Monthly Archives: August 2012

Todo de Quetzaltenango

We have finished our 3 weeks of Spanish language lessons and boy was that difficult! We have both learned a lot but are not even close to being able to speak fluently. We should be able to improve upon our foundation with the next 3 or so months of travel in South America.

I just want to recap and summarize our time in Quetzaltenango (Xela) for the past 3 weeks.

The city of Xela sits at an amazing 2,330 M which is 7,640 ft high. That’s taller than any of the mountains we’ve hiked in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. After three weeks of living here we are still not used to it. It’s hard to breath and we’re always tired. We hoped we’d get somewhat acclimated because we’re heading to Quito Ecuador next, which is at 9,350 ft. Maybe we have improved but it’s just been slow enough that we haven’t noticed.

Xela is also home to a lot of “Chicken buses” which consist of old school buses that are considered no longer fit for use in the United States. My theory is that they are considered that way because the emissions are no longer functioning. The exhaust that comes out of the back of these things is dense black smoke and makes the air impossible to breath. This could also be adding to our difficulty breathing and always feeling tired.

Panoramic picture of Xela and Dave

But, those are the only two downsides to Xela. Everything else we’ve experienced has been great. Some of the great things…

Chocolate Puro – The best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. I’m not sure hot chocolate would even be a good way to describe this. Chocolate puro is a piece of Xela Chocolate melted down into liquid form with some hot water (or milk if you so desire). It’s very smooth and creamy. The best Chocolate Puro I had was at Cafe Nim Sut.

Cafe Nim Sut is also a favorite of ours. They have an amazing view of the city, the best chocolate puro and Wifi.

Xelapan is the local bakery chain in Xela. They have the special bread of Xela called Sheca. Sheca is bread with anise inside. We tried it and it was ok. We really one variety of bread sold there made with tasty spices and a chocolate coating on it; AND it only costs $0.25. They are pretty big, one is enough to share if we’re not too hungry. Xelapan was our go to place for a quick, cheap snack during the break.

The Bake Shop is the other local bakery that we’ve come to love. This bakery serves more sweets than bread. They are only open two days a week and are a little bit more expensive. They are also owned by a group of Mennonites–you can kind of see them in the picture. We came to love the donut type pastries that were filled with either fruit or peanut butter, both of these are $1 each, so comparably it’s 4 times more expensive. We also got a loaf of banana bread from them. Don’t worry Mom, yours is still the best.

The cemeteries they have in Guatemala are very different from what we have back home. Families pay for a plot and then decorate it however they want. Some of them are very intricate. There was also a section where people could rent a spot if they couldn’t afford to buy a location outright. The problem with the rented spots is that if you stop paying you get evicted.

You could get evicted from these…

Xela has a market every day of the week. The farmers that grow veggies and fruit from the surrounding land outside of Xela travel every day with their goods and sell them. We were big fans of the bananas.

This little girl wanted her picture taken. We couldn’t say no.

Xela is surrounded by some good size hills and mountains, a couple of which we hiked. The first was to a church that overlooks the city with an awesome view. And the second was to Cerro El Baul Mountain. Which was described as a daily 30 minute hike for Guatemalans. But it ended up being an 1.5 hour up because it’s 8,695 ft high. It’s was beautiful up there and there was 100ft long concrete slides. Dave and I both tried them, but I feared my pants would melt so I didn’t get the full experience.

The first hike. The panoramic in the beginning is from this hike.

Last day in Xela. With Elise, Sarah, Nicki, Sarah, and Dave.

The 100 ft long concrete slides.

And of course the people we met…

Marina – She was our house mother for the past three weeks. She was very hospitable and is an amazing cook.

Marina, Sarah and Dave

Fredy – He was Dave’s Spanish teacher for the three weeks we were here. Dave has learned a lot from him and has been able to hold some interesting conversations, both in English and Spanish.

Patty – She was my first teacher and was very patient throughout my first two weeks of struggling through Spanish. I learned a lot in those two weeks.

Carlos – He was my second teacher, they suggest you switch after two weeks. So I said I was flexible and they ended up switching me. He was also a very good teacher and he was able to explain to me many tenses in one week.

Nicki – She started the same time we did and has been able to hang with us the most. She’s going to be an expert at Spanish since she’ll be at Pop Wuj for 7 months! Here’s a link to her blog if you’re interested. Naraneta Crossing.

And of course all of the other students we hung out with and/or worked on projects with during our time in Xela.

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Categories: Central America, Traveling | 4 Comments

Stove Project (Proyecto Estufa) Update

In a previous post we described the stove project that we had an opportunity to work on while attending school at Pop Wuj Spanish Language school. The stove project is just one of the ways that Pop Wuj helps the local communities near Xela. The project is done in three phases: Phase 1 includes laying down the cement base; Phase 2 includes laying down three layers of bricks using clay cement and regular cement; and Phase 3 includes installing the inner ramp (to direct smoke to the chimney), the metal stove top, and chimney pipe. In the previous post we described phases 2 and 3 because those were the steps we had been involved in up until that point. We weren’t sure at the time whether we would have an opportunity to participate in phase three, hence the addendum.

Phase 3 is a relatively fast step when compared to steps 2 and 3, but is a very important step because it’s the foundation for the entire stove. So the first phase requires a bit more attention to detail to ensure the rest of the phases and the final product are the best they can be. We were lucky to have Carmenlina on hand again to ensure quality throughout the building process. In addition to bringing quality to the table she’s also a speedy worker.

The stove recipient cleaning up the remains of a small fire that he previously used to cook with.

The stove recipient cleaning up the remains of a small fire that he previously used to cook with.

The first image (above) illustrates one of the effects of using an open fire with which to cook. All of the surfaces (walls, ceiling, pillars, light bulb, etc.) inside of the building are coated in a black residue from cooking with an open flame over a long period of time. I couldn’t help but think about the similar effect the open flames have on one’s lungs. Many of us back home enjoy a campfire from time to time and may experience this to some extent, but we definitely don’t spend several hours everyday over an open flame preparing meals. It’s easy to see the immediate benefits of these stoves. This is a known problem in certain parts of the world and there are many projects going on to help address the smoke inhalation issue. Here’s a link to a stove project a friend of ours worked on in India in collaboration with a group called Design Impact.

Sarah and Dave chopping cement blocks with machetes. It's amazing what you can do with a machete.

Sarah and Dave chopping cement blocks with machetes. It’s amazing what you can do with a machete.

The working crew that day included Sarah, Fredy, Carmelina and Carlos.

The working crew that day included Sarah, Fredy, Carmelina, Carlos and Dave (behind the camera).

This man lived at the home where the stove was installed. He was a construction worker in the past and was a master at mixing cement. He waited patiently as we unskilled laborers attempted the mixing process but took over to make sure it was done properly.

This man lived at the home where the stove was installed. He was a construction worker in the past and was a master at mixing cement. He waited patiently as we unskilled laborers attempted the mixing process but took over to make sure it was done properly.

Carmenlina laying out the base.

Carmenlina laying out the base.

Sarah and Carmenlina verifying the outer dimensions. Sarah's engineering skills coming in handy here.

Sarah and Carmenlina verifying the outer dimensions. Sarah’s engineering skills coming in handy here.

Sarah and Dave posing with the finished product.

Sarah and Dave posing with the finished product.

We visited the stove we finished last week. Still look awesome. It needs many more weeks to dry before it can be used though.

We visited the stove we finished last week. Still look awesome. It needs many more weeks to dry before it can be used though.

A view inside the stove. You can see the ramp leading to the exhaust hole in the rear of the stove.

A view inside the stove. You can see the ramp leading to the exhaust hole in the rear of the stove.

On a separate but related topic, this stove project reminded me of a project I’d heard about some time ago taking place in the Philippines. According to a video about the project, many of the buildings there are similar to some we saw here in Guatemala in that they are dark inside during the daytime and aren’t connected to an electrical source to power a light bulb. The project is called “Liter of Light“. It helps solve the problem of low light or no light situations in buildings by installing a 2 Liter soda bottle filled with clean clear water and a little chlorine (to prevent growth of algae) in the roof/ceiling of the building. During the day when the sun is shining the 2 Liter bottle filled with water transmits the light from the sun through the water into the room where it is installed. According to the folks that came up with this idea it can put off the same amount of light as a 50-60 watt light bulb. This of course depends on the strength of the sun outside. Nonetheless it’s a very cheap solution when compared to the electricity and bulb needed otherwise.

We shared this idea with the folks at Pop Wuj and they expressed great interest in incorporating this project into their already large scope of projects. They’d like to potentially install a water bottle light fixture in the same homes that receive the stove. It’d be really cool to see that take place. If you are someone who’s involved in communities that might benefit from this and you happen to be reading this blog post, check out the Liter of Light website.

Thanks Pop Wuj for allowing us to participate in such a cool project.

Categories: Central America, Traveling, Volunteering | 2 Comments

Lake Atitlan (Lago Atitlan)

Panoramic shot of Lake Atitlan from the docks in Jaibalito

This past weekend (August 17-19) we visited a few cities just east of Xela (where we’re studying Spanish) that all reside on the banks of Lake Atitlan. Lake Atitlan is the deepest lake in Central America and is actually the caldera left from a volcanic eruption 84,000 years ago. In addition to being a giant caldera–filled with water of course–the lake is abutted by 3 volcanoes. For more info about the lake check out the link provided above or just Google Lake Atitlan.

Our journey began by leaving school a little early on Friday to catch the bus that leaves Xela and goes directly to Panajachel, the largest city on the lake. The options were to take a shuttle directly to Panajachel for $25 (that’s U.S. dollars) or a chicken bus for 20 Quetzales (~$2.50 U.S.). We opted for the less expensive and more adventurous chicken bus. For the low low price of only $2.50 you get to ride with locals, haggle for price with the bus attendant, sit in seats designed to fit children (most chicken buses are old yellow school buses from the U.S.), and a terrifying ride around sharp curves at high speeds. Excellent value if you ask me.

Dave holding on tightly on our way to Panajachel.

We arrived in Panajachel (Pana as it’s known locally) earlier than expected and before our couchsurfing host could meet us, so we wondered around town a bit trying to get our bearings. We eventually met up with Helga (couchsurfing host) and her three kids, ranging in age from 8-13 years old, I think. She and the kids were busy that night so Sarah and I set off exploring Pana.

Due to rain that set in that evening there wasn’t much going on in town. After much deliberation and being propositioned to come in and eat by many of the restaurants we passed, we settled on a place that served burgers and Asian cuisine. The choice was primarily based on finding the cheapest food. We planned to try local cuisine the next day. Not to mention, I just wanted a burger.

Wimpy looking burger but a burger nonetheless, with yummy fries too.

Saturday had a lot more in store. First thing in the morning we headed to the local market to grab food for the weekend and day. Our Spanish is good enough to buy food. That’s a good start. We bought 2 avocados, 1 onion, 6 bananas, 1 red bell pepper, 14 eggs and 1 box of pancake batter (panqueques in Spanish) for about $4.50. Not bad I guess.

The local market right around the corner from where we stayed.

After breakfast we took a boat–the main, and only mode of transport in some cases, to and from the towns on the lake–from Pana to Santa Cruz, about a 10 minute ride away. The boat ride cost 10 Q ($1.25). We’ve found that the best way to make sure you don’t overpay for anything is to figure out what the going price is ahead of time and then supply exact change when it’s time to pay, and be firm when necessary. Those tactics paid off all weekend, for both the bus and boat rides. It’s pretty gratifying to know you’re getting the best price possible. That said, it’s common for visitors to spend more than locals. There are typically two sets of prices for anything: local prices and visitor/traveler prices.

Sarah enjoying the mini cruise on the lake on our way to Santa Cruz.

Once we arrived in Santa Cruz we found the walking trail between there and the next town to the east, Jaibalito. The walk was only about a mile or so but packed with great views and some fun terrain. It was the first bit of hiking we were able to do on the trip thus far.

Trail sign showing we’re on the right path.

We observed a local fisherman pulling in a few small catches using only a line, hook, bait, and his mouth to reel in the line.

The town of Santa Cruz overlooking the lake.

A house in/on the lake. Our guess is that the lake level is lower in the dry season. Though, we were told that the lake level has been on the rise in recent years and not going down. Old timers say it was even higher about 40 years ago.

An amazing hotel we didn’t stay at but that was recommended by several people. Not in the budget.

A closer shot of the aforementioned hotel (La Casa Del Mundo, I think). Also has a section in the lake.

Some of the folks we encountered on the hike. Their loads were a lot heavier than ours. Along the way we heard one of the local Mayan languages spoken. Pretty sweet to hear the language of an ancient people.

Sarah hiking on the wooden plank trail.

Dave hiking on the wooden plank trail.

Example of some of the pretty vegetation we encountered along the way.

More interesting vegetation.

Unfortunately there was lots of trash along the lake shore. We were told by people from Guatemala that the lake is relatively polluted. Also in image are floating rocks. Volcanic rocks I think.

This is the inside of Hotel Isla Verde we visited on the trail. Pretty cool place. Evidently they were holding a seminar called “Consciousness and Sacred Sexuality Guatemala”. The session was called “Sex Magic-Manifesting your Deepest Desires”. Interesting.

Sarah walking the narrow streets of Jaibalito.

After making it to Jaibalito we walked the same trail back to Santa Cruz to explore for a while before heading back to Panajachel. At the Santa Cruz boat dock, where the walking trail ended, we were bombarded by tuk-tuk operators asking if we wanted a ride to the top. We assumed the walk to Santa Cruz was a short distance away and decided that tuk-tuks were for lazy tourists. No way we’d consider ourselves part of that group. It turned out that Santa Cruz was much further away and higher in elevation than we thought, and the path there was steep the entire way. Even with the terrain and distance we decided to continue the journey on foot and raised our noses at the tuk-tuks.

Once we reached what we assumed was the top, we took in the view and shortly after began our descent. There wasn’t much to the town of Santa Cruz. It was more of a community/large neighborhood than a place for tourists to hang out and sip on a cup of joe. If there was a place that could be considered a tourist friendly area we didn’t find it. Tourist definitely visit the town though. One sure sign is that more than a few of the kids asked for one Quetzal to have their photo taken. Still a cool place to visit, even for a short time.

Switchback number 1. Sure we don’t want to take the tuk-tuk?

It can be much further, right? Maybe we should take the tuk-tuk. Nah.

Turns out it’s hard to find shade midday when you’re close to the equator. We found ourselves looking for someplace on the north side of a building in order to get out of the sun, like we were still in New England. Turns out the sun is pretty much smack dab in the middle of the sky. Hence reapplying sunscreen.

It’s amazing the terrain buildings are built on. All of Santa Cruz was like this.

View from the top-ish of Santa Cruz.

This guy had the right idea. Find a shaded hole on a patch of cool dirt and take a nap.

After descending back down to the boat docks we took a boat back to Panajachel. We both promptly took warm showers, which neither of us had had for a couple of weeks at that point–“warm” being the key word here. Afterwards we took a short walk around town with Helga, seeing a couple of places we hadn’t yet found.

One of the rivers leading into Lake Atitlan. We walked along it with Helga and her dog.

Our couchsurfing host Helga, her dog, and a bunch of the local strays. The strays aren’t so scary if you have dog treats. They all loved Helga.

And of course a local frozen treat. Seeing a theme yet. Strawberry frozen ice cream covered in chocolate.

For dinner we finally had a chance to hang out with Helga’s kids. They introduced us to some local street food. We had Tostadas (deep fried corn tortillas covered in a thin coating of avocado, black bean sauce and salsa, and then chopped onions and cheese on top) and Atol (a creamy warm drink made from corn tasting a lot like canned creamed corn, but better). They were both delicious. Afterwards the two of us went to a bar to grab a drink but were beat and headed back soon after I (Dave) finished my beer.

The next morning we made pancakes and scrambled eggs for Helga and her family. The kids tried banana pancakes for the first time so we agreed to try pancakes covered in black bean sauce. It was surprisingly good, and according to Helga, good for you. We spent a couple of hours after breakfast having a great and varying conversation with Helga.

All in all it was a great weekend. The bus ride home was equally scary and thrilling as the one to Pana, this time with twice as many people on board. Still no chickens on the chicken bus though.

Categories: Central America | 2 Comments

Proyecto de Estufa (Stove Project) and Traveler’s Sickness First Victim…

First off, I know it’s been awhile since we last posted. Sorry.  Our brain has been working hard trying to learn Spanish. Which is VERY hard and exhausting…but I digress.

Back to the Stove Project!

Pop Wuj is committed to helping the community around Xela with a handful of different projects, one of which is the stove project. A couple of women who work for Pop Wuj travel to different communities outside of Xela and visit families to characterize the need for a new stove or not. Every Wednesday is the stove project day where students (and teachers if their class is in the morning) volunteer to go build one of three stages of the stove.

So far Dave and I have volunteered two days and have been able to build stage 2 and 3 on the same stove! Since the locations are outside of the city we get to take chicken buses too.

Sarah and her Teacher Patty on the Chicken Bus

Ryan (another Student), Freddy (Dave’s Teacher), and Sarah and Patty walking to the house

Stage One:

This stage includes building the base and foundation for the stove. It uses cement blocks, known as just blocks in Spanish, and cement to bond them  together. There are three layers of blocks. Sand is then filled in the center of the blocks to bring it up to the same level. You can see the first level in the pictures below. We did not build this it was there when we started the second phase.

Stage 1 completed the week before and ready for Stage 2

Stage Two:

I think stage two could be the most difficult stage and takes the longest time to build. Although this could be biased since I didn’t build stage one and there were only 5 of us working on stage two and about 7 or 8 working on stage three.

Stage two has three different materials. Baro, which consists of a clay, water, and a brown sugar liquid to make it sticky. Baro is the thermal insulation for the stove. It goes on the inner 2/3’s of the stove. Cement is the second material that goes on the outside 1/3 of the stove and is to hold the bricks together. The bricks are the third material used in this step.

The first thing you do is soak the bricks. Eighty bricks in total, it was good practice counting…I made it to 80, with only one wrong pronunciation.

80 bricks soaking in the water

Then you make the Baro. The Baro is very sticky and very dirty. All three of us, Ryan included in this, were mixing the Baro and there for no pictures. Sorry.

Sarah measuring out the clay for the Baro

A layer of Baro goes on top of the blocks on the inside 2/3’s and a  layer of cement on the outside 1/3. The first layer of bricks are placed on top of that about a finger width apart. Which turns out is very important for the next step. The bricks were also leveled before the next step took place. This involved putting more Baro or cement to even things out.

Dave and Sarah placing the bricks on the Baro and Cement layer.

The next step includes putting the Baro, which let me remind you is VERY sticky and doesn’t slide in very easily, between the bricks and then on top of the bricks. Again, Baro on the inside 2/3 and cement on the outside 1/3.

Ryan and Dave working on getting the Baro and cement in the back of the stove. Notice the small working space.

Repeat two more times until you have three layers total. Making sure to leave space for a door in front and a chimney or chiminea in Spanish in the back.

Ryan and Sarah on the second layer applying Baro and Cement

And tudah! (I googled this word and still not sure if this is how it’s spelled.) Phase 2 complete. Except for the clean up and ride home…

Looks beautiful!

Sarah cleaning her hands of Baro

Dave and Freddy cleaning the tools

Adios!

Phase Three:

Phase three includes putting the floor down for the inside of the stove, the chimney, and the metal top. The first task for Dave was to carve a brick in a gradual arc shape for in front of the chimney while I mixed the dried Baro from last week to a better consistency.

Dave carving the brick with a Machete

They actually had him make two because he did such a good job on the first one. This is for the other stove near by.

Sarah mixing Baro

Then next process was lining up the chimney and cutting a hole through the roof. This process was mostly done by the teachers and Carmenlina, who is the stove master.

Carmenlina, Patty and Freddy figuring out where the chimney will go.

While the roof was being cut, Carmenlina was placing the gradient stove floor. She put the bricks down so it slowly increased in height towards the chimney. Then more Baro between the bricks.

Sarah, George (another student), and Carmenlina putting the Baro down.

Next was placing the chimney through the hole and connecting it to the stove. Dave caught an awesome picture of the women receiving the free stove watching the teachers do this step. She was very grateful for this stove.

Grateful eyes watching the stove making.

Following the stove is the placement of the metal top and more cement to top it all off. Notice the perfect cement job done by Carmenlina on the chimney block. Once this done, they let the stove sit for 7 weeks to dry out. Once dry, they return to put a door on and then the stove can be used for a long time.

Carmenlina works fast but is very good at what she does.

Students watching how to make cement.

Reaching the long spots for Carmenlina.

Dave trying to master the trowel. He either wasn’t going fast enough or not doing a good enough job, Carmenlina eventually took the trowel from him.

our teacher’s told us “good work” or “bueno trabajo”

There was enough people this time that another stove was worked on as well. Check out the other group…

Other group of students cleaning their tools.

The two ladies who live there and were receiving the stoves were very grateful and made everyone (there was 14 of us total) some hot beverage that consisted of chocolate and rice. Everyone had to take some, they were not taking no for an answer. There was a lot of concerned students…they didn’t want any bacteria friends from this drink. Dave and I both tried it. Not my favorite. The texture was similar to rice pudding, not a fan.

Some pictures of us leaving that day…

Carmenlina leaving the house between the rows of corn.

Walking towards the street to catch the bus.

A hill of corn, onions, broccoli, etc. behind the house.

And finally Dave and I treated ourselves to the chocolate covered frozen bananas we’ve been seeing on our walk home every day.

They were yummy…

Lastly, I’ve either made the post so long that you’ve been waiting in anticipation for the first victim of traveler’s sickness or you completely forgot. I’ll go with the first…

It was ME…I’ve had stomach problems since Friday and then Tuesday after lunch I had a fever of 99.3 for well over 9 hours. I don’t know the exact time, about 5 hours into the fever (a fever that ibuprofen nor aleve helped, I know tylenol would be best…but we didn’t have that) I broke down and took a dose of my antibiotics. The fever broke sometime in the night and I felt good enough to go to the stove project the following day. I’m still not feeling 100 percent…time will tell if I need something else.

As a side note, Dave has had some minor stomach issues, we’re afraid he wasn’t far behind my problems, but no fever yet. Good job Dave.

Thanks for sticking in there for this long post!

Cheers, Sarah

Categories: Central America, Volunteering | 10 Comments

School…there and back

In this post I’ll show some photos of our daily trip to and from the Spanish language school, Pop Wuj, we attend in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala and a few photos of the school itself. The town of Quetzaltenango is referred to throughout Guatemala as Xela (pronounced Shay-la). So you’ll see it referred to as Xela in the blog from now on. Xela is short for Xelawuj, which is the Mayan name of the city.

Our walk in each direction takes about 15 minutes, sometimes a few minutes more depending on how congested the streets and sidewalks are. The streets are less crowded in the morning so the walk is a little faster. Here are some photos of our walk to school.

Leaving our home in Xela

Sarah walking past a local middle school on her right and police station on her left.

Sarah passing a Xela woman on her way to the local market

Sarah at the entrance of Pop Wuj

Below are a handful of images of the interior of the school. There are a few common areas (e.g. kitchen, meeting room, and lounge), some of which encompass “classrooms” used for the one-on-one Spanish lessons. About half of the “classrooms” are in common areas and the other half are in private rooms. Luckily, Sarah and I have private rooms. This allows for fewer distractions, which is extremely helpful for me.

Lounge area for students to hang out in before and after class. Just out of the picture are a couple “classrooms” situated in this room.

The community kitchen. Throughout the day there is coffee, hot water and clean water to drink. We’re also allowed to cook in there if we choose to. You can see Carmelina, the school cleaning woman and master stove builder (more on that later), peeking through a window in the background.

La oficina (the office) and stairwell to the roof (on the left).

The largest common area at the school, used for Monday morning meetings as well as housing several “classrooms” for one-on-one lessons.

Example of one of the private classrooms. This is where I (Dave) have my lessons. The window provides great people watching opportunities throughout the day.

Our lessons start around 8am and end around 1pm. At which point we head home and eat the daily lunch prepared by our home-stay host Marina. Lunch, it turns out, is the biggest, and usually most delicious, meal of the day. The streets at this time of the day are a bit more congested. As with Guatemala City, vehicles own the roads in Xela. And so we have to devote our full attention to navigating the streets. Sarah likes to practice conjugating verbs during our walks, but I finally had to admit that I couldn’t do both. I didn’t realize conjugating verbs could be so dangerous.

Bustling street we walk on the way home after school.

One of the busier intersections we walk through. Xela vendors sell veggies throughout the day at this intersection.

Many of the sidewalks are very narrow, sometimes only providing enough room for one person. When passing someone you have to take a quick, yet careful, step out into the street. Fun.

The sign translates to “Slow, School”, but I don’t think much attention is paid to it.

The last leg of our trip home is a short walk up a steep hill. There’s less traffic back here so walking in the streets isn’t so bad.

The rest of our day is spent studying, walking around the city and partaking in after school activities. Monday evening we watched the movie “El Norte” (The North) and Tuesday evening we listened to a lecture given by one of the Pop Wuj teachers–in Spanish–on medicinal plants . In his free time he studies the history of medicinal plants, especially those in Guatemala and the rest of Central America. Lucky for us, some of the students in the lecture knew a bit of Spanish and could translate for us. Suffice to say, we have no problem staying busy.

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Guatemalan Must Do’s and Travels to Quetzaltenango

Since yesterday was Saturday, we had the pleasure of hanging out with our couchsurfing host Rick all day. It was a treat having him around and sharing with us the Must Do’s in Guatemala.

The first must do was our trip to Antigua. It’s a colonial city about an hour away from Guatemala city. It was the biggest city in central America and all of North America at one time. Today the city is a travel destination and protected to keep the colonial feel. I will admit that it was refreshing to see other people traveling in Guatemala and not have to be so concerned about having our camera out all the time.

The main attraction in Antigua is the Ruins. There are a handful of old cathedrals and buildings that were built by the Spanish and then destroyed by earthquakes. Below are some pictures of the Ruins.

Our second must do was a fast food sit down hybrid restaurant started in Guatemala called Pollo Campero. It’s basically Guatemala’s version of KFC. It was good, but both Dave and I have weened our selves off fast food back in the states and our stomachs didn’t agree with our must do decision. Too much information? You’re welcome. Here’s a picture of Dave and Rick enjoying some yummy fried chicken.

Our third must do was dinner at El Portal del Angel. This restaurant was located at the top of a ravine and overlooked all of Guatemala city. Also, our couchsurfing host conjured up a lightning storm, or so he says, that we got to see during dinner. As part of the must do theme, Rick had ordered us some typical Guatemalan food as an appetizer. You’ll never guess…corn tortillas and re-fried beans. It was actually really tasty, but I fear we’ll be having a lot of that in the next three weeks staying with our host family.  Rick’s friend Maria came to dinner with us too, and she ordered a soda made from hibiscus, which she allowed us to try. It was good, it was smooth with a nice subtle sweetness.

Our fourth and last must do of the day was drinks back at Rick’s place. We both tried Monte Carlo cerveza (beer) and Zacapa Rum. Both of which are made in Guatemala. Both were good. The beer tasted like beer and the rum like rum. Huge surprises there…

It was a long day and night yesterday, which made waking up for our 4.5 hour bus ride to Quetzaltenango, Xela (Shay-la) for short, hard. The trip to Xela was interesting. The bus was a typical greyhound type of bus, but it stopped multiple times on our way to Xela. And every time it stopped people would board the bus and try to sell you something. It was definitely new and different.

The last thing I want to share is the temperature. It’s nice here…70’s.

Goodnight All! -Sarah

Categories: Architecture, Central America | Tags: , | 3 Comments

Guatemala City…Art, Walking, and Architecture

We’ve been in Guatemala since Wednesday (Aug. 1st) and we’ve already seen so much. The first night we were here our couchsurfing host (Ricardo, or Rick for short) invited us to an art show. A friend of his, Maria, was showing her art–which was fantastic–along with a handful of other local artists.  All of the work being presented was top-notch. The creativity, craft, and execution were very impressive. Unfortunately, the photos we took were none of those things.  Sorry.

Sarah playing art critic.

Thursday was a day filled with walking and really experiencing the streets of Guatemala City. The walking began early with  a trip to buy our bus tickets for the trip we will be taking in a couple of days from Guatemala City to Quetzaltenango–the town that we will be spending three weeks in studying Spanish. Our ever helpful couchsurfing host, Rick, offered to drop us off near the bus station just as he was heading off to work. It was a very last-minute ordeal, so we had to throw our stuff together and hadn’t yet eaten breakfast. As he was driving us to the station he was giving directions on how to get back on our own; telling us street names, directions, bus numbers and advice on how to stay safe–like don’t flash your camera around.

The bus station was very easy to find after he dropped us off. Communicating with the staff at the station with our broken Spanish went surprisingly well. Did I mention that the people here have been really polite and helpful thus far. The tickets cost 57 Quetzales (about $7.27) per person, for about a 4.5 hour bus ride. Not bad.

The weather here is pretty mild, mid 70’s or so, so we decided to hoof it all the way back from the bus station to the apartment we’re staying in. This was partly because we didn’t want to cram onto the buses that were filled with morning commuters. Also, we’ve read and been warned by Rick that traveling by bus here is not recommended for tourists.  The walk back let us experience the city in a little more up close and personal way. There were tons of people out and about, most likely on their way to work. We passed several areas with street vendors, none of which hassled us–as we’ve experienced in other international cities. It was nice being able to walk around and observe without being approached. Some of the city is easily walk-able, with sidewalks and people bridges, while other sections less so.  In many areas there are no sidewalks or stop lights to allow pedestrians to cross. You see crosswalks but they aren’t typically recognized by drivers. It’s not uncommon to get a toot of the horn encouraging you to hurry across the street. The pace of vehicle traffic is pretty fast, so crossing the street requires your full attention and some sprinting at times. The walk back to the apartment took, in total, about an hour and a half.

Rick’s place has a doorman that controls who enters the building. The doorman that day was different from the one we’d met the day before. Because are Spanish is terrible, we weren’t able to effectively communicate with him so that he would let us in. Fortunately, we found a pay phone and contacted Rick so that he could straighten things out. Once we got into the apartment we ate lunch, then I napped while Sarah researched places to visit during the last half of the day. Then we hit the streets once again.

We headed to an area of the city supposedly known as the ‘Old City’. By ‘old’ I assumed several-hundred-years-ago-Spain-colonial-days old. Not the case. Most of the buildings we saw were built in the 1930’s and 40’s. Nonetheless, they were beautiful buildings. Here are some of the pictures we took of the National Palace of Culture and the Ministry of the Interior. Click on any image to view them in ‘Gallery’ mode.

After a long, yet successful, day of walking around the city, we made sure to catch the bus in time to get home before dark. The reason being that we were given warnings to be off of the streets by dark. It’s hard to know if the advice we’ve been given is founded or just people being overly cautious. Whatever the reason, we’ve decide it best to follow the advice. I mentioned early that bus travel was advised against, yet I just explained that we caught a bus home. There is one bus line in the city that’s considered safe for tourists–the green line. The construction of that particular line, and all of its stations, was completed about 5 years ago (approximately 2007). All of the stations are guarded by transit police and the line is considered safe for travel by tourists. It certainly felt that way to us. Here’s a shot of the bus. It’s pretty modern looking.

The safe bus (the green line)

On Saturday Rick is planning to take us to Antigua. A guided tour by a local sounds pretty cool. We’re looking forward to it.

– Dave

Categories: Architecture, Central America, Uncategorized | Tags: , | 3 Comments

Guatemala!

It’s official we’re in Guatemala City, Guatemala! We have arrived safely and have met our wonderful couchsurfing  host. We are now catching up on some much-needed rest after the long flights and early rise.

A big thanks for Kristina for driving us to the airport at 3am this morning after only 3 hours of sleep. And thanks for my family for the “last supper” they had for us. It was very yummy and I’ll be missing that chicken broccoli casserole and carter’s ice cream in about a month, if not sooner.

Here are a couple of pictures to enjoy. Image

Thanks for the cake Mom!

Image

The view from our host’s apartment. Right before it started to down poor.

Cheers.

Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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