Saturday, July 30, 2011

No Day But Today

I’ve been back in the US for almost a week now and have been missing Antigua pretty much every minute. I could so easily pick up and move there.
My last day went by in a blur. As I mentioned, I visited some ruins, and then just walked around getting more pictures and saying goodbye to people. In total I took over 2000 pictures in 3 weeks!

I have been back to school to get ready for three days now and the kids arrive on Monday. I am anxious to use my new Spanish skills when visiting the families of my students. I hope I can keep practicing so I don’t forget all that I have learned. I also hope I can make Olga proud.

During the end of the second week of Spanish school, Olga had me read a short story/passage in Spanish out of a workbook and answer comprehension questions about it. I totally got a better understanding of my students from this exercise because this is a common activity we do in my classroom. I actually got a better understanding of my students overall from this trip. It is so difficult to learn in two different languages and while I get frustrated with my students at times, remembering my difficulties learning Spanish will help me to be more patient.

Although I had a really difficult time with much of the vocabulary, I understood that the passage was about how we have things to help us remember the past, but it’s important to live in the moment. The future hasn’t arrived yet so there is no use in worrying about it. Right now enjoy every moment you can.

It was somewhat sentimental and cheesy, but always a good thing to be reminded of none the less. I was impressed that I got the main idea of the passage. I think I’m ready to take the 3rd grade level ISAT test now in Spanish!

As corny as it may be, I do have to remember to live for right now. I miss Guatemala terribly, but I am looking forward to doing the best I can at my demanding job this year and hopefully returning to the amazing country very soon.

“Another Day” -RENT

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Today I Don't Feel Like Doing Anything

I am pretty much all packed up and ready to go, although I really don’t want to leave. I had a bit of a shopping problem this trip and have acquired a new purse collection, scarf collection, necklace collection, bag collection, and art collection. I can barely zip my suitcase so it’s probably best I leave before it gets out of control. It’s ironic because I absolutely hate shopping at home, but here it’s one of my favorite things to do. Maybe it’s because it’s fun to bargain for the best prices, almost like a game. Also, the stuff here is just so reasonable and so beautiful!

At the market there are a million pictures of Antigua but none of Tikal, so I had a man paint this one specifically for me. It turned out beautiful.

Yesterday I had a pretty relaxing day, although it didn’t start off that way in the morning. My friend Sharon and I decided to meet our friend Michelle at a pool that is in a very nice hotel in Antigua and pay to swim for the day. We didn’t feel like doing much else but relaxing. We didn’t get very specific directions, and no streets here are labeled, so we figured we would just go search. We ended up way, way out in the middle of nowhere. We were for sure lost, but we made some interesting discoveries. On the outskirts of Antigua must be where the really wealthy, elite people live. We passed tons of private gated communities we had no idea existed in this city. We finally got directions from a nice man near one of these places and made it to the hotel, only an hour late.

The pool at Porta Antigua Hotel

It was worth the walk to hang out at the pool. It has not rained in several days because right now is a short dry period in the rainy season called canicula. Therefore, it’s also pretty hot out (although nothing compared to what I’ve heard the weather is in Chicago). Jumping in the pool and lounging around all day at this gorgeous hotel was fabulous. I laid in the sun, took a long nap, read my book, and just had a relaxing time.

That night Sharon and I went to a cute Italian place for dinner, although the food was very mediocre, and then headed out to the bars in hopes of running into people. I wanted to say goodbye to some friends before I headed home. It’s so strange, yet nice, not having a phone here. I’ve really enjoyed it, but it was nights like last night it would definitely have come in handy. We sat at Mono Loco just hoping our friends would show up, and as we were thinking of leaving, they walked in! It was a fun last night having a few drinks and hanging out with some good new friends.

Me and the Swede.

This morning it was back to the hotel for a great breakfast buffet and then I went exploring some ruins, similar to what I did my last few days here two years ago. I have always liked photography, but lately I have become more and more interested in it. This trip was a great excuse to take shots, and I took advantage by taking almost 2000 pictures in three weeks. The ruins of Santa Clara were fabulous to shoot because every step you take there you get a new perspective. I am particularly interested in taking pictures through arches or windows in the buildings. It’s always amazing to see what lies just on the other side.

I will spend the rest of the day wandering around Antigua, soaking up as much of this place as possible before saying goodbye.

"The Lazy Song" Bruno Mars

Saturday, July 23, 2011

We Gonna Celebrate and Have a Good Time

It’s hard to believe I have less than 24 hours left in Antigua. I definitely am not ready to leave.

Yesterday was my last day of Spanish class. I have definitely learned a lot and am now able to hold a conversation with ease. Of course, my teacher does talk slowly for me and we still use a lot of hand gestures, but it’s still progress.

I will definitely miss my teacher, Olga. It was really interesting to have her as my teacher. Being indigenous, her life is so different and it’s fascinating to hear about it. We have discussed just about every topic from politics and religion to the kinds of jewelry we like. Although we did spend time on exercises in the workbooks, I definitely tried to steer the lessons more in the direction of conversation, and I think Olga and I both enjoyed it. She was a fantastic teacher.

Last night my friend Sharon and I decided to walk over to Café Sky, a restaurant with an amazing view from the rooftop bar. We got the most delicious liquados (similar to a smoothie) and enjoyed the sight of the sun setting behind Agua Volcano. There are so many great places like this around Antigua. I wish I had time to check them all out.

After our drinks we headed to the party that our school, Tecun Uman, was having. It’s an anniversary party that they have each year. And what better place to hold a party than….wait for it….the Car Wash of course! Yes, the party was in the car wash in front of my house.

The party was complete with delicious Guatemalan food, Gallo beer, and a DJ playing lots and lots of Salsa music. We ate, drank, and danced all night and all had a really good time. It was a good way to see everyone from the school before leaving. Unfortunately, Olga didn’t make it; I don’t think it was really her scene. It was a very fun night though. I was going to go away this weekend, but I am glad I decided to stay in Antigua.

"Celebration" -Kool and the Gang

Friday, July 22, 2011

It's a Nice Day for a White Wedding

Okay, a white wedding may not be the most appropriate title, being that the only thing that was white in the entire wedding was the bride’s veil.

For an afternoon activity, students at my school went to the town of San Antonio Aguas Calientes. I went there two years ago and visited again for a very short time when I went on my bike ride, but I got a much more in depth look at this pueblo this time around. This is also where my Spanish teacher is from, so I was curious to learn more about it.

We went to a place called Mananas y Tardes Mayas. Inside, the women of this town put on a presentation for us. Every woman in this village is a weaver. They start from a very young age and everything is done completely by hand. They showed us how they use different tools to complete the beautiful products they make.

Next it was time to demonstrate a traditional Mayan wedding. After a man proposes, they need to wait at least a year before the wedding because the woman needs to weave gifts for her fiancé, future mother-in-law, future-father- in law, future aunts, and all cousins. It sounds like an insane amount of work.

Two kids on our trip played the bride and groom and I got to be the mother of the groom. Just like last time I got to dress up in all the Mayan clothing. We acted out the whole ceremony, including the giving of gifts, the burning of incense, and, of course, the dancing. The mother of the groom has to wear the gifts given to her by the bride the entire time, and let me tell you, it gets really hot under all those layers of clothes!

After the “wedding” we were highly encouraged to shop for homemade products before going to eat. We ate the traditional Guatemalan food of pepian, and I got to use my newly acquired tortilla making skills. All tortillas survived this time around. The woman also gave us coffee. No grinders are used here. Everything is done by hand, including using a large rock to grind each bean of coffee! Not a job I would ever want.

On our way back to Antigua, we pulled over to a little park called Parque Mirador for a nice view of the mountains, volcanoes, and towns below. It was another very unique experience for me here in Guatemala.

"White Wedding" -Billy Idol

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Don't Burn the Day Away

This week has been very busy, not unlike the others. It unfortunately started with a sore throat and stuffy nose, many mosquito bites, and some other strange bites (possibly spiders?). I, however, was not going to let any of that stop me from doing all I can while I’m here. It is, after all, my last week before my return to reality.

Monday I had Spanish class and took it easy before going to Riley’s for trivia night. I’m pretty darn good at music trivia, if I do say so myself. Unfortunately, I arrived too late to officially participate in the contest, but it was fun none-the-less.

Tuesday was a jam packed day. After class and lunch, I headed back to the school for a cooking class. We made tacos and doblados. Almost anywhere you walk here, you will see Mayan women making tortillas, using their hands to perfectly flatten a ball of dough into a circle. At this class it was my turn to try. I did a pretty good job on my first one, but my second one hit the ground while attempting to flatten it. It was certainly not the only tortilla casualty of the day. Many a tortilla hit the floor. The ones that survived were filled with a mixture of peppers and deep fried in oil. The final result was taco and doblado deliciousness!

Pretty good for my first attempt!

The final product...delicious!

After cooking class and a quick walk around town, it was back to school for another lesson, this time Salsa Dancing. We started with the basic moves, which I picked up very quickly. Then it was on the turns and spins, which were slightly complicated. When it was time to partner, it got much more difficult. It was easy dancing with the teacher and I think I did pretty well keeping up, but when you put two beginners together it’s not a very pretty sight. It was definitely a workout, a lot of fun, and worth the 10Q ($1.25) I paid for the class.

Yesterday I went to the jade factory/store. Guatemala is known for its jade and is one of only a few places where real jade is found, Burma being the other major area for jade. I’ve always thought of jade as being green, but it actually comes in many colors. After the tour I ended up buying a necklace with a circle of green, black, and violet jade. The violet is my favorite and besides the newly discovered orange jade, is the rarest.

Black, Lilac, and Green Jade

One of my favorite things to do here is wander around, capturing great photos and checking out interesting places. I had not yet been to the McDonalds this trip and wanted to make a quick stop. I am not a big fan of McDonalds in the states, but here it is absolutely beautiful! I ended up staying longer than expected reading my book in a shaded area of the gorgeous garden. I also had to hang with Ronald for a while.

I am now living with a group of anthropologists at my house. They run a field school here in Antigua each summer. They are all have different backgrounds and are very interesting. Last night they had guests come in for dinner, so Annette, our house mom, set up a very special dinner. It was beautiful.
Annette did a fabulous job!

Last night was an open mike night at Café Rainbow followed by a short stop at La Esquina to listen to a Salsa band and practice my newly acquired moves.

I’m very sad to only have a few days left here. This city get closer to my heart each day, and it will be hard to say goodbye.

"Pig" -Dave Matthews Band

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I Wish I was a Nomad, an Indian, or a Saint

This past Saturday I got another early start for my trip to Lake Atitlan. I got picked up in a van with other Spanish students and we made our way to Panajachel, one of the towns near the lake. Luckily everyone was nicely showered and fresh this time around.

We stopped for breakfast before we came to our first views of the lake. Unfortunately, it was a little bit cloudy, but the lake was still absolutely gorgeous. We stopped for a few pictures and made our way to our hotel. The hotel this time around was also an enormous improvement over the “hotel” we stayed at in Livingston. No creepy crabs crawling around, just a nice clean room.

We took a boat ride from Panajachel to the pueblo of Santiago Atitlan. There are many different pueblos around the lake and they are all known for different things. Many of the pueblos have a majority of indigenous Mayan people living there. Santiago Atitlan is known best for its artists and paintings. There were many art galleries as we walked around. I personally found the people even more interesting to look at than the art.

We also went to the most interesting cemetery I have ever been to. It almost didn’t look real to me. The tombs were all different shapes, colors, and sizes. Each different color has significance. The tombs were different based on gender, job, status, etc. It is definitely more exciting to look at than any cemetery in the US. There was even a Shaman there while we visited preforming a ceremony. It didn't feel like walking through a cemetery at all. The colors were so bright and cheerful, which is supposed to help the dead start thier new lives in a positive place.

After the cemetery we walked to the main church, around which there was some sort of carnival going on, complete with rides and a large Ferris wheel. This wasn’t quite the Ferris wheel you would see at Navy Pier or Northbrook Days though, it was completely manual. There was actually a man pushing the wheel around the entire time. He must have been pretty darn tired.

The next village we headed to by boat was San Antonio Palopo. This pueblo is known for its textiles. Everything is made by hand and it can take about two weeks to make one item, like a scarf or table runner. It was all beautiful and I couldn’t resist buying two scarfs for about 5 dollars each.

Our group had dinner at a fun place back in Pana with live music and a great atmosphere. It’s definitely a fun town.

I was very excited in the morning to wake up to a crystal clear view of the volcanoes and lakes. It was breathtaking.

We left the lake to make our way to Chichicastenango, a pueblo known for its market days. After a while all the stuff at the markets start to look the same, but the live animals for sale all over was a bit unexpected. Also, the scene at the famous church, Santo Tomas, was quite unexpected. It was so crazy and chaotic that we could barely move. The steps of the church are where all the action takes place, where both tourists and locals congregate. A few minutes after this picture was taken, there was a woman preforming a religious ceremony while lighting incense and a big group of tourists getting their picture taken right behind. It was a scene of total contradiction, but very interesting.

Instead of shopping more, I chose to get a drink with some friends at the beautiful Hotel de Santo Thomas, sit back, and take in the whole experience.

I visited Lake Atitlan two years ago on my trip here, but this time was very different. Last time was filled with physical activity and this time was dominated by cultural activities. It was interesting to see the same place from a completely different perspective.

"World Falls" -Indigo Girls

Monday, July 18, 2011

We'll Watch the World From Above

It’s been very busy around here and I’m trying my best to keep up with the blog, but I am finding myself quickly falling behind. Rewind to last Wednesday. All the muscles in my body were aching from the bike ride and I could still barely sit down, so when I found out the afternoon activity was a visit to a museum requiring very little physical excersion, I was very happy.

We visited La Azotea Cultural Center. All the afternoon activities have been 100% in Spanish. I have been finding as time goes on I am able to comprehend more and more. (Hand gestures and facial expressions from the guides help a lot too).

La Azotea is a museum that has an area dedicated to Guatemalan coffee, music, and textiles. It is also a working coffee farm. We got a tour of each section and I actually understood most of what was being said, although I got easily distracted with so many opportunities for photos.

The next day the afternoon activity was going to Cerro de la Cruz (The cross on the hill), a place with some of the best views of Antigua. I was still aching but I was determined to climb all the way to the top to get those great views of Volcan de Agua. So we get in the shuttle to take us to the base of the hill, but then we keep driving and driving. I soon realized we were not climbing at all, but being driven to the top. I felt like it was kind of a cop out and the spectacular views weren’t quite earned, but I enjoyed them anyways. We got very lucky with a perfectly clear day.

On the top of the hill I started talking to our guide, Claudia. She has been working for my Spanish school for 8 years, but it turns out she is soon moving to the Chicago area! Her husband, who she met while he was on a trip to Guate, is from Illinois and they are going back there in a month or so. She knows nobody and needs to learn more English. I need to learn more Spanish, so we are going to be exchanging information and hopefully will be able to meet up and practice together. Here we are:

After taking in the amazing vista, a few of us walked (not drove) down the hill for some excellent coffee. There is nothing quite like it here.

As I said, the days have been busy, but that hasn’t stopped me from going out at night. Riley’s, the Irish Pub here (which caters to a very international crowd) tends to be a favorite. Here I am with Kelsey, Thomas, Sharon and Alex.

"Rhythm of Love" -Plain White T's

Friday, July 15, 2011

I Get On My Dirt Bike And Ride

I got back from my Tikal trip absolutely exhausted and a little bit sick. I’m not sure if it was something we ate or if something was going around, but it turned out that several people who were on the trip got sick. After Spanish school I decided to lay low and take a much needed nap.

Tuesday a girl from my Spanish School and Tikal trip, Alex, told me that she had put down a deposit on a bike trip with this group called Old Town Outfitters for herself and her friend Kelsey. Kelsey ended up getting very sick and there was no way she was going to make it, so I decided to go with Alex after lunch that afternoon.

So I just got back from a crazy busy trip, wasn’t feeling very well, and had sore legs from climbing all the temples. I hadn’t been on a bike in well over a year and was going with someone who had done a triathlon. I wasn’t sure that this trip was the best idea, but hey, why not, right?

I’m not sure what the most physically challenging thing I’ve done in my life has been, but this was way up on the list. We left from the shop on our bikes and rode on the busy cobblestone streets of Antigua. I’m not sure how many of you have ridden on cobblestone streets, but it’s not as easy as it looks. After about five minutes I was already tired but also determined.

We made our way past the cobblestone and out of town, stopping several times to check out the quaint parks and ruins that are scattered all over.

As we continued on we started to encounter hills, and more hills, and more hills. So up we went. One of the guides kept saying we will be going downhill soon, but this part never seemed to come. We FINALLY got to the downhill part and I’ve never been so excited. On the bottom of the hill we stopped at the Macadamia nut farm for about a half hour. It was a much needed break.

When we had to get back on our bikes, I don’t think my butt has ever hurt so badly in my life. We made our way on flat, but muddy, land for what seemed like forever to the town of San Antonio Agua Calientes, a village known for its weaving. I barely was able to hang on, but when I saw the Parque Central and knew we had arrived I was about ready to fall over. But hey, I had made it.

When we got off our bikes and looked around, I decided I was definitely done. I had hit my limit. I hopped on a chicken bus with one of the guides, Fernando, and got back to the shop to meet Alex and the other guides. I felt a little bad that I didn’t make it on my bike the whole trip, but when Fernando told me I had gone 13 miles, I felt very proud of myself.

Being that I can still can barely sit down several days later, I have a feeling I won’t be hopping on any bikes anytime soon, but it was definitely an experience I won’t forget.

"Levi Johnston's Blues" -Ben Folds and Nick Hornby

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been

So let’s continue where we left off. I was at Tikal and had just climbed all these amazing temples. They were steep and high and somewhat slippery, but I didn’t have too much of a problem. I finished the last temple and walked to go buy water. BOOM! Down I went. Not climbing a steep ruin where it is likely you would slip and fall, but just plain strolling along. I scraped both knees and my hands, but I was okay. Luckily I wasn’t with the whole group so nobody really knew I fell, well except everyone reading this now I guess.

We had lunch at this place with an amazing view and some fun feathered friends.

Then it was more time in the car next to my smelly amigo, who always seemed to be nearby. Seriously, it was rough. We made our way back to the Rio Dulce and took a boat ride to Livingston. Livingston is a pretty interesting place. The people there are part Guatemalan and part Caribbean. They are called Garifuna. It’s the only place in Guatemala you will find them.

Here is our first view of Livingston

We arrive and are herded into the back of pickup trucks to be taken over very bumpy roads to our nice hotel on the beach. We get dropped off in the dark and are told that we need to walk the rest of the way because the trucks can’t go over the bridge. Here is the picture of the bridge in daylight, but at night, when it is pitch black and you come to a creaky bridge in the middle of nowhere, it is a little disconcerting.

It really does look much scarier in the night.

From the bridge we walked about a third of a mile to our hotel. Some of us had flashlights and as soon as we pointed them to the sand we immediately saw about a 100 crabs crawling our way. I felt like I was in some kind of horror movie with the worst yet to come. We get to the “hotel” and I use that term very loosely. As promised, it was right on the beach, but when we were taken to our rooms it was not quite the “nice” place we’d been told. The view was great, but that was about it.

At least there was a nice view.

I’ve traveled quite a bit in Guatemala and stayed in some questionable rooms, but nothing like this. It was about 1,000 degrees, had bugs everywhere, a fan that was the most filthy thing I’ve ever seen, and a roof that was high over all the cabins so you could hear everything, including every time anyone went to the bathroom. It wasn’t even the room that was that bad. It was the bathroom. We shared it with 8 people and it was the most disgusting bathroom I had ever seen in my life…ever. It was so bad that after hours of walking and climbing in the 100 degree jungle and sweating more than I ever had in my life, I chose not to shower. I strategically only used the bathroom one time the whole stay. Camping would have been 100 times cleaner than this. (Mom and Dad if you are reading: This place made the Days Inn in Orlando look like a dream!)

I somehow slept all night and swam at the beach in the morning. Again, much cleaner than using the bathroom there. We got back on the pickups, spent some time in Livingston and headed back on the Rio Dulce.

Right in the middle of the river there was this random restaurant we pulled up to in our boat. They offered a tour of caves there and I’m not one to turn a chance to see something new, so it was down into the caves I went. It was nothing too unusual, but still pretty cool Just your typical stalagtites and stalagmites. I also got to add a layer of dirt to my already filthy body.

We finished off our ride on the Rio Dulce, passing some awesome looking lilly pads, ate lunch by the river, and took the very long, very smelly ride home, where I could finally shower.

What a trip!

"Truckin'" -The Greatful Dead