May Wright

May is a choir director in east Texas taking a summer to explore a new place, continue to work on her Spanish, explore a new profession, and dance a lot of salsa!

Final Days

 Posted by May Wright at 12:03 pm  Uncategorized  Comments Off on Final Days
Jul 262015
 

My last day working, Friday, a young Taiwanese woman came into Yellowhouse asking about what she could do over the weekend.  Lin is her name. I started suggesting various tours and then flipped to the pages with information on shuttles. “You can also just take a shuttle somewhere, and determine your own itinerary. In fact, that’s what I’m doing. I’m taking the shuttle to Panajachel.” She replied, “OK! That sounds great! I will do that!” to which I was a little dumbstuck. Not knowing this girl, I wasn’t sure about making a trip together, but I figured she’d only be with me for two days. If we don’t connect, at least I’ll be able to go along and enjoy the rest of my trip.

In the evening, I went out one last time to do a little more dancing. I ran into Frank, the Salsa instructor that I took a lesson with, and we danced 2 songs. He is just so amazing. His tiny stature does not hinder his dancing at all – even with a substantially taller woman like me.  I watched him dance with another girl who was also very good. During one song, he teamed up with another guy and they took turns dancing with the girl and every 20 seconds or so the other would cut in. So much fun to watch…

Saturday, our shuttle didn’t leave until 12:30, so I spent the time in the morning packing and taking a nice stroll around town with Joshua, my host brother. Central Park was abuzz with people. There was a group of teenagers with signs: “Abrazos gratis!” and “Hug Free!” They called out to me asking if I wanted a free hug. “It’s Free Hugs!” I said. The whole group called out in response “Aaahhh!” Joshua said I was being mean. I thought I was just being a teacher.

The shuttle ride was not pleasant. It took us a long time to get out of Antigua because the shuttle was full and there were a lot of people to pick up. I ended up in the very back corner of this large old van. This poor man who was probably 6 and a half feet tall ended up in the other corner. A few others were seated in these foldable temporary seats. We were all pretty uncomfortable. In Antigua, the cobblestone streets are super bumpy. Once we got on the road, it was better… until we hit a dead stop in Chimaltenango. Apparently this town in known for its traffic. The town closes the road from time to time for festivities and such. When we first got into town, we hit some kind of intersection where the gridlock was a mess. I can only describe this intersection by saying that there were cars everywhere, pointed in various directions, pushing their noses into tiny gaps trying to get through. It was nuts. We inched along for over an hour. In the back seat, when the van sat motionless, the heat and stuffiness was super uncomfortable. When we finally broke free from the traffic, a few miles later we stopped at a reststop and everyone basically burst out of the van.

Late afternoon, we arrived in Panajachel de Atitlan – one town of many that line the shores of this volcanic crater, now full of water and surrounded by hills and volcanoes. Lin and I took a Tuk-tuk to our hotel, Posada Los Encuentros. The hotel is in a spot that you would not expect to find a hotel – I think someone said it’s a quiet neighborhood. Inside, it has a neat little path through a garden that leads to each of the rooms. My favorite part about the place is that it had a hot tub with natural volcanically heated spring water. We took a soak both of the two nights that we stayed.

We immediately left in search of food and ended up eating at this place, El Chinito, “the little Chinese.” Here, Chino, or Chinito, seems to be somewhat of a common nickname among people, so it being the name of a restaurant wasn’t strange at all. The Chinese proprietor was there, helping serve at the tables, turning on laterns as it got dark. The ambience was really neat: covered but open air with lots of hanging plants making for a lush green outdoorsy feeling.  Between the plants were a bunch of unique glass lanterns. It was an enjoyable meal except for one thing: vendors! During the course of our dinner, at least 4 different vendors approached our table trying to sell us things – some of them more than once! I finally told one older woman that I did not like that she was trying to sell me things while I was trying to enjoy my dinner, and so I was not going to buy anything. She then burst into this story about how she needed money to return home and she also needed money for her son… I get the feeling that vendors are so pushy not from greed, but from desperation.

The barrage of vendors continued on Sunday on my trip to Chichicastenango. (Lin opted to take a boat ride on the lake instead since she would be leaving the next day.) This town is known for its huge markets every Thursday and Sunday. I ended up exploring the market with Kambria, a teacher from California who I met on the shuttle from Pana to Chichi. It turned out to be a really fun time visiting and just looking through all of the beautiful colorful textiles that the local people make. When it was time to head back, everyone waited in the shuttle for one person that was missing. Apparently he had gone to the ATM to take out money to buy a quilt. He ran out of time to go back and buy it, but the lady chased him down to the shuttle to sell it to him. Like I said, these venders are desperate.

It rained on the way back to Pana. By some miracle, I found Lin walking in the street and we again went off in search of food. We ended up at this place with a beautiful view of the lake. Lin got a hamburger and french fries (she’s a junk food and meat fanatic), and I got some enchiladas.

The next morning, I woke up early to go to a yoga class that I had seen advertised in town. Lin stayed in bed. When I got back, she was awake with a towel on her head, post-shower, and as I walked in the room she said, “May, I have a problem!” The night before, we had purchased her shuttle ticket to return to Antigua. We had requested the 12:00pm shuttle, but for some reason the agent wrote Lin’s Ticket for 9:30am. Neither of us had checked to make sure the time was right… After several attempts at talking to the agency, Lin finally had to buy another ticket. She had run out of money, so I left her with some money before heading out the door to catch a boat to Santiago. Lin still has some life learning to do…

I didn’t do a whole lot that day as some heavy rain set in in the afternoon. I walked the market and perused some of the stores. When the rain got really heavy I hung around at an art gallery and visited with the woman there. There is always culture to be shared! She and her husband provide for their 3 boys by painting. We talked about how 3 kids is really a maximum now adays compared to the previous generation who would have anywhere between 6 and 14 kids! I compared that to the US, saying that there was a time when more kids were more common too. Her husband does some travelling (including the US) to paint. I told her she needed to go with him. She said she’d like to go, but someone always has to be in town to open the shop. Plus, who knows if she could actually get a visa. Supposedly an American painter who liked this Guatemalan’s work, helped him to travel. There’s always a reason…

The next big thing was climbing the San Pedro volcano. The best words to describe it are “oh my God,” and that’s for all the pain of the hike and also for the spectacular view from the top. Antonio was my private guide. He came to my hotel at 5:00am while it was still dark and walked me down to the lakeshore where a small wooden boat with a paddle and a tiny chair (think toddler size) inside were waiting. Antonio welcomed me to take a seat. He hopped on the back, standing and paddling across the inlet for us to reach the bottom of the volcano. The way across was one of the most magical of the journey. The cacophony of birds singing with the view of a pink and purple sunrise  on the water was just stunning. I later learned that Santiago’s Mayan name was actually “City of Birds,” and rightly so!

As soon as we exited the boat, we started climbing. I thought this hike was going to be the perfect challenge for me. I had read that it was 3 hours up which didn’t seem so bad. Instead, it was grueling: So steep that I was having to stop to breath every few minutes. I stopped several times to sit and eat something in efforts to boost my energy. It didn’t help that I was also dealing with a sore throat, but I thought, “this is my one opportunity to do this, so I have to take it.” We walked through a variety of fields: tomato, coffee, corn, peach trees and lots of lush plant covered terrain. I was like the little kid asking “Are we there yet?” to Antonio except I just wanted to know I’d made it half way. I was seriously considering turning around. I asked Antonio if he’d had people turn around before and he said yes, only 2. Well I wasn’t going to be the 3rd! Si se puede! Yes you can!

I believe it was about 5 hours later that we finally arrived at the top. The view was absolutely stunning. You could see clouds whizzing by and the lake unbelievable far down below. I soaked in the gorgeous view, ate the remainder of my snacks (including some lychees!), and finally  laid down on a big boulder for a rest before the descent. I was so proud to have made it.

The descent started easy which you probably know if you’ve done any climbing. I had worried on the way up that the steepness would cause problems going back down. It didn’t though… until I had been descending about 45 minutes. My toes were hurting from bashing into the inside of my boots. My thighs were shaky. There were lots of fallen leaves on the path that made it slippery. Again, it was tough. Each time we stopped to take a rest on the way down, it was so tempting to just fall asleep.

Antonio and I got to talk a little more though having become more comfortable around one another and that definitely helped me keep my mind off of the discomfort. Antonio is 22 years old. He first climbed the volcano at age 18 and has climbed it over a hundred times since then. His work is being a tour guide for both volcano hikes and cultural tours around Lake Atitlan although he also does some work in Guatemala city as well. He says he’s happy with his life. When he was younger he wanted to live in the United States, but now, he’s content with his work in Santiago and happy to be near his family.

As we approached the shore of Santiago paddling back, it began to rain. I felt super lucky to have avoided it while we were hiking! It was chilling though on my utterly exhausted body. When I got back to the hotel, I slowly climbed the 4 flights of stairs to my room (it’s funny that I was excited that I got the top floor when I first arrived…), took a shower, and crashed into my bed. I had to pull myself back out of bed shortly after though to find food. I was starving. I descended the stairs (that was even more painful), hailed a tuk-tuk for a restaurant, and ate the perfect meal of chicken soup. Then it was finally time for bed!

I took a cultural tour the next morning which turned out to be not much to speak of. I did learn a little bit though: just the mix of Mayan culture with Hispanic and some of the traditions that local communities have kept up. I found it interesting that they still maintain the tradition of having a big celebration for Saint Santiago’s Day – the saint of Spain and this town’s namesake. Part of this celebration is adorning their church with banners of the Spanish flag’s colors.

I was ready to move on to my last destination: San Pedro, La Laguna. Before leaving though, I had a half hour to kill, so I took a seat at a streetside coffeeshop for a drink and snack. It looked nice and inviting, and the food and drink was great, but man, it’s just hard to enjoy when there are noisy, smoky, and smelly trucks, busses, and tuk tuks constantly racing by…

I got a breath of fresh air on the boat ride to San Pedro. I managed to find a spot to stay at a place called Pinocchio. San Pedro definitely has a different feel to it – at least in the part of town I got to see. It’s been more developed for tourists, so there are cute walkways and a variety of restaurants. My first two stops on the lake definitely had more of a dirty city kind of feel. I walked the town looking for something to do with my one afternoon there. I saw a sign for painting classes which sparked my interest, so I wandered on a tiny path, directed by signs to the Colibri, or “Hummingbird” bed, breakfast, and art. I finally arrived on a patio and saw a man sleeping on a chair. The dog spotted me though and barked, running up to greet me. When the man didn’t wake up, I turned to leave. I made it a few steps, and thought, no, I should try to ask him about classes. When I went back, he had his eyes open. Domingo, or “Mingo” as he goes by, invited me to sit and chat with him for a while, another Guatemalan, curious about another foreigner. He ended up giving me some recommendations on what to see and do that afternoon.

One recommendation was to walk to a swimming spot on the lake. While I was a bit frustrated trying to find the spot and having to walk on my extremely sore legs, it was worth it when I arrived – a beautiful place where a handful of locals were swimming, washing clothes, and literally bathing. Shortly after I got into the water, I noticed a little girl with her little brother and a woman. She was pointing at me saying, “look!” I greeted her with an “Hola!” and she said “Hola!” back. The little brother followed suit, and soon after, they were both by my side – the girl talking away. I probably spent an hour there talking with her and then her grandmother. They helped me find my way back toward my hotel on a tiny dirt path that wound through gardens and along the shore, even past a few abandoned houses in the water. There was a time when the lake was lower. When the water rose, some buildings had to be abandoned.

For dinner, I chose a place that turned out to duly function as a Spanish school. Since I was there at the right time, I was able to join in watching a documentary they were showing on camionetas, or  “chicken busses.” I’ve been very interested in exactly how these Chicken busses here come to be. Apparently, when American schools are ready to get rid of their busses, they auction them off and those busses go to Central America and Africa. This documentary followed one man whose job it was to go to the United States, purchase a bus, and drive it back to Guatemala to be reworked for public transportation. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen the busses here.

The next morning, I woke up early. Remembering how beautiful the sunrise was on the lake, I got out of bed at about 5:45 and climbed several flights of stairs up to top of Pinocchio to enjoy the sunrise once more. Again, the birds were singing beautifully. I marveled at the expansive view of the lake and the surrounding volcanoes. One other young woman was up there too. She had just finished her yoga instructor training course on the lake J One of the resident cats wondered up to join us and hopped up on my lap for some loving. It was a lovely morning.

My shuttle for Antigua left at 8:30am. This ride was much more pleasant than the other. No major hangups, I sat near the front, and I was able to find a visiting companion for the ride. She was a middle aged woman with her son and they had come together to volunteer at a school and to learn Spanish. I guess mom and kid travelling pairs are more common than I would have guessed.

The Yellowhouse girls greeted me when I entered, curious about how my trip went. I spent most of the afternoon trying to tie up loose ends, organizing stuff, saying last goodbyes, etc. But I did make a point to do one more thing with my day. Lin and I met up to have lunch at Cerro San Cristobal – another lovely overlook above Antigua with a nice restaurant. It was a delicious meal with a gorgeous view. I had to apologize to Lin though for having chosen a restaurant without meat on the menu… We parted ways for me to finish getting things together, but got together again at 7 as Lin invited me to her host home for dinner. I met her host dad, I believe his name was Chris, and one of her fellow housemates. Even though I wasn’t feeling well, I had a wonderful time visiting. Chris was a wonderful host serving us a lovely meal and visiting with us. He also complemented my Spanish capabilities which I always like J

My last day was pretty much just travel: Antigua to the Guatemala City Airport, Guate to Houston, Houston to Austin, and Austin to Round Rock.  The trip ran pretty smoothly, just I had a stomach bug… needless to say I am very glad to be back in the U.S. Guatemala was a good experience. I got what I needed out of my internship program: a taste of a career that I’m interested in and improved Spanish capabilities. I ultimately bonded with my host family. And I got to know a lot of beautiful places and people as well that I would never have known otherwise. People ask me if I’ll go back. Possibly. But as I always say, there are so many places in the world that I would like to see…

Finishing my internship

 Posted by May Wright at 12:10 pm  Guatemala, Uncategorized  Comments Off on Finishing my internship
Jul 162015
 

I can’t believe four weeks have passed so quickly! I am finishing my last week of working at Yellowhouse. Today, I gave my presentation to the Maximo Staff about my experience as was required for my program. They commended my presentation (phew!), and I feel like everything is coming to a close. My week of travelling is coming up though and I’m excited to finally go to Lago Atitlan!

This week, several experiences worth remembering…

On Monday night, I got to meet Julissa, a friend of Nery, and her family. They took me out to dinner at Comedor San Jose (I think was the name…) and I tried a chuchito – kind of like a tamale but filled with meat and tomato sauce, topped with avocado. I really liked it – even better than a tamale! They were curious about my impressions of Guatemala. Julissa asked, “What is the Guatemalan culture like to you?” which I struggled with a little. I’ve been here a while, but it’s hard to describe a culture. I said that it didn’t seem like there was much national pride which they agreed with. Guatemala has certainly had its struggles.

Tuesday, I was sitting in the park after Spanish class and 2 young Guatemalan boys in their school uniforms approached me and asked if they could interview me. They recorded it to show at school. It was a very simple interview: Hi, how are you, what’s your name, do you like Antigua, etc. I didn’t get the feeling they understood my answers… After they finished, two older boys came by to do the same interview. One held the camera with a paper underneath it with the words on it while the other interviewed me. I teased them saying that the younger boys didn’t need the cheat sheet! Teenagers are funny…

Afterwards, I went on a Street Food Tour. Turns out the guide is from Texas! It was funny I had already tried most of what we ate, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. At least I know I’ve gotten a good taste of Guatemalan Food! So it started with another chuchito, then a sweet milky candy, Canillitas de Leche, followed by a pupusa de queso (masa filled with cheese topped with avocado and cabbage relish, fried on a griddle), then a bowl of pepian (the chicken stew I had in monterrico), and finally, a pineapple smoothie. The place where we ate pepian was an experience… you walk into this tiny tienda (store) and pass the counter to go to the back. It’s dimly lit with tiny windows over the kitchen counter which was visible from where we were. I could see dishes stacked up in the sink. To the left of the sink sat a parrot. He was quiet for a while, but made a few squaks over the course of our time there. On the other side of our table was a large wooden shelf storing various items. I only remember the bunches of garlic cloves…

Wednesday, it rained. I mean like really rained. It started suddenly and hard, falling at a slant because of the wind. Within 30 or so, the street was completely flooded. Stores put wooden planks in the doorways to stop waves of water from passing vehicles from coming into the buildings. I watched a dog shyly step through. I’m told that the drain system is not cleaned, and it doesn’t work very well. That’s obvious now. Luckily, I got to enjoy the excitement from within the office and by the time I returned home, the water had subsided, and I didn’t have to forge any rivers.

Thursday, today, was my presentation, and while it went well, the setup was a bit stressful. I showed up to download my powerpoint from Google Drive before heading to my Spanish class. I ended up running around between computers and Maximo locations (there are two offices) trying to find internet that was working and internet that was fast enough to download my powerpoint. The internet is SO unreliable here. All turned out well though :) What’s a presentation without a little stress?

(New pictures on facebook!)

Another Weekend

 Posted by May Wright at 4:51 am  Uncategorized  Comments Off on Another Weekend
Jul 132015
 

This weekend was another great time. Saturday morning, Nery’s family took me out to breakfast at Cerro Santo Domingo. It is a lovely well manicured art museum and restaurant on the top of a hill near Antigua. We took a shuttle from town to get up there and headed to the restaurant first. After we finished, the waiters came over and sang to us because Saturday was Sijan’s birthday. They started singing “happy birthday” in English at first! Apparently that’s the tradition here. Then it changes to Spanish. After breakfast, we wandered the grounds and looked at the art they had on display. There was a museum dedicated to one of the artists who was featured there. I decided it’s no good to be famous because apparently after you’re gone, people show really horrible pictures of you in your museum. Man, this guy did not look so great…

When we were ready to go back down, we waited for the shuttle. As soon as it arrived, this large group of men appeared out of nowhere and filled the shuttle. The three of us girls (Mr. Orozco wasn’t able to join us at breakfast) looked at the shuttle hoping for a seat, but no one moved. I couldn’t beleive these men didn’t offer us a seat! Mr. Orozco was kind enough to drive up and get us though.

In the afternoon, I had plans to catch a shuttle to Earth Lodge where I would be staying the night. To kill some time, I went to grab lunch and then passed through Capuchinas, ruins of a convent close to my host home. It’s a cool place to explore. My favorite part was this room that had the most amazing reverb I’ve ever heard. There were no signs describing it so I can only assume it was designed for singing. When I found it, I was the only one there, so I started singing. The sound was absolutely amazing. I lingered for several minutes singing. I heard a group of people outside, so I stopped singing for a moment, but then started again, and I think it probably creeped them out a bit – like there was a ghost in the room :) When they came down, they told me, “We thought it was a recording!” and they asked me to sing again. I will try to post a recording on facebook sometime so you can listen too.

At four, I rode up through the hills to Earth Lodge – a beautiful spot in Hato, Guatemala where they grow avocados and run a hotel/hostel consisting of various cabins, treehouses, and a beautiful central lodge. I stayed in the dorm. To get to the lodge itself, the shuttle drops you off and you have to walk about 10 minutes down this steep hill. After checking in, I took a hike to a mirador. There are a bunch of little walking paths that go through green vegetation, past villagers’ houses, through cornfields, and up and down hills. The extremely friendly people of Hato are all over to help you find your way. Many of them enthusiastically wave and greet you. When I arrived to the mirador I had a spectacular view of Antigua below and the three volcanoes: Agua, Fuego, y Acatenango. I enjoyed for several minutes and then headed back to Earth Lodge – I didn’t want to get caught out in the dark.

I found a spot to chill until dinner time and visited with Lilly, an older British woman who has been travelling for the past 15 years. She says she’s seen about half of the world. She does some volunteering along the way. Her most recent volunteer project has been at an animal shelter. Here, stray dogs and cats are a problem. This shelter has about 300 dogs Lilly says! Can you imagine!? Part of her job is to walk them!

Dinner was incredible. Earth Lodge holds a dinner for all guests on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s all vegetarian and very creative. The plate of food was beautiful: Brocco-flower mac and cheese, beet hummus (magenta!), delicious rustic crackers for the hummus, corn bread, salad, and grilled pineapple. Plus a brownie for dessert!

In the morning, I hiked the trail again. It’s a good workout with all those hills! Then at 8:30 I went to the yoga class they offer outside. It was a beautiful clear day for it! Nothing like stretching and looking up to the blue sky, catching a glimpse of Fuego erupting in the distance, and breathing the clean air. I pretty much just took it easy until it was time to head back to Antigua – chatting with people and laying in a hammock.

Sunday night, Sofi and I went to La Sala for latin night. We watched the gringos in the group dance class they were offering and visited until the dancing really got going. I got to dance with several different guys. The crowd and the super slippery floor made it a bit difficult though. I watched some dancing too and WOW… there were several that were just on fire! Wish I could do that! Guess I should take more lessons…

Starting to feel at home

 Posted by May Wright at 5:31 am  Uncategorized  Comments Off on Starting to feel at home
Jul 102015
 

Thursday July 9

After my Spanish lesson this morning, I took a little field trip out to Jocotenango where the Azotea museum is. I was proud of myself for riding the chicken bus by myself successfully and had a nice time touring the place. It’s a coffee plantation, coffee museum, Mayan music museum, and textile display. Lots of neat things to see. I got to taste a fresh, raw, coffee bean off the tree. It was surprisingly sweet and gooey. The fermentation process removes all of that, so you would never taste it otherwise. They also had a beautiful plant nursery with lots of beautiful flowers. I recognized a few like hydrangeas. a pencil plant, and lantanas, but there were definitely some unique things too like banana trees! The mayan music museum had a nice video to watch and listen to. I like the sounds of the marimbas – the national instrument of guatemala. But there were some clips of Maya music and dance that were difficult to listen to. Sounded about like the junior high trumpet sectionals I occassionally have to endure in my work in Texas…

For a while I confess that I was feeling a little bit lonely. My work and class schedule does not lend itself well to meeting people, but over the past week, I’ve been able to spend some quality time with some really great people, and it’s starting to feel like home. Too bad it’s half over!

Last night was a blast. Sofi, Marisol, and I (the ladies from work minus Prizila) went to a restaurant, Frida’s, for dinner and drinks. It was a great atmosphere with live music, good company, great daqueris, and awesome Mexican food. I think we are going to go out dancing Sunday night. My host brother Joshua is going to take me out Friday. I found out something interesting about him this morning… he was asking for some paper from the other couple that stays at our house. He told me it was the same paper I had. He needed it, saw it in my room, and had already taken it. I responded, “You entered my room?!” to which he replied, “I clean your room!” Wow… did not know a 26 year old guy was cleaning my room… especially one that jokes about me being his “novia.”

Went out for a really nice lunch at La Fonda de la Calle Real with Luisa. Another lovely spot with a beautiful patio and awesome food. I got a plato tipico including a chile relleno, pupusa, rice, beans, cheese, this pickled cabbage stuff, and tortillas. Look for a picture soon on my facebook album! Luisa’s work is really interesting. She recently graduated with her degree in speech pathology and is working to become a speech pathologist. Here, she is working with kids with speech disorders, and while she loves it, she says it’s sad that the kids are not receiving all the help they need. Some only get help once a week which is not enough, and the help that they’re receiving is just from underqualified student volunteers (and even some of the Guatemalan speech pathologists are underqualified). These kids’ families cannot afford anything more.

Friday July 10

The water cut out this morning when I attempted to brush my teeth. I’m told it’s because they’re working on the pipelines. I’ve seen the major work happening in the streets, but I didn’t know it was for the water. They have to dig up all the cobblestone and pile it up in the street, closing the street to traffic. It is an absolute mess. Now, it’s really an inconvenience to be without water! It seems to be widespread too because the water is out here at Maximo Nivel too… aye aye…

Plans for the weekend are going out dancing tonight, breakfast with the Orozco’s tomorrow, barbeque and a stay at Earth Lodge, and some more dancing on Sunday.

Beach Trip

 Posted by May Wright at 4:56 am  Guatemala  Comments Off on Beach Trip
Jul 062015
 

Saturday morning, I left for Monterrico, Guatemala – a beach town. While the beach is not overly hyped up, I was curious about it and the nature reserve nearby. I also thought it would be cool to visit the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean in the same summer. (I’ll be on the coast of Maine later on). It turned out to be a great choice.

The drive from Antigua to Monterrico is marvelous. You roll down the hills and mountains of higher altitude Antigua down what’s called the pacific slope. The scenery is constantly changing: from coffee plantations, sugarcane, to coconut trees, and yellow flowering hanging sponge plants (did you know those long tubular sponges were plants!?). With the windows open, you can definitely sense the change in air quality as well: hotter and more humid. I was excited by all there was to see along the road as we approached the coast: colorful plants and flowers, thatch roofed houses, dogs and chickens on the dirt yards, people outside doing laundry or cooking, piles burning, coca cola logos painted on shop exteriors … it’s a colorful exciting ride.

Once we arrived in Monterrico, the driver dropped the others at their hotels and the driver and I made a few more stops to find a suitable room for me. Having heard that Monterrico was hot, I wanted a room with air conditioning. We found a suitable room at El Mangle and I haggled the price down to a more reasonable level and got them to throw in breakfast. Score! I hate haggling! I then set out to walk the beach before the sun became unbearable. The black sand was already pretty warm, but once you get to the wet part it’s not so bad. I thought I would walk through the water along the coast. I did do it, but from time to time I had to stop and just hold my ground to not get sucked into the ocean. The waves are so powerful, it’s actually a little scary. I thought I could kneel down to get wet, but the water turned me over and, I had to stand back up. At that point, I had black sand ALL OVER me.

On my walk, a local Guatemalan guy stopped me. We had met briefly at the hotel earlier, and he came over to chat. Sender is a very interesting guy. More interesting than I will share here, but he spent part of his life in Los Angeles, so his English is very good. I got to visit with him more over ceviche and beer at the local restaurant hangout. This place was packed and everyone was facing a TV (maybe 20 inches? Definitely not big enough for everyone to see), watching the Argentina vs. Chile futbol match. It seems like the guy knows a lot of people around town because he was chatting with several different groups that were there and also the staff.

I left to find a hammock for a short nap and then ended up at my hotel pool. (It seems like there are pools everywhere here by the way. I guess that’s the only way to survive the heat. That and cold beer). A middle aged man got into the pool, and I asked him, “Como estas?” “Bien y usted” “bien.” Silence for a while, and then commenced 2 hours of visiting with Marcelo, an Italian, in Guatemala on business. He designs machinery for sugar production. He is quite a talker, and I enjoy listening to him. His Spanish is very… Italian. He was my breakfast and morning walk companion on Sunday as well.

Sender had told me about a volleyball game going on at Johnny’s place, one of the hotels on the beach, so I went to check it out. I joined in and it was luckily a decent match. I’m probably about mediocre, and it’s embarrassing when everyone else is really good. These guys I played with were alright – I’m sure they’re more of soccer enthusiasts. One poor guy was pretty terrible. His friends laughed from the sidelines, and I couldn’t help but laugh along with them. I think latin guys – no, probably all guys – like to tease one another. It’s funny I can usually tell what’s going on even if I can’t understand their fast Spanish. We played as the sky turned pink and finally dark, and I ended the evening with a pina colada and a nice conversation with Sender on a rooftop patio.

I had thought to go out later in the evening, but I needed my sleep for a Sunday morning 5am boat tour of the nature reserve. Laying in bed going to sleep, you can hear the powerful waves crashing. They are so monstrous it sounds like thunder!

The nature reserve tour was alright. It was pretty although the water didn’t smell too great. Apparently when it rains, it’s not so stinky because the water becomes more fresh or “dulce” as they say in Spanish. Our guide used a pole to propel us down the river, telling us about the mangroves, these trees that grow on the water with a complex network of roots that extend into the water. Really unusual plants… if I understood the Spanish correctly, those trees are the ones they use to match thatched roofs in the area.

When the tour was over at about 7:30, I went to have breakfast at the hotel: typical breakfast of ham and scrambled eggs, a sausage link, fried plantain, black beans, friend tortillas, fresh tortilla, and coffee. Marcelo joined me and we ate on the patio facing the ocean. We took a walk and braved the ocean waves. I was able to enjoy swimming since I had someone else around to see me if the ocean indeed did suck me in.

After rinsing off copious amounts of sand and freshening up, I visited with a family at the hotel pool. I had seen them the day before at the restaurant where they were watching the game.  The guy has Guatemalan family, but grew up in the US.  He’s a clean cut big guy with tattoos on his arms, so he looked pretty tough, but he turned out to be super nice. His wife was Guatemalan. The family now lives in Guatemala City.

From there I took a walk down the main street to enjoy the sights of the town. I bought a coconut for 5 quetzals (less than $1) and drank its water. I returned to my favored hammock and took a much needed nap. I noticed a girl in the hammock next to me doing some online shopping from her phone, and we started to talk. N’dege is French Canadian, here in Guatemala leading volunteer groups in construction work.  We ended up having lunch together and will likely meet again in Antigua because she already had plans to stay at Yellowhouse! Small world!

After lunch I returned to El Mangle once more to retrieve my things for the shuttle ride home. As I waited for the shuttle, a group of the wait staff from the hotel/restaurant took a break and kicked a futbol around in the street to my entertainment. It’s amazing to me what they can do with a futbol… and in flip flops too! One guy was playing latino music from his phone in his pocket. It just felt so central America!

At home, we have 3 new guests in the house, 2 of which speak no Spanish: Will, Michelle, and Eville.  It looks like I will be serving as translator for the next 2 weeks! I’m glad to do it to keep practicing though. I probably have been speaking and thinking too much English this weekend! Back to Spanish!

New pictures on Facebook!

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10153332178011023.1073741835.659676022&type=1&l=8d3f41abd1

In the Groove

 Posted by May Wright at 4:33 am  Guatemala  Comments Off on In the Groove
Jul 032015
 

This week has been a normal week of Spanish lessons and work. I am getting into a routine and feeling more comfortable with my work. I have a new teacher for my Spanish lessons though – maybe temporarily. On Tuesday, Nery, my regular teacher did not show up. It turns out he had a family emergency, so on Wednesday, I got a new teacher, Gloria. We basically just chat the whole time which I enjoy for the time being, but I hope that Nery comes back next week.

In my routine, I have some down time between my lesson and work. One day I went to buy a book in Spanish and read in the park. I didn’t get to read much that day because a man with a little boy came up to me and we chatted for a while. People seem to like to talk. I’ve had several nice chats with people around town.

I’ve gotten to see the little kids of the family more over the past few days as Emanuel, the 4 year old that lives at the house, is on vacation and some other relatives are in town – mom plus 3 little boys! The house is definitely noisier! Emanuel is so stinkin cute, but still very shy with me. I try to talk to him some, but he usually directs his attention to the visiting baby, David. Emanuel is obsessed with that baby! Trying to touch him, play with his hands, and constantly talking to him, “Liiiindo David!” in his cute little voice.

I got to have lunch one day with 3 siblings from the states that were traveling together at a place where they serve typical food from a counter covered in clay pots full of colorful delcious food. We had a nice time. Today I’ve been invited to eat with the Orozco family again, so I’m looking forward to that. Also looking forward to a weekend! Dancing tonight with the ladies from work, and Saturday/Sunday on the beach! Headed to Monterrico tomorrow!

 

Pictures!

 Posted by May Wright at 4:23 am  Guatemala  Comments Off on Pictures!
Jun 302015
 

Here is a link to pictures:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10153332178011023.1073741835.659676022&type=1&l=8d3f41abd1

 

Day off

 Posted by May Wright at 4:18 am  Guatemala  Comments Off on Day off
Jun 302015
 

After a marvelous cup of Guatemalan coffee, I had my Spanish class this morning with Nery. Of course again the location was changed and we started a few minutes late because I was having trouble finding him. We mostly just conversed today. He told me about this holiday weekend – how today is “Banker’s Day” (which I found to be weird) and tomorrow is army day. He says that there’s a day for everyone – an excuse for everyone to rest for a day. Afterwards, I walked around the city, taking a look at some other parts that I hadn’t visited yet. I’m finally getting a feel for where I am in the city which is super important because street signs are almost non-existent.

In the afternoon, I continued my walk through the city, passing through the cemetery. It’s an impressive one with huge stone sepulchers and a chapel. The first downpour of my stay came in around 2pm and I got to see how the streets become rivers. The day was pretty chill. I joined a pubcrawl for a little while to meet some more people. Lots of Australians! They must have a flexible work schedule :) In the evening, I had dinner at home, and before bed, I got to see Volcan de Fuego erupt at night. You can see the orange glow of the lava from miles away. Pretty awesome!

 

Weekend Travels

 Posted by May Wright at 11:36 am  Guatemala  Comments Off on Weekend Travels
Jun 282015
 

Saturday

Today was wonderful! First stop was dropping off laundry. Second stop was meeting Luisa at the bus station to make a day trip. Meeting Luisa was the first adventure. I had been directed to go to the bus station “behind the market,” and I assumed I could walk through the market to get there. Well… technically it’s possible but it’s quite a crowded maze. I was on a mission to get out, so I can’t tell you all that was there, but I can tell you it was crazy! The most notable thing I actually saw were baskets of live chickens.

When I finally reached the bus station, I watched and waited for Luisa. The station is a sight to behold. First of all, it is full of “chicken busses” or school busses painted 100 different colors. Second of all, it is constant motion – busses moving, men running on and off of busses yelling out destinations and checking for people in the way, people walking around the lot (I can’t believe people don’t get run over all the time as busses back out!).

We found a good seat near the front of the bus, bt as we moved through town it became extremely crowded. A woman with a baby joined us on our seat. Remember this is a school bus seat… We passed by so much Antigua excitement and hustle and bustle. Luisa and I observed how much of the city is behind walls. You can see the tops of trees and houses, but they’re blocked off from the street. So much of this city’s beauty is hidden I would venture to say – judging by how many times I’ve entered a building and found a beautiful garden behind the wall.

We arrived at the Finca Macadamia Valhalla – that is the Macadamia nut farm. First thing, breakfast: pancakes with macadamia butter and blueberry compote with fruit and coffee. We had a nice chat before taking a short but informative tour of the place where we learned about the collection, shelling, sorting, processing, and final products of macadamia nuts.

The return was a bit of a roller coaster ride since it was downhill. The rest of the day was a nice busy time at work. The city seemed busier too. Weekends are alive here!

 

Sunday

6:15 I was picked up for a morning hike up Pacaya volcano. It was another hectic and somewhat sickening busride up to the trailhead. Luckily we got to stop for coffee first J The hike was a lot steeper than I expected. I guess some people have problems getting up the ascent because there are locals on horses selling “taxis naturales” most of the way up for those that want to give up. The trail was a lot of black volcanic sand and soil that made the hike a bit difficult. There were several resting spots on the way though were you could look off into the distance at beautiful surrounding volcanos and towns and lakes below. As usual on these types of tours, I met some very cool people: a young American woman my age that’s teaching English here with her mom here visiting, an Israeli couple, a polish couple, a Guatemalan couple, 2 American girls, and another American couple. There was a neat little store, “the lava store” up at the “summit.” I put summit because it was close to the top of our climb, but we did not go all the way to the opening because it’s dangerous (and really hard). The lava store sells jewelry items made from coconut shell and lava rock to benefit local communities that suffered damages in past eruptions. It was really beautifully done.

After that stop, we went to an area where there was some serious heat coming up from the earth. We were able to roast marshmallows! The most perfectly roasted marshmallow I’ve ever eaten!

The return to town was another swervy ride, and I was glad to be back to eat some pizza, take a nap, and walk through town some more. I’m at Maximo now trying to catch up on my posts! Sorry to keep you waiting! Pictures to come!

 

 

Friday

 Posted by May Wright at 11:29 am  Guatemala  Comments Off on Friday
Jun 282015
 

I made it through a whole 5 day work week! Yay! If you’re wondering about the salsa lesson from Wednesday, it went alright. I think Frank is a good teacher, but I decided I’m not really interested in perfecting my technique haha…

Today, I took my Spanish class early, at 8 so that I could do a walking tour at 9:30. I am still really liking my Spanish classes, but I’m starting to wonder if Nery realizes what he says sometimes. Like today, he wrote two similar sentences on the whiteboard and said, “This is correct, and this is also correct. The way that you said it is not correct.” I just laugh.

The walking tour was great. A woman named Elisabeth Bell leads it and has been leading it for years. She has lived in Antigua for over 40 years, so she knows a lot and really her passion is keeping culture, history, and architecture alive and intact here. She’s led several restoration projects in various areas, has written books about Antigua, and keeps up with what’s going on in Guatemala. She even filled us in on some of the politics. Apparently there will be an election this year. I say apparently because I saw tons of billboards with pictures on the way from Guatemala city to Antigua. People can vote without being literate – hence the pictures.

We of course looked at several churches. It’s really interesting how many churches are well… topless. They have no roofs because they were damaged by earthquakes and never rebuilt. The church on the central square was abandoned when the capital was moved to present day Guatemala city. It was later destroyed by an earthquake, and now you can walk through what remains: tall walls with no ceilings. Today’s beautiful blue skies and white clouds really made for an amazing effect.

We also took a look at Guatemala’s Jade history and present day jewelry business. Jade can be found here. There are lots of Mayan artifacts made from Jade. Right nearby is a museum hotel complex with stunning courtyard gardens where they hold weddings (which Elisabeth says funds the museums and historic preservation of the land on which it’s built). There is a “church” there too, but again, it is not the typical colonial era cathedral you might think of… with a ceiling and all.

I found a sandwich for lunch and went to work for the rest of the afternoon. Nothing exciting at work. I’m definitely feeling more comfortable though every day.

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