Canada and the USA,      Mexico,      Belize,      Guatemala,      El Salvador,      Honduras,      Nicaragua,      Costa Rica,      Panama,      USA, again,       Thailand,       Lao,       Vietnam,       Cambodia,       Thailand, again,      

Journal Index

Boat, bus, boat, boat, sleep, boat

December 27, 2004

Livingston, Guatemala

New country. Guatemala. No it doesn’t feel like I am starting all over again. The scale of Central America is a little different. Especially Belize.

I enjoyed my stay in Placencia but it was time to move on. A nice three nights and meeting a few of my fellow travelers and tourists, but enough is enough. Although most of us there thru the X-mass holiday bounded as most of the restraints closed so we almost all ate at the same places as there were all that was open.)

Yesterday I started off taking a motor launch from Placencia which is on the end of a peninsula into the town of Mango Creek. There isn’t much there except that you can catch a bus heading south at a reasonable time. (To bus directly out from Placencia you have to be up at 6>00am.) The launch had five benches large enough to seat five people sort of tight. The speed reminded me of ridding a roller coaster where the wind takes your breath away. It was a nice little fifteen minuet ride thru the mangrove lagoon that separates the Placencia peninsula from the rest of Belize. A short walk takes you up to where the bus stops.

The bus is an old American school bus. When I have been in Central America before I have seen lots of school busses and I always like to look to see if I can see where they came from. (I think I may have found a bus from Minnesota if you look at the picture gallery.) Unfortunately these busses had been well repainted so you couldn’t see the name on the side. I am always hopping to find one from Brookings South Dakota, my home town.

Actually this bus wasn’t bad. One addition was that of an overhead luggage rack and although they are often referred to as “chicken bussesEthis one was free of live stock. The bus was a two hour ride into Punta Gorda, Belize.

I hadn’t eaten anything yet that day so as soon as the bus arrived I went in the nearest open restaurant and had lunch. (It was Boxing day, and a Sunday so not a lot of places were open.) At first I had considered staying in Punta Gorda for a day but it wasn’t looking very interesting so I headed off to the boat dock to see if I could still make the two o’clock boat.

When I arrived at the dock all the other gringos who had been on the bus were also hanging around waiting for the Immigration officer to show up and do the exit stamp on our passports. (Also take the exit tax, which fortunately for me is about a third the cost if you leave via boat rather than by land.) Just as I arrived so did the Immigration officer so while they had all been sitting there, I had had lunch and read a good hunk of the local paper.

A line for Immigration, a line to buy the ticket on the ferry, then down to the dock to board. Well the ‘ferryEwas a launch identical to the one the had taken me from Placencia, but this time they had a big piece of plastic to wrap out luggage in and each row of seats had a strip of blue tarp to corer ourselves with. As it was for the hour and a bit ride, I was very glad for the trap. You spent about half the time cowering under the trap and then latter time with you head peeking above to see what was going on. As it was only my left arm got really wet. In Puerto Barrios, Guatemala it was off to Immigration to get the entrance paper work. So far I have entered countires via plane (Canada), foot (US, Canada, Mexico) and now boat (Guatemala) on this trip.

I took a side trip to an ATM to get local cash. The probably would have been more than happy to take my US dollars but since it will be awhile until I can get more US cash I am trying to spend as little as possible. (US cash is sort of the universal currency down here and although I expect to spend a little on my last day in a country as I have probably finished off my local currency, I want to keep as much of it as I can for emergencies.)

Then it was off to boat number three to get to Livngston. This one was a colectivo so it runs when the boat is full. Fortunately for me it was most of the way there so only a half hour wait. I arrived here at about half past five and found a hotel. For the variety of forms of transportation it took, it wasn’t that bad of a trip. As it was I met a guy who had cut out half the fun and taken a flight from Placencia to Punta Gorda and didn’t get the Mangrove swamps or the bus ride. Half the fun at twice the cost.

Now it’s on to a new currency and a new exchange rate. This one won’t be as easy as it is something like 7.8 Quetzales to the US dolor. Not the Mexican Pesso trick of moving the decimal place or the Belize of just halving the price.

Today I went off on a local tour to see the town. It reminded me a bit of the guided tour I took back in San Cristobal de las Casas but the guide wasn’t as good as Raual was. We started off visiting the church which unlike most of what I have visited was a rather plain modern structure. I may go back in the morning and try to get a picture of one of the effigies they had that, according to our guide, showed the three cultures coming to the church. A girl in Mayan dress, a young boy in Garifuna dress and then another young boy dressed as a Ladino dirty and begging. (Ladios are the people of Hispanic descent or people of mixed heritage that speak Spanish as their first language.) As in in reality I suspect that the roles and cleanness are probably more often reversed. The Mayan in Guatemala are most often the poorest and hold the least political power. The Garifuna are a local culture that resulted of the British resettling former slaves after a revolt on St. Vincient. Normally the Ladinos hold most of the political power and with the most of the financial power as well. Maybe the artist (or my tour guide) was trying to make a statement about religious wealthE

Then off to the Cemetery. (You can see why I took this tour.) It was a lot like a lot of Caribbean cemeteries but they painted the tombs bright colors to make it happy. Also according to our guide had we been there for Dia de los Muertes (Nov. 1st) there would have been a huge party with a discoth豵e.

As we walked back into the jungle Eddie, our guide would pick plants and have us smell them and tell them of there local uses. From things like lemon grass for a sour stomach to stuff you burn to get rid of bad sprites. We poked our way along the village area with pigs and chickens running around. After a bit we reached a lagoon or river and we made our way to the beach via a traditional dug out canoe.

My previous experience in a dugout canoe is limited to one time out on the Mississippi. The four of us who went out first tired it by ourselves and then the jovial mood got the better of us and we tried it all together, at which point it tipped and we all got a nice little swim. I am happy to say this boat was more stable and even with the six gringos, two guides, and the boatman we stayed dry. (The local boat design also had the advantage that in addition to the dug out log they added boards along the top to gain about five inches of freeboard.)

Then it was lazy time at the beach before walking back to town. It wasn’t the best tour I have been on, but I got out into the village where I may have not tried to go by myself. (Or may have been a bad idea to go by myself.) Not to mention I did enjoy the dugout canoe.

Tomorrow it is off up the Rio Dulce and then maybe on towards Guatemala city. We shall see.

Chickens are better

December 30, 2004

Antigua, Guatemala

After a couple nights in Livingston was good, but it was also good to move on. I met up with Clayton, who I had taken the tour of Livingston with, and after breakfast we took started our way up the Rio Dulce.

We had booked tickets thru the same tour agency that did the tour the day before so although this was a one way trip, it was not all about getting to the end. (Something about this reminds me about a speech my dad had about education and it’s goals.) After getting beyond the commercial mouth of the river the jungle creeps up to and overhangs the river as it winds it’s way up the gorge. Tree roots hang down and birds perch along the trees in such perfect positions you expect them to ask for a fee if you take their picture. The gorge was one of the parts I was looking forward to. It is a really lovely trip.

Now since we were on the tourist trip, not just the get-there-fast trip, we took side trips off into the mangrove swamp and stopped and took a little walk on a nature trail. Te weather was cold and grey so we didn’t stop and swim at the hot springs that bubble up at one of the cliff faces, although there were people stopped and taking a bit of a dip in the water. (I had packed the night before ready to swim, but that day was not the day.)

There was a part where water lilies covered part of the river as well as back into the mangroves and we took a nice little side cruse there. As we reached the town of Fronteres the boat man looked as if he wanted to drop us off, but a couple people wanted to go see the Castillo de San Felipe so we headed up there.

The Castillo de San Felipe is one of the places I went four years ago with my parents. It hasn’t changed but it was really odd to be there again. Technically Belize city was the first time I went to a place I had been before, but twenty years ago we didn’t really stop there. Here at the Castillo I remember how the sidewalks run and where things were, a bit like going back to a place that was home, although I only went there once.

After some time there we headed into town. Clayton had been concerned because the guide book didn’t have a map that he might have a hard time finding the bus station. It hadn’t bothered me because I had been there before and knew the town was really just buildings clustered along the road there wasn’t anything to find the bus stop. Amazing how little knowledge you need to become and expert.

Fronteres was just as I remembered it. As I was heading around I even peaked over to where my parents had the boat for a while to see if Bruno’s was still there, it was. Maybe the biggest change is that the internet has gone from a something you may be able to access from one or two places in town something that every block has it’s own internet caf鮁Elt;p> As I approached the bus area I could, had I rushed, gotten the one o’clock “EspecialEbus to Guatemala City (Guate.) It looked like the nicest bus I have ever seen. It was a double decker and I think the bottom level probably had a kitchen and some kind of staff serving as stewards during the trip. I decided I would be cheep and take the normal bus rather than the expensive (I didn’t has how much) special bus, even if it was a bit slower.

My bus left in half an hour so I grabbed some food and got ready for the five to six hour trip.

When the bus arrived I tossed my pack underneath and climbed aboard. In my head I have sort of come up with a bus classification system. On top there are the Special busses that have all sorts of fancy things like leg rests and kitchens, then there are First Class busses that are what Canadian Greyhound busses strive to be but don’t quite make it, Second Class busses where you probably don’t have air conditioning (which can be a good thing) and are a bit more worn and you really shouldn’t expect your seat to recline, and finally the Chicken class which are old US School busses and you should be happy you have a seat.

This bus was a low second class. I decided that in it’s former life it had been a commuter bus because it had the “push to stopEstrips but the seats weren’t city bus seats and they had reading lights. Also there was a place under the bus for luggage, but not much. When I got on all the seats were taken so I was standing until the first major stop when people got off. Empty seats filled quickly as at that point a family of four or five generally only took up two seats so when there was a chance to annex new seats they would. (Actually I found it really nice that families automatically would pack into fewer seats as the bus filled. Some of the kids that were sitting on laps were way too big to be sitting on parents laps and none of it looked comfortable.)

No although this was not a Chicken class bus there were at least a couple chickens and I think a pig or two on board. There were also a couple boxes down under the bus that had air holes so this was not all live stock traveling with us that day.

After I had gotten a seat as was trying to get a little nap in during the ride I discovered that chickens and pigs really aren’t a problem on busses. It’s the crying infants that are the most troublesome. I also decided that just a few rows of seats does amazing things as to the reduction of the sound of crying babies. Unfortunately I had one in the row behind me.

The chickens and pig were quite well behaved for the entire trip. From time to time the pig would grunt a little but nothing very loud or shrill. The kid behind me made we wish for the knock out gas you see Batman and Robin using. You could sell little aerosol cans of it as bus stations and make a fortune. (I suspect the first people in line would be the parents.) So I guess what I need to watch out for now is “Children ClassEbusses.

I ended up arriving in Guate after dark and tired so I took of to one of the first hotels listed in the guide, but the same one Clayton recommended. Clayton and I went different ways at Fronteres as he was going on to Honduras right away. I didn’t think to trade e-mail address with him until too late. Someday I will get better with good bysE

It was OK, and although the guide book suggested I might. I didn’t get mugged on my hike to the hotel. I had a plain room with a shared bath, but it had the first set of matched sheets I have slept in in I don’t know how long.

Early on in this trip I read a Douglas Adams book where Thor was living in a nursing home because they had fine bed linen. Now I don’t think these sheets were any way to the hammer wheedling god’s standards, but at least the pillow cases matched the sheets. Also I had the first hot shower I have had since Oaxaca back at the end of November. What a luscious place to stay.

The next morning I got up for what has become my Morning walk. On days I travel I try to get up a little early and take a walk around town before starting off. Since I wasn’t planning on staying in Guate another night I wanted to go down and see the main square and such before I left. I picked up fresh squeezed orange juice from a street vender on my way down to center.

Guatemala City is largely lacking any kind of historic buildings. It was built to be the capital city only after the city now called Antigua was leveled by a couple of natural disasters so it is a relatively new city. No great walls or fortifications, no colonial buildings of great note. The square makes modern efficient use of cast concrete. In my walk around the towns center the only building of great interest was the former Government Palace that is ridiculously ornate. (Especially that when it was built a good portion of the country was starving and uneducated.)

After the walk it was off to the place where the busses gather to go to Antigua. In this case old school buses. Ahh back to chicken classE

Happy New Year!

January 1, 2005

Antigua, Guatemala

Happy New Year. I hope you all had fun, safe, nights. For myself I had my first “big crowdENew Years even celebration.

Antigua has one of the New Year’s Eve festivals that people come from elsewhere to see. (Which explains why finding a place to stay was such a pain.) Up until now all my New Year’s Eve celebrations have been pretty low key. A little party with friends or maybe a group getting together and spending the last few hours before midnight surprising people who are working (Emergency Room staff, police officers, bus drivers, gas station attendants) with bottles of sparkling juice to ring in the new year, and finishing up visiting a friend who had to work that night. All in all, generally not something that involves more than six or eight people. From what I can tell, Antigua is host to the Guatemalan equivalent of Times Square. They closed the Calle de Arco (Street of the Arch) to all but pedestrians and set up three stages for music. The Arch had lights reading 2004 (lit) and 2005 (unlit) and a structure covered in fire works that welcomed in the New Year. Starting at 7>30 pm they had music (mostly marimba) folk dancing, and miscellaneous fireworks. Now when I say miscellaneous fireworks it is because I was often not sure if the organizers were setting them off or just random people in the street. Sometimes I knew for sure it was random people in the street.

As far as I can tell, Guatemala’s only limit on who can buy and set off fire works, and I mean big fireworks, is if you can afford them and survive playing with them to do it again next year. It was not unusual to see little kids stopping in the middle of the street and setting something off, largely unaware of the rest of the people around. At one point I sort of felt like I should be wearing a face shield and carrying a fire extinisher. One of the, I think, official bits of fire works were these people that would carry what looked like an upturned laundry basket covered in various fire works. They would like the fuse and the guy would run up and down the street with various projectiles shooting off and ricocheting off the buildings. Every time they would light one of these things the people on the balconies would duck for cover.

The traditional dancers had masks and mirrored clothes and hats and it looked like each represented some person or class. They also had one or two people who I think were supposed to be monkeys, although I first thought they were cats, who were jesters or fools that would make fun of the rest of the characters or engage the audience in one way or another. I should note that this is not dancing from the indigenous Maya but folk dancing with more influence from Spain.

One interesting trick I learned from these dancers is that if you want to clear a space in a crowd so you can do your show, all you have to do is set off some fireworks, preferably something with projectiles aimed low, and a space will magically open up for you.

As the night progressed there was a percussion group I liked, that were a bit like Stomp. They also stilt walkers that lead them around. I had been wishing for my stilts (my peg stilts, not the springy ones) but then I noticed exactly how rough the cobble stone streets are and decided this was a good time not to have them. As it was the stilt walkers and percussion group brought focus back to the Arch for Midnight. By then the street was packed shoulder to shoulder. (This was another time that my thoughts on fire and crowds differed in that I would not have thought that with the crush of people in a walled in space that fire dancing with flaming poi would have been the best choice, oh well.)

Although it was fun to be in the crowd, with people popping Champaign and dancing with it, all the fireworks, and pageantry I still missed my small group of friends playing games or surprising people with gifts. Next year.

Should’ve, Would’ve, Didn’t, Can’t, Won’t

This isn’t a new year’s resolution. I have never really gone in for those as I make resolutions all year long so why should I put it off until a big party night?

One of the challenges of life that is much more obvious when traveling is wishing you had done something differently. “If I had left a day earlier I could have done this. I should have done that.EAnd the like. I had a friend once tell me that “shouldEwas a waste of energy. Either you Need To, or Want To but Should didn’t get you anywhere. If you Should do something it either means you don’t want to but need to (in which case just do it as you need to) or some outside force wants you to but you don’t need to (so you should look at how wise that outside force is and act accordingly.) So from having lots of times would say “I should haveEEI came up with Should’ve, Would’ve, Didn’t Can’t Won’t.

It goes something like this:

First I catch myself thinking “I should have done this.E For which my response is, “I Would have had I know, what I know now, but I Didn’t, and I Can’t do anything about it now, so I Won’t waste my time worrying about it now.E So far it is doing a good job of getting me from regretting the past onto what to do now and to not make the same mistake in the future. We shall see.

And the party goes on!

January 1, 2004 –Latter that same dayE

Antigua, Guatemala

After working on my last journal entries I headed out for a walk. On my map there is a stream or creak that skirts the edge of town and I wanted to get out and see it.

In the end the “streamEwas just a dry ditch, maybe in the wet season it has water in it but it doesn’t now. But it was still a nice part of town so I headed on to the big old building I saw.

It turned out to be maybe an old convent church as it was within a set of walls. I followed the locals along and saw the church. The church was rather plain as they all are in town due to the number of earth quakes they have had to endure. The court yard was pleasant but it didn’t welcome you to wander around too much.

Out in the little plaza before the gates there were food venders and I had my first street food since I left Mexico. Belize didn’t really have street food and I haven’t really had the chance yet in Guatemala.

Heading back to town I heard an impressive amount of fire crackers going off in the main plaza. Following the rules of head towards big buildings, noise, and people I headed in. I seam to have stumbled on the other half of the new years celebration. There was some kind of processional from the church around the square. They were lead by a man with a drum and a man playing one of the traditional Mayan instruments that is a double reed like an oboe, following that were a couple banner carriers then a priest who was sheltered under a cloth canopy held by six other people. Also under the canopy before the priest they were swing a censor giving great clouds of incecen smoke. (I wonder if Catholic priests have lung problems?) This was followed by a brass band of sorts and then lots of people with candles. This procession had it’s path cleared before it by guys setting off long strips of fire crackers. Pretty much they would lay them out and then everybody would get out of the way.

The procession circled the square in a counter clockwise direction and then went back in. The last quarter of the trip was also accompanied by a fireworks display shot from the roof of the church. Along with the lesser fireworks set off by other people in the square and side streets. As it was I think the square still smells of gun powder.

The other traditional thing I ran into was back at the convent church. While I was having my late lunch a group of probably high school aged kids came by shacking maracas. They were dressed in what was probably their good clothes and they carried what I think was a little baby Jesus. People would give them a little donation and would kiss the hand of the JesusEfigure. It made me think of some of the English traditions with the Wren and the like around Christmas. I wonder if there is a common divaration.

I guess I will have to see if the party continues on to tomorrow, the first Sunday of the new year.

First day at school

January 3, 2005

Antigua, Guatemala

Well today was my first day at class. Adventures in squeezing Spanish out of my brain. Actually it wasn’t bad at all. Lots of work on pronunciation, but I expected that. Bback to the beginning.

This morning I got up early (7:30 am) and headed out to find a Spanish school. I had visited a few before and today was the day to make a decision and start classes. (Fortunately they are used to people like me walking in and starting classes the same day without reservations.) I had narrowed it down to two schools and I largely picked the one I am going to on a flip of a coin. I figure there really isn’t any way for me to compare the schools. And beyond that, your teacher is the most important thing and you never know how they will be until you meet them. (The programs I was looking at are all one on one teaching so you can see how your teacher is really the most important thing.)

I took one school of the list as when I visited them they told me about there swimming pool, the quality of the host families, how good the parties were, but not one word about how they teach Spanish. Another school dropped out as they only had three students and between figuring that if it was that slow there may be something wrong, a school that small there isn’t any flexibility if you want to change teachers or host families. And one school lost out mostly because there staff was too pushy and kept trying to get met to make a snap decision; never a way to make Andy like you.

I ended up with the Spanish Academy Sevilla ( My teacher is Ce񳡲, and I am taking four hours a day. I was wondering if I was being lazy not going for the five, six, or seven hours, but after today I am glad I’m not pushing it. Working one on one it’s a lot of work; good, but hard. A lot of the students are only doing four hours a day and even my teacher dice que cuarto horas es bastante.

I have also moved into my home stay. I am sharing my family with four other students so it will be more up to us to keep using Spanish rather than out of need around the dinner table. It’s probably better for my Spanish to be more isolated, but I have already had a lot of that (hence why I am here studying) and I expect I will have more in the future. I don’t need to go looking for it. And I may even open my mouth more knowing if I get myself in a linguistical corner and need a word, I can use English to get out. After the free salsa lesion tonight I may see if I can borrow the memory card game we played at my lesion after I was grammared out because I could see the five of us playing and getting good practice in.

Of the five of us there is a lot of diversity. One is not taking Spanish classes but teaching English at another school. We have the gringo husband of a Guatemala woman who is down with his wife from California visiting for the Holidays and he is being “sent off to campEto work on his Spanish. (He is also doing the six hours a day lesion plan.) And another student who’s level is about the same as mine. A nice mix. There is also a girl who started today who has no Spanish so it will be fun to see her progress. Some of the students are here for just a week, some here for seven or more. We will see how long I go.

Day two

January 4, 2005

Antigua, Guatemala

Well this time as we got off topic on my lesion we worked out way into which was better Guatemala or Mexico. (Or more specifically the people of the respective countries.) I being the son of a philosopher had to play devils advocate and defend the Mexicans. Originally it was defending the Mexicans in a Mexico vers the United States so I HAD to argue against the US.

After that we moved on to religion. In the end we had to stop that one as we agreed that it was hard enough to have that discussion in one’s first language let alone in a second. The rest of the time we worked on vocabulary and reflexive verbs with a quick touch on boot shaped verbs. (An expression I had to explain as they don’t call them that here.)

The salsa lesion last night was fun. We were all trying to get into the back row. I still don’t like to lead in partner dances, but in at least what I learned of Salsa the lead and follow parts are identical except the follow is four beats different. I.e. what the lead does on 1-2-3 the follow does on 5-6-7. So if I get a partner who wants to lead I can switch!

Other wise it has been uneventful. At my home stay I have a big comfortable bed and even a nice little desk to study and write at. My thoughts are turning to simple things like laundry. Life is good.

On we goElt;/h1>

January 5, 2005

Antigua, Guatemala

It seems odd starting these things with the same place for so many day in a row.

Class is going well, yesterday was a little slow, but to day we were right back at it. We spend a lot of time chatting. I think I am probably learning more about my teacher that most of the students. And when I say that I don’t just mean simple things like that his son had his appendix out on December 30th but also more about beliefs and what not. It’s lots of great conversation practice with the occasional rush to the dictionary to fill in some gap in vocabulary. I also think it makes the grammar lesions more fun because it breaks them up but when we need them not necessarily when the book does. Not to mention the real reason I am studying Spanish is not for perfect Spanish (although that would be nice) but to actually talk to people. One of today’s big discussions was about goal setting and if they should be realistic or should be dreams. (For those following the language bit more, sonar (to dream) is both for what one does when one is asleep as well as for aspirations just like in English. A good deal of the discussions come from my challenging and clarifying the differences in words and the examples we us.)

The afternoon activity to day was a trip to a neighboring town to see traditional clothing and how they make tortillas. We took a chicken bus which a lot of the group though was half the experience and then they showed us the traditional garb and how it was made. They also described a traditional wedding while dressing some volunteers up as they would be. Also it included who made what. For example the cloth that the woman carry their babies in. For the first child the mother in law makes the cloth for the new mother, but for latter children the mothers either have to use the same one or make it themselves.

I should get to my studying. I have some boot shaped (not an expression they use) irregular verbs to study.

Reason Number One to NOT learn Spanish from a book

January 05, 2005

Antigua, Guatemala

OK two postings in a day but I just uploaded everything else and this was too good not to add...

I was looking something up in the E01 Spanish VerbsEbook I borrowed and I ran across the folowing. It should be self explanatory, if not read it outloud.

The future subjunctive and future perfect subjunctive exsit in Spanish, but they are rarely used. Nowadays, instead of using the future subjunctive, one uses the present subjunctive of the present indicative. Instead of using the future perfect subjunctive, on uses the future perfect indicative of the present perfect subjunctive.

My friend Becca who just took a linguistics course may be able to decode it.

Day 4

January 6, 2005

Antigua, Guatemala

A good day. I decided to do another week here studying. I want more practice, there are a few goals to reach and I am enjoying myself. I am considering maybe taking six hours insted of the four but for the two hours in the afternoon having a second teacher. (This is not unusual and is a way of breaking it up, as well as getting a different style into the mix.)

One of the big new things today was "por" vers "para". For those of you with less Spanish background these words both mean "for" in English. It is a classic problem to know which to use. I actualy think I have a handel on it. The rules are preaty straight forward once you wrap you head around them. It was also good to see my teacher and the book disagreeing and to some extent the native speaker having problems. It's not just us forieners!

In our other wandering discusions we got into the disparity between the rich and poor and how common it is to own one's own house. We also talked a bit about what it is like to be a Spanish teacher here and the regularity of work. From my point of view it's not really the best system. A teacher only works for one school at a time. (Here in Antigua there are someting along the line of 30 to 60 language schools; it feels like one per block.) But although the teacher is attached to the school they only work when there are students to teach. So during the slow times, late December for example, they don't have work and can't work at a different school.

Looking back at my freelance theatre technician days I like the freelance model better. I can folow the work from one theatre to another. Sure I may work mostly for one theatre, but if they can't give me work I can go somewhere else. I can see how the current system here is good for the schools, but it seams to be a the expence of the teachers.

The afternoon activdad was a trip to a macadamia nut farm. I know for some of you this may be heresy but I'm not really that fond of macadamia nuts. Sure they are OK, but not the most exciting things. As is this finca (farm) was nice and it was a chance to get out of the city. It was also a chicken bus ride and I enjoyed the trip. I think the places we go on these trips really make a good deal off the Spanish schools. Maybe less so the Macadamia finca but the craft center we went to yesterday they were all very well set up. If you found something you wanted but didn't have the money they were all set up so you could pay latter at your school. Nice feature.

In someways that is one thing that has suprised me since I have moved south of the US border. People are very trusing that you will pay. Eating at streets stands you don't pay untill you are done eatting. For example, in Mexico City right off the Zocalo I would go to a taco stand and order three tacos and a soda, they would hand over the food and the pop and I would stand there and eat, I may ask for a couple more tacos and then when it is time to leave I ask how much and hand over the money. If you went up to a hot dog stand in the US and expected to be able to eat the hot dog and drink your beverage and then pay you, would be laughed at. Most times in the US you either pay as you receive your food or before they even make it.

This small credit is also true for the chicken busses. Fist you get on the bus, it takes off, and then someone comes around and collects the money. On the bus ride today we were almost back to Antigua before they guy made it back to my part of the bus. Even if they kicked me off the bus by then I could have easly walked home. It's a nice trust thing. Even in the local fast food chains you pay after you have eaten. (Which for the record is a pain and slow, but very trusting.)

Goodbyes and Marshmellows

January 8, 2005

Antigua, Guatemala

Things have been hopping around here. The school didn't have an orginized activity so I went off with a couple of my housemats and made sure that they got into the heart of the local market. This wasn't the hand craft market but the nuts and bolts, meat and vegatable, shoes and hair clips market. I figre anyone who spends more than two weeks in a forien country should see where the locals shop, so as much as one of the housemates wanted to stop at every stall we kept her moving untill she got a scene of scale of the thing. (I was obstensivly there to buy cards to make flash cards for my vocabulary. I hate memorizing vocabulary.) Having ensured that they did not miss this Guatemalan experence we headed back to the school so I could pay for the trips I am taking this weekend and to say good bye to our housemate Chris. (I was also happy that I got one of my housemates to bargen for his shower shoes. Sometimes I feel like I am turing into a tour guide.)

We are going to miss Chris. He kept the conversation going and is a really nice guy. I will miss him as much as because although he hasn't done any long term independent travel he acts like one.

It seams a lot of the students at the school never do anything by themselves. They always want to walk with someone or try to get a group together to do something. After traveling more or less on my own for six mounths, this is a very different point of view. Even back at home I was generaly preaty independent and probably even more so now. This is where Chris was great as we could go out to do something and if along the way we wanted to do differnt things we would just go our own ways. Nobody had to decided not to do what they wanted to do or both people having to do both things. Freedom with companionship, I like that.

I am also going to miss Chris because since his wife is Guatamalan and he has spent a lot of time with her family, he could answer questions about how a real, modern, Guatamalan family lives. (It was funny as we met one of the student's family on the street one day and as they introduced us Chris shook hands and kiss the ladies just like a local would have. (Probably having his weading here in Antigua with all the local family in attandance was a cultural trial by fire. Chris is from Nebraska.)

Today my housemates and I took a trip to the Pacific cost and had some time in the heat on the bach in Monterico. It was a nice black sand beach and while my compainions were sunning theirselves I headed off to be on my own for a while. This past week I have eaten all my meals and spent a good deal of my free time with the same people. Even walking to and from school has been a group activity. It was nice to be off one my own. A bit of it also is like I am the Dad. Even though my Spanish is not much better or possibly worse I have been using it and bargening and just getting along in Central America since the end of October so people defer to me as to what to do. It is a lot my fault as my Stage Manager instncts kick in and I do know the town better that a lot of the students as I spent four days just exploring it before I started school. (Many of the students got a school orgnized shuttle directly from the airport to their house at thirty Quetzales one way; I, of course, arrived via chicken bus for five Quetzales.) Where I may have been hesitent to do things two mouths ago, I certainaly am not now. Not to metnion there is stuff I just know how to do like get the warmest shower out of an electric shower head. (I actualy do demonstrations on that one.) As we went threw the market they would say to each other, "I wonder how much that costs?" and I would be the one to turn to the shop keeper and actualy ask. Oh well, it's getting better. I didn't become the responsible person for the hike up Pacaya volcano tomarow. I carefully avoided being that person. I did end up in carge of one project though.

I ended up becoming the one incharge of getting the stuff for S'Mores. But then again it is also my idea. If you are going to climb and active volcano, you might as well bring along stuff to roast marshmarlows. (OK if you didn't already know Andy had a weird sencse of huomor you do now.) I don't know if it is going to work, but it is one of those things you just have to try. If it works out I will be one of the very few is the world to have made desert using the heat of the Earth's core.

Actualy when I was at the beach in Monterico today I ran into Chris. He was down there with his family for one last side trip before they return to California. We chatted a bit and played in the surf. I got to meet Carla, his wife, and some of the extended family. Carla is a neat woman. She said one of the reasons she sent Chris off the Spanish school was to get him to meet other travelers in Guatemala. I think she wants to go off and do some backpacking and trips on chicken busses. (I think she also wantes him to improve his Spanish so he can talk to his Mother-in-law sans translator.) When I get back to California I will have to look them up.

Well I have to be up at 6:00 am for the bus to the volcano so I should get to bed.

Getting ready to start again

January 15, 2005

Antigua, Guatamala

Well I am done with school for a while. I covered most of my second quarter second year Spanish class in two weeks and I think I got more out of it. Part of me thinks what I should do is get a job working at one of the used book stores in town in the afternoon and keep working on my Spanish for a few more weeks. If the job paid enough to cover at least my room and board and maybe the lessons as well, I could stay more or less indefinitely. I don’t think I will though. I am getting a bit itchy feet to get back on the road.

My project today was to figure out where I want to go on Monday when my school housing runs out. I was considering heading out tomorrow and going with a couple of people I met at school, but they are ending up back where I have already been and there are a couple places nearer hear that I think I might go visit. Not to mention I need another day to get my stuff back in order. I would like to buy a couple things and send them back home and there is just the business of selling and buying new English language books. (Antigua has enough gringos to support a good number of book exchanges and used book shops so I figure this will be one of the best places to restock on reading material.)

It will be a bit odd getting back on the road again. I have been here in Antigua for two and a half weeks which is the longest I have been in one place since I left Minneapolis six months ago. I think this is going to be one of those times when it feels like I am heading off for the first time.

For no really good reason I am getting nervous again. If anything it should be just the reverse as my Spanish is, hopefully, better than it was when I left. (Although I may actually be talking slower as I am trying harder to get it right rather than just intelligible.) I think some of it is also just getting comfortable in a place makes you not want to leave it. Sort of along the lines of being all snug in bed on a cold morning. You know that if you get up you will probably have a fun and interesting day, but you still want to stay there under the covers. Oh well, if I do stay in town after my home stay is finished I will head off to the popular hostel and maybe the other travelers will sweep me up in the wake. (I’m not actually worried, it is just a bit odd that I have reluctance at all.)

Off to the lake

January 20, 2005

Santa Cruz la Laguna, Guatemala (On Lake Atitlan)

Well I have been out for a few days trying to get back into the swing of things. On Tuesday (day before yesterday) I headed out on chicken busses to Panajachel. I certainly got lots of chicken bus time is. I think I took a rather extra securtirous route.

I started off taking the recommended bus to Chimaltenango I expected to be able to get a bus directly to Panajachel but when I got there the bus people directed me to only got me as far as Los Encuentros, I think. (Los Encuentros is really no more than an intersection with a couple food stands and a bit of shelters for those people changing busses.)

From Los Encuentros I hopped a bus that got me as far as Sololᠷhere they pointed me in the direction of the next place to catch a bus. At this point I was more in the mood for a snack than another bus so I swung through the market and sat down in the square to eat and apple and review my guidebook. (The apples are, by the way, imported from Washington state in the U.S. The odd thing is that they are cheaper here than what I would pay for them in a supermarket back in Minnesota.) After seeing in my guide that it is apparently a nice nine kilometer walk down hill to Panajachel I figured it was time to do some walking. Note: this is the first time I have been out with my pack on in two weeks and that it has at least three more books than it did when I came to Antigua.

The walk was OK. A bit hot in the sun, and steep on the road, but not bad. I was getting tired and after the second little seanic over look of the lake I decided it was worth hailing a ride down into town. I figure I made it about two thirds of the way and could have finished it if I had wanted to but I figure the two Quetzales (twenty-six cents) I spent on hailing the pick-up truck was worth it. Not to mention I got to really ride in the back of a pick-up with locals. (This trip was also the first time my big pack was hoisted up on top of bus along with all the other bundles off stuff.)

I found a place in Pana to say for a couple of nights. I probably should have only stayed one night as there isn’t a lot to see or do in Pana but there are worse mistakes to make.

Panajachel is also know as Gringrotenango which would, nicely, be translated as Place of the Foreigners. Mostly it is a little haphazard town that the main street is lined with people selling local crafts and restraints that have English menus and the most common side dish is garlic bread. (Where did garlic come from? I am guessing Asia.) As it was Panajachel wasn’t very interesting and since there are so many gringos there, and no hostel, I didn’t really meet anybody. Although this morning I did run into Ingred and Phillip from the language school. The left the same time I did and went to the beach for a few days and I spent the time getting organized and in Panajachel.

This morning, after a nice breakfast, I headed off on a launch to Santa Cruz. Continuing along with the theme of taking the long way when using local transit, I accidentally got off the boat one town to early and had a nice little walk along the edge of the lake. Actually it was a nice walk but just not what I was expecting to do.

I was heading to the hostel called the Iguana Perdida. My bed is a loft in a little thatched cabin that is total open. If I am not careful I might push my pillow out and have to climb down two ladders to retrieve it.

The hostel and hotel is a little place with cabanas, a few rooms in the main building and a thatched loft over the dive shop as a dormitory. They don’t have electricity so it is all lanterns and candles. Times like this I wish my keyboard thing had a back light. A flickering candle is a bit hard to type by. Of course how often does one type on a computer like thing without electricity?

Shopping and chance meetings

January 24, 2005

Quetzaltenango (Xela), Guatemala

I really liked the place in Santa Cruze la Laguna. At night they put out candles and if you needed light you could take one of the oil lanterns back to your room with you. One of the best things was supper. You signed up for dinner by two o’clock and at 6:30 there was a family style sit-down dinner. This is the best way to eat. I have said in the past that who I eat with is more important than what I am eating and this is a good example. One of the other neat things about the place was it was all on an honor system. If you ate there for your other meals you went to the kitchen and put your order down in a book and then again on a slip that became your bill when you checked out. The cooks would make your order from the order book and bring it out to you. The bar was the same way, grab something you wanted out of the fridge and put it down one the bar tab sheet. When you left they totaled everything up and you paid all at once. Very much the honor system.

One good and bad thing was the little kitten they had hanging around. I love cats and this one even came up to my loft and slept with me one night, but I am also allergic to them. Oh well. The last night the kitten also got a bit playful and I had to kick her out.

The day after leaving Santa Cruz I headed up to Chichicastenango. It was Saturday and I wanted to stay overnight so I could be up in the morning for the big Sunday morning. I was lucky enough to catch a direct chicken bus so I didn’t have a single transfer. The Chichicastenango market is one of the big sort of famous markets. It is big but I think at lot of the reasons for it’s fame is more to do with how close it is to Antigua rather than necessarily how amazing it is. Either that or I have gotten a bit jaded on theses things. I seam to find the piles of junk and empty fertilizer bag stalls more interesting than the local hand crafts. I did in the end buy a couple things. (Just what I need MORE stuff in my backpack. I just reinstated the your must leaving something out each time you do a major repacking job.)

When the market started to whined down about one o’clock I packed up my bag and caught a bus here to Xela. (Xela is the Mayan name for Quetzaltenango and for slightly obvious reasons the name people use most of the time.) From what I have seen, Xela is not a very interesting town in it’s own right. The main square is OK, but not as lively as Mexico City’s Zocalo or as preaty as Antigua’s. I did get in to the grave yard which has some impressive tombs. (I really hadn’t meant to go to the graveyard but I got very lost on my morning walk and since I was there I figured I would look around.) There are some good day trips out from around here so I need to get myself organized and go out and do some one of them.

One funny thing that has happened, again, is I ran into Ian again. We first met in Palenkie, then ended up in the same Spanish school in Antigua and now I have met him twice in the street here in Xela. Small world. He is heading south as well so I have expect we will meet again.

Hiking, hiking, sleeping?

January 26, 2005

Quetzaltenango (Xela), Guatemala

Yesterday started off about normal. I got up early determined to get some traveling done. After a nice breakfast that included a whole wheat waffle (whole wheat is not a normal thing around here, normally everything that isn’t corn is icky Wonderbread knock off) I headed out to see the Market, find the main bus terminal and then practice taking little day trips out from a place. (I think I understand whey Doctors and Layers always practice rather than simply do their profession; travelers do the same.) I chose to go out and see San Andr鳠which is a little town know for nothing but it’s brightly colored church fa硤e. It is one of those pictures you see a lot of.

I headed out in the right direction and with a little referring to my map I found my way there and visited the park and zoo. The zoo is one of those zoos that is why zoos have a bad name. All the animals are in comparatively bland small enclosures and don’t really look very happy. They all had just been feed and from what I saw there were two diets: bananas or meat. The grounds of the park were relatively pleasant in the dusty way these places are so after a big of time I headed over to find the bus yard.

The Minerva Bus “stationEis named after a temple of Minerva that one of the former dictators built to encourage interest in higher education. The temple is smack dab in the middle of the street and not a lot to look at, but it has given name to much of the area. Before I got to the bus yard I ran across the town’s modern shopping mall. I don’t know how old it was but it could have been picked up out of a Twin Cities’s suburb and dropped here. They even had a Taco Bell. It was VERY surreal. I am interested to see if my pictures of the women in traditional dress window shopping come out.

The bus station was the normal traffic jamb of old school busses, venders, and touts. I found the busses to Huehuetnego which will be my net destination.

After finding the bus to take me to the cross roads to San Andr鳠I had a pleasant and remarkably uncrouded ride. A kindergarten teacher came aboard and sat next to me and we chatted a bit about her school and my travels. My Spanish is getting better and a kindergarten teacher was a perfect person to practice with. She was used to talking clearly and correctly and would correct mistakes as we went along until the tout got my attention that my stop was coming up.

After a quick lunch at a rest stop Mexican place I decided to walk the nine kilometers up too San Andr鳮 It’s fun to walk into a town and see it develop and experience things at the speed we were meant to. Not to mention I didn’t have any real plans and I knew there wasn’t anything except the church to see in this town I might as well make it last.

The church was nice and interesting and they had a big pole in the plaza that I’m not sure what it was used for. I took a little time to wander the town and see another little chapel on the hill along with some of the local spots like the public lavenderia (laundamat.) The chicken bus ride back to town and walk home was largely uneventful.

When I got back to the hostel several of the people I met asked me if was going on the Full Moon hike up the Santa Maria volcano. I had thought I had missed it but the Quetzaltrekkers trip that was based in the Casa de Argentina where I am staying was that night. I hemmed and hawed for a bit but decided to go. That gave me just enough time to buy same snacks, a big dinner and try to get a nap in before the 11:00pm meeting before heading off.

I found a nice restaurant and had a big plate of pasta and got a few snacks for the trail. On the way home I still wanted a little more so I stuck my head in a panderia that sold pizza by the slice and got a piece. I ended up chatting with the girl behind the counter for a bit. She asked if I had a wife and where I was from. She has a boyfriend in the United States and misses him a lot. This day was jut truing to be a good day for practicing my Spanish.

I got back to the hostel and tried to get a nap in and couldn’t of course and the was off for our soup and pre-trip meeting.

The hike was great. After soup we boarded a couple of pickups (there were supposed to be three but one had broken down) and headed out to the trail head. Santa Maria is a lovely cone shaped extent volcano overlooking Xela and one of the steeper climbs around. The plan is to arrive at the top a little before sunrise and look down on to the neighboring, very active volcano Santiaguito. After a challenging climb by the light of a full moon we huddled for warmth at the top and enjoyed the 360 degree view of the hills and looking down on to cloud filled valleys. Santiaguito along with being able to look down into the crater to see the read glow of the volcano also gave us a couple of beautiful bursts of ash to give us a dramatic welcome. Just as the eastern sky was beginning to get light Venus rose from behind the silhouettes of the Volcanoes Fuego and Augua and made an impressive entrance.

The sunrise was an equally impressive event with the clouds below us and the conic shadow of our own volcano falling across the landscape.

The trip back to camp was good and collected trash as we went filling a full garbage bag. I find it a bit funny as probably most of the trash we gringos were packing out was probably from Guatemalans. At base camp one of the climbers admitted this was his first hike ever. He was a professional photographer and had a backpack of camera gear almost the size and weight of my main pack fully loaded. He said this was probably one of the physically hardest things he had ever done.

After returning to town most of us went to a neighboring caf頦or a breakfast. After eating I returned to the dormitory to shower and fall asleep. I may have not been quite so tired had I planned on being up all night hiking and maybe sleeping a bit and skipped the nine kilometer hike into San Andr鳠earlier in the morning.

By the time I woke up and got myself in order again it was time for dinner so I hooked up with some American’s from Washington State and headed off to a restaurant they had had recommended by someone else on the hike.

It has been funny as this was the second time I have been out with these Americans and normally I don’t end up hanging out with the Americans that much. I figured out one of the differences with this group is they all speak better Spanish than I do. So it means when we are out everybody is comfortable reading the menu and ordering and chatting with the waiter without problems. For some reason this is a bit rare with Americans.

We ended up finding the restaurant that over looked the town and although they were about to close they let us have dinner. It was one of the best dinners I have had since I have been down here. Not it wasn’t traditional foods, I had a Thi curry, but it was well done. The restaurant itself is a front end for a community group that is encouraging sustainable and organic agriculture. The waiter was chatty and we had a great time. For desert we had the recommended Chocolate Italiano what was a fresh, hot, dark chocolate pudding to die for. When we got it we all stopped talking and just enjoyed it. By then our waiter had also gotten out his guitar and sang us a song about chocolate. Quite a fabulous way to end a long day.

Now it is off to bed.

On the road

January 29, 2005

Uspantᮬ Guatemala

Some how this is like getting back on the road. Maybe it is just that I spent all day on or waiting for Caminetos (Chicken Busses.)

I had arrived in Huehuetenango they day before yesterday. The original plan had been to just spend one night before heading on the eastward journey to Cobᮮ Well my last day in Xela turned into a bit of a mess. Everything took longer and I couldn’t get a stable FTP connection with my server to save my life.

The latter was important because it has been much too long since I have uploaded pictures and I like to keep things on the web up-to-date so that if my camera is lost, stolen, or broken I haven’t lost too much. As is I have been thinking / worrying about the pictures so it was time to get it done. Just the time for my web hosting to mess up. (Also keeping them up-to-date gets them labelled before I forget what they are.) Fortunately my former co-workers at Ted Mann gave me a second chip for my camera which has made keeping things organized much easer.

Anyway, I got into Huehue (pronounced whay-whay) late in the day and I just didn’t feel like getting up the next morning and heading out on busses. With a free day I decided I would see the town and take care of some projects that I had been piling up.

I worked on uploading more pictures but the internet connections in town were satellite so they had normal download speeds but slow uploads. The other project I worked on was a pocket ID.

I have been reading ahead in my guide and at least one country I hope to visit requires you to carry your passport at all times. They do put up with the fact that most foreigners only carry a photocopy of their passport and keep the real thing in a safe back at the hotel. I figured that if I was going to carry a photocopy of my passport I might as well laminate it. And at that point I should put on the back side who to contact in case of an emergency and my basic medical information. This project grew as only one of Andy’s craft projects can. A good hunk of the afternoon was spent trying to find laminating stuff and I ended up buying clear packing tape. (My Spanish may be improving but trying to find self-adhesive laminating stuff is a challenge.

Remember most of the stores work under the model that you ask for something at the counter and they go get it for you. I have decided that next time I am near a English-Spanish dictionary I am going to learn the word for “StickyE This was followed by careful copying of the information and getting it all to fit on the backside of the passport copy. This was glued together and then laminated with the tape. All in all I am quite proud of it. I even did all the emergency contact information in English and Spanish.

I also went off to the local Mayan ruins. I figured it had been a while since I had seen any Mayan pyramids so I took the local bus to just beyond the edge of town to the Zaculeu ruins. It is not a very big sight nor are the ruins especially exciting but one thing that makes them different is that in the 1940’s the United Fruit Company “restoredEseveral of them.

Mostly this means they rebuilt them and they think they should have been and in this case they even recoated the structures with plaster. Now the work may have not been the most archeologically sound but it is neat to see the buildings with the smooth coats their builders intended. I almost wish they had painted them the original colors as well just to get a sense of it all. (They should have been red with frescos worked in the plaster.)

Half the fun of the site was that it was out of town and that this part of the country reminds me of the western Black Hills of South Dakota or of Eastern Wyoming. (In summer of course.) The weather is dry and the hills are covered in pine trees. I sat on the edge of the site under the pine trees and played with the dried grass while watching a few cattle graze in the ravine. It is a nice quite little spot away from the noise of the town.

This morning having had a day off to putter and see ruins, I got up at a good hour and headed off to the bus station. When I got there I discovered that not only was there a schedule and ticket office for the bus I wanted, but also that I had just missed one and would have to wait a couple hours for the next one. This wasn’t all bad as it gave me a chance to have a slow breakfast, visit the market, and read.

The first bus got me as far as Sacapulas, small dusty town just off the road. I had a quick lunch that was remarkably like my breakfast and sat down to wait for the bus or a pick-up going in my direction.

I still have a lot to learn about catching busses and pick-ups in the middle of their run. I think I probably let one or two busses go by before I realised they were what I wanted. I checked with several pick-up drivers if they were going the right way and they weren’t. By the time I did make contact with a driver going the right way everybody else had jumped into the back and there wasn’t room for me. I am a bit disappointed about that as much of the reason I am taking this back way to Cobᮠis for the scenery and I figure that the back of a pick-up you will get the best views.

As it was I did a rush for one of the next busses and crammed on via the back door. The crowd on the bus made it so I had to stand the whole way which isn’t that bad except since I am so tall I can’t see anything. From what I could see looking down out the windows we passed over a pretty neat pass one a road that winds back and forth clinging to the wall with the tail of the buss going over open air on some of the tighter curves.

One nice thing was that I met a woman from Canada who is down here volunteer teaching. She taught for seven months last winter and is doing the same again this winter. When we got to Uspantᮠshe showed me where the busses will be tomorrow and walked me to place to stay. Quite a nice little encounter.

One thing I have been thinking about is how much more open you are to little encounters like that or with the locals waiting for the same bus as I am when I travel alone. My parents have done several of the same trips I have been doing but I don’t think they get some of the same chances to chat with the locals as I have. There is something that makes a pair less approachable and it is not simply because two is more than one. My parents always said it was great having us kids along when we were living on their first boat. Being a family may have made us more vulnerable, as does being a solo traveller, but it also opened up doors and hearts to us. In some ways taking that extra risk that involved having kids or by being alone make one a more approachable and real person. Here is a person that needs help and so people go out of their way to help you. It’s a nice feeling.

Travels on magic busses

January 31, 2005

Semuc Champey, Guatemala

Well I made it to Cobᮬ and I have moved on.

I did spend a night in Cobᮮ I actually spent a really nice night. The hostel had nice, clean dorms with the best shower I have had since I left the US. (Maybe the best since I left Minnesota.) The shower was clean and the water was so hot I had to mix it with cold water. Lots of pressure and lots of very hot water. It was a bit like a sauna by the end. It was great. I have been looking forward to getting down from the highlands and off to the warmer climates.

I will be heading back thru Cobᮠso I didn’t spend to much time. Also I have been hearing so much about the area around I wanted to move on. (Also now that I am out here it is fun to get out of the cities and back into the jungle again.)

The place I am at, although I should have stayed at a different place, is good. A few cabin structures out in the jungle. It will be a night of sleep with mosquito repellent on. I have taken to when I check in and sign the book scanning up the list and seeing who else is in the place. Here about twelve people signed in. Ten from English speaking countries and two from Germany. I think I am in a Gringo hot spot regardless of what the guide says.

Getting out of Cobᮠwas a bit of a trek in it’s own right. After a morning walk and breakfast (along with trying to get some more stuff uploaded) and then headed off get my stuff and then out of town. I picked up my pack and headed out to the corner where the guide book said there would be busses to Lanquʮ After waiting for a while and having no hope that there would be anything coming I decided I would try checking out one of the bus terminals in town. Even if they don’t have anything I figure they might know where I should go. Well the road the first bus terminal was supposed to be on didn’t exist due to the local market taking over that area. So I figured that I should head to the “newEterminal a little farther out.

As I started off I got myself lost. I was heading to the edge of the map I had. I don’t have a clue where I was and none of the streets were labelled. I was just starting to grumble about why I was looking for the bus station when my hostel could have hooked me up with a shuttle and it probably wouldn’t be that expensive and that this was just the kind of thing that I always complained about my Dad doing when we were travelling and how if I could figure out where I was I should just go back and have them hook me up something and maybe even stay another night in town with the good beds and hot showers. As this grumbling was coming to a head I walked past a parked microbus and the driver asked if I was going to Lanquʮ I still don’t have a clue where that bus stop was, but I got a ride to where I wanted for less than the rush hour bus fair to the Mall of America back home. Sometimes it just works.

On the Microbus ride in I met a guy from Australia who is also on month of seven of travels but he is coming from the south. Too bad I finally unloaded my Mexican guide in Xela. I finally have someone who would like it. He also had been having a bad day finding a bus and had taken a taxi to the bus stop so neither of us had a clue where the bus that got us here was but it works.

We paired up a little and took the same pick-up ride up here to Semuc Champey. It looks like I should have company for a bit. All the joys of travelling with people without the problems.

Swimming with candels

Feburary 2, 2005

Semuc Champey, Guatemala

This morning after a nice sized breakfast I headed off to the big draw of the area. The pools of Semuc Champey with the underground river. The river that runs along here goes under ground for a little while. During this point the roof of the cave is covered with a series of pools that are wonderful swimming. I headed up with a Dayna to take a bit of a swim and see the river. It is pretty impressive where the river goes underground. You wouldn’t want to go into the water there. There was I park ranger watching to keep up stupid person out of harms way although I think if you went down all they would do is run to the other end to see what comes out.

After the swim I headed off back to the hostel and just as I got there there was a group heading out to see a cave. I hadn’t had lunch yet but I figured I would enjoy it and I better go.

The instructions were to wear your bathing suit and sandals and leave everything else behind. After a short challenge to get change for my one hundred bill I dropped the rest of my stuff picked up an inner tube and headed off. I wasn’t expecting to get much for thirty quetzals. We headed down the road and got to a little house where we left our sandals and inner tubes and they brought out some very warn, slightly damp, used sneakers. We were all wondering why we couldn’t use our shoes that fit or if we could just use or sandals. After trading around we each found a pair that fit, more or less, were handed our candle and headed up the hill to the mouth of the cave.

Now you may wonder about the candles. You have to remember this is Guatemala and not the United States. I don’t think people sue here, or if they do it doesn’t work. Back when I was I kid, my family would spend or summers in the Black Hills of South Dakota and for a couple years we would do a cave tour each year. One part of the Wind Cave tour was when the shut off all the lights and turned on a little light that was only as bright as a candle to see how the original explorers saw it. Now I have had much the same experience.

The cave we went to had only been open eleven months, so we didn’t have a guide description to tell us what was coming up.

Light the candles and off into the cave. We started off with a little wading in the water. Then the guide gave us a little description on how the tour was going to go and off to the first swim along the cave. Now remember that we where using candles as our light source. Swimming in a cave is a bit odd because you are trying not to kick the people behind you, trying to keep from barking your shins on submerged (hence invisible) rocks, while trying not to let your candle go out.

There were several pools you had to swim through, some neat formations on the walls and ceiling, a small underground waterfall, ladders and a rope to climb, and even a pool at the top of you could jump from a ledge down into the water. (I didn’t do the jump, if you were too far off you would land on hard rock and I figured the risk wasn’t worth they payoff.) There was also the simple romance and risk of wandering around a cave, wading in the stream by only candle light. Looking back at the rest of the group all you would see is the line of little flickering lights. Very cool.

On the way back down to the mouth of the cave we got back to the top of the little waterfall and went down it. You would go into this little room space and you could watch the person before you go. If anything that was the amazing part. They would climb into this little opening and then in a moment they would disappear under the water. When you did it, you got into the little spot and then you came out suddenly into a little space treading water and there were the people before you with their candles. I would have hated to be the first person in the group to go down have be alone, in the dark down there. Rule number one of cave tours in Guatemala don’t be the first one in line. Rule number two, don’t be the last; it gets lonely.

As Dayna said, it was the best thirty Quetzals spent in Guatemala. I would strongly recommend this trip.

After that we did a nice little inner tube ride down the river back to the place where we were staying. Before I dried off I took the time to try out the rope swing from shore over the water. A good day.

Tomorrow is probably off to the other hostel in the area and to the big, famous cave system of Lanquʮ

Coming? Going? Rain

February 3, 2005

Lanquʬ Guatemala

Well this is sort of a weird day. I got up this morning planning to leave, then decided that I should stay, then thought about leaving, they staying, now I am here and will probably stay. Although I packed everything up and will have to set camp again.

Part of this is based on the fact that yesterday day was great. I got going not too early in the morning, had a nice breakfast and started hiking into town. After about five minuets walk a van came by and picked me up. (Everybody at the place was getting worried about catching a ride in and making complicated rushed plans to catch one of the few scheduled van trips. I figure that since we are near a big tourist draw something will come. And it does.) After filling my water bottle I hiked off to where I thought the place I was planning to stay was. About half way there I passed my second choice and ran into a couple of people from Las Mar who were going to same place but it was full and they were looking for someplace else. They also pointed out that I was going to wrong way. I hiked back with them to El Retiro where they were full but still had room for camping. Since this was the place I wanted to stay I pulled out my hammock and camped down by the river.

I can identify myself as they guy with the cool hammock. It’s hung right next down next to the beach so everybody has seen it and commented on it. The only problem is it rained last night.

Now I have a plan for rain, and when I was with Kate, Fred, and Melissa in New York state camping I rigged for rain, but that was with Fred’s trap so this was the first time with the plastic sheet I bought. It was also the first time doing it in the dark.

It actually did well but I was hungry and was trying to rush as we had just started up lining up for dinner when it started raining. It kept me dry all night and except for the condensation on the inside in the morning was great.

I had bought an old fertilizer bag at one of the markets to maybe put my big backpack in to discuse it when ridding chicken busses. I haven’t used to for that yet, but it mostly kept my backpack dry all night so it has paid for itself.

This morning everybody would ask me how I slept and if I was OK in my hammock. There must be something that triggers a part of their imagination about my sleeping in a hammock rather than a normal tent. The hardest part about getting to sleep was the fact I had gotten some bug bites on my feet that were driving myself up the wall.

Otherwise El Retiro is a nice place to stop. You can swim in the river, take an inner tube ride down from the Grutas de Lanquʠwhere if you go at night fall watch the bats fly out of the cave. I did the cave tour which unlike the other one has walk ways and electric lights most of the way. They are big classic caverns but less fun than the Kam’ba cave the day before. One odd mix of things was that the Lanquʠcave has a Mayan alter in it, so for parts of the cave, the stalactites and other formations are coated with the grime from burring candles and incense. A cross between some of the bizarre churches and a cave.

On the road again

February 6, 2005

On a bus from Cobᮠto Guatemala City

This is a time of slow moving. After my last entry I spent an extra day in El Reterio just because I didn't get going fast enough, then I went to Cabᮠand ended up spending two days because I just didn't get going the first day. Not that the second day in Cobᮠwas so bad as it gave me more time to dry off all my stuff and I did make it to the Orchid nersury which was fun. I have now seen the plant that produces vanilla.

My plan now I think his to head for El Salvador. There are still places I would like to see here in Guatemala but I want a change of people. I think part of the reason the last few days I have been slow starting is that although I haven't really wanted to stay where I was, but I didn't really have any place in pictular I wanted to go. We all have days like this, but back home I would just clean house and watch TV. Sure that is an option of sorts on the road but it feels really odd to just sit around an do nothing. On the other hand it was nice to finish getting my journal and pictures up to date. (I really was getting nervous about getting that last batch uploaded as I would have felt bad if something happened to my pictures from the mountain climb.

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