Saturday, April 9, 2011

Antigua, Week 2, April 9th

On Tuesday morning, my teacher and I visited a coffee plantation and coffee museum and a Mayan Musical Instrument Museum. $5 gave access to all places with tour guides. The music museum guide played all the instruments she showed us: marimba, goat hide hand drums, gourd shakers, flutes, and, my favorite - animal instruments: a turtle shell played with a deer antler, and a deer jaw played by running a stick along the teeth or by shaking the jawbone so the loose teeth rattled in place.

On the Coffee Tour, I saw baby coffee plants in greenhouses, learned that Guatemala is one of the world's largest importers of coffee after Brazil, Vietnam, Kenya and Ethiopia, and sampled delicious free coffee and chocolate. Both tours were given in Spanish.

On Tuesday afternoon in class, I went to a presentation/demonstration about the making of colored-sawdust carpets "alfombras" for Lent and Easter parades. Workers shake dyed sawdust onto large, intricate stencils made weeks in advance. Each color layer needs a new stencil. Fine sawdust in some parts next to thick, fluffy sawdust of a new color nearby creates some depth. An entire carpet will take a minimum of 7 hours to complete. Then the parade passes over destroying it. In the meantime, people water the sawdust to keep it from blowing away. An extremely beautiful, creative tradition!

On the way back to school from the demonstration, we all stopped at a bakery. 15-25 cents will get you anything from large anise or lemon cookies, cream-filled or chocolate frosted donuts, lemon or strawberry filled pasteries, raisin or vanilla cupcakes, or long, flat cinnamon/sugar-dusted bread. A small, Mayan woman runs the shop, which always has a line during its limited afternoon hours. Its been a dangerous thing knowing the existence of this bakery the rest of my week!

Yesterday in class, I visited both a church ruin and a nunnery ruin. My teacher said that none of the original churches from that time survived the earthquakes. New churches have been erected in their stead, but they in no way carry the charm, majesty or attention to detail of the originals. Entering the old courtyards felt like arriving in another world - one of grass, stone, blue sky, bright flowers draping high above, where the thick, stone walls blocked out the traffic-congested, narrow streets on the other side.

I recently returned from another 2-hour walk up the same mountain road I explored last weekend. Since it was only 9:30, I had the road all to myself. 20 minutes passed before my mind's clutter cleared out. My tummy is growling and I'm looking forward to lunch and talking with Llondee and Marta now.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

At Lake Atitlan and San Pedro, Guatemala, 4/3/11

I am sitting where no one can see me. Except for the occasional boat on Lake Atitlan below my rock ledge.

My morning began with a shuttle bus pick-up at 5:30 a.m. The 3 hour trip from Antgua to the main tourist town, Panajachel, on Lake Atitlan, went by fast conversing with a friendly couple from Oregon. They have a 2nd home and boat in Rio Dulce - near Guatemala's Atlantic coast and Belize border. We parted ways upon arrival and I immediately caught a 45 minute boat ride across the lake to the smaller, less touristic pueblo (town) of San Pedro. The boat stopped at multiple docks along the way, ranging from precariously perched private mansions, to rustic Mayan villages.

At one of the stops, a little Mayan boy maybe 8 years old, ran out along the dock to proudly grab our boat's rope and knot it around the post. His job gave him such joy and made everyone on the boat smile with his enthusiasm. Mayan women wrapped in colorful skirts and fabric and carrying babies and flowers came on board. A scruffy black dog looked like it wanted to. An old man in a canoe watched the happenings from the shallows.

San Pedro greeted us with music carrying across the lake and steep cobblestone roads leading upwards into scruffy, colorful homes. The main street bustled with a mix of local market, touristic bars and restaurants, Spanish schools and internet cafes, and "Jesus is the only one that can save you" missionaries.

I walked up the main street and then took my first left. The street looked quieter. Where would it lead? It dead-ended shortly, but I noticed a footpath into the woods along the shoreline and took it, following it for 5 minutes to a large ceiba-tree shaded rock outcrop. You had to climb down the boulders to get to the water, so I did. No one could see me from above. Now, sitting on a sunny rock, I'm writing to the Spanish music carrying over from the docks, mixed with bird song, the fluttering of wings, the falling of plant matter through branches, and the gentle lapping of water meeting land.

The sky is pale blue with sparse clouds. This town has a tranquil, laid-back feeling. I could choose to study at one of the multiple Spanish schools here. Maybe next time.

Since I wrote last, my plans have changed and I've decided to study at 3 different schools in 3 different areas of Guatemala after I leave Antigua, rather than staying in Xela for all 5 weeks. So, after Xela, I'm thinking Copan, Hondurus for one week and after that, San Andres, Peten near Flores and Tikal for two weeks. I find the schools in my Guatemala guide book and research them on the internet. Various places differ in price, Antigua being the most pricey (yet I'm also taking 6 hours/day, 5 days a week here, more than anywhere else) at $240/week and San Andres being the least expensive at $110 a week (with 5 hours/day, 5 days a week) all places include one-on-one instruction and complete room and board with a Guatemlan family (minus meals on Sundays).

The rest of my current week in Antigua has gone smoothly, especially now that my stomach unease is completely gone.

On Thursday night, I went to a couchsurfing meetup for fellow couchsurfers living in or traveling through Antigua. We met at a restaurant called Escudilla near El Parque Central. I met two really nice girls from Holland who are in Guatemala for 4 months interning in the field of nutrition -particularly in regards to poverty stricken babies. They are interning in Xela and are just in Antigua for a long weekend, so, hopefully, I'll see them again next week.

On Friday during class, a handful of students and teachers, myself included, walked up to Cerro Del Cruz (Hill of the Cross) for a stunning, panorama view of Antigua below. I enjoyed the outdoor activity Spanish class. On the way back, we came upon vendors selling fresh seafood from the back of their truck.

On Friday, I also started understanding more at meals and conversing more in Spanish myself. LLondi (Jone-dee), the house-keeper, and Marta, the grand-mother, and Elizabeth, a house-guest from Australia with Argentinian parents, and I were the only ones around Friday and Saturday and enjoyed talking. Since I had no classes Saturday, I sat at each meal with them for an hour plus. I am most interested in what the house keeper, who is indigenous, has to say. She weaves beautifully colored thread into table cloths, napkins, ponchos, and table runners, which she sells at the market. She can also paint incredibly realistic scenes of Antigua, with the volcano in the background - one of her paintings hangs above the family dining room table. I asked her how often she paints and she tells me she only paints on commission and that she received her last commission two weeks ago and hopes to receive more soon. She also relays, that, at the age of 40, she is to be a grand-mother. Her 15 year-old daughter just realized she is pregnant. The daughter's boyfriend is 18 and the two live together now with vague promises of marriage. I can tell in LLondi's eyes how sad she is about these circumstances. Tragically, this type of situation happens frequently here. These conversations are some of the best lessons in the language and the culture.

On Saturday, I climbed the motor-road parallel to Cerro Del Cruz, and continued climbing it up for a total hike of two hours. I noticed hill-side towns hidden until I went over a rise. Red and green aloe verra plants, short, squat palm trees, and tall pine trees lined the sides of the curvy road. I came back for a delicous dinner Marta prepared: savory crepes: chicken, cheese and tomato, sweet crepes: dulce de leche, cinnamon, and nuts, and homemade tomato soup.

Haha, there is an old man swimming laps below me now. Good to know that the the lake is clean enough for that. There are kayakers below me now too. I could fall asleep on this rock in the sun. Purple morning glory vines surround me. Why would I want to me anywhere else?

I went swimming! The water is so refreshing, a little on the cold side, but really nice and freeing. Now I'm going to walk around the town and then take the boat back to the main town, walk around there a bit, maybe get some helados (ice cream) and then catch my shuttle back to Antigua. All in a day.