Aventuras en Guatemala

I came to Guatemala with a service-learning group from UNL to take Spanish classes and volunteer for 6 weeks. But since I'm going to Peru in August, I'm going to stay here in Xela after my class returns to the U.S. during July.

9:37 PM
August 6th, 2011

No, I’m not crying…shut up

Well, this is it. I’m leaving Guatemala tomorrow. I didn’t even make it to Tikal…I think I hate myself. Ha.

Ah…this sucks. I’m sitting in a cafe called Y Tu Piña También (don’t ask) making a playlist of all the songs I’ve heard in Guate. Well, I’m making a wishlist…I can’t exactly buy songs right now since I’m almost broke. Only for a couple weeks, or until my scholarships and loans are disbursed. Antigua has a way of making you spend a LOT of money. 

I know I’ve been saying that I don’t like Antigua because there are so many tourists, but it’s not so bad. The hostel I stayed in this weekend only had a 10-person capacity, so I got to know everyone really well. We’ve had a lot of fun together the past couple days. There was this English guy who taught everyone how to play Perudo, which is a dice game sort of like BS. It’s what Davy Jones played with all the prisoners on the Flying Dutchman in the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Except the stakes aren’t as high in real life.

Surprisingly, I also liked staying in a dorm. When I was at Don Diego in Xela, it was really easy to just keep to myself since I had an individual room. I met people because I always hung out in the courtyard, but some people just stayed in their rooms all the time. A dorm forces you to get to know people, since you’re all up in each other’s space all the time. Plus they have bunk beds, which are awesome.

Mine is the messy one, of course.

Entonces, tuve una buena despedida. He disfrutado muchísimo mi tiempo en Guate y no quiero salir de este país maravilloso…pero ya que he dicho esto muchas veces, creo que todo el mundo ya lo sabe. Extrañaré a todas las personas las que he conocido en Xela y Antigua. Nunca les voy a olvidar. Nunca nunca nunca. Tampoco mis varios novios jaja. Es una broma, mama! Pues…un poco ;) 

Yo sé que tendré una gran experiencia en Perú, pero es difícil imaginar ahora porque quiero quedarme acá…y la misma cosa va a pasar en diciembre cuando regrese a los Estados Unidos. Pero será peor, creo yo. Ahora me siento triste, por supuesto, pero mis aventuras no han terminado todavía…tengo 4 meses mas. Pero cuando estoy por regresar a Nebraska, nadie va a querer estar conmigo por mis quejas jaja.

Bueno…la terminación de una aventura, y el inicio de otra. Hasta muy pronto Guatemala, voy a volver. A mis amigos guatemaltecos: que les vaya bien! 

Adiós.

8:59 PM
July 30th, 2011

Why I should stay…

I’m not leaving Xela. No. You can’t make me. No no no no no no no no no no no no no! I’m kicking and screaming, if you couldn’t tell. NO. 

I just paid to stay in my hostel for two extra days. I was going to go to Antigua on Tuesday, but since my flight to Peru isn’t until next Sunday, that would mean almost a week there. That’s a lot of time in Antigua. There’s nothing bad about the city, but it’s very touristy. I was there for one day when I first came to Guatemala back in May, and I was able to see pretty much the whole place. So I extended my stay in Xela. Again. Because I don’t want to f***ing leave! And why would I? Just look at this place:

But I have to…I just paid to wake up at 6 a.m. next Thursday to catch the shuttle to Antigua. I would have only stayed one extra day because I’m stingy with my Quetzales, but I wanted to experience Free Salsa Wednesday at La Parranda one more time. Besides, I’m going to be depressed as hell on my last night here, so I might as well distract myself by dancing. 

But since my life sucks and whenever I have something good it gets taken away from me, I’m leaving in a week. Give or take a few hours. And since I apparently like to make lists, I’m going to take out my frustration by listing all the reasons I should stay in Xela for the rest of my life.

Reasons I Should Stay in Xela for the Rest of My Life:

1. I’ve eaten street food about six times this week and haven’t gotten sick. 

2. All the guys tell me they want me to be their girlfriend.

3. It costs 26 cents to take the bus.

4. My job is awesome. The girls call me Shakira, which is like the best compliment ever.

5. Pool and Beer. It’s a bar. Where you can play pool and drink beer.

6. Smoothies and Rum. A restaurant owned by the same person who owns Pool and Beer. When I went there I didn’t check the menu to see if they actually had smoothies and/or rum, but they do have awesome bagel sandwiches.

7. El Cuartito. This cafe is amazing. It’s very indie and artsy, and I love the music they play there. They have a chair hanging from the ceiling and all the lamps are decorated with different colored beer bottles, which makes the light all crazy and fantastic. They also have live music every night.

8. There’s a human fetus in the natural history museum.

9. This*

10. And this:

11. It’s close to a place where I can do this:

12. The ringtone on my phone here is amazing.

13. In the event of a bus strike, I can get to work by standing in the back of a pickup. 

14. I’ve met some of the most amazing people here. My Spanish teachers, a select few people in the hostel, other volunteers, and local people that I meet when I go out dancing or when I’m just wandering around. I’m going to miss them a lot.

So…there it is. I’m still excited for Peru, and I wouldn’t feel so bad if I was sure that I would be able to come back SOON. I’m going to, I just don’t know when. If I didn’t have a degree to finish…

*just kidding

12:05 AM
July 26th, 2011

Things I love about Xela

When you’ve lived in another country for a while, you naturally start to form opinions about the place. Some people have the “get me the hell out of here” reaction. I would put myself into another category, which is called “don’t make me leave!” Not that I’m not excited for Peru, because some days I can’t wait to go, but I would be perfectly fine with staying here until December (or longer). But I’m officially down to my last two weeks in Guatemala…I don’t know how the time went so fast. If I actually think about everything that I’ve done in detail it doesn’t seem like it flew by, but when I think about how I’ve been here for two months - TWO MONTHS??? - it’s hard to believe. I go to Antigua next Tuesday, so in honor of my last week in Xela, I want to share some of my favorite things about the city. Of course there are a few things that I’m not a fan of, but this is the blog of positivity, so here I go. 

The exchange rate - a dollar is worth about 7.7 Quetzales, the national currency. It changes every day, but it’s always a little over 7.5. I just divide everything by 7 when I’m trying to figure out how much something costs, that way it costs less than I expect it to. So it’s a pretty awesome place for Americans to travel. The hostel I’m staying at is Q. 700 a month, which isn’t even $100. Screw backpacking through Europe, Central/Latin America is where it’s at.

The people - everyone is so friendly. Well, minus the guys that whistle and yell at me, but they’re most likely harmless…I think… Anyway, socializing is a lot different here than it is in the States, but you have to pay attention or you might miss it. It goes along with the concept of time. For example: say you’re walking around campus, down the street, through the halls at school, whatever. If you see someone you know, you usually wave and smile. You might say “hey, how’s it going,” but most of the time it’s a hi/bye situation. The chances of the two of you stopping and talking are low, but here people will actually stop and have a conversation for at least five minutes. Every time I see someone I know, we just stand right there on the sidewalk and catch up. It’s great! At first when this happened I would think “ah, I’m going to be late for school/work.” But I’ve stopped caring about time. In the U.S. I never realized how much I stressed myself out by being in a hurry all the time, not wanting to be late to anything. But it’s amazing how fast I’ve adjusted to life here. It’s going to mess me up when I go back to time-obsessed America - all the more reason not to go back :) Just kidding. 

Not having internet anywhere and everywhere - this doesn’t really apply to me now, since I’m in a hostel that has wi-fi. But when I was with my host family, I only got online for about an hour a day, maybe two if I happened to be skyping with someone. My host mom didn’t have wi-fi, and the school’s internet wasn’t very reliable…it went in and out all the time. I normally went to a cafe near the Parque Central or to one of the cybercafes near my house. Going without internet was a lot easier than I thought it would be, and I didn’t even miss it because there were so many other things to do around the city. And when you don’t get on Facebook very often, you have more notifications when you do, especially when you’re putting up 200 hundred new pictures everyday. All the comments are awesome because they create the illusion that people actually love you.

Music - it’s everywhere. Whenever I’m walking around the city, there’s always music coming from somewhere. Grocery shopping has become an exciting event, because the Despensa Familiar blasts reggaeton, salsa, bachata, cumbia, merengue, and samba music. I’ve totally danced down the aisles, which does nothing to convince everyone that I’m not a crazy gringa. They don’t know I’m actually a Latina at heart. Also, the phone companies use music to advertise. I’m not a marketing major, but I’m interested in how the presence or lack of music affects sales. It caught my attention, at least. The only bad thing about having music everywhere (I hope it’s the same in Peru) is that I’ll go through some depressing reverse culture shock when I return to the states. 

My job - one of the main reasons I want to stay here longer. I LOVE working at the shelter. I plan activities to do with the teenage girls or the two kids that live there. I prefer the teenagers, because…well, I just work better with them. When I do activities with the kids, they’re in the same classroom with the toddlers and babies, so it gets a little chaotic at times. Don’t get me wrong, 3-year-olds are cute, but I get sick of telling them to stop climbing the shelves, stop hitting each other, stop killing flies and trying to eat them. I would much rather do craft projects or dance to “Una Vaina Loca” in the kitchen with the girls. I love walking into the house and hearing “AHH, Seño Ashley!” The girls have actually started calling me Seño Shakira, because I do a lot of dancing for the activities that I plan. The Shakira thing came after I taught them a samba line dance, and every time I go to work they show me the moves that they’ve been practicing. Dancing is one of their favorite things to do, and it’s funny to watch the 10-year-olds dance because they see the older girls dancing and copy what they’re doing. If I had moved my hips like that when I was 10, my mom would have made me see a counselor. 

Kissing people - as in on the cheek when you greet someone. Since I’m a girl, I kiss guys and girls, but between men the greeting is usually just a handshake or a hug if they’re really close friends. This is something else that I got used to really quickly, and something that’s going to be awkward when I go home. My first couple weeks here I would try to shake everyone’s hand when I met them, just out of habit. But they were like, “uh, no, we’re supposed to kiss.” I wasn’t really uncomfortable, I was just thinking, “well, this is different.” Now it’s normal. To all my friends back in Nebraska, I’m probably going to kiss you when I first get back. Consider this a warning. 

Sarita ice cream - it’s like the Ben and Jerry’s of Guatemala. The best flavor is queso y fresa, or strawberry cheesecake. The paletas, or popsicles, are really good too. They’re not just made from frozen juice either, it’s like your eating actual fruit. Mmmmm, frozen mango…

That’s all I can think of right now…there’s a ton more, but right now while I’m writing about how much I love Xela this guy is sitting across the courtyard complaining and making fun of everything about the city. Ugh. 

It’s going to be hard to leave. I want to come back so badly, if not next summer then definitely after I graduate. Two months isn’t long enough…especially since I’ve made friends here, and I’m going to have to say adios. This sucks…and I know the same thing is going to happen in Peru, except it’ll be harder because I will have known more people for a longer period of time. No quiero salir…para nada. 

3:38 PM
June 26th, 2011

I need to get better at understanding Spanish over the phone

Seriously. Yesterday was my last day with my host family and my first day in a hostel. When I called the taxi service my host mom had to tell the driver how to get to the house because he was speaking SUPER fast. I thought I was supposed to be improving…

Now that I’ve graduated from my Spanish school, I’ll have a lot more time to volunteer at the shelter. This week everyone’s moving into the new building that the coordinators have working on getting for about 6 years. I went there for the inauguration tea last Tuesday, and it was really nice…nicer than any shelter I’ve seen in the U.S., and probably the nicest shelter in Guatemala. But the girls deserve it. It has 3 floors and the bedrooms are a lot bigger than the ones in the current shelter. It was awesome to see all the girls running around the house, seeing the place where they’re going to live next week. After the tour we all went into the dining room to have cake and coffee. When we got back to the old shelter, we had a small problem - we couldn’t open the door. Normally you just knock on the door and someone of the staff will open it, but there was no one inside because everyone had gone to the new shelter. After about 20 minutes we got it open…good thing, because the next option was to have someone climb over the wall into the courtyard to unlock it for us. Oh, las aventuras en Guatemala :)

I’m going to go back to doing absolutely nothing…here’s the room I’ll be staying in for the next month before going to Peru.

6:25 PM
June 24th, 2011
6:18 PM
June 24th, 2011

I did it…

I climbed Tajumulco. And almost died.

Not really, it was just difficult at first because of how high up we were. I would walk for two minutes and have to stop to take a break because I couldn’t breathe, all the while cussing out my parents in my head for choosing to live in a flat place like Nebraska. It probably would have been a lot easier if I hadn’t had my backpack with two liters of water with me. 

Anyway, I left Xela at 11 pm last Tuesday with two other girls from my school and we got to the base of the trail at around 1 or 1:30 am (we had to drive to San Marcos, another department). I’m not going to lie, it was pretty hard. It was also dark, so I fell a lot even though the head lamp I was wearing was lighting my way. I’m not sure if the guide’s assistant spoke English, but if he didn’t I taught him a lot of swear words that night. 

The hike took about 4 hours, and for most of it we were walking through the forest and across the occasional flat stretch of moor-looking land. When we were getting close to the peak we had to start rock climbing. Strangely, this part was a lot easier for me than just walking - not sure why, but probably because I had adjusted to the altitude. I still fell a lot though because the ground was covered in sand and loose gravel. We didn’t make it to the peak in time to watch the sunrise, but we were close, and it would have looked exactly the same anyway. It was my fault, with my weak Nebraska lungs. But the view was AMAZING. We were above the clouds, so it was really clear and bright for 6 in the morning (I was thinking, “I used to dance at this time, what am I doing here?”). I got some pretty awesome pictures though, so I can show people and say, “Yeah, I climbed the tallest mountain in Central America…no big deal.” We stayed at the top for about 45 minutes to rest and eat, and this is when I found out that it was our guide’s 280th time climbing the volcano…crazy, crazy man. I decided not to ask him if the climb down would be easier than the way up. I figured his definition of “easy” would be different than mine. The descent was easier because I could actually breathe, but it was harder on my feet and legs. It was steep, so my feet were running into the fronts of my shoes and making me afraid of having toenail problems like my roommate - love you, Nikki :)

It was also hot. On the way up I needed the under armour, two sweatshirts and rain jacket that I was wearing, but on the way down I had to stop to take off all my layers. I didn’t want to stuff them in my backpack, so I just tucked them into the straps and looked like a pack mule. Hey, no one said climbing a volcano was fashionable. 

Needless to say, by the time we got back to the van I wanted to pass out (again). But all the soreness was worth it, because it was an amazing experience. I’m actually thinking about hitting up Santa Maria before I leave. Mountain climbing is addicting…or maybe I’m just loca. 

I forgot to do a low/high last time. My bad.

Low: My house mom’s pet pigeon took a crap in my room last week while I was at school. Pinche paloma…

High: I CLIMBED A FREAKING VOLCANO. And that was literally high. Who needs drugs?

10:52 PM
June 13th, 2011

I know I´ve been here for a while when…

One of the waiters from Xela Café recognizes me in the Parque Central and runs over to tell me that the wi-fi is working now. Sorry man, I had an alright relationship with your café, but you failed me twice. If you let me connect to the internet before I buy something, maybe I´ll consider coming back to you. But you´ll have to persuade me to leave El Cuartito…

Catalina, my host mom, gives me my favorite bread without my asking. They´re these rolls with sugar crusted on top, and they´re called besos (kisses). I´m either going to steal the recipe or smuggle them into Peru…and then the U.S.

I´ve become an expert at pouring boiling water out of a thermos. The first time I tried, water spilled all over the table because there wasn´t a spout. Since then, Catalina has only been filling it up halfway, but tonight she filled it all the way and I didn´t spill a SINGLE drop.

I almost don´t notice when people honk/yell/whistle at me when I´m walking down the street. It´s going to be an ego-killer when I go back to the U.S. and I´m no longer considered super attractive and exotic, just average. It was bad on Friday…this guy followed me for 3 blocks yelling, “hola, gringa, ¿cómo te llamas? gringa…hey, GRINGA!” (fun fact: I learned that there´s a name for guys who do this. Gringero - basically, gringa hunter)

I´m actually kind of getting better at Spanish. Or at least people don´t stare at me with pity anymore when I try to speak. It´s also been a while since someone has switched to English while talking to me, which is good. There´s nothing worse than someone basically saying, “yeah, I know you´re trying, but I would rather speak your language than listen to you struggle with Spanish.”

I´m also getting better at converting Quetzales to dollars, and vice versa. When I first got here and tried to buy something, I would stand there trying to calculate how many times 7.5 went into the price. Now it´s easy - mango smoothie for Q. 20? That´s about $2.75 (or something like that…the exchange rate changes everyday).

That´s all I´ve got for now. I´m sure I´ll have more in a couple days. I´m getting better at not procrastinating, I only waited a week to update this time! Not much has been going on…Spanish classes in the morning, Nuevos Horizontes in the afternoon. On Friday I went to Pop Wuj - the other language school that everyone from my class except me is at - so we could all have dinner together before splitting up. Two other girls and I are staying in Xela, but the others are either going to La Montaña, PLQ´s sister school near the Pacific coast, or to Antigua to to work with Constru Casa (sort of like Habitat for Humanity). We ate way too much and stuffed an insane amount of candy into a Clifford piñata, which we hit with a ping pong paddle because we didn´t have a bat. I actually prefer it that way, it makes it a lot easier to hit. On Saturday we met up again to have lunch, then 3 of us went to the natural history museum in search of the human fetus that we heard was on display there. We eventually found it, in the room filled with stuffed animals (I´m talking taxidermy here, not toys) that may or may not have given me nightmares. Imagine if preparing the dead animal carcasses was your job…anyway, the fetus. We found it on the bottom shelf of this display of other unborn animals. We were on our hands and knees trying to read the description. Apparently it was donated by a hospital…not sure what the circumstances were. Eugh.

Yesterday I literally slept the entire day, except for when I got up to eat. It´s good that I loaded my body up with rest though because on Wednesday morning I´m going to climb Tajumulco!!! It´s the highest volcano in Central America but supposedly only moderately difficult to climb…I guess I´ll find out. There´s a tour agency that leads treks during the night, so I´m leaving Xela at 11 pm to ride a bus for two hours to the beginning of the trail, climb for 4 hours and reach the top of the volcano in time to watch the sun rise. I´m a little worried…I got sick my first week in Xela because of the change in altitude, so I´m not sure how I´ll react when I´m at almost 14,000 feet. Hopefully I don´t pass out again, that would be really disappointing, and a waste of $35. But nothing worth doing was ever easy, right? Vale la pena.

10:38 PM
June 6th, 2011

I need to do laundry…

One thing I´ve gotten used to after living in Xela for 3 weeks - recycling clothes. It´s just not that easy to work up the motivation to shove everything in my backpack and walk to the lavandería (laundromat). So I´ve gotten into the environmentally friendly, if somewhat disgusting, habit of telling myself, “I guess it wouldn´t be so bad to wear this one more time.”

I also shower and eat a lot less than I would in the U.S. Showering because there´s a water shortage in Guatemala and the water is freaking cold when you first get in. The showers are also electric and you need to flip a switch to activate the heater. Then you have to turn the handle all the way to the left, then all the way to the right until you´re a couple millimeters away from shutting it off. You sacrifice water pressure, but it´s a LOT warmer that way. I wasn´t aware of the handle technique when I took my first shower here, so I stood hyperventilating and shivering under a waterfall of arctic death. It was definitely the fastest shower I´ve ever taken. And I don´t eat as much because…I´m not in America hahaha. Just kidding. Guatemala has its fair share of McDonald´s and Taco Bells too. But since I´m not in my house or living in a dorm that gives me unlimited access to the dining hall, I rarely eat snacks. Well, except for the occasional mango paleta, which is kind of like a popsicle, but I think the actual translation is “frozen deliciousness on a stick.” A lady that lives on my street sells them and at 50 cents, how can I say no? Anyway, at first I was always hungry because the portions my host mom gives me are tiny. But like everything else, I´ve gotten used to it. There are also plenty of restaurants around here that serve greasy American food, so I don´t have far to go if I ever get a craving for fries covered in cheese sauce and guacamole.

I finally started my volunteer job at Nuevos Horizontes, which is a domestic violence/homeless shelter. I can´t say too much about it because everything about it is secret, including the location. But I can say that I´m working a lot with kids and teen mothers. I go to a meeting every week with the other volunteers and sign up for my shifts, as well as plan activities to do with the girls. This week I´m going to teach a samba line dance :) I love going there, and I always get a lot of hugs and “¿cómo está, seño?”s when I walk through the door…it´s going to be hard to leave, and I wish I was going to be here for more than 2 months. When I first got here all I wanted to do was go home because I was sick, I missed my friends, and my Spanish SUCKED, but working with these girls has completely changed my mind.

So, that´s what´s been happening since my last post. I´m sitting in a cybercafe 2 blocks away from my house that I didn´t know existed until yesterday. I´m glad I found it - I´d been walking to the Parque Central all that time and was kind of sick of having to buy coffee or cake everytime I wanted to use wi-fi. The only downside is that most places like this close at 9 pm, so I´m going to leave it at this and actually do my homework for once. ¡Buenas noches!

Low point of the week: I received a massive shock when I accidentally hit the shower head while washing my hair on Friday night. Water and electricity don´t mix, boys and girls.

High point: I found a hostel to stay at in July while I´m in between study abroad programs! It´s really close to the Parque Central and has a kitchen and wi-fi that I can use ALL DAY. It also only costs 950 Quetzales to stay there. That comes out to about $120 for a month…I´ll take it :D

On the to-do list: buy a freaking umbrella

7:57 PM
May 30th, 2011

Procrastination - it’s what I do

I’ve been in Guatemala for over two weeks, so I guess I should update everyone on what I’ve been up to. I was going to post a video talking about my first week here, but when I recorded it last Sunday, I clicked out of my video software before saving it…twenty minutes of talking to myself, all for nothing - story of my life. Anyway, I didn’t have any motivation to try again, so here’s the super short version of my shenanigans of the past two weeks:

Got to the airport on Sunday after not sleeping the night before, sat around for two hours, went through the complicated new security procedure, got on the plane, 4 hour layover in Texas, paid way too much for lunch, got on the plane to Guatemala, got there at 6:45ish, stayed the night in Antigua, went to a bar to dance, was going to take a shower but fell asleep, walked around the city and went to the market, got on a bus that took us to Xela, met my host mom, found an internet cafe, went to bed super early, got up and took a FREEZING cold shower, went to my first day of intensive Spanish classes (I thought I was good until I got here :/), walked around the Parque Central and the market, went to a presentation about people getting beheaded because of drug trafficking, went to the weekly class meeting to talk about our experiences, felt really lazy because the other language school offers a lot more volunteer opportunities than mine, actually got warm water the second time I took a shower, felt really sick and couldn’t eat breakfast Wednesday morning, went to school anyway, fainted and fell out of my chair in the middle of my class, learned how to say “I fainted” - me desmayé, smelled this Mayan herb that was supposed to make me breathe better, went to the doctor, everything was fine but I wasn’t allowed to go to free salsa night at this club called La Parranda :(, felt better the next day but fainted AGAIN, went to a neurologist, again there was nothing wrong but he recommended that I get an EEG, blood tests, and some kind of cardiovascular exam, but it’s probably just altitude sickness, I didn’t pass out on Friday (YAY!), went to the grocery store with Clare (the other girl from UNL that’s going to my language school) and bought drinks for the dinner that the school has every Friday for the people who are graduating, went to the dinner and tried to avoid the teacher that was trying to get people to chug a bottle of rum, went to La Parranda afterwards and danced a lot, got back to the house and couldn’t open the door because my house mom, Catalina, bolted it in about five different places, eventually got in because Clare opened the door for me, wasn’t allowed to climb a volcano the next day because I’d been sick, went to a cafe and ate on the balcony, watched guys do bike tricks as a publicity stunt for a phone company, found a domestic violence shelter to volunteer at while I’m here for the next two months, went salsa dancing, finally did my laundry, broke out in hives, went to the international dinner on Friday, ate way too much food, went to Lake Atitlan this weekend, ran down a steep hill during a monsoon, tried and failed to find chocolate milk in Santiago Atitlan, spent the night in a sketchy hotel room with peeling wallpaper that spiders crawled out of, threw up everything I ate the next day, came back to Xela and fell asleep after dinner, and today came to the cafe that I’ve been at for about 3 hours.

So yeah, that’s what I’ve been doing. Hopefully I’ll be a little more productive this week since I have a volunteer job now. I promise I won’t wait so long to update again…it’s like writing a paper, once you get started it’s not hard to finish it. But I was already a big procrastinator, and the the relaxed sense of time in Latin America is making me worse. Hasta luego!