Saturday, August 20, 2011

Monday, August 15th – Homeward Bound!

This last day I managed to make a couple early morning visits, first with Ana (my Antigua house mother) and then with Katia (my Antigua teacher). It was so fun to be able to tell them about my adventures and be able to use past tense verbs!
When I returned to CasaSito to pack my things, one the ladies was there working in the office – my solitary living quarters was coming to life! After packing, I went to do one last draw from an ATM to pay for my CasaSito housing and a couple of their shirts (for me and Taylor), but was rejected! Arrrgh! Really, the last time I’d need to use an ATM here and now my bank has a red flag up! Luckily David at my school CSA was able to run my credit card and give me the cash. I ended up with barely enough time to get back to the house, give them a gift of smoked salmon and huckleberry jam, say good-bye to those all who were there, and haul my stuff out to the curb to meet my driver, Eddie.

Eddie is the same guy who picked me up from the airport, and we had very little conversation on that trip because he doesn’t speak much English and my Spanish was very limited at that point. Well, the ride back to the airport was completely different! We talked the whole way. I told him all about my adventures and the places I went, he was very curious about Chajul…I get the feeling not many people ever go there and there’s a bit of both mystery and fear left over from when all the bad stuff was going on there during the 30 year civil war. Anyhow, we talked about the upcoming elections, and some of the presidential candidates, and a bunch of other little side topics, and I found myself wishing the drive was longer so we could keep chatting. The time passed much more quickly on this return trip. At the airport, I lingered in some of the little shops, where things were selling for 2-3 times the market prices, knowing that it would be the last time I’d see some of these fun little trinkets, textiles, and styles of art. I spent my last few quetzales on a few little things, including a cigar (I found out later from Taylor that I should have removed the label from it before going through customs!) oops!  
As I was getting on the plane in Guatemala, my name was called and they told me that my backpack didn’t pass security so I’d have to watch as they went through it looking for some metal object they couldn’t identify. After 5 minutes of them looking, I took over, unsure myself of what they might be looking for. I finally found the culprit, and revealed my top-secret jump-rope with lead weights and a little spring in the handles! We repacked it all and both I and my bag were on our way! Too bad I didn’t think to leave the jump-rope in an easy to fine place, because they weren’t as polite about it in Texas and simply dug through everything with zero concern for my belongings, ripping a bunch of my CSA papers and folders and cramming it all back in without bothering to buckle up anything. It’s a good thing I had the whole backpack in a huge protective duffle or it might not have all made it back! The funny thing is, I never once got a chance to use that darn jump-rope while I was there! Best intentions gone awry! Other than that, it was a pleasantly uneventful journey home, and Chuck was waiting for me as I came out of the terminal! It was so good to give him a huge hug! And the best part was the next day when Taylor, who I thought had left the same day for college (like Sierra did), showed up at home! It turns out that I would get a couple extra days with him before he had to leave! And thanks to Skype, I feel like I’ve already been with Sierra at her new dorm-home in Fort Collins, CO.

It’s nice to be home, but Guatemala, and the people of Chajul in particular, will always be in my heart and on my mind!

Sunday, August 14th

I woke up today realizing that it was the first day that I’ve been here and had nothing scheduled. A whole glorious day to just relax and do whatever the day brings! How to kill a day in Antigua? Spend half of it working on a computer and the other half in the art market!
Side note: I have been wanting to post a photo of a fully loaded chicken bus, but every time I've seen one, my camera wasn't handy. So, I finally  took a photo of a chicken bus, but it's naked...

I began by walking to El Parque Central to get quatzales for breakfast and the rest of my meals here…and maybe a little for El Mercado! Then I was off to my (and Taylor’s) favorite little breakfast nook for a Nutella crepe with bananos and some much needed journaling and photo organizing.
I spent the entire afternoon strolling casually around the art market. There are so many beautiful things there: textiles (blankets, scarves, hammocks, purses and bags of every type and size, table runners, shirts, pants…), wood carvings, various wooden musical instruments, clay art, masks, brightly colored paintings of Antigua landmarks and traditional Guatemalan people, beaded jewelry, handmade toys of all types, and on and on… There is a big outer square of buildings and little hallways leading in towards the center where there is a beautiful little fountain decorated with flowers (I posted a picture of it in one of my first few blogs). All of these passages are lined with store after store, all about the size of a small walk-in closet in a modern U.S. home.

Side note: Walking down the street, I saw the first kid having a temper tantrum that I’ve seen in couple weeks, and it was outside of the McDonald’s. I realized that the only time I saw a child behaving disagreeably in Chajul or any of those outlying pueblos, was when I saw a 2 or 3 year old boy having a bit of a fit about his older sister trying to wash his hair in the cold water from the “pila” (a cement sink of sorts that stores water that they use for washing and such)…I think I’d have thrown a fit too! It made me realize how spoiled and pampered kids (nearly all American kids) are so much less happy because then they’re always wanting, wanting, wanting. Kids whose families have so little, that they don’t have any point in putting energy into wanting, so they just don’t do it and they’re satisfied and happy with what they have. A little 25 cent cantaloupe -sized ball can bring tons of joy for weeks and weeks to a whole street of kids who play with it.
I was fortunate enough to get back from the market right before the sky broke open. It was soothing to just kick back and listen to the rain pour for a while. I went next door to the Bavarian restaurant and watched the intense last 45 minutes of a soccer game where one guy got taken off the field on a stretcher, and it ended in a shootout, where Spain, having missed two already, lost to Brazil on their fourth successful shot. Then I wandered through town looking for a good place to eat and by default (and desire for good music, ambiance and food) ended up at Rainbow Café again. I’ve eaten out for dinner three times in Antigua, and all three times I went there. Hmmm…not very adventurous of me huh? Anyhow, they did have great music tonight! I also finally got back into reading I, Rigoberta Menchu during the band’s break. It’s much more engaging now that I know the people of that region and have seen the culture first-hand.

Oh yeah – in my search for dinner, I found a big nighttime indoor market that had vast array of artisan goods from all over Guatemala. It had a very different feel though and was not your typical “market”. It was as much an art display as it was things for sale.
They had clearly and carefully displayed and labeled many different guipiles (pronounced “wee-pee-lays”) and which specific region and town they were from.
There was every time of textile good and art work that I've seen throughout my trip here.

There were also little statues similar to Saint Simon (the weird little saint that we went to see in Santiago).

 All of the items appeared to be for sale, but no one was around to pester you to buy anything, and in fact I had to look around to figure out where to go if you did want to buy something. It had a very mellow and calm feel to it.  I did buy some dark chocolate covered cacao nibs, and they are a wonderful little chocolate-connoisseur’s delicacy!

Then a little farther on, in el parque central, a church was lit up beautifully...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Saturday, August 13th

My last day in San Pedro! I had class in the morning today and for part of the time Josefa and I went to the nearby town of San Jaun to check out the textile artisan shops there that use all natural plant dyes. We were going to take a pick-up, but we didn’t want to wait for more people to fill one, so we took a tuk-tuk (bummer – I really wanted to do a pick-up ride while I was here!) These textile stores were not your average side of the street vendors; they all had little shops that were in actual buildings and some of them were them very nice! We went into about 6 of these and I found a great scarf for Mom at one of them! Things were higher priced than in the regular markets, but that is because these are specialty items and more work goes into making them because of the dyes they use. The store in the photo below has a display that shows which plants and plant parts are used to make different dye colors...

Side note #1: I have no idea how tuk-tuk drivers can see where they are going. The whole windshield is tinted fairly dark, has decals and stickers all over it, and has one little circle of clear glass to see through!

Side note #2: In San Pedro, it is common for them to shut down and entire street, often times a fairly main thoroughfare, for little one-hour political rallies! We had to go up a huge steep hill to get around one on the way back from San Juan.

After finishing up my lessons on verbs, I showed Josefa a blog done by my course coordinator/teacher Stacey, that has pictures of San Pedro, and Josefa was even in one – she liked that! Then we said, “Adios.”

There was a sweet little old man sitting on some doorsteps on our street who greeted me at least twice a day when I passed by. I really wanted to get a photo of him , but in the end was too pressed for time and didn't get to. He wore typical traditional clothing for San Pedro (something which you see less and less of these days as modernization occurs in these little pueblos all around Guatemala), which included these really cool 3/4 length loose white pants with a whole bunch of bright colorful little animal designs from the bottom of the pants up to the hips.

I had just enough time to pack and walk down to my shuttle bus to Antigua.  I said good-bye to Alejandra, her mother, and Jia. Then Jia decided to walk with me down to my shuttle near the docks.

At first the standard sized van appeared to have plenty of free space, but that was before 45 minutes of squirming (yes a van CAN squirm!)around San Jaun and San Marcos to pick up a total of 15 passengers and all of our crap, which we tossed up to the roof. It wasn’t quite as sardine-ish as a “public” shuttle would have been, but it wasn’t too far shy of being maximum capacity by Guatemalan standards. I suppose one or two more people could have stood in the sliding door well for the nearly five hour ride. The lady next me was from Iceland. We stopped at one point to get the tires changed, and another time when the sky cracked open in about 20 seconds and went from sunny to a complete downpour. It turns out that besides risking your life daily on the steep (15% grade or more), winding, washed-out, mud slide covered roads, a shuttle drivers’ job description includes climbing onto the van roof in a downpour to strap a tarp over the luggage!
A rainbow greeted us as we arrived in Antigua!
After lugging my 80 lbs of belongings about 5 blocks in the wrong direction, and back again, I found CasaSito just as Silke was about to give up on me arriving. She welcomed me in to what had been Taylor and Hilary’s room (Arbol – which means tree), showed me around the house, and then took her two little kids (who had run out of patience after waiting for me) and went home.

After getting settled, I found one of Taylor’s favorite places, Rainbow Café (on Silke’s advice) and got some dinner. There was a fund-raising event for Los Patojos going on, so it was crowded with locals, especially people who Taylor knew when he was here. After I’d finished a yummy meal and chatting at the bar with the two musicians, a woman (Alice) walked up to me and said sort of hesitantly (in English even!), “ Are you…” and I finished for her, “Taylor’s mom?” She immediately gave me a huge hug, escorted me over to her table, and I became part of Taylor’s Antigua family! It was really heartwarming to hear so many people say so many great things about my Boy! While we all chatted, some of the older boys from Los Patojos did a bunch of really cool break-dancing (my photos just don’t do it justice), one of the guys from Los Patojos told a bit about the program, and caps were passed around to collect donations. Around 11:00, Alice and her husband gave me a ride back to Casasito; it was my first time in a normal car in three weeks and a welcome gift in the pouring rain!

Friday, August 12th

Whew! I finally got a good night’s sleep and woke up feeling like myself again! After a shower, a tiny bit of laundry, and breakfast & showing some photos from Chajul to Alejandra and Chia, I ventured out into San Pedro for the first time since I’ve been here. It’s fairly small town with two sort of distinct sections, one with mostly locals (at the top of the town and near my house here – these lake towns are mostly built on a vertical plane!) and one with mostly locals (down by the boat dock). The market area right at the top of my street, is fairly typical, but instead of being a big flat square area with stands (tables and tarps), the main street is lined with these stands and people selling fruits, veggies, meats, undies, used shoes…you name it!

El Parque Central is located a block behind this bustling area and is where you catch a ride on a pick-up to one of the neighboring towns.

The tourist area has a bunch of restaurants, souvenir stores, and people from all over the world, with many hippie-type people. Besides the main steep street that connects the boat area to the upper section of town, there are these quaint little alleys that wind all around and also connect it all together. They are just wide enough for a tuk-tuk to drive on. They are lined with jungley wifi cafes & restaurants, posadas, Spanish schools, houses, and of course, corn “fields”.

After my class and dinner, Jia and I went out in search of Salsa, but couldn’t find any. We ended up dangling our feet in the water off the docks. A girl from our school bumped into us there and we went with her to a bar we had passed. This ended up being as much or more of a “cultural” experience as Salsa dancing! I discovered that what someone mentioned in conversation about a certain plant that is grown and used a lot in that area is true! There is quite a little hippie culture in San Pedro...kind of felt like a bunch of lost souls who were just kind of floating there because it’s an easy place to have a no-responsibility-hippie-style life. It was a cool little place, with hammocks, a few tables, stools and a bar. In the backyard down behind the bar, which had a beautiful night view of the lake and towns surrounding it, they were just starting up a big bon fire. Then a guy that worked there, lit some chain things on fire and started swinging and twirling them around! It was really cool. A girl from our school tried it and almost caught herself on fire! I passed on this activity and just watched. A few beers later, Jia and I called it a night and headed back home.

Thursday, August 11th

Some sort of event was going on very near the house, and loud announcements and music were going until 11:00 or 12:00 last night! At some point, I recall hearing loud boat or truck or train horns. Then the cats and dogs barks, meows, roof scratches, and screams (fighting or mating…or both?) started in, which were eventually replaced by morning rooster crows…it was the loudest night I can ever recall. Maybe I was just hypersensitive that night…hard to say, but the window will stay closed tonight!
I was happy to finally see daylight and 6:00 am on my watch today! Alejandra fixed a yummy pancake and bananas for breakfast, again a perfect meal for me at this time. After breakfast, I washed a bunch of clothes and hung them to dry on the roof outside my room.
Below is the view in one direction from the top level roof above my room and drying area!

Then I headed down to the school to figure out my departure plans and work on my computer a bit. The power went out, so I wasn’t able to do much on the internet, but I did get some journaling done and I set up my shuttle ride back to Antigua. After lunch, in my class I learned a whole bunch of past tense verbs – both regular and irregular. I still have to think really hard about how to say things in past tense, but I think I’m finally catching on! I also learned some helpful little phrases with “vez” and “por” and “a” and a little about how to use “lo” with adjectives and adverbs, but I’m still a bit confused about that. I was going to go to the night activity now that I’m finally feeling 100%, but because the power was out, the “conferencia” was cancelled. Jia and I were talking after dinner and she told me that there is a place in town that has free salsa dancing on Friday nights, so maybe tomorrow night I’ll finally get to try or at least watch some salsa!

Wednesday, August 10th

I felt better when I woke up, so I packed my things and caught a boat to San Pedro. Because I was still quite weak and a bit dizzy, I took a tuk-tuk to my school. The internet was working at the school and I was an hour early for my class, so I Skyped with Sierra and Chuck for a little while. We even got to use video this time! Our two other Skype sessions had been a bit temperamental and we couldn’t use video, so this was nice.
I had my first 5 hour class with Josefa at La Escuela Cooperativa.

She is a great teacher and jumped right in with what I need to learn. There was salsa dancing this night, but I was still feeling pretty crappy, so I was thinking I would at least watch the salsa class, but then right after class Alejandra, my homestay mother, met me at the school and walked me to her house. Since she had gone to the trouble of coming to meet me, I decided to give up on the salsa for that night.  Every town around this lake is built on steep hills! She showed me to my room on the third floor, and left me to rest. In a half hour, Alejandra called up for dinner. She had prepared the perfect dinner for someone who had been sick, a chicken-based potato soup. It was wonderful, and was the first substantial food I’d eaten in two days. At dinner I met “Jia” (this is not her real name, but it’s close and it’s what she uses here because her name is too difficult for people), the other girl who is staying at the house. After a short conversation with the two of them, I headed up to bed.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Tuesday, August 9th

Today the group would head back to Antigua after a lazy morning at the hotel. A few of us drifted down to the deck for some early morning sunshine, conversation, and eventually a yummy organic breakfast. I decided to treat myself to the massage I’d been promising myself for 5 years, so I waved goodbye to the group through the windows of the large round yoga/massage room as they left. Unfortunately, immediately after my massage, I got sick. The massage therapist and I decided that the two hour massage must have opened some long blocked channels or something. Anyhow, I ended up unable to travel to San Pedro that day to begin my Spanish classes there, so I stayed at the Santa Cruz hotel again that night. YUK!

Monday, August 8th

After breakfast, we lugged all our gear down to the dock, hopped on a boat, and headed to Santa Cruz. We hiked up the steep path to our cute little casas, dumped our stuff off, and set off on a 20 minute trail to Casa del Mundo, where we ate a wonderful lunch with an amazing view of the lake.
The two lower terraces of this hotel/restaurant are under water because the water level of the lake has risen so much in the past couple of years, real evidence of global warming.

We boarded a boat at Casa del Mundo in the crazy afternoon wild waters and crashed our way through the waves on a 45 minute ride to Santiago. I was at the front of the boat, which takes the hardest beating, so for much of the ride I stood and held onto the front bench, with knees bent and absorbing the shocks of the waves. It was a great little workout and a total blast! I think that may have been the funnest boat ride I’ve ever been on! In Santiago we followed a local boy (who we paid) up the steepest roads I’ve ever seen, to the house where Saint Simon is residing this year. This wooden carving of a Mexican man stands about 3 feet tall in the center of a small room of these people’s house that has been dedicated to hosting this saint for an entire year. It is a huge honor to house him, and they pretty much give up their job for the whole year so that they can sit by him as people come to their home to do their little ritual ceremony for him. People come to ask for some particular good fortune to happen in their lives. He is adorned with many neck ties and a couple black felt “cowboy” style hats. The room he is in is filled with an array of gaudy statues, paintings, and other little items. People bring him offerings of cigars, alcohol, and money. It was just plain bizarre! I would have taken a couple pictures, but I would have had to pay for it so I resisted the temptation. We killed an hour in the street of Santiago and then headed back on calmer waters to our hillside hotel in Santa Cruz. Some of us took advantage of happy hour and drank basil mojitos on the canopied deck that sits right on the lake before walking the 10 minute trail to dinner.
Dinner was gourmet 6 course event, prepared by a sweet Austrian woman and served by two adorable local assistants. She would come out as each new course was served and explain in brief detail what was special about it and what it was made with. The only light in the cozy little space that was the inside of this restaurant was the candles on our table. We could see lightning in the far distance across the lake all around the volcanoes. It was the most elegant meal I’ve ever had. On the walk back, I climbed a tree and startled the last few people in our group when they passed by : )
(Karma would get me the next day!) : (

Sunday, August 7th

Leave Chajul – The power was still out when we left at 8:00 the next morning, and we’d heard that it was massive and the entire region of Quiche was without power! Although power outages are common in these areas, ones this widespread are not. After a stop in Nebaj to drop off Lindsay and Christina, we headed to Chichi.
Market day in Chichicastenango – After being turned away from about 3-4 parking lots, we found one, parked, and hit the market! Carol Ann and I made it down one long street out of about 6 long street and all of the connecting side streets that were lined with vendors! It was a bit crazy, but we bought some fun stuff. I had been interested in a couple of beautiful little fabric squares that were embroidered with Mayan designs, a mountain, and Lake Atitilan, but she wanted more than I felt I should spend. It wasn’t that they weren’t worth what she wanted, I just couldn’t justify spending 500Q on something like that. Unfortunately, these vendors think that tourists have unlimited amounts of money and they will not stop once you show some interest. She followed me to the restaurant we were meeting at. I told her that they were beautiful and that I would love to buy them, but I just didn’t have that much money to spend and I had to go in and eat lunch. She was waiting for me when we came out! I made the mistake of stopping and looking at them and thinking about it again, so then she followed me all the way to the van. We had to gently push her back out of the doorway before we slid it shut. Then I tortured myself the rest of the way to Panahachel, thinking I should have just borrowed some money from one of the others and bought them!

Here is a photo of the man who owns the restaurant (or works there or something?) dressed in traditional garb, I think he dressed this way because he knew we were coming.

Arrive at Lake Atitlan – After checking in to our hotel in Pana, we hit the streets and did a little more shopping until we met again for dinner. After dinner, we went another place and got drinks. I was falling asleep, so after one, a few of us went back to the hotel. The “kids” (not necessarily an age-specific term in this case!) went and found a place with music and danced the night away!

Saturday, August 6th

Hike – We got up early, hopped on a micro, and rode it to Nebaj. From there, we began our hike through town, and up, up, up the hill. Before long we had an amazing view of Nebaj.
 After hiking for about an hour, we arrived at the top of the hill, where we stopped and took in the beauty for a bit. Then we hiked down the backside of the hill, into Acul, through the aldea, and to Hacienda a Mil Amores, a beautiful country ranch that is known for its amazing cheese. Lunch was fabulous! Hiking a steep hill after a lunch like that would have been impossible, so we took a micro back to Chajul.

Farewell - When we arrived in Chajul, the other LHI staff and many of the scholarship students were gathering at the office for a farewell gathering for us. One girl recited a poem she had written about the significance of the Guatemalan flag colors: blue on each side representing the oceans on either side of the country, and white in the middle representing peace…both the writing and the presentation were beautiful. Eight of them performed a traditional dance.
Several people stood up said in different ways, how much they appreciated us being there and working with them, and that they hoped we would return some day. Several of us stood up and said some thanks, and some significant other little ramblings – Susanna gave them some words of wisdom about how hopeful things were in Chajul because they were working so hard, and would eventually share their knowledge and experience with their community…I think was the general gist of it. One by one, kids stood up and presented each of us with a traditional Chajul-style purse that either their mother or they themselves made. Rosa, one of the girls who cooked breakfast for us in the mornings, presented me with  mine, and she actually made it! I love it! It will be my favorite souvenir from here!
We finished with” leche de aroz con chocolate” (hot chocolate rice milk) and Chiky cookies (store bought little butter cookies with chocolate on one side) – YUM!
Last Supper – Shortly after we returned to our posada and began preparing dinner, the power went out. So we fixed, ate, and cleaned up a yummy meal of chicken and macaroni & cheese that mostly Frank and Susanna prepared, all in the dark. We all teased Katie and Jake that they had sabotaged our power so we’d get to use our headlamps. We also packed in the dark.