Saturday, October 25, 2008

Travel and Scuba and more Travel

Ferry-colectivo-taxi-bus-microbus-chicken bus-colectivo-ferry. That pretty much sums up the past two days of traveling from the Roatan, Honduras to Livingston, Guatemala, which is a town accessible only by boat on the carribbean coast. Yesterday was a 12-hour travel day. But it went relatively smoothly considering the first bus we took was, according to my schedule, supposed to arrive in San Pedro Sula Honduras at 10 am and we arrived a little after 11. And one of the microbuses had about seven guys who had been working at the banana plantation pile up on the roof--I thought it was going to collapse on us. It was like watching a clown car fill up--they kept climbing up one after the other and I was thinking ¨where are they all sitting?¨

The coastal areas North of San Pedro Sula all the way over the border were hard hit by the recent rains so as we moved up the coast yesterday we saw shanty towns of tarp tents where people who have been displaced are living. We saw a boy of about 12 carrying a television on his shoulder as he waded through chest-deep water. In Guatemala they have semi-truck trailers parked by the side of the road with kids sleeping on mats beneath them. It was hard to see but apparently the government is providing some food and other assistance.

So I was a gringa in Honduras for the past week or so. I went early to Roatan and learned how to scuba dive with Daniel, a British guy working for an outfit called Reef Gliders. We did everything in the ocean--confined dives requiring skills like swimming without a mask, sharing a regulator, learning to hover, etc. It was challenging because the usually calm sea was a bit rough, so sometimes while we were underwater there was current and waves pushing you around. My dive partners were Tao and Bativa, a honeymooning couple from Israel whose names I am sure I did not spell right.

Once Jon arrived we did three fun dives to sites called Spooky Channel (it was a little bit dark down there and Jon spotted a green moray eel--his hunter instincts make him a good dive partner), Texas, and Herbie´s Fantasy. Apparently the fish life here is amazing (second only to Australia´s Great Barrier Reef) but I have no comparison so I guess I´ll just have to be content that I was spoiled on my first dives.

So. . . now we are staying in a bungalow at a hostel called the casa de la iguana with a bunch of young Americans working there. So much for practicing my Spanish! Next we plan to head inland by boat up the Rio Dulce and then to Semuc Champay. Last little tidbit--my new favorite snack is the lychee fruit--they sell them as you board the buses in Honduras and they are delicious!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

This one is just really for mom and dad

Because I don't have a new email address for you, mom and dad, so I can't tell you that I am OK.  I was stuck in La Ceiba, Honduras overnight (not the best place to be stuck but it worked out) but I made it to Roatan on a flight this morning.  I haven't been able to figure out the phones here yet but hopefully tomorrow. I have a room and started my dive course today (I absoultely love, love, love scuba diving) and I don't have malaria yet but have been eaten by bugs a lot and I am taking my malaria medication  I will hopefully be able to call you tomorrow, but in case I can't, I am doing well.  Except I miss everyone and my spanish is regressing already.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

On the road again

Well, during three weeks of Spanish school I learned six verb tenses, and now my head is more muddled when I try to use them than when I arrived. But yesterday I rode the "chicken bus" (the local buses which are 5x cheaper than the tourist shuttles but 3x more crowded and slightly more dangerous) without too much difficulty. I would like to say I "conquered" the chicken buses, but that would be a bit presumida since it was only a 3-hour journey and I felt victourious simply because I came out of it with all of my belongings and no major mishaps. (However, I did have to change buses twice and I learned how to ask them to put my mochila--backpack-- in a safe place.)

Now I have sprayed half my clothes with Permethrin, a killer bug-spray for clothes, in preparation for a week on Roatan off the coast of Honduras. Tomorrow morning I leave quite early (need to be at the bus station by 5 am) to travel over land to La Ceiba, where I will fly 15 minutes to the island. I am going now so I can start my open water scuba course, a 4-day mix of book/video learning and dive practice.

Once again the New Mexican connection came through for me; tonight I am back in Guatemala City but safe in the home of Bryant, director of the Oxford Language School here in the capital. We spent the afternoon in a nice American fashion--watching American football and drinking beer with his dad, who is also visiting.

When I return from three weeks traveling in Honduras and east/central Guatemala with mi novio, Jon, I will be volunteering for Bryant and some colleagues at Camino Seguro school here in the capital (but living in Antigua with a Guatemalan family.) I am excited to get started doing some work that hopefully will allow me to practice my spanish as well as use my library experience in a productive way.

I don't know how much I will be writing while Jon and I are on the road, but I am sure I will post some fresh photos at some point!

Until then, take care mis amigos and thanks for reading!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The pickpocket attempt and mi familia muy amable

Nothing was stolen and I wasn´t ever in any real danger. But I had a little reminder last weekend that being an extranjero also makes you a target. It was a good lesson to learn.

On Sunday afternoon I went to the zoo with my family. They planned a nice picnic lunch (we brought the grill to make carne asada), and since we had a lot to carry we took the bus. (Did I mention that my family doesn´t have a car?) Anyway, the bus was very crowded so we piled in and I was standing, pushed up against an occupied seat. All of a sudden, I felt fingers on the side of my leg, trying to open a velcro pants pocket (which only had my cell phone and 3 quetzales inside.) I looked down and saw an older man pull his hand away. I shifted positions so that my pocket and my backpack were out of his reach.

Everything would have been just peachy except that this man was apparently not pleased that I didn´t let him rob me. He started pushing me with his knee, effectively shoving me into the isle and the other people crammed on the bus. Then he stood up and started calling me names, like ¨basura¨(trash) and other things I won´t mention since this blog is rated PG-13. I could smell the sour alcohol on his breath.

At this point I was pretty scared and was wondering if anyone else on the bus had noticed him trying to pick my pocket. Finally he got right behind me and was pushing me, so I pushed him back and said, ¨Qué es tú problema?!¨ Maya, the mom in my family, then noticed there was a problem and moved between me and the man. The man continued to call me names and then the papá in my family started protecting me by telling the bus driver to kick the guy off and yelling at the pickpocket directly.

Thankfully, we arrived at the zoo and it was time to get off the bus. I kept saying, ¨estoy bien, estoy bien¨ to my family. They were really concerned and said that the man was a real rude guy who is not representative of a typical Guatemalteco.

Anyway, for every bad experience there is a good experience that balances it out. At the zoo, everyone had smiles for me, the guy running the bumper cars kept trying to speak to me in English, I rode the slide and the played on the jungle gym with the girls, and then taught them how to play ¨500,¨an old game I remember from the playground.

While we were eating our picnic lunch, a young man (probably 12 or 13) came by with his shoe-shine kit and asked if we needed his services. We said no, so he ambled away and sat down not too far from us. The papá in my family (I know it´s terrible that I don´t know how to spell his name) grabbed a spare plate and started spooning beans and tortillas on it. Then he added freshly grilled meat and some pico de gallo and took the plate and a cup of hot tea over to the boy so he could have lunch, too.

There is a lot of injustice in this country that obviously makes some people angry and some people resentful of gringos or of the ¨ricos.¨ But there is also some kindness and compassion. Ultimately, there are too many have-nots, too many people working three jobs and barely surviving, too many children who don´t have enough to eat, and too many elderly people living barefoot on the street. But you can´t try to fix it all at once. It´s just paso a paso.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

¨Lassie¨ saves the day (i.e., my second mishap)

It´s hard to believe how much has transpired in the last few days. I find that, as much as I thought I would have plenty of leisure time to sit in sidewalk cafes and browse books, review spanish vocabulary, and watch the people pass by, my life here is full and busy much like my life in Winter Park was. Perhaps I somehow prefer it to be that way . . .

Yesterday I hiked to Laguna Chicabal with one of the teachers at our school and three other students. We took a public bus about 45 minutes outside of Xela to San Martin, a small agricultural village where they primarily grow corn and potates, but I was also psyched to see remolachas (beets! my favorite) and lots of other fresh vegetables. As soon as we got out of the microbus and started climbing, I felt two things: the altitude (we were over 8,000 feet) and a strong desire to get out of the city on a more permanent basis.

Then last night I attended a free concert at the Teatro Municipal with my familia. (Hint--this is where mishap #2 begins.) I went to the concert with my friend Rachel (from Philly) and my family, and after about an hour Rachel and I left to meet some other students. We had a beer but we were pretty tired so we headed home. I got home and let myself in with my key as on many other nights, and dead-bolted and chained the door from the inside, and went to bed.

In the midst of deep sleep, I heard the dog, Pongie, barking rather enthusiastically considering it was the middle of the night. He continued on for quite some time and I began to wonder what was causing him such consternation. Then I began wondering why no one else in the family had been woken up by the racket. Which led me to wonder--was anyone else home?

It was a this point that the horrific truth hit me: I had locked my Guatemalan family out of their own home. I sprang out of bed, noticing that it was 12:23 am, and went for the door. Huddled on the step was the five of them (it was cold!) and immediately of course Maya, the mom, started telling me how nice I was to open the door for them. I felt horrible. I kept telling them that I thought everyone was home already or else I would never have locked the door. I asked how long they had been waiting, and the mom said, ¨only about half-an-hour¨ to which one of the daughters replied, ¨more like an hour.¨ Today, the oldest daugher, Dulce, told me that they thought they were going to have to sleep on the street.

So we´re going out for dinner tonight. I am treating. And they are letting me stick around for another week, but they made sure to get my phone number in case of emergencies.

Stay tuned for my first encounter with a pick-pocket soon! You´ve all read enough for now!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The difference between being on vacation and living somewhere

As I settle in to life in Xela, I am reminded of the differences between living somewhere and just passing through as a traveler. Differences like dirty laundry that can´t just sit in the bottom of your bag until you get home. Small things like needing a place to excercise but not knowing exactly where to go, and knowing that I am going to run out of soap and toothpaste before I get home.

It´s also about getting to know a city better than just snapping a couple of photos on the central plaza, visting the main tourist attraction, and a eating at restaurant or a bar.

I am getting to know Xela now. I am seeing the bad with the good, because it´s not just quaint, new, and different anymore. I feel the pollution thick and black in my lungs when I arise to go running at 6:15 am. I recognize the 7-year-old boy who awaits his first customer at his shoe-shine stand in the central park each morning. I jog by and wonder what led to his labor at such a young age and wish that my running shoes needed to be shined. This morning I saw a man sleeping on a sidewalk; he was using a stone for his pillow. As I run, the streets become crowded with students in uniforms going to school for the morning--the younger ones escorted by their parents or other siblings and the older ones walking hand-in-hand with their novios. I run for excercise past men pushing heavy wheelbarrows through narrow streets because it is their work. They look at me with a mix of curiosity, disdain, and interest and I am not sure how I should look back.