600 or more steep steps to the bottom, and I took my sweet old time.

 

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Looking up from below the steps.

 

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The lake and students lounging lakeside.

 

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Kathy, Mitzi and I brought food to make lunches.  Veggies sandwiches, chips and cookies.

 

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After lunch, Mitzi, Morgan, myself and another guy (I forgot his name) decide to take a walk around the lake.

 

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It is about a good hour’s walk around the lake, and as soon as we left the mysterious mist and fog rolled in, obscuring our view of the other side.

 

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On the way back, we decided to hitch a ride in the back of a pickup from the park entrance.

 

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I don’t know how we managed to squeeze all 11 or 12 of us in their, as the ride was bumpy and definitely a tight squeeze for all of us!

 

Scenes from my past life in Xela

May 17th, 2006

As I wind my last few weeks down here in Central America, I wanted to have one final look into my past life in Xela, with the people and places that made it a special time, not to mention a time where I lost quite a bit of weight!

 

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My final farewell note to my first host family, Claudia and her little 5 year old firecracker.  Beside it is a plate that I forget to return to her neighbor, the neighbor who cooked me 2 lunch meals while Claudia was away on family business.  For those of you that can read Spanish, I tried my best so don’t be too hard on me!!

 

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Parque Central

 

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Parque Central, pic 2

 

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Kathy’s last night before returning to the States.  Its Mitzi, Kathy and Yuh Wen, enjoying some drinks at an Arabian restaurant.  It was here that I had my ill fated Liquado made with spoiled yogurt that contributed to my horrible food poisoning as I attempted to climb Volcan Tajumulco.

 

 

 

Card playing from the patio of a restaurant that overlooks Parque Central.  We were kicked out soon afterwards, apparently there is a no card playing rule.  Mitzi, Kathy, Markus and Joker study their hands.

 

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I tried, I really tried to learn Spanish.  Here I am after school, trying out these English instruction videos for picking up the Spanish Language.  I made it through tape #8, but then the video instructor did all her lessons in Spanish, and of course that’s when I got fouled up.  But with each video lasting 45 minutes, I think I put in enough extra time to try and learn best I could.

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My first teacher, Rosario!  We started out doing the ABCs and 123s.  Had to start somewhere, and the Basics is definitely what I needed.

 

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My first and last teachers!  Rosario on the right, Etma in the middle, and Etna has the empty chair.  I also had Carlos for 3 days, but he doesn’t count since he wasn’t a very good teacher (the 3 previous students who had him ended up leaving the school entirely).

 

 

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Potluck dinner!  I brought wheat rolls and jam from Oregon, a gift I was supposed to give to my host family but after how well my Oregon calendar was received, decided to keep the jam for myself and let others enjoy it.

 

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The church at Parque Central

 

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The creepy haunted house that freaked me out late one night, and then I returned to an empty home and the lights all went out.  I believe the house is still for sale if anyone is interested in buying the property with its extra assets, or liabilities depending on how you look at it.

 

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My favorite liquado at the Indian restaurant!  I usually got the Mixed fruit one.  Yum Yum YUM!

 

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The view from the classrooms of Sakribal, looking down at the common area.

 

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Chelsia’s last day, we go out to celebrate after the futbol match at “Tres Tacos X 10 Qs” and I have an order of nachos…bad choice, my cheese is the fake CheeseWhiz stuff!

 

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Kathy gets me a surprise…donut holes and I just about flip out!  Kathy can’t contain her laughter as I make a bunch of noises showing my excitement.  And as you would expect, after 6 donuts I felt sick to my stomach.

 

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A McFlurry afternoon.  First Joker gets one.  Then Mitzi.  Before you know it we all have one….except me!  Me, the exception?  Yeah, just didn’t feel like one.  Plus when you have Sarita Ice Cream just round the block, all expectations are for only the best.  Go ahead and have your weak, low quality McDonald’s McFlurries!

 

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One afternoon activity found ourselves walking out almost an hour to this soccerplex where the students took on the teachers in an intense shootout.  I just watched however, as I have no experience with soccer (I lie, my one and only experience damaged me for the rest of my life, all those 5th graders giving me nightmares as us adults were helpless against their onslaught)

 

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Joker after her fall on her bike.  It was dark as she rode on the sidewalk and didn’t see the stepwell and then BLAM!  I quickly turned around, helped her up, and had to get this shot of her surprised look.  The next day she declared her body sore and in pain 12 hours after the fall.

 

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Guatemala has a lot of drunks, and many find little cozy places in which to nap, sleep or just sober up.  Every night we walked Mitzi to her door because she usually had an unwanted visitor.  Here she is stepping over the slumbering man, trying to open her door without waking him up.  2 seconds later he did wake up, as my blinding flash from my camera got him up and down to the next doorwell.

 

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Pizza pizza pizza!  This was after our hike up to Cerro Buel and those concrete slides.  Mitzi had 2 slices, I had the rest.  Cheesey, gooey and filling!  But not quite as good as Hot Lipps or Pizzacato.

 

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One of our school’s Friday night dinners where we say goodbye to students leaving the program.

 

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My bus station terminal.  Could it be almost 4 months ago that I was dropped off here, waiting for my ride to the school that never came until I called on a payphone and spoke gibberish before a student got on the phone who could speak English finally helped me out and got Olga, the school director, to come out and get me.

 

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One final look at Parque Central…

 

Belize Sticker Shock and Safe Sex!

May 15th, 2006

Quick update for this Monday, since Internet is quite expensive. Not the $10 per hour in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye I saw, just a little slightly less.

– BELIZE CITY –

Not much happening to see or do in Belize City. I spent most of my day just walking around. I met a PeaceCorps fellow a few weeks back in San Cristobal who works in Belize City, and he said that it is quite a dangerous place after dark. So I stayed out only until the last rays of light before I headed back to the hostel, and watched a little TV before turning to bed. Hadn’t watched the tele for so long, and all I really did was flip channels anyways to see all that they were playing. English is a primary language here, but many people also speak Spanish and Kriol, a strange mixture of West African English that is difficult to follow, for me anyways. The day I was in Belize City was also a Cruise Ship port day, so mingled with a bunch of other tourists along the wharf and declined many offers of tours and taxis. There were plenty of cruise ship passengers in their wheelchairs, walkers, Hawaiian shirts and many more that looked like lobsters–obviously being out in the sun way longer than they should have. Food and restaurants are quite expensive, so I spent my eating times grazing at the various street stalls eating fruit, snowcones, burritos and tacos.

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View from the verandah of my hostel in Belize City.

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From the Swing Bridge. Water taxis take passengers out to the Cayes.

– SAN PEDRO, AMBERGRIS CAYE –

This place was the most expensive I’ve been to on my travels so far. The cheapest room I could find was $20 a night for a stiff bed and shared bathroom. Restaurant prices were exhorbinant, so I thought I’d be smart and only eat from the big supermarket on the island. Now, get this….(all prices are in Belize dollars, which at the current exchange is 2 Belize dollars equals one US dollar)

– small can of tuna, $5
– Kraft macaroni and cheese box, $4
– canned vegetables, $4
– Ragu spaghetti sauce, $8
– bottle of ketchup, $6
– 8 oz yogurt $4!
– small tub of cream cheese, $7
– 1 lb. of cheddar cheese, $14
– 6 oz Lays potato chips, $8
– 11 oz bag of Doritos, $13
– 15 oz bag of Cheetos, $17
– can of Progresso soup, $9
– instant cup o noodles, $2.50
– can of fruit cocktail, $5

So I didn’t eat much on San Pedro. I rented a bicycle and spent most of my day cycling the island, or at least trying to. After San Pedro, the one road heads north 22 miles. I only made it to mile 8 before turning back, as it is difficult trying to ride a bike in the sand.

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Bridge over “The Cut” dividing the town of San Pedro with the Northern reaches of the island.

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Map of the northern island resorts and the only road there. Man, that was a very hot day!

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Beaches are different than in Mexico’s Playa Del Carmen, for example. There aren’t many wide swaths of sand and not too many people swim because of the grass on the bottom. There are plenty of docks that extend out all along the shoreline.

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Another view of the shoreline.

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My bike path. This is the only road to the northern part of the island, the primary mode of transport is the bicycle and golf carts and ATVs.

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On the east and west side of the island lies the Carribean Sea. In the middle of Ambergris Caye lies the San Pedro Lagoon.

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Walking back to my hostel along the shore as the sun sets to the west.

One goes to the Cayes to relax and to partake in watersports — jet skiing, sailing, diving, snorkeling, swimming, boating, parasailing, etc. So of course I had to go snorkeling. I was able to find an outfitter that had prescription snorkeling masks. It didn’t match my exact prescription, but it was powerful enough for me to actually see the fish under the shallow waters and the coral reefs. It was a little scary at first being amongst huge stingrays, nursesharks and other big fish just arms length away. Our half day tour took us to Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Shark Ray Alley and another area that I forgot the name of where we find sea turtles.

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Me and my prescription swim mask. The $45 tour was well worth it because I could actually see!

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Our boat was a “glass bottom” boat so those that didn’t want to get in the water (everybody on this trip snorkeled) could still view fish underneath.

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After my sucky swimming experiences over the past 2 months, I’m not ashamed to admit that I used a lifejacket while I was in the water. Hey, the 4 year old kid had one, why can’t I? And you can keep those “Man Edwin, you’re skinny” comments to yerself!

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The little kid, Logan, watching his dad and another dude dive for conch shells. They were able to gather 12 of these shells, to make Cerviche later on (a Belizian seafood salad specialty).

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The reef is 180 miles long, the longest in the Western Hemisphere. To the west of the reef the sea is shallow–from 5 to 15 feet deep, which makes it ideal for snorkeling and diving.

 

– CAYE CAULKER –

Caye Caulker is considered the budget, backpacker’s island for enjoying the Cayes.  A 30 minute lancha ride south of San Pedro, this is a smaller island with cheaper accomodations, but you’ll still find food to be a little on the spendy side.  My hostel was right on the beach, and after 2 days of cycling and snorkeling, I was ready to just take it easy and relax.

 

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When going to Caye Caulker, the pace of life is definitely slow and laid back, as evident by this huge ground market set just off the dock as you step onto the island.

 

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“Tina’s Backpackers Hostel,” just $10 per night and very popular with the budget crowd.

 

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View from the upper deck, lying on the hammock.  I’ve become quite attached to hammocks for sleeping and lounging in, I’ll certainly be buying one before I head back to the States.

 

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Caye Caulker basically has 3 streets — Front, Middle and Back (seriously, those are the names).  Front street is where all the bars, restaurants and dive tour shops are located.  Just like in San Pedro, the primary mode of transportation is by foot, by bike and/or by golf cart.

 

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In the morning you can watch the sunrise in the East, and in the evening you can walk to the other side of the island in 7 minutes to watch the sunset from the edge of this dock.

 

– DANGRIA –

 

Yesterday I arrvied in Dangria, the largest town in Southern Belize, with a population of around 9,000.  It is a quiet, friendly place that doesn’t offer a whole lot as far as tourist activities, so I spent the day walking around and reading.  The hostel is just a block away from the Gulf of Honduras, with a soccer field in between the two.  Life is decidingly on a very slow scale.

 

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This main dock is used for fishing and for crabbing.  The people just ahead were crabbing with their nets and it was surprising for me to see them using chicken’s feet as bait.

 

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Main street, Dangria.

 

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The soccer field and the Gulf of Honduras.

 

– PLACENCIA –

This is my next stop, my bus leaves in about an hour.  I may stay 2 nights depending on how my money situation goes, and then it will be back on the road towards Guatemala.

 

– SAFE SEX –

The Belizean government takes this quite seriously.  From the moment I crossed the border there are signs and messages everywhere encouraging safe and responsible health habits.  George W would have a cow.

 

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Condoms and karaoke, what a combination!

 

Enjoy the week everyone, check back on Wednesday for more!

 

El Mirador: Trip Report Part 2

May 12th, 2006

Instead of describing the day by day account of our hike to and from El Mirador, I think it would be better to let the pictures to most of the talking. As it was, we awoke at 6am that Sunday, March 21st, and after a helping of black beans, eggs and tortillas (of course!) we began to pack our bags, load up the mules and ready ourselves for the long hike ahead. The passages in italics are direct from my journal.

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Markus carefully wraps his already blistered toes, and then begins slapping on the sunscreen and spraying mosquito repellent all over his clothes.

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Early morning en route. We have a total of 3 mules. 2 are fully loaded, and the other either carries our guide, Adoniz, or his wife, Brenda. In the background is Julio, who walks with the other 2 mules.

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“First four hours on logging roads. Well worn paths. Very uneven terrian. Big dried mud holes. Can’t imagine this in rainy season. Very hard to walk over. Exposed roots lace the terrain. Fallen branches, leaves, trees, fruits, rocks, vines, more mud holes all dried up. I trip over 9 times during the day. Mayan burial mounds. Tombs. It’s hard to look up and around the scenary because you have to watch where you step. Lots of holes. And (if you happen to be walking behind) looking at the mule’s ass and tail swipe away the flies from its butthole. Watch out when it shits and walks at the same time! Lots of mule shit on the trails. In camp by 2pm. According to Marcus’ GPS gadget, we’ve gone a little under 20km for the day.”

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These are the big, dried up mud holes we tried to traverse over. All of us tripped on numerous ocassions, but I think Markus was the only one who actually fell once or twice.

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It wasn’t all dried mud holes though. Much of our path was narrow through the woods, led by Brenda’s lightening quick pace.

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Our camp for the first night. Hammocks for the three of us. Julio was also in a hammock, Adoniz and Brenda slept in a tent.

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We also had individual mosquito nets placed around each hammock; the top of your roof was just inches from your face when sleeping. But one word of advice regarding mosquito nets….try to make sure that there are no biting creepy crawlies and flying bloodsuckers that are trapped inside the hammock tent before going to bed! Or learn as I did.

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All smiles before the evening sun sets.

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Our first night camp was at El Tintal, where a covered temple was just a few minutes walk from our site. Before sunset, we all climbed to the top to gaze at the view from above the treetops and to watch the sunset.

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Julio, Kirk, and the setting sun.

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Me, Adoniz, and the fading light.

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– DAY 2, Monday March 22 –

“5:45am wake up. Granola with milk, pineapple and melon are fresh and cut into it. I see some crawly things on some pineapple; take them out with my spoon. There’s also some small bread rolls. Last night we had really good tea. We leave camp at 7:20. 7:20! It is a very quick pace. only two, 5-minute rest stops. Finally, lunch at 1:30. Flour tortillas with black beans and fresh cut onions, radishes and a cucumber. Kinda bland, but I have two anyways. Then it is back to walking. But we have a slower pace, it’s so so hot. Sweltering heat. In a trance. Silence. Just the sounds of our footsteps, our breathing and the jungle birds, insects and rustling of leaves. 2:30pm. Stop at an old Mayan prison ruin “El Muerta” and explore inside. Tired. Hot. 4pm. Arrive at El Mirador and our camp. There are two wooden house structures for the 3-4 guards. There are also 3 wooden benches. I fine one and collapse on it, laying down. So so tired. Later the hammocks are set up, and I tiredly walk over to relax. We have 90 minutes before we go up El Tigre to watch the sunset…”

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Sunday night we lost one of the mules. Somehow it got loose and ran away. So now we just have 2 mules, all loaded up with our food, water and belongings. Brenda and Adoniz will each have to walk the whole way today. But one of the mules was also attacked by a bat, according to our guide. I didn’t know that they attacked mules! But here’s the proof.

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Here’s my lesson from the previous night about trusting the mosquito net too much. I count over a 100 bites on my hands, wrists and arms.

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En route to El Mirador, we pass by countless Mayan mounds that are hidden away in the jungle’s growth. However, this one was easily seen and Kirk takes a look inside.

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La Muerta, a Mayan prison, according to our guide.

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We go inside and don our headlamps. Some passages are very small and narrow and we have to crawl. Here, Kirk begins to exit back into the natural day light.

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Just before dinner, we climb up to the templo El Tigre, which is the tallest pyramid ever built in the Mayan world. 60 meters high, and its base covers 18,000 square meters. The going is steep and there is no shame in using the rope, as Adoniz does.

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Sunset from atop templo El Tigre.

– Day 3, Tuesday, March 23, full day to explore El Mirador –

“6:40am.
Waking up to the rising sun atop the Mayan grand temple “El Tigre.” Breezy. Tree braches sway back and forth. Refreshing. Clear skies, except for the far east, where low clouds hang in the horizon, partially shielding the sun’s light. But the sun rises higher, over the clouds to bask my face in warm rays. The small temple top is rocky, hard. Below I hear different animals. Mostly birds of all spieces.

Just an hour earlier I woke up to the Dolby surround sound of howling monkeys, roaring in the distance. For 10 minutes straight it was a cacophony of roars back and forth. And when that died down, I had a pack of bees buzzing and hoovering near an aloe vera plant, right next to my feet. Kirk and I dared not move. Cool, but scary to be so close. It wasn’t a swarm, but there were definitely a lot of these bees.

A few minutes later, all we heard were the whizz and shir of a bunch of dragonflies jetting back and forth through our little camp. Another 10 minutes of these insects playfully dancing admist the breezewaves.

And now all I hear are the birds, the breeze, the ocassional flying insect buzzing past me…it sure does feel amazing to be up so high, to have spent the night at such a magical place with so much yet-to-discover histroy. What went on at this temple thousands of years ago? What happened to this great society, that thrived for well over 300 years? I can see 360 degrees all jungle canopy. Just verdant green all around. I spent the night up here last night! All those stars. And the bright moon. I can’t believe I’m here.”

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My little camp on top of El Tigre. Rising beyond is the temple’s sister, La Danta.

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More morning light gives way to the view from my camping spot.

 

“4:40 pm.
It’s fucking hot. Sweltering. So hot that I can’t even fall asleep in the shaded hammock, even though I’m very very tired. I keep looking at the pink polka dots spread all over my wrists, arms and top side of my hand. Damned fleas/mosquitos/ticks or whatever feasted on me on night number 1. I’m so stinky with 3 days of sweat and hard walking in the same shirt, pants and socks. I’m not going to shower or change into clean clothes until our hotel Thursday night. Still over 50 hours away. I’m still paranoid about ticks finding their way to my nuts and ass. I’m sure I have ticks and other critters in my unkept hair on my head. It is so thick and dirty and dry. It feels dead. Kirk has taken a “shower” 3 times. Twice in the Mirador camp. It’s basically a bucket of brown water than you dump on yourself. I think I’ll pass and just wait for the hotel. I’m paying over $20 for the privilege, so I’m going to really really look forward to it and enjoy it. My bites are so so itchy. I wonder if they will make a permanent record of this trip. So tired. Feet have blisters. And they stink of course…”

There will be no further pictures of the Parque Nacional Mirador. It took us 2 days of hard hiking to the site, 1 day to explore the major ruins of the site, and another 2 days of hard hiking back to civilization that it wouldn’t be fair to just show pictures of what we came to see. It is just something that one has to experience and feel in person. Feel free to google pics if you want, or to find the in depth National Geographic article. But no more photos from this blog from the site itself. Day 4 and 5 we hiked back.  Yes I was more tired, more dirty, and somehow managed to get more mosquito and tick bites.  Here are some final journal thoughts about our trip to El Mirador for all 5 days.

– ant highway in our camp next to our dining area.

– Markus spraying insecticide all over his pants, legs, arms, etc.  Basically taking a shower in it.

– taking a shit in the outhouse and hopeing that nothing comes up from within the darkness and bites me in the ass.

– our guide smoking natural herb joints every other stop.

– dinner…soup that makes me hot and sweaty.

– used toilet paper strwen around the ground a few meters from camp, the previous user unaware that there is a baño a few more steps away.

– Kirk catching ticks on his body before they start to dig in.

– my “Insectashield” special bandana NOT working as advertised.

– a dream about my shoes falling apart – but in reality, they are still holding up quite well for only a $7 repair job.

– drinking fresh hot tea from the leaves of the pimienta — smells like Juicy Fruit gum to me!

– getting hot and sweaty under my ballcap and mosquito headnet–which I wear sleeping at night

– watching a legion of ants ascend and swarm the empty plastic mug of sweetened tea that Markus left on the ground

– craving the doublescoop of vanilla and chocolate ice cream in a waffle cone.

– Adoniz’s personal museum of plates, pots, bones and other old things stashed away in a hidden grave mound site that he showed to us.

– Adoniz pointing out plant stems and tips just teeming with hundreds of ticks.  In the photo below, look to the tips of the stem to see them all!

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– the last lunch – fresh sliced pineapple with bread and a potato/cucumber/egg/mayo salad mixture for the bread.  I had 5 or 6 sandwiches.

– Adoniz’s son getting a ticket for driving without a license.  Stopped for 10 minutes.

– Before taking us to the hotel, his son picks up a motorcycle, loads it in the back of the pick up and we have to find spaces to sit in around the motorcycle.

– Kirk’s spider leaping at his feet at dinner.  The table underside harbored the spider’s home.

– In the middle of the night, there’s a huge fire that erupts and Kirk wakes up to it.  Mysterious flames from the embers of the fire.

– Adoniz mumbling to himself as he walks along the trail (usually this happens after he had smoked one of his joints).

– whenever having the urge to piss, just stepping off the side of the trail and doing it–and inspecting my crotch for ticks and bite marks.

– the smell of our collective feet as we take off our shoes and socks and let our feet breathe.

– stopping suddenly to listen closer and scrutinize the nearby area for movements of things not seen, but heard.  Just a bird? A monkey? Snake?

– Drinking a juice box of peach juice and eating chocolate wafers at the side of the trail.  The juice is thick and Kirk also gets peach, but Markus only gets apple juice.

– Walking back to Carmelita and hanging back, enjoying the silence and just thinking about my life, the future, and enjoying the moment.”

 

Comings and Goings…

May 10th, 2006

It’s been a pretty interesting last 24 hours as I make my way out of Mexico and into Belize. I’m a little concerned about Belize, not because of any danger, but because my budget will be severely challenged once I arrive, so my stay in the country will probably just be for a little over a week. The beauty of Belize lies in the coral reefs and the incredible scuba diving and snorkeling. But since I can’t see once my glasses are off, it kind of defeats the purpose of donning a swim mask and gear to look at the hundreds of fish under the water that will just look like out of focus smudges. I’ll probably sign up for a tour just because, but otherwise I don’t imagine I’ll just be hanging out at the beaches reading and lounging. Nah, I could do that in Mexico because it was so cheap, but in Belize, where the cheapest accomodation goes for $25-$30 per night, I’ll need to just play turbo tourist and not linger for too long, unless I find a place just too good to not stay in. Additionally, most of the towns I’ve visited in Mexico have had supermarkets where I could buy basic staples to keep me going, but from what I’ve read about Belize, I’ll more than likely find myself eating out more often than I want to. There’s just so many instant Cup O Noodles that I can get used to…

I left Isla Mujeres on Friday morning with a Canuck, and we made our way down to Playa Del Carmen, which is about one hour south of Cancun. Mostly developed as a true tourist town, there are plenty of draws to justify how touristy Playa Del Carmen is. You have a ferry boat that can take you to and from Cozumel. The dock also receives passenger boats from the cruise ships that float just beyond. Plus there are the white sandy beaches and calm waves of the Carribbean. And hotels and resorts right on the beach. And a pedestrian only zone, 5th Avenue, one block away from the beach, filled with restaurants, clubs, bars, gift stores, and teeming with people all hours of the day and night. Mostly, I just hung out at the beach, reading and resting, swimming and wading, gazing out beyond. Saturday we were able to sneak into a resort, swipe some towels and pretended to be one of the guests. And so I spent most of my afternoon under the shade of a straw canopy, stretched out on a lounge chair and snacking on the food that I bought earlier in the day at MEGA, a Walmart-esque warehouse a few blocks away.

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Can’t get enough of those sunsets! This one is Thursday night from Isla Mujeres

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The beaches of Playa Del Carmen.

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From the resort we snuck into. We didn’t dare try to order drinks or food, as we kept our hands under our towels so staff wouldn’t see that we did not have the appropriate wristbands to permit us to use their facilities.

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Later I spread my new towel on the sand, as the sun set behind me and the cruise ship made its way to the next port.

Sunday we woke up early and took a collectivo to the Mayan ruins of Tulum, about another hour south of Playa Del Carmen. While the ruins themselves are the least impressive of all the sites I have visited, it is the dramatic setting that generates visitors to come time and time again. Indeed, by the time 11am rolled around, the small national parque was packed with tour groups and Mexican families, no doubt taking advantage of the free admission on Sundays. Guides led tours in Spanish, English, German and French. The ruins are set ontop a cliff, which overlooks the sea and the beaches below. There isn’t much shade, so after one trip around the ruins, I went down below to the beach and found a little shaded shelter and spent a few hours relaxing and reading.

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Looking towards Templo del Dios del Viento.

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Looking towards El Castillo. The steps lead down to the beach below.

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Another look at the beach from the ruins.

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Overview of the ruins.

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My own little shaded, rocky shelter on the beach, sporting my new resort towel.

The Canadien and I parted ways after Tulum, and I walked along the beach south, checking out prices for palapas, like this one below…

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Eventually, I did manage to find an unoccupied and unguarded shaded lounge chair from one of the hotels, and spent the rest of my afternoon continuing my boring, predictable routine of napping, reading, and doing nothing.

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The view from my lounge chair. Nearby is a kiteboarding school, so I also watched people kitesurfing — skimming, jumping and slicing through the waves along the shore.

Later in the evening I met up with Eri, a fellow backpacker I met earlier in Valladolid and who lives in a palapa further down south along the beach. No TV, no refrigerator, no car and not much else except the sand, sea and wind. Lights are powered by solar panels, there is a tiny bathroom and what I suppose you can call a kitchen, and I slept like a baby on a huge hammock for two nights.

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From the inside, the dining/kitchen area.

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From the outside. A 90 second walk from the front door takes you right to the shoreline.

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I spent all of Monday here at this spot, and time just flew by.

Yesterday I planned on staying overnight at Bacalar Lagoon, but somehow missed the bus stop and ended up in Chetumal, the last major Mexican town before crossing the border to Belize. And for almost 2 hours last night I wandered the streets, looking for a lavanderia. I asked so many shopkeepers that I lost track, and no one could point me in the direction of a laundromat. Finally this morning the staff person at my hostel told me to get a taxi and go to the Nuevo Market. Did that, walked around for half an hour, and finally, FINALLY, found a place to wash my bag of dirty clothes.

There’s not much more to do here in Chetumal aside from a museum, so I’ll be heading out to Belize tomorrow. And since Internet is $5 or more per hour in that country, this will be my last update for about a week. But check back on Friday from my completed trip report to El Mirador, and next week I’ll have my trip reports for Volcan Santiguito, Laguna Chicobal and a User’s Guide to Riding the Chicken Buses. And before I go today, and few more rumblings and ramblings…

– My hostel in Chetamul is dreadful, but at least it is cheap. There is no kitchen and no common area. Just rooms full of bunk beds. You don’t even get sheets when you check in, so last night I slept in my sleeping bag liner, which gets very very hot in this warm climate. I needed to stay covered to protect myself from all the wonderful bugs that still visit me in the night.

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Dark, dank room full of bunk beds with bare mattresses.

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And what is the deal with the toilets with no seats, and no privacy door!? And of course there is no toilet paper. I tried the shower, and a small trickle of water manages to squeeze out. When I turned the handle to the off position, a little lizard-like newt scurries from behind along the tiled wall into a crack and disappears. Well, at least the place is cheap.

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Finally, here is a brochure I picked up for some overpriced Disneyland-type park near Playa Del Carmen. Brochures usually feature super tanned models and people you would only see on TV, but this one shows the real visitors. Oh, and he’s not really floating on a leaf, and the girl on the next page isn’t really under the water about to get eaten by a giant dolphin. False advertising I say, I should have gone to that park to see this floating leaf and Giant dolphin(incidentally, every single street corner in Cancun, Playa Del Carmen and Tulum have representatives from this park selling packages to tourists–commissions must be pretty good because everywhere you turn its Xcaret this and Xcaret that). That’s all the rambling I have time for, until the next update, Adios Mexico, Hola Belize!

 

 

El Mirador: Trip Report

May 8th, 2006

Journal entry Sunday, March 19th:

Surreal.  Barreling down a dusty, bumpy and windy logging road to the small co-op community of Carmelita.  It is pitch black except for the high beam, then low beam, of the Toyota pick up I am riding.  In the back I cling to the back of the tail, my legs scrunched by the packs, food and legs of Markus, Kirk, Adoniz, Julio, and four others we have picked up along the way, including one infant that the mother cradles in her free arm.  We fly through the night, the wind in my hair and the ocassional logging truck passing the other direction, whipping a huge dust cloud in our face, our eyes, and our air we breathe.  The ceiling above is pierced with thousands of shining twinkles of the heavens.  It takes us almost 3 hours along that road, from the setting sun to the chill of the night.  This is the way to do it.  Just surreal.  Is this a dream?  Am I actually doing this?  I’m in the middle of nowhere and no one really knows where I am.  I hope I make it back to the hotel with the pool, the ice cream, and a clean, hot shower.

 

 

– TRIP BEGINNINGS –

I met Markus my second week in Xela, and we got to talking about our plans of traveling after our schooling was over.  He had mentioned a hike that he read about to El Mirador, a hard to reach land of Mayan ruins just below the Mexican border.  That planted the seed.  A few weeks later, I was online to read more about this jungle trek to El Mirador.  My Lonely Planet guidebook had a little blurb about it, but I needed more info.  And what I found I wrote down, and the next day handed it to Markus for him to look into.  That was all it took.  We knew that at some point, we would hike El Mirador.

A local touring outfit offered a trip to El Mirador with free transportation included.  Not a bad deal, everything was all planned out.  But the dates were fast approaching, and the tour did not allow for any time to do any extra touring up to Flores and Tikal, the site of major Mayan ruins.  We bypassed that offer.  More weeks pass, I finish my studies and decide to go on hikes around the area.  I plan on doing a 6 day trek, when Markus informs me that he is going to El Mirador with Kirk, and that I should join them next week.

Next week?  In mid-March?  I was actually thinking of ending my trip with El Mirador, in May.  But he had already made the arrangements.  And I did not know it at the time, but March is the ideal time to hike it, because it is still the dry season when the conditions are ideal and there aren’t as many mosquitoes to fight with.  It was on.

 

Friday, March 17th.

I meet up with Kirk and Markus at school at 1pm, 3pm bus ride to Guatemala City.  Kirk and I find a comedor and order two hamburgers.  Instead, we get chicken patties.  The bus ride is long.  2 screaming, wailing babies.  Heavy traffic.  Slow going, especially getting stuck behind big rig trucks, clamoring up the steep mountain roads.  In the middle of my seat, there is some piece of metal that jabs into the small of my back, just above my ass.  And my chair won’t recline fully back and lock into position, it keeps wanting to spring forward into the sitting position.  It is hot.  Humid.  Can I get some air?  Kirk doesn’t look so good.  He informs us that the food in the comedor is not sitting well in his stomach.  As a matter of fact, he says his system has processed it.  He wanted to wait until we got into the city and bus station, but he needs to go now.  He disappears towards the back, where the bathroom waits.  He returns a minute later.  “It is locked,” he says matter of factly.  “There’s a lock on it.”  No lie.  There was actually a padlock on the bathroom.  Kirk would have to wait this one out.  Markus is hungry.  The bus is packed, people standing in the aisle.  It sure is hot.  And dark.  The sun sets.  My personal seat light above me doesn’t work.  It is now 4 hours on this bus.  We want off.

At 7:20 our bus pulls into the final stop….a gas station?  Yep, the big yellow sign of Shell.  Everyone deboards, our bags below are tossed out to the ground.  At least the gas station has a bathroom.  Kirk is one of the first off, and he tells us to grab his bag.  We get our stuff, walk over to the food market, and we see Kirk standing there helpless.  Seems that just as he was heading to the only bathroom, some guy (not even on the bus, just some random customer) decides that he wants to use the bathroom.  So Kirk has to wait.  And he’s not happy.

Markus is hungry, and orders a sandwich from the deli.  Similar to a Subway set up.  I feel like I won’t find any other quality food, so I order as well.  After Kirk finally gets to use the bathroom, he orders a sandwich to go.  We have to get to the Lineas Dorias bus line, and our map in the guidebook shows that we are only a few blocks away.  But this seems to be a very seedy and sketchy side of town.  We decide to take the cab.

We arrive to the station, and buy tickets for the 9pm departure.  It is supposed to be an overnight luxury ride.  It is, kind of.  The seats are comfy, we have seat pockets in front of us.  A TV monitor is in front, and soon is playing “The Legend of Zorro” (English with Spanish subtitles).  Blankets are distributed.  And we even get a meal!  I choose a Pepsi, Kirk and Marcus get the bottled water.  I open up my stryrofoam box and find…. a small roll cut in the middle, filled with a sad looking hamburger patty with ketchup.  And there is a small bag of chips and a napkin.  I decide to eat it sooner than later, just in case the meat decides to go bad in the middle of the night.  It isn’t even warm.

I watch the flick, Markus and Kirk go to sleep.  It is near 11:30 when I try to get some rest.  But I can’t.  Not happening.  At 3am, we stop for a Fruit Inspection?  What?  Yeah, you heard right.  Still don’t know what that is about.  I try to resume any type of rest that resembles sleep.  And at 5:30am, we pull into Santa Elena.  If we want to go to Flores, we have to get a free shuttle.  But we don’t…our guide is supposed to be waiting for us at the bus station.

We get off the bus, collect our bags.  Even at 5:30 in the morning, there is a flurry of activity.  The locals know when these buses full of tourists comes.  Immediately we are greeted with people offering rides, hotels and tours to Tikal, El Mirador, and other sights.  Markus is the best at Spanish, and our de facto leader, since he made all the arrangements.  Kirk and I are really just along for the ride.

Markus has a cell phone.  And manages to call the guide.  We wait around the station, and finally around 6am we meet our guide.  Adoniz.  His wife Brenda is with him.  Their eldest son drives the pick up.  Introductions all around, then Markus explains what we want.  We’d like to leave our bags with them, take a bus to Tikal, explore the Mayan ruins for the morning, and come back in the afternoon back to Santa Elena, where they can pick us up and we make our way to Carmelita.  All is good.  We pile into the pick up, and they take us to the shuttle bus.  Some guy tells us that fare is 80Q per person, round trip.  We fork over 240Q.  Later I find out that the real price is only 50Q per person.  Ripped off.

We take the shuttle, arrive around 8am to Tikal.  Have breakfast at a local comedor.  Never mind the hair in my pancakes, or the smashed, dead bug inside the honey bottle (they don’t have syrup, only honey), or the dead bug that flows out of the squeeze bottle in a droplet of honey onto my plate.  We are here to have fun, explore, and enjoy the ruins.  We spend the day touring Tikal.  Pics of Tikal will be in a future post.

Return on the shuttle bus back to Santa Elena.  We need money to pay the guides.  Flores seems more developed, so we ask to get dropped off there.  But no ATM.  We are hungry, so decide to splurge on the best restaurant there, La Luna (no relation to Xela´s Cafe La Luna).

 

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Steaks for Kirk and Markus, I get the cheaper burger and fries.

 

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Afterwards, we make the obligatory Sarita stop for ice cream.  This is the first time in my life that I order a double scoop.  And thus begins my addiction for doublescoop ice creams.

 

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We find a spot by the lake and try to lick and eat our ice cream quickly, as the hot sun melts the flavors onto our cone and onto our hands.

 

After our late lunch and dessert, we walk across the bridge and to Santa Elena, where we wait over an hour for our ride.  They take us to the ATMs, where we withdraw enough funds to cover the entire trip, and prepay all at once.  Then it is off to Carmelita…or so we think.

No, first we make a stop so Brenda can buy eggs.  Which takes 20 minutes.  We bake in the back of the pick up.  How could buying eggs take so long?  She finally returns, and we are on our way….but wait!  We make a stop so that the son can pick up a….truck tire?  A used truck tire for the pick up?  Yes, and he loads it until the back with us.  Now we can get on our way!  Think again.  We stop for gas.  And while they are filling, there is a little comotion, then concern.  Seems like there is a tank leak.  We are leaking gas.  Kirk is not cool with this.  But after further discovery, it seems like it is only a tube that has been severed…apparently gas theft is a problem, and someone stole gas a few nights before and damaged an intake tube.  Kirk assured us that it was not a major problem, and we were on our way.

The last 24 hours from Xela to the gas station didn’t seem to bode well for this little trip.  All the little things on the bus.  Getting ripped off.  The funny breakfast meal with the extras I didn’t ask for.  The waiting for the guides.  The extra stops.  Who were these guides, anyway?  What web site or link did I give Markus?  Markus made all the arrangements, and Kirk and I were just going with his judgement.  I don’t know about Markus, but Kirk and I had little seeds of doubt about how this whole experience would turn out.

The afternoon light is slowly fading away.  From the gas station, we truck it over to San Andreas, where our guides live and where we pick up all our gear and add Julio, the guy who takes care of the mules.

 

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Kirk and Markus, riding in the back of the pick up to San Andreas, when we actually had room to spread out and stretch out our legs.

 

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Packing up the pick up.  Eventually we would squeeze a total of 9 people back here, with all of our gear and all.  Adoniz is on the left, Julio on the right, securing our load with ropes.

 

 

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Guard station to the National Park and forest.  Unfortunately, logging in some capacity is allowed by the government, so during our excursion to Carmelita, four or five of these trucks carrying those beautiful hardwood beahemoths would pass us in the opposite direction.

 

We finally leave from San Andreas at around 6pm, and it is a short stop before we get to the gate.  We wait here for 15 minutes, don’t know why.  But whatever issues they have, it is resolved and we are on our way.  An hour and change later, it is completely dark as we pass by Cruises dos Agua, the very last pueblo with electricity.  Further on, we make a short 5 minute stop at San Miguel, a small village powered by generators.  We are stopped by the side of the road, right next to an evangelical church.  Through the open doors you can see the small congregation swaying back and forth, and then you hear the worst singing in the world belting out hymns that are way off tune and really quite embarrassing.  It is an amusing diversion before we climb back on the pick up truck, and continue on into the night.

Finally, 9pm we pull into Carmelita.  Again, no electricty.  We have our headlamps, and make our way into a small 2 room home.  It is the home of Adoniz’s uncle.  They quickly set up hammocks for us to sleep in, and prepare a simple and common meal of black beans, eggs, and tortillas to fill our stomachs before we go to bed.  At least we had some pineapple to go with the meal!

 

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The home was completely dark except for our flashlights and headlamp.  I took this picture in the dark, and my flash flooded the room with light.

 

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My hammock for the night.

 

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The second room in the home, a small kitchen and table for eating.  Notice that container full of black beans.  There is the freshly cut pineapple, and in the background is the wood fired plancha used for grilling and cooking fresh tortillas.  The candle and my camera flash lights the small room.

 

We retire to our hammocks around 10:30.  We are tired and get pretty good sleep, ready for the adventures that we will soon begin early the next morning…

 

TO BE CONTINUED

 

Weekend update with Kevin Nealon…

May 5th, 2006

Does that guy still anchor the desk at SNL?? It’s been too long since I last watched an episode, aside from those special theme clips they play every now and then. “The best of Chris Farley,” “Tribute to Phil Hartman,” “SNL’s Funniest Moments with People You’ve Never Heard from Again.”…

It’s been a very relaxing last few days hanging out in Isla Mujeres. Seems as if I’m retracing Mike’s steps from his visit to this part of the Yucatan…but instead of a moped, I ended up renting a mountain bike and spent most of the day leisurely cycling the island and finding little rocky bluffs and secluded shoreline to read my book, chapter by chapter, and then continue to another hidden or not-so-hidden spot and continue with my reading. I’m in the midst of a Dan Brown novel, “Angels & Demons”, and hopefully can get my hands on the next in line “The DaVinci Code” before i watch the movie. But finding English books down here has been a struggle; I have picked up another book or two along the way since Vallodolid to keep my occupied as I laze away in the sand on the beaches.

From my bike ride..

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Rocky bluff.

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Cool house resembling a seashell

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Another vantage point, underneath a palapa and looking down at Garrafundo resort.

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I can’t boast that I did any reading from this vantage point; but the guards to this hotel did at least allow me in to take a look around.

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I spent most of the afternoon in the warm, shallow waters of the North Beach. Just sitting, wading, swimming, floating, thinking of nothing and of everything.

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And what is hanging out at the beach without my obligatory sunset photo?

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North Beach has many bar/restaurants, and they rent out every kind of relaxation apparatus imaginable–private cabana, palapa shade, lounge chairs, hammocks, regular chairs, even these mattresses.

 

I only spent one night in Cancun, but what a night it was!  I wasn’t entirely impressed with my choices of hostels, so I did what any backpacker would do…I splurged for one night, one night only at the Le Merida!

 

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The pool alone justified the $280 per night cost of my room.  Pure bliss.

 

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Another pool on the other side of the resort.

 

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And just beyond, the endless expanse of the beach, where you sink your toes into the warm, soft sand and wait for the Carribbean the wash them over.

 

Okay, I know I fooled absolutely nobody with my claim of staying one night at the Le Merida.  Blow 11 days budget on one night just because of the pool?  I’m not even sure I would have been lucky enough to get a room for ‘only’ $280, it just so happened that another place quoted me $280 and that was enough to dash that dream.  But it was fun to imagine, even for just a few minutes, how the other half lives.  That is, until the guards identified my haggared appearance, unkept big head hair, and dirty shirt.  Definitely out of place, not where I belong.  I even tried to play cool and coy and asked if they had a restaurant that I could eat breakfast in.  Not that I would even think about spending the $25 (dollars, not pesos) on a plate of eggs, bacon and toast.  No, had I the financial means, I wouldn’t have even been able to eat there.  The answer, more often that not, was a resounding “No.”  Because apparently, most of the hotels were either “All Inclusive” properties only for their guest, or they were Members Only.  But that’s okay, because just you wait, one day, ONE DAY, I’ll own all these resort properties on this coastal strip.  Maybe I’ll start with these ones below…

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Last year THE hurricane, I forget which one, came in and damaged many many hotels, some to the point where it was a complete loss.  This hotel, like the Ritz Carlton just beyond, still had not reopened.

 

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Others were just about ready.

 

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And still others, the verdict is still out.

 

The beaches though are still beautiful.  But for $280 or more a night, I’d recommend going to Isla Mujeres instead.  The island is small and people get around on bikes, mopeds, or golf carts.  The main part of town near North Beach is easily walked on foot, and at night, just off the main plaza, they close off the street to create a pedestrian only zone.  It is here where you will find the heart of the nightlife, dining under the stars and surrounded by conversation, laughter, music, and endless promotions for 2 for 1 drink Happy Hour.  It is like a mini French Quarter where everyone comes to enjoy the evening.

Sure, Isla Mujeres is a little touristy, but there is a reason why people come here.  They come to shop, dine, drink, play, relax, swim, explore, rest, lounge, sun, shade, reenergize, read, write, contemplate, escape, and define just what a vacation means to them.  Time manages to slip away and I am lost, intoxicated with doing nothing but enjoying the moment.

Alas, it is time to say goodbye to Isla Mujeres.  Soon I will be on the ferry back to Cancun, where I will climb aboard a bus destined for Playa del Carmen, and hope to lather, rinse, repeat in the joy of the Carribbean, Yucatan style.

 

Cafe La Luna

May 3rd, 2006

I’m currently relaxing on the beach of Isla Mujeres, reading, of course, and enjoying the laid-back vibe of this beautiful place. So here is an entry I wrote a long time ago and never had a chance to post, which is just a good excuse to get back to my reading. If I feel so inspired I should have a new entry for this Friday…

Cafe La Luna deserves it’s own post. Located just 2 blocks from school, this cozy and long established cafe restaurant is THE place to go for hot chocolate, coffee and pastries. You can study here, socialize, or listen to some really good live music. The second time I went here an acoustic guitarist played.

Cafe La Luna serves different variations of hot chocolate and coffee, along with pastries, sandwiches and other nibbles.  The hot chocolate is simply rich, smooth and unforgettable.  Seriously, it’s like drinking a hot, melted bar of chocolate. I don’t know what they put into the chocolate drinks and I still can’t read most of the menu, so I just experiment and order the specials of the day and pick and choose from different categories. I haven’t been disappointed yet.

Hours, unfortunately, are limited. They close up shop at 9pm, even on weekends. Therefore, when we need a late night hang out, we go downstairs to a separate entrance to their sister venture, Vino y Queso. It’s La Luna’s cheese and wine bar. If we get there before 9pm, we can still order off of the La Luna menu.  One Friday after our school program/dinner, 8 of us converged downstairs for food, desserts, wine and cheese. Total bill?  Under $40 US!  This included 2 different bottles of red wine and a platter of four cheeses cut into cubes. 2 of us, me and a girl from Sweden, also ordered the special dish of the day. And 4 of us, including me of course, ordered dessert. My share of all my food and drink came to 53 quetzals, or just over $7.

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The wine bar / cellar, downstairs from La Luna (but owned by the same people).

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There is a second adjacent room that has a larger table for bigger groups, but the lighting is very dim and my pictures didn’t quite come out.

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Finally, real food! This is the special of the day, which was just great!

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My dessert from a Friday, a moist and rich cake with fresh strawberries. Mitzy had the apple strudel with a scoop of vanilla ice cream…

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This picture probably won’t come out, but it is all of us at the table.

 

A Big Update: Paranoia, Obsession, A REAL Blog and more

May 1st, 2006

It’s hotter than Orcish hell down here, but it’s better than rowing a slave galley.

This is really the first time I’ve had in a long time to post an update as to my whereabouts and what I’ve been up to…I’m hoping that this very very slow Internet connection that I’m dealing with won’t drive me too mad and up the wall!  For the past 10 days I’ve been mostly hiding out, hanging out, keeping a low profile…I need to somehow convince the US Embassy that I had no involvement with the CIA sting operation that I stumbled upon while taking a stroll through (unbeknownest to me) a major drug trafficking operation in the jungles of Monteguenox.  My hired guide was quick as lightening and we were able to get away, but the next day I found myself being questioned by Mexican authorities (I just played my “No hablo Español” gimmick–actually, it can’t be called a gimmick because I really don’t speak Spanish!–) at any rate, I then found myself in the company of our own US government officials trying to coax out of me things I didn’t see or hear.  And they let me go.  And I’ve been on the run ever since, keeping to my business, knowing that I am being followed and I know deep down inside that they will read this blog and hopefully know that I really have no idea what has transpired.

Paranoid?  Sure am.

But not for the CIA conspiracy theory.  Guess I’ve been reading too much of late, which I’ll get to in a minute.  Nah, my paranoia stems from being attacked, attacked by invisible forces every sleepless night that now plague my waking hours.  I am in a fully heightened state of awareness that brinks on the paranoid, as my body burns, swells and throbs with the poisons of the hundreds of needles that prick the outlayer of my skin, leaving scarred marks for the rest of my life to remind me of my travels here in the Yucatan.

Mosquitos.  Ticks.  Fleas.  Bugs.  Insects.  Little unseen critters that attack me every single night!  I can’t see them.  But I hear them.  Buzzing and whirring, playing with my senses and freaking me out.  It’s like Edgar Allen Poe’s Tell- Tale Heart.  Am I going mad???  No, I have the proof.  All over my wrists and arms, and now my legs.  Little round protrusions on my skin, reddened, glowing, pulsating.  Yes I’m paranoid.  I’ve slept the last few nights fully clothed–socks, pants, long sleeved REI buttond-down trekker shirt, 99 cent gloves, a banana covering my neck, and a mosquito/insect net fully covering my head, which rests underneath my ballcap hat.  Did I mention that it is hotter than Orcish hell down here?  But ah, thinking of the luxuries of home make this current state a temporary one, one that will pass and one that I can laugh off at a later time.

Obsession.  Not with some great food dish or drink I’ve discovered (good thing I haven’t found a Sarita ice cream shop down here).  Not with another extreme jungle hike or hardcore , must-do outdoor activity.  Nor obsession with a woman I met.  Nope.  The last 10 days I have been obsessed with devouring everything I can find written in English.  With reading.  In Merida, I came across a bookstore with paperback novels.  And left with 6 books.  Since then I’ve scored 4 more.  I’m now finishing my 7th book.  I’ve read Sci-Fi, Fantasy, international thrillers, fiction, an autobiography, travel memoirs, even a chick book.  I’m obsessed, what can I say?  But the setting is sooo perfect for just wasting the time away while lazing on a hammock, or propping my feet up by the sand while the water laps the sandy shore…

Before I forget, Happy May Day to you all!  It totally didn’t occur to me until, as I was walking to this super slow connection internet cafe, a police convoy stopped traffic in the street as a large parade of workers with signs swept by.  May Day, aka International Workers Day, unofficially recognized in the U.S., and as I recall a few years back, sometimes a spectacle when you get the more vocal demonstrators out there.

 

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Oh, and also, if you haven’t had a chance to read some of the comments posted by my friend Mike, please take a look.  Because my so-called adventures pale in comparison to our beloved pall Dank, who seriously needs his own Blog, because his stories and experiences are not only unbelieveably true, they are Legendary.  This guy will be famous one day, and I think it is up to Mike and myself to see to it that his stories are published and known the world over.  Pure, utter entertainment, in the sense that this can’t be true, cannot be remotely possible, but Alas, it surely is.  I can’t wait to get home to hear the latest!

This super slow connection is starting to get on my nerves, so I’ll try to make the rest of this update free of any further ramblings.  Below you will find how I’ve spent the last 10 days since my last post, when I was waiting for my 10pm bus to get me into Campeche at 3 in the morning.  Fortunately or unfortunately depending on how one looks at it, the bus was delayed and I didn’t get into Campeche until 5am.  I waited around until 7, then made the 45 minute hike to my hostel, and then fell in love with my surroundings…

 

– CAMPECHE –

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The view from the balcony of Monkey Hostel, which overlooks the Parque Principal and the church.  Saturday and Sunday they block off the streets surrounding the square, and vendors come in selling pastries, food, gifts, etc.

 

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A similar view from the balcony in the evening.

 

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Close to the square is this fountain that has cued music playing to the rise and fall of the waters.  And behind this, two clowns were entertaining kids and their parents with their balloon animals and tricks and jokes.

 

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Another view of the church, Catedral de la Concepcion Inmaculada.

 

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Campeche is a Unesco World Heritage site, located right on the Gulf of Mexico.  About an hour’s walk from the Parque Principal, is the Fuerte de San Miguel (colonial fortress), which houses a archaeological museum and has views of the city and the Gulf.

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Another view from the Fort.  Campeche used to be a walled city, and some sections of the wall and bastions still exist today.  The best part was just hanging out in the Parque, or people watching from above on my balcony perch of the youth hostel.  This is also where I began my book reading obsession.

 

– MERIDA –

 

Another great colonial city, their Parque Principal is called Plaza Grande, about 3 times larger than the one in Campeche, with probably 10 times more people hanging out.  Surrounding by colonical buildings with park benches, trees and a serenade of hundreds of chirping birds, this place was just hopping, especially on the “Ciudad Domingo”, when the adjoining streets were all closed off and it was one big party of music, dancing, vendors, food and so many families and people.

 

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The crowd gathers around this traditional Yucatan dancing troup and their live band.

 

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Live music plays, the sounds drifting all the way to the Catedral de San Ildefonso on the other side of the park.

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The Paseo de Montejo is a major car and walking boulevard that mimicks Paris’ Champs-Elysees.  This monument is one of many along the wide boulevard.

 

– PROGRESSO –

 

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I took a day trip to Progresso, and spent my day reading my book in the shade of a palm tree.  Most of the palapas and beach side restaurants were filled with tourists off of a Carnival Cruise ship that was in port.

 

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Another view of the beach.  Of course I was envious of those cruise ship passengers…couldn’t get my mind off of those lavish buffets!  Fortunately I had a small sandwich to keep my hunger pangs at bay.

 

– CELESTUN –

There is absolutely nothing to do in Celestun.  Except read and relax and enjoy the beach, which is exactly what I did.  I was practically the only person in my hostel, and my days would consist of getting up for a bowl of granola and yogurt, then walking across the street to the beach to a lounge chair and basically staying there all day.

 

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When I needed to rest my eyes from all my reading, when I looked up, this is what I would see.

 

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Of course I’d put my book down to enjoy the last light of the fading day, before returning to my hammock at the hostel and the artificial light of a lamp.

 

– RESERVA DE LA BIOSFERA RIA CELESTUN –

A speedboat tour of the wildlife sanctuary, primarily of a large flamingo colony.

 

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Our boat.  It was me and a guy from Germany, two guys from Denmark, and our guide.

 

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This is about as close as we could get to take pictures of the flamingos…if only I had a better zoom!  Still, it was pretty cool to capture the scene.

 

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We continued our tour to a mangrove area, where the tree roots somehow seem to float above the water.

 

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We moor our boat to the dock, then walk down this pathway to clear water swimming hole.

 

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The swimming hole amongst the mangrove trees.

 

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Afterwards, Steffen and I treated ourselves to a beautiful seafood meal a fabulous beachside restaurant.

 

– VALLADOLID –

For the last 4 days I have been hanging out in this small town, using it as a base for doing daytrips around the area.  It’s not quite as lovely as Campeche or Merida, but the hostel is exceptional and very comfortable for my low energy activities of doing nothing.

 

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The main plaza.  Just like in Campeche and Merida, this is the central place to people watch, take a stroll, or buy that ice cream from the bicycle vendor.  Last night was the day for Children, so the park was all dressed up for kids activities — games, music, an art area, etc.  What is truly hard for me to believe is how late people stay out.  On a Sunday night, at 11pm, the place was till packed with families and kids.  No school today or something??

 

– CHICHEN ITZA –

Mayan ruins, very well preserved.  The highlight is El Castillo, 25 meters high and actually the Mayan calendar formed in stone.  Hard to explain, just take my word for it.

 

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El Castillo.  The pyramid is closed off, so no climbing atop those steps.  During the equinox, the lights and shadows of the sun reflect off the pyramid to create an effect of a creeping serpent.  They recreate this show every evening with artificial lights.

 

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Grupo De Las Mil Columnas.  These ruinds was pretty cool, as the columns contain carvings of warriors.  Another structure nearby “The Platform of Skulls”, is adorned with carved skulls and eagles tearing open the chests of men to eat their hearts.  Chichen Itza ruins are amazing because these people were so into serpents and warriors and human sacrifice, and there are hints and traces of this in almost every structure.

 

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– CENOTE DZITNUP –

 

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I rented a mountain bike and biked out to this cenote, which is an underground limestone cave filled with water.  When I arrived, it was just me and 6 other people to enjoy the cool, refreshing waters.  45 minutes later, and we had 30 more people join in.  I was still haunted from my swimming experience from Semuc Champey, so I didn’t stray too far into the outer reaches of the cave, prefering to dabble close to the rocks where I could actually stand.

 

– COBA –

All ruins have their own flavor and uniqueness, and this was certainly no different.  The site is large.  So large in fact, that it necessitates the use of renting a bicycle.  Sure, you can walk through the scorching heat with the mosquitoes, 1 km between each of the major sites, or you can rent a bike and pedal yourself.  Or you can go a step further, and hire someone to bike you around.  I elected to pedal myself.

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Templo 10.

 

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Nohoch Mul (Big Mound), this pyramid rises 42 meters and is the tallest Mayan structure on the Yucatan Peninsula.

 

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Catching my breath at the top.  Below in the left hand corner you can see Templo 10.  The ruins of Coba are not fully unearthed like those in Chichen Itza, so you really get the sense of how the jungle can take over the ruins before they are discovered and restored.

 

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On the bike, I could not even imagine trying to walk the great distances between each major group of ruins.

 

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A map of Coba.

 

– ONWARD –

So now it is Monday late morning, and I think I shall be heading off to Cancun this afternoon.  I’ve heard a lot about how ugly it is, so I may just be there a day before heading off to the beaches north and south of there.  Or I could stay here for another day and do what I have been doing, which again, has been keeping a low profile and just reading.  It is hotter than Orcish hell down here, but at least it’s better than rowing a slave galley (ie see http://www.thraxas.com/ for more info).

 

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One final look at my hostel’s garden with hammocks….maybe I should stay another day…

 

IRTRA XOCOMIL: A Day of Fun and Thrills

April 28th, 2006

As I’m still hanging out in the Yucatan of Mexico, here’s a look back at one of my favorite days in Guatemala!….

After my debacle with losing my glasses and enduring 11 hours on the bus to get back to Xela, I wanted to have a little fun so that I could laugh and smile once more.  Easy cure:  IRTRA’s Xocomil Water Park.

My book says it is about a 45 minute bus ride south of Xela, but I should have known better.  On the chicken bus, with multiple stops, a detour along dirty backroads because of road re-construction (due to last fall’s Hurricane Stan), and more stops along the way, it took close to a maddening 2 hours!  Me being a thrill park junkie, I always want to be one of the first in the park so that I can avoid the crowds that come later.  Alas, I finally arrived, and here are the photos of what I consider one of the top waterparks in the world.  Okay, I haven’t been to every water park in the world, or even 5 in the U.S., but I can definitely say that Xocomil does it right with little touches all thoughout the park…lots of trees and green, clean walkways, plenty of water rides to suit all tastes, reasonable food for reasonable prices, and decor that rivals the detail of Disneyland.  The best example of this is on the lazy river innertube ride, where you float under the shades of tree canopies as you pass “ancient relics” of Mayan statues and ruins, complete with rain showers, waterfalls, and “scenes” of indigenous living.

 

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Welcome to the Park!

 

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The main entrance.

 

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Guests enjoying the inner tubes as they pass different scenes.  I floated on my tube four times around the park, which lasts over 10 minutes to make a complete trip.

 

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Entering “the canyon”

 

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A guy tries to avoid the spray.

 

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The hydrotubes!  With or without a raft, they have 2 that are completely encompassed in darkness so you have no idea where the turns and twists will take you.

 

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I rode every ride at least twice, including this one that shoots you straight up, and back down for a smooth landing.

 

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The fantastic wave pool.

 

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Right before leaving the park, I had to get my daily fix of a Sarita ice cream cone, double scoop of vanilla and chocolate (I know, so plain and boring!), it is the one addiction I just can’t shake!  Yum yum

 

Phat Tuesday Revisted

April 26th, 2006

So here are finally those pics from the Fat Tuesday Carnival celebration here in Xela, I think back at the end of February.  It is a pretty big deal here; Mitzi, Kathy and I checked it out in the early afternoon while it was still tame and peaceful.  When we returned, we had no idea what we were in store for…

 

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The carnival features games, food and snack vendors, craftspeople, and rides–most of the rides are people-powered, like this merry-go-round that the ride operators push without any electricity.

 

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Even this little ferris wheel is pushed by hand to make the ride go!!!

 

The event took place during the week, but the big night was Tuesday.  Covering an large area near the cemetery, there is one primary walking path where both sides are filled with vendors and stalls selling handmade crafts, candies, woven goods, dried fish, fried foods and more.  Another area contains the games (skill games, games of chance, foosball, videogames), while one end features those hand-cranked rides for the kids, and at the other end are the big rides for adults powered with electricity.

So on that Tuesday night, at 8pm it was Mitzi, Yuh Wen, Jennifer, Markus, Pablito and myself.  Joker and Martin found us a bit later and joined in the “fun.”  The big thing to do is to throw confetti at and on complete strangers within the Carnival.  Simple enough, you can purchase little plastic bags filled with shredded paper.  Or you can go a step further, and buy decorated egg shells that are filled with the paper.  In this scenario, you take the egg, sneak up behind someone, and SMASH it over their head!  We were game.

 

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Just confetti….

 

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Yuh Wen contemplates buying more little egg shells to arm herself against the invading teens.

 

Harmless fun, right?  And it started that way.  Little kids would try to get us.  Pablito stands over 6 foot 5, so he was an ideal target.  We stuck together as a group, watching our backs because before we knew it, our whole group was targeted.  Easy reason too, we were the gringos.

We made it past the food area, mostly intact.  But once we got to the main path of the vendors, things changed.  The egg shells of confetti changed.  Now, all of a sudden we had little kids and rambunctious teenagers throwing flour at us.  And then it was these same kids with dabs of silver paint on their hands, smothering our faces with the color.  This we were not aware of and didn’t sign up for, but yet here we were under attack!

 

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Yuh Wen, Jennifer and Pablito have a moment to breathe.

 

 

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Yuh Wen demonstrates how you are supposed to smash eggshell confetti on people’s heads, while I show off the little egg grenades.

 

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The attacks increase, and Mitzi and Yuh Wen wisen up and flip their sweater hoods over their heads.

 

Our group was able to walk to the other end where the adult rides were.  Pablito and Jenny decided to ride the big ferris wheel, and Yuh Wen and I followed with some hesitation.  The ride was freakin’ scary!  Oh man, was it ever!!!  As you did the revolutions, you can hear this squeeking sound and you can see smoke coming from the mechanical generator or whatever engine is powering the ride.  And instead of a nice, relaxing ride, it is more like a thrill ride to see how fast it can go.  Was this thing going to break?  That’s not duct tape I see?  And what is up with the frayed cable wiring that secures our seat?  How strong, really, is the little pin that keeps the door closed shut?  We begin to slow down.  Thank goodness!  But wait….we are now moving slowly the opposite direction.  We go backwards!  And as fast as it can go.  I so hope this rickety ride holds up until we can get off of it!!!

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Finally, we get off the ride.  Back on the ground.  Scary, but we made it.  We hear screams behind us.  And find the swinging boat ride in full swing.  We watch as the ride ends, and our eyes follow one girl that looks ghostly sick and is holding her hand to her mouth, obviously about to puke.  This was a ride that we had to go on!

Pablito and Jenny buy their ticket.  Martin is game too, with his broken foot in a soft cast and all.  I buy my ticket.  Yuh Wen and Mitzi decide to join the fun too.  Martin and I get the upper seat, and a little girl joins us.  Once the ride is loaded, we begin our swings.  Exhilirating!  Because it is sooo scary once again!  The ride operator has decided that the swing should go all the way around, even though it is not designed to do that!  So away we swing, harder, faster….the little girl next to me is screaming, “Por Favor, por favor”, I look over and her eyes are shut.  And her tiny legs are tightly wrapped around mine, as she clings for her life.  Once again I think to myself…is this ride going to break?  how much higher can this guy take it?  The ride lasts for many minutes, surely longer than what you would find at the Portland Rose Festival Fun Center.  I’m having a good time, partly out of fear, and partly because of the thrill of it all.  Mercifully it ends.  And we are all once again safely on the ground.

 

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After the ride, with new victims on the swinging boat…

 

We decide to walk back through the vendor zone, and we come under attack once again.  This time there are less people wandering around, so we can tell who is and who isn’t scheming against us.  We make it to the food area, where Jenny and Mitzi get pizza, and I am craving my churros…

 

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Churros are basically a big, fat, long doughy fried donut, sprinkled with sugar and served in a little bag.

 

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If only I had some hot chocolate to dip this in!!

 

While we are stationary and eating, however, we see a big group of 12-15 teens nearby.  They are obviously all waiting for us.  With their eggs, their paint, their flour.  Suddenly, they run towards us.  A big wave of them, surrounding us and pelting us.  Half of our group runs the other way, including poor Martin in his soft foot cast.  I am on the receiving end as well, but not as bad as some of the others…could it be that maybe, just maybe I look a little Central American with my black hair and dark skin?

More chasing ensues, and things get a little out of hand.  Jenny is fighting mad, as she says that some guy stuck his tongue in her ear.  Yuh Wen, unfortunately, gets a real egg cracked over her head, and the egg whites and yolk run down her hair and face.  Things are now more physical, and these kids are bigger, faster, and more menacing because of the gang mentality…there are just too many of them, all in groups, all lying in wait, all targeting us.

Time to go.  We hightail it out of the Carnival area, and assess our damage…

 

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Group shot, we survived!

 

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Pablito takes off his jacket and shakes off the flour as the dust coats the air…

 

Moral of the story….when in Central America, if you find yourself at Carnival during Fat Tuesday, AND you are with a bunch of gringos….dress appropriately and know that you WILL need to take a shower later on.

 

Trip Report: Volcan Tajulmulco

April 24th, 2006

Here is the photo trip report from my hike up to the highest point in Central America, Volcan Tajumulco at 4220 meters above sea level.  As you may recall, it was a difficult hike, not so much because of the hike itself, but because of my weakened condition of food poisoning from the night before.  Plus the breakfast combination of black beans, eggs, tortillas and platanos with cream only created additional havoc on my stomach.

It was an early wake up call at 4:30am, and we all converged at the Quetzaltrekkers headquarters at 5am where we rode the backs of pick ups to Minerva bus station, and then caught a chicken bus to San Marcos, arriving around 7am and having our gee-oh-so-yummy breakfast.  I was in the bathroom twice, but fortunately for me before all the toilet paper ran out!!
At around 8:30am we took another chicken bus to the trailhead–as the bus was very crowded, half of our group had to stand for the 90 minute ride.  I was able to get a seat, which helped but the twisty, bumpy and winding road just amplified the nausea and sickness that I was fighting.  I still don’t know how I managed to get up the mountain — I credit the guides for taking it nice and slow and for helping me out as much as possible, even offering to carry my fully loaded pack to our base camp.  Once again my stubborness sets in–30 minutes prior to our basecamp, we all collect and carry firewood, of which I take a pretty decent size and strap to my pack.  We started around 10am, and arrived to basecamp at 4pm, where I then spent the next 12 hours huddled inside a tent, fighting coldsweats and then feeling very very hot, on and off throughout the evening.  On with the photos!!
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Trailhead, 30 hikers strong putting on our sunblock.
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Hiking the dusty trail with views all around.
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It’s a steep, slow climb.  What is funny is that we pass a group of locals heading down the mountain, sporting dressy shoes and regular clothing.  Our group with all of our fancy gear and packs must be amusing to the locals that go up the mountain on a regular basis.
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Long stretches of land with sheep in the distance.
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Views from the trail.
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Another view from one of our frequent breaks.
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Hiking up to basecamp.
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From our basecamp, the view is impressive.
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And another view from basecamp.
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I hiked the summit, or rather climbed and rested, climbed and rested, and here are the beginnings of the dawn.
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Clouds meet up with the horizon.
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The sun begins to peek.
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Sun rising.
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Fellow hikers enjoy the spectacle.
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I’m so cold and still sick, the smile hides my pain!
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Hiking back down with the shadow of the mountain creating a cool effect.
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The group heads down the summit and towards basecamp.  We take a different route back to camp, so there is not much climbing down.
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Hiking in the shadows.
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Continuing the hike down.
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Enjoying the view from basecamp.  We have breakfast of oatmeal with granola, cinnamon and sugar.  It is the first real food I have eaten for the past 24 hours.
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Back down down down the mountain from basecamp.
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Another view hiking down.  We managed to lose one hiker for about 45 minutes.  I was the third to last hiker, and I waited for the other 2 as the main group went ahead.  When only one showed up, we waited for 10 minutes and called out for him, to no avail.  So we caught up with the main group, explained the situation, and then the 3 guides headed back up the trail where they managed to locate him.  To this day I still don’t know what happened–he didn’t seem injured or anything, so I suppose he just lost his way on the trail.
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We reach the dusty road, and the winds smother us in clouds of dust as each step results in a big PUFF of brown.  I wear my bandana over my face to offer some sort of shield from inhaling all the dirt.
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Almost back to the main road, where we will catch another crowded chicken bus back to San Marcos, and then another chicken bus back to Xela.  The bus back to San Marcos was the fullest I have ever been in.  It was hot, sweaty, packed, uncomfortable and quite the unpleasant experience, as you really couldn’t move your position or feet for much of the ride back.  Once in San Marcos, we had a very late lunch at that same comedor which consisted of tortillas, mashed potatoes, pasta, and a little bit of veggies.  Oh yeah, black beans too.
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Bags off the buses!!  And then a 30 minute hike back to headquarters, where we check in our borrowed gear and head on in our separate ways.  It is only then do I feel like I’m getting back to normal.

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Short Attention Span Theater

April 20th, 2006

So I’ve been lucky enough to find an Internet Cafe here in Palenque to hold me over until my 10pm “overnight” bus to Campeche.  I say “overnight” because I’ll actually arrive around 3am, and since I don’t want to linger around in the streets of the town at that early morning, I’ll probably just hang out at the bus station and try to stay awake until the morning light comes and I can safely walk the 20 blocks to the hostel.

I’m glad to be heading out of Palenque…the place I stayed at last night, El Campan, is about 4 miles outside of town and is kind of a hippie place with palapas and cabanas in the woods.  My little hut had wire screen windows, and creepie crawlies everywhere, because my hut had the windows with a few tears here and there.  And where was my toilet paper (TP isn’t in the bathrooms, you either have to buy your own or they’ll leave you a roll in your “room”)…I was able to steal some at a restaurant across the road, I’m not ashame to admit that because they own the restaurant too.  So on with the pics, short attention span theater style!

 

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My cabana is the one on the right.  It was soo hot during the entire night, and when I woke up in the morning my bed sheet was covered with insects and debris that fell from the trees above.

 

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Another view.  El Campan has about 6 properties all adjacent to one another, and each has about 10 cabanas to rent out.  It’s like camping out at the Oregon Country Fair in Veneta, OR.

 

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Looking into my cabana.  I fell asleep to the serenade of all the jungle sounds, including howling monkeys, thousands of insects, some chirping bird that apparently lives amongst the leaves of my cabana, and the breeze when it decided to give me a little breath of coool.

 

Today I signed up for a tour to take in 3 of the area’s attractions….the Palenque archeological ruins, Misol-Ha waterfall, and Aqua Azul river.

 

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This photo was taken from the top of Templo de la Cruz, looking towards Templo de las Inscripciones, and to the right is El Palacio.

 

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Templo de la Cruz.

 

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Looking down from Templo de la Cruz to Templo del Sol.

 

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Templo del Conde.

 

After 4 hours at the site, it was time to move on to Misol-Ha waterfall, where time did not permit a swim, but did give me time to go behind the falls and up to the cave.

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From the front….

 

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And from behind the falls.

 

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From the cave, and you can see all the peeps trying to make their way to where I stand.

 

Now, on towards Agua Azul…but first let’s see if I make it there in one piece.  So I’m in the front seat, there are 8 other passengers taking up the seats behind me.  It is about an hour drive along narrow, winding roads with a pretty steep drop on the right hand side.  And my driver is sleepy!  All the signs are there, I know because I have done the exact same thing…

– turning up the music and trying to sing along to it.

– rolling down the window, even though the AC is on, and letting in all that HOT air!

– she had a small handtowel that she kept bringing to her mouth and wiping her face…not because of sweat, but because it was her way of trying to stay awake.

– she kept fidgeting around, shuffling in her seat, dropping things on the floor and then trying to search with her free hand….all methods to stay awake.

– and then the obligatory slap slap slap of her hand to her cheeks, and then hitting her let with her fist…stay awake, stay awake, I watch her heavy eyes and her concentration wane.  But in the end, one hour was just enough, we arrived safely and she could have a 3 hour nap.

 

Agua Azul is probably the most beautiful swimming spot I’ve ever encountered, even besting Semuc Champey from 3 weeks ago.   The wide river creates great shallow pools for swimming and snorkeling, with little rope swings sprinkled about and so many families, young and old alike, playing in the water.  Along the bank is a walking path filled with comedor restaurants and vendors selling fruits, empanadas, souvenirs, refrescos and more.  The cool thing about the river is that it is not just confined to one area for swimming.  I walked upstream a good 30 minutes and all along were little prime spots for swimming or relaxing in the water or resting under a small waterfall.  Agua Azul is one that you’ll have to put on your “must visit” list for Mexico!  Assorted pics below…

 

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I’ll wrap up this post with a few more points of “Sounded Like a Good Idea, But”

– Having a roasted corn on the cob in San Cristobal.  But the one I got must have been the one that was roasting for a full week, those kernels were so hard and I could only eat half of the cob before I had to give up.

– Being all tropical and buying a fresh whole coconut at Agua Azul, where the vendor cuts a little hole, slips a straw into it and you can just sip sip sip and enjoy some coconut juice.  But after only a few sips, it just didn’t taste good and it gave me some stomach pains later on.

– Saving my Propel water for an opportune time.  Propel is like Gatorade in a cool little plastic bottle, this whole time it has been untouched until last night when I was out of water and I broke the plastic seal and took a few sips.  Good stuff!  But this morning I packed it wrong, and before I knew it, all the liquid spilled out and all over my pack inside the van.  Bye bye Propel, I should have drank it a long long time ago instead of see it waste away this morning.

– Horseback riding while I’m trying to recover from being sick.  Yeah, I already went over this in my previous post, but I can still feel my body crashing up and down in the saddle and not enjoying myself one bit.  I think my horse had it out for me.

That’s all for now, off to the bus station and I hope I don’t get harrassed!  I could always use my fake Asian accent/language, that always seems to throw them off.  Have a nice Friday and weekend everyone!

Lighting Strikes Twice, Still Sick, Scenes from San Cristobal, and Much More…

April 18th, 2006

I have one hour of internet time, so I’m going to see just how much I can churn out in that amount of time.  It is Tuesday night and I have an early wake up tomorrow morning to catch my bus to….Las Vegas, Nevada!  Yeah, I totally agree with Jonas and Rene, so it’s on to Sin City, bay-bee!  Well, maybe I’ll need to hold off on that for just another 2 months or so.

But I’m heading off to Palenque, about 5 hours away, and site of some Mayan ruins and a “legendary” traveler’s hangout town called El Panchan.  Hopefully I’ll be able to recover there from my sore throat, my cough, and now this—runny nose and sneezing sneezing sneezing.  Is it already allergy season?  Not only that, I have a headache and I’ve been pretty tired of late.  So I am hopeful that a change of scenery and pace is all that my body will need to re-energize for the road ahead!

As I mentioned in my previous post, San Cristobal rocks!  So much to see and do, and so much to not see and not do…a great place to just hang out, people watch, and forget about the time on your clock.  Which is why I ended up staying a week here.  On now to a photo review of my time in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico.

 

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Thursday I spent the late morning speeding down Sumidero Canyon in a high speed boat, and then ate lunch at a cool little town next to the river.

 

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I ended up eating at a street stall and had my first Mexican style hamburger with its super thin patty on a huge bun, cut into portions like a pizza.

 

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Back in town in the main cathedral square, I got a kick out of these Japanese travelers trying to make some extra dough for their journeys by selling their Japanese writing skills to the hoards of Mexican families vacationing in San Cristobal.  If I had a sign that advertised “I will write your name in English for $50″, I seriously doubt that I would have any takers.

 

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Holy Thursday saw the night of the Last Supper, and then the beginning of his passion.  In this scene enacted close to midnight, the Roman soldiers take watch of the prisoners over their campfire.

 

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Some of the streets were closed down so that they could be decorated with elaborate religious displays.  The ground is covered with a colored  cedar dust, and later that evening the Silent March will walk through all this handiwork.

 

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Good Friday.  Jesus is sentenced and led out of his cage while the soldiers look on.

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Jesus carrying the cross through the streets.

 

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The guy portraying Jesus really went all out, stumbling and falling and taking vicious whips to the back from the guards.  This procession lasted almost 3 hours as he made his way around the city, and finally back to the church where it began.

 

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Here he is hoisted up to the cross.

 

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They were up there for about 15 minutes as the actors and voice-over speaker finished off the scene.

 

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Finally, he is let down and into the arms of the grieving.

 

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Later that night, I waited almost 3 hours to watch the Silent March walk all over those cedar dust scenes.  Luckily I sat close to 2 Canadians that kept me entertained as I recovered from eating too much at a buffet.  Yeah, big surprise there, huh?

 

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The Silent March.  Here’s Jesus being carried on his cross.

 

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Saturday I took a day tour to two villages outside San Cristobal.  This church is in Chamula, where it is forbidden to take pictures inside the church or of any of the townspeople because they believe taking a photo takes away their spirit and soul.  Our tour guide also explained the whole exorcism thing with the egg that Mitzi wrote about.

 

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We also visited Zincantal (I’m going on memory regarding the spelling, so I could be wrong) and to a weaving co-op where we sampled their 36% alcohol “Punche” and watched the weaving process.

 

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Sunday I walked around town and of course celebrated Easter with my bullfight.  There was a used bookfair in the cathedral square and was hoping that I could score a cheap, used book to read.  Aside from Danielle Steele novels, there wasn’t much else in the way of English language books.  I did find this gem, but for $15 US I thought his asking price was a bit too high.

 

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I did go horseback riding, which seemed like a good idea at the time.  I was sick and figured that riding a horse would be easy.  WRONG!  10 minutes into the 4 hour ride, I wanted off.  I forgot just how beat up you get “riding” a horse.  I am still sore and stiff and suffering from the after effects of my body being bounced up and down, up and down, up and down.  My ass hurts as do all the rest of my muscles in my body.

 

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Church on the hill with a nice view over the city.

 

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A shot of the Spring Fair midway as the sun sets.  I was too sore to try any of the amusement rides.

 

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A half-ripped poster for the wrestling event!

 

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Live, at the match!  Where lightening strikes twice and where I’ll need to continue this story next time….

 

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The main cathedral and the center of all the action.  Surrounding my pedestrian-only shopping arcades, the government building, Parque Central and more, this is the place to just relax and enjoy everything happening around you.  The place hops well past midnight as nightclubs and late-night cafes cater to the night owls.

 

Alas, my hour is up!  Didn’t get a chance to tell my story of what happened to me at the wrestling event, so hopefully I’ll have time in my next update.  I’m not proofreading this post so that’s that, adios to San Cristobal!

Onward Not! Another day or two in San Cristobal

April 17th, 2006

Thanks for all your public and private email comments on where I should end up going next.  I should be well on my way to my next destination at this time, but I have decided to stay another day longer here in San Cristobal, Mexico.  There can only be one thing that would change my plans to stay longer.  No, it isn’t because I’m sick.  (And yes, I am sick–not food poisoning sick, but the sore throat/hacking cough sick where it hurts to swallow and thus I can’t sleep at night).  And no, it’s not because of some Latina girl I met.  Nor is it that I’ve discovered some hardcore hiking tour through the outer reaches of the jungle.  Nope, it’s none of those.  The only reason why I am staying another day is because of the BEST reason to stay…AAA Lucha Libre!  What is that you ask??  Basically, it is Mexican style wrestling!  It is THE best wrestling out there because of the masks, gravity defying aerial moves and the good guys versus the bad guys.  I definitely have to check this out!

Coming to San Cristobal last week was a major hassle, especially at the border where I got ripped off on my money exchange and then had to scramble on figuring out the transportation.  It was an all day ordeal, and took about 12 hours total.  But it was all very much worth it.  San Cristobal is a favorite destination in Mexico for a lot of people, and it is easy to see why.

The celebrations for Holy Week (Semana Santa) also coincide with San Cristobal’s Feria Festival, aka Spring Festival.  It is a huge celebration with parades, music, special events, expositions and more.  They even have their own “Queen of Rosaria” like Portland’s Rose Festival, complete with midway and amusement rides.  There are people everywhere and the main plaza and parque central and always packed with people, walking vendors, food booths and so much more.  And with events happening everyday for the next week, what better way to celebrate Easter yesterday than with the traditional sport of bull fighting?

This was my first bullfight, I know of it and have seen some clips via Bugs Bunny cartoons and other shows.  So here’s the very quick rundown in layman’s terms, since I don’t know all the fancy tradition that goes with it or the terms and jargon that make up the sport.

So basically you have an outdoor circular arena, that in my estimate, holds about 5000-6000 people.  Last night’s card had a series of 6 or 7 bullfights, and it begins with all the matadors coming out to greet the crowd.

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After they leave, they release the first bull into the ring, where it charges around and a team of secondary matadors (I don’t know what you call them, so I’ll call them the JV team) warms up the bull with their pink and yellow colored capes.  They each take an individual turn, as shown below.  This goes on for about 5 minutes or so.

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When the matador has the bull do a successful pass under the cape, the crowd shouts “OLE!”  And if you happen to start chanting “Toro! Toro! Toro!” you will be quickly hushed (no, I didn’t do this, but there was a rowdy group just a section below me that tried that and the crowd turned on them pretty quickly).

After warms up, the horse-mounted spearman comes out to soften up the bull.  Not a pretty site…he comes up to the bull and basically plunges a long spear into the bull’s spine.  The bull won’t like this of course, so he’ll charge the horse.  I’m pretty sure that the horse has some protective plating underneath the costume, but just in case, there is always a secondary back-up horseman waiting on the opposite side.  In this picture below, the horseman struggles from keeping the bull from toppling him and the horse over.

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Now that the bull has been softened up, the main matador comes in with his series of colored handspears.  He has one in each hand, taunts the bull, then charges the bull and at the last minute, strikes both into the bull’s back.  This happens for a total of 3 times, and the goal is to have all 6 handspears dangling from the back of the bull.  Is there blood?  Yep, it’s not a pretty site.  Here are some pics of what I have just described.

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This matador begins his charge with his first set.

 

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This pic is of a different match and different matador successfully spearing the bull.

 

After all 6 spears are in place (usually not though, some fall out), the matador takes his red cape and sword and makes the bull do the “Ole” thing for about 7-10 minutes.  The live music band is playing and the crowd cheers and shouts “Ole.”

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Finally, the matador signals for the band to stop playing the music.  The crowd goes silent and they shush anyone who is still making noise.  The matador changes his sword, and with the bull badly beaten, tired and bloodied, the matador makes his strike.  Ideally with one deep blow into the back, where the bull will stagger and fall.  To end the misery, the “death matador” comes out with his short dagger, and quickly plunges in into the mammal’s skull, where you see it quickly lose all movement and it falls to the earth lifeless.  No graphic pictures to show for this moment, I think you get the picture.

Coming into the bullfight, I wasn’t quite sure of the whole killing thing.  It was pretty shocking to witness this the first few times, and of course you feel sorry for the bull.  At the same token, bullfighting has a very long and rich tradition in Mexico and Spain and I really can’t denounce this “sport” or join PETA in a protest.  However, I will say that this is probably the last bullfight I’ll attend, because when it comes down to it, I was bored after a little while.  But that’s just me.

So tonight I’m heading back to the El Toro arena for my wrestling, and then tomorrow it will probably be on to the Palenque Mayan ruins or maybe I’ll change my mind last minute and go to Oaxaca.  I just hope by tomorrow I’ll be over this nasty cough and sore throat, and that my headache will go away.  Check back on Wednesday where I hope to have pics posted of the San Critobal Holy Week Crucifixion march re-enactment, an annual event that the whole city turns out for.

Futbol Xelaju Style

April 14th, 2006

Futbol is entirely a BIG THING down here, as Xela has their own team competing in a 10 team field comprised of cities around Guatemala.  Xelaju is celebrating their 74th anniversary, and on my first Saturday here, we headed over to the stadium to watch the team give its fans what they are looking for:  a Win.

This is something you just have to experience on your own, things are much much different here than any common outdoor spectator sports played in the United States.  The following pics were taken over the course of two games that I attended.  Here are the major BIG things to know about watching the game live in person…

 

  1. It is recommended that you get there early, especially if you want to premium seats.  No, they are not more expensive.  Every ticket sold at the gate is generally admission.  And the stadium does not have individual “seats”, your seat is basically a cement bleacher bench that wraps around 75% of the stadium.  And don’t think stadium high rise seating either…the top seat is probably only 15 feet high at the maximum.IMG_4626.JPGIt is one hour before kick off in this pic…
  2. People are FANATICS when it comes to the team…wear the team colors (RED) and sit amongst other crazy fans.  If you sit in this section, you must be LOUD and jeer the opposing side.  People go all out…they bring instruments (horns, drums, etc… try bringing those noise makers into a Blazer game) and firecrackers.  Yep, firecrackers.  They light them and throw them in front of the seating section onto the field.  Sometimes the firecrackers don’t clear the wire fence, and thus you’ll have firecrackers setting off right next to the crowd of people!  I’m not that hardcore, so when I went I sat just to the right of the main Frenzy Fan Mob.IMG_4636.JPGBest bring your flags, colors, bandanas, jerseys, posters and whatever else represents the home team!  This is the Rowdy Section!
    IMG_4632.JPGPeople line the upper walls of the stadium for a better view at the action on the field.  They are responsible for throwing down the confetti on everyone else down below, definitely a team effort!

    IMG_4631.JPG

    Dusk falls and the team takes the field….

  3. Want more??  Then how bout colored smoke and flares and fireworks (in addition to lowly firecrackers) and confetti…the crowd is most alive when the team takes the field, once the ball is in play, and of course when they SCOOOOOOOORRRREEEEE!IMG_3859.JPGWhen we score our goals, LOOK OUT!IMG_3863.JPG

    Oh yeah, of course there is loud music blaring from the speakers as well!  Here you see the confetti and the lights display after a goal.

  4. The great part about watching the sport down here is what you don’t get in the U.S.  For example, little boys carrying around their shoe shine kits and hitting you up for a shoe shine while you sit and watch.  Food vendors are not part of some corporation or stadium concessions–they are little kids, old women and middle aged men hawking everything from sodas, water, candy, gum, and food made at home.  Like soups.  And tortillas stuffed with veggies or meat.  Seriously.  It was something else to watch an 80 year old lady carrying a big covered pot and pouring her drink into styrofoam cups for people to buy.  People also sold souvenir merchandise to show your support for the team.  Here I am showing off the flag that Martin bought…IMG_3866.JPG
  5. At halftime, it is time to use the bathrooms.  Don’t try this in Portland…if you need to piss, all you have to do is walk up to the wire fence or wall surrounding the field, unzip and take care of your business.  Which is right in front of where people sit.  It was a shock for me to see 5 or 6 guys pissing on the wall just 3 rows in front of me.  I didn’t see any women do it…then again, there weren’t too many women in the crowd.IMG_4644.JPGAction on the field, you watch through a wire fence that has barb wire strung along the top.  It’s not that much of a security measure, as after the game a crazy Gringo scaled the fence, took a flag and pranced and paraded along the sideline to the amusement of the locals (the guy was pretty plastered and it was kind of embarrassing to watch him).
  6. Women, single or married, will need to check their feminine fights at the door.  Whenever a woman gets up to go to the bathroom, get something to eat, or just walk though the row or aisle, catcall whistles and the like with momentarily distract the men from watching the game.  And when 5 of the women in our group got up to use the restroom together, it was a chorus of catcalls and unwanted attention.
  7. At the end of the game, when we win of course, it is time for more noise, music, fireworks and firecrackers, smoke and if the police want in on it too, then tear gas (see previous post).IMG_4651.JPGIMG_4691.JPGMitzi looks up to check out the sky display after the win.

Why I Probably Won’t go to Oaxaca

April 12th, 2006

First things first, Happy 26th Birthday to my little brother! And if any of you are interested in buying life insurance or refinancing your mortgage, he can give you the whole run down. Also a shout out to Marcus “Buffwell” Berger, who celebrated his big Three-O yesterday, no doubt with some serious karaoke sessions at the Alibi and his smuggled booze in a plain paper bag (you are soo slick Marcus, you da man!).

Onward with today’s post… I kinda of cheated, since this is an email I received from Mitzi a week ago. After San Cristobal, I was going to hang out with her in Oaxaca, but since she won’t be there, I’m considering changing my plans and of course need your help to do so. Click here to leave your comments: http://blogs.bootsnall.com/Aurclyels/?p=211#comments

And here is her story….

“Hello out there, I am here in Oaxaca now. Mexico is so close to Guatemala, but a world away in many respects. And HOT!!! SO I guess John filled you all in on the exciting birthday that I had.

We went to the futbol game in Xela, which was as roudy as usual, but just to make it a little more exciting, the policia thought, gee, this is out of control (at this point the stadium is empty, granted) we better shoot some tear gas. So we witnessed the first shot into the crowd. Since it was so exciting we figured we would watch some more. Pretty much everyone in the crowd though it was unnessesary, guates and gringos alike. So we all stood around and watched. The crowd we were standing with decided to yell ignorant pigs at the police. OK thats fine, what can they do, we aren’t really causing any problems. Shots to the ego dig deep!! We will just shoot tear gas in their direction!! Well it made for an exciting night. We escaped to gas and we were out the street. We are chatting about what we should do next and the I hear John yell RUN, TEAR GAS!! I look over and the smoke bomb is literally 5ft. from us. Then, John, like Geogre Castanza (Sienfeld reference) pushes his way through the crowd, not caring that he pushed his wife and the other girls out of the way to get to safety!! Thats my husband!! Well it made for an exciting last night in Xela.

We went to San Cristabal de las Casas the next day. ANd unfortunately saw nothing but our hotel room. I guess we can always go back. We were both really sick. We stayed in our hotel for something like 36hrs and then got on an overnight bus ride to Oaxaca. I have to say one of the worst nights of my life (I put it up there with the food poisening night). To say the least, John and I won’t be traveling by that kind of bus any time soon, especially overnight. I have a new love and respect for the chicken buses of Guate. You may be fearing for your life, but it is all relative and the buses are way below standard so they have to go slower (relatively speaking) and the desire to throw up is way different.

So I am now in Oaxaca. Alive but not well. I have been sick since we left Xela. Which I can’t say is fun, but it makes for some good experiences. So I’m at my friend Judith’s house in Oaxaca. She works all day, so I am being entertained by her parents. I am understanding just about none of their spanish, but I am perfecting to command form of spanish, eat, sit, eat, come, eat, sleep, eat, rest, eat, drink, eat!!

Apparently it is very important that I eat. These people blow italians out of the water with their eating encouragement. So, I am hanging out with the family and they are really worried because I am so sick. So the mom takes Vick’s Vaporub and starts spreading it all over my neck, my ears, around my temples, my arms. Since I am such a slut for massages I am in absolute heaven. So now that I basically am drenched in vasaline they tell me that I can not shower for two days. I am thinking, huh, I am not understanding what they are saying. Why can I not shower for two days?? When you are sick, I guess you lather youself up in Vicks and don’t shower for a couple of days, it is a home remedy. OK, fine I will be greasy.

Then the mom comes into my room and is talking about my illness. (it is time to mention that in Oaxaca they call everything little, little this, little that—they do this by adding -ito at the end of a word) So, in reguards to my sickness the mom starts talking about the heuvito (a little egg), and she leaves the room. She comes back with half a glass of water and an egg. OK. So she cleans the the egg with alcohol and then performs on me, my own personal catholic-indiginous ritual. The whole time I am thinking, I hope she does want me to eat a raw egg. After my body has been cleansed, she cracks the egg into the glass of water and starts examining it. She could tell by the appearence of the egg that for sure I was sick. No Sh#%!!!

Well I guess we are going to do it again tomorrow to really clean me out. Hopefully they will let me shower soon. It doesn’t matter how much spanish you know, sometimes you really just don’t have a clue what it is going on!! Hope everyone is well and enjoying life. Take care,, love you,, Mitzi”

Her email reply to me is as follows:

“Hey Edwin,, good to hear from you. Sounds like you are having quite the adventure. I can’t say that I am having as much fun. I actually bought a ticket to go home. I am flying out on the 17th of april. I have been really sick for over about two weeks now and I can’t get better, so I have diecied that I need to recuperate at home. We will just miss each other, sorry. JUst so you know Oaxaca is F***ing hot. So I wish you the best of fun and travel luck. I will make a point that we see eachother on the flip side. Of course you have my permission to put my email on your blog. Have tons of fun hiking, I can’t wait to see your pictures form all of your adventures. Still getting good food shots?? It could never be as good as Xela!! Take Care,,,love,,,MItzi”

So there you have it. I’m not really into the extreme temperatures of HOT HOT HOT, and since my bud won’t be there to show me around, I may forgo Oaxaca altogether for another time.  Or maybe I won’t….please help me decide!

Da Boots Are Now Retired

April 11th, 2006

Da Boots made it!  The hike from Nebaj to Todos Santos was nothing short of spectacular, with 2 fantastic guides and 7 other fun and vivacious hikers, our group was dynamic and I had a wonderful time.  I should have a trip review posted in the next few weeks, of course with my trip reviews from Mirador, Lago Atitlan and more.  Since I don’t know what my Internet situation will be for the next segments of my travels, I have pre-blogged posts that will appear every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, just in case I do not have time or access to update this website.  And since tomorrow will mostly be a travel day, the automatic posts will begin tomorrow and continue on that Friday/Monday/Wednesday schedule.

Alas, today is my day of recovery (ie get a massage and eat like a pig) to pack my bags, do laundry, catch up on the Internet and then tomorrow it is off to San Cristobal, Mexico.  I’ll be there for Samanta Santa (Holy Week), and then leaving next Monday the 17th to…..????

I’m in a quandary…where do I go from San Cristobal?  Originally, my plan was to head over to Oaxaca and hang out with Mitzi for a week and check out the beaches and have her play my tourist guide, since I have no guidebook.  But unfortunately Mitzy will be heading back home to Colorado a few days from now, about 2 months earlier than she planned….you can read the pretty entertaining story tomorrow.  So with no tourist guide and no coverage in my Lonely Planet Guide, I could just wing it on the lark or I can head over somewhere else.

Perhaps go northeast to crowded Mexico City?  Over the last few days, after talking with some people from my hike, I’ve been intrigued with a visit to the world’s 3rd largest metropolis (only Tokyo and New York City are bigger), but that is quite far and away from San Cristobal.  Or I could just head north to Merida, then east towards Cancun and to the Mayan ruins of Tulum.  Or I could head back down south along the Guatemalan coast and into El Salvador, entonces maybe beyond to Nicaragua.  Or another option is to retrace my steps back through Guatemala and head towards Honduras and the ruins near Copan and to the Bay Islands.

There is so much I want to see and do, all of a sudden it seems like I do not have enough time.  And this is good.  I know for sure that I will have to come back to Central America and Mexico and do more exploring.  But while I’m down here now, where should I go?  Help me decide!  I am actively soliciting your suggestions, comments, ideas, etc. on which way to go…but one place you should know that I’m not going to is back to Portland.  That is for later in June. I’m talking about now, while I have the opportunity down here.  So, where should Edwin go to after San Cristobal?  For a visual on Mexico, click on this link for a map:  http://www.lonelyplanet.com/mapshells/north_america/mexico/mexico.htm

You can email me privately, or submit a public comment to this post.  I won’t make my decision until Sunday, so you have plenty of time to cast your fill-in vote.  One thing I do know is that Mexico is quite a bit more expensive, travel wise, than Guatemala so I’ll have to tighten and rein in my money ouflows.  Same goes with Belize.  So please leave your comments below (just click on the blue hyperlink “No Comments”…or once there are comments, “Comments”), read what other people have to say, do some research for me and let me know where my journey will take me after San Cristobal!  And check back tomorrow for Mitzi’s story!

The Story of Semuc Champey (aka “I’m an awful swimmer” and here’s my tale)

April 10th, 2006

You know the story, I lose my glasses, and I’m stuck wearing my swim goggles.  The same swim goggles with the 5 year old prescription, the goggles that fog up every 2 minutes, the goggles the hurt my head and the goggles that whacks everything out of perspective.  Like I said, there is a reason why swim goggles are made to be worn IN the water, not out of it.

After the morning of waiting around to see if the guide can recover my glasses in the waterfall pool within the cave, I walk back to the hostel empty handed.  My lunch is a ham sandwich (with mayo and lettuce and onions and Ketchup–why must they put ketchup on everything down here?) and a small plate of nacho chips with black beans.  I have the afternoon to kill, so I decide to walk up to Semuc Champey and enjoy the natural beauty as best I can.

It is maybe a 20 minute walk up the road until it ends at the entrance gate.  Semuc Champey is a series of natural pools created as the river flows underground.  Many say this is the most beautiful place in Guatemala.  And with beauty, there always comes danger.

I pay my entrance fee, and the guards are amused at my appearance.  I try to explain how I lost my glasses; next thing I know, one of the guards is handing me a pair of glasses that someone else lost a while ago.  I try them out, hoping the prescription will be similar.  Nice try, but no.  I thank him for the effort, and continue on my way.

I walk down to the river, and then to the pools…

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The Rio.

 

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Self timer on my camera, the goggles are that noticeable, are they?

 

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Just above the small waterfalls, are the series of pools that make up the Semuc Champey.

 

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Here’s how the natural pools look just above the waterfalls.

 

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A closer look at one of the many swimming pools.

 

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Further along the path, a wide expanse of water surrounded by the trees and framed by the mountains.

 

I take the 25 minute hike up the steep steep path to the Mirador, the lookout for the pools below.  It is a hard hike for me, as I continually have to stop to wipe off the steam within my goggles, and I have to step carefully because my depth perception is still a little out of whack.  The view though, is entirely worth it.  Here you go!

 

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From high above….

 

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Another bird’s eye view…

 

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Zooming in….if you look really close, you might be able to make out the 3 swimmers in the upper pool.

 

I make the slow hike back down to the pools, where Amy, Stephanie and Renee have arrived a short while earlier.  I have come all this way, I have my swim goggles, of course I must take a dip to enjoy the waters!

 

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This is the pool that we entered and swam in.  Or at least I tried to swim in…

 

They entered the pool first, and I followed.  Slippery and slimey bottom, I have my sandals on and wade slowly into the water.  It is a little cold, and I know I will need to just get right in.  I secure my goggles with a tight suction seal around my eyes, and make the lunge forward, into the water with a nice SPLASH!  Yes, the water is cool, and yes, it is refreshing.  The girls go up ahead close to a series of waterfalls.  I attempt to follow.  But it is still awkward for me “swimming” with these sandals.  At least I have both hands free though, as opposed to only have one because I’m holding a candle above my head.

I notice that Stephanie can stand.  I want to stand.  I get tired quite easily when swimming.  I’ve heard the adage that good runners do not make good swimmers, and good swimmers do not make good runners.  Where do all these competitors for triathalons figure into this, I wonder?  All I know is that I am a decent runner, and can be a decent swimmer as long as I know where my escape route is when I get too tired — in other words, as long as I know where the edges of the pool are, I am fine.  And being close to shore, or having an area of shallow water where I can actually stand to catch my breath, are my ideals.

And so I try to swim over to Stephanie.  I’m still fresh.  No problems.  I make it to the ledge, and can stand.  The water is maybe up to my chest.  The rock I am standing on is slippery though, and not smooth and flat.  It has ridges, and I need to balance myself, which is a little hard because there is some water flow and I sway as I try to readjust my goggles and do the spit-method of trying to clear out the fog or steam in my goggles.

And then I feel the first nibble.  On a scratch on my knee.  It is a little stinging sensation, a bite.  A bite from one little fish.  Make that more than one little fish.  The biting opens up my scratch, and I know that I now have a little blood that will attract more fish.  They are not pirannahs, though for this story I suppose I could call them that.  So let’s just call them that — PIRANNAHS!  Blood sucking, killer pirannahs.  Like in those classic B Horror movies hosted by Elvira, Vampress of the Night.

So here I was, trying to fix my goggles, trying to get my breathing back to normal, and now having to contend with little critters biting at me.  Well, I can’t just stand here in place as a free meal for them.  I need to get back in the water and swim.  But where to?  Oh yeah, towards the waterfall area.  So I get back in the water, swim/wade around a bit, and try to have steady and controlled breathing.  I get to the waterfall area, but the 3 are already starting to move to a different waterfall area, one where they want to try and climb.  So I follow.  Cause that’s what I do, I follow.  I follow to where the people are, so that if I get in trouble, I know that I can call out for help and hopefully someone will bail me out.  Yeah, I follow.

But it is a struggle.  I’m tired.  I see them ahead of me, and a minute or two later I see Stephanie is standing again.  Another rock ledge!  That’s where I need to be!  It is in the middle of the pool, and I’m not too far away from it.  I can make it.  And so I swim towards that ledge.  With my prescription goggles on, I can see underwater.  So I know where I need to go.  I see those stupid little fish.  As long as I’m moving, they will leave me alone.  Stroke, kick, up for a breath, stroke, kick, up for a breath.  I am closer to the girls, and I can make out the bottom for me to step on.  But vision in the water is distorted, and I realize that I am still a bit off.  So I readjust my direction, and still peering into the water, try to locate that place where Stephanie just was.  And I find it.  Good thing too, because I am huffing for air.  Just like the other spot, I am balancing myself on a little jagged edge, and I cannot completely stand with two feet.  But at least I can stop swimming and breathe normally and adjust my dumb goggles again.

Here come those dang fish.  Another nibble.  Bite.  They open up a second scratch on the same leg (I got those scratches the day before by doing that river cave tour…all participants got nicked and nacked in one form or another).  I really don’t like fish biting at my skin, it is very annoying and I am now getting mad.  I decide that I don’t want to be in the water anymore, I’ve had enough of my fair share of this paradise.  I look over to the girls, who are swimming further away to the other part of the pool, to those other cascading falls.  No more following.  I want to get back on the shore, back on the ground away from these hungry critters and where I can breathe breathe breathe to my heart’s content without having the fear of swallowing water.

A final adjustment of my goggles, and I’m back in the water swimming towards shore.  I really should have stayed at my little piece of underwater rock for just a minute longer, as I am breathing pretty hard, but those fish wouldn’t leave me alone.  I just have to make it to the other underwater rock, catch my breath, and then make the final segment back to shore.

Yeah, I suck at swimming.  It is so much easier for me in a pool, but get me out into the ocean or a lake or a pond or someplace like this, and I won’t be in the water for long.  Having my swim goggles helped, because I could actually see in the water and it is a kind of safety net for me, knowing exactly where I need to go.  However, at the same token, they are a false sense of security, and was a primary factor to my near demise.

Just swim to the next ledge.  Catch my breath.  It really wasn’t that far.  But like I said, I was already tired and I wasn’t used to swimming with my sandals on.  I am tired, but continuing with my strokes and kicks and turn my head up for air.  I see that I am closer to my halfway point.  I could see this “land” underwater just ahead of me.  All I need to do is get there, step up and I’ll be fine.  With my last withering reserve of energy, I aim for this spot, and when I think I am close enough to take a step, I stop and try to step up on this ledge that I can SEE.  Yes, I can see it.

But aha you fool, things in the water are DISTORTED.  ”Objects may appear closer than they really are.”  Well, in this case, it was the opposite.  Where I thought I had a step close to my feet, was actually far below the water than I originally thought.  But it is too late.  Because I have already tried to make that step, and when I think I am about to make contact, I go up for air.  NO CONTACT, no step up, and thus it screws up my timing!  So instead of coming up for air, I get a nice gulp gulp of water!  Not fun, not fun at all.

So at this point my eyes are freaking huge as I realize that I have misjudged my safety zone, and I need to get there ASAP because I am going into a panic.  My body takes over needing that air, and I try desperately to coordinate my breathing with my swim strokes and keep a cool head.  I flail and kick and hope that I can make it.  At this point, it is fruitless for me to try and locate that visible but elusive underwater rock ledge or whatever you call it, I just need to gun it to the shoreline.

I see the shore and the bank and know in my mind that I can make it, that I will make it.  I feel the lactic acid within my muscles, water is beginning to seep into my goggles, I am tired and the breathing is laborous and disjointed and all I want is to feel land under my feet.  Is that too much to ask for???

I continue to kick and flail, I don’t want to drown, I’m not going to drown, I’m going to make it to the shoreline.  But man oh man I want to breathe in a regular fashion, no more of this swallowing some water and expending energy where I feel the weight of my arms and legs and the tease of land under me through my swim goggles.

And then suddenly I feel it.  LAND!  I am freakin ecstatic, as soon as I touch it I try to stand up immediately and in my weakened and disoriented state of mind, I slip and come crashing onto my ass on the smooth surface.  Yes, the fish are still nearby as I can see them scatter when I fall, catching myself with my hands on the slime.  I try to get up as quickly as I can, and then stumble again, but do not fall.  I take a giant step towards the shore, trying to get better footing, ripping the goggles off my face and in my exhaustion I finally manage to traverse through the land in the water and up, up, up onto the bank, the shoreline, the earth, LAND LAND LAND.  Ground under my feet!  I basically collapse near some rocks next to our clothes, trembling because I am so tired and without energy, but happy, overjoyed and thankful to be safe again, with the ability to BREATHE deeply and feel my stomach rise and my lungs fill with good old oxygen, free and clear from that water in the pool.  I am spent.  No more going in the water for me.

In the distance, I can see the girls climb up the face of the waterfall, stand on top, and then jump back into the pool below.  I take a picture of them with Stephanie’s camera.  And then take a picture of myself and the area where I almost succumbed to panic and fear, but this is a story with a good ending, and thus I leave you with these final pics…

 

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Those ledges in the water appear so dang close to the surface, don’t they?

 

 

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A re-enactment coming out of the water.  You know that smile is real!

Kitchen Confidential Part 2

April 8th, 2006

> I have to take one last visit to the kitchen of my
> first homestay. Here are a series of pics of little
> Tonito helping himself to creating sandwich from the
> many food items from the counter. There was always
> something left overnight on the counter for Tonito
> or anything else that wanted to take a gander.
>
>
> IMG_4363.JPG
>
> Tonito finds some hamburger buns and begins to
> make his sandwich.
>
>
>
> IMG_4364.JPG
>
> Starts out with a little ranchero sauce.
>
>
>
> IMG_4366.JPG
>
> Make that alot of ranchero sauce.
>
>
>
> IMG_4367.JPG
>
> And even more.
>
>
>
> IMG_4368.JPG
>
> Also finds some rice.
>
>
>
> IMG_4369.JPG
>
> Ready to indulge!
>
>
>
> IMG_4713.JPG
>
> Here’s the old Canadian maple syrup from a
> previous blog entry. After seeing what was inside
> the powdered pancake mixture, I passed any hope of
> having a filling breakfast.
>
>
>
> IMG_4719.JPG
>
> A normal day in the kitchen. What’s interesting
> is that my first host mom had someone come in and
> clean the home every week. So as the week went on,
> the place would slowly get into a condition like
> this.
>
>
>
> IMG_4720.JPG
>
> A bit out of focus, but that is a cochroach
> scrambling away from my camera’s flash.
>
>
>
> IMG_4721.JPG
>
> Dishes and more dishes.
>
>
> I am happy to report that I had the chance to
> check out the kitchen at my second family home stay,
> and it never approached the look of my first
> kitchen…

Fuentes Georginas: A Natural Hotspring

April 7th, 2006

A birthday shout out to my Dad, no doubt celebrating this weekend with a trip to Spirit Mountain–hope you win the jackpot and fly first class to the Philippines this December!  On with the show….

 

A must see attraction near Xela are the natural
> hotsprings of Fuentes Georginas, located about 25
> kms south of the city near Zunil (see previous post
> about Zunil). Almost a mile and a half high, the
> place has three large pools fed by hot sulphur
> springs, varying in temperature from hot to
> lukewarm. While it may be hot in Xela, the altitude
> and verdent setting in the clouds makes Fuentes cool
> and perfect for a prolonged soak in one of the 3
> pools. And after 1pm most days, the fog rolls in
> and stays, creating a peaceful and relaxing
> atmosphere.
>
> It requires a chicken bus ride and then a 8km
> pickup ride up a windy and dusty road. Most people
> hire a private shuttle to take them there and back
> to Xela, which is what we ended up doing. Others
> take the chickenbus to Zunil, and then make the 2
> hour hike up to Fuentes.
>
>
>
> IMG_4374.JPG
>
> Walking along the path through the grounds.
> Admission is only $3 for the entire day.
>
>
>
> IMG_4376.JPG
>
> You can stay in those little huts with the red
> roof tile. Each cabin has a fireplace, wood, and
> three beds. The best part is that after 5pm, the
> grounds close to the public and are open only for
> those staying the night, so you can really have the
> place all to yourself!
>
>
>
> IMG_4378.JPG
>
> Another shot of the huts and the foliage.
>
>
>
> IMG_4381.JPG
>
> The last few huts towards the end of the path.
>
>
>
> IMG_4380.JPG
>
> A lush, natural environment.
>
>
>
> IMG_4382.JPG
>
> One of the 3 pools. This one is the coolest and
> smallest of the 3.
>
>
>
> IMG_4384.JPG
>
> The main hot water pool.
>
>
>
> IMG_4385.JPG
>
> Another view.
>
>
>
> IMG_4386.JPG
>
> From the small, open air restaurant. Kjerste from
> Norway is the foreground.
>
>
>
> IMG_4387.JPG
>
> Enjoying the soak. It’s not that deep, and many
> people come with a book and soak and sunbathe and
> soak some more.
>
>
>
> IMG_4392.JPG
>
> We had the place to ourselves for about 40 minutes
> before a large group of students from a rival school
> arrived. Quite the foggy place!
>
>
>
> IMG_4399.JPG
>
> Mitzi and Megan.
>
>
>
> IMG_4400.JPG
>
> Enjoying a piece of melon that Mitzi’s host mom
> packed for her.
>
>
>
> IMG_4401.JPG
>
> Our last smiles before we climb aboard our mini
> bus shuttle and the nuaseating trip back down the
> windy hill 45 minutes back to Xela.
>
>
> Remember, when in Xela, you MUST go to Fuentes
> Georginas!

Saturday morning on Cerro El Baúl

April 6th, 2006

> Americorps

One Saturday morning way back weeks ago, Markus, Kathy, Mitzi and I to
> a hike up Cero El Baul vista point. It is like Portland’s
> Council Crest Park for Xela, about a good 90 minute walk
> from Parque Central up a road and up a steep foot
> path to the top.
>
>
> IMG_4425.JPG
>
> Hiking up the road away from the city with Markus,
> Kathy and Mitzi.
>
>
>
> IMG_4427.JPG
>
> We followed the road with views of the city on the
> right. Reminded me of the road to Pittock Mansion
> in Portland’s West Hills.
>
>
>
> IMG_4428.JPG
>
> City views.
>
>
>
> IMG_4431.JPG
>
> More views.
>
>
>
> IMG_4434.JPG
>
> Markus hikes ahead, while in front of him are some
> locals carrying food up to the park to sell to other
> families who picnic and spend some the day there.
>
>
>
> IMG_4436.JPG
>
> Unfortunately the path is littered with garbage
> and other debris, a common site all over the city
> and country.
>
>
>
> IMG_4437.JPG
>
> Markus and Mitzi hanging out at the top of the El
> Mirador (viewpoint).
>
>
>
> IMG_4440.JPG
>
> A big cross marks the spot for the El Mirador.
> This cross is visible from the city below.
>
>
>
> IMG_4442.JPG
>
> Pretty sad playground equipment. There is a
> swingset frame, but no swings. Where are the
> slides? Ah, one more pic to go…
>
>
>
> IMG_4444.JPG
>
> Hiking up the main picnic area, which features a
> monument. Since I can’t read espa񯬬 the other 3
> translated the plate description for me, but I have
> long forgotten it. I think it was a memorial to
> something, sounds logical so that’s what it will
> have to be.
>
>
>
> IMG_4450.JPG
>
> The slides! You need nerve to take the plunge.
> Made out of smooth concrete, you slide down the very
> steep hill, and at the bottom is a very small crash
> landing area. You better stop in time or you’ll
> crash into the small wall, or worse, crash through
> the wall, over the edge and down the hill!
>
>
>
> IMG_4451.JPG
>
> Markus gets ready.
>
>
>
>
> IMG_4453.JPG
>
> Markus and Mitzi take the slide aboard smashed
> plastic soda bottles.
>
>
>
> IMG_4456.JPG
>
> Showing off what we use to slide down the slides.
> You can go without the bottle, but the hot friction
> will burn a hole in your pant bottom! I brought my
> frisbee on this day and it worked like a wonder–but
> I thrashed it in the process.
>
>
>
> IMG_4457.JPG
>
> Set for another run.
>
>
>
> IMG_4459.JPG
>
> Losing control is easy to do and will cause you
> FLY!
>
>
>
> IMG_4462.JPG
>
> A scattering of the tools to make you go –
> cardboard, plastic, bottles, etc.
>
>
>

> IMG_4466.JPG
>
> Stopping is the hardest part, you don’t want to
> use your hands cause you’ll burn them off. So you
> use your shoes to stop, the speed you pick up while
> going down is incredible. The rubber literally
> burned off my soles.

A Weekend of Hanging Out In Xela

April 5th, 2006

Today I’m off on my 6 day hike with Quetzaltrekkers, and will return next week. In the meantime, I have posted blogs that will appear every day at 12pm, for those of you that need your fix in your regular day routine… also, I apologize for the formatting, I have no idea why everything is all squished together!My plans for stay the weekend at a local coffee finca were cancelled at the last minute because there were not enough people signed up to meet the minimum requirements.  Without any other plans, I just decided to hang out in my home away from home, Quetzaltenango, or as the locals and everyone else refer to it, Xela (Shay-la).

Friday night I joined in the weekly dinner offered by my school, Sakribal.  It was a little strange because the Friday dinners usually have between 12-20 students; this week, attendance was down to 6 students.  Gone are my amigos Markus, Mitzi, Kathy, Megan, TGIF’s, Joker and many more I left 2 weeks ago.  But Yuh Wen, Pablito and Kirk are still there, and met three additional students, Erica, Clem and Alex.
After our dinner, we all went over to get some licuados at restaurante Sabor de India, but since it was totally packed, we found a local Wine and Cheese bar celebrating their first anniversary, so we settled in for music, wine, cheese and a relaxing evening.
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Live music from this duo, playing mostly covers from the Gipsy Kings.
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For some unknown reason, Kirk was determined to down 2 hot dogs from a local cart near the Parque Central.  He managed to convince Pablito and Yuh Wen to get one too; I withheld, but will soon have to try a Xela dog before my time is up here.
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The next morning, I wandered around the market to enjoy all the sights, smells and sounds of vendors hawking food, housewares and more.  Here are mangos, mangos and more mangos!
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Pineapples, watermelons, and those are freaking huge papayas on the left.
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Gotta love those mangos…I got a bag filled with 15 of these beauties for only 5 Quetzals…or the equivalent of $.75.  I also scored a whole pineapple AND a whole cantaloupe for the same price…$.75 for both.
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After a quick lunch stop at a local market comedor (grilled chicken, rice, tortillas, a juice drink and a small mayo salad…10 Quetzals), I headed over to the Templo to meet up with Yuh Wen, Clem and his wife for the first annual Chocolate Festival.
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The Templo.
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Another angle.
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We were treated to free entertainment from La Voz de Los Altos, specializing in music via the marimba.
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Yuh Wen enjoys a chocolate covered frozen bananna with nuts.
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The chocolate festival presented about 10 different chocolate purveyors, offering free samples of their chocolate.  What is interesting is that in Guatemala, chocolate isn’t regularly consumed by eating it….instead, you have to use some fancy contraption to roll the chocolate and heat it with water to make a hot chocolate drink.  So most of the vendors were offering samples of the chocolate drink, as opposed to chunks of the chocolate.  In this pic, a representative from Cafe La Luna is in middle of the drink process.
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Yuh Wen is sold on this particular award winning recipe, and buys it direct from the owner.
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A local catering company (or maybe a chef school?) was on hand to give out free samples of finger foods (it took me forever to search and find how to spell hors d’oeuvres)…anytime there is free food, you know I’m there!
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Back for seconds and thirds with Maria, a 54 year old self-described feminist who is currently publishing a book comparing women’s rights in Guatemala with those of other countries.
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Sunday was my day of eating my way through Xela.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I had 2 ice cream cones, 2 tacos, 1 pupusa con queso (similiar to a quesadilla), 5 mangos, a bowl of Coco Puffs cereal (courtesy of Jonas, Amy and Adam), 4 small garnaches, 3 cookies, a glass of some thick corn drink that I didn’t particularly like, and the remaining half box of Trader Joe cookies.  To cap it all off, Sunday night we head out back to the Indian restaurant that we were shut out of 2 nights before, to savor our licuados, nan, semosas and more.  I think I gained back all the weight I lost on this one day.
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Yeah the fries aren’t really Indian food, but Yuh Wen swore that they were like crack because they put some kind of seasoning that makes it completely addictive.
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One of the way home, I ran into two events that coincided (and thankfully not clashed) with one another.  Semana Santa (Holy Week) is very close, and with it are the many processions like this one, where members of the church carry an effigy of Jesus dragging the cross, down one church to another.
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Another effigy.
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The procession walked right past this student organized protest…it’s a long story, but basically every year in March, for every weekend students all across Guatemala don hooded masks and gowns (to the outsider it would look like they are Ku Klux Klan members) to hold rallies and call for change from the government.  Mostly peaceful, in the past it was a pretty big and serious thing where the government would send out the police to keep order.
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The rally comes complete with stage, music, speeches, piñata, flares, firecrackers and a lively crowd.

Rockport Discovery Series: The Story of Da Shoes

April 4th, 2006

Some common advice given by books, family, other travelers and the like before embarking on an extended trip:

– Make copies of your passport, credit card numbers, important phone numbers
– Make sure to bring necessary medication, and their authorized prescriptions
– Have a back up to any eye glasses, as well as the eyeglass prescription
– Of course, you also need to pack your airline tickets, travelers checks, ATM cards, etc.
– Have a good, comfortable and reliable pair of shoes.

Shoes make a big difference in travel, especially if you’ll be on your feet often, for example, hiking and walking miles everyday, or just simple touring around the city on your own two feet. And if you’ll be carrying any amount of weight on your back, you want good footwear to support all the activities that you will be doing.

For my trip to Guatemala, I had the shoe thing all covered, no problem. Way way back when, years and years ago, I went abroad to Europe and decided to buy the VERY BEST shoes I could find. The Rockport Discovery Series high top hiker, made of leather, durable outersole, a very comfortable insole, perfect fit, and shoe laces that won’t fray or fall apart after a few times of lacing up the boots. Those shoes served me so well during my 4 months, and I retired them into my shoe box, hopeful that one day I would once again be able to don those marvelous shoes of workmanship and head out on another successful travel.

As I mentioned in earlier posts, I didn’t exactly do the best job of packing. We don’t need to discuss my back up pair of glasses. Or how I wish I brought my Spanish language book and left my stupid Sharper Image electronic translator at home instead. During my haphazard job of packing (i.e. throwing things I think I would need into my pack), I had already made the choice that my wonderful Rockport hikers were going with me. I located them, still in the shoe box, and with no hesitation put them on. But something was amiss…the bottom of my feet didn’t feel right. There was something definitely missing. I take off my boots, look inside, and realize that the insoles are missing. Of course….they were so comfortable, that years ago I took them out and put them into some other hiker shoes. I had no time to go to the store, so I just found some other generic insoles from another cheap pair of hiking shoes and forced them to fit inside my Rockports. And then I was off. To the airport, on the plane, on the bus, and on to Xela, BootsnAll!

Everything is fine and dandy. But on my second day into my travels, my boots still feel a little off. When I take a step, the shoes hit the ground awkwardly. It doesn’t feel strong, doesn’t feel like it has the appropriate leverage or enough “spring.” I take off my shoes to do a thorough examination, something of course that I should have done back in Portland, before I left. And here is what I see….

 

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My shoes are broken. Literally falling apart. How could this be? How could the soles of my shoes just disintegrate like that? Like some mysterious acid or disease decides to attack, rotting them out and rendering my shoes useless. I contemplate what to do.

I figure it’s time for a new pair of hikers. And go to the only mall here in Xela. There is a Payless Shoe Source. Just like in the states. They must have cheap shoes, maybe $20, maybe $30. But no…for some reason, the prices are actually higher. More like $60. Granted, my Rockport shoes cost me over $120 over 10 years ago, but now I was just looking for some cheap replacements. I have a very limited budget, and was really hoping for something under $30. I go to other local markets, go to the big department store, still no luck.

Plan B. Have my shoes repaired. I spend an afternoon walking around, and find 4 different shoe repair shops. My Spanish at this point consists of “Si,” “Por Favor” and “Gracias.” So it is a real struggle as I try to explain what I want. Basically, I’d like them to take off the sole and replace it with another one. It seems that they understand me, but I cannot for the life of me understand a lick of what they are telling me. I can’t even figure out what they are to charge me, or how long it will take, or exactly how they will fix my shoes.  Each shop wants to replace both soles, even though it really is only one shoe that needs the repair.  One guy even takes out soles that look like they belong on construction boots and offers them to me. Not exactly what I was thinking of if I am to do any extended hikes.

Finally, I go to Calzado Freddys. A very dark, very smallish and older man, the lines on his face tell me that he’s been in the shoe business for a very long time. We seem to understand each other. One week is what it will take. 50 Quetzals will get me my shoes back with new soles on both. I am hopeful.

One week passes, I am back at the little store. Before he gives them to me, he has his assistant give them a good shoe shine and rub down. What service! I carry them back home, and put them on. And of course, they are not going to be exactly how I remember them. The height is a little higher, the walking a little stiff. But they are serviceable, I just need to break them in. And hopefully they will last the rest of the time that I am here.

 

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This last picture is the best for comparison between the before and after…I really did gain a lot of height once I put these new improved shoes on!

 

So, how is the workmanship, the quality? Well, I was skeptical at first. Every single hike that I went on, I also brought my sandals. Just in case while I’m trudging up the mountain path, the soles decide to separate again and I’ll be walking with a flappy bottom of my shoes. But thankfully, that has not happened yet. I have kept a close eye on them though, and the soles are definitely wearing out quickly.

And so I will don those pair of Rockports one more time. Tomorrow I begin my 6 day trek through the highlands, probably my last extended hike for the rest of my trip. After that time, I will retire my boots once again, and trade them in for wearing my Nevos sandals full time. So this story of my shoes really does not have an end, as the tale is still in progress. And I’m hoping for a successful ending, one where my feet are unscathed and unharmed, all because of the comfort and workmanship of my new and “improved” Rockports.

As I will be Internetless for the next week, I have pretyped a bunch of blog entries that will post here everyday at 12pm, including the topics of my near drowning at Semuc Champey, a weekend of hanging out in Xela, a trip to the famous hot springs, and more. So check back here tomorrow and the next day for more, and if you are really not wanting to get to that project at work or just want to kill some more time, you can also check out the Markus’ blog and photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/marco-polo/

But one thing — Markus has a super kick ass professional camera, so his photos are 100 times better than mine.  And he has some pics from places we’ve been to that I have posted up yet, so try not to cheat with taking any sneak peeks!  Those other photos will be posted up in time, so don’t go overload yourself with too much or you’ll experience the law of diminishing marginal utility.  Bye for now, but come back again tomorrow for another new post!

Another Twist In The Road: Home A Little Earlier Than Expected

March 31st, 2006

When traveling, there are certain dangers that one is exposed to whether perceived, real, within your control, without your control or a combination of the four.  These inherent risks are part of the experience of travel, when putting yourself out of your comfort zone and hoping that the experience will be favorable and one that you can live to tell about.  The travel gods and goddesses have taken a watchful eye over me these past 3 months, and I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to do and see all that I have.  However, my luck finally ran out.

The moment will continue to rewind and play in my head for days and weeks to come.  It’s like the Brady Bunch episode where Marsha is coming outside to the patio, and Greg and Peter are throwing the football around.  You remember what happens.  The football toss is just out of the grasp of Peter, and it slams squarely into the nose of Marsha.  What results is a big, purple puffed up nose and all hopes of her big night at the dance (or some event) is ruined.  And then she has nightmares as the scene plays over and over again.

The moment will replay in my mind like a Jean Claude Van Damme movie, where he does some kind of super triple somersault kick into the groin of the bad guy, and you see this one action replayed in slow motion, in different angles, with different sound effects, for like 2 minutes.  The same action shot over and over, just from different vantage points.  Just to get the point across.  And so it is with my mishap that brought me home earlier than I wanted to.

Like I said, I have been pretty lucky thus far, surviving and able to share my experiences of…

– Sustaining almost 5 weeks of my Survivor-esque food of tortillas, black beans, eggs and cup o noodles.

– Struggling through frustration on trying to pick up the Spanish language at my school, Sakribal.

– The ferocious pack of dogs chasing me down on my bicycle.  I’ll never forget how scared shitless I was with that one!

– Overcoming the sudden shock, disbelief and disdain over my rental bike being stolen — but then finding out it wasn’t.

– The hard hike up Volcan Santiguito through sweat, ash and dirt.

– Stumbling up Volcan Tajumulco after a night of food poisoning, eating nothing for that day, being dehydrated and trying not to shit in my pants.  And then rubbing life back into my frozen left foot when attempting to enjoy the sunrise atop the summit.

– 5 days via El Mirador, with all my mosquito and tick bites and plenty of sweat and blisters and heel burn on my feet.

– Eluding detection of the meandering swarm of bees as I awoke in the morning on top of Temple El Tigre in El Mirador, and then later that evening escaping harm from the approaching lightning storms from the same vantage point.

– Getting stuck in the middle of nowhere, despite the fact that I left as earlier as possible to avoid being stranded in a one road town.  What should have taken a 7 hour journey to my ultimate destination ended up taking 30 hours to go a total of 300km, or about the same distance of Portland to Seattle.

– All those countless rides on the chicken buses, with the crazy drivers screaming down the mountain curves and passing slower traffic by gunning it and swerving in the last second to avoid collisions with oncoming traffic.  Every single day the newspaper Prensa Libre has some grisly full page color photos of the latest bus crash and casualties.

– Same with the chicken buses, is riding in the back of fully loaded pick-up trucks, the last time with a standing motorcycle secured with rope, alongside 4 other people with our packs.

– Temporary electrocution in San Pedro trying to adjust the showerhead.  Most of the showers here in Guatemala are only heated by electricity, so be careful and don’t do like I did.

– And most recently, the panic of a near drowning in the river pools of Semuc Champey.  I am an awful swimmer when it comes to awesome natural surroundings like this, I was so ecstatic to have my feet back on the solid ground of Earth and dirt and rock.

 

So, what happened?  Here’s the extended Director’s Cut, complete with commentary and never before seen deleted extras for all you hardcore fans out there.

 

– EL MIRADOR RETURN –

 

Ah, civilization.  The sweet comforts of modern luxuries.  Kirk, Markus and I reserved a week earlier to spring for the best hotel in Flores, the Hotel Casona de la Isla.  3 comfy beds in our air conditioned room, with cable TV, private bathroom and toiletries!!  Time to clean up and then head for the outdoor pool overlooking the lake, and enjoying cocktails and snacks!  The following pics are all shrinked into thumbnails so that the page loads faster, if you want a closer look you can click on them and a larger photo will appear (I haven’t figured out how to reduce the size though so it exactly fits the screen).  Also, if you place your mouse curser over the thumbnail, a short description of the picture will appear after 1 or 2 seconds…

 

Taking a refreshing dip as the sun sets, right after my swim in the lake.

Watching the setting sun over Lago de Peten Itza

Another shot of the hotel's pool area. Nearby is the restaurant and outdoor bar.

 

Following sunset, we set off to a fancy dinner with our new friend, Dave from England.  Dave is quite a friendly lad, and shares 2 quick stories.  #1, when in Mexico City, avoid taking the cabs, as it is well known that the driver may take you to a section of the city where his friends are waiting to rob you.  #2, when in Shanghai, China, he was at a bar having a drink when he was suddenly surrounded by 6 or 7 of the locals.  The main guy stated that Dave was to buy drinks for them all.  When Dave refused, he was subject to the not so pleasant introduction of having his head bashed into the table.  They took off with about the equivalent of 50 US dollars, and Dave lived to tell about it.

Dave, from Britian, enjoying 3 weeks in Guatemala.

The whole gang for a fancy dinner. Rum shots on the house were offered afterwards!

Jerry, the girl at the top of the picture above, is from Norway and hiked Lago Atitlan with Markus and me.  She happend to be in Flores the same time we were there.  She’s one tough cookie, I could see her playing a kick-ass Marine in the movie “Aliens.”

After dinner, we went bar hopping to Mayan Princess, and then to the lakeside cafe “La Lunada,” where we were treated to the very loud chorus of frogs, watching a guy with a long, skinny boat with motor and flashlight, spear two fish in the water, and where I watched our 20 Quetzel tip lift off and flutter from the table on a wind puff that carried it over the railing, and down into the lake where I watched it float away into the darkness.

The lakeside cafe bar, the unintended lighting effects courtesy of my camera.

 

Markus and Dave continued on to find a local dance club, and Kirk and I retired back to the room, but found that the front door of the hotel was actually locked.  So we went around to the back, scaled the wall and railing to the pool, and minutes later we were back in our room, hard asleep in our beds.  And unfortunately for me, with a stow away tick.

So here I am with a tick attached to my stomach.  I go to the reception desk and try to request some tweezers.  I play charades, and she offers me a paper clip, and then a stapler, and finally she realizes what I need after I mimic plucking my eyebrows.  But she doesn’t have one.  I locate 2 British gals eating the restaurant and ask if they have any.  Nope.  Across the street I go to the convenience store.  None.  I am sent to a Papeleria.  None there either.  And then directed to a variety cosmetic store.  Jackpot!  I return to the hotel, where Kirk and his expert hands of dexerity carefully extracts the tick from my body.

The Tick, full of my blood and feasting for the last few hours while I slept.

 

Plucked from my body! Size comparison with the tweezers.

Check out was at 1pm, and after settling our bill, we walked across the lake on the bridge to Santa Elena, where we enjoyed lunch and then treated ourselves to Sarita Ice Cream before I bid my farewell to them and caught a minibus to Poptun, and then onto Finca Ixobel (finca = ranch/farm/estate, some open to overnight guests).  When in Santa Elena, you must go to Restaurante Mijaro, where I had the VERY BEST limonada (similar to a slurpee, but made fresh and by hand).  I can’t help it, I have to throw in this picture:

My wonderful greasy and huge burger and fries and limonada at Restaurante Mijaro.

 

– FINCA IXOBEL –

Stayed 2 nights at this wondeful little hideaway, along the Gringo trail from Flores to Livingston.  The finca is well known as a necessary stopover because of all the recreational and relaxational activities that you can participate in.  Horseback riding.  Hiking to the nearby hill for a view.  Book exchange.  Magazines in different languages.  Swimming in the pond with a small water slide.  Hammocks.  Stilt cabins.  Lounge chairs.  Board games.  Internet.  Bike rental.  Big, comfy dorm rooms.  Chupapas for sleeping in hammocks.  Cottages.  Evening outdoor bar complete with fireplace, darts, hammock, music and dancing.  Restaurant.  Hiking to a river cave.  Inner tubing on the river.  Hiking to a limestone cave.  Everything is on the honor system.  You write down what you use or eat or drink, and you settle when you check out.  In the evening, they offer a delicious dinner buffet with vegetarian options.  It was a little on the spendy side, but very good all around.  I spent my day just lounging, walking around, reading, and taking in a hike to the limestone cave.  Pics of the Finca…

Accomodations vary from dorms, camping, cabins and sleeping in hammocks.

Hammocks overlooking the pond. The bar is near the thatched roof structure in the background.

Enjoying the Limestone Cave.

Cave dwellers include this bat.

...and this spider, the biggest of which I've ever seen outside of captivity. This sucker was HUGE!

Hiking back to the Finca, the whole trip lasted almost 3 hours.

I shared my dorm room with a guy from Israel, 2 from Canada and another from Guatemala.

The main lodge for Finca Ixobel, complete with plenty of tables, chairs and hammocks.

 

 

– FRAY BARTOLOME DE LAS CASAS –

I left early Sunday morning to get to Lanquin, home of the Lanquin Caves and close to Semuc Champey.  I caught a regular bus to Modesto Mendez, and then a microbus to Fray.  This is considered a backdoor route, because the roads are unpaved and can get muddy and slow.  At one point, my microbus/minivan managed to squeeze in 27 passengers, quite the tight fit for the 3 hour bus ride.  I managed to get into Fray just after 1pm and thought that there would be a bus to Lanquin.  Unfortunately, the next one wouldn’t be until the morning.  So I was stuck.  Stranded.  And I hate that feeling of not being able to go anywhere.  Because it was Sunday, not many places were open.  3 Internet cafes were closed, and all the comedors were no longer serving lunch.  I was starving and settled for a cup o noodles from a tienda, and they were nice enough to fill it up with some hot water.  I also managed to secure a room, and walked the entire town in 15 minutes.  At least I was able to find a Sarita, and treated myself to a double scoop of ice cream.  I’m soo addicted to Sarita helados.  I spent the afternoon in the plaza, watching an impromptu futbol match.  Later the rain swept in during the evening as I tried sleeping in my cockroach infested room.

I pulled my bed away from the wall so the cockroaches would stay off me as I slept.

 

 

– LANQUIN AND SEMUC CHAMPEY –

I was told that the Lanquin bus would leave at 7am. When I arrived to the bus area, I was told that it wouldn’t be until 9am, then 10:30am, then 11am. Which time was it? I didn’t want to hang out in Fray for that long, so I wagered a gamble. Take a Coban bound bus and get off at the junction towards Lanquin, surely I would be able to hail down a bus towards Lanquin once I was at the junction.  The total distance was only about 40km, so maybe one hour or 90 minutes is what is should have taken, and then another hour if I was able to hail another bus.  So, two hours, maybe three, tops.  Unfortunately, it ended up being a 6.5 hour journey.

I took the wrong bus to Coban.  The guy on the bus said that it was going to Coban, but he failed to inform me that it took the northern route.  By the time I realized my mistake, it was too late.  So I rode all the way into Coban, and then caught another bus to Lanquin.  The driver of that bus managed to convince me to ride all the way to the end, to Semuc Champey, because he said it was much more beautiful and I would enjoy myself more.  So I took his advice.  In retrospect, I wonder what would have happened had I not listened to him, and instead spent my night in Lanquin?  Or perhaps the end result would have been the same, a fated destiny already predetermined?

I, along with 6 other travelers, were dropped off 1km short of Semuc Champey at Las Marias, a cool backpacker hangout with dorm and private rooms, camping area and bar/restaurant.  I signed up for a dorm room, and feeling my hunger twangs in my stomach, ordered up a plate of simple nachos (ie chips with beans and a little salsa sprinkled on it) and chatted up with the crazy gals Rachel and Ruth, or R&R as I call them.

Hospadaje Las Marias, set across the road from the river.

Typical accomodations. Dorm room on the bottom, or for less $$, the

The River, where we inner tube downstream from the cave and back to Las Marias.

 

 

– THE INSTANT REPLAY AND MOMENT I¨LL NEVER FORGET –

“Fucking WICKED” is how Rachel would describe the tour.  Advertised on the main board was a tour to a river cave, everyday at 9:30am and 3pm.  Since I didn’t have anything else to do for the afternoon, I though this would be a great way to spend it.  R&R signed up, as well as two girls from Columbia.

Please note that this tour is not your typical, run of the mill standard ”safe” adventure for the regular tourist.  This is a real excursion to satisfy the most demanding thrill junkie, a tour that has only been offered for 3 years and is not in any guidebooks or tour guides.  There is a brief description of the tour on the board, but it doesn’t go into great detail about it.  Had I known what the trip actually entailed, heck, I’d still go, but without the unintended consequences.

Las Marias was opened not too long ago by a Guatemalan fellow, who purchased a large tract of land along the river bank, which also included a cave that extends almost 3 miles into the mountain.  This is privately owned land, and 3 years ago he started offering tours of the cave with a guide, his late 20-something son (another guide, 22 years old, led my group).  What he has managed to come up with is nothing short of incredible, and puts the more well known Lanquin caves to shame (I ended up not visiting the Lanquin caves, but I spoke with a professional caver and he basically said that after doing the Las Cuevas de K’an Ba cave, I wasn’t missing much by not going to the Lanquin Cave).

We start out in front of the hostel by walking the dirt road that leads up to Semuc Champey.  10 minutes later, just short of the yellow bridge that takes you over the river, we do not cross as we continue along the banks on a foot path to the check in shack.  Here, we leave our inner tubes and our clothes and trade in our footgear for temporary shoes that we can borrow.  I decide that my sandals are good enough for the excursion, while Ruth decides to do it barefoot.  No cameras are allowed unless they are waterproof — this is a tour where you will definitely get wet!  Thus, I have no photos of the cave or the rest of the tour, so I hope my words will allow you to imagine what I experienced on that Monday afternoon of March 27th, 2006.

We hike up another path adjacent to water flowing down the hillside, to the entrance of the cave.  There is a pool of water at the cave entrance, which flows down the hill and to the river below.  Our guide, who speaks a strange tongue of Spanish (even the two Columbian girls had trouble figuring out what he was saying), hands each of us a long stem candle and lights it.  He is equipped with a headlamp and a lighter tucked away inside a ziploc bag, which he secures under the strap of his headlamp.

With our candles fully lit, we step into the water and wade into the cave, which is completely dark except for the natural daylight at the cave entrance.  The outside temperature is warm, but not hot.  The water however, is cool and quite a shock to the body as you wade in and the depth reaches your knees, then your hips, then stomach and up to your chin.  The whole time you raise the candle above your head, so’s not to extinguish the only lightsource you possess.

The guide goes ahead of us, and we swim deeper into the cave.  I am not that great of a swimmer, and I find it awkward to swim kick with my sandals on and with only one hand wading through the water.  At one point I feel one foot slip out of my sandal, and I stop to try and adjust it, as I do not want to lose my revered Nevados sandals!

The tour description never said anything about swimming, but I am game.  I have a guide, and 4 others to rescue me if I happen to succumb to the water’s darkness.  We reach a spot in the cave where we can get out of the water, and at this point, the cave entrance is completely out of sight, and all we have are our candles to light the way.  We continue on, gingerly feeling our way on the watery rocks.  It is quite slippery, and more than once I use my free hand to help guide me along the slimey wall.

Time for another dip and swim to the next section of the cave, and then up a steep incline where we spend a good 10 minutes examining a small area with many fascinating stalactite formations.  Next, it is down a different route where our guide helps us place our feet on the best route markers down, and then into the water again for another swim and careful hike on top formations, where the water flows are just above our ankles.  We are now about 25 minutes into our tour, and we reach a waterfall above us.  We pull ourselves up from the swim onto the side wall.  Here, in the strange Spanish he speaks, our guide gives us two options.

#1.  Scale the secured ladder to the top of the waterfall, where we will continue on to the next section of the cave.  The top is not too far from the ground, maybe 10 feet total.

#2.  Take the secured rope, and swing across the gap through the waterfall, and then once on the other side, pull yourself up on the rope and climb up to that top section.

Our guide proceeded to demonstrate option #2.  He takes the rope, swings right through the cascading gush of water, and once on the opposite of where we stand, he gives a Yi-Ha yelp as he scrambles up the rope and waves to us from the top.

Rachel goes first.  This New Zealander claims that she was a national champion for rock climbing and has climbed all over the SW United States, so this would be an easy one for her.  I watch her disappear through the waterfall, and then she ascends the rope with little struggle.

Ruth, the “I hate sports, but love Adventure Thrills” Britian goes second, and in less than a minute she joins Rachel and our guide at the top.  The two Columbian girls are ahead of me, and can’t decide which route to take.  In my excitement, I decide that I should go next.  Ladder or rope?  That’s an easy one, rope!

I make my way around the two, and step next the waterfall.  I spot the rope on the other side.  It is a large step to the other side, but one that I can make.  So I lunge towards the other side, manage to grab the rope, and then take the huge step back to my original position, using the rope to swing me there.  Now is time to experience the thrill of swinging through the waterfall and climbing up the rope to the upper level!  Ready, go!

I swing.  Tight grip on the rope.  It is dark.  My candle is being held by one of the Columbian girls.  And although it is dark, the other candles give a little light, and I can see torrents of white water crashing down around me.  I remember looking up, and my face getting a good, strong dousing of water.  And then I realize something is amiss.  I try to pull myself up on the rope, through the waterfall, but I am confused.  I am not on the other side.  I am in the waterfall.  I am able to stand on some piece of rock, and then the moment of shock hits me.

My face.

With one free hand, I reach to feel my face.  It is bare, naked.  My face no longer holds my eyeglasses.  They are gone.  Slipped right off in the falling water.  And now my vision is totally obscured, and in a hopeless attempt of “this isn’t happening to me”, I reach down near my stomach and shorts to feel around for my glasses.  They just slipped off and landed right there!  They are not gone, they have somehow miraculously stayed close to my body and all I have to do is feel around for them, recover it, and get back to the safe zone so that I may put them back on again.  Idiot!  They are not there, somehow attached to my body!  They are gone, gone, gone.  And down in the deep pool of crashing water below, probably swept further away by the water’s current downstream.  The moment where I realized they were gone is what keeps playing in my head.  The horror of it, my SIGHT is gone.

Somehow I make it back to the safe zone, and call out to the Columbian girls that I lost my glasses.  Immediate concern and pity for me.  What is very very very ironic, is that just before I took my leap of fate, one of the girls offered to hold my glasses for me.  “Nah, it’s okay” I told her.  Serves me right, I suppose.  I quickly scale the ladder, the first and only option I should have considered.  To the top, and I tell R&R, and the guide.  But the guide doesn’t really seem too concerned.  I can’t see.  I’m pretty much blind.  And I’m in a dark cave.  The Columbian girls take the ladder, and hand me my candle.  All I see is a blurred and fuzzy flicker of orange.

I’m in shock.  Is this for real?  Are my glasses really gone?  What should I do?  There’s a flight or fight mentality that is ingrained in each of us.  But in this case, which is it…did I fight or flight?  I decided to continue on with the tour, without my glasses.  If they are gone, then they are gone, and I have to continue with my fight.  Or is it the other way around?  Is the TRUE fight determined when I decide I will not accept my fate, and I will fight to try and find my lost glasses, and the TRUE flight is forgetting all about them and not bother to fight?  Does that even make any sense?  I can’t decide which of the two I decided on at that moment, but the fact remains I lost my glasses, and I decided to stick it out and finish the tour.  After all, I am in a dark cave, what can I actually see?

I pushed on.  More swimming.  More careful walking on slippery rocks.  And more swimming.  Some candles go out, but we are able to relight them with burning candles.  I am proud to say that my candle never went out.  We reach the end of our cave segment, a deep pool where we watch our guide scramble up about 20 feet high, and then cannonball through a kind of natural “hydro-hole” into the deep.  He stays down for a while, and we call out to him.  He is the guide, and he knows the cave.  He mysteriously appears behind one of the girls, kind of like a magic show where the magician disappears from the exploding crate and appears in the back of the audience.  Our guide gives another one of his famous Yelps of Excitement.  Then Ruth goes up and does the feet first dive.  And then Rachel.  But somewhere along the top, Rachel has second thoughts, and carefully makes her way back down the easy way.

This marks the end point of how deep we are to go into the cave.  Now, it is time to backtrack.  The girls are helpful and tell me where there are some unseen obstacles.  I am the slow one in the group.  Swim.  Climb.  Manuever and negotiate the tricky terrian under my feet and wet sandles.  Soon, I find myself back at the waterfall.  We each take turns doing down the ladder.  And press on towards the entrance.  It is maybe 20 yards from the waterfall when I can finally step into the middle of the water and feel the sandy bottom.  The water is just above my chest.  Maybe my glasses flowed in the water all this way and settled to the bottom?  I fruitlessly feel around the bottom with my sandals.  Behind me, the guide has taken it upon himself to dive down into the waterfall pool and with his headlamp, search for my glasses.  We wait.  For 10 minutes he searches unsuccessfully.  Well, I wish I could say it was 10 minutes.  More like 1 minute, maybe even a full 90 seconds.  He emerges from the water and walks towards us, and I am hopeful.  Did he find them?  It seems like he is holding something in his hand.  He is…. my glasses?  Please?   No.  They are not.  It is the ziplock bag containing the lighter.  Seems that he, too, lost it on his initial ascent up the rope.  Well at least he found what belongs to him.  Me?  Not there.  Or maybe they are there, just sitting at the bottom of the pool, waiting to be found.

More swimming.  More candles go out, and we relight them.  Then we come to a section that I am not familiar with.  The water flows down, into a little crevice.  And the guide explains to us, and R&R then explain to me, that we are to go down into the crevice rushing with water, and proceed under the water to the left.  Whatever you do, don’t go towards the right.  At this point I’m a little more than concerned.  This is supposed to be safe, right?  We never signed any waiver release form, so there can be no danger, yes?  But then again this is Guatemala, and this tour is from some private land owner not affiliated with the national park or anything of the sort.  I guess what freaked me out is that I only received second hand instructions.  I had no clue as to what I am supposed to do when I go left.  Is there an air pocket to breath in?  For how long do I swim?  Our candles are useless, we’re completely submerged under water.  How do I find the end, especially since I cannot see?

I was not going to go first.  Fortunately, R&R went first.  It was a little scary watching them step feet first into the crevice, and then with a push down and to the left, get sucked into the water.  Next, my turn.  I followed the hand motions of the guide on where to place my feet, and then my body.  “Izquierda” he emphasized to me, which means “LEFT.”  I was now in the water, about to plunge into the little hole and follow the flow of the water to the left.  No hesitation, I just had to do it.  And so I went with a big deep breath, for how long I needed to hold it, I knew not.  I felt the rush of water surround my limited vision, and scurried in the water towards the left.  It was less than 5 seconds later when my head emerged to air, and I could make out the faint flickering of a candle.  R&R were at the end, and the open flame candle that I peered towards had already been placed there as a guiding light for our party.  The two Columbian girls followed me, and then the guide.  As soon as we were altogether again, wading in the water, the one and only candle flame flickered out.

We were now surrounded in pitch black darkness, except for the headlamp of the guide.  We each still had our candles, and our guide took out the ziplocked lighter to try and light them.  But the water had penetrated the flimsy plastic membrane of the bag, and the lighter was of no use.  We now absolutely had no fire, no flame, no light for each of us to carry as our safety net.  Getting out now rested squarely on our guides shoulders.

Through the translations of R&R (mostly Rachel though) and the Columbian girls, the plan was to follow the guide’s light while we swam in the water.  There was no touching the bottom and walking out.  It was mostly swimming, with a few breaks of rocks or a ledge to hang on to or rest your foot on.  And following the solitary beacon of light on our guide’s head.  It was maybe only 10 more minutes from the time our candles went out before we spotted the cave entrance, and back into the fading daylight.  We were all very happy to reach the mouth of the cave, and though we were tired, cold and relieved, we were all pretty gung ho about the entire experience.

But our tour was not over.  The river cave exploration was only part of it.  Next, we continued up the mountain for another 10 minutes of hard walking to the viewpoint, where we could see the river below us.  Making my way up wasn’t as hard as I thought with my blind vision, but going down was a totally different story.  My depth perception is horrible, simply because everything is a big blur and my vision is like 400/600.  I can make things out, but only if they are really really close, like 6 inches away from my face.  Everything else is just out of focus.  And so on the hike down, you can fill in the blanks.  I slipped and fell.  But not down the mountain.  Just on the path.  I caught myself with my hands, but suffered a nice little puncture wound on my right palm for my troubles.  It hurt.  And so for the remainder of the climb down the slippery and sometimes muddy trail, I had to hold on to the hand of one of the Columbian girls.  She was my seeing eye dog, and I the newly incapacitated blind person.

Back at the bottom to the check-in shack, we hiked along the banks to a sitting rope swing tied up to a large branch over the river.  We each took turns taking the big SWOOP over the river, and back along the bank.  Further along was another swing, with even more rope to get us further over the river.  I had no problems with this, though I wish I could have seen better the view around me.

To cap off our tour, we walked even further along the bank and to the river’s edge, where shoreline allowed us to hop into our inner tubes, and make the 20 minute journey back to Las Marias.  But my afternoon of fun wasn’t over yet.  Because somehow, and I don’t know how this could be, but I ended up on the slow innertube.  Which sounds ridiculous, because the river is the same speed and logically if we all start out about the same time, we should flow down as one group.  But the group I was with eventually flowed ahead of me, and then really ahead of me.  Umm, I can’t see.  So as daylight turned to dusk, I squinted ahead to see any bobbing shapes that resemble people on innertubes.  And then I hear “Izquierda, izquierda”, which means I need to paddle towards the left to avoid the rock and the fork in the river.  Great, just great.  I’m in the back of the pack, I can’t see, and I don’t want to miss the turn off to the hostel and end up flowing down the river to who knows where.

But that, fortunately, is not how this tale ended.  At about 6:30pm, I did find the landing zone, got out of the water, and back into the hostel where I took a cold shower, because that’s the only one offered (no electricity will do that).  And then I had to recollect myself and figure out what to do in my blinded state of affairs.

 

– GOGGLEMANIA, THE NEW FASHION TREND EYEWEAR BY E’TAN (Edwin Tanedo) –

There are certain bits of travel advice that every guidebook preaches, such as have a copy of your passport numbers, credit card numbers, emergency contacts, prescriptions, etc.  This includes eyeglass prescriptions, or better yet, a back up pair of glasses.

I have to admit that when I packed for Guatemala, I didn’t allow myself enough time and did a pretty haphazard job of it.  I’d be fired if there were a job out there that I was hired to do.  I didn’t have my eyeglass prescription, it is somewhere at home in some folder in my file cabinet.  And my back up pair of glasses?  In my eyeglass case in my bathroom drawer.

Fortunately my only saving grace was a pair of prescription swim goggles from 2000.  Unfotunately my only saving grace was a pair of prescription swim goggles from 2000.  There is a reason why swim goggles are worn under water.  My swim goggles have a very old prescription in them, and I wish that I could say that my eyesight has improved in 6 years, but they have not.  So wearing them I could see slightly better, but it is not the type of prescription that you would want to settle for.

A few things going against any kind of plan for wearing the goggles full time.

#1 – wrong prescription, already covered

#2 – they are quite ugly and loud and they scream “ATTENTION HERE PLEASE”

#3 – they fog up / steam up every 2 minutes, which requires me taking them off and rubbing them with cloth.  The swim tip is to spit in them and they won’t fog up.  Well, maybe that works in the water, but that didn’t work OUT of the water.

#4 – the suction around my eye sockets is quite annoying, and no matter how loose I got the rubber straps, they were still too tight for my noggin.

#5 – things just don’t seem real, my peripheral vision is obscured by these white plastic frames that limit what and where I can see and give me a distorted view of reality.  It’s like I’m watching a movie in a vacuum, all my other senses are thrown out of whack and I end up getting headaches.

 

7pm.  Dinner time.  For 30 Quetzels, you get a plate of pasta, mashed potatoes, a piece of chicken, and 2 pieces of bread.  Talk about carbo-loading.  I sat at the table with R&R, and 3 other girls Amy, Stephanie and Renee.  Me and my goggles.  I quickly earned the nickname “Fishface” by Rachel.  We had quite the fun night, and not too much at my expense.  We all hung out, danced to some Trance / Rave music from Ruth, and then spent the last 2 hours into the early morning with Belgiums, Guatemalans, and three from Holland talking circles about politics –namely Bush (very heated subject there, all the foreigners I met that night hate him and so did my fellow Americans), terminology of African-Americans vs. Blacks, and other topics where no one would score any points.  At any rate, here you go, laugh if you want, Fishface below.

 

Modeling the new look.

Hanging out with R&R

Ruth checks out her selection of music CD's as the beer bottles are empty and more must be ordered

 

After a night of rest, I decide to go back on the 9:30am tour, to go back to the waterfall and scrounge around the bottom and hope to find my glasses. But the main guide won’t let me. Says it is too dangerous for me to be plundering around there with no lightsource. I don’t blame him, especially since I am not a great swimmer. My guide from yesterday is leading the 9:30 group, and he is told to try and look for it.  So I wait around, end up talking to an older Britian who has lived in Guatemala for the last 25 years and who actually mapped out the cave.  He brought 3 professional cavers with him on this morning, and they were spending the day spleunking the entire cave, an out and back.

When the guide returns, I am hopeful.  Amy, Renee and Stephanie said good karma will come my way.  Would I luck out?  Could I rip off these silly swim goggles once and for all?  My eyes widen in anticipation and he draws near.  Alas, the answer is no.  He couldn’t find them.

It is one thing to get an answer, it is another thing to discover the answer on your own.  I wasn’t satisfied.  For all I know, he could have done one dive underwater, felt around for 2 seconds, resurfaced and say that he looked.  After all, he didn’t seem too concerned with my dilemma yesterday, and as an added bonus, I was told that before the start of the tour, he should have offered me the glass strap holders that were hanging out right there at the check-in shack.  I’m not blaming him or the tour for what happened, it really is all my fault.  But I wanted to be the one to look, I wanted to be the one with the final answer, because the only person you can trust is yourself.  But in this case, I had to take his word for it.  I had to trust and believe that he looked as hard as he could.  Renee, Amy and Stephanie weren’t quite too sure about his efforts.  But what can I do?  He did his best (or so I am still trying to convince myself), and the area where I lost my glasses was quite deep, dark and who knows where they actually ended up.  As some form of consolation, later in the evening, when the 3 professional cavers returned, one of the guys confirmed that finding the glasses in that deep waterfall pool was at best slim and none.  So at least I had a professional opinion about the whole matter.  But nonetheless, I had to really face up to reality.  No more glasses.  No more sight.  Well, at least with those glasses.  Now, it is just me and my lovely goggles.

For the afternoon, I hike up to Semuc Champey, where I have my near-drowning experience, worthy of a separate post.  Then it was back to the hostel, dinner, and an early bedtime.

 

– ONWARD AND BACK HOME EARLY –

I wake up at 4:30 am, and with 8 others, board the 5am microbus to Coban, where R&R and myself manage to catch the 8am directo bus to Guatemala City, where I make the necessary arrangements to come home earlier than I wanted.  Go home?  I have to.  I mean, really, how am I supposed to enjoy the rest of my trip with swim goggles on?  SWIM GOGGLES for crying out loud!

I suppose that I could somehow manage to find an optometrist and have my prescription faxed over, but it seems more hassle than I am prepared for.  My prescription is in some file folder back home, and coordinating the whole effort seems too complicated.

And how about having my back-up glasses shipped over?  Well, seeing (ha, that’s funny, ’seeing’) that a package was mailed out in early February and I had yet to receive it, that didn’t seem like a good plan.  Maybe, maybe I would receive my back up pair in say, um, 2 months?

Then again, another option I could try is to just find an optometrist and have a brand new eye exam and get new glasses made, but according to the old caver guy, that would set me back around $200 – $300.  That blows 1-2 weeks of my travel budget right there.

My other option was to go ahead and try out that laser corrective eye surgery, but to do it here in Guatemala?  I am not that crazy and adventurous.

And so it goes.  The only logical choice was to get back home.  I am not going to wear my freakin swim goggles for the next 2 months!  And thus, with disappointment, but also with some excitement, I arrived back home this past Wednesday night.  Back to the cold.  Back to some clouds, a little rain.  Back to the city.  Back to my familiar stomping grounds, back to comfort, back to my friends and back to the ease of living.

Back home to Xela.

Wha-what?

Xela?  You didn’t think I’d actually come back to Home Home, Portland, did ya?  Just because I can’t see?  Just because of my one setback with losing my glasses and with it my vision?  Ha, you all know me better than that!  I am Mr. Stubborn, Mr. Hard-headed, that’s me, don’t be a hater!  Come home, Portland-Schmortland, nah… I still have time left to play down here, I can’t come back now.

So there, I’m not back in Portland, April Fool’s!!  I had to slip that in one day ahead of my favorite day of pranks and practical jokes.  Everything else in this post is absolultely true, but coming home?  My temporary home is Xela, Quetzeltenango, Guatemala.  I’m not due back to Portland until end of May / early June, or until all my money runs out (and had I elected eye surgery or a new exam and glasses, I definitely would have been coming home within weeks with that blown budget!!).

So what exactly did I do?  I went back to Guatemala City.  Frantically searched all over Zone 1 for an optometrist lead I received from the old caver.  When I couldn’t find it, I tried to catch the 1pm bus back to Xela.  But when I arrived at the bus station, the bus wasn’t to leave until 2:30.  With the limited time I had, I managed to find an optical store.  And in my sorry and broken Español, I was able to explain my situation to the optometrist, and convinced him to do this:  take out the plastic lenses of my swim goggles, and put them into the cheapest frames he had.  30 minutes later, and I had a temporary pair of cheap and funky looking eyewear.  Not as fashionably loud as the blue frame swim goggles, but more subtle and not drawing much attention.  These glasses are not the ideal, but I can put up with this for another 2 months until I get back home to my brand new glasses.  So, the new me, sporting the new cheap frame look…

My cheap plastic frames. Total cost, $30. Old lenses, but a temporary fix for a temporary problem.

 

So that my friends and family, is my story of how I arrived back home to XELA, a few days earlier than I wanted to.  And upon my return, I was ecstatic to learn that the 3 packages sent from the states months ago had finally arrived to Sakribal.

So, a big thumbs up THANKS goes to Jonas, Amy and Adam for the wonderful spread of good cheer sent in a box full of gourmet delights!  And since I’ll be doing a 6-day trek in a few days, those Powerbars will sure come in handy!  And rock on Beavernation, supporting my school with the Beef Jerky…

 

My food care package...I love the Beaver jerky, nice touch!

 

And thanks also to Lisa for sending my replacement card reader so that I can actually post these pics, and to Jeff for being an awesome roommate and keeping all the bad guys away from my really really cool personal smoothie blender.  And mom, I know you were probably convinced that I did fly back home, sorry to give you a little April Fool’s, but you know that I’ll be back home in a couple of months.

Fishface signing off for the weekend, check back Monday for an entirely new (and shorter) post about my last few weeks!

One more thing

March 24th, 2006

Wanted to give a shout out to Nicole and Amy, both celebrating birthdays this weekend.  Feliz Cumpleanos!  And more cool stuff about ticks…

Ticks are the leading carriers of diseases to humans in the United States, second only to mosquitoes worldwide. It is not the tick bite but the toxins or organisms in the tick’s saliva transmitted through the bite that cause disease.Ticks are arthropods, like spiders. There are more than 800 species of ticks throughout the world. They are responsible for carrying such diseases as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, babesiosis (Texas fever), ehrlichiosis, and tularemia (also transmitted via rabbits), as well as Colorado tick fever and Powassan (a form of encephalitis).

In addition to disease transmission, ticks can also cause tick paralysis. This condition occurs when neurotoxins in the tick saliva make you ill; cause paralysis of the body; and in extreme cases, can stop you from breathing in extreme cases.

Two groups of ticks are important to humans because of the diseases they can transmit:

  • Hard ticks have a tough back plate or scutum that defines their appearance. The hard ticks tend to attach and feed for hours to days. Disease transmission usually occurs near the end of a meal, as the tick becomes full of blood. Some of the more common hard ticks are these:
    • American dog tick
    • Wood tick
    • Deer tick (they carry Lyme disease)
    • Lone star tick
  • Soft ticks have more rounded bodies and do not have the hard scutum found in hard ticks. These ticks usually feed for less than 1 hour. Disease transmission can occur in less than a minute. The bite of some of these ticks produces intensely painful reactions. Two common soft ticks found in the United States are the Pajaroello tick and spinose ear tick.
  • Outbreaks of tick-related illnesses follow seasonal patterns as ticks evolve from larvae to adults. They hide in low brush to hitch a ride on a potential host. Ticks require a “blood meal” to grow and survive, and they are not very particular upon whom or what they feed. If these freeloaders don’t find a host, they may die.
    • Once a tick finds a host—such as you, your pet, a deer, a rabbit—and finds a suitable site for attachment, the tick begins to burrow with its mouthparts into exposed skin. Tick mouthparts are barbed, which helps to secure them to the host.
    • Often the tick secrets “cementum” to more firmly anchor its mouthparts and head to the host. Ticks may secrete or regurgitate small amounts of saliva that contain neurotoxins. These nerve poisons cleverly prevent you from feeling the pain and irritation of the bite. You may never notice the tick feeding on you. The saliva may contain a blood thinner to make it easier for the tick to get its blood meal.

Okay, now I’m really going now, hopefully I can find internet access at my next destination, I doubt it, but check back next Monday for my Tick update!  Yeah, right on man, ticks SUCK.  (another bad pun intended)…

HATE is such an angry word

March 24th, 2006

After 5 days of hiking over 100 km through the hot, sweltering jungle of El Peten to see the ancient preclassic Mayan ruins of El Mirador, and after over 100 mosquito, tick and flea bites all over my legs, face, neck, wrists, arms and hands, I can say that I have almost survived this trek. But I am not out of the woods yet, pun intended. I guess this would be a good time to say that guides have gotten a bad rep over the last 3 years because they did not bring enough food and water supplies for their clients, or in some cases, they pull out their machetes to demand more money or whatever. Just a few weeks ago, an American named Eli related this story to me about a group that experienced the guide from hell. So during day 2 when Markus, Kirk and I were being driven hard through the jungle at a demanding pace and all of our things were on the mules behind us on the trail, we had a momentary thought of “We are in the middle of nowhere and we don’t have any of our supplies with us.” But now back in civilization, I am glad to report that we made it back safely and our guides were excellent and we were well taken care of.

After wearing the same shirt and same pants for 6 days (but I did change my socks and underwear!), the stickiness of my body sweat combined with sunscreen and inspect repellent spray and repellent lotion, made for one dirty and smelly guy. Combine that with 2 other dudes wearing hiking shoes for that period, and when you take us together as we take off our shoes and socks in our hotel room after our excursion, LOOK OUT, biohazard zone! We found the best hotel we could in Flores with AC, a pool, hot showers and cable TV. We’re splurging and we deserve it. I had my scoop of chocolate ice cream last night, and my pancakes this morning. All seems pretty good.

But there is something I just have to say. There are not many things I hate in this world. That is such a strong and aggressive word, “HATE.” But I can now say that after one week of putting up with this, with passion and full of scorn, I declare war and HATE towards mosquitoes and ticks. The ironic thing is that this is the best season to hike El Mirador, as the rainy season just brings them out in droves.  But I still have had my fair share of these blood sucking agents of disease and marks all over my body.  And unfortunately, despite being back in luxury accomodations, we didn’t quite manage to rid ourselves of all jungle creatures.  As I type this I am keeping a close eye on my little friend, TICK, attached to my stomach and getting bigger and bigger.  I tried to drown it out in a hot shower and now after spending some time on the internet, it shows that I should remove it as soon as it is discovered.  Well great.  I thought it would just have its fill and detach itself from my body when it is full.  Man I wish I knew more about this things BEFORE it happens.  So I’m done with this internet, I’m heading back to our room to see if I can find some tweezers.  Sheesh.  I better not get some stupid disease or infection or tick paralysis.  I’ll be back in Xela in another 8 days and should have a full detailed trip report about El Mirador.  Or maybe you’ll see me back in Portland sooner because I’ve developed a severe reaction to whatever I’m carrying in my body.  Maybe this is some super undiscovered new breed species of tick and I have little ticks traveling all throughout my body and I’ll slowly transform into a tick.  Wow, too many horror movies I guess.  Okay, I’m outta here, me and my little friend TICK, which I HATE.

Sunday market trip to Chichi

March 20th, 2006

While I am spending the week hiking to the Mayan ruins of El Mirador north of Tikal, please enjoy some pics of previous weeks in and around Xela. A big thanks to my bud Yuhwen from Chicago, who has generously let me use her card reader to upload these photos. Check back each day as I’ll have other photos and trips posted to this blog.

Today is a recap of my visit to Chichitenango, home of one of the biggest crafts and vendor markets in Central America. Every Sunday and Thursday the town is transformed into hundreds of vendors and stalls selling everything from livestock, food, fabrics, masks and other crafts.

On one Sunday I had signed up with my school, Sakribal, to go with a maestro and another student, Chelsia, to the market. We were supposed to leave at 7am, but by 7:15 when no one had shown up, I decided to go on my own. Fortunately the day before, I ran into another acquaintance from another school, and she had mentioned that her school was also going. So I figured I could try to find her and hitch a ride…

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I stowed away on this bus with students from Xelas Maya. On this week they had almost 100 students in the school, and about 40 took the trip to Chichi.

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Bus stop with a view.

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Another view of the countryside around and below.

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Walking through the market to the Mayan ceremonial ground. I was accompanied by 6 other students and 2 maestros from the school. Otherwise there are independent guides hanging around the town offering their services to tourists for a small fee.

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Hiking up to get to the ceremonial site.

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The ritual site for Mayans, combining Christian beliefs with indigenous ones.

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Offering alcohol and other gifts.

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Lots of handcarved masks.

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The place can get very crowded, watch your pockets and wallet!

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Offering beautiful materials.

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More beautiful fabrics for scarfs, blankets, ponchos and more.

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Rows and rows of vendors.

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Hot sweet milk with rice for only 25 cents.

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I also tried a local meal… fried chicken, fried papas, salad, tortillas, beans and a gaseous (soda pop). Not bad for about $3.

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A shot from the street.

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One more look at the colors of the fabrics before heading back on the bus and back to Xela

Explicit Photos

> You are forewarned. Do not scroll down if you are
> easily offended or just had something to eat, or are
> about to eat something. Very very very very
> explicit photos, Rated X for Xtreme resemblence to
> something you shouldn’t eat!
>
> A few weeks back in my first homestay, one of my
> blog posts decribed a breakfast that I received that
> was basically a bowl of frijoles negros, boiled
> platanos and cream. One or two bites and I could
> take no more. So when my host mom wasn’t looking
> (which is easy to do because she rarely ate with me
> — actually, she NEVER ate with me at breakfast), I
> found a plastic tumbler and and dumped the food
> stuff in there. I took it to my room to smuggle it
> out later, but it ended up being two days later. Oh
> where, oh where could I dump this beautiful
> breakfast? The pics need no explanation, here they
> are without further ado.
>

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

March 17th, 2006

Hope you have at least one piece of green on today, cause today is the time to celebrate St Patrick’s Day! It’s not a big deal down here in Guatemala, but it is important to at least acknowledge St. Patrick on this Friday, March 17th. For those that have been raised in the public schools or on the Star Trek version of the history of St. Patrick, you have been misled by the corporate marketing machines of McDonald’s, General Motors and Enron.

Saint Patrick is not named after ESPN anchor Dan Patrick. And he is not named after Volcano Patrick, only biggest volcano on Jupiter that has yet to be discovered because he haven’t managed to land a man there yet. Saint Patrick is named after his father, Saint Patrick Luis the Terrible IV. A renowned and legendary pirate known the world over, his son, SPLT V took up his father’s trade and carried on the family name and tradition as his forefathers before him.

However, one day the political climate changed and with it, the the old days when Vikings traded salts, pelts and oil for currency had moved on to a more streamlined and efficient means of economy. SPLT V soon found himself out of work when an embargo was placed on foreign built ships. The pirate collective, once his friends and close brotherhood of warriors, chose to reject any of his efforts to maintain ties. So, with his Japanese built vessle, he sailed around the world 6 times with his family, before finally ending up in modern day Guatemala.

Here, he met the local natives and introduced the exotic spice, “canela”, to add flavor to their mosh, eggs, frijoles negros and cup o noodles. Word spread about this incredible condiment, and since Ebay had not been invented yet, rulers from nearby villages and from further away sent their representatives to negotiate with Saint Patrick on setting up trade routes and exchanges. Saint Patrick really enjoyed his new found status of acceptance, and instead of retorting back to his old pirate ways of plunder and pillage, he shared in his wisdom and skill with no need for favors returned. Unfortunately, the collective heard about his generosity and were angered by this. Why would a pirate go soft and have a change of heart? With that, they set up a bounty on him. Years of eluding bounty hunters finally caught up to him, when Saint Patrick was captured by the most famous hunter of all, Jango Fett. The discovery of these new lands made headlines in Europe and other populated
areas, and consequently, opened up the possibilities for other kings’ explorers to claim land for their rulers. As an unintended consequence, these lands were soon overrun with other conquerers such as Spanish conquistador Pedro Alvador. So although Saint Patrick is known around these parts for intruducing cinnamon to the locals, he is also known as the man who brought in the foreign invaders, and thus, any celebration for him is not done with big fanfare or in the honorary tradition of other countries.

Well, maybe in another parallel universe anyways. Please check back each day beginning this Monday at 12pm as I’ll have entries actually related to my travels posted to this blog, but in the meantime, enjoy your personal celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, whether it be with green beer, a viewing of the classic “Leprechan 5 in Space” or indulging in Shepard’s Pie, Irish Dancing and music at Kell’s.

Postnote:  for some reason my entries for next week may post all at once over the weekend and may not pop up each day at 12pm as planned.  If this happens, just pretend that each entry has appeared at 12pm each day.  Or if you are just so super bored at work or whatever, you can read them all in one sitting.  I should have interent access again next week on Saturday to post my trip report from my hike to El Mirador.

Traveler Profile: Meet David

March 16th, 2006

I hung out with the Yale TGIF’s (Thank God I’m a Forester), Caroline and Bridgid in San Marcos, and after dinner we chatted with a fellow American, David.

 

David is a middle aged guy from Colorado, and has spent the last few weeks in Guatemala, Honduras,  El Salvador and Nicaragua.  The following are this thoughts and may or may not be the truth, but they are his feelings about the people and places he has traveled to.  Pretty fascinating guy, so I thought I’d share with you the most striking parts of our conversation.

 

– When he travels, he tries to keep his feet washing to a minimum.  Whether or not  he changes his socks every other day, or every other week, I do not know.  He does this so that when he is in a crowded bus or train compartment, if he wants some privacy, all he needs to do is take off his shoes.  The putrid odor of his feet are usually enough to get people away from him.  I am not  going to include his picture, so just in case you run into a traveler with really horrible foot odor, you might as well as him if his name is David.

 

– He doesn’t care much for India or most of the people.  He says folks that travel to and through India either love it or hate it.  He believes their society is corrupted by money.  You can’t trust anybody because they’re just trying to rip you off or take your money.  Kids, mothers, fathers, men, women, pets, cows and everything else in between poop and pee in public everywhere.  Sanitation is a huge problem.  (Sidenote:  my friend Shirley once told me  that there is a certain smell about  India that you can never forget…could it be the public bathroom odor she is referring to?).

 

– David adds that he knows a guy who manages a factory in India.  They make radiator caps for cars.  The failure rate is 6 parts per million.  Million.  But the the European automobile manufacturers rejected a shipmet because of the high fecal bacterial count once the boxes were opened.

 

– More India.  Electricity is not reliable, so refrigeration is a problem and you should probably eat vegetarian when you go there, since the chances of eating spoiled meat are high.

 

– He recounted an experience with trying to use the public buses in India.  Another Swiss guy was stuck in some town for 3 days, as transportation officials stated that all the buses and trains are full.  But David discovered that it is all a sham.  This particular town had this thing going where they steer all the foreigners and tourists away from the public transportation and towards private cabs and similar services.  This way the charge will be higher and everyone gets a kickback.

 

–  He doesn’t like dogs because they won’t leave you alone.  He prefers cats.

 

– He had his bag slashed in Guatemala.  On the bus.  His bag was in the overhead rack and they still got to it.  They didn’t take anything important, but he did have to spend some money to fix his bag and jacket.  He is the 5th person I’ve met that has had his/her bag slashed.

 

– Out of the four countries he has visited, he feels most unsafe in Guatemala, especially walking around at night.  He prefers to hike volcanoes and go to the natural areas without a guide, just on his own, but in Guatemala it is just about mandatory because of all the armed robberies that have occured on mountain trails.  He also says that in El Salvador, there is not one tree left in the  entire country (I’ve heard this from many people).

 

– In Phoenix, his brother puts the legs of his baby’s crib inside glass jars.  That way, scorpions can’t climb up the glass and into the crib.

 

One of the greatest aspects of traveling is meeting other fellow travelers, swapping tales and stories and seeing what makes them tick.  David is certainly one character that I had a fun evening with.  For those of you that have been to India or have lived there, feel free to respond.

Photo Tour of more Food

March 14th, 2006

While I am physically and mentally restoring my senses at the lake, please enjoy the following photos. Food is always on my mind, especially since I survived my first month on little to eat! But now that I am at the lake, I have carte blanche as far as what I care to eat! More tomorrow!

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My stash of candy from home. When this was taken, I had alread eaten half of what I brought. Today, most of them are now extinct. Only one Take 5, one BabyRuth and the gum remain. Conservation efforts have been slow as the Bush administration believes that we’ll find more of these gems somewhere in Alaska, but we’ll just have to exploit, er I mean explore, it more.

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The fresh icecream man!! For 1 Quetzel, or about 20 cents, I can get my wafer cone made fresh. I described this in a previous post, so here is the proof. It is totally portable and he can push it practically anywhere, but he’s main spot is in front of Parque Central.

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The magician at work.

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Tricks of the trade. He has his big metallic cylinder, which is placed on top of ice. He pours in some liquid cream and some flavoring, then takes about 2 minutes to swirl the cylinder around the ice, which freezes the sides and then freezes the liquid into a smooth ice cream.

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For another Queztel you can upgrade to a waffle cone.

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During our 30 minute morning break from classes, a local lady comes in with her home cooked food. Everything from tortillas with eggs and black beans (gee, where have I seen this before) to hamburgers, empanadas, cakes and more.

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We hang outside in front of the school on the tiny sidewalk. Right on schedule our fruit lady is there every morning at 10:30.

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Across the street from Parque Central are numerous food vendors selling a lot of great fried foods.

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Corn on the cob! But just be sure that you let the lady know not to SMOOTHER it in mayonaise and mustard before it’s too late!

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This vendor rocks, he has his system down and watching him perform his taco making ability is reminisent of Tom Cruise in “Cocktail” doing all those fancy bottle tricks. Okay, not as good but it is still fun to watch him make the tacos.

Renewal at Lake Atitlan

March 13th, 2006

I am dirty, grimey, tired, sore, and I’m loving it. I just enjoyed a huge serving of Indian food for just over $3. Fabulous soup, wheat bread, salad, rice, steamed veggies, mashed potatoes and a small glass of fresh lemonade. My body needed it. All the starch and the veggies. Because once again, my stomach was afflicted with the “Rejection” bug for most of the morning today.

Great, great hike. Beautiful weather all 3 days. Saturday’s highlight was cramming into a small sauna sweat lodge and dousing myself with cold and warm water. Sunday was a chicken feast at “Don Pedro’s” home. And today was a swim in the lake after all that hiking. I am definitely tired. Decided not to go back to Xela today. If I did, then I would have signed up for the full moon hike up Santa Maria for tomorrow evening. But my body needs a rest. And what better place than at Lake Atitlan?

Tonight I am in San Pedro. I fit in perfectly well here, because I am so dirty and have little money. Many of the gringos and foreigners here come here for the Spanish schools, the cheap food, cheap booze, cheap accomodation and because you can be unshaven, unclean and not have showered for a few days. I fit that description, so I guess this must be my place. A few months back I paid $9 to store my backpack at the Amtrak Union Station in Chicago for 5 hours. Here, for $2, I have a basic room with a bed and a door for my overnight rest. For $5 more, I could have upgraded to a more luxurious dormitory at another place, “Hotel Mikaso,” right on the lake with a rooftop terrace overlooking the whole area. But I need my $5 to treat myself to a good old American breakfast tomorrow — at a Thai restaurant. After breakfast, the plan is to take the lancha (small motorboat) across the lake to San Marcos, the spiritual and yoga capital for this area. But with the full moon on tap for
tomorrow, I’m a little worried about getting a room, since many month long workshops and such begin according to the lunar calendar. Maybe next time I’m down here I can try that out.

Woke up this morning at 4:10, where we packed up our bags and started hiking on the road at 4:40 under a setting moon (is that the right word? set??) and as the stars faded away to reveal the beginnings of dawn. We made our way to a viewpoint, where we had hot tea and started cooking oatmeal. And waited for the sun to climb over the peaks and fill the sky with light. Our view was over the lake just above San Juan Laguna, and after we had our fill of breakfast and the warmth of the sun, we hiked over to another viewpoint, and then down down down to San Juan. Many in our group developed blisters and hot spots on their feet. Fortunately I came away unscathed, except for sore leg muscles and shoulders. But I am definitely tired. And need to get back my step in time for next weekend, as Markus, Kirk and I plan to get to Tikal in one day/night, and then hire a local guide to get us to the El Mirador ruins. That’s the plan anyways.

And my plan is to bid y’all a good night. Check my page tomorrow, as I’ll have some pics of my favorite subject, FOOD, from prior weeks in Xela. Time to go relax now, although the food and accomodations are cheap, internet is expensive!!

A Weekend Hike

March 10th, 2006

I’m off early tomorrow morning for my weekend hike, my last week of school has gone by very fast and I’ve enjoyed staying with my new family and hanging out with my friends from school. Wednesday night was clubbing night at the only gay bar, dancing to the likes of Queen, Culture Club, Cyndi Lauper and I can’t remember the group that sings Y-M-C-A (is there any gay dance club that doesn’t play that song?). Then it was up to Kokolocos for merenge (sp?) and a different kind of flava. My stomach ache has gone away and I am ready for tomorrow’s hike? I spent this afternoon checking out a local art exhibit, and I thought I’d share some of the pieces for this weekend. There are a few other pictures sprinkled in there as well. Check back Monday for another post, I may or may not stay at the Lake as it looks like hiking El Mirador may be sooner instead of later. Enjoy the weekend!

The art exhibit is from the “Escuela Humberto Gravitar”. A private art school with students of all ages, these pieces are watercolor, acrylics, oils and other medium formats.

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Chinese buffet restaurants are everywhere in the world. This one we found charges you more if you DON’T finish all the food on your plate!

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This is the religious time of year, and this march from the church featured little boys and little girls carrying the showpieces.

A Memory Card Reader! Here are some pics…

March 9th, 2006

My replacement memory card reader still has not come, looks more doubtful as each day passes, but one of my amigas, Yuhen from Chicago, let me borrow her reader so I can finally upload some pics! Thanks for all your comments regarding the trip to Momostenango, and Mel your comment under “New Home, New Food” made my stomach rumble and caused it to begin a labor strike / protest against the real food I’ve been eating down here. Because once again my pobre (poor) stomach has been inflicted with the Curse. For the past few days I have attempted to convince myself and all of you readers that I can handle black beans, eggs and tortillas, but not just all at once. Well, it looks like I will now only be able to eat one at a time and not with the others, because this morning for the 4th morning in a row it was eggs, black beans and bread/tortillas.

My body finally said “Enough.” So in the later morning during my class, I had a horrible stomach ache, which I still have as a write this. I am just glad that I am here, close to modern restrooms (still can’t put anything in the toilets, though), instead of hiking up a mountain or volcano. I am hopeful that my body can recuperate in time for Saturday’s 3-day trek. When I sit down tomorrow morning for breakfast with those black beans and eggs and tortillas looking at me, I will just have to pass. Because my stomach can’t take anymore punishment and my body needs its water.

But at least my lunch kicked ass! Soup, grilled tortillas with melted cheese, cucumber and red pepper salad, watermelon and a sweet mandarin drink. Here are the pics of my new home and some of the food I’ve eaten the past few days!

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My room actually has a closet with shelves! And no bed bugs!!! It is spartan and small, but with a bed, desk, chair and a place to put things on a shelf, I love it!

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My bed, with actually SHEETS that are soft and comfortable. I don’t need to sleep in my sleeping bag and can actually enjoy sleeping in a warm environment.

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I have an outlet to charge my camera battery, and even a calendar hanging on the wall. Such luxury! (compared to my previous homestay)

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This picture was taken looking from the dining area into the central courtyard. The closed door ahead is to my bedroom, the open door is for another bedroom that my father’s sister is currently using this week with her two daughters, and on the right next to my room is another door for my small bathroom. The house is quite spacious, and my family could host more students but Olga, the school director, is quite strict about having more than one student per household (but having more than one student is quite the norm despite her rule).

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The dining room. The glass of juice is freshly squeezed mango mixed with water, sooo goooood.

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Chicken broth rice soup, a little out of focus because I was trying to be quick in taking my picture without being noticed.

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Lunch this week. Actual meat? And veggies? And a wonderful sauce? I definitely have been missing out.

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Breakfast mush and a roll. I actually like mush, which is a sweetened cream of wheat kind of hot breakfast.

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Chicken pasta soup.

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My lunch today, yum yum yum.

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My mom, (I can’t believe I forgot her name, so embarrassing) and her daughters in law Andrea (the really tall 5 year old) and Jemena, who will turn 3 on Saturday.

I will upload the rest of my pictures into my future emails, so while I still wait around for my replacement at least I’ll have the opportunity to post my pics from my hikes and other activities. And before I go, here’s a quick shout out to Angela, celebrating her birthday today. Welcome to the 30′s amiga, they are not as bad as you might think! Feliz cumplea�os!

A Photo Day Trip

March 8th, 2006

The following is an entry that was never posted, so
I’m trying again and hoping that this will work
because this is the last of my posts with pictures. I
still am not able to upload my pics from my camera and
my replacement card reader has not arrived, so enjoy
the pics!

Today I took a day trip with some
> classmates to Momostenango, which is about 30 miles
> outside of Xela. They are well known for their
> handmade wool blankets, ponchos and other woolen
> products. We took the cheap chicken buses from bus
> terminal Minerva to the home of a lady who sells her
> work in Xela. The following is just a pictorial of
> my day..
>
> IMG_4232.JPG
>
> From the bus stop at the side of the road (the bus
> will stop anywhere along its route), we hiked down
> the hillside to the family’s little plot of land
> complete with an outhouse, chickens and their work
> area.
>
>
> IMG_4234.JPG
>
> I’m not a weaving type of person, so I don’t know
> the name of these contraptions but they take the
> wool and somehow create these real kick ass
> blankets. It takes about one week to make a small
> rug or blanket.
>
>
> IMG_4237.JPG
>
> All the colors are natural and there are no
> chemicals used. Dye comes from plants, rocks and
> other natural products.
>
>
> IMG_4253.JPG
>
> It’s a family business, and the youngest 10, is
> pretty adept at putting together the designs and the
> carpet.
>
>
> IMG_4264.JPG
>
> A closer look.
>
>
> IMG_4276.JPG
>
> Judy tries her skills with a little assistance
> from one of the sons as Preston takes aim for an
> action shot. Judy and Preston are from Portland
> spending 3 weeks in Guatemala to learn Spanish and
> to do some traveling.
>
>
> IMG_4278.JPG
>
> The finished products.
>
>
> IMG_4286.JPG
>
> Dad shows some of our group different blankets
> from which to choose.
>
>
> IMG_4301.JPG
>
> Mom made some wonderful hot tortillas and tostadas
> which we filled with beans, guacamole, hot sauce and
> cheese. Deelish!
>
>
> IMG_4302.JPG
>
> Enjoying the food inside the little cocina and
> comedor area of their living quarters.
>
>
> IMG_4303.JPG
>
> Afterwards, we journeyed into Momostenango and to
> these strange rock formations.
>
>
> IMG_4306.JPG
>
> So, does it look like I’ve lost a little weight
> yet?
>
>
> IMG_4320.JPG
>
> A better aeriel view of the rock formations.
>
>
> IMG_4324.JPG

Our final stop was the mercado and church plaza
area of Momo, and then another harrowing ride back
aboard the chicken bus where we all got pretty sick
from all the “normal” driving (read fast, reckless –
by our US standards – and crowded). But we made it
back!

I really hope this entry posts to the blog with
the pics! More later…

New Family, New Food

March 7th, 2006

For my last week of classes I have a new family.  No, I didn’t do my homework to report back my host mom’s name, but her husband is Ernesto and he is a radio personality here in Xela and actually lived and worked in California for a few years a while back.  The home is only a 2 minute walk from school, which means that I can avoid all of that disgusting dust and smog fumes from the buses and cars on my walk to my first homestay.  Currently I share the home with mom and dad, as well as Ernesto’s sister Claudia and her two hijas (daughters) Andrea (5 years old) and Jemema (almost 3 years old).  What is very surprising is the level of maturity that Andrea displays.  Little Tonito from my first homestay was just that–little, tiny, with a mind that didn’t seem too advanced for his age.  As a matter of fact, the two German girls that stayed in the home commented that Tonito was stupid.  Andrea, on the other hand, has a highly developed sense of self and the world and is quite the intellect.  She is also almost twice Tonito’s size, and I wonder if she really is 5.  But she is, and will be 6 next month.  She showed me some of her tarea (homework), and I was impressed with the quality of the materials and books that her school sends her home with.  I’m wondering if the development of the two kids I’m comparing has a direct relationship to the schools or quality of education that they receive.  I know that Tonito goes to school for 3 hours per day, and I’m sure that Andrea gets at least that much.  As far as public versus private, I don’t know what type of school each goes to.  But it is definitely apparent that sizing up Andrea and Tonito, pun intended, shows that Andrea is quite a bit more advanced as far as education goes.  Just a quick observation I only thought about just now.

My food situation is improved, even though for breakfast this morning I once again had eggs, black beans, corn tortillas and bread.  Just can’t get away from it.  But like I said yesterday, there is a certain amount of care and preparation that is miles and miles different from my first home stay.  I’ve eaten quite a bit the last 2 days, and I believe that my body may go into overload shock from the quantity of food I have had the opportunity to indulge in.  So today I purposely did not buy any fruit, empanadas or other snacks during my break.  Funny how sometimes you set out to do something, and what you try to avoid still finds its way back to you.  Because despite my withholding of buying food, somehow I still ended up eating offerings of other students and racked up points for eating some papaya, pineapple, 8 donut holes (cinnamon, glazed, sugar), macadamia nuts, chocolate, half a Peppermint patty (one of my last remaining candybars from home) and something else that I can’t remember now.  Tonight I’ve informed my host mom that I won’t be eating dinner, as I’ll be going with some friends to the Royal Paris Cafe for the Tuesday movie and dinner night.  The film tonight is “Umberto D” from Italy in Spanish subtitles.  Since my Spanish is going oh-so-well, it will be interesting to see how much I can understand.  So I suppose I’ll need to report back tomorrow with my experience, as well as finding out the name for my new host mom.  I still think it’s something like “Aera”.  Hasta mañana.

Confession

March 7th, 2006

Okay, the whole thing about the hike and my stomach, it was all made up! I retract my statements. I only do this so that I can bring some peace of mind to my mother, who doesn’t take too well to how I treat my body. I am fine, I was fine, because I actually spent the weekend at the Xela mall, eating at the foodcourt, watching Hollywood movies dubbed in Spanish, and searching for the best price for a washing machine. So yeah, that’s how I ACTUALLY spent my weekend.

And because my weekend was so laid back and lazy, I have decided that I need more physical activity for this week. Well, aside from my physical demands on my mental mind for learning Spanish, I went ahead and signed up for the Quetzeltrekkers 3 day hike from Xela to Lago Atitlan. This one won’t involve waking up at 4 in the morning or having stomach ailments — at least that is not the plan.

This is my last week of Spanish classes, last Friday another Portlander, Judy, ended her series of classes. She’s now in another part of Guatemala on a Habitat for Humanity project–small world we live in! I’m surprised that I didn’t meet any other Portlanders today, but my school did get 3 from Connecticut, one from Denmark, one from Germany, and one from California.

Finally, for my last week of classes, I did inherit Kathy’s family. Last night my dinner was corn tortillas and black bean soup! And for breakfast this morning? Fried egg, black beans and corn tortillas! Unbelievable! No, believable! C’est la vie, and such is my luck. But know what? There is a difference in preparation. I cannot stomach how my last family prepared the beans and eggs and tortillas. My new mom, oh crap! I forgot her name!!! Aoer? Aeyr? Aeoe? Well, she actually takes time and care into her meal preparation, so even though I was initially horrified at the prospects of my dinner, I gave it a shot and enjoyed the soup and FRESH, hot off the grill corn tortillas. And my breakfast this morning? After I swore on Elvis’ grave that I would NEVER eat that combo of food again? Well, I didn’t break my word to the King. I specifically said that I could NEVER eat the combo of corn tortillas, black beans and eggs. Together. But I can eat 2 of the 3, or 1 of the 3. I have an out. And so this morning, I ate the black beans and the fried egg, but sin (without) the corn tortillas. Instead I just had a slice of bread. So I didn’t break my vow. I am still NEVER EVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER FOREVER eating that combo of black beans, eggs and tortillas. Well, unless I get paid over $1,000, then maybe, just maybe I’ll suffer the torture and those war flashbacks of climbing the mountain with my diarriah, vomit, dehydration, no energy, ailing stomach and 50 pounds on my back breathing air at 4000 feet. Oh wait, that didn’t happen. Nope, it was just a great story, people know that I’d never do something like that! So bring on those eggs, black beans and tortillas. I can take it.

I lie.

That is my kryptonite.

A Tale of Woe…

March 6th, 2006

Miserable. An experience I will never forget.

Vital Stats:

Number of hikers: 31 Germany, Australia, US, Bulgaria, Sweden, UK and more
Number of guides: 3
Number of times I threw up: 1
Number of times I hovered over the ground in throw-up anticipation: 5
Number of times I shit in the woods: 3
Number of times I practiced my Spanish: ZERO
Number of times I cursed under my breath: Gillions, kabillions to the 65th power
Number of medicine “pills” taken: ZERO
Number of times I went out of the tent from 4pm-4:30am (twice — once to throw up, the other to pee)
Food I ate on Saturday:
Breakfast: scrambled eggs, corn tortillas, black beans, 2 small portions of fried bananas, and a little bit of yogurt.
Snack: Trail mix! No, couldn’t eat any of it.
Lunch: PBJ sandwiches, salads, guacamole, chips, etc. etc. But once again, I couldn’t imagine putting anything into my system.
Dinner: Soup, pasta, cookies, bread. NADA. I ate a small portion of a chocolate bar around 11pm in the evening. And had a little tea that one of the guides got for me.

There is only one experience that has pushed me to my physical and mental limits. That was my first marathon, where at mile 22 I hit the wall and bonked. I had been averaging around 9 minute miles, but the last 4.2 miles were more around 11, then 12, then 13 minutes…I cramped up and had nothing left in my energy stores. I knew that if I stopped running, I wouldn’t even be able to walk to the finish. No stopping, gotta keep going I told myself. At the finish, I basically collapsed and medical personnel were there to assist me. The last mile was the absolute worse. I have no idea how I was able to finish. Just a matter of pushing pushing pushing.

The hike to Volcan Tajumulco was supposed to be a little more difficult than my previous hike up to Volcan Santiaguito. It is the highest point in Central America. The night before, I we went out to celebrate Kathy’s last days in Xela. After our weekly dinner at school, we went to a local bar and then to Casa Babylon. Somewhere between the school dinner and Casa Babylon, I unfortunately managed to score a stomach virus. Was it the strange tasting spaghetti that one of the teachers, Sylvia cooked? Maybe it was the yogurt liquado with melon at the bar? Or maybe the plate of meat that I ordered at Casa Babylon? It tasted really good, not unlike the funky taste I had with the yogurt liquado. Can spoiled yogurt cause bouts of diarriah and stomach flu-like sypmtoms? Whatever it was that I ate, the combination of the Friday night food intake and the Saturday morning breakfast at the local comador (restaurant) did not sit well. I can honestly say that I am damaged for LIFE. Never ever never ever forever will I eat the combination of eggs, black beans and corn tortillas AGAIN! Especially not after how it made me feel on the hike up, and then looking at it looking back at me when I spilled my stomach to the ground. There is now a definite association between black beans, eggs and corn tortillas that will forever be ingrained in my mind. I am traumatized.

I woke up Saturday morning not feeling so well. Once again, even though I went to bed at a normally good time of 11:30pm, I just couldn’t get any sleep. I woke up at 4:30 for the 4:45 meeting time. Staying at Casa Argentina, Quetzeltrekkers offices are right there so I didn’t need to hike 30 minutes to the meeting place like I did on Wednesday.

We rode the backs of pickups to Bus Terminal Minerva, where we took a chicken bus to San Marcos. We were early enough that we were all able to sit down. Then, at 7:45 we sat down at the comedor. And my worst nightmare came true. The breakfast that I shall not speak of. I had already felt a tremendous pain in my stomach on the ride over, and used the bathroom twice before we took another chickenbus to the starting point of our climb. Unfortunately, over half of us were not able to sit on the 90 minute ride. I was able to get a seat, but the bumps and the curves made me feel even more nauseated and in no shape to hike, let alone climb a mountain.

If it were different circumstances, I would say that the climb is not really that difficult. There is a lot of altitude gain, but the guides take frequent stops and we really go at a turtle’s pace, simply because the terrian is so steep. This was unlike my previous hike, were the pace was a little faster and it was quite the work out. The views were fantastic, that is if you take the time to look. Because most of the time, your attention is focused on the ground and where you walk and step. And for me, it was trying to support all the weight on my shoulders and not think about my ailing stomach.

Somehow I made it to base camp at 4pm. I felt like shit. We were 220 meters from the summit. Base camp is where we would spend the night and then wake up early the next morning to climb the final ascent to watch the sunrise.

I was so helpless and listless and had nothing left. Everyone but I chipped in to set up camp. I laid on the ground in a little ball. I was helped over to the nearest tent, where I collapsed into the tent in my fetal position for the remainder of the evening and into the morning. I missed out on the hike to the viewpoint to watch the sunset. I also missed out on the dinner, the campfire, the marshmellows and hanging out. Saturday evening was just miserable. I wrapped up in my warmest clothing in anticipation for the rough cold, but because of my condition I was hot and sweaty all night and I was just in pain. I must say though, I didn’t really get cold while I was in the tent.

4:15 am arrives. Time to gather together to hike in the darkness to the summit for the sunrise. We left around 4:30, I was in the middle of the pack. Still feeling like shit, I tried to keep up but fell behind. I took frequent stops, trying to breathe and trying to talk myself up to the summit. Good thing I had my headlamp, because it was pitch black and you were seriously climbing, using all four limbs to get up to the next ledge or clearing and resting where you could. The whole time I struggled, but others were in the same boat. It was a good hour of effort before I finally reached the top. But I was not out of the clear yet.

The top afforded spectacular views 360 degrees around, but when I am huddled into a little ball, sitting up against a rock with the fierce winds whipping all around, it is a little hard to enjoy. I stayed at my rock for an hour as we waited, and then watched the sun rise. But for me, staying in that position created a side effect that I did not anticipate. My left foot froze. Seriously, I just froze to the point of no feeling. I could feel the onset of tingles but didn’t think anything of it. It was when I went to feel my ankle with my hand, but couldn’t feel my foot, when I knew this was not a good thing. I couldn’t wiggles my toes, and when I tried to move my foot up and down, I couldn’t feel a thing. Such a strange feeling to lose feeling in a part of a body that you know should be working. I was able to get the attention of a guide, who unraveled her sleeping bag, untied my shoe and put my foot in the warm cocoon. I rubbed my foot and tried to move it, the whole time the sun coming up and everyone enjoying the scene. It was probably 10-15 minutes before I gained some feeling in my foot, and then finally when we left to go back to camp I was able to stand and then walk on it. But the whole sunrise over Central America was anti-climactic. So much hard work to get up the mountain, then when I get there, the wind is so freaking cold that I almost freeze my left foot off.

I don’t need to go over the rest of the day. We got back to base camp, I finally put some food in my system (oatmeal), and I made it down and back to Xela by 6pm. I will never forget this period of 24 hours.

Only my first marathon surpasses the physical and mental torture that I endured during this climb. What I did was stupid, but I am stubborn so I guess it isn’t surprising that I would push myself like this. But climbing a mountain in darkness, totally dehydrated and without food for the last 24 hours, dizzy and without energy, is just plain dumb. Miserable is the only way I can describe my hike up Volcan Tajumulco. I somehow survived on nothing more than sheer will and hard-headed stubborness. I know one thing for sure though. I have had my last serving of eggs, black beans and corn tortillas. Yuck, puke, gross, barf, Volcan Tajumulco.

So much to say, so little time…

March 3rd, 2006

Once again I find myself with very limited internet time, plus I still can’t upload all of my recent pictures, so a quick update before the weekend.

Phat Tuesday was much more than I, and the rest of the gringos I was with, than I bargained for. I need my photos to explain what really happened, but let’s just say for now that kids smashing hollowed out eggshells with confetti is putting it very very mildly. Our group of 6, and then 8, were targeted from the get-go, and while it was fun initially, things got a little out of hand and I think we left just in the nick of time before one of us might have become seriously injured.

Tuesday night was also the very last night of my homestay with my family. When I returned home at 10pm I noticed that the house had been re-occupied. Bags were left in the la sala, the lights were on. But no sign of my mom or little noisey Tonito. I took a last shower, packed my bag, and went to bed. But couldn’t sleep for the whole night. Which doesn’t help when one must go backpacking in a few hours. I woke up at 6am, left a note on the kitchen table with the keys, took the last yogurt in the fridge, and walked the 25 minutes to the meeting point.

The hike is the easiest of the 4 that Quetzeltrekkers offers, so I figured this would be a good way to gauge my ability. There were 8 of us, plus 2 guides. Totaly hiking time is only 3.5-4 hours, but with plenty of breaks and rest stops (including a dip in the lake) the total was closer to 6 hours. I thought that I was in shape. Yeah, but maybe not after eating half the number of calories that I am used to back home. The trek up Volcan Santiguito totally kicked my ass. I hate to admit it, but I was the weak wus in our group. I haven’t really backpacked with gear and food and 4.5 litres of water before. Plus my bag isn’t really that big, so I had to be creative with hanging our extra food and such on my bag. The first few hours were fine, just level ground. But the part after lunch was excruitating. My legs burned, I huffed and puffed and the weight on my shoulders was a huge burden. Plus I over ate during lunch and the immediate work up the mountain took it’s toll on my stomach filled with 3 P&J sandwiches, tortillas chips and guacamole, potato salad and lots of water. I am still feeling the soreness in my shoulders.

One of my calf muscles cramped up just before we arrived to camp, so when we finally arrived to our clearing, everyone pitched in with setting up tents, kitchen, etc. and I was the lazy one in the bunch as I “stretched” and pretended to be preoccupied. I did help thread one tent pole though, so I wasn’t totally useless! We were about 2km from the volcano, and during the evening’s trembles and eruptions, the clouds finally cleared away to reveal a beatiful night sky with lave flows viewable from our vantage point. Volcan Santiguito is the most active of Guatemala’s 37 volcanoes, and it did not disappoint. Any closer and we would put ourselves in great danger, as there have been deaths in the last few years with people trying to climb it and getting caught by rock projectiles and vents. So our viewing spot was just as close as I wanted to be, thank you very much.

I realized something during my overnight hike up the Volcano. I like being clean. I like having that feeling of a warm, relaxing shower and climbing into clean clothes. Because I hated how I felt coming down the mountain. Itchy mosquito bites all over my arms, neck and legs. Inhaling dust from the path. Having my shirt soaked in sweat. And being showered with ash. Our route was a beautiful one with changing landscapes and challenging terrian. Going through the trees, our path is narrow and we knock into the vegetation on numerous occassions, which means a shake, rattle and roll and the person behind you gets a fine layer of ash. I felt so dirty and grimey yesterday. Dank and stinky and everyone else was too. So as I type this all nice and clean, I know that 24 hours from now I’ll be back in the state of wretchedness once again.

Because despite how badly the “easy” hike Volcan Santiguito kicked my ass, I decided to sign up and climb Volcan Tajumulco for tomorrow. Common sense says I should not, especially in my body’s banged up condition, plus that fact that everyone I’ve talked to who has done the hike say that they froze during the night despite 2 sleeping bags, layers of clothing, gloves, hats, you name it. Yeah, I should probably just enjoy my hostel room and go out to dinner at Cafe Royal Paris or something. But nah, it’s time for another hike. Cause I’m stubborn, cause that’s what I’m here to do (learn Spanish? okay, I’ll bring my flash cards on my climb tomorrow) and what better way of spending the weekend than climbing up to the highest point in Central America, camping out 200 meters below the summit, then waking up at 4am to climb to the top and watch the sunrise? Well worth the 8 hours of freezing in my dirty clothes and my sore, cramped up muscles, I say. Well, I guess you’ll have to wait until Monday to see what I really have to say. But that’s the plan anyways. And with a HUGE group of 30 climbers, there’s bound to be someone who is more of a wus, more of weakling than I am. Forget about playing basketball every weekend and running marathons, I have the utmost respect for people carrying 50 pounds or more on their back hiking up a mountain, this is hard work! And so I hope I’ll somehow manage to get to the top tomorrow, only freeze for 5 or 6 hours, and come back Sunday evening (to my new family! Kathy’s family!!) to a warm shower, good food, and time to recount the hike. So while everyone is enjoying a nice Saturday evening at home or in a restaurant or in the movie theater, please send WARM thoughts my way because I will seriously be freezing 4000 meters above sea level (no idea what that is in feet, I missed that chapter in my econmics / home economics class). And before I go, a shout out to Megan who returned back to the states and is using the Spanish she learned at Sakribal for up to 5 hours a day, way to go! (okay I lied Megan, but we’ll just pretend, okay?! We miss ya!). Have a fab weekend all!

Phat Tuesday

February 28th, 2006

Quick post for tonight, got a lot going on. Today was my “last” day for classes, well until next Monday. I wasn’t particularly impressed with my teacher, so I’m hoping that next week I’ll have a new one, in addition to a new homestay. It seems like Kathy has made arrangements with the school director for me to inherit her family, since she leaves on Sunday to go back to Americas, Georgia and then make the cross country move to Colorado. So things are looking up.
I’m definitely excited for tomorrow’s hike up to Volcan Santiguito, I just returned from our pre-trip meeting and there are some great people going on the hike. A total of 10 people are going, which includes our 2 guides. One of the guides, Mark, is the fellow from the UK who attended Sakribal for one week taking Spanish classes and he’s a cool Brit that I hung out with a bit when he was in the school.
Tonight is also Carnaval, after my internet session and getting some food to eat, I’ll be meeting up with a bunch of other students to walk over to the fiesta. I was there ealier and it definitely looks like it will be a fun evening. There are vendors galore selling churros, pizza, sandwiches, candies, fresh potato chips (deep fried of course!) and other Gualemalan alimentos (food). They also have a small section with games–video, foozeball and skill games of chance. It’s almost like the Pepsi Festival Center during our Rose Festival in Portland, but this is so unique because of all the differences including amusement rides that are not powered by electricity–but by a guy or two using muscle power. Imagine a carousel with kids on horses and animals, but pushed by the ride “operator” to make it go! In addition, vendors sell hollowed out egg shells filled with confetti. The egg shells are decorated in different colors and tints (i.e. Paas Easter Egg Coloring Kit) and you can buy 6 for about 20 cents. Then, as is the custom here and in other Central and South American countries, you go up to strangers and smash the eggs on people’s heads! Either that method or you can buy BAGS of confetti and when you pass someone you literally take a handful out and throw it on or above the person. I found this out last year when I was in Costa Rica, so I’ll have the chance to relive the confetti rain.

The power went out last night for 20 minutes as I was eating my “dinner” (yes, I had my noodles with one tomato), pitch black darkness for blocks and blocks around, the dogs were barking like crazy and it was a strange and eerie feeling, especially since the night previous after our dinner at the Indian restaurant we passed by a house that is supposedly haunted, and believe me just looking at it gives you the chills. As a matter of fact, as I was taking pictures outside the big gates Markus and Mitzi got a bad vibe and left me before I knew it. Thanks a lot, leave me alone with the ghosts! So for a moment last night, in complete darkness and no one else around, I have to admit my imagination got the best of me for just a second as I felt my way around the house, up the stairs and to my room to find my flashlight. Light always makes things better! Something I tend to take for granted in the evening, and only realize it when there is no power for anything. At any rate, I headed up to the terraza to view the barrio in all its darkness, and above me the sky was simply phenomenal. Clear, cold night with so many stars shimmering in the night.

I’m hoping that tomorrow night on the volcano we’ll have clear weather so that I can see the stars once again with no other light around. I’m a little concerned about the hike because I am carrying so much weight (we all split the loads with tents, food, and 4.5 liters of water each) and I’m still sore from Saturday’s hike to Laguna Chicobal. But I’m still excited and I’ll have a chance to re-energize from my Spanish classes. So my next post won’t be til Thursday or Friday, enjoy Fat Tuesday and until next time!

Afternoon Activity to Zunil

February 27th, 2006

My Spanish learning runs from 8am-1pm. Later in the afternoon after students have had their almuerza (lunch) at home with their families, Sakribal usually offers an afternoon activity ranging from watching a movie video, talking a walking tour, playing a game like futbol, cooking, dancing, or taking short trips outside of the city.

Two weeks ago our afternoon activity was a trip to Zunil. It is about 10km outside of Xela, founded in 1529 with a mostly indegenious population of 6000. It sits in a very pretty valley framed by steep hills with the background of the volcano. We visited the town’s church and the Cooperative Santa Ana. A woman with ties to Oregon City joined the Peace Corps and worked for over 20 years in Zunil, setting up this co-op in which there are currently over 80 women who create their handicrafts and sell them inside the co-op and at markets in Xela. The woman died a few years back at the age of 90, but her obituary from the Oregonian newspaper is blown up and featured on a table explaining the history of the coop and how it started.

We also visited San Simon…hard to explain, so here’s the excerpt from the Lonely Planet book: “The image of San Simon is an effigy of a local Maya hero venerated as a (non-Catholic) saint. The effigy is moved each year to a different house. You’ll be charged a few quetzals to visit him and take pictures.” I didn’t take any pictures cause I didn’t have any money left to take the bus back to town, but locals go to him to make offerings of alchol and cigarettes and ask for blessings.

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Walking down the hill to Zunil from the main road. One of the teachers is leading our group. The sign to the right is for Gallo beer, the primary cerveza served in bars and restaurants and tiendas.

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Megan, Sofia and Markus share a laugh. The church is in the background.

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Walking down to the coop.

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View outside the coop from the terraza.

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Surrounded by hills and mountains.

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Check out the cool granny with shades!

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Just outside the door of San Simon. Markus talks to one of the kids as Megan, Sofia and Yutaka look on. The guy with the hat and sweaty shirt has just finished an intense one-on-two futbol sparring campaign with that little yellow ball.

Kitchen Confidential

February 26th, 2006

My host mom still hasn’t returned from her leave of absence in the home.  Either tomorrow or on Tuesday is the estimated time of arrival.  And then on Wednesday I’ll be taking off.  I haven’t signed up for it yet, but I’ll be hiking up Santiaguito Volcano and camping overnight.  I’ll be back on Thursday evening and will need a place to sleep, which will probably be a local hostel.  After yesterday’s hike with my classmates up (and down) to Laguna Chicobal, I’m a little concerned about how well my body will hold up.  I’m still quite sore from yesterday’s morning activity, and oftentimes found myself out of breath and needing a break.  Slow and steady.

And last night after the big futbol game and hanging out til midnight, I sauntered home only to find that my key didn’t work in the door.  I was locked out.  With my key.  That didn’t work.  No matter what I did, the door didn’t budge.  I began to think of what I should do.  I didn’t have any money to get a hostel.  And I don’t really know precisely where my fellow students are staying with their host families.  Maybe try and climb up to the balcony?  Or wait around for the neighbor (who shares the 2 car garage) to show up.  Maybe I should ring his doorbell and wake him up to open the door for me?  After 20 minutes, I heard Rolando’s door unlock and there he was! Perfect timing. But desafortunadamente (unfortunately), here was another opportune time where I really wish I could speak a little Español. He figured out that I was having trouble with opening the garage door because he heard my key in the lock and my rattling on the door. After he let me in, we inspected the door to find that it was a bit off kelter. The locking mechanism is in a permanent state of being locked, so I have to be careful about closing the door when I leave or I’ll be locked out again. In the end though, I was able to get into the house and promptly went to bed.

This morning. Should I go out and treat myself to breakfast? Or try to salvage whatever is in the kitchen and make myself something to eat? Friday morning was my first sight of a cockroach on the kitchen counter. It’s not a pretty site, with a bunch of dirty dishes and food left all around. An open can of refried black beans. Margarine. Some moldy tomatoes. Random tortillas in their plastic bags. Stale “bread items” in their plastic wraps (I tried a little crumble of one and decided that it just needed to stay in its package). Eggs. Cooking oil. Wilted red peppers (yes, wilted). Some other things I can’t remember at this point.

But I did spot a box of pancake mix. I have eggs. I have milk. I have margarine. So I’ll make PANCAKES for breakfast! Dulce! (I’m totally using my spanish in the mostest, worstest way possible just like this sentence). Any syrup? I look around. Yes! YES!!! It is maple syrup from… Canada? Yeah, it is in the shape of the Maple Leaf and it looks like it’s never been opened. It also looks like it hasn’t been opened because it’s been sitting on the shelf for a few years. Is there an expiration date for maple syrup? The power left in my brain starts turning out an assumption: this syrup was actually a GIFT that a former student brought. Just like my Portland calendar. But the syrup has never been used. Okay, perfect, brand new maple syrup direct from Canada for my pancakes! But wait a sec…what are these black spore-like spots on the inside mouth of the glass container? Surely it can’t be….nah. But on second thought, I don’t want to take any chances. I think the syrup has passed its useful life and has been left on the shelf for a reason.

So looks like no syrup for my pancakes. How bout some jelly? Sure, but the jam on the table looks like it’s been sitting in the jar for a long time. Plus it just doesn’t smell right. So no syrup, no jelly, and there are no fresh fruits so rule that out. That’s okay, I can live without those accompaninments. The pancakes will be just fine with just the right amount of margarine.

I get my eggs and a bowl. Get out the milk, which strangely is a little frozen. I take the pancake box and open it. It’s been used. That’s fine, there’s still plenty for me to make 2 or 3 pancakes. I take a whiff of the powdered mixture. Can’t really smell anything. So I pour some of it into a bowl. And I get the pancake mix and a little bit more than I was expecting. No, that’s a lie. At this point I can only expect the worst. And on this morning, I expected that I was not to have my pancakes. Because something else had already gotten to that pancake mix and invited his/her entire family. But I reckon that they had too much of a good thing because all the little friendly insecto critters were already dead. And if they are already dead, then that means cooking them even more will do me no harm, right? But wait…why are they dead in the first place? Maybe it’s because the pancake mix is 5 kabillion years old! With remants of some galactic asbestos-esque toxin that renders its victims dead in a few minutes.

Suffice to say, no pancakes for me on this morning. Just don’t tell my host mom that I snooped around the kitchen, as this is confidential information and I just want to last my last 2 days and be done with it. Hopefully when I return to classes next week I’ll inherit Kathy’s family, or Chelsia’s or anyone else instead of my current mom. I can’t believe I’ve lived in this home for over 1 month now. Aside from the food portions, food variety, lack of definite eating times (general outlines only apply, plus or minus 1.5 hours, but always the former), bed bugs, shortage of toilet paper, questionable kitchen food handling practices, lack of Spanish language practice and little adorable Tonito making loud action figure noises and running right up to me screaming and laughing while I’m trying to take a nap on the living room couch, I have no issues whatsoever and am glad that I have something fun to write about in my blogs. I mean, it would just be awful if all my blogs were “I had a wonderfully delicious meal filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, juices and this situation rocks, I don’t want to leave!” Nah, that would be boring and I wouldn’t truly appreciate all the great things that I take for granted back home. So this is a good thing, a blessing in disguise. I’ve said it all along and I’ll say it again. At least this experience has allowed me to lose 256 pounds during my month here. I’ve always wanted to go on Jeopardy and buzz in for every answer and give the wrong response, just to see how many points I can be behind before the final Jeopardy round. Same thing applies here. Is it humanly possible for me to lose weight in the negative so that when I return I’ll be -160 pounds? But if I go to Pluto then I’d weigh like 5 million tons. Just stuff to ponder as I wrap this Sunday evening up. Okay, so that’s our little secret. I haven’t exactly enjoyed my homestay, it has been fine for what it is, but I’m glad it’s coming to its end. “Well hey dummy, if this is so bad then why didn’t you just change in the first place?” Great question whoever posed it, or perhaps everyone has posed it but just to be nice haven’t said anything. Well here’s my answer. I have NONE. Nope, nothing, goose egg, nil, no rhyme or reason. I just decided to “suffer” because I know that I can take it. I might not necessarily be happy with it, but I suppose I just look at it as a personal challenge. Sort of like how I was going to move to Houston a year and a half ago just because it sounded like such a challege. #1 most unfit city in the USA. Traffic snarls and near the top 3 cities with smog/pollution. Heat and humidity. No urban planning, just sprawl everywhere. Yeah, a challenge. Just like reading this post is! I better stop here before I dig myself a bigger hole from which there is no possibility of crawling out. So let’s just say that I was enjoying myself so much trying to figure out what new surprise would pop up in my homestay that I just didn’t want to leave because then that would take all the fun out of it. Does that make any sense? Probably not, but then again, eating eggs and refried black beans everyday can affect your common sense, of which I’ve totally exhausted.

My disclaimer. Despite all the fun I’ve had during my last month in my homestay, mine is a unique situation and many (all) of my fellow students have had the exact opposite experiences. Well, I’m sure that they would have their own incidents and stories, but for the most part their experiences are filled with good food, warm (and sometimes too hot) showers, good families and lifelong relationships. Maybe I’ll get that during my next homestay next week, only time will tell. So that’s all I have for this night, time for me to go home to enjoy my last instant cup o noodles shrimp flavor (with an extra packet of hot sauce, gee whiz aye caramba!) and one of the last unmoldied tomatoes with my host mom’s killer dressing (I need that recipe). And tomorrow I’ll probably have my infant formula cream of wheat hot cereal, it works so well as a breakfast because it doesn’t upset my stomach and tides me over for 2.5 hours before our morning break where I end up buying a meal fit for king for under $5. Now I’m rambling, so that’s all the rambling I have until tomorrow night!

No Mas

February 24th, 2006

Good and bad.  Up and down.  That’s how my Spanish and overall stay in Xela has been for the past 2 days.  Yesterday I had a nice little blog going but then the Internet Cafe (not really a cafe since they don’t really have any snacks or drinks, it’s just a place with 20 computers to use) experienced a total power failure.  Wasn’t their fault, as the power went out for about a 3 block radius grid.  But still, kind of a bummer.

And Wednesday night I went home for my 7:30 dinner which turned into 8:45.  Alas, it was the same old 2 eggs over hard with a tortilla and refried black beans.  Nice.  And then that evening my mom and Tonito did actually take off.  But first she showed me what I had to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next 5 days while they would be gone.  Let’s see.  Milk.  Sliced white bread (the same loaf from 2 weeks ago).  3 little servings of yogurt.  Instant cereal (actually, it’s “cream of wheat” for infants…up to age 3.  And I ate this for 4 of my mornings?  I’m saving the box to show you all when I get back.  I’m eating baby food for breakfast!).  Eggs.  One can of sardines.  3 Cup o Noodles.  And one Top Ramen noodle package.

She did manage to arrange for a neighbor to cook me lunch for Thursday, Friday, Monday and Tuesday.  But the only problem was that on Thursday, I was invited to Kathy’s home for lunch so I left a note on the house door (in Spanish) requesting her to just leave the food on the table.  When I returned, no food.  To make a long story short, what happened was that she couldn’t get in the door, as she couldn’t figure out how to use the key to unlock the metal door.  It happened to me the very first time I tried it, so I can understand that.  I was told that she’d be there at 2pm on Friday.

Let me tell you about the lunch at Kathy’s homestay!  It was an amazing spread, I almost cried in disbelief!  There is a saying down here:  “estomago lleno, corazon contento.”  Translates to my stomah is full, and my heart is content.  Oh so true.  I was treated a bowl of meatball soup with pasta.  Accompanied by FRESH corn tortillas with the best guacamole ever, with hints of lime.  Plus Kathy’s mom made a fresh berry liquadora, and to finish we had slices of sandia (watermelon).  So fresh and so good.  Man, I’m totaly missing out.  I was so happy and so full.

Forward to today.  After another miserable outing and my last day with my teacher, I was looking forward to another hopefully good lunch.  At 2pm, I heard the doorbell ring.  I sprang to the door, only to find a guy selling brooms door to door.  This wasn’t looking too good.  So I busted out one of my Cup o Noodle soups, and had that with a tomato.  Later at 2:30 I walked over to the neighbor’s home.  And this is where I could have really used my Spanish that I still haven’t learned after 5 weeks of school.  She just started rambling and I could barely decipher the context of what she was trying to communicate.  But apparently no lunch today, we’ll try again on Monday.  It will be ME going to her home at 1:30 to get my lunch.

I’m not hiking El Mirador.  Will have to save that for another time.  But I did decide to take some time off.  I will go back to school on Monday and Tuesday and leave on Wednesday.  I was going to leave on Sunday but then my host mom has no idea of what is going on, so at least I’ll stick around long enough to say good bye to her.  I’ll either be doing a 3 day hike starting on Wednesday with a local trekking outfit, or I’ll take the chicken bus to Lake Aitilan and hang out there for a few days.  It’s supposed to be a cool place with a bunch of little towns surrounding it with their own charms and flavors.  One of the students also said that she spent a week there and it wasn’t enough time, it can be a very spiritual place.  At any rate, whatever I do, I’ll be taking a much needed break.  Olga, the school director, was quite convincing in telling me to stay.  But nah.  If I’m not enjoying it, then why continue?  When I come back next weekend, I’ll re evaluate and I’ll probably sign up for another week or 2 of classes, but I’ll definitely want to change families.

Last night I ended up studying at Cafe Royal Paris for about 3 hours.  I had to return to this spot because of the cheese.  They  serve the cheese Roquefort and all melted in a little teacup that is served with tortilla chips.  The other night it was served with great slices of bread, I will definitely remember Roquefort cheese for when I come back to the states!

I’m outta time, I’m surprised the power didn’t go off or my computer suddenly shut down, it’s been that kind of week as far as my Spanish goes.  I’m just not getting it and it has become very frustrating.

On another note, Hello Florence!  From middle school!  She left me a comment in my Wednesday post, pretty cool to hear from someone that you haven’t heard of or from for a very long time!  Tomorrow I’ll be going to Laguna Chicabal with some students from school and then will be heading to THE event for the week, another Futbol match featuring the local team.  Hope everyone has a buen fin de semana.

A hike to the hot springs

February 24th, 2006

A few weeks ago I went on another activity, a short journey to relax in the hot waters of Chikobix. We rode a chicken bus for about 30 minutes and got off at the side of the road, where we started a good 30-35 minute walk through the forest, crossing a foot bridge over a small river. We stayed at Chikobix for about an hour and a half before returning the same way and catching the bus back to town.

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Foregound: Markus, from Iceland. In the background is the rickety foot bridge we are supposed to cross one at a time, but obviously some people wanted to test this.

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The gals lead the group ahead.

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Continuing the hike.

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Chikobix, me and Mitzy.

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Unfortunately, the main public pool wasn’t open this day, so a few students including myself opted out of immersing ourselves in the private pools.

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Hiking back towards the bus stop.

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Stopping to take photos of Volcan Santa Maria.

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Another shot of Volcan Santa Maria.

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Yet another angle.

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Looking out towards the back of the chicken bus. Chicken buses are basically school buses that are packed with as many people as can fit. You enter and exit either from the front or the back. The little girl belongs to Brad and I forgot the mom’s name, but they also have a smaller little boy. They are doing a test run for 3 weeks in Guatemala, as they are moving to live in Bolivia for 2 years as part of a medical humanitarian volunteer effort.

Pics Finally Show Up

February 22nd, 2006

The pics from my previous posts have finally decided to make themselves viewable, on the right hand side the post “I Finally Went to McDonald’s” should have the pics as fully functional.

Today I learned that “Mom” will in fact be leaving me starting tomorrow up until Monday.  She said this to me last weekend and she never left, so I’ll believe it when I come home tomorrow and she’s not there.  She did say that she left me yogurt, milk and bread.  Wow, that is so generous!  I’m surprised that she didn’t leave me any black beans, as that and eggs are my usually lunch or dinner every day.  The only problem with this arrangement is I haven’t decided whether or not to sign up for another week of classes.  Markus and I are contemplating bussing out to Tikal (all day ride) to hike El Mirador, while some other students are looking to take a week off at Lake Aitalan (sp?) for a much needed rest.  And after today’s awful awful session at school, I’m leaning towards taking some time off.  Instead of progressing, I feel like I have regressed and there just isn’t anymore room in my brain to soak up any more information.  It’s quite the frustrating struggle, it seems that some students who started their learning after me are further ahead with their “mastery” of the Spanish language.  Not a good day for learning, so I just spent the last 3 hours studying so hopefully tomorrow will be better.  But I will probably take a break from classes next week as I am really missing the green spaces, parks and clean air from Portland.  Today was very windy, which created a bunch of dust swirls and blew the car exhausts and fumes all around me everywhere I walked.  Choke Choke Cough Cough, someone get me some oxygen!  Okay, enough for now, dinner time (but it’s rarely ‘on time.’)

Must Be A Case of the Mondays

February 21st, 2006

I don’t know what is with Mondays. I just can’t get going, my mind is still in weekend mode, and I find my learning to be a great, difficult struggle.

It didn’t help that the previous evening I couldn’t sleep. Not because of the dogs barking at every hour of the night. Not because of the cold. Not because I was trying to memorize Spanish words. Nope, it was because my mind couldn’t get off the fact that my rental bike had gone missing.

So, how much was this going to cost me? Now, the guy could be fair and say “Yes, the bike was old, not really in that great o’ shape, so why don’t I charge you $100 U.S. for it.” Or he could be an ass and say that it must be replaced with a new one for $500. I don’t know. I have a very very limited budget, and the most I could conceiveably part with is $100. Maybe I could work off the rest of the amount if it comes to that. I just couldn’t sleep thinking about this. My bike was freaking stolen! I had it locked up and everything! Still in disbelief. It was just outside Kokolokos. Granted, it wasn’t a very busy street and lighting wasn’t total illumination like a football stadium. But still….someone would have the NERVE to STEAL my bike rental just a short distance from where I am!

Okay, so I’ll eat the loss. Whatever the amount I owe, I’ll just pretend that I put money on the Seahawks to beat the Superbowl spread and I lost (even though in reality, I would have put all my money on Pittsburg to cover their 3 point spread). So I lost $100, $150, maybe more. It’s just money. I’d rather have the bike stolen than have been bitten by those crazy dogs. So it’s all a matter of perspective. It’s only money. Maybe I’ll have to come back sooner because my money runs out sooner. Whatever. I am prepared to face my responsibility. And pay up.

School. I told Olga, the director, and Rosario, my teacher, what had transpired in my very limited Spanish. Olga wanted Rosario to go to the bookstore during the break to ask how much the bike would cost. But I figured since the guy speaks English, it would just be better for me to face the music and talk to him directly.

That morning session sucked. Couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t remember the forms for conocer (to know). It was very frustrating. Nothing clicked. I felt pretty stupid, like I had fallen 2 steps behind. Maybe this will be my last week for taking Spanish classes? Or maybe it is just a case of the Mondays, coupled with the sting from my bike loss. The learning just wasn’t happening.

My break comes along. One of the students is having a birthday. We celebrate and sing to her with some fabulous cake. At least I have a treat to enjoy as I trudge up to the bookstore.

I get there and the guy, nor Alice is there. Some other American lady. I ask her when the main dude will be in. She says not til the afternoon. We talk a bit more. Then she says “Are you the guy who locked the bike to the gate?” Huh? What? “Yeah, Bob (or whatever the owner’s name is) came to the store last night and saw the bike was locked to the gate. He figured you were returning it for Sunday and since he had the key to the lock, he unlocked it and brought it inside. Plus I wouldn’t have been able to open the store this morning if the bike was still locked there.” She made a call to the guy. He didn’t realize that I had only locked it there temporarily while I was across the street watching the big game.

And so I was saved. I returned the key and my helmet, and everything was squared away. My bike had *NOT* been stolen after all. Big sigh of relief. A very GOOD sigh of relief. I returned to school and had a better late morning and afternoon session. The big monkey was off my back. And with my new found “money” that I didn’t have to pay for the bicycle, last week I blew my budget and enjoyed the fruits of the stolen bike that didn’t happen. Just a few hours earlier, I figured I had lost out on at least $100. Now I just decided to spend my money and enjoy eating the good food that I’m not getting at home. A case of the Mondays ended with an all is well!

An Interview with the Man of da House

February 21st, 2006

A few housekeeping bits to start out:

* Boneprone: Darius and Theo for Penny?  How bout trading Ha Seung-Jin for an orange construction cone instead?  At least the cone won’t hurt anybody.  But I do like the idea of trading Darius.

 

* Jonas, Adam and Amy:  Thanks for the contraband, I hope it finds its way to me somehow in the next year or two.  Just hope that ice cream doesn’t melt before it reaches me.

* Aliscia:  I promise to visit your friends soon!  I just want to be able to get my Spanish down so that when I meet and have dinner with them, I won’t be a mute like I am in my current living situation.  Oh, and Fuentes Georginas is definitely THE place to relax in Xela (you just have to go on a nauseating 20 minute ride around those windy paths and hope that you feel just good enough to get into the water).  I promise to write to you more this week!

* Oftentimes I write things in my blog that I don’t recall if I’ve written before, I usually don’t have time to re-read or edit my posts as I’m usually just typing on the fly and seat of my pants (that is an expression, right?).  So apologies if you happen to read things I’ve already said or you find many typing errors!  Also, I’ll try to repost some of my previous entries with the pictures that should have been there in the first place.  Looks like the Superbowl Sunday post finally shows the pics.

Now, on to today…

 

Below is a condensed version of an interview that lasted 32 hours with the man of my house, Tonito.  For the simple pleasure of reading it in Spanish, I have decided to give you the short version in English.  Any questions or comments can be forwarded to his fan club in Orlando, FL.  Tonito is currently starring in the movie drama “Brokehouse Fountain,” playing the voice of Sammy, a confused catapiller who thinks that he is actually a butterfly.  Set to open in limited release on the Sundance and Cannes Film circuit, the role is generating great buzz amongst Hollywood insiders and think that Tonito can be the breakout star that Kevin Federline wishes that he could be.  Alas, the Interview.

Edwin:  Tonito, you are just 5 years old and already you command such a great presence on screen and off.  Tell me about your upbringing.

Tonito:  I was born in Xela and I learned how to act at a very early age, around 2 I think.  I am able to manipulate and get my mom to be my cook, waitress, cleaning lady, mom and slave all at once.  It’s a great life and the best part is that it is all free!

Edwin:  One day while I was trying to watch a movie on the only TV in the public areas, you came in and took the remote and changed the channel to your Cartoon Network.  Why did you feel the need to do that instead of watching it on your own TV in your room?

Tonito:  I just figured that it would be a great way to annoy you and I was right!  I figured that you would be a little perturbed that dinner was already 45 minutes late and that you didn’t have a good day at school.  I just wanted to show you that just because you are 27 years older than me, you gotta show the respect or else!

Edwin:  Ah, I see.  I also recall one evening I was watching TV and you decided to take a flashlight and shine it in my eyes the whole time I was trying to watch.  Were you trying to do the same thing?

Tonito:  No shit Sherlock!  Yeah, but you had fun didn’t you?  It’s not like I took the flashlight and put it right in front of your head!  Okay, maybe for a little bit, but I was bored and you are fair game.

Edwin:  You are an up and coming movie star, tell me about school and how that factors into your plans.

Tonito:  Eh, school…I go for about 3 hours a day, but I like having mama there by my side in the classroom because I don’t like the other kids.  They are jealous of me anyways and wish that they could have the success that has eluded their miniscule lives of 5 years.  I already know how to count up to 10 and that’s all I really need to know.

Edwin:  Your mom frequently leaves you alone in the house.  How do you pass the time when she’s away.

Tonito:  Watch TV, sleep, make myself dinner.  My favorite is a tostado with queso and ranchero sauce.  And I like playing with my action figure toys.

Edwin:  You sure do.  I hear you at all hours of the day making loud explosion noises and going “POW!” and “BOAH” right outside my bedroom door.

Tonito:  That’s called rehearsing and getting into my role.  I want to be in action pics and be the next Jean Claude Van Dammit or Arnold I can’t spell his last name.

Edwin:  Who are the major influences in your life?

Tonito:  Me.  And Barney.  And my Batman action figure that is missing 2 limbs but I still make him win and beat up all the other action figures.

Edwin:  If for some reason your movie career fizzles out like other childhood stars like Ron Howard, Jody Foster and Bob Saget, what other line of work would you consider?

Tonito:  Gourmet chef.  You’ve seen me make my tostadas, my hamburger sandwiches and how I can get people to make me what I want.

Edwin:  Well, this conversation has definitely been enlightening, I have run out of internet time so before I go is there anything you’d like to say to your millions and kajillians of fans out there?

Tonito:  POW!  BOAH!  HAIYA!  I’m really not as loud and obnoxious as he’s making me out to be, he is a biased journalist and he’ll say anything about me and twist my words to sell more copies!  I mean come on, I’m just 5 years old so give me a freaking break already!  All kids are like me, I’m actually a very sweet and adorable and lovable little kid.  So don’t get the wrong impression of me, Edwin has only skewed this interview to generate pity for HIM and not for ME.  I’m the one that doesn’t currently earn any money or even know what the word “Inconceiveable” means!  So take what he says with a grain of salt, maybe some of the events that happened really did occur, but AGAIN, I’m just a little kid for Pete’s sake!  That’s all I have to say.

Missing Posts Update

Well, seems like they are starting to trickle in, but the photos are apparently not viewable.  Sorry about the off-date posts, the bug is still in place and no ETA, so I’m still hopeful that this will be resolved sooner than later.

Mom didn’t leave as she said she would.  So this morning I woke up to find some blended left over hot chocolate with rice and those leftover bananas.  In a bowl.  I took three spoonfuls of the stuff before I decided that I just couldn’t get anymore of it down.  So for only the second time EVER, I smuggled the concoction in a mug and dumped it out on my way to school.  The stuff I had for breakfast Saturday morning is still sitting in my room in a plastic cup.  That was the first time I smuggled food out, but haven’t found the best opportunity to dump it out yet.  Fortunately the cup is covered so it doesn’t smell too bad…yet.

Last week I overspent my weekly budget by 200%, and this week has not commenced a good start.  A bag of chips.  A hamburger.  My bag of mixed fresh fruit.  And an oh-so-good ice cream cone dipped in fresh chocolate and then covered with nuts.  I dread to see what I’ll have for dinner tonight.  For lunch it was fried chicken!  Yeah, but it was the part of the chicken where one can get, like 2 bites of meat.  All the rest was bone and fat.  So I might be eating out again tonight, as I did last night with another serving of a pizza pie.  How sad.  My posts have become predictable where all I can talk about it food.  I suppose I could talk about how weird it is to look in a Guatemalan newspaper and see dead bodies in full color.  You just don’t have that in the States.  We cover up our bodies.  But here, free reign.  The one last week was quite morbid with a whole bunch of uncovered bodies just lined up.  Yeah, so maybe I like talking about the food more than some of these other subjects.  The other thing that is hard to get used to seeing is little kids 6 years old working.  Here, you either go to private or public school or you work.  A bunch that do work do so shining shoes, or selling handicrafts, or carrying huge loads on their backs.  Internet time is up.  Later all!

What a way to end the weekend

February 20th, 2006

> Superbowl Sunday. Seahawks vs. Steelers. I was not
> going to miss this one and Sunday would be a great
> day! Actually, it was for a while.
>
> The Friday before I went to the Vrisa bookstore to
> inquire about renting a bike for Sunday. The owner,
> an American who has lived her for probably I don’t
> know how long, provided me with a map outlining a
> nice 35 mile round trip ride around Xela. Since I
> wanted to rent it for Sunday and they would be
> closed, he said to come back on Saturday around 5pm
> to rent it and then return it during my school’s
> morning break on Monday. I also asked him where he
> might know where I could catch the Sunday Superbowl.
> He pointed across the street and said Kokoloko’s
> would be playing in on their big screen. Perfect!
>
> Saturday comes around and I get the bike from
> Alice, who also specializes in massage therapy. A
> one hour session is 70 Quetzeles — or the
> equivalent of $10. Since I haven’t been too
> faithful to my budget, I’ll have to “splurge” some
> other time. At any rate, the bike wasn’t that
> great. Basically a hybrid 12-speed bike with no
> suspension whatsoever and tires just slightly
> smaller than what you’d find on a mountain bike.
> But for riding the roads around here, it would have
> to suffice.
>
> Sunday morning I arose at 7am, and after my
> traditional bowl of hot milk with soggy corn flakes,
> I was on the road by 7:30. I was misdirected a few
> times but finally found my way on the map. And thus
> I spent the next 8 hours riding along dusty roads
> with little traffic visiting small villages and even
> smaller pueblos such as Chiquilaja, San Felipe
> Xejuyup, San Andreas Xecul, Olintepeque (where I
> later found out my maestra lives), Santa Rita,
> Cajola and La Esperanza….
>
> IMG_4058.JPG
>
> Chiquilaja. A one lane bridge crosses the small
> river. As you can see, some of the buildings didn’t
> quite make it when the river flooded back in
> October.
>
>
> IMG_4061.JPG
>
> The main drag of Chiquilaja. Someone was having a
> party or fiesta, hence the decorations.
>
>
> IMG_4065.JPG
>
> On the way to San Felipe.
>
>
> IMG_4068.JPG
>
> From San Felipe to San Andreas Xecul. Volcan
> Santa Maria is in the background.
>
>
> IMG_4069.JPG
>
> The road for cars to San Andreas Xecul comes to an
> abrupt end as piping work is being done for about a
> 1/4 mile through the only road in town. I walk my
> bike along the sides passing small homes and
> farmland.
>
>
> IMG_4074.JPG
>
> San Andreas Xecul, about 11km northwest of Xela.
> From Lonely Planet: “Surrounded by fertile hills,
> this small town boasts a bizarre church.
> Technicolor saints, angels, flowers and climbing
> vines share space with whimsical tigers and monkeys
> on its shocking-yellow facade.”
>
>
> IMG_4071.JPG
>
> A closer look.
>
>
> IMG_4082.JPG
>
> A competitive futbol game just outside the town.
> People young and old gather around the outskirts of
> the dusty field to watch early morning action.
>
>
> IMG_4085.JPG
>
> Back on the road.
>
>
> IMG_4091.JPG
>
> I took a wrong turn and walked my bike up a Giant
> hill, only to be turned back at the top when the
> road ended into a walkway to some homes. At least I
> was able to get a nice shot of the valley with
> Volcan Santa Maria.
>
>
> IMG_4097.JPG
>
> The road to Cajola. I had biked 2 hours from
> Olintepeque to Santa Rita and now to Cajola. My
> water was running low, I ate all my food, I was
> getting weak and it was hot. It didn’t help that
> there were two major hills I had to climb (well,
> walk).
>
> And just a few minutes before taking this shot, I
> had the biggest scare. I was cycling along minding
> my own business and enjoying the scenery. I see
> some kids and they start yelling. The next thing I
> know there’s one dog running towards me barking.
> Then two. Then three. And four. Fuck! It’s now
> EIGHT Dogs, and their barking is not friendly. I am
> surrounded. Behind me, both my sides, and one big
> ass vicious looking dog in front of my, his stride
> matching my bike speed. I didn’t slow down, I
> didn’t speed up, and didn’t look at them I just
> tried to ride one, look ahead and ignore them. But
> the whole time I was so freakin’ scared witless. In
> my mind I kept saying “Please don’t bite me, please
> don’t bite me!” I heard that dogs smell fear. Well
> I was definitely giving out that odor during those
> moments. They ran with me for a good 80 seconds.
> Doesn’t seem like much, but man those seconds went
> by soo slowly and I my mind just races. What if I
> did get a bite? Would I
> fall and then all the dogs hoover around me and
> attack? These dogs, for all I know, have no owners
> and are starving, rabid creatures! Where’s the
> medical facility? Will I find a place to get shots?
> How do I get there if I’m hurt? Will I need to fly
> back to the U.S.? Man this totally sucked, all
> these What If questions. I had no first aid kit and
> didn’t bring my ID. Did those kids tell them to
> come `sic`me? Terrifying! What should I have done?
> Stopped? Kick em? Throw out my emergency energy
> bar to distract them? Finally, finally, they
> relented and left me to continue on with my passage.
>
> My heart was racing and I haven’t been so scared
> in so long! You just don’t know about these dogs.
> The ones in Xela seem docile, but the ones outside
> in these other villages and in the middle of nowhere
> are another story. Totally sucks. Unfortunately, I
> had to come back the same way. I tried to find an
> alternative route, but there was none indicated on
> the map. So on my way back, I tried to bike slow in
> hopes that another person cycling was going the same
> direction and I could use him. But no to avail. So
> when I came upon the Billy Gruff section of the
> road, I just pedaled as fast and as hard as I could.
> Strangely enough, this time I had no encounter with
> any of the dogs. Perhaps the leader of the pack
> found something elsewhere. I was just so relieved.
> Thinking about those few moments of terror still
> gives me the chills.
>
>
> IMG_4100.JPG
>
> Cajola. The Sunday market at the main plaza just
> ended, and all the leftover debris and garbage
> drifts into the street.
>
>
> IMG_4105.JPG
>
> Riding back to Xela.
>
>
> I arrived back to Xela at 3:30 and treated myself
> to those fries and meandered through the market. At
> 5pm I cycled to Kokoloko’s for the Superbowl.
> Couldn’t really find a bike rack to lock my bike at,
> so I locked it to the gate in front of the Vrisa
> bookstore. I met Elliot, a 19 year old from Vermont
> who will start college at the University of Puget
> Sound this fall in Tacoma. It was just us two
> gringos and two other guys from Xela watching the
> game, all in Spanish. Forget about watching the
> famous commercials. All I got was local commercials
> for cars and telephone service. By halftime 3 more
> people from the states joined us, and Elliot shared
> a glass of Gallo beer with me while we ate chicken
> quesadillas. By 9pm the game had ended with a loss
> for the Hawks. Kinda boring, but it was fun to
> watch the big game on the big screen with some
> football fans. Time to go home and call it the
> night.
>
> I went out to retrieve my bike and head home.
> Just one problem. My bike was gone. Disappeared.
> Vanished.
>
> I walked home alone in the dark in mild shock and
> grief. To compound matters, I stepped in a pile of
> dog shit on the way home. And thus a fitting ended
> for a Not So Super Sunday. To be continued….

Some News…

February 19th, 2006

Last night I ended up at the Royal Paris Cafe Restaurant, as part of a final outing with Kjersten and some of our friends.  I was still full from the pizza, but somehow still managed to pile an empty plate with samples from everyone elses’ entrees!  They had great music playing and aftewards we hung out playing Scrabble (in English!) and Uno.  It was quite satisfying since an hour earlier I went home and mom had only begun to prepare my dinner — the famous blackbean shaped turd and a serving of bananas left over from breakfast.  Okay, and I was supposed to eat this for dinner?

Alas, some news.  I suppose it could be good.  I just saved a BUNCH of money on my car insurance by switching to Geico!  Yeah!!  Well, that and the fact that mom and Tonito will be heading out of town until Wednesday.  So that means that I’ll have the whole place to myself.  Which means there won’t be anyone to cook meals for me except….me.  I am now the master of the kitchen and the stove and the microwave.  She left me with white bread, some bananas, and black beans and eggs.  So now it will be up to my creative genius magic to whip some edible food for myself, which will definitely require a trip to the supermarket.  I don’t mind spending my own money, as long as I am in control in what and how the food is prepared!

And today I woke up quite early to meet with another student and a teacher to go to Chichi and the famous market.  The only problem is that they didn’t show up.  So I decided to go there by myself.  Lucky for me, as I walked towards the bus station, I ran into another school heading out to the same place for the day.  They rented a chicken bus to take them directly there and back.  So I stowed away and pretended to be one of the students.  Got a free ride — or so it appears.  I’m supposed to meet up with some of them less than 10 minutes from now at that pizza place, and the school’s group leader will be there and I’m sure at that time he’ll collect the fee.  Which is fine, I’d rather pay more and go on that hired chicken bus that the one that takes 3 hours and takes multiple stops at wherever.  And I was able to make some new friends, including a Bostonian who quit her graphic design job four weeks ago to travel in Central America and learn Spanish.  She’d been planning this for a year now, and one of her good friends just finished with the Peace Corps to travel with her.  It’s quite a diversity of folks that I come to meet, but it is a bit skewed to the “younger” generation.  Sometimes at 32 I feel old because there are so many travelers in their early 20′s just starting out their adulthood and having made the decision to hold off on careers or school or the perceived way of living to do their own thing down here.  Makes me wonder what took me so long to do this again after a 12 year hiatus.  Ah, to be young again!

Stories….

February 18th, 2006

A fine Saturday, took a hike up to the lookout point above the city atop a hill about an hour’s walk away from the school with 3 other students.  At the top they have these slides made out of concrete that go down a hill a good hundred feet to a little clearing.  You can sit on your ass and make holes in your pants with all the friction and heat that you generate, or you do as the locals do and ride down on little plastic soda pop bottles…hard to explain, I have pics but will have to upload them when I get my replacement usb device.  Also took out my frisbee for the first time to toss it around, it is very hard in Xela to find any kind of clearing or space in which to throw a frisbee around, so this was indeed a great morning for a little exercise.

Of course our 3 hour excursion made us all hungry, so we went out for real PIZZA and I almost ate a whole pie, soo ecstatic!  I have come to the decision that my time studying Spanish is like being on the game show survivor.  I’ll lose some weight with the limited food rations I get at home, but when I win the Rewards Challenge, then I’m going to town!  I even ordered a soda pop to go with the pizza, it was like heaven!  So I’m still quite full as I write this, and I will relish this feeling because tomorrow I’m heading 3 hours on a chicken bus to the BIG market in Chichistenango and I know I’ll be starving again…but just another Survivor test (in my mind).  I think it will be good to lose some weight, or so I’ve managed to convince myself.

Almost time for “dinner”, so I’ll leave you with this.  Kathy, working for the past 8 years for Habitat for Humanity in Georgia, gave us this account this afternoon at our pizza lunch.  In Africa, guess what animal kills more people than any other?  Perhaps a logical choice is a crocodile.  Maybe a beast like the rhino or a lion?  Nope.  Actually, it’s the hippo.  She took a “hippo cruise” during a visit in South Africa, and please make note.  When doing a hippo cruise, TAKE THE BIGGEST BOAT.  Don’t go cheap and go with a local on a wooden boat raft.  Umm, no.  And when you hear a sound in the water like “the wicked witch of the east cackeling (according to Kathy, that’s how it sounds like)”, LOOK OUT!  It means the hippo is about to charge something.  And on this particular day, it happened to be the little wooden raft thingy that some tourists decided to use.  The hippo charged the flimsy toothpick and flipped it over.  Fortunately her boat was nearby to rescue those in the water, no casualties fortunately.

And one more thing.  Hippos will kill you, but they won’t eat you.  They’re vegeterians.  Kathy said that if she were to die from an animal, at least have the audacity to eat her!  What a poor way to die, to get killed by a hippo and just rot away at the bottom of the river…

One of the greatest joys I get from traveling is all the tales and stories I hear from my fellow vagabonders.  Since I can’t post pics for the next few weeks (and my previous posts with pics are still being worked on by the blog administrators), I’ll just have to entertain you with tales from other people since mine are pretty much about learning spanish (yawn) and my daily variety (or lack thereof) of food (boring).  It is amazing to learn about how many people have quit their jobs to either volunteer, learn spanish, or just travel.  And after hearing about some cut backs at my old job, I am pretty satisfied with my decision to do what I’m doing and am inspired by others through which what the world offers if one just steps out of the comfort zone to experience a different way of living.  Not so different from our own if you think about it, but just enough to notice subtle and marked differences.  Okay, I’m talking in circles now, must be the shock from all the food in my stomach.  3 weeks down and 15 more to go, now I feel like I don’t have enough time to do and see all that I want while I’m down here.  Okay, I’m over my interent limit, Ciao!

Que Pasa?

February 17th, 2006

Not feeling particularly creative this afternoon, my brain is fried from trying to cram in more vocab and verbs like “to resemble” and “to translate”, important words for sure.  I just learned that after someone sneezes, you say “Salud”, if they do it a second time, you say “Dinero”, and a third time you say “Amor.”

It is a bittersweet end to the weekend, as some of the friends I have made are leaving to continue with their plans.  After a while you get to know fellow students in the school as family and I always look forward to hanging out during our morning break and after class to sip hot chocolate at La Luna, try new street vendor food, or go in search of a new dessert place to study in.  Megan is going back home to Wisconsin — she, like me, quit her job to do some traveling and some learning of Español.  Kevin, from the UK, is also heading out, while Kjerste from Norway is off on her hike to the Lake and other points down south.  Next weekend will be another blow, as the Portland couple Preston and Judy return to the City of Roses and Chelsia from DC heads out.  I wonder if that will be a good time to leave as well?  Tales of great adventures in Mexico have made me change my initial travel plans, as I have received guidance and tips for where I should go and what I should do.  Mark and his girlfriend Lisa are currently in the 14th month of their worldly travels, and they will stay here in Xela for 3 months to learn Spanish and lead hikes for a local trekking company.  I really wish I had the capability to upload my pictures to the site, but I’ve made arrangements for a replacement device to be sent to me from the States and hope by then my missing posts will reappear.

As far as my addiction goes, today I walked to the Mennonite bakery (only open on Friday and Tuesdays) and treated myself to a real donut.  A twist with glaze, which I quickly scarfed down and immediately felt the ill side effects of too much, too fast.  And that bag of glazed donut holes was mighty tempting, but I had the control to resist–perhaps it was from feeling too sick to imagine eating any more sweet stuff that helped convince me to buy them on another day.  Well, at least my one donut made up for my dinner last night, eggs over hard, 1 tortilla, and instant soup.  I guess the good thing about eating so little calories over the last 3 weeks is that I’ve lost some weight and my body is now getting used to the smaller portion sizes and I’ll be able to travel “light” once I start my travels.  Okay, I’m starving right now as I write this so this is a good point to stop and go hunting for more street vendor food.  Buen fin de semana!

Addiction: A Long Battle Ahead

February 15th, 2006

 

So this is a good forum as any to finally divulge a major secret I have been hiding in my life…okay, well for that past week.  I have an addiction.  And I don’t know if I’ll be able to confront this head on or be “cured” once I get back to the U.S.  I haven’t seen any support group posted down here, and I don’t have enough dineros to do spend time on the internet with one of those online support groups.  And even if I could find a treatment center or group down here, I doubt I would be able to understand or communicate my problem.  At least the first step is admitting that I have a problem.  But will I seek help?  Nah, and here’s why.

 

It’s because I love my addiction!  You all know how I haven’t exactly had the most glorious reviews of the food I have been eating.  And since last week, I’ve been spending more of my budget on eating out.  And you’d think that eating out means hunting down good, healthy food.  But the opposite is true.  My addiction is azucar, aka Sugar.

 

As gifts to my family and respective members, my packing included:

 

1 Hershey’s Chocolate Almond Bar

1 Almond Joy Halloween fun size bar

1 Kit Kat Halloween fun size bar

1 Planters Trail mix 1.25 oz snack pouch

1 Nestle Super 8 chocolate bar (from Chile, thanks Katie!)

1 Jello fruit cherry flavored fruit snack pouch

4 Take Five candy bars

3 Baby Ruths

1 Peppermint Patty

2 Pay Days

1 Hawaiian Punch soft & chewy candy snack pouch

1 Wrigley’s Extra 15 stick hum pack

 

So how many of these items did I give to anyone?  Zilch.  None.  Nada.  Zippo.  Yes, I have been selfish and have hoarded them all to ME ha ha!  Surely I can’t survive on 4 eggs, purreed black beans and tortillas twice a day?  (I had it for dinner AND breakfast this morning!  except instead of tortillas, I had 2 plain pieces of white bread for breakfast).  At any rate, I’ve been happily munching away on my stash, and it has dwindled down to the very few!  To make up for this discrepancy, I have been making daily pilgrimmages (sp?) to the market, to XelaPan and to other food stands.  I have my daily “freshly” made ice cream cone, my empanada and waffle snacks from the Tawainese stand, and my cookies and sweet bread from Xela Pan.  I’ve had these weird fried donut holes drowned in some sweet sauce, hot chocolate, churros, sweet pineapples & papayas, cake, pastries, cookies and more.  I’ve been bouncing off the walls with energy, which is good, because yesterday we walked for almost an hour to a soccer — oops, excuse me, futbol — gaming area where some of the students and teachers could get a game going.  And walking an hour back to the school.

 

So there you have it, I admit my addiction.  I will try my best not to stuff myself with candy and other sweetened products.  And I do only have 10 more days with my host family before I make a switch.  I promise to try and give myself a little more variety — say, maybe some more fried papas fritas and I-don’t-know-the-name of the dish but it looks really good at the street side stand.

 

– On another note, still no troubleshooting fixes for my previous posts, I’m still hopeful that it will be resolved by the end of the week, because there is quite a bit I previously wrote with a bunch of photos.  And as far as photos go, I might not have many in the next few days since I broke my USB portable memory card device.  And I know how I did it, no one to blame by myself!

 

– One cool thing about living here is the proximity you have to your neighbors and other people in the city.  People do ALOT of walking, or at least taking a microbus (basically a minivan where you stuff in as many people as you can for less than .25 cents a ride) for part of the way.  So, as you walk and pass by folks, it is common courtesy and just a cultural thing to say “Buenos” or “Buenos Dias, Tardes or Naches.”  You don’t get that much in the states, just walking around and saying “Good afternoon” or “Hello” to a complete stranger.  In general, folks here are pretty friendly, though I haven’t really made any friends with the locals.

 

Here’s my second “story” I wrote for my homework yesterday, using words that I learned.  I haven’t memorized them and doubt I could think of them off the top of my head, but here it is for purposes of prosperity.  And here’s the unedited, uncorrected version before my maestra got her red pen on it…

 

La noche esta obscura y Carlos desiende las gradas cuidadoso.  El siente frio y espantado porque sus amigos no vuelven de caminar la noche antes.  Ellos no encntran a el arbol viejo a las seis la tarde y Carlos quier salir.  Despues un horas caminar, Carlos esta perder.  El tiene hambre y busca para alimentos.  Pero todos las tiendas cierra cuando Carlos esta cerca.  El restaurante cierran tambien.  Carlos no entienda y piensa la gente en la ciudad son locos.  Entonces el eschuchan uno nene llorando y Carlos corre para el sonido.  Done va?  Carlos atraviesa el puente y llama el nene.  Pero eso no es nene!  El es el dinosoro con dientes grande y el esta enojado!  El dinosoro piense Carlos estan platano y quiere comer para cena.  Carlos cierra sus ojos, entonces el siente uno memo a sus hombro.  Carlos abre sus ojos y ella esta sus mama — Carlos despierta porque el esta dormido!

 

That’s all for tonight!

I Finally Went to McDonald’s Ha Ha Ha

February 15th, 2006

> So, a quick post for this Thursday night…
>
> Been very very busy, on top of school and
> homework, there have been daily activities that I
> have joined in such as spending yesterday afternoon
> at Las Cumbres, a small developed hotel about 45
> minutes outside of Xela with natural steam baths.
> For 50 Quetzales (about $7) per person, we had round
> trip transportation and about an hour and a half in
> the private steam rooms before returning back to
> town. Later that evening I joined some fellow
> students to Koko Loko’s to watch more Salsa dancing
> action. At any rate, my weekend plans are a bit
> unsettled at this point so we’ll just see what turns
> up.
>
>
>
> IMG_4162.JPG
>
> Las Cumbres restaurant overlooking the distant
> mountainside
>
>
> IMG_4163.JPG
>
> Las Cumbres grounds
>
>
> IMG_4164.JPG
>
> A room like this with 2 double beds, private bath,
> fireplace, TV and private steam room go for just
> under $30 for the evening for 2 people.
>
>
> IMG_4165.JPG
>
> All nightly rooms offer an outdoor bench to take
> in the scenery.
>
>
> IMG_4166.JPG
>
> The steam room that me and the guy from Japan
> shared. It has a private changing area, toilet,
> shower, sink and a little area with 2 lounge chairs.
> The steam room is in the background.
>
>
> IMG_4174.JPG
>
> Hanging out afterwards with Megan (from Wisconsin)
> and Sophia (from British Columbia)
>
>
>
>
> – My host family has a refrigerator, albeit very
> small and not really used that much. We have normal
> electricity plug-ins, as do most households.
> However, most households do not have a fridge simply
> because they don’t need it. Food down here in
> Guatemala is purchased to be consumed within a day
> or two, so that’s why there’s not much use for a
> refrigerator. Meals are cooked to be eaten all at
> once, and if not, then the leftovers are eaten
> pretty immediately. There’s no Costco or anything
> resembling bulk food quanities, except perhaps for
> buying toilet paper. All the blocks in my barrior
> and in the city have at least 2 or 3 tiendas, which
> are like little convenience stores will all the
> necessecities–breads, meats, milks, drinks,
> toiletries, snacks, etc. Thus, when people want to
> cook, they’ll just walk across the calle or over 2
> “houses” to the tienda to buy fresh food to cook.
>
> – The food at home wasn’t quite cutting it this
> week (this morning was my third straight with a bowl
> of warm milk and corn flakes!!! and of course by
> the time I sat down to eat it, all the flakes had
> turned to mush mush mush. but I’m getting used to
> it), so for the last 2 days I have blown my budget
> by eating out. And it has been a delightful
> experience! In the Parque Central are a bunch of
> little food stands with vendors selling everything
> from popcorn to corn on the cob (but smeared with
> ketchup and mayo) to fried bananas with sugar and
> cream. Yesterday I relented and bought a small
> plate of papas frites (french fries) and devoured
> them in all their greasy glory. However, there was
> some really hot type of sauce she put on them, and
> my tongue burned and longed for something cold. Ice
> cream! Mitzy got a cone at a local ice cream shop,
> but I tasted her cookies and cream and decided that
> it was waaay too sweet. I needed something a little
> less dramatic, maybe soft
> serve….but who would have soft serve that isn’t
> too sweet??? Ha ha ha, McDonald’s!!!! Yep, I did
> it! I went to McDonald’s and got my fifty cent soft
> serve ice cream cone and LOVED it! Finally, some
> food I could really melt into! And that’s not
> all…well, I’m not going to say that I got a Big
> Mac and fries and all of that because I didn’t. But
> what I did do is eat eat eat for the past 2
> days….fresh mixed fruits of watermelon, papaya,
> pineapple, strawberries and mango. Had 2 big
> burritos at the local Blue Video cafe (after Las
> Cumbres, we were hungry!). 2 greasy empanadas
> filled with chicken and onions from a little Taiwan
> food stand, 2 other chicken empanadas made by a
> local woman who visits our school daily during our
> break to sell her homemade treats, as well as bite
> sized waffle pieces, muffins, breads and more.
>
> IMG_4108.JPG
>
> The papas frites stand
>
>
> IMG_4160.JPG
>
> Ahh, fresh fries!!!
>
> – There are a bunch of things that I still can’t
> get used to that you probably wouldn’t see often in
> the U.S.
>
> – A guy stopping his car, opening the driver
> side, and taking a leak in the middle of the road.
> No, not by some bush or in the country. In the
> city, in the middle of the street, in broad
> daylight. Women do it too. They’ll just crouch
> down by a wall and pee. And when certain sections
> of the city have their water turned off for a few
> days, you can imagine that the incidence of folks
> just taking a piss in the street or on the wall
> increases.
>
> – Food stands in Parque Central and other places.
> Sure, maybe not so uncommon in the U.S. But in the
> states, there are strict regulations for food
> handlers cards, permits and other rules. Here, if
> you have somekind of food to sell, you just find
> yourself a spot and cook it and sell it. A lot of
> food stands have buckets of water where they’ll do
> their own “cleaning” of food.
>
> – People riding scooters and motorcycles with no
> helmets. With little 5 year old kids riding on the
> lap of the driver. And in cars too. Don’t worry
> about seatbelts. Just climb aboard. Oh yeah, and
> on my bike ride Sunday, a lady had her infant son
> wrapped in one of those slings around her body, just
> riding along in her motorcycle.
>
> – Pedestrian laws. Forget about it. No power to
> the common pedestrian here. One of my school mates
> recounted an incident last week when she was in a
> microbus and the driver hit a cyclist. The cyclist
> was clearly hurt and the driver just continued on
> like the cyclist was a speedbump. No stopping to
> see if he was okay, it was just business as usual.
> So I have to be extra extra careful when walking to
> and from school and trying to stay on the miniscule
> sidewalks as much as possible.
>
> – The dogs. Everywhere. Snooping around, laying
> around, fighting, barking, begging. Some pics…
>
>
> IMG_4051.JPG
>
> IMG_4089.JPG
>
> #img#
>
>
>
> – People smaller than me. Strange that I’m a
> “big” person. Yes Monica, you would be a goddess if
> you were here.
>
> – These Spanish keyboards! Things aren’t where
> I’m used to them being when I type. So there’s ñ,
> ç, € and more.
>
>
> One more quick note. Yesterday when I returned
> from the Blue Video Cafe, I noticed a bunch of
> backpacks in the living room. Seems that my
> household just gained 4 new people. They are 2
> female students from I forget where, and 2 of their
> Spanish language teachers. From Antigua. Guess
> they made a special trip to Xela and will only be
> here for a few days. I hope. Because this morning
> was crazy trying to use the single bathroom with 4
> women. Actually, I never had the opportunity to use
> it. Just a few more days, I hope, otherwise I’m
> switching families next week. Oh, and you’d think
> that with more people the food might improve. Not.
> Last night was another skimpy serving of scrambled
> eggs and refried beans for dinner. and one corn
> tortilla. Yeah, I’m so glad I splurged on those
> burritos and other snacks earlier in the day. And I
> will tomorrow.
>
> One more final final note. Spanish is still
> pretty up and down, but I am getting restless. I
> have 2 more weeks signed up, and it’s looking like I
> might not go on much after that. But things can
> always change. I think I’m making progress, but
> that learning curve up and over the mountain has so
> many switchbacks that it seems like it will never
> end. It was pretty interesting trying to
> communicate with a new student from Japan who
> started 2 days ago. We tried to communicate in
> Spanish and it was pretty hard, but funny. Okay,
> that’s all for now, gotta run to dinner and be
> surprised with another serving of eggs and refried
> beans! YES!!!

The Mystery of the Missing Posts

February 14th, 2006

Happy V Day to all, though for me not really a great day to remember. The great revenge of Montezuma (yeah, so I’m in the wrong country) afflicted me again last night and today. It was a repeat of my first 3 days here, whereby my body decides that the food I’m putting in it doesn’t quite meet approval. I woke up this morning at 4am with a horrible stomach ache, which continued well into the afternoon. Only now am I feeling better, which is good, but I was hoping to do the full moon hike to Volcan Santa Maria this evening (leave at 11pm, hike up for 5 hours, come back by 12 noon tomorrow).

Still having some troubles with my posts, the adminstrator got back to me and said that things should be okay now, so you may find some posts suddenly reappear that you may have already read, or some completely new ones, so this will all be new to me when that occurs.

Español update…I switched teachers yesterday, as they rotate every week. I liked my last maestra, Rosario, and would have liked to stay with her, but Sakribal insists that switching teachers every 2 weeks is the best way to learn. And I can agree with that, as my new teacher has a different teaching method and I have to readjust to hearing a different accent and must listen closely to try and understand exactly what she is trying to say.

Okay, movie recommendation, BIG THUMBS UP! Saw it last night at the CinemaPariso Cafe. “A Day Without a Mexican.” Never heard of it until last night, came out 2 years ago and can be described as a satire mockumentary that is just so off the wall and hilarious but has a lot of serious and relavent undertones to the story. Quick synopsis:

Mary Jo Quintana wakes up one morning to discover that her husband Roberto has vanished along with their young son. She soon learns that they are among the 14 million Latinos from across the state who have disappeared seemingly overnight.”

You might need to be in a different frame of mind or be with people that “get” the movie, but we loved it, maybe because we’re down here in Guatemala studying Spanish and learning about these types of issues. Don’t know if you can find it at the Blockbuster or Netflix, but Í’d say that it’s worth a viewing.

Wish I had pics to post but the computer I’m currently using doesn’t support my USB card. That’s how things using these internet cafes, can be hit or miss…

A Lazy Sunday Afternoon

February 12th, 2006

I’ve written some posts that for some reason, just haven’t posted.  I’ve emailed the Bootsnall helpdesk, so hopefully this matter will be resolved in the next few days, so check back on Tuesday for my latest updates and photos from my previous entries that didn’t post.

Today I’m spending some time on line to catch up on news and figure out what’s going on with my blog, and will spend the afternoon at school studying and checking out what other materials that they might have to help me understand this language stuff a little better.  The German gals left yesterday so it’s back to me and the house to myself.  And yesterday I treated myself to an ice cream cone from a park vendor.  It’s a pretty cool process that takes about 2-3 minutes.  He basically has this big vat / pot set in water and ice inside a little cart.  He pours some liquid into the pot and swirls it around for a couple of minutes with his spatula before it softens / hardens into a creamy like thickness that he will then scoop into a cone.  It’s a bit sweet for my taste, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen something like this!  Always something new to discover in Xela….

It’s called Apophis. It’s 390m wide. And it could hit Earth in 31 years time

February 10th, 2006

Thanks for the news Ezzie!  Read it here and make your plans NOW!!!

http://www.guardian.co.uk/space/article/0,,1660485,00.html

Still don’t know what’s going on with the posts I’ve been emailing to my blog, so I’m having to do this one the old fashioned way.  Last night I had ANOTHER great serving of 2 eggs over hard with pureed black beans!  Just like I called.  And the two German girls staying til these weekend commented that the food they got from their homestay in Antigua was soo much better.  Last night one of the girls found a dead fly *in* her corn tortilla.  I’m glad she took that one cause I probably wouldn’t have noticed and would have eaten it.  I know that’s not my mom’s fault, but still it was funny to hear the Germans and their teachers comment about the food that they were served.  Today for lunch we each had a bowl of instant cup o noodles.  And corn tortillas.  Of course!  I’m going to attempt to attach one pic of the girls.  One is Suzanne, the other I forgot her name but they were hanging out in the tienda last night when I walked by and they got me a Gallo beer.  And you all know how much I can’t pass up any type of food for FREE, but the cerveza sure did make me want to pee all night!

The two German girls staying at mi casa til this weekend

Finally, for those that can read/speak Spanish, here is my first unedited story that I did as part of my homework for Thursday….

Paul y Sergio llegan en Guatemala despues vente seis horas a dos vacas.  Ellos son de Noruega y viven alla por ochenta y tres anos.  Ellos estan consados y sus ropas estan sucio, asi Paul y Sergio buscan para el rio.  Ellos suben las montañas y caminan para el aduar.  Paul pregunta una personna para ayudar, pero una personna esta bandido!  El bandido roba Paul y toma su vaca.  Paul estan mucho triste.  Sergio corre rapido para el bandido y el cambia sus calcetines.  ¿Quien cambia sus calcetines?  El oso cambia sus calcetines!  El nombre del oso es “Justpetas.”  Justpetas baila con sus amigos Julio el Sapo, Carlos la Roca, y Angelita la Mona.  Estos animales son locos y sus nombre es “El Solo Pamdilla.”  La pamdilla halla el bandido y ellos comen el bandido y la vaca.  Ahora, los calcetines de Sergio tienen muchos los ojales.  Paul y Sergio regresan para Noruega y ellose dormiden.  Fin!

Have a nice weekend all!

Something’s up with my posts…

February 10th, 2006

Don’t know what happened to my post from last night Thursday, but here it is without the pictures.  Hopefully it will post over the weekend, kinda sucks if you read stuff that’s days old!!!

 

More Food For Thought: I Finally Went to McDonald’s Ha Ha Ha

So, a quick post for this Thursday night…
Been very very busy, on top of school and homework, there have been daily activities that I have joined in such as spending yesterday afternoon at Las Cumbres, a small developed hotel about 45 minutes outside of Xela with natural steam baths.  For 50 Quetzales (about $7) per person, we had round trip transportation and about an hour and a half in the private steam rooms before returning back to town.  Later that evening I joined some fellow students to Koko Loko’s to watch more Salsa dancing action.  At any rate, my weekend plans are a bit unsettled at this point so we’ll just see what turns up.
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Las Cumbres restaurant overlooking the distant mountainside
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Las Cumbres grounds
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A room like this with 2 double beds, private bath, fireplace, TV and private steam room go for just under $30 for the evening for 2 people.
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All nightly rooms offer an outdoor bench to take in the scenery.
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The steam room that me and the guy from Japan shared.  It has a private changing area, toilet, shower, sink and a little area with 2 lounge chairs.  The steam room is in the background.
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Hanging out afterwards with Megan (from Wisconsin) and Sophia (from British Columbia)
– My host family has a refrigerator, albeit very small and not really used that much.  We have normal electricity plug-ins, as do most households.  However, most households do not have a fridge simply because they don’t need it.  Food down here in Guatemala is purchased to be consumed within a day or two, so that’s why there’s not much use for a refrigerator.  Meals are cooked to be eaten all at once, and if not, then the leftovers are eaten pretty immediately.  There’s no Costco or anything resembling bulk food quanities, except perhaps for buying toilet paper.  All the blocks in my barrior and in the city have at least 2 or 3 tiendas, which are like little convenience stores will all the necessecities–breads, meats, milks, drinks, toiletries, snacks, etc.  Thus, when people want to cook, they’ll just walk across the calle or over 2 “houses” to the tienda to buy fresh food to cook.
– The food at home wasn’t quite cutting it this week (this morning was my third straight with a bowl of warm milk and corn flakes!!!  and of course by the time I sat down to eat it, all the flakes had turned to mush mush mush.  but I’m getting used to it), so for the last 2 days I have blown my budget by eating out.  And it has been a delightful experience!  In the Parque Central are a bunch of little food stands with vendors selling everything from popcorn to corn on the cob (but smeared with ketchup and mayo) to fried bananas with sugar and cream.  Yesterday I relented and bought a small plate of papas frites (french fries) and devoured them in all their greasy glory.  However, there was some really hot type of sauce she put on them, and my tongue burned and longed for something cold.  Ice cream!  Mitzy got a cone at a local ice cream shop, but I tasted her cookies and cream and decided that it was waaay too sweet.  I needed something a little less dramatic, maybe soft serve….but who would have soft serve that isn’t too sweet???  Ha ha ha, McDonald’s!!!!  Yep, I did it!  I went to McDonald’s and got my fifty cent soft serve ice cream cone and LOVED it!  Finally, some food I could really melt into!  And that’s not all…well, I’m not going to say that I got a Big Mac and fries and all of that because I didn’t.  But what I did do is eat eat eat for the past 2 days….fresh mixed fruits of watermelon, papaya, pineapple, strawberries and mango.  Had 2 big burritos at the local Blue Video cafe (after Las Cumbres, we were hungry!).  2 greasy empanadas filled with chicken and onions from a little Taiwan food stand, 2 other chicken empanadas made by a local woman who visits our school daily during our break to sell her homemade treats, as well as bite sized waffle pieces, muffins, breads and more.
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The papas frites stand
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Ahh, fresh fries!!!
– There are a bunch of things that I still can’t get used to that you probably wouldn’t see often in the U.S.
 – A guy stopping his car, opening the driver side, and taking a leak in the middle of the road.  No, not by some bush or in the country.  In the city, in the middle of the street, in broad daylight.  Women do it too.  They’ll just crouch down by a wall and pee.  And when certain sections of the city have their water turned off for a few days, you can imagine that the incidence of folks just taking a piss in the street or on the wall increases.
 – Food stands in Parque Central and other places.  Sure, maybe not so uncommon in the U.S.  But in the states, there are strict regulations for food handlers cards, permits and other rules.  Here, if you have somekind of food to sell, you just find yourself a spot and cook it and sell it.  A lot of food stands have buckets of water where they’ll do their own “cleaning” of food.
 – People riding scooters and motorcycles with no helmets.  With little 5 year old kids riding on the lap of the driver.  And in cars too.  Don’t worry about seatbelts.  Just climb aboard.  Oh yeah, and on my bike ride Sunday, a lady had her infant son wrapped in one of those slings around her body, just riding along in her motorcycle.
 – Pedestrian laws.  Forget about it.  No power to the common pedestrian here.  One of my school mates recounted an incident last week when she was in a microbus and the driver hit a cyclist.  The cyclist was clearly hurt and the driver just continued on like the cyclist was a speedbump.  No stopping to see if he was okay, it was just business as usual.  So I have to be extra extra careful when walking to and from school and trying to stay on the miniscule sidewalks as much as possible.
 – The dogs.  Everywhere.  Snooping around, laying around, fighting, barking, begging.  Some pics…
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 – People smaller than me.  Strange that I’m a “big” person.  Yes Monica, you would be a goddess if you were here.
 – These Spanish keyboards!  Things aren’t where I’m used to them being when I type.  So there’s ñ, ç, € and more.
One more quick note.  Yesterday when I returned from the Blue Video Cafe, I noticed a bunch of backpacks in the living room.  Seems that my household just gained 4 new people.  They are 2 female students from I forget where, and 2 of their Spanish language teachers.  From Antigua.  Guess they made a special trip to Xela and will only be here for a few days.  I hope.  Because this morning was crazy trying to use the single bathroom with 4 women.  Actually, I never had the opportunity to use it.  Just a few more days, I hope, otherwise I’m switching families next week.  Oh, and you’d think that with more people the food might improve.  Not.  Last night was another skimpy serving of scrambled eggs and refried beans for dinner.  and one corn tortilla.  Yeah, I’m so glad I splurged on those burritos and other snacks earlier in the day.  And I will tomorrow.
One more final final note.  Spanish is still pretty up and down, but I am getting restless.  I have 2 more weeks signed up, and it’s looking like I might not go on much after that.  But things can always change.  I think I’m making progress, but that learning curve up and over the mountain has so many switchbacks that it seems like it will never end.  It was pretty interesting trying to communicate with a new student from Japan who started 2 days ago.  We tried to communicate in Spanish and it was pretty hard, but funny.  Okay, that’s all for now, gotta run to dinner and be surprised with another serving of eggs and refried beans!  YES!!!

Finally, the Food Post!

February 7th, 2006

I wrote the following post over the weekend but just now have the opportunity to post it. Things have been very busy the last few days and I hope I have some time on Friday for a new post, “The NOT-so Super Sunday, and “The Case of the Mondays.” Thanks again for your comments, and yes Carlos, you’re right, maybe I’ll go to California when I get back and learn the real street lingo español! Enjoy (unedited, but not rated R or anything)…and by the way, my breakfast this morning was a yummy bowl of corn flakes all soaked up with hot milk to make it mushy and slimy. Yum! And yesterday was a bowl of black bean soup with rice, which was pretty tasteless and not really filling. But on to the post!

So, where do I begin with the food? As most of you know, I LOVE to eat, and will eat just about anything. I’m not particulary fussy or finicky when it comes to food, although I will try to stay away from mushrooms, sushi and anything that is still moving.

As it turned out, my body took a full 3 days to get used to the new types of bacteria that entered my body through the food I ate. My first official taste of what would become a staple occurred while waiting for my bus from Guatemala City to Xela. A little restuarant tienda was at the nearby corner and I watched as a gentleman seemed to enjoy his little meal on his little styrofoam plate. With no Spanish, I just pointed to his plate and nodded my head. What I got was a fried egg overhard, refried black beans in a liquidy kind of form, and a piece of bread. All for about $1.50.

Later that day, my host mom had a delicious bowl of soup in chicken broth and a piece of chicken, accompanied by a delecable tomato salad. Things looked pretty good.

But then the night came, and the next day, and the next day, and my stomach was just torn to pieces. I should have started on my pepto bismol the moment I stepped off of the plane, but didn’t have my first one until Friday. By then, I was severely dehydrated and feeling pretty weak.

We have it good in the US, with our high standards of sanitation and keeping things clean. Here, it is a different story. Cutting boards to chop up meat are then used to slice vegetables. Tap water should be boiled for 20 minutes before consumption, but often times it is the same water used to clean the dishes. Although my mom has a fridge, sometimes I’ll wander into the kitchen and have to look the other way because things that we would typically store in the fridge are just out in the open. Meats, soups and other foods are left out overnight on the counter. I haven’t seen many flies in the house, but I avoid thinking about where my food comes from and for how long it has been there. I just hope that what I don’t know doesn’t hurt me and call it good cause my body will take care of the rest.

A lot of food is fried. Meats, bananas, beans, pastries, potatoes, eggs, and more. Mitzy mentioned that during one breakfast, she picked up her “omlette” and it was just dripping with oil. She hid it in a napkin and took it out to dispose of later.

I’m tired of eggs. Seems like I have eggs twice a day. Mostly it is eggs over hard with some ranchero sauce. I’ve taken to not eating the yolk anymore. Eggs over hard with refried beans and a tortilla or a piece of bread is a standard breakfast. But I’ve also had it for lunch and for dinner.

The following are pics from the food I have been served and have eaten at home. It may look pretty good in the pictures, but read the captions for more information.

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My first meal! Chicken soup with fresh sliced tomatoes and a pretty good dressing.

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Pasta salad slathered with mayo, grated carrots with a lime marinade, plain sliced tomatoes, and a bowl of liquid soup (instant lipton packet stuff you’d find in the grocery isle)

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2 corn tortillas, one “omlette” with sliced hot dogs, and a soupy serving of refried black beans.

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A trio of 3 corn tortillas with avocado and sliced hot dogs, plus a cauliflower and carrot salad with some kind of dressing.

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I don’t know what you call these. Both a wrapped in a corn husk. One is made of rice and some a piece of pork (really, it’s a piece of pork) and the other is made of mushed potatoes. Actually one of the better tasting meals I’ve had.

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Breakfast. A fried “omlette” with tomatoes, and a not-so-appealing shaped serving of refried black beans.

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The famous sardines, rice and cabbage slaw with mayo.

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My favorite meal! Simple comfort food. A piece of fried chicken, sliced cucumbers, and some rice. Unfortunately when I took my plate back to the sink I saw the piece of chicken skin next to the sliced cucumber skins.

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A crisp corn tortilla with avocado (it�s NOT guacamole) and that instant soup stuff.

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Ah, what is this? Vegetables and pasta! Yesss!! Only, it was very very salted. Like very salted. Plus there is that salty instant soup stuff again. Boy, I was sad after having such initial excitement.

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My plain fried “omlette” egg with fried plantains and a side of bread.

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Lunch. Instant cup o’ noodles, sliced tomatoes and some kind of fried meat. It was tasty, though.

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Fried plantains, a heap of mixed rice and refried black beans, and sliced hard boiled egg.

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Breakfast. Hamburgers? Yep. 2 small hamburger buns with hamburger meat with ketchup and some other secret sauce. It was pretty good.

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Rice, brocolli, and cauliflower fried in some kind of batter with ranchero sauce. It would have been pretty good had it not been so lukewarm.

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My lunch today, Saturday. My first real “meat” aside from the fried chicken and chicken soup. It wasn’t chewy and fatty, but it was pretty tasteless. Kind of odd since next to it was that really really really salty pasta with mayo and the grated carrots with lime.

So there you have it, a photo tour of what I’ve been eating. I’ve become accustomed to not expected too much, and I am very thankful that I have food to even eat at all. I hope I don’t sound too picky, it has honestly just been an adjustment for my body to take in reduced portions and calories, which is good, but I think I am lacking a few essential daily vitamins and nutrients. So it’s good that I have my generic Fred Flinstones vitamins to supplement my days with, although I doubt their dosage really makes much of an impact. I hope this will be able to post with the amount of pictures I have up!

Walking Around Xela

February 4th, 2006

Most of my fellow students took off to the beach for the weekend. Despite my being cold at night, I wasn’t really in the mood for hanging out in the hot 95 degree beach sun all day after taking what amounts to a 3 hour bus ride from Xela. 2 other students went to a retreat at a coffee plantation co-op (which I’ll sign up for on a future weekend), and another one signed up for a 2 day hike (which I will definitely do sometime before my studies are over). Me, I just wanted to take it easy, and so ended up walking around the town for 4 hours. Actually, I had 2 goals today. One, to find a public park where there are basketball hoops and players. And two, to locate some churros to buy where I can dip them into hot chocolate.

After a lot of walking, I found the place to play. 3 outdoor basketball courts, with no nets. People in Guatemala and not tall at all, I’d guess that the average height of a male is less than 5 foot 4, and that of a woman less than 5 foot 2. The game played here consists of a lot of driving to the basket and then dishing off. Not many players I saw went up for a jumper. Fouls are called, and balls are inbounded almost immediately from anywhere at the out of bounds. One guy had a #8 Kobe jersey, and another a #91 Rodman jersey. Maybe next week, when I have some basketball-related words in Spanish under my belt, will I join a game or two. But I’ll leave my trash talking back in the states.

I ended up at the local market for my churros, and actually didn’t find them until the tail end of my journey. Unfortunately the stand or any other nearby stands had no hot chocolate, so I had to eat my churros alone with some azucar (sugar).

Imagine the Saturday market, and then imagine it 10 times bigger with rows and rows of tarped and open stalls of everything imaginable. CDs, DVDs, shoes, socks, underwear, handicrafts, watches, vegetables, fruits, housewares, school supplies, kitchen tools, nuts, used electronics, etc. etc. etc. Stalls also sell meat, and outside the uncovered areas, little stands sell french fries, tortillas filled with meat and onions, fresh sliced fruit, empanadas, ice cream, and other fried items. It’s kinda like a flea market, but goes well beyond that. People walk around with a few items to sell to whoever crosses their path, while buses at the main terminal Minerva clog up the street with vendors selling their wares on the buses and people climbing aboard and off the buses. It is literally an intoxicating environment with all the sights, sounds and smells.

In addition to all the people, the goods, the buses and the activity, there’s garbage everywhere, and even more sad, is that the one main garbage area for the market where a lot of the debris is taken, has a bunch of people digging through it for food or to salvage things to sell. One of the students I hung out with last night, Lauren, just returned from a volunteer project in Guatemala City where her organization helps in construction projects for the poor. Her stories about witnessing and learning about the crime and poverty in the capital and the numbers of people at the garbage dump are gut-wrenching.

Got a little sidetracked there, but the subject of the current problems that plague Guatemalan society are worth a future post. Most of the foreigners I have met are here for one of 3 things: To learn Spanish, to volunteer, or to do a combination of both. I have not yet met one person who is here just to travel.

I leave you now with pics from visiting the 2 local markets here in Xela. Also, if you’d like to view a bigger image of the pictures, just click on one and a new window should open up with a larger version of the thumbnail. Tomorrow I’ll spend all day on a mountain bike, and my next post will be the Food post!

Quick Weekend Thoughts

February 3rd, 2006

I now close my 10th day here in Xela, and here are some weekend thoughts to chew on:

– Superbowl Sunday. Go Seahawks! I’ll be spending my day on a rented mountain bike touring the valley, then getting back in time for the 5pm Xela-time start for the big game.

– I’ve timed the church bells that go off every morning at 6am–it’s closer to 2 minutes than a full minute.

– At night, all the neighborhood dogs like to howl and bark and make a mockery of people trying to sleep. Plus the added benefit of car alarms, music and kids playing the streets into the late hours into the night always makes for an interesting time to try to get some sleep. I usually sleep around 11:30.

– There is pretty good, reliable internet service here in town, bolstered by a number of internet cafes and the like. Speed can vary quite a bit. I found a really cheap place and was all gung-ho excited, but left after only 10 minutes when loading up the Yahoo homepage took an excruciating 2 minutes. You get what you pay for.

– I’m surprised at how relatively inexpensive it is to call the states. It’s about 25 cents per minute, or about the same rate if you are on one of the those limited cell phone packages in the states.

– You are not allowed to place anything into the toilets. Only the body’s, natural things. Everything else goes into a waste basket. That goes for public restarants, hotels, in my home. It helps if there is a lid to the waste basket, if you can catch my drift, no pun intended.

– The salsa dancing is amazing down here. There is no cover to go to the local club, Coco Loco’s, and watch all the fantastic dancers on the dance floor. Dancing with the Stars would find some credible challengers here.

– Weather has generally been pretty good. Aside from cold nights (around 35 degrees), the days warm up by the afternoon and there has only been 2 days of light rain. Still, I wish I had packed warmer clothing and a full body towel, instead of my little REI packtowel.

– Spanish is still a struggle, and I wanted to avoid talking English to the gringos, but I just can’t help it. There’s a small group of students that I hang out and we try to speak in Spanish, but we usually resume back to our native tongue. I’ve gone the route of creating flash cards for myself and have found them to be really useful. But it was a little difficult in trying to request a local shoe repair fellow to try and fix my hiking boots.

– I am very very excited for the possibilities of traveling through Guatemala. There are plenty of Mayan ruins to see, the primary destination being Tikal. I’d also like to do the 5-day hike to El Mirador in Mexico. I’m getting waaay ahead of myself, and it could either motivate me to really hunker down and learn Spanish, or might hinder my progress because of my travel bug. Some students take classes for 4 weeks, leave for 2 to travel, and come back for another stint. I might have to do this as I am getting quite restless. Or I’ll just do it all in 4-10 weeks and then go. We’ll have to see about that, but if anyone out there has the opportunity to visit this country, GO!

– Still haven’t gone into Micky D’s. But many students did a couple of weeks ago when the water was out for 4 days. I managed to survive my 3 days of no water earlier this week.

Here are a few more pics for the weekend:

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My school is on this busy street where the sidewalk can barely squeeze two people abreast and you have to take your chances with stepping foot into the street.

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Last Sunday I spent an hour strolling through Xela’s cemetary, where rows and rows of tombs and gravestones are festooned with fresh flowers and other adornments. Many families spend a portion of Sunday to pay respects to their departed loved ones.

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Another area of the cemetary.

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Just one of the many dogs that roam the streets, alone and sometimes in packs.

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Construction workers tear up the street in order to do necessary repairs and upgrades to the local water supply. This is why sections of Xela do not have water for upwards of 4 days.

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Parque Central. This is the main outdoor hangout for Xela, about a 3 minute walk from school and many students from other programs meet here to study or pass the afternoon away. This Sunday, the parque will be transformed by the local handicraft market, held on the first Sunday of each month.

Have a nice weekend all.

Welcome inside

February 2nd, 2006

All students in my school have the option of having a homestay arranged with a local family. I think it’s an extra $35 per week for this, which includes meals 3 times a day, 7 days a week. You are supposed to have your own private room, and you’re also supposed to be the only student living in the home. With about 20 different language schools and programs in Xela, there are a number of families that offer up their home to students to gain a little extra money.

You’ve met Tonito, now meet mom, Claudia.

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27 years old, she’s lived in Xela for the last 3 years. Papa is in the “distillery” business, so I don’t see him much and actually haven’t even met him! Claudia aspires to open up a small restaurant in the next 4-5 months, which will specialize in simple, vegetarian plates that cater to students and other locals looking for cheap and wholesome food. She says she’ll have a small place close to Central Parque, with pictures of the plates posted up in the window with numbers to make it easier for ordering. Cool, I’m all for it. I just hope I can be the tester for her dishes…my next post will definitely have to be about the food.

As I mentioned in my previous post, it’s about a 12-15 minute walk to and from school, depending on how much traffic, dust and diesel fumes I have to dodge.

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The street leading up to my homestay.

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The same street with the usual dust from cars driving by and the wind blowing it around.

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Exterior of my home. I enter through the black door on the lower right.

Homes in Xela are 50/50 constructed by: concrete, and others in tierra fire-hearth bricks. My home is concrete construction, which makes it cool inside during the summer….but freaking COLD during the invierno (winter) months. Xela has only two seasons–summer and winter. Guess which one I’m in.

You enter the black door into a single car garage, and opening the 2nd door reveals the living room. Just beyond that is the dining area with small TV, and beyond is the kitchen. Upstairs holds the master bedroom with it’s own bath, and 3 bedrooms. I have a small private bathroom just off the bedroom hallway. The 3rd floor holds the rooftop piazza, basically where they keep their pila (holding tank for water) and where clotheslines are strung across for laundry to dry. On clear days I can get a pretty good view of the surrounding areas and can watch the street scene unfold below me.

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The living room

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The dining area

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Opposite view into the living room, looking from the dining area. The brown door enters into the garage and out into the street. The stairs on the left go up to the bedrooms.

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My bedroom in all its glory.

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One more shot of my spacious bedroom. Notice there’s no closet, no dresser and lacks anything more than the desk, chair, bed, and window. Could be worse, and it’s livable, so I’m fine with it.

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The view from the rooftop

So there you have it. Mi casa. I might change families in 3 weeks, just to get a different experience and perhaps get an upgrade on my food. But Claudia has been great, I love little Tonito, and overall I’m pretty happy with my homestay. I even caught some of the Portland Trailblazers – San Antonio Spurs basketball game last night on the fuzzy small TV! For some reason, it gets a San Antonio station and with the volume off, I was able to make out the players and the score, they even showed a shot of the Rose Garden and Convention Center! So all in all it was pretty fun for me last night to see Portland in some form or fashion!

I hope that the pics attached don’t end up undersized in the blog, if they do I’ll try to fix em tomorrow night (Friday) so check back for a full size version! And thanks everyone for your comments, yesterday wasn’t my best but today was a lot better! Up and down, up and down. And you are right Jonas, now is the perfect time to grow my dastardly evil beard and big head of hair! Wait til I get back, you probably won’t recognize me and my 20 pounds!

What the Hell am I doing??

February 1st, 2006

So, WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING?
The food is hardly worth a mention–but oh, you’ll hear about it for sure a little later on. If it’s not black clouds of diesel fumes I inhale, it’s dust. It’s freezing at night, I’m coccooned in my sleeping bag underneath 3 blankets, with my jacket on. And my Spanish lessons just kill me!

Let’s call it a rough Monday. A very rough Monday. Seriously, I couldn’t take it. I just couldn’t get with the program. Couldn’t understand my maestra (teacher), and struggled mightily with simple words from the alphabet. “What am I doing? Maybe I should just pack my bags and hit the trail.” Felt like crap. Felt stupid. Like I was incapable of learning. Yeah, I was ready to quit.

But stuck it out. Spent Monday night studying hard and practicing as much as I could. Other students confided that they, too, had the same “What the hell am I doing?” thoughts. We all go through it. My friend Mitzy came down 5 weeks ago. Her husband is in Colorado, and she said that her first week mirrored mine. We all have our moments of pure frustration, and other days that turn out fabulous. Yesterday, Tuesday, was good. And today, well, it was almost a repeat of Monday. Up and down, up and down.

Perhaps I’m putting too much pressure on myself. It has, after all, been close to 7 years since I was last in school. I have pretty high expectations that I can get this language stuff down. But it has been very hard. My learning curve is slower than what I am accustomed to. My brain tries to formulate all the right word combinations and I try to remember certain words and vocabulary, and it just doesn’t come out of my mouth correctly or quickly enough. And listening to my teacher, I just can’t process. Frustrating.

I’m not quitting. But I have been so itchin’ to hit the trail. I have purposely avoided reading up about surrounding areas and towns and things to do and see. I’ll have plenty of time for that later. For now, I want to get my Spanish down. And I have a LONG ways to go. It’s like my mind is overloaded and can’t take in anymore. Luckily, I have some great student friends that can share in my lows, as well as highs. I’m hoping tomorrow will be much much better. Here are some pics of my school…

My school’s exterior

The downstairs interior. Upstairs we have our classrooms. There are currently about 15 students, all working one on one with teachers.

I’m starting to get a bit of a routine down. Wake up at 7:20. Breakfast at 7:30. Out the door at 7:45, in school at 8am. Private instruction til 10:30, break til 11, then more learning 11-1pm. Lunch back at home at 1:30pm. Back to school around 2:30 for the afternoon activity. Today it was at 3:30. Salsa dancing. My two left feet didn’t help me any. Dinner is usually around 7:30, though it has varied depending on when my mom gets home to prepare dinner. Once it was around 9:30. It’s funny calling her mom. She’s 27, 5 years younger than me. I’ll usually study til about 11:30, then hit the sack. And it’s repeat for the next day. At least I have my morning break fruit to look forward to (less than $1 for a small bag of pineapple, watermelon, coconut, mango, papaya or other fruits she decides to offer for the day).

This is the only fruit I get in my diet. I don’t know how much longer I can sustain on beans, tortillas, eggs, hot dogs, eggs, beans, tortillas, and eggs. I have yet to set foot in Mickie D’s, but oh man…..

Kids will be kids

February 1st, 2006

I’m doing a homestay in Xela, which means I’m staying with a family. I have a very spartan bedroom (read: bed, desk, chair. window. door. floor. ceiling. walls. yeah, that’s it) in a very cold (burrrr) “townhome” about a 12-15 minute walk from school, depending on how much traffic I have to dodge. At any rate, more on this living arrangement in a later post. Just thought I’d share a few pics of my little boy living in the home. 5 years old, Tonito. He is one funny, adorable little boy! He spends most of the day watching TV and playing with his dinosaur and action figures, and of course making loud explosion sound effects with emphasis on making sure everyone can hear him. My Spanish is so poor that I can’t even communicate with him except say “Hola, hola, hola.” At any rate, a few days ago I sat down to eat lunch. And his mother, Claudia, also prepared a bowl of food for him. A bowl of rice and sardines. Not exactly my first, second, or 15th choice of a dish to
eat…well, turns out Tonito didn’t take too well to it either. So, when his mother goes upstairs, he decides to do something about it…

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This is my plate of food. His was basically a bowl, sans the cabbage salad.

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He somehow finds a spatula, and scoops it away…

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Hmm, this box of newspaper looks ideal….

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“I’m sooo sly”

Good effort, but do you think he got away? Let’s just say that mom wasn’t too pleased…

A Whirlwind of Thoughts and Feelings

January 29th, 2006

Sunday, January 29th. I am now into my fifth day of living in Xela, Guatemala. It is a bit had to grasp that just last week I was with my friends enjoying the Seahawks punch their ticket into the Superbowl with a convincing win over Carolina. Such timing to take off! I’ll be missing the Superbowl, Wrestlemania, friends’ and family members’ birthdays, basketball league (go Under the Rim!), snowboarding etc etc.

But this is something I need to do and want to do. After seven straight years of doing the work thing, I just need a break. The travel bug that was planted within me over 12 years ago while trying to find work in Ireland has never let go.

I typically keep a hardbound journal with me during my travels, and I am pretty religious about recording my days’ adventures and thoughts. However, blogging is limited to computer and Internet access. Here in Xela, it is not too difficult, so I should be able to update pretty frequently. I could just tell about what I do every day. New words memorized. New friends made. New street vendor food eaten. But I want this blog to be much more. I want to use this as my hardbound journal, as an extension of my real thoughts and feelings.

To keep things from getting boring or old, I’ve decided to break up my blog into various topics, instead of singular days. There is simply too much to describe during my first 5 days here. Sure, I’ve been homesick. And part of that was because I was physically sick and wanted to just be at home with some comfort food, TV and my dose of the Willamette Week, the Mercury and Oregonian. And yeah, I miss my friends and family. But I know that they’ll be there when I return, and we’ll have many stories to share. Knowing that they are excited for my trip helps a lot, and I also know that many of my former work colleagues would love to just quit and do what I’m doing, but life and family obligations are primary obstacles for doing such a thing. I hope I don’t come across as being big-headed, but I feel very lucky to be doing what I’m doing. And meeting my fellow students and worldly travelers, I know that this is just the right thing for me to do. I am not rich and have a very
limited budget, but I hope to stay down here until May, or at least until my Spanish is good enough that I can use the rest of my money to travel to Mexico, Belize, Honduras and maybe Nicaragua and El Salvador.

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Here is a preview glimpse of my blog in the upcoming days and weeks…

– “Wildlife” roving packs of stray dogs, bedbugs, chickens and more, oh my!

– Living with no water service for 4 days

– Daily sounds — barking, car alarms, church bells, cat calls, music from the Carpenters

– The story of my shoes

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– (Trying to) Live on my $25 per day

– America comes to Guatemala — Mickie D�s, Taco Bell, the Gap, Payless Shoes….

– Futbol – Experiencing a real soccer game with fans where everything goes

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– Learning Spanish 5 hours a day, 5 days a week (with homework, of course)

– Salsa dancing

– New friends and their stories –USA, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Australia and from all over

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– Being SICK

– The scoop on the eating: black beans, corn tortillas, black beans, rice, black beans, eggs, black beans and more black beans

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– My host family and my homestay

– And much more

Feel free to post or comments to this blog, or email me directly. Also, if you find my blog even a bit entertaining or a good enough read, feel free to forward it to any of your friends who might also enjoy it. This will be just about my only sense of connection to keeping up with my life back home in Portland. So check back in the next few days for whereever my thought will take me. That’s all for now, folks, and thanks for reading!

Off to Guatemala!

January 26th, 2006

And here I begin where I left off, finishing my cross-country road trip and amtraking back to Portland. I was finally able to donate my car, but it was quite a hassle and I’m still not sure if everything is legit and taken care of. However, that’s something else to worry about for a later time, if it ever gets there.

Upon my return to work, I promptly gave my 2-weeks notice and finished my last 2 hectic weeks at work with a flurry of work-things to do. My last day was capped off by a great going away send-off party, with fried chicken, cake, cookies, my famous $.25 Fred Meyer pizza (I actually paid $.69 for it, so those of you who ate it, which I think was only 2 or 3, you better have enjoyed it!), salads, chips, bebidos and more. My boss provided me with a great going-away present: an REI gift certificate, a “Life is Good” headcap, writing pen, bike journal and star chart. My co-workers were also generous in giving me a little travel fund so that I may enjoy a cheap meal or two whilst in Guatemala. So a big thanks to all my co-workers, you made my last day memorable and I do miss the crazy crew, although not so much the stressful work itself.

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Quitting my job, I had one week left to square everything away, including doing my taxes, seeing and catching up with friends, watching as many movies as I could, playing my computer video game (very addictive, I only play once or twice a year), suspending my cell phone, authorizing my credit cards for overseas use, and getting all my things together. Unfortunately, I left my packing to the few hours before my flight left, which I regret because there are things that I forgot or simply lost on the way. Alas, it was time for me to hit the road to learn a little espanol.

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And so here are my public messages for a few selected friends:

– Dave, I received your message just as I boarded my plane….I was looking for you in representin’ United Airlines to make sure that my flight was comfortable, but I’m guessing that you were doing the Japan flight. And no, I don’t think Oprah was in first class (inside joke)

– Aliscia, thanks very much for the last minute tips and suggestions for making my home in Xela. I did meet up with Olga and look forward to having dinner with Cheeky, Carlos and the rest of the famia at some point in the near future.

– Rae, thanks for the heady tips regarding my trip to Guatemala–sounds like you had the experience of a lifetime, but I forgot to ask if you studied in Antigua or Xela? At any rate, I have avoided being mugged or robbed, knock on wood.

– Lisa, a big thanks for taking care of all my last minute housekeeping stuff, you are a life saver!

– Mike R, are you sure you didn’t find my wallet in your car? You’re not going to keep the money as a way of providing my lift to the airport, are you? But thanks nonetheless for taking me to the airport.

– Mom, no need to call long-distance to the school to make sure everything is a-ok, as I have settled in quite nicely.

– Jeff, I’m thinking that we should probably put that hot tub in when I get back, so party on Garth sans the hot tub!

– Mike J, yes, that was me you saw in the Phoenix Suns video….me and Gina go waaaay back!

– Melody, thanks for the CD’s…I actually forgot to pack a selection of music, so aside from my INXS CD and a CD of lesser songs, yours was a welcome addition….and the Brady Bunch and Reading Rainbow, quite a touch!

– Jack, thanks for the birthday card and I hope you had a great celebration as well! Next year I’ll send that singing telegram like I said!

– Angela, thanks for the Pepto Bismol, I didn’t think it would be necessary but I am eating those like candy ever since yesterday….more to come on this later.

– Marcus, missed out on your gig the day I flew out, but keep hoopin’ at Ballys every Saturday so that we can school Mike and Rene when I get back.

– Monica, thanks for helping me coordinate the future “gifts” for our friends…I’ll be sure to email you a reminder. Also, give out a hello to George for me!

Class is over today but I’ll be going back to school for a ‘graduation’ program for a few of the students, I tried to avoid the gringos but they have more Spanish under their belt so I’ll try to practice my Spanish. Ran into two Oregonians from Eugene, Lee and Gary, they are here for 6 months to travel all around Guatemala. I’ll end here because I have a bad feeling that this entire post will erase! More to come this weekend with additional pics of Xela and my homestay with all the good, the bad, and the ugly.