Februrary, Forever More

February 28th, 2007

Life in Antigua

Life in Antigua is filled with colorful houses, rocky-unpaved roads, beautiful and ornate churches, the sound of bustling cars, trucks, buses, and people spilling over the streets. Signs are placed discreetly; even McDonald’s does not stand  out. Police and military personnel seem out of place, but are all too common for even the school children to flinch. Public buses hurry along with never enough time, which is all too peculiar knowing all are going to be late. Many flock to the central square for an ice cream or a treat, while others look for love on every bench seat.

Panajachel and Chichicastenango Market

While in route to Panajachel this last weekend our shuttle’s engine decided to overheat. The problem seemed to have stemmed from a lack of cooling fluid. Not a big deal, our driver eventually pulled the vehicle over, called the travel agency and had us picked up in an hours time and on our way to Pana destination. I just feel bad for the guy sitting shotgun since the motor was located underneath his seat.

Coming down and descending upon Lake Atitlan was dramatic. Mountains and three large volcanoes surround this expansive lake, which is dotted by numerous towns along its shores. We ended up on the lip of the lake, watching the sun set and slowly fade. As this happened we could see small lights spring up from the small pueblos on the distance shores. We finished the night in a quaint restaurant talking with the Luis, the manager, and practicing our Spanish.

The next day we rose early and caught another shuttle to the ChiChi market, the largest market in all of Guatemala. We walked, shopped, and bought a few souvenirs and gifts over the duration of five hours; more than anyone needs in my opinion. Especially with the amount of haggling that goes into purchase. No price is set in stone, and usually the best was obtained after negotiating for a while and  ‘walking’ away as if we didn’t want it. It was definitely worth going, and apart from the tourist section of the market there is native mark et. It is filled with indigenous folk dressed in their traditional, intricate, and colorful garb selling vegetables, pigs, fruits, roosters, typical dishes, and anything else imaginable. Streets were too tight for comfort, little four foot ladies pushed me out of their way with either a baby or some other large sack strapped to their back, and every vendor yelled incase we couldn’t see what they were selling. Be sure to check out the photo section as it’s difficult to express the energy felt.

Nuestros Viaje a la Playa!

Feb. 20, 2007

To relax and celebrate my 22nd birthday Andres and I took a weekend trip to the beach in Monterrico. We took a shuttle bus to southwestern Guatemala with a local agency. The ride was 2 and a half hours, but very scenic. At one point our shuttle was ferried across a river on a steel launch with five other cars. This launch was manned by four men and was powered by a small motor. Once in Monterrico we checked into the Hotel Delfin (Dol phin). Our room was very basic, but we had our own bathroo m, shower, mosquito net, and fan that didn’t work. Th e walls were made of cement and the ceiling was made of palm leaves. The walls were open on the top so we could easily hear the conversation in the next room. The town of Monterrico was full of restaurants and buildings with thatched palm-leaf rooftops. Everything was close to the black volcanic beach, including Tortugario Monterrico, an animal rescue and museum, and Reserva Natural Monterrico, a natural reserve of coastal mangroves that support an abundance of aquatic life. After a lunch of tortillas and fried fish we walked up to the animal rescue and saw some turtles, caimans, and iguanas. Andy seemed to especially enjoy hangin’ out with the turtles. The museum was very funky with tons of jars of specimens from the reserve. Everything from a giant grasshopper to an entire snake was crammed into a jar of chemicals.

We met a friendly American named Roger who ate dinner with us and we shared stories of home and Guatemala together. After a romantic birthday brownie on the beach we went back to our room. We awoke at 5:30 to go to the Reserva for a tour on a boat. Our guide, Edgar, had worked very hard to convince us (Andy) that he was a certified guide with the reserve and that he was not over charging us. Our trip was very interesting and beautiful. We got a glimpse at many birds, fish, plants, and a magnificent sunrise.

The rest of the time we spent on the beach, catching up on our journals. The beach was very clean and there weren’t many people. The ocean was very powerful and warm. In the states this beach would turn into the spring break capital, but in Guatemala it is still a small uncomercialized escape. We took the same shuttle back to Antigua, where it was a bit chilly. This week we continue our Spanish and volunteering. It has been great hearing from all of you so continue to keep in touch!

Sonrisa

February 12th, 2007 (Andy)

Ahh…well it’s been a while. The site was down for a bit due to a web hosting problem. Most of the site is back now, and I’m hoping the host will be able to retrieve the rest shortly.

A little over a week ago we said goodbye to Nadya. She headed to Florida to catch up with her boyfriend on vacation for two weeks. Before she left she was hoping to return back to Antigua for another 3 weeks, but unfortunately today Rach received an email from her saying it was not possible to get a seat on another flight back to Germany from Guatemala until March. She will be added to the list of people that we have already met, but will definitely be missed and hopefully will see again in the future (Nadya, if you are reading this, Guatemala Reunion in 2008, be there!).

Pictured is Nadya, Elsa, their host mom, and Rachel.

Last weekend we set out on a strenuous, 8 hour hike to the top of Volcano Acatenango. Following, Paul, our guide from Luxemburg we climbed up with bamboo hiking sticks in hand next to 3 people from Belgium, 1 from the Netherlands, and a father with his teenage sons from the States. The hike took us through a cloud rain forest, a pine forest, and lastly a desolate ‘moon’ setting. The ‘spooky’ part of the hike, as our guide liked to say,  was that there are no animals on the volcano. And that’s what the name, Acatenango means, ‘the place of nothing’. Acatenango is a sleeping volcano, which could erupt again at any moment. So we thought it would be best to setup camp right in the crater of the volcano. I mean seriously, if it’s gonna happen I don ’t want to be taken out by some lava rock flying through the air. Oh no, I want to be sucked up right at the heart of the action and expelled wit h everything else. Anyway, nothing like that happened. Instead we toasted with wine during the sunset and spent a very cold and uncomfortable night under thousands upon thousands of stars. Other moments we spent in shrouded mist next to our guide who was cooking dinner, and the rest between hail and rain. It was not ideal since we could not see Fuego, an active volcano, sitting next to Acatenango, but memorable nonetheless. In the morning everything was gone except for a sheet of ice covering our tents and a nice view of Fuego and other surrounding areas. We left the volcano in a hurry by running down the entire mountain and sliding through the loose rock and spree in only 2 hours.

Work is going well. Rachel’s inventory of the books is coming along in the library, which is also helping increase her Guatemalan history and Spanish vocab. For better or worse, the last 60 years of Guatemalan history were pretty grim with war and violence towards the indigenous people. She wants to get to the point where she can teach the current librarians how to catalog books and use the excel program to continue to inventory the library after she leaves.

I’ve been doing odd jobs here and there. I installed 8 computers in a small library in a town called El Tejar along the Pan American Highway, setup 2 computers for a school, and another 6 for a school in Xela. Most of these computers came as donations for an affiliate company in Switzerland, and have sat for the past year in a DHL storehouse because the Guatemalan Government wanted $2,000 bucks in import taxes. The same thing has happened with other donations like books as well. =/

In school Rachel changed teachers last week because her previous one had a tendency to go off on tangents, if you will. Like spend an hour talking about ghost stories, or her favorite TV programs rather than maybe…Oh, I dunno teaching the Present Tense of Spanish. Her new one is much better. I have stuck with my teacher. Today we began the Future Tense of Spanish and she started talking to me like a normal Guatemalan. Meaning she talks much faster, doesn’t clearly pronounce every word and makes them all run together. I feel as though I’ve been sent back to the starting line.

Pictured above is our little, yellow tents inside the crater.