Sunday, July 31, 2011

Thursday, July 28

I hiked La Cruz this morning with my new friend (another guest in our house). We went so early that we had to wait about 5 minutes for La Policia to arrive so that it was safe. The view of Antigua and the volcano was spectacular! I hadn’t seen the volcano yet because the clouds roll in by mid-morning.

Then I went to the market and really went in all the way and wandered around. The one thing I saw that moved me the most was the coal aisle. Understand, the “aisles” we about one foot wide, with a constant flwo of people going in both directions. Anyhow, in the coal aisle were these tiny old looking women – in about 10 or so different little partitions – with nearly black hands and very leathery, wrinkled skin, sitting in sort crumpled looking position on the cement floor next to their pile of coal, some fast asleep. I wanted to take a picture, but it just didn’t feel right.
After my last class with Katia, I walked to the hotel where I was to meet my LHI group with, only to find that they had changed hotels. So I took the note and map that were left for me, found the new location, walked there still carrying with my 50 pound backpack on and carrying two more small backpacks, each weighing about 15 pounds. Katia had carried one with me to the first hotel, but then left for home before I’d found out that it had changed. Anyhow, I was relived to finally meet up with them!
We went out for dinner at a place called Rainbow Café that had great food and wonderful live music. After dinner a handful of us wandered around looking for good live music and a beer, which proved to be tricky at 9:00 because everyone was shutting down already. We did manage to hear a song and a half by a somewhat famous Cuban musician named Ignacio from the Buena Vista band.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Wednesday, July 27

I ran this morning, but couldn’t find the entry to the hill with trails, so I ran around the city, looking for uncrowded streets at 7:45 am. I saw several massive ruins of old churches that were destroyed in earthquakes decades ago, but had no camera. They were very impressive, with walls about 4 feet thick! They were all gated off, but as I was looking into one, a man walked into what seemed like a desolate space with massive boulder-like chunks of plant-infested building lying around. I immediately got the feeling that I was intruding, so I smiled, nodded, and walked away. I think he might have a house somewhere within those ruins. This isn't a picture of those ruins, but it is one of the many ruins in town.
I ended up on the main avenue that has the big market, but didn’t realize it at the time. It was crowded with traffic and pedestrians, so I got away from it as soon as possible. I returned later after a shower and looked around a bit. The number of closet-sized stores is unfathomable! A fellow house guest asked me later if I got lost and was impressed when I said no. I guess a lot of tourists get very turned around in there. I guess I got lucky and just wandered in the right directions. I did pop out in a different place than I entered, but I quickly found my bearings.

I finally got on the internet and was able to read e-mail and find out where I am supposed to meet the group that I will go with to Chajul. I was relieved because I am meeting them tomorrow right after my last class at CSA. It is very difficult to find specific places because 1- there are no street signs (other than one-way and two-way traffic signs) and 2-the business signs are not hanging, but are on tiles that are pressed into the sides of the building or address which they name, so you have to have a rubber neck to see the names and addresses of building on along the sidewalk that you are on. It’s easier to read the ones across the street.
Interesting observations today: Forget about grass growing on rooftops, there are full-on jungles growing on fully operational businesses and homes! It is winter here. Winter in Antigua means morning sunshine and afternoon RAIN with occasional but intense lightening that tends to disrupt internet service.

Monday, July 7th

My alarm at 7am felt too early even after 11 hours of sleep! Breakfast was fruit, French toast, and an orange drink like Tang. The other house guests all of have classes in the morning, some at CSA (my school) and some at others. There are seemingly endless Spanish schools here. I don’t know how Taylor managed to contact all of them and keep straight which ones he’d been to or not.
After a bit more sleep and some studying, I ventured out into the streets to get my bearings a bit. I didn’t go too far because I had to leave myself time to do homework before lunch and my next class. I found the central park, which was buzzing with people: tourists, ladies selling textiles, locals asking tourists if they want to take Spanish lessons or a tour around Antigua, people of all ages sitting and chatting on benches all around the plaza. The fountains at the corners and in the center were all decked out with beautiful arrangements of tropical flowers left over from La Festival de Antigua. I went into a few stores selling artisan goods, mostly textiles. One place was actually a string of about 8 different shops, all connected with doorways that kept going back farther and farther, all with similar goods, but each slightly different in its own way, and each with a lady or two who would greet me and ask immediately if I was looking for anything in particular (all in Spanish though). Another parade went by me, but this one was led by an ambulance whose siren was going full-blast. It had about 20 small decorated pick-ups carrying 3-5 teenagers in the cabs and 5-10 in the back, who were dressed up to various degrees, and were waving. Some were throwing candy or roses to people watching. The streets all look the same to me, so I walked right past the alley to my house! I found it again without too much difficulty though.

When I got back to my house, I visited with the mother, Ana, the lady hired to help, Pasquala, and her young daughter (about 5 years old), Cecilia while they prepared lunch. I gave a rose from the parade to Anna and we became instant friends! It’s difficult for me to understand her though.
I really like my teacher, Katia. She has two boys, 3 and 6 years old. In the context of my lessons, we discuss everything from our families to local and global politics. I think we may solve all of the world’s problems before the end of the week!
I learned to take my rain jacket to class even if it is hot and sunny when I go. The rooftops hang over the sidewalks about a foot or two though, so I didn’t get too wet on my way home! Dinner was a sort of slightly creamy mix of vegetables like squash and carrots with rice and fried plantain bananas, which are quickly becoming one of my favorite dishes here. They served this amazing light green colored hot sauce that Pasquala called “chile” that is made of jalapenos, cilantro, lime, vinegar, and a little mayonnaise with both lunch and dinner.  My teacher Katia said that many people in Guatemala don’t really eat breakfast or dinner, just lunch.
Interesting observations: 1-grasses & shrubs growing on rooftops (not intended to be a “green-roof”), 2-crazy amounts of electrical wires all joining together in a tangled mass at a junction box on a corner pole.
Buenas noches!

La Primera Noche (The First Evening)

My trip here was pleasantly uneventful. After breezing through customs, I found my driver Eddie who was holding up a sign with my name on it, and we zoomed through the chaotic and confusing streets of Guate. After passing many election advertisements, people on motorcycles, sidewalk stores, and food vendors on sometimes very long, steep and somewhat winding streets, the scenery changed to narrow cobblestone streets, and a slower, gentler pace, marking our arrival in Antigua. Eddie dropped me off at my host family’s house where I met Maria (a college-aged daughter of the owners) who showed me to my room, gave me a key (which it turns out doesn’t work), gave me an excellent full-sized meal for lunch, and then escorted me to my Spanish school (CSA).
Next I embarked on 5 hours of one-on-one Spanish instruction with a wonderful lady whose name I will have to tell you tomorrow. It also turns out that today is a very big and important holiday that is specific to Antigua (La Festival de Antigua), so there was a small procession of a couple high school marching bands and a huge group of about 30 men carrying a statue-bearing religious float on their shoulders that all went right by the school windows, so we watched a bit. My brain got a bit mushy, but already I am learning much in Spanish and about many aspects of the Guatemalan culture.
My classes go from 1:00 to 6:00 pm, so meals are squished up to both ends of class, with lunch at 12:30 and dinner at 6:00. I walked the 4 or 5 blocks back to my house and the other 9 people who are staying here were already well into dinner, which is a lighter, but still quite a sufficient meal. We had good conversation (in English – we talked a bit in Spanish at lunch). Finally I folded, came back to my room and organized a bit.
Interesting sight today: A family of four all riding on one motorcycle down a bumpy Antigua road, with no helmets, and all looking amazingly comfortable!

Monday, July 25, 2011

On My Way!

Wow! That 9 weeks went fast and here I am in Houston, en route to Guatemala. I'll begin my first Spanish class today shortly after I arrive in Antigua and meet my host family. More later...