Subject: Ricardo versus the volcano
I dont know why I beat myself up sometimes. :)
After leaving Flores, Jay, Peter and I took the night bus to Antigua. We had seen the night busses and the day busses and they were the exact same bus, but the night one was half the price, so we took that one. Well, the night bus happens to lock the bathroom door, as its "classe economica". This is a bad thing to learn when you have 3 beers while waiting for the bus. "Classe economica" also makes stops. Not at bus stations, but at peoples houses. Its a real odd thing to get used to. In this part of the world, there is no such thing as a bus stop for the economica busses. Just stand at the end of your driveway, and the bus stops to get you. Heres the kicker, if you AND your neighbor are waiting for the bus, you stand at the end of your respecitive driveways (even if they are 10 feet apart) and the bus will pick you both up. Quite annoying. There is also no such thing as a full bus. The bus may appear full, with people jammed in the aisle like sardines, but according to the driver, there is always room for more. Anyhoot..
As awesome as Antigua is, we left after a couple days. Peter has a flight leaving out of there, so he was going to do a loop around Lake Atitlan and come back. The 3 of us were having such a good time travelling together, we decided to all go, and Jay and I will do more in Antigua later.
We watched the Superbowl our last night there, and headed back to the hostel. It was the same cost for 2 rooms as it was for one, so I got my own room. After about 5 minutes in bed, I hear a sound outside my door. "mew.".... then again.... "mew." I go open the door. There is a tiny kitten sitting outside my door.
"how did you know i was an animal person?"
"well, then come on in"
We took a shuttle to Panajachel, which is the entrance city to all other towns on Lake Atitlan. The shuttle driver earned the award for worst driver I have ever seen in my life. Not only dangerous, but just a poor driver.
At Panajachel one has to take the ferry across to whatever town you want to go to. The ferry, like the busses, will pick people up anywhere, seemingly even in the middle of the lake. We pulled out of the dock, and 2 minutes in to the ride we stop. Another boat comes out to deliver some people who were late for the ferry. They make these 3 passengers (an old lady, a little girl, and a teenage boy) jump from one boat to another when they are precariously moving about and not tied together. We thought someone was going in.
One day in Santiago was one day too many. We left the next morning, and grabbed a bite on the way out of town. There were kids making personalized handi-crafts near the resturant, and I mistakenly bought/ordered one. This gets every kid in a 10-mile radius on you like flies. "Mister, mister, you buy this, you buy this". I ended up saying "No, gracias" about 30 times a minute for 10 minutes. Then my food came. They kept on me. I started getting stern- no use. Finally I jumped up and shouted "STOP!!!" at the very top of my lungs in a low bellowing tone, sounding like an ogre. I've never seen such a look of fear on a pack of 6 year olds- heck I think I scared Peter and Jay. I felt like such a meanie. But they went away. :)
We headed here a couple days ago to San Pedro. What a fun cool little place. Lake Atitlan is completely surrounded by volcanos on all sides, making for magnificent views. It just makes for such a nice setting, but to find a town like this with a laid back vibe, it makes it all perfect. We got a hotel last night for what amounted to about $1.75 per person. Not a typo. Most rooms are under US$3. Most meals are $2-$3. You could live here quite a while on next to nothing. And many people do. Travellers often stay here for 4 months or more, then go home to work for 8 months. A lot of ex-pat hippies from the USA come here to live and get away from everything. And a whole lot of people come here to study Spanish. Most schools teach inside little open-air cabanas on the lake, with just room for one desk, one teacher and one student.
The views from atop the volcano were awesome. Its dormant, so its overgrown with vegitation. But you can see the lake and the mountains all from the one spot. Its incredible. There is something very rejuvinating for the soul about being on top of a mountain.
Anyway, we returned and hit the hot-tubs, which is the best $3 I've spent in Guatemala yet. These little hot-tubs nestled in a botanical like garden right on the lake side. The only thing they sell is fresh baked cake, which was fine by us. We sat in the tub and had them bring us slices of cake and sat until we were pruny. :) It felt great, but I am still exhausted from the hike.
They use these trucks to carry people like busses would. See this pic to see one loaded how they normally are.
On a side note, the travelhead list is now over 200 people. 206 to be exact. Wow, thats a lot of people. Hello.
Hope all is "tranquilo"...
Current Location - Monterrico, Guatemala
I never thought that I'd be travelling and welcome a cold shower in my room, but here in Monterrico its the only way they come and the only way you'd want one...
Peter and I left San Pedro the last week to head to the other side of the lake to Panajachel, planning to meet up with Jay there and also looking for a bit more nightlife as San Pedro was a bit quiet at night in terms of festivities. We didnt find any nightlife there, but we did find Jay on our second day.
3. Screaming kids
4. Screaming adults
6. Tortilla Machines
7. Large Trucks and/or Boats
8. Car Alarms
9. People who use car alarms as horns (common)
10. Parites/Loud music for no apparent party.
Anyway, we met up with Jay and switched to a hotel that didnt have construction in the front yard, and it was to date the nicest hotel we've stayed at yet. It had piping hot showers and a huge balcony for use by the 2 upstairs rooms only, and we had both rooms as Jay had met up with some friends of ours we camped with for a night at El Mirador (they coming in, us going out). They were Daria and Valeria, twins from Switzerland, as well as their travelling partnet Rene, also from Switzerland, aptly named the Swiss team. So our little group has now snowballed to 6.
We had a little party on our balcony and then headed to market day the next day in Chichicastenango. Its one of the biggest markets in Guatemala. Amazing to see how huge it was, but dissapointingly it was the same stuff you find at most of the vendors in all the other towns we visit, just more of it.
Another thing I loved about San Pedro was a little resturant across the street from our hotel called Nicks. They were right on the lake, and had an incredible fruit salad. It was nice to just walk down, sit outside and order a nice big fruit salad, which is such a good change from when I was in the US, and it was easier to just grab McD's. [Aren't you proud, mom?]
Monterrico is a neat little town surrounded by canals and marshy land, so the only way in is by boat through the canals. Someone mentioned a road up north, but its 60km out of the way. I dont know if thats true, but all cars are seemingly brought in by boat, as well as delivery trucks. Its a 20 minute boatride, and we had about 60 people in a boat designed to hold about 30, and a 15 horsepower motor. Do the math. These arent "safety people".... or speed people for that matter.
But Monterrico is nice, it's a black sand beach which is a little different. And like a lot of places in Guatemala, there's trash around, making it less attractive than it could be. (Wow, two incorrectly started sentences in a row, my english teachers would be having fits.)
We rented a bungalow in Monterrico, which is nice. It has bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room, all screened in. And there is a pool outside, shared with only one other bungalow. Shade trees make the pool area nice for a chill out area in the afternoon. Some of the rooms have mosquito nets, which are almost a necessity. All through Belize and Northern Guatemala, there is a very curious lack of mosquitos. They've come back to get me with a vengance down here. I also had a bat in my room the other morning. I didnt really mind it. He flapped a bit, found a nice place to hang from, and chilled out for the rest of the day. I guess he left around sun set.
Its possible to break a sweat just sitting down here, its so hot. Regardless of this, I decided to go running today - like I said, I'm a glutton for pain sometimes. When I got done running, I came back to the bungalow and did the few measly push-ups that I do, and half way through noticed 4 tiny shoes about 12 inches from my nose. I got up. 2 little girls about 6 or 7 years old were standing there, unable to figure out what would compell a person to lay down face first, get up, and then go back down. Repeatedly. They watched until I was done.
Well, that about wraps it. The 6 of us are going to spend the next day here, and I'm going to be doing my best impersonation of a beach bum, and doing some body surfing (the surf is really nice here about twice a day), and just watching the sun set - which everyone here seems to stop what they're doing to watch. I think if there is one thing I've decided from my travels, is that I need to eventually live some where that has good sunsets and/or sunrises. Its just amazing how good of a mood that can put you in. :)
Well, from here, its on to Antigua for language classes. Next update in espanol. :)
Hope all is well,
Subject: Back to school special, travelhead style
Current Location - Antigua, Guatemala
Its so nice to be out of the raging heat, but I'm sure everyone out there can relate to that feeling. :-)
We spent another couple days in Monterrico, which was really nice (and hot). There was a little bar on the beach, which might win my award for coolest little beach bar ever. Its called El Animal Desconocido, run by a french guy with dreadlocks named Henry, who just had enough of Paris and came to the beach and opened this funky eclectic little place. The first night we went there, he was having a bonfire party on the beach in front of the bar. It was small (25-30 people), but nice.
The next day in Monterrico, we deicded to take a tour of the mangroves which surround the city. Pretty neat tour with trees that actually grow downwards to get water from the canals, and all sorts of neat wildlife, including these jumping fish with 4 eyes that could skim the top of the water for quite a while. I still couldnt get a picture of one.
On the drive from Monterrico to Antigua, we were behind a pick-up truck at one point, and there were 4 people in the open back. A lady about 40, a lady about 80, and a lady about 30, who was breast feeding her baby, perhaps just a few months old. The truck was going slower than us (50mph, perhaps), so we passed. As we passed by, I looked in the cab of the truck, and there were 2 seemingly healthy males, about 35. Thats just so backwards from the way we're used to it, that it amazes me. We've been travelling by "chicken bus" from time to time, and I often notice eldery ladies or ladies carrying children get on, and NO ONE will get up to offer a seat. Usually I am seated too far back to do it myself, and there are too many others standing, so mothers holding children will stand. Thats just the way it is here. The one time I was able to offer my seat, I stood up, and a local guy about my age tried to take the seat before the lady could sit down. I made him get up.
[Chicken buses are the norm transport for locals here in Guatemala. A 2-hour ride will cost between $.75 and $1.50. All buses are old american school buses, but all are painted in wild crazy festive colors. http://old.cruisingworld.com/ithaka/articles/074/bus1.jpg]
We got to Antigua, signed up for a Spanish school, and bid farewell to Peter and Valeria. Their trips were finishing and it was sad to see them go.
Erma lives about 5 minutes from my school, and we talked the whole way home. She doesn't speak English. She asked where I had previously studied Spanish, if it was in the US, which was perhaps the best complement she could have given.
School is great. I have just finished my second day, and its going better than I thought. I took "French 101" a staggering 4 times in 4 different schools, so I guess I'm accustomed to introductory language courses. But, yes, its going well. We have one-teacher-to-one-student, and my teacher is a nice lady named Rocio who apparently has no qualms about hitting on her students. :) Monday morning, walking to school was another one of "those moments". I walked along the cobblestone streets, past the remants of a church built in the 1600s, long since destroyed by earthquakes, but mostly still standing. Then I passed the ladies in the square, all hand-washing their laundry, and then on past the markets with all the chatter that goes with the selling of the brightly colored crafts that they sell. Yep, cool moment.
We were trying to volunteer at a hosptial for handicapped children across the street from our school, but lack of time, combined with an abundance of volunteers made us finally decide against it. However, the hospital is run purely on monetary donations, which we were more than happy to give, and surgeons and doctors who donate their time. If you'd like information on the hospital, please check out this page. http://www.faithinpractice.org/public_site/hermano.html If you're interested in sending a donation, you may do so at the address below. It is a truly amazing organization.
Obras Sociales del Hermano Pedro
Current Location - Antigua, Guatemala
Ok, so I decided to delete "Trip Mileage" from this and future headers. That was more of an idea from when I was travelling with my truck. At this point I'm just sort of guessing at mileage by looking at maps and figuring travel times.
So I finished with my week of school, and had actually planned to write part of this update in Spanish, but I'd need my notebook to do it, and it would have taken much longer. I can honestly say my Spanish is much much better. I was able to read the better part of a newspaper this morning, and I can understand more and speak more. In fact, after a mix-up yesterday with a bus company that we booked with, I got upset and started "talkin' smack" in Spanish to the guy. Later my friends remarked that you've got to be getting comfortable with a language if you're prepared to back up some tough talk.
Anywho, I was real happy with the decision to study in Antigua. The 3 main places people study in Guatemala are Antigua, San Pedro, and Monterrico. But Antigua has the most going on, and the most nightlife during the week. Obviously, I wasnt going out during the week because I was in school - ask anyone I went to college with... I'm that studious. ;-) OK, maybe I went out a couple times.
We went to the shuttle bus office on Friday afternoon to find out when the Saturday shuttle left. They said 8am. Too early. They said that if we had 6 or more people, we could get our own shuttle at whatever time we wanted. Fair enough, we had 5 of us, we could easily find one more. We went out that night and asked everyone we knew if they wanted to go for this party. Most people werent sure, so we kept asking. We just kept telling people that if they wanted to go, to meet in the park at 10am. Saturday morning, we went to the park to find 16 people there. Its nice to have so many happy people around, but travelling in a group that large is just too hard. You begin to feel more like a tour operator than a group of friends. You have to make announcements as to when its time to walk to the shuttle place, and directions on how to get there. But it was fun.
In any case, the lack of a proper full moon party didnt slow things down in Monterrico. Many european students and travellers decend on Monterrico every weekend anyway, just because its so close to Antigua and Lake Atitlan. There was actually a dance/fundraiser for a group who is looking to build a recycling plant in Monterrico which is desparately needed. We went and stayed for a little bit. After we were there for a few minutes, one of the local girls came and asked me to dance. I think I may have a new girlfriend. This little girl had more energy than any person or animal I have ever met. She was a lean, mean, caffine-consuming machine. Drinking fanta like it was going out of style, she didnt stop moving for the hour or so we were there. We'd take turns dancing with her when we got tired. When we were all too tired, she'd do laps around the place.