Friday, April 29, 2011

4/28/11 Coban

I just had an immense feeling of gratitude pass through me, followed immediately by a wave of gratitude to have the feeling of gratitude. It is ironic how the feeling has arrived now, while the rain downpours outside and I am stuck inside and nothing seemingly extraordinary has happened. Sometimes, when I am “acquiring” experiences, food, things, I don’t have such gratitude and the feeling of not really feeling deeply grateful is worse then because at those times especially, I feel I should be grateful. The feelings of both gratitude and of humility are two qualities I ask to have when I don’t have them.

Ben Harper is playing on my iTunes and the rain accompanies persistently in the back ground. Classes went very well this morning and I relayed a story from my time in Taiwan in Spanish, albeit with much attention and assistance from my teacher. Learning Spanish has been an invaluable experience even though sometimes I feel frustrated - wanting to be able to communicate and understand more by this point. I know if I keep putting in the time, I will get there.

I booked reservations to explore a biotope and hike to a waterfall this weekend and to get to Rio Dulce and Livingston next Friday/weekend. I am grateful those tasks are complete. Yesterday, I went to a well-recommended, competent dentist and he fixed my cavity for about $50. I am extremely grateful that task is over with for a cost so much less than I would have paid in the U.S. sans health insurance. I could almost fly to Guatemala (spirit airlines from Miami, $150), have a week of Spanish lessons including room and board with a Guatemalan family ($150) and get a cavity filled for the cost of getting one cavity fixed in the U.S.

I just finished listening to audio lectures on positive thinking by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale and that has undoubtedly helped direct my mood toward gratitude, faith and hope, toward feeling that life is working out as it should, that my health will fully return and stay with me, that I am where I need to be right now, and that I have all that I need in this moment. This is true.

The wind has joined the rain in mayhem so much so that I can’t hear Ben Harper anymore and I close iTunes. The air is far cooler than it was two hours ago on my sticky walk around town. I’m relieved I did not walk further a field and become trapped in the storm. I’ve discovered a delicious home-made yogurt stand. They offer strawberry, fig, and melon. Today, I ordered strawberry and sat enjoying it on a park bench, watching a stream of ants diligently carrying small leaves across the sidewalk. A black and white spotted dog crosses over them. I hope the ants got their work done before the rain hit. Did they know the storm was coming?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

4/24 - arrival in Coban

 Now it is Sunday morning. I slept in lazily at Zephyr Lodge...until 8pm. Then I wandered into town to inquire about how I might catch a bus to Coban on Easter. Funnily enough, I run into the Israeli army guys again. They told me to ask the reception at the hotel over there. We said repeat byes and I wished them fun on their bat cave explorations in the afternoon. A Mayan woman nursing a baby in front of the locked hotel doors, kindly told me that, yes, there are buses running about every hour to Coban that pick up across the street.

I walked back to the lodge and then down the steep banks to the wide, shallow river below. Cows and boys with sticks moved slowly across the way. A couple cuddled on an overhanging branch. I happily stuck my feet into the cool water. I managed to get 10 or so angry mosquito bites around my ankles while I was sleeping and they itch terribly. Tiger balm can only give so much relief. It can’t be totally perfect in paradise.

In my proceeding shower, I looked out an open-air window to cloud forests and mountains and there were no human beings in this back yard to look back.

The power conveniently shut down 5 minutes into charging my electronics and 1 minute into my skype conversation with my mom. Guess that’s a sign to get moving and try and catch that bus.

The bus from Lanquin to Coban provided another unique Guatemalan experience. The bus pulled up at 2pm, but did not actually get on its way out of town until 3pm – First, it had to traverse the main streets 5-6 times shouting “Coban, Coban” until reaching total capacity. The two “assistants?” had great fun keeping the door wide-open and leaning precariously out around turns or hopping on and off during the slowing over speed bumps. The microbus stopped frequently to let on and off local Mayans, seeming to do so gratis (free). For me, the 2.5 hour trip only costed $3. In Coban, I called a taxi at the bus station who took me 5 minutes down the road to my new school and he charged the same $3. I’m just happy my bags and I made it no worse for wear and Jaime, my new teacher, was waiting for me. He helped walk me the two blocks to my new household and up the 3 flights of stairs to my new 3rd floor room overlooking rooftops and this beautiful “imperial” city.

I took 15 minutes to walk to the Central Park and I grabbed dinner – papusas and horchata for $2.75 – as the rain turned streets into flashflood rivers. Then, I made my way with care back home to study, write and collapse into slumber

4/22-4/23 Lanquin + Semuc Champey

I just spent ten hours in a large van traveling from Xela to Coban on good Friday. And, because, it was a holiday, we dealt with traffic and processions again. Luckily I was in very good, amusing company and we shared the bonding experience of being stuck on our butts on windy back roads for so long. A 35ish Israeli man and woman, a middle-aged Guatemalan expat residing in Boca Raton, Florida, a middle-aged Mexican guy, a young, blonde pilot from Holland, and a cool chica, my age, with dreads, from Denmark, that’s who.

We didn’t arrive in the small town of Lanquin until 10:30pm – 3.5 hours past due. When I walked into Zephyr Lodge, the supposedly new, cool hostel to stay in town, the room I’d reserved (for only $7/night) had accidentally been given away. The receptionist kindly gave me his bed instead, but that mattress just happened to be above the bar/reception and there just happened to be a crazy party going on that night. I would have joined had I been in that kind of mood, but all I wanted to do was sleep. I managed to get 5 hours and somehow wake up with energy.

After riding for 2 minutes in a bus with a group of people going on the tour of caves and pools, I decided to hop off and explore on my own instead. No offense, but who goes to tropical paradise only to turn on loud, tinny music, tuning out cicadas and rain drops, and fill a bus with screaming giggles, smoking and general hung-overness, doing exactly what they could do in their dorm rooms?

I’m so glad I made the decision to split. Company makes all the difference, and I’m happier to have my own. I had the tour bus drop me off at the pools, while the other group continued on to do the caves first. I climbed the steep incline up El Mirador for a breathtaking view of the aqua limestone pools, collectively known as Semuc Champey.

On the way down, I befriended a 35ish Italian lady and ran into her and her two Guatemalan friends again at the pools 10 minutes later. At the pools, I heard my name, and turned to see another new acquaintance – Eswin, the Guatemalan/Boca Ratonian from the van-ride yesterday. And there was Sil, the pilot, too, and Juan, the Mexican. They have added two new guys to the group – Israles, this time 20 something guys in the army. Did I care to join them for tubing and caving? Why not?

As I was following behind them to the tubing location, I heard my name, again! And there behind me were Elizabeth and Scott, the couple from Australia who lived with me at my first host family the first week in Antigua! We’ve kept in touch and so I knew they were also in Semuc this weekend, but they hadn’t managed to book rooms in Languin and it was pure coincidence to run into them. I wish I’d had time to hang out, but I was about to loose my new group and Elizabeth and Scott were headed to the pools after just doing the caves – opposite schedules.

Tubing, I could almost have been on Guadelupe River in Texas. Those big, light grey, hole-filled, volcanic rocks exist in abundance here. Eswin trying to scare me by telling me to watch out for the alligators. Yeah right. The tubing was so relaxing and our guide was full of happy-go-lucky young enthusiasm.

We arrived undercover for lunch just in time for the regular afternoon downpour to hit in full-force. I was so happy to have a salad for lunch. Raw greens are hard to come by in Guatemalan family house-holds, so it seems.

The caves came next. We walked through mud and rain to the entrance in our swimsuits. Dirt didn’t much matter, we would be wading and swimming through underwater rivers. A new guide distributed candles and we lit up and went in.

Stalagmites and stalactites looked us up and down and I saw them as beards, bones, baleen, ribs, and teeth. It was an interesting experience being the only chica in a group of 6 men in a macho country. I put up with it. Sil said at the end that he expected me to scream at least once. I’ve never been that type. Rather, I thoroughly enjoyed the suspense, adventure, depths, climbs and physicality of exploring underground and underwater. We all did I think. Bats squeaking and candles spluttering. The air, upon reemergence into light, felt warm and humid like walking into a bathroom post-shower.

Gathering our belongings back at the office, I heard my name called for the third time that day. It was Locka! The Danish girl with dreads. She was just arriving as we were leaving, but it was nice to exchange smiles and well-wishes again.

The gang and I crammed into a truck. Well, I was not crampt actually, since I got the front seat, naturally, until the driver’s friend loaded in in the middle front seat. We all reunited at 8pm for dinner at Zephyer lodge and talked for a couple more hours over very good food. Vegitable curry and a mojito for me (only my second drink in Guatemala). Cinnamon rolls to split. Conversation in Spanish. It was a great day for practicing. Sil amazes me. Coming from Holland, he grew up learning 4 languages. Spanish is his 5th, and he is learning it for fun as I am. He has only had 40 hours of lessons, and is so good at pronunciation and communicating already. Tonight, of course, the hostel is chill, relaxed, sans a raging party atmosphere. Everyone but me and the Israelis are leaving early in the morning so we say our “good byes” and “hope to see you agains” by 10:00.