Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Vaya Con Dios, Guate!

I can’t even believe this is my last post from Guatemala. It’s been the craziest adventure of my life so far and will not be easy to top. I’m drawing a blank on the best way to summarize my time here. So I think I’ll just include pictures of this amazing place. The first picture is from Cerro de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross) which is a hill north of town that provides great views of the whole city. The day I went you could see the volcano Agua really well…that doesn’t happen often. Usually it’s covered with clouds, so we got very lucky.

This morning I went with my teacher to the last few places I’d yet to see. We went to Capuchinas, which is an old ruined church and monastery. I’m SO glad I didn’t miss this place, it was incredible. It’s a good thing I’m leaving now because I’ve run out of adjectives to describe Guatemala…incredible, beautiful, amazing, wonderful, breath taking…you get the idea, they all apply. It was great to have Carmen with me, she was able to translate some of the markers and give me some of the history of the building. I was really able to see more than I normally would have. Here are some pics of me at the fountain the center, and of one of the gardens on the property. This was a great place to finish my trip.

It’s with a heavy heart that I say goodbye. I’ve met some truly beautiful people here that I will always consider my friends and I’m a better person because I met each of them.

Una parte de mi Corazon es en La Antigua.

Monday, August 29, 2011

As I was Saying...

I’m not an adventure girl. This weekend I got talked into visiting Semuc Champey. It was billed as the “most beautiful spot in all of Guatemala.” Who doesn’t want to see that, right? But to get to this magical place would take a six hour car drive. Normally, 6 hours is nothing…but 6 hours in Guatemala is different. Not one road is straight, not one road is without trucks blowing exhaust (there are no laws to regulate such things here) and the roads are often bumpy. Just saying those things in a row like this is such an understatement for exactly what happened this weekend.

Juan Carlos (our driver and guide for the trip) picked the four of us up on Friday afternoon. He apologized because we had to take his old beat up hatchback to Guatemala City where we would pick up the rental car. I’m thinking, ok, it’s just 40 minutes then we’ll get a nice van and be able to spread out. I was so wrong. We traded in his old hatchback for a 1989 Nissan Sentra…there will be no spreading out on this trip. The 5 of us crammed ourselves into this little car for long weekend which would consist of hours of driving. One of my favorite moments of the trip was when Samantha, after searching through the radio stations, turned around and said, “Did anyone bring a CD?” Yeah, I also packed my walkman for my month long trip to Guatemala.

Now Juan Carlos is a special breed of people. He has many talents. One is, the guy knows absolutely everything about everything in Guatemala. He was a great guide. But the other main talent he has is for driving. I mean, I’ve never seen anyone multitask in the car better than this guy. He was pointing out several interesting things, talking on his 3 cell phones, texting on his 3 cell phones, snacking on cookies, extreme tail gaiting, and making the craziest passes on two lane roads with double yellow lines; all while driving a stick shift through windy mountain roads without a seatbelt. I will never be able to complain about anyone’s driving again. I feared for my life every second and I was in the center seat in the back without a seatbelt so I would’ve been the first one to die.

We arrived at the halfway point for the night (safely, thank goodness) at this beautiful place way up in the mountains. Our room was like a tree house in the jungle. It was pretty cool and I could not be happier to be out of the car. Little did I know, we’d just gone through the easy part of the trip. We stayed in this place because it was famous for being able to spot the Quetsal, the national bird of Guatemala. We did see one in the morning. It was pretty cool! Very small, with a long tail and a brightly colored chest.

After the bird sighting, we all loaded up in the car for the last three hours to Semuc Champey. After two more hours of crazy driving and windy roads, I knew we were close so I wasn’t too worried. But I remembered Juan Carlos saying, “It’s a good thing we got this rental car because it’s high up for the roads to Semuc Champey.” Remember we are in a 1989 Nissan Sentra…not a Jeep or even a Subaru. We turn the corner for the last 15 kilometers only to discover it was a dirt/rocky road. The whole car gasped! Is he for real? We’re going to take this car down that road? But we sure did and JC’s got some serious driving skills. There were a few times (ok, more than just a few) that I thought there’s no way we’re going to make it. But we did…not sure how, but we did.

After we made it ok, JC said to put on our bathing suits because we were going to go to see the caves. There was a fifteen minute walk to the caves, wearing only my bathing suit and a smile. I can tell you that not one person has seen me just in my bathing suit for longer than it takes me to take off my cover up and get in the water in years. I thought my body issues were going to be the biggest problem of the day…wrong again. The caves were very cool, but they were caves…with water and only lit via candle light. It was very beautiful, but it was like an obstacle course in the dark…up ladders, across waterfalls, hidden rocks under the water. I got pretty banged up. At the end (which was two hours later) I had a full-on panic attack. We were supposed to go into this hole with water gushing through it and I couldn’t see what was on the other side and I couldn’t understand the guide as to where I was supposed to put my feet and my hands because of his Spanish accent and the echo of the caves. I flipped out! I started screaming, “I CAN’T UNDERSTAND YOU!! I CAN’T SEE THE BOTTOM!! I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO!” Thank goodness Samantha was behind me to calm me down, and the guide calmed me down too and said we’d just go around a different way. He helped me go another way and I made it out of the caves alive…with a little less pride, but alive nonetheless.

That night it rained so hard all night. I didn’t think it was ever going to stop, but it finally did in the morning sometime. We got up and went for a hike to see the beautiful pools that Semuc Champey is famous for. The hike was brutal, plus, I’m way out of shape. But we all made it to the top anyhow. When we got to the top, JC (that's a picture of our esteemed leader there with the strong river in the back...love this guy) told us it was the strongest he’d ever seen the river and the usually clear pools were not so clear at all (there's a picture of the pools from the lookout point). Great. I went on this crazy trip just to see these amazing pools and it turns out that today they aren’t so amazing after all. Just my luck. It was still pretty though, although not the best thing I’ve seen in Guatemala. That’s a picture of the four of us overlooking the not so clear pools. We were all so sweaty and tired that we’re saying, “don’t touch me.” After a little spill on the hike down (just another blow to the ego, nothing much else seriously injured) and a rock jammed into my back, I was done with this place. Perfect time to cram ourselves back into the Nissan and head back to Antigua. Here's a picture of Samantha, Cash and Austen and me at the lookout point in the hike.

Needless to say, everything hurts today and will hurt more tomorrow. So all you people who said I was more adventurous than I gave myself credit for…I was right and you were wrong. I tried it and discovered what I already knew, no, I’m not. And I can live with that.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Superman? Is that you up here too?

On Saturday I went zip lining with two of my housemates. Wow. I was extremely nervous because, as you know, I’m a chicken when it comes to pretty much everything. But who knew peer pressure was so effective? Why yes, I would love to jump off a cliff with you, thanks so much for asking! It really wasn’t scary at all and was the most fun I’ve had in a while. There were two different zip line courses. The first course consisted of seven different lines and the second one had just two lines, but they were both very long and across a canyon. In order to get to the lines, we had to take this army looking truck up a very steep windy road. The scenery was amazing…the drive alone was worth the price of admission. The canopy tours were at a coffee farm, so it was row after row of coffee bean trees on the sides of the mountains. So cool.

Once we got to the first line, I was super nervous and I was selected to go first. I warned the instructors that I was liable to scream like a little girl, but they didn’t seem disturbed by this. However, as it turns out, they pushed me off the edge and it wasn’t scary at all! It was what I imagine Superman feels like when he’s out saving the world. It was so fun, and that was just the first, very short line. The lines just got better from there. And we even got to get a running start on one of the lines…I think that one was my favorite one, even though it wasn’t the longest and the scenery wasn’t the best. It was just such a rush to give the zip line a running start. The second course with the two long lines was incredible. The first line was over 1700 feet across a canyon…the ground was 500 feet below. What a rush. You could see the volcanoes, the trees, parts of Antigua. It was incredible and hard to describe in words. I was so glad I went. Sometimes peer pressure is for good.

The rest of the weekend didn’t consist of many amazingly interesting things. It was quite rainy all weekend, which required more indoor activities. We went to a few movies at the cinema. It’s a great little theatre that shows older American movies with Spanish subtitles. It’s a good way to see how certain phrases are used in context. Plus it’s free! You can’t really beat that on a dreary afternoon.

Spanish school is coming along. Not sure I’m learning enough to sustain many conversations. So I’m hoping to veer my lessons in the direction of common conversations and away from verb conjugations (which I’ll probably never learn properly). It went ok this morning…I’m learning how to haggle with the vendors in the Mercado and talk to bartenders about the game on tv, all important stuff.

The pictures in the blog today, are from some of the more recognizable places in Antigua. The two pictures of a big yellow church are of a church called La Merced. It is often referred to (at least in the guidebooks) as the wedding cake church because the detailing on the front is so ornate and looks like a wedding cake. There are also two pictures of the Arch. This is the most famous place in Antigua. It was built so that nuns could cross the street without being tainted by the outside world. And the last picture is of lil ole me at a lookout point above the city. Enjoy!

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Adventure Continues…

The last few days have been a blur. The short list of things I’ve done include touring a macadamia nut farm, having lunch with a local, visiting the museum of books, visiting a museum of arts that included a look at one of the most magnificent hotels I’ve ever seen. I’m really enjoying my Spanish classes in the mornings. And I love that the afternoons are my own. Every afternoon I wonder the streets, just seeing what I can see. So far I’ve discovered some really cool things on my own. On my afternoon walks I often wander into a local restaurant for an afternoon snack and beverage. There are so many great places to eat here and I don’t want to miss out on trying them all…or at least several of them.

The macadamia nut farm was pretty cool. I had no idea the process was so time consuming, but could also be done almost completely off the grid. After the tour, we got macadamia nut pancakes smothered in macadamia nut butter…they were pretty dreamy. But the best part of the farm was the bathroom. Now, I know what you’re thinking, how cool can a bathroom really be? But this one was pretty amazing. The “room” was completely covered in plant life and flowers and the walls were made of bamboo shoots. When I walked in, the sun was shining through the shoots directly onto the throne, if you will. It was just beckoning me to come and stay. All I could think was, I’m pretty sure I could come up with some brilliant ideas in here. My friend said it best, “It looks like what the bathroom in the Garden of Eden would have been like.” See for yourself! It’s beautiful, isn’t it?

Wednesday afternoon there was a big soccer game going on and I decided I’d go check it out in a nearby restaurant. The game was between Barcelona and Madrid and it was a lively affair, to be sure. They love their soccer around here. When Barcelona scored, the whole place erupted. The bartender climbed a few shelves on the bookshelf and started banging a drum and spinning a noisemaker and howling up a storm. It was great fun to watch and be a part of.

Before going to watch the game, I stopped in at the museum of books. I thought it would be cool, considering my background and I heard they had the first printing press in Central America. Well, let me save you a trip and save you 30 Quetsales. It was so lame. Just a whole bunch of old books. Then when I got to the press, I was so excited! It did look pretty cool. But then I saw the sign that said it was merely a replica. WHAT? It wasn’t even the real thing? I was so irritated. So far, the lowlight of Guate.

Yesterday I had lunch with Desiree. She owns an art gallery and shop here in Guatemala. Her house is directly behind her shop, so it was easy to find. When I suggested we have lunch last week, I assumed we would just go somewhere, and I could buy her lunch. When I arrived, she said lunch wasn’t ready yet but that we would have a drink on the patio while we waited. I felt horrible! I didn’t intend for her to have to make me lunch. But she said it was no problem…that they make lunch for everyone. We had a lovely lunch and have already scheduled several other outings. Next Thursday I’m going to go to mass with her whole family, then return to her house for a tamale feast. I’m SO excited about this! I feel like I’ve made a good friend for life in her. She wants to take me under her wing and show me all Guatemala has to offer…and I think I will let her.

After leaving Desiree’s house, I went looking for trouble and found a great art museum/hotel in the meantime. It was so incredible; words (and even pictures) can’t grasp the coolness of it. I stumbled upon the backside of the hotel which was the art museum part. I decided I’d check it out. The museum was cool…you know, just a regular museum. And then I rounded the corner. I saw the amazing ruins which had been incorporated into the structure. There was a church and a ruin fountain that was actually working and even a restaurant built right into the ruins. It was so beautiful to see. The picture is of the church that was half ruins and half outdoor tent. The greenery and plants were all so beautiful and there were even parrots (real live parrots!!) perched in several places just chirping up a storm. I think that’s called paradise.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

From Start to Finish

My next door neighbor is a silversmith (how cool is that?). His name is Oscar, and he’s as sweet as he can be. That's him in the picture, melting the silver. Last week one of my housemates and her Spanish teacher went over to Oscar’s and made their own jewelry. I thought that was so impressive, so I decided I wanted to do it too. Yesterday my Spanish teacher Carmen and I went next door to Oscar’s house/silversmith shop and made our own jewelry. It was so cool! But it took a very long time, and a ton of steps. I will appreciate the jewelry I have now (and the pieces I will buy in the future) so much more than ever. It’s very time consuming and requires a steady hand.

Carmen decided on a jade ring and I went with a jade pendant (Guatemala is famous for jade). The jade was already cut and ready to go, but we did everything else by hand. I designed my pendant myself! After many hours and a slight adjustment to my original design (I accidentally cut too far in when I was sawing the silver – actually I broke the blade twice…oopsie! Sorry Oscar!), I wound up with a beautiful teardrop pendant. It was so satisfying to see it from conception to completion. It appears I can bring out the creative juices at times.