Walkabout: Travel Life and Photographs

A Long Patrol of Turtle Love

April 20, 2007

We arrived into Costa Rica on a Wednesday afternoon and spent our first night at Gaudy’s Backpackers in the capital, San Jose. The next day we headed out to ANAI headquarters and got briefed by Claudio, the director I think, on what is expected from us as volunteers working with Leatherback Sea Turtles. Once finished we caught a bus to the Caribbean coast and met the rest of the crew. We were taught how to work with the turtles and found out 3 groups of 2 or more people are sent out every night to patrol the beach looking for nesting turtles. The first group goes from 8-12, the next 10-2, and the last 12-4. Here are our accounts from our nights on patrol.

The first night: We eat dinner with the team at six; everyone goes to sleep shortly after. The alarm goes off at 9:50; we dress and wait for Andrey, the leader, and two others to head out on our first patrol. Andrey is fairly quiet so little is said a s we walk along the 8 mile roundtrip in the sand. The moon hangs low and out of sight behind the thick, tropical forest lining the sandy beach where fireflies sketch patterns on the black canvas night. Lights from Puerto Viejo lie in the distance and grow brighter as we walk on, plankton wash ashore beneath our feet with a shimmer of light, numerous stars dot the sky with an occasional shooting star catching our gaze. We approach the end of the beach and see lights; lights not ours or of another patrol team. “Poachers” Andrey says. Posing as fisherman there is nothing we can do, especially without a Park Ranger. The poachers are not dangerous and don’t want to harm anyone. They just want the eggs and usually get them. We turn and head back for bed. The clock reads 2:04. No turtles. Night two goes much the same.

 Night three: Starting much the same as previous nights we walk along in the silence of the night. Our group only consists of three; Andrey, Rachel, and myself. Coming close to the halfway point Rach and I begin to get our hopes up and wonder if we will at least glimpse one of these illusive and solitaire creatures of the sea. Then there she is. Tractor size tracks lead back to the sea, her nest already laid, and she is camouflaging the area to confuse predators. Andrey marks where he thinks the nest is with a stick. He gets anxious with the feeling that another leatherback is close and wants to move to the end of the beach. I am handed a can of pepper spray. Andrey says in broken English, “Here the trigger” and “you stay with turtle.” Rachel and Andrey disappear. I stand there with protection in hand overlooking a giant turtle making infrequent grunting noises. An ominous figure catches the corner of my eye and slides out of the sea. Another turtle. She makes her way above the high tide line as the other finishes the job and disappears into the waves. I wonder where my team has gone. Half an hour has passed; they were supposed to back in half that time. I try signaling with my flashlight, but to no avail. I assume they found another turtle. This is confirmed 15 minutes later as they appear with a bag of eggs in hand. I point out the new turtle. Andrey panics again and quickly digs a nest to relocate the eggs he has. Then his attention turns to the turtle which is nearly done digging her nest. We watch her curl up her back fins to scoop out the dirt to make a deep nest. It is quite amazing to see. She finishes and prepares to lay her eggs. Andrey puts me down on my stomach with my head at the back of turtle with a bag inside the nest to catch the eggs. I hold it as close to her as I can and she begins. I can feel her breath and the eggs as they drop in 3’s. While doing this Rachel and Andrey check for a PID identification tag, flipper tags, take measurements, a tissue sample, and write down other information like shark bites on the shell or rips in her flippers. She then lowers one flipper into the nest to make sure the eggs are there. Andrey yells “Take! Take!” at me and I quickly pull the bag out before she could fill it with sand. We cover the eggs with sand to keep warm as we begin searching for the nest of the first turtle. A while later the other patrol group catches up to us. Together we dig for the eggs, but we are unable to find them. They take the sack of eggs and relocate them further down shore and we head back to base. On the way back another turtle comes up and decides to trick us by pulling the old ‘false crawl’ and heads back into the ocean without nesting. We are all tired and thankful for this and get to bed a little past 5:00 in the morning. Witnessing the sheer enormity and strength of these animals was amazing. It was a long, but very exciting and unforgettable night for us all.

Night four: Rachel and I are put on hatchery watch from 12-6 to make sure no poachers come in and steal any of the eggs we’ve managed to save. Besides from me falling asleep several times and our imaginations getting the better of us, our shift was uneventful.

The last night of patrol: We were lucky and managed to swing the early shift from 8-12. At the end of the beach we encounter poachers again who were “fishing” as usual. They do little to acknowledge our presence. A very odd feeling when you’re both alone on the beach in the middle of the night, not to mention discouraging knowing they’ll take the eggs of a turtle if it comes to shore. The night rolls on seemingly slower than before. I look forward to our final rest stop at marker 44 which signifies one hour to go before reaching base. We approach our normal log to sit down, but reach a turtle first. She is very small and battered with many chunks missing from her back flippers. This makes it increasingly difficult to dig more than a shallow nest for her eggs. She does the best she can though and gives us time to get into position. Rachel is on her stomach waiting for the eggs to drop in. I have clipboard in hand and follow Patricio, our team leader for the night, around as we take measurements and notes. He finds she doesn’t have a PID and shows me how they insert it into their upper right flipper using a 3 inch needle as the turtle takes a breath. She starts bleeding everywhere. “Most of the time they don’t bleed, but a few times it goes everywhere” Patricio says while cleaning the wound. Next he puts one tag on each rear flipper and a takes a tissue sample. She starts bleeding from that too and it begins to drip on Rachel’s arm. The turtle seems not to notice any of this or care and is solely focused on laying her eggs. She finishes lying and they pull the bag out of the hole. I receive a blast of sand in my face as she covers everything up and I decide to move. Patricio relocates the eggs down beach and makes the real nest look like it’s already been poached. Hopefully this will be enough to confuse the poachers. We take a brief rest and head back for the night, talk with the next team coming out, and make it back by 1:00.

During the days, when we were not lethargic, we would go play in the waves of the beach, get games of volleyball or soccer going in the sand, travel to either Cahuita or Puerto Viejo to eat something other than rice and beans, and catch up with friends and family on the Internet. We went snorkeling and saw small coral reef formations, and went on hikes inside the Cahuita National Park where we saw heaps of hermit crabs scuttling along the trail next to larger red and blue crabs, caught glimpses of lizards and frogs, perhaps a toucan, poisonous snakes, and of course the curious white faced monkeys. A fun time spent on the beach with great volunteers and experiences.

Our Last Week In the Old City

April 11, 2007

We had the chance to witness many strong traditions during Semana Santa in Antigua (Easter Week). During this Holiday the people of Guatemala flock to Antigua to participate in processions that recreate the sentencing, death, and resurrection of Christ. The main religion of Guatemala is Catholicism and many Guatemaltecos have participated in this holy week for generations. The processions involve many people. Both women and men carry a float or “Andaria” throughout the streets of Antigua. The Andas are massive with flowers, angels, and statues of Jesus or Mary on top. With 40 people on each side of the Anda it sways down the street with a band playing a slow sad march. These processions last all day and into the night. The men wear purple robes; some carry incense, and carry Jesus. The women wear black and white with veils, and carry Mary. There is also a children’s procession, with a smaller float. The significance of the procession is to carry the pain that Jesus Christ carried on his way to his crucifixion. Some carry the Anda for penance, others for tradition. Every few blocks new carriers switch with the others and the procession continues at a steady crawl. Andy and I witnessed many of these processions. It was quite an amazing experience. The biggest ones were on Thursday and Friday. The recreation of the sentencing was a group of men dressed as Romans on horseback that went to several corners of the city and read out loud the sentencing of Christ. At 5am the procession of the death of Christ began. Smoke from the incense filled the street along with people. The next few days there were several other processions that represented the mourning for the death of Christ and then his Resurrection on Easter Sunday. The most important day was Friday. Guatemaltecos are not supposed to work for it is a day of rest and mourning for Christ.

Another tradition that is very unique to Antigua is the making of Alfombras. Alfombras are carpets that people make in the streets as an offering to Christ. These pieces of art are made out of flowers, fruit, and colored sawdust. Andy and I had the chance to help make 2 out of flowers. Even families that don’t have much money still partake in the alfombras. My host mom told me it is a sacrifice that people are willing to make for Dios (God). People start making alfombras in almost every street in Antigua where the procession is going to pass. This all began on Thursday night and continued through the night until the procession passed by in the morning on Friday. Families worked for hours on these beautiful, detailed carpets. When the procession came the alfombras were destroyed as the Anda was carried past. People would follow and pick up the flowers and then men with shovels, a backhoe and a truck close behind to pick up what was left of the mangled alfombras. It was amazing the amount of time and work the people poured into these works of art only to see they destroyed the next day. To many that fact didn’t matter because it was an offering to Christ. After staying up all night making alfombras, visiting churches, walking around the city to see other alfombras, we saw the procession and went to bed. I have to admire this tradition and the people who believe so strongly in what they stand for.

Once the last procession was over on Sunday Antigua returned to normal. We spent our last days studying, walking, and saying goodbye to the friends we met, spent time with, and worked with during our journey in Guatemala. I was happy to find out that my work is being and will be continued at the library in Pedro Molina. Andy and I received an Intermediate Advanced score on our Spanish exam! Que Bueno! Now we are waiting in the Airport in Guatemala City for our flight to Costa Rica where more adventures are waiting. It was sad to say goodbye to the old city and everything that is familiar about it, but I have the feeling that someday I will see her again.

Yo Estoy Aqui, Barracho y Loco

April 5, 2007

My parents arrived late on a Friday night. Rach and I were lucky enough to get a ride down with the shuttle to pick them up and greet them. Glad to see them we caught up as we spent the first 3 days in Antigua showing them around and touring various churches, meeting our host families, and so forth. In the evening of the last night we hiked up Volcano Pacaya. Rach and I were impressed with this hike our first time around, but it was even better the second, as more lava flows were visible. Our guide also made it exciting, because as we approached what we thought would be the “don’t go beyond this point” line our guide momentarily paused before ascending further. He called back for all of us to follow him; most of the group hesitated and hung back. I knew that I wouldn’t get another opportunity like this, especially in the States, so I set off following him with Rachel coming behind and both my parents too. We came within about 10-12 feet of a lava flow slowly falling down the mountainside. It was great.

For our next few days we headed out to Lake Atitlan. We heard about a sweet Zip Line Tour outside of Panajachel that we had to visit. This was our first destination. We had to first climb up the mountainside to the first leading zip line, attached into the cable from our body harnesses and away we went one-by-one. The tricky part was slowing down. Each of us had a leather glove that was used to grab the cable near the end of the zip line to slow us down in order to stop. It seemed scary at first, but once you got a feel of the ride it felt rather safe. The ride continued onto 5 other zip lines until we reached the bottom base camp where we had started.

The next two days we took boat rides out to the different pueblos scattered around the lake’s edge as well as a thermal area where the water shot up to scorching temperatures and dropped in cold spots just inches away. In was neat seeing all the little towns and how they varied from one another. Some were very tranquil and peaceful and for the most part we went unnoticed, while others were packed with people and kids harassing us to buy things or give them money even before we could get off the boat. One pueblo is well known for it’s ceramics that we’ve surprisingly found sold throughout Guatemala, others for their weavings, one for their wooden “maximon” figurine that the local people worship and give offerings in form of liquor and cigarettes to help with crops or deal blows to their enemies. We saw the way of life of the people around the lake and visited a few smaller towns that appeal to foreigners who are currently building homes and resorts in these areas.

From the lake we made our way to the Mayan ruins of Tikal on a 9 hour bus. The bus ended up being less glamorous than what we were originally told at the travel agency, making Rach and I feel really bad for my parents, but we all managed through it. We spent two days inside the park exploring the vast expanse of ruins left behind, many of which are still being excavated and reconstructed, not to mention unburied from the tropical jungle that quickly reclaims the limestone ruins. My favorite time in the park was towards the end of the day one most of the tourists had left, leaving the park relatively empty. In the afternoon we were walked back through the main plaza after watching the sunset from atop the “Lost World” temple. We found ourselves surrounded on all sides by towering temples and ruined complexes to match, almost no one around, quiet and a nearly full moon to light our way.

To round out our travels we stopped in Flores on the way back to Antigua and toured through a very unique zoo which had a variety of animals and birds like wild pigs, toucans, a puma, a jaguar, and spider monkeys. And finally we toured La Azotea in Antigua which is a small, working organic coffee plantation and a couple museums. Some interesting facts being that a single coffee tree produces 8.5 pounds of coffee fruit once a year, this makes one pound of coffee beans after processing, and is good for 40 cups of coffee. One worker can pick 100 pounds a day by hand in an 8 hour period, and get paid $4US dollars for every 100 pounds that’s about fifty cents an hour. The plantation exports the final product at $3US dollars a pound, where it’s sold in the States for $10US dollars a pound.

Our goodbye to my parents ended up being quicker than expected and therefore maybe a little more sad. All in all we had a good trip with the parents and are now looking forward to our travels to come in Costa Rica.

Sweet River

March 22, 2007

We continued on our travels by making a 9 hour trip to Rio Dulce. After the most uncomfortable bus ride we’ve had yet, we were thankful to get off the bus and get on a motor boat headed to a hotel tucked away in the jungle right on the river. We slept in the loft that had a thatched roof where bats lived. The next day we wanted to explore the town of Rio Dulce and find a place that was closer to the town. We found Tortugal where we have been for three nights. This is a very unique place that caters to yachties that bring their boats from places like Sweden, Canada, and Texas. This means the food is more expensive, but there are hot showers and our dorm room is above a dock and has a great breeze that battles the humidity. We climb a ladder to reach our beds and can feel the structure sway with the breaking waves.

From here we took a great boat trip up to the coast to the town of Livingston.  Even though the boat was late, cutting our time in Livingston very short, the ride was beautiful. We passed by little villages on the shores of the river, hot springs, and saw plenty of birds. Livingston is very small, but it has its own culture being populated by ‘Afro Caribbean’ people. We enjoyed fresh fish for lunch and then got back on the boat to Rio Dulce.

The next day we hopped on a bus towards the ruins of Quirigua, one of three national heritage spots in Guatemala. The bus dropped us off on the side of the road and we had to walk 4 kilometers to the entrance of the ruins. We were not quite sure if we were going the right way until a big tourist bus full of gringos passed by, an d near the end a nice Guatemalan man with his wife and baby gave us a ride about a quarter of mile from the entrance. In addition to the ruins there were large sandstone structures that were intricately carved with Mayan symbols and calendars. My favorite part was the grassy palace floor, surrounded on all sides by big stone stairs that helped create an acoustic sound system for the Mayan king to speak. Even though these ruins were a tourist hot spot (the entrance fee was Internationals: 25Q Locals: 2Q) we were glad we made the trip to see the remnants of what used to be an impressive Mayan city.

We wanted to explore a nearby fort called San Felipe de Castillo, which was built to protect Rio Dulce from pirates. The fort is accessible by kayak or by foot. Wanting some adventure we decided to head out on in a two person kayak from where we were staying. After an exchange of frustrations, we figured out a system and managed to get to the fort. The structure was pretty amazing with plenty of hidden rooms and doorways. The ride back was a work out, but less frustrating. Andy and I agreed that we need to work as a team more often, especially if we are going to someday be on the Amazing Race. The rest of the day we spent waiting on the side of a road for a bus to take us to the ‘hot waterfall hike’ that never came. Not phased by this we made a trip to the Mercado to buy snacks for our ride back to Antigua tomorrow. Kathy and Randy, Andy’s parents, arrive in Guatemala tomorrow night for a 10 day visit! We’ve got a great trip planned and we will tell you all about it.

I Found Chocolate Milk, It is a Good Day

March 16, 2007

Last week we finished up our studies and volunteer work. Both Kristin and Jon from Child-Aid and Norma, the head librarian from Probigua, were very impressed and happy with the work Rachel did at the library. And another volunteer this week will start where she left off. My work went all right, it did not go exactly as planned, but nothing ever does especially in Latin America. I’m not complaining by any means; I did become frustrated on some counts, but was able to experience another cultures work ethic. It’s much different from our own back in the States and for this is makes it more difficult to accept and adapt. To thank us for our work Jon had us all over to his house for lunch and personally gave thanks, and asked for advice as they hope to develop and expand their volunteer opportunities in the future.

Even though one chapter of our journey is over, we did not say goodbye to anyone just yet. We plan to return to Antigua for an additional week next month before leaving the country. However we did leave Antigua and set off for Coban in the northern part of the country. From there we were able to reach Semuc Champey, Las Marias, and Lanquin Caves.

Semuc Champey is claimed to be “the most beautiful spot in Guatemala” and we would have to agree with what we have seen so far. Nestled in between large, lush green mountains this natural limestone bridge stretches for nearly 1,000 feet. Below it is the River Cahabon and above it is a series of cascading, turquoise pools of water. All very in size and depth making some areas more private than others, and all are easily accessed through the assortment of waterfalls that spring from one to the other. Our tour led us up to “El Mirador” for a bird’s eye view of the place, than back down into the pools where we swam and jumped off a 20 foot ledge, ultimately we climbed down a rope ladder suspended in a waterfall to the rivers’ exit from the tunnel.

The next day we ventured off to Las Marias, which is a network of caves that string back into the mountain side for miles. The fun, and at times the scary, part of it all is the fact that a river runs through all of it. Armed with a simple candle each and nothing more our group went in. We went through a series of passage ways, most filled with water and others not. Much of the time we found ourselves unable to touch the bottom of the river and had to swim to carry on, all the while holding our candle out of the water to light our way. Twice we ran into waterfalls and climbed up through them using ladders previously placed there and secured by rope strapped to varying points. We eventually turned around after our candles reached their midpoint limit and hurried back before melted way entirely. We spent nearly two hours in the caves, which more than enough for both of us.

Our last stop was at Lanquin Caves. We were told the caves ran for 60km or more, but only the first few hundred yards are lit and the rest is unmapped. Impressive nevertheless as this was the biggest cave either of us had ever been in. And that’s saying a lot since we’ve been to Caves of the Wind, caves in Colorado, and New Zealand. We were even told that 600 Mayans were inside one of the caverns last month holding a sacred ceremony. They consider this cave to ‘good’ and use it to perform ‘white magic’. My goal now is to find an ‘evil’ cave for ‘black magic’. No comment as to why. =D

For now we’re back in Antigua resting a bit.  As the weather has started changing many people have become sick, including Rach and I a bit.  So we are taking it easy for a couple days and staying close to civilization before continuing on.

Adventure to Tecpan

March 5, 2007 (Raquel)

Last Friday Andy had the opportunity to see the fruits of his labor. In the mornings Andy works at the school setting up computers to send to various schools and libraries. In a pickup loaded with computers, books, and five people he made the 7 hour roundtrip to a Pueblo called Totonicapan. I stayed in bed all day with a sick stomach. Andy said the trip was long but worth it because he was able to see how grateful the community was for the computers. Rigoberto, leader of Probigua, mentioned Andy’s work in the speech that he gave at a small ceremony at the community center. The ceremony was traditionally Mayan being held in front of a small, replicated temple with a fire made from brush, flowers, and candles. Many people bathed in the smoke of the fire to capture its energy and spirit.

During the weekend we stayed close to Antigua. On Sunday we took a trip to the ruins of Iximche near Tecpan. We  thought it would be easy to take the chicken bus since it wasn’t terribly far away and we feel comfortable with our public transportation skills. As usual the chicken bus was an adventure. Let me just say it was a good thing that Andy grabbed some extra money before we left.

We took off on my usual bus headed for Chimal. Once there we had to transfer to another bus where the ayudante was trying to overcharge us. While waiting for the bus to gas up, I remember thinking: Here we are two of 4 gringos on this hot, humid, very crowded, smelly bus in Guatemala with the spanglish rendition of Lady in Red (Bum I totally thought of you) blasting over the speakers. Andy and I also enjoyed Total Eclipse of the  Heart and I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love Tonight? These buses are a part of Guatemala that can’t be replicated. Not knowing where exactly to get off for the ruins Andy and I had to practice our Spanish with the locals. Somehow we made it to our stop, but had to take a taxi to the ruins. Once at the ruins we paid the driver 25Q and another 50Q to enter the park. At this point Andy turned to me and said, “We aren’t going to have enough to get back Rach!” Rethinking our plan we decided that we could bet by as long as there weren’t any other surprises.

We spent a couple hours walking, climbing, and taking photos of the ruins. We had the chance to witness a Mayan ritual. A group of people were circled around an offering of flowers, candles, and various other items that were eventually lit on fire. Most men and some women were puffing on big cigars while listening to speeches given by a number of different people. As usual there were lots of firew orks, one that went of right by us making us jump. The Marimba and other native instruments filled the air as the people prayed and performed various rituals. This was another special experience to add to our list. Preparing ourselves for the trip home we jumped on a tuk-tuk and made it back to the highway to catch another chicken bus. I have never been on a bus with so many people! Andy and I couldn’t move let alone sit down! We stepped off the bus with  some change to spare and were more than happy to be back in Antigua. Our trip to Tecpan was truly a memorable one.

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!


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.

School and Volcano

Many things have happened since we last wrote including the improvement of our health!!!! We both are feeling much better. Our main event was starting Spanish lessons for four hours each morning. Classes are one on one, and there are about 15 other students in the us. My teacher patient teacher is Rebecca, a young woman that is going to college at night and teaching me during the day. Andy’s teacher is Rosa Maria, she has been teaching for 13 years. I have figured out that I hardly remember anything from high school Spanish class and have had to start over. Hopefully by the end of our trip I will be able to have a real conversation with the locals. After classes we have opportunities to attend Spanish movies, visit local places like a Macadamia Nut plantation, and we even have homework to do!

On Tuesday we met the volunteer coordinators, Kristen and Emily. While on a trip to a school, Pedro Molina, using the local bus transport called “chicken buses” – Old, loud, and brightly colored US school buses which drive super faster and crazy like – The school used to be a military base, but now is a school of 1000 students. The library needs a lot of help. It has many books, but many of them are very old and falling apart and many are just outdated. There is no record or inventory for the books so my job will be to create and inventory all the information about the book into a computer so that Probigua has some sort of record of what they have so they can see what the library needs. Emily and Kristen informed me that any work that I achieve in this library will help since there is so much that needs to be done. The computer center wasn’t up and running or else Andy would have checked it out. We are returning to Pedro Molina tomorrow so maybe he will get a chance then.

On Friday night we went out for a drink with Nadya to the only Irish bar in Antigua, Reillys. Andy ordered what looked like a wine cooler type drink, but ended up with a beer that tastes similar to bud light. The atmosphere at Reillys was pretty much the same as home with the rapper 50 cent playing loudly.

On Sunday we climbed our first active volcano!!!! After a morning of homework a shuttle picked us up at our favorite internet place and took us to the trailhead of Vulcan Pacaya. On the way we met other people our age from Arizona and Canada. Once we stepped out of the shuttle our guide put us in a group called Pacaya and we started our climb to the active lava of the volcano. The trail was steep at first and really dusty. Once we were out of the trees we started seeing and walking on lava rocks that had been there for 5 months. As we kept going we saw smoke and lava on the volcano and the lava rocks that we were walking on started getting warm. The wind was cold, but the heat from the rocks was keeping us warm. We stayed close to our guide until we saw flowing lava coming down the side of the volcano!!!!