BootsnAll Travel Network

Edwin's Blog, how's that for a title!

Quit my job and roadtripped across the US, traveled in Central America, cycled the Pacific Coast, got a new job (and worked for 10 months), now I'm back roadtripping up to Alaska!

A Photo Day Trip

March 8th, 2006

The following is an entry that was never posted, so
I’m trying again and hoping that this will work
because this is the last of my posts with pictures. I
still am not able to upload my pics from my camera and
my replacement card reader has not arrived, so enjoy
the pics!

Today I took a day trip with some
> classmates to Momostenango, which is about 30 miles
> outside of Xela. They are well known for their
> handmade wool blankets, ponchos and other woolen
> products. We took the cheap chicken buses from bus
> terminal Minerva to the home of a lady who sells her
> work in Xela. The following is just a pictorial of
> my day..
> IMG_4232.JPG
> From the bus stop at the side of the road (the bus
> will stop anywhere along its route), we hiked down
> the hillside to the family’s little plot of land
> complete with an outhouse, chickens and their work
> area.
> IMG_4234.JPG
> I’m not a weaving type of person, so I don’t know
> the name of these contraptions but they take the
> wool and somehow create these real kick ass
> blankets. It takes about one week to make a small
> rug or blanket.
> IMG_4237.JPG
> All the colors are natural and there are no
> chemicals used. Dye comes from plants, rocks and
> other natural products.
> IMG_4253.JPG
> It’s a family business, and the youngest 10, is
> pretty adept at putting together the designs and the
> carpet.
> IMG_4264.JPG
> A closer look.
> IMG_4276.JPG
> Judy tries her skills with a little assistance
> from one of the sons as Preston takes aim for an
> action shot. Judy and Preston are from Portland
> spending 3 weeks in Guatemala to learn Spanish and
> to do some traveling.
> IMG_4278.JPG
> The finished products.
> IMG_4286.JPG
> Dad shows some of our group different blankets
> from which to choose.
> IMG_4301.JPG
> Mom made some wonderful hot tortillas and tostadas
> which we filled with beans, guacamole, hot sauce and
> cheese. Deelish!
> IMG_4302.JPG
> Enjoying the food inside the little cocina and
> comedor area of their living quarters.
> IMG_4303.JPG
> Afterwards, we journeyed into Momostenango and to
> these strange rock formations.
> IMG_4306.JPG
> So, does it look like I’ve lost a little weight
> yet?
> IMG_4320.JPG
> A better aeriel view of the rock formations.
> IMG_4324.JPG

Our final stop was the mercado and church plaza
area of Momo, and then another harrowing ride back
aboard the chicken bus where we all got pretty sick
from all the “normal” driving (read fast, reckless –
by our US standards – and crowded). But we made it

I really hope this entry posts to the blog with
the pics! More later…

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New Family, New Food

March 7th, 2006

For my last week of classes I have a new family.  No, I didn’t do my homework to report back my host mom’s name, but her husband is Ernesto and he is a radio personality here in Xela and actually lived and worked in California for a few years a while back.  The home is only a 2 minute walk from school, which means that I can avoid all of that disgusting dust and smog fumes from the buses and cars on my walk to my first homestay.  Currently I share the home with mom and dad, as well as Ernesto’s sister Claudia and her two hijas (daughters) Andrea (5 years old) and Jemema (almost 3 years old).  What is very surprising is the level of maturity that Andrea displays.  Little Tonito from my first homestay was just that–little, tiny, with a mind that didn’t seem too advanced for his age.  As a matter of fact, the two German girls that stayed in the home commented that Tonito was stupid.  Andrea, on the other hand, has a highly developed sense of self and the world and is quite the intellect.  She is also almost twice Tonito’s size, and I wonder if she really is 5.  But she is, and will be 6 next month.  She showed me some of her tarea (homework), and I was impressed with the quality of the materials and books that her school sends her home with.  I’m wondering if the development of the two kids I’m comparing has a direct relationship to the schools or quality of education that they receive.  I know that Tonito goes to school for 3 hours per day, and I’m sure that Andrea gets at least that much.  As far as public versus private, I don’t know what type of school each goes to.  But it is definitely apparent that sizing up Andrea and Tonito, pun intended, shows that Andrea is quite a bit more advanced as far as education goes.  Just a quick observation I only thought about just now.

 My food situation is improved, even though for breakfast this morning I once again had eggs, black beans, corn tortillas and bread.  Just can’t get away from it.  But like I said yesterday, there is a certain amount of care and preparation that is miles and miles different from my first home stay.  I’ve eaten quite a bit the last 2 days, and I believe that my body may go into overload shock from the quantity of food I have had the opportunity to indulge in.  So today I purposely did not buy any fruit, empanadas or other snacks during my break.  Funny how sometimes you set out to do something, and what you try to avoid still finds its way back to you.  Because despite my withholding of buying food, somehow I still ended up eating offerings of other students and racked up points for eating some papaya, pineapple, 8 donut holes (cinnamon, glazed, sugar), macadamia nuts, chocolate, half a Peppermint patty (one of my last remaining candybars from home) and something else that I can’t remember now.  Tonight I’ve informed my host mom that I won’t be eating dinner, as I’ll be going with some friends to the Royal Paris Cafe for the Tuesday movie and dinner night.  The film tonight is “Umberto D” from Italy in Spanish subtitles.  Since my Spanish is going oh-so-well, it will be interesting to see how much I can understand.  So I suppose I’ll need to report back tomorrow with my experience, as well as finding out the name for my new host mom.  I still think it’s something like “Aera”.  Hasta mañana.



March 7th, 2006

Okay, the whole thing about the hike and my stomach, it was all made up! I retract my statements. I only do this so that I can bring some peace of mind to my mother, who doesn’t take too well to how I treat my body. I am fine, I was fine, because I actually spent the weekend at the Xela mall, eating at the foodcourt, watching Hollywood movies dubbed in Spanish, and searching for the best price for a washing machine. So yeah, that’s how I ACTUALLY spent my weekend.

And because my weekend was so laid back and lazy, I have decided that I need more physical activity for this week. Well, aside from my physical demands on my mental mind for learning Spanish, I went ahead and signed up for the Quetzeltrekkers 3 day hike from Xela to Lago Atitlan. This one won’t involve waking up at 4 in the morning or having stomach ailments — at least that is not the plan.

This is my last week of Spanish classes, last Friday another Portlander, Judy, ended her series of classes. She’s now in another part of Guatemala on a Habitat for Humanity project–small world we live in! I’m surprised that I didn’t meet any other Portlanders today, but my school did get 3 from Connecticut, one from Denmark, one from Germany, and one from California.

Finally, for my last week of classes, I did inherit Kathy’s family. Last night my dinner was corn tortillas and black bean soup! And for breakfast this morning? Fried egg, black beans and corn tortillas! Unbelievable! No, believable! C’est la vie, and such is my luck. But know what? There is a difference in preparation. I cannot stomach how my last family prepared the beans and eggs and tortillas. My new mom, oh crap! I forgot her name!!! Aoer? Aeyr? Aeoe? Well, she actually takes time and care into her meal preparation, so even though I was initially horrified at the prospects of my dinner, I gave it a shot and enjoyed the soup and FRESH, hot off the grill corn tortillas. And my breakfast this morning? After I swore on Elvis’ grave that I would NEVER eat that combo of food again? Well, I didn’t break my word to the King. I specifically said that I could NEVER eat the combo of corn tortillas, black beans and eggs. Together. But I can eat 2 of the 3, or 1 of the 3. I have an out. And so this morning, I ate the black beans and the fried egg, but sin (without) the corn tortillas. Instead I just had a slice of bread. So I didn’t break my vow. I am still NEVER EVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER FOREVER eating that combo of black beans, eggs and tortillas. Well, unless I get paid over $1,000, then maybe, just maybe I’ll suffer the torture and those war flashbacks of climbing the mountain with my diarriah, vomit, dehydration, no energy, ailing stomach and 50 pounds on my back breathing air at 4000 feet. Oh wait, that didn’t happen. Nope, it was just a great story, people know that I’d never do something like that! So bring on those eggs, black beans and tortillas. I can take it.

I lie.

That is my kryptonite.


A Tale of Woe…

March 6th, 2006

Miserable. An experience I will never forget.

Vital Stats:

Number of hikers: 31 Germany, Australia, US, Bulgaria, Sweden, UK and more
Number of guides: 3
Number of times I threw up: 1
Number of times I hovered over the ground in throw-up anticipation: 5
Number of times I shit in the woods: 3
Number of times I practiced my Spanish: ZERO
Number of times I cursed under my breath: Gillions, kabillions to the 65th power
Number of medicine “pills” taken: ZERO
Number of times I went out of the tent from 4pm-4:30am (twice — once to throw up, the other to pee)
Food I ate on Saturday:
Breakfast: scrambled eggs, corn tortillas, black beans, 2 small portions of fried bananas, and a little bit of yogurt.
Snack: Trail mix! No, couldn’t eat any of it.
Lunch: PBJ sandwiches, salads, guacamole, chips, etc. etc. But once again, I couldn’t imagine putting anything into my system.
Dinner: Soup, pasta, cookies, bread. NADA. I ate a small portion of a chocolate bar around 11pm in the evening. And had a little tea that one of the guides got for me.

There is only one experience that has pushed me to my physical and mental limits. That was my first marathon, where at mile 22 I hit the wall and bonked. I had been averaging around 9 minute miles, but the last 4.2 miles were more around 11, then 12, then 13 minutes…I cramped up and had nothing left in my energy stores. I knew that if I stopped running, I wouldn’t even be able to walk to the finish. No stopping, gotta keep going I told myself. At the finish, I basically collapsed and medical personnel were there to assist me. The last mile was the absolute worse. I have no idea how I was able to finish. Just a matter of pushing pushing pushing.

The hike to Volcan Tajumulco was supposed to be a little more difficult than my previous hike up to Volcan Santiaguito. It is the highest point in Central America. The night before, I we went out to celebrate Kathy’s last days in Xela. After our weekly dinner at school, we went to a local bar and then to Casa Babylon. Somewhere between the school dinner and Casa Babylon, I unfortunately managed to score a stomach virus. Was it the strange tasting spaghetti that one of the teachers, Sylvia cooked? Maybe it was the yogurt liquado with melon at the bar? Or maybe the plate of meat that I ordered at Casa Babylon? It tasted really good, not unlike the funky taste I had with the yogurt liquado. Can spoiled yogurt cause bouts of diarriah and stomach flu-like sypmtoms? Whatever it was that I ate, the combination of the Friday night food intake and the Saturday morning breakfast at the local comador (restaurant) did not sit well. I can honestly say that I am damaged for LIFE. Never ever never ever forever will I eat the combination of eggs, black beans and corn tortillas AGAIN! Especially not after how it made me feel on the hike up, and then looking at it looking back at me when I spilled my stomach to the ground. There is now a definite association between black beans, eggs and corn tortillas that will forever be ingrained in my mind. I am traumatized.

I woke up Saturday morning not feeling so well. Once again, even though I went to bed at a normally good time of 11:30pm, I just couldn’t get any sleep. I woke up at 4:30 for the 4:45 meeting time. Staying at Casa Argentina, Quetzeltrekkers offices are right there so I didn’t need to hike 30 minutes to the meeting place like I did on Wednesday.

We rode the backs of pickups to Bus Terminal Minerva, where we took a chicken bus to San Marcos. We were early enough that we were all able to sit down. Then, at 7:45 we sat down at the comedor. And my worst nightmare came true. The breakfast that I shall not speak of. I had already felt a tremendous pain in my stomach on the ride over, and used the bathroom twice before we took another chickenbus to the starting point of our climb. Unfortunately, over half of us were not able to sit on the 90 minute ride. I was able to get a seat, but the bumps and the curves made me feel even more nauseated and in no shape to hike, let alone climb a mountain.

If it were different circumstances, I would say that the climb is not really that difficult. There is a lot of altitude gain, but the guides take frequent stops and we really go at a turtle’s pace, simply because the terrian is so steep. This was unlike my previous hike, were the pace was a little faster and it was quite the work out. The views were fantastic, that is if you take the time to look. Because most of the time, your attention is focused on the ground and where you walk and step. And for me, it was trying to support all the weight on my shoulders and not think about my ailing stomach.

Somehow I made it to base camp at 4pm. I felt like shit. We were 220 meters from the summit. Base camp is where we would spend the night and then wake up early the next morning to climb the final ascent to watch the sunrise.

I was so helpless and listless and had nothing left. Everyone but I chipped in to set up camp. I laid on the ground in a little ball. I was helped over to the nearest tent, where I collapsed into the tent in my fetal position for the remainder of the evening and into the morning. I missed out on the hike to the viewpoint to watch the sunset. I also missed out on the dinner, the campfire, the marshmellows and hanging out. Saturday evening was just miserable. I wrapped up in my warmest clothing in anticipation for the rough cold, but because of my condition I was hot and sweaty all night and I was just in pain. I must say though, I didn’t really get cold while I was in the tent.

4:15 am arrives. Time to gather together to hike in the darkness to the summit for the sunrise. We left around 4:30, I was in the middle of the pack. Still feeling like shit, I tried to keep up but fell behind. I took frequent stops, trying to breathe and trying to talk myself up to the summit. Good thing I had my headlamp, because it was pitch black and you were seriously climbing, using all four limbs to get up to the next ledge or clearing and resting where you could. The whole time I struggled, but others were in the same boat. It was a good hour of effort before I finally reached the top. But I was not out of the clear yet.

The top afforded spectacular views 360 degrees around, but when I am huddled into a little ball, sitting up against a rock with the fierce winds whipping all around, it is a little hard to enjoy. I stayed at my rock for an hour as we waited, and then watched the sun rise. But for me, staying in that position created a side effect that I did not anticipate. My left foot froze. Seriously, I just froze to the point of no feeling. I could feel the onset of tingles but didn’t think anything of it. It was when I went to feel my ankle with my hand, but couldn’t feel my foot, when I knew this was not a good thing. I couldn’t wiggles my toes, and when I tried to move my foot up and down, I couldn’t feel a thing. Such a strange feeling to lose feeling in a part of a body that you know should be working. I was able to get the attention of a guide, who unraveled her sleeping bag, untied my shoe and put my foot in the warm cocoon. I rubbed my foot and tried to move it, the whole time the sun coming up and everyone enjoying the scene. It was probably 10-15 minutes before I gained some feeling in my foot, and then finally when we left to go back to camp I was able to stand and then walk on it. But the whole sunrise over Central America was anti-climactic. So much hard work to get up the mountain, then when I get there, the wind is so freaking cold that I almost freeze my left foot off.

I don’t need to go over the rest of the day. We got back to base camp, I finally put some food in my system (oatmeal), and I made it down and back to Xela by 6pm. I will never forget this period of 24 hours.

Only my first marathon surpasses the physical and mental torture that I endured during this climb. What I did was stupid, but I am stubborn so I guess it isn’t surprising that I would push myself like this. But climbing a mountain in darkness, totally dehydrated and without food for the last 24 hours, dizzy and without energy, is just plain dumb. Miserable is the only way I can describe my hike up Volcan Tajumulco. I somehow survived on nothing more than sheer will and hard-headed stubborness. I know one thing for sure though. I have had my last serving of eggs, black beans and corn tortillas. Yuck, puke, gross, barf, Volcan Tajumulco.


So much to say, so little time…

March 3rd, 2006

Once again I find myself with very limited internet time, plus I still can’t upload all of my recent pictures, so a quick update before the weekend.

Phat Tuesday was much more than I, and the rest of the gringos I was with, than I bargained for. I need my photos to explain what really happened, but let’s just say for now that kids smashing hollowed out eggshells with confetti is putting it very very mildly. Our group of 6, and then 8, were targeted from the get-go, and while it was fun initially, things got a little out of hand and I think we left just in the nick of time before one of us might have become seriously injured.

Tuesday night was also the very last night of my homestay with my family. When I returned home at 10pm I noticed that the house had been re-occupied. Bags were left in the la sala, the lights were on. But no sign of my mom or little noisey Tonito. I took a last shower, packed my bag, and went to bed. But couldn’t sleep for the whole night. Which doesn’t help when one must go backpacking in a few hours. I woke up at 6am, left a note on the kitchen table with the keys, took the last yogurt in the fridge, and walked the 25 minutes to the meeting point.

The hike is the easiest of the 4 that Quetzeltrekkers offers, so I figured this would be a good way to gauge my ability. There were 8 of us, plus 2 guides. Totaly hiking time is only 3.5-4 hours, but with plenty of breaks and rest stops (including a dip in the lake) the total was closer to 6 hours. I thought that I was in shape. Yeah, but maybe not after eating half the number of calories that I am used to back home. The trek up Volcan Santiguito totally kicked my ass. I hate to admit it, but I was the weak wus in our group. I haven’t really backpacked with gear and food and 4.5 litres of water before. Plus my bag isn’t really that big, so I had to be creative with hanging our extra food and such on my bag. The first few hours were fine, just level ground. But the part after lunch was excruitating. My legs burned, I huffed and puffed and the weight on my shoulders was a huge burden. Plus I over ate during lunch and the immediate work up the mountain took it’s toll on my stomach filled with 3 P&J sandwiches, tortillas chips and guacamole, potato salad and lots of water. I am still feeling the soreness in my shoulders.

One of my calf muscles cramped up just before we arrived to camp, so when we finally arrived to our clearing, everyone pitched in with setting up tents, kitchen, etc. and I was the lazy one in the bunch as I “stretched” and pretended to be preoccupied. I did help thread one tent pole though, so I wasn’t totally useless! We were about 2km from the volcano, and during the evening’s trembles and eruptions, the clouds finally cleared away to reveal a beatiful night sky with lave flows viewable from our vantage point. Volcan Santiguito is the most active of Guatemala’s 37 volcanoes, and it did not disappoint. Any closer and we would put ourselves in great danger, as there have been deaths in the last few years with people trying to climb it and getting caught by rock projectiles and vents. So our viewing spot was just as close as I wanted to be, thank you very much.

I realized something during my overnight hike up the Volcano. I like being clean. I like having that feeling of a warm, relaxing shower and climbing into clean clothes. Because I hated how I felt coming down the mountain. Itchy mosquito bites all over my arms, neck and legs. Inhaling dust from the path. Having my shirt soaked in sweat. And being showered with ash. Our route was a beautiful one with changing landscapes and challenging terrian. Going through the trees, our path is narrow and we knock into the vegetation on numerous occassions, which means a shake, rattle and roll and the person behind you gets a fine layer of ash. I felt so dirty and grimey yesterday. Dank and stinky and everyone else was too. So as I type this all nice and clean, I know that 24 hours from now I’ll be back in the state of wretchedness once again.

Because despite how badly the “easy” hike Volcan Santiguito kicked my ass, I decided to sign up and climb Volcan Tajumulco for tomorrow. Common sense says I should not, especially in my body’s banged up condition, plus that fact that everyone I’ve talked to who has done the hike say that they froze during the night despite 2 sleeping bags, layers of clothing, gloves, hats, you name it. Yeah, I should probably just enjoy my hostel room and go out to dinner at Cafe Royal Paris or something. But nah, it’s time for another hike. Cause I’m stubborn, cause that’s what I’m here to do (learn Spanish? okay, I’ll bring my flash cards on my climb tomorrow) and what better way of spending the weekend than climbing up to the highest point in Central America, camping out 200 meters below the summit, then waking up at 4am to climb to the top and watch the sunrise? Well worth the 8 hours of freezing in my dirty clothes and my sore, cramped up muscles, I say. Well, I guess you’ll have to wait until Monday to see what I really have to say. But that’s the plan anyways. And with a HUGE group of 30 climbers, there’s bound to be someone who is more of a wus, more of weakling than I am. Forget about playing basketball every weekend and running marathons, I have the utmost respect for people carrying 50 pounds or more on their back hiking up a mountain, this is hard work! And so I hope I’ll somehow manage to get to the top tomorrow, only freeze for 5 or 6 hours, and come back Sunday evening (to my new family! Kathy’s family!!) to a warm shower, good food, and time to recount the hike. So while everyone is enjoying a nice Saturday evening at home or in a restaurant or in the movie theater, please send WARM thoughts my way because I will seriously be freezing 4000 meters above sea level (no idea what that is in feet, I missed that chapter in my econmics / home economics class). And before I go, a shout out to Megan who returned back to the states and is using the Spanish she learned at Sakribal for up to 5 hours a day, way to go! (okay I lied Megan, but we’ll just pretend, okay?! We miss ya!). Have a fab weekend all!


Phat Tuesday

February 28th, 2006

Quick post for tonight, got a lot going on. Today was my “last” day for classes, well until next Monday. I wasn’t particularly impressed with my teacher, so I’m hoping that next week I’ll have a new one, in addition to a new homestay. It seems like Kathy has made arrangements with the school director for me to inherit her family, since she leaves on Sunday to go back to Americas, Georgia and then make the cross country move to Colorado. So things are looking up.

I’m definitely excited for tomorrow’s hike up to Volcan Santiguito, I just returned from our pre-trip meeting and there are some great people going on the hike. A total of 10 people are going, which includes our 2 guides. One of the guides, Mark, is the fellow from the UK who attended Sakribal for one week taking Spanish classes and he’s a cool Brit that I hung out with a bit when he was in the school.
Tonight is also Carnaval, after my internet session and getting some food to eat, I’ll be meeting up with a bunch of other students to walk over to the fiesta. I was there ealier and it definitely looks like it will be a fun evening. There are vendors galore selling churros, pizza, sandwiches, candies, fresh potato chips (deep fried of course!) and other Gualemalan alimentos (food). They also have a small section with games–video, foozeball and skill games of chance. It’s almost like the Pepsi Festival Center during our Rose Festival in Portland, but this is so unique because of all the differences including amusement rides that are not powered by electricity–but by a guy or two using muscle power. Imagine a carousel with kids on horses and animals, but pushed by the ride “operator” to make it go! In addition, vendors sell hollowed out egg shells filled with confetti. The egg shells are decorated in different colors and tints (i.e. Paas Easter Egg Coloring Kit) and you can buy 6 for about 20 cents. Then, as is the custom here and in other Central and South American countries, you go up to strangers and smash the eggs on people’s heads! Either that method or you can buy BAGS of confetti and when you pass someone you literally take a handful out and throw it on or above the person. I found this out last year when I was in Costa Rica, so I’ll have the chance to relive the confetti rain.

The power went out last night for 20 minutes as I was eating my “dinner” (yes, I had my noodles with one tomato), pitch black darkness for blocks and blocks around, the dogs were barking like crazy and it was a strange and eerie feeling, especially since the night previous after our dinner at the Indian restaurant we passed by a house that is supposedly haunted, and believe me just looking at it gives you the chills. As a matter of fact, as I was taking pictures outside the big gates Markus and Mitzi got a bad vibe and left me before I knew it. Thanks a lot, leave me alone with the ghosts! So for a moment last night, in complete darkness and no one else around, I have to admit my imagination got the best of me for just a second as I felt my way around the house, up the stairs and to my room to find my flashlight. Light always makes things better! Something I tend to take for granted in the evening, and only realize it when there is no power for anything. At any rate, I headed up to the terraza to view the barrio in all its darkness, and above me the sky was simply phenomenal. Clear, cold night with so many stars shimmering in the night.

I’m hoping that tomorrow night on the volcano we’ll have clear weather so that I can see the stars once again with no other light around. I’m a little concerned about the hike because I am carrying so much weight (we all split the loads with tents, food, and 4.5 liters of water each) and I’m still sore from Saturday’s hike to Laguna Chicobal. But I’m still excited and I’ll have a chance to re-energize from my Spanish classes. So my next post won’t be til Thursday or Friday, enjoy Fat Tuesday and until next time!


Afternoon Activity to Zunil

February 27th, 2006

My Spanish learning runs from 8am-1pm. Later in the afternoon after students have had their almuerza (lunch) at home with their families, Sakribal usually offers an afternoon activity ranging from watching a movie video, talking a walking tour, playing a game like futbol, cooking, dancing, or taking short trips outside of the city.

Two weeks ago our afternoon activity was a trip to Zunil. It is about 10km outside of Xela, founded in 1529 with a mostly indegenious population of 6000. It sits in a very pretty valley framed by steep hills with the background of the volcano. We visited the town’s church and the Cooperative Santa Ana. A woman with ties to Oregon City joined the Peace Corps and worked for over 20 years in Zunil, setting up this co-op in which there are currently over 80 women who create their handicrafts and sell them inside the co-op and at markets in Xela. The woman died a few years back at the age of 90, but her obituary from the Oregonian newspaper is blown up and featured on a table explaining the history of the coop and how it started.

We also visited San Simon…hard to explain, so here’s the excerpt from the Lonely Planet book: “The image of San Simon is an effigy of a local Maya hero venerated as a (non-Catholic) saint. The effigy is moved each year to a different house. You’ll be charged a few quetzals to visit him and take pictures.” I didn’t take any pictures cause I didn’t have any money left to take the bus back to town, but locals go to him to make offerings of alchol and cigarettes and ask for blessings.


Walking down the hill to Zunil from the main road. One of the teachers is leading our group. The sign to the right is for Gallo beer, the primary cerveza served in bars and restaurants and tiendas.



Megan, Sofia and Markus share a laugh. The church is in the background.


Walking down to the coop.


View outside the coop from the terraza.


Surrounded by hills and mountains.


Check out the cool granny with shades!


Just outside the door of San Simon. Markus talks to one of the kids as Megan, Sofia and Yutaka look on. The guy with the hat and sweaty shirt has just finished an intense one-on-two futbol sparring campaign with that little yellow ball.


Kitchen Confidential

February 26th, 2006

My host mom still hasn’t returned from her leave of absence in the home.  Either tomorrow or on Tuesday is the estimated time of arrival.  And then on Wednesday I’ll be taking off.  I haven’t signed up for it yet, but I’ll be hiking up Santiaguito Volcano and camping overnight.  I’ll be back on Thursday evening and will need a place to sleep, which will probably be a local hostel.  After yesterday’s hike with my classmates up (and down) to Laguna Chicobal, I’m a little concerned about how well my body will hold up.  I’m still quite sore from yesterday’s morning activity, and oftentimes found myself out of breath and needing a break.  Slow and steady.

And last night after the big futbol game and hanging out til midnight, I sauntered home only to find that my key didn’t work in the door.  I was locked out.  With my key.  That didn’t work.  No matter what I did, the door didn’t budge.  I began to think of what I should do.  I didn’t have any money to get a hostel.  And I don’t really know precisely where my fellow students are staying with their host families.  Maybe try and climb up to the balcony?  Or wait around for the neighbor (who shares the 2 car garage) to show up.  Maybe I should ring his doorbell and wake him up to open the door for me?  After 20 minutes, I heard Rolando’s door unlock and there he was! Perfect timing. But desafortunadamente (unfortunately), here was another opportune time where I really wish I could speak a little Español. He figured out that I was having trouble with opening the garage door because he heard my key in the lock and my rattling on the door. After he let me in, we inspected the door to find that it was a bit off kelter. The locking mechanism is in a permanent state of being locked, so I have to be careful about closing the door when I leave or I’ll be locked out again. In the end though, I was able to get into the house and promptly went to bed.

This morning. Should I go out and treat myself to breakfast? Or try to salvage whatever is in the kitchen and make myself something to eat? Friday morning was my first sight of a cockroach on the kitchen counter. It’s not a pretty site, with a bunch of dirty dishes and food left all around. An open can of refried black beans. Margarine. Some moldy tomatoes. Random tortillas in their plastic bags. Stale “bread items” in their plastic wraps (I tried a little crumble of one and decided that it just needed to stay in its package). Eggs. Cooking oil. Wilted red peppers (yes, wilted). Some other things I can’t remember at this point.

But I did spot a box of pancake mix. I have eggs. I have milk. I have margarine. So I’ll make PANCAKES for breakfast! Dulce! (I’m totally using my spanish in the mostest, worstest way possible just like this sentence). Any syrup? I look around. Yes! YES!!! It is maple syrup from… Canada? Yeah, it is in the shape of the Maple Leaf and it looks like it’s never been opened. It also looks like it hasn’t been opened because it’s been sitting on the shelf for a few years. Is there an expiration date for maple syrup? The power left in my brain starts turning out an assumption: this syrup was actually a GIFT that a former student brought. Just like my Portland calendar. But the syrup has never been used. Okay, perfect, brand new maple syrup direct from Canada for my pancakes! But wait a sec…what are these black spore-like spots on the inside mouth of the glass container? Surely it can’t be….nah. But on second thought, I don’t want to take any chances. I think the syrup has passed its useful life and has been left on the shelf for a reason.

So looks like no syrup for my pancakes. How bout some jelly? Sure, but the jam on the table looks like it’s been sitting in the jar for a long time. Plus it just doesn’t smell right. So no syrup, no jelly, and there are no fresh fruits so rule that out. That’s okay, I can live without those accompaninments. The pancakes will be just fine with just the right amount of margarine.

I get my eggs and a bowl. Get out the milk, which strangely is a little frozen. I take the pancake box and open it. It’s been used. That’s fine, there’s still plenty for me to make 2 or 3 pancakes. I take a whiff of the powdered mixture. Can’t really smell anything. So I pour some of it into a bowl. And I get the pancake mix and a little bit more than I was expecting. No, that’s a lie. At this point I can only expect the worst. And on this morning, I expected that I was not to have my pancakes. Because something else had already gotten to that pancake mix and invited his/her entire family. But I reckon that they had too much of a good thing because all the little friendly insecto critters were already dead. And if they are already dead, then that means cooking them even more will do me no harm, right? But wait…why are they dead in the first place? Maybe it’s because the pancake mix is 5 kabillion years old! With remants of some galactic asbestos-esque toxin that renders its victims dead in a few minutes.

Suffice to say, no pancakes for me on this morning. Just don’t tell my host mom that I snooped around the kitchen, as this is confidential information and I just want to last my last 2 days and be done with it. Hopefully when I return to classes next week I’ll inherit Kathy’s family, or Chelsia’s or anyone else instead of my current mom. I can’t believe I’ve lived in this home for over 1 month now. Aside from the food portions, food variety, lack of definite eating times (general outlines only apply, plus or minus 1.5 hours, but always the former), bed bugs, shortage of toilet paper, questionable kitchen food handling practices, lack of Spanish language practice and little adorable Tonito making loud action figure noises and running right up to me screaming and laughing while I’m trying to take a nap on the living room couch, I have no issues whatsoever and am glad that I have something fun to write about in my blogs. I mean, it would just be awful if all my blogs were “I had a wonderfully delicious meal filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, juices and this situation rocks, I don’t want to leave!” Nah, that would be boring and I wouldn’t truly appreciate all the great things that I take for granted back home. So this is a good thing, a blessing in disguise. I’ve said it all along and I’ll say it again. At least this experience has allowed me to lose 256 pounds during my month here. I’ve always wanted to go on Jeopardy and buzz in for every answer and give the wrong response, just to see how many points I can be behind before the final Jeopardy round. Same thing applies here. Is it humanly possible for me to lose weight in the negative so that when I return I’ll be -160 pounds? But if I go to Pluto then I’d weigh like 5 million tons. Just stuff to ponder as I wrap this Sunday evening up. Okay, so that’s our little secret. I haven’t exactly enjoyed my homestay, it has been fine for what it is, but I’m glad it’s coming to its end. “Well hey dummy, if this is so bad then why didn’t you just change in the first place?” Great question whoever posed it, or perhaps everyone has posed it but just to be nice haven’t said anything. Well here’s my answer. I have NONE. Nope, nothing, goose egg, nil, no rhyme or reason. I just decided to “suffer” because I know that I can take it. I might not necessarily be happy with it, but I suppose I just look at it as a personal challenge. Sort of like how I was going to move to Houston a year and a half ago just because it sounded like such a challege. #1 most unfit city in the USA. Traffic snarls and near the top 3 cities with smog/pollution. Heat and humidity. No urban planning, just sprawl everywhere. Yeah, a challenge. Just like reading this post is! I better stop here before I dig myself a bigger hole from which there is no possibility of crawling out. So let’s just say that I was enjoying myself so much trying to figure out what new surprise would pop up in my homestay that I just didn’t want to leave because then that would take all the fun out of it. Does that make any sense? Probably not, but then again, eating eggs and refried black beans everyday can affect your common sense, of which I’ve totally exhausted.

My disclaimer. Despite all the fun I’ve had during my last month in my homestay, mine is a unique situation and many (all) of my fellow students have had the exact opposite experiences. Well, I’m sure that they would have their own incidents and stories, but for the most part their experiences are filled with good food, warm (and sometimes too hot) showers, good families and lifelong relationships. Maybe I’ll get that during my next homestay next week, only time will tell. So that’s all I have for this night, time for me to go home to enjoy my last instant cup o noodles shrimp flavor (with an extra packet of hot sauce, gee whiz aye caramba!) and one of the last unmoldied tomatoes with my host mom’s killer dressing (I need that recipe). And tomorrow I’ll probably have my infant formula cream of wheat hot cereal, it works so well as a breakfast because it doesn’t upset my stomach and tides me over for 2.5 hours before our morning break where I end up buying a meal fit for king for under $5. Now I’m rambling, so that’s all the rambling I have until tomorrow night!


No Mas

February 24th, 2006

Good and bad.  Up and down.  That’s how my Spanish and overall stay in Xela has been for the past 2 days.  Yesterday I had a nice little blog going but then the Internet Cafe (not really a cafe since they don’t really have any snacks or drinks, it’s just a place with 20 computers to use) experienced a total power failure.  Wasn’t their fault, as the power went out for about a 3 block radius grid.  But still, kind of a bummer. 

And Wednesday night I went home for my 7:30 dinner which turned into 8:45.  Alas, it was the same old 2 eggs over hard with a tortilla and refried black beans.  Nice.  And then that evening my mom and Tonito did actually take off.  But first she showed me what I had to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next 5 days while they would be gone.  Let’s see.  Milk.  Sliced white bread (the same loaf from 2 weeks ago).  3 little servings of yogurt.  Instant cereal (actually, it’s “cream of wheat” for infants…up to age 3.  And I ate this for 4 of my mornings?  I’m saving the box to show you all when I get back.  I’m eating baby food for breakfast!).  Eggs.  One can of sardines.  3 Cup o Noodles.  And one Top Ramen noodle package. 

She did manage to arrange for a neighbor to cook me lunch for Thursday, Friday, Monday and Tuesday.  But the only problem was that on Thursday, I was invited to Kathy’s home for lunch so I left a note on the house door (in Spanish) requesting her to just leave the food on the table.  When I returned, no food.  To make a long story short, what happened was that she couldn’t get in the door, as she couldn’t figure out how to use the key to unlock the metal door.  It happened to me the very first time I tried it, so I can understand that.  I was told that she’d be there at 2pm on Friday.

Let me tell you about the lunch at Kathy’s homestay!  It was an amazing spread, I almost cried in disbelief!  There is a saying down here:  “estomago lleno, corazon contento.”  Translates to my stomah is full, and my heart is content.  Oh so true.  I was treated a bowl of meatball soup with pasta.  Accompanied by FRESH corn tortillas with the best guacamole ever, with hints of lime.  Plus Kathy’s mom made a fresh berry liquadora, and to finish we had slices of sandia (watermelon).  So fresh and so good.  Man, I’m totaly missing out.  I was so happy and so full.

Forward to today.  After another miserable outing and my last day with my teacher, I was looking forward to another hopefully good lunch.  At 2pm, I heard the doorbell ring.  I sprang to the door, only to find a guy selling brooms door to door.  This wasn’t looking too good.  So I busted out one of my Cup o Noodle soups, and had that with a tomato.  Later at 2:30 I walked over to the neighbor’s home.  And this is where I could have really used my Spanish that I still haven’t learned after 5 weeks of school.  She just started rambling and I could barely decipher the context of what she was trying to communicate.  But apparently no lunch today, we’ll try again on Monday.  It will be ME going to her home at 1:30 to get my lunch.

I’m not hiking El Mirador.  Will have to save that for another time.  But I did decide to take some time off.  I will go back to school on Monday and Tuesday and leave on Wednesday.  I was going to leave on Sunday but then my host mom has no idea of what is going on, so at least I’ll stick around long enough to say good bye to her.  I’ll either be doing a 3 day hike starting on Wednesday with a local trekking outfit, or I’ll take the chicken bus to Lake Aitilan and hang out there for a few days.  It’s supposed to be a cool place with a bunch of little towns surrounding it with their own charms and flavors.  One of the students also said that she spent a week there and it wasn’t enough time, it can be a very spiritual place.  At any rate, whatever I do, I’ll be taking a much needed break.  Olga, the school director, was quite convincing in telling me to stay.  But nah.  If I’m not enjoying it, then why continue?  When I come back next weekend, I’ll re evaluate and I’ll probably sign up for another week or 2 of classes, but I’ll definitely want to change families.

Last night I ended up studying at Cafe Royal Paris for about 3 hours.  I had to return to this spot because of the cheese.  They  serve the cheese Roquefort and all melted in a little teacup that is served with tortilla chips.  The other night it was served with great slices of bread, I will definitely remember Roquefort cheese for when I come back to the states!

I’m outta time, I’m surprised the power didn’t go off or my computer suddenly shut down, it’s been that kind of week as far as my Spanish goes.  I’m just not getting it and it has become very frustrating. 

On another note, Hello Florence!  From middle school!  She left me a comment in my Wednesday post, pretty cool to hear from someone that you haven’t heard of or from for a very long time!  Tomorrow I’ll be going to Laguna Chicabal with some students from school and then will be heading to THE event for the week, another Futbol match featuring the local team.  Hope everyone has a buen fin de semana.


A hike to the hot springs

February 24th, 2006

A few weeks ago I went on another activity, a short journey to relax in the hot waters of Chikobix. We rode a chicken bus for about 30 minutes and got off at the side of the road, where we started a good 30-35 minute walk through the forest, crossing a foot bridge over a small river. We stayed at Chikobix for about an hour and a half before returning the same way and catching the bus back to town.


Foregound: Markus, from Iceland. In the background is the rickety foot bridge we are supposed to cross one at a time, but obviously some people wanted to test this.


The gals lead the group ahead.


Continuing the hike.


Chikobix, me and Mitzy.


Unfortunately, the main public pool wasn’t open this day, so a few students including myself opted out of immersing ourselves in the private pools.


Hiking back towards the bus stop.


Stopping to take photos of Volcan Santa Maria.


Another shot of Volcan Santa Maria.


Yet another angle.


Looking out towards the back of the chicken bus. Chicken buses are basically school buses that are packed with as many people as can fit. You enter and exit either from the front or the back. The little girl belongs to Brad and I forgot the mom’s name, but they also have a smaller little boy. They are doing a test run for 3 weeks in Guatemala, as they are moving to live in Bolivia for 2 years as part of a medical humanitarian volunteer effort.