i feel the earth move under my feet.

23 02 2010

There has been lots of… movement here in Antigua the past few days. Let me start with this: Antigua is apparently rivaling Sevilla, Spain, for the best place to be leading up to Easter. So, beginning with this past Sunday there will be a huge parade of people and bands and huge float-things (I don’t really know what they’re called) every Sunday. While we were out and about Sunday afternoon, we saw the parade and watched for a bit. What we didn’t know was that the parade was going to come directly by our house. About 8pm we are laying in bed watching CSI Miami (In English!!), when we hear music outside. It keeps getting louder and louder until we decide to go check out the commotion (actually it was right after Evan said “Baby, I think the Pride of the Southland Band is outside our house.”). Anyway, a big parade of several hundred people walked right by our house, and we watched it from the roof. It was awesome, and they are only going to get better and better from now until Semana Santa (Holy Week).

Second, we heard this really loud rumble outside the other day. It sounded like thunder/a train, and the ground shook a little. We had no idea what it was, but Evan talked with his teacher the next day, and it turns out that the sounds what a volcano erupting (Our city sits between 3 large ones, one of which is activa). Definitely not something that we have experienced in Tennessee.

Finally, at 5 this morning I woke up to what I thought was Evan moving around or doing somersaults in the bed. I was just about to ask him to stop when I woke up enough to realize that the entire room was shaking. Even the chandelier in the room was swaying back and forth. This little tremor probably only lasted about 15-20 seconds. Later in the morning, when we were in class, we felt another tremor. This one was bigger and lasted a little longer. It’s another one of those things that we don’t experience much in TN. Based on what everyone here says, though, this is a pretty normal occurrence – THAT’s gonna take some getting used to. 🙂


tastes like chicken.

20 02 2010

We are really trying to take advantage of our weekends while we are here in Guatemala, because there are a lot of great things to see and do. We (and by “we” I mean “I”) had the brilliant idea to go to Lake Atitlán by ourselves this weekend. The school has a travel agency that organizes group trips to places such as this, but they tend to use the opportunity to make some extra cash off the gringos, and it’s pretty expensive. Besides that, we bought a book on Guatemala tourism, and we are now, therefore, experts.  So the good news is that I found a bus we could take to Panajachel, which is where the lake is (about 3 hours from Antigua), that would only cost us $4 each.  Awesome.

Friday afternoon after school, we pack our backpacks and head for the bus “station” in Antigua (I use the term loosely). Before I continue, let me just tell you that Guatemala is the place where school buses and 18-wheelers come to die. (We have seen several old “Lowe’s” trucks). Except when they arrive, apparently the vehicles are not allowed to die – they are used as a crude form of transportation called “chicken buses.” As near as I can figure, the reason they call them that is because you have to have eggs for brains to use them. Or because they stuff you in there like chickens in a coop. Either way, you might be starting to get a mental picture. ANYWAY, we show up expecting some sort of organized transportation system, but instead we find mass chaos in the form of row after row of brightly-painted, over-worked school buses. I’m obviously wondering how in the world we are going to figure out which bus to get on. Luckily, there are men whose job is to shout out destinations to possible passengers in a very auctioneer-like style (“Who’sGoingtoChimal? WannaGotoChichi? IKNOWyouareHeadedtoSanMar!” In Spanish, of course, which is difficult on the English-speaker’s ears). By some miracle, we find our bus, grab a seat, and await our departure. We are feeling pretty good at this point because there are only like 10 people on the 40-person bus. As it gets closer to time, people start coming on the bus, trying to sell us gum, juice, granola bars, etc. for the trip (think baseball stadium – “PEANUTS!”). Definitely a cultural experience in and of itself.

We finally pull out of the parking lot, and we start to head out of Antigua. We stop at a corner and pick up some people headed our way. Then we stop at the next one. And so on and so forth until there are 75 people on the bus. At least the fact that we were the only white people on the bus made it so that no one wanted to sit in our laps or anything, which was a plus. I think one of our favorite parts was when the 9-ft-wide bus was driving on a cliff on an 8.5-ft-wide road. While we are sitting in our seats, laughing at how surreal this all is, some chick on the radio starts singing “My Heart Will Go On” in Spanish. At this point we are almost positive that song is some kind of bad omen for the success of our trip.

A confusing change-over in some random city and several Dramamines later, we did in fact make it to the Panajachel in one piece. Overall, it was a quite enjoyable experience because all we could talk about on the way was the great cultural tidbits we were going to have to share with you guys. So there it is.

one “hot” Valentine’s Day.

16 02 2010

It’s time for the grand unveiling of what Evan and I did for Valentine’s Day (We had decided it necessary to postpone the announcement until after the fact, in order to save certain family members for possible anxiety attack). For those of you who are unfamiliar with Guatemala, the country boasts 33 (I think) volcanoes, several of which are active and therefore have continuously-flowing lava. Last week we found a travel agency in town that is run by a guy from Alabama (who’da thunk?); really cool place, guides from the states, Canada, and a receptionist-girl from France (who speaks French, Spanish & English). Sunday, after we loaded our packs with tents, water, sleeping bags, etc., we hopped on a shuttle bus to the bottom of Volcan de Pacaya, which is about an hour and a half from Antigua. When we get there, as soon as we hop off the bus, we are swarmed by 8-year-old boys trying to sell us hiking sticks to use on our way up the volcano (“Wont too buy a steek?”) Anyway, we hiked about an hour or so to the place where we set up our tents. It wasn’t a super hard hike, but we were at 6500 ft., which is a TON in comparision to the, like, 450 ft above sea level Jackson sits at. So basically we were sucking wind. But we made it. Oh, and our campsite is almost completely surrounded by lava rocks. Fantastic!

After we got everything situated, we went on a little excursion to find some lava. We start climbing lava rocks, which reminds a lot of hiking in the Rockies. Anyway, our guide told us that she has seen Guatemalan girls hiking up in heels, because they were on a date. This has to have been a fabrication because I cannot imagine it to be so. They should be in the circus, because it is hard enough to climb these rocks in tennis shoes. Anyway, so as we are hiking, the air slowly starts getting warmer and warmer, and steadily smells more like sulfur. We finally get to where the lava must be, based on the 100+ white people standing around, and we are stripping long-sleeved shirts and long pants because of the heat. Lucky for us, the other tourists are all leaving because it is getting late, but we get to stay later because we are staying on the volcano. We head towards the heat, and we see what is probably one of the more amazing things we will ever witness. We are within 10 ft of a river of flowing lava. Here is a picture, and yes, we were really that close.

Our guide told us that this was only the second time she had ever seen this much lava, so we obviously came at a really great time. After only a couple of minutes of being this close to the lava, the bottom of my tennis shoes are sticking to the rocks because the rubber is melting. I mean, it was HOT. and Amazing. After we had had all the heat and pictures we could handle, we went a little way down the volcano to roast some marshmallows. The marshmallows would almost explode after only a few seconds of being held over one of the hot lava rocks. It was unbelievable. I can’t say enough great things about this awesome experience.

We had lo mein for supper, slept in a tent that was hardly big enough for 2 cats to turn around in, and then we got up to watch the sunrise. It was such a clear morning that we could see 3 other volcanoes very easily, the biggest of which overlooks Antigua (Vocan de Agua). I can’t really say anything other than you have to see it to believe how amazing it was:

The volcano on the far left is Fuego, and you can see the smoke coming out of the top of it. It is another continuously active volcano here. Absolutely wonderful views. By the time we got back to Antigua, we were super tired, but the trip was absolutely worth it. How can you see what we saw and not know that there is a God who created it all? We are in awe of Him and His creation.

the most efficient McDonald’s. Ever.

16 02 2010

We have eaten some really great food since we have been in Guatemala. We are living in a guest house that is kind of like a dorm, and we have a Guatemalan lady who comes to cook for us (3 meals a day) every day except Sunday. I don’t know if it is because Estela is a really great cook or because we are always hungry from walking so much, but we have eaten (and actually enjoyed) some really interesting and different food this week. One day we had something similar to meatloaf, which had half of a boiled egg in the middle of it. We have also had stir fry with rice (of course), some kind of chicken soup with green beans and corn on the cob, grilled chicken & potatoes, and then my personal favorite, what we THINK was zucchini. This last one was so interesting that I took a picture to show you all:

Needless to say, every once in a while we feel the need to get some good, old-fashioned, fattening American food. Luckily for us, there is a fantastic McDonald’s here in Antigua. I mean, I think God seriously fashioned this McDonald’s with His hands and put it here for us (I THINK I can say that; no sacrilege intended). The Antiguan Mickey D’s is – no lie – the most efficient fast food restaurant that I have ever laid my eyes upon. We show up, order our double cheeseburgers and heart-attack fries, and I run to the bathroom to wash my hands. After I wash them, I turn to the dryer to dry my hands off, and (SERIOUSLY) one of the girls who works there runs in the bathroom and starts mopping up the water dripping from my hands. By the time I come out of the bathroom, our food is ready, which is a major feat in and of itself. OK, so we eat the most awesome McDonald’s food either of us has tasted (it was Uh-Mazing). While we are sitting there, the people at the next table get up to leave. One of the workers spots their movement and literally sprints over to the table to clean it. They were maybe gone 30 seconds by the time the table was completely germ free. Unbelievable. Normally in the states we are lucky if our table has been cleaned that day at all. I drop a fry on the floor once and somebody magically appears – immediately – to pick it up. When we are ready to go, we start to stand up, and before I have had time to push in my chair, a chick sprints over to take our trash from us. Fantastic. Seriously, this is the most awesome McDonald’s ever. We will definitely be returning.

In other news, we were without internet for the entire weekend (and actually still are), which is why I am posting 2 things I have been working on today. We went on a short hike on Saturday up a big hill with some awesome views (I hope to have pics of this up soon). Also, Evan was trying to say this to his teacher “You want to tell me…” Instead he says this in Spanish “You want me to poop (only more vulgar) myself.” Wow, I wish I could have been there for that one.

things that go bump in the night.

11 02 2010

Or in our case, things that go bang, beep, boom, bong, cling, clang, & whoosh. (Onomotopoeias translate in any language.) Before I start, just let me say that we really are enjoying Antigua so far – we have learned TONS already, and it is a really fun city to be in. However, there are still a lot of cultural and locational differences that we are adjusting to, and those, frankly, are more fun to write about than the stinkin’ awesome quesadillas we ate last night (unbelievable, by the way). SO, I am dedicating this blog post to the interesting sounds that lull us to sleep at night, along with those that wake us rather abruptly in the morning.

So there is this car that is parked down our street, right? And each time a Guatemalan dude flies by on his motorcycle (wearing his 3-piece business suit, mind you) or a European Spanish student walks by sporting out-of-control hair and hot pants, the car alarm goes off. Both of these things happen often. It would also seem that about 10PM is an awesome time to do a little repair work on your house here in Antigua. Our next door neighbors would give Bob the Builder a run for his money at bed time (or as Evan says, perhaps Handy Manny would be a more appropriate allusion. Ha). Another good one – about 9 last night we are sitting on the roof of our house, watching one of our surrounding volcanoes blow smoke. I guess I should tell you that the guy on the other side of the house from Bob constantly plays really loud Spanish music (As I write this, I kid you not, Selena is playing). Anyway, so last night we are relaxing on the roof when this guy turns his music up super loud and… starts practicing his trumpet? Not a joke. For 30 or 45 minutes this guys, who is not exactly a prodigy, squeaks out noises on his trumpet. All the while dogs are howling in harmony, Bob the Builder’s on percussion, and the car alarm adds the techno beat. Beautiful. Especially when you are trying to go to bed.

So this morning I wake up at about 6-ish to the sound of what I am pretty sure is cats (?) wrestling on the tin roof above us. I hear the seriously-loud birds chirping and I think that maybe the biggest crow to have ever flown the skies has landed on our roof and is doing step aerobics up there. Until one of the other people who lives in our house tells me that he heard two cats fighting a couple of nights ago. This seems to me a more logical explanation than a dinosaur bird. Either way, the animals around here have zero respect for us gringos.

Wow, Guatemala is a colorful and exciting place. The food is wonderful, architecture amazing, Spanish plentiful. Ha. It’s going to be a fun couple of months. I can’t wait to tell you where we are going on Valentine’s Day, it’s gonna be awesome…

we’re carrying the torch.

8 02 2010

Oh, the adventures I have to share with you today. Today we had our first day of Spanish classes, each of us with our very own teacher. My teacher is Rosa, a very nice, very spiritual middle-aged lady who tells me that God heals people through her hands as she lays them on the sick. Evan’s teacher is Ronaldo, a 38-year-old father of 3 who is unhappy with Guatemala’s school system, can give you a detailed history of the 36-year-long civil war in this country, and who thinks people in rural areas have more babies because they don’t have TV’s. So, about an hour into our lessons, one of the school directors comes to tell me about a special program they are having this afternoon to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the school. He tells me they are going to light a torch and run with it. As I am getting ready to tell him that no, we don’t have a lot of experience running with torches and that someone else would likely be more effective, Evan comes to my desk and says “I already told them we were coming.” (I find out later that the reason for this is that the man explained the process to Evan in Spanish, and E wasn’t exactly sure what he was saying yes to, but he didn’t really know how to say no on our first day of class.) We finish the rest of our lessons and go home to eat lunch.

After a lunch of rice, tortillas, broccoli & some kind of meat, we head back up to the school for the anniversary celebration with our new Canadian friends (who live in the guest house with us right now). Thinking this is going to be a short ceremony, we show up to the school wearing jeans, tennis shoes, T-shirts & jackets. Immediately upon arrival we are given matching La Union t-shirts, as were all of the other students who were too nice to say “no thank you.” Let me just tell you in case you have never been to Guatemala or a similar place: the white people stand out enough without wearing matching clothes, to boot (mind you, I am also still extremely sunburned, which also throws up another preverbial “red flag.” Pun intended.) We are still thinking this is going to be a short process, until we realize that everyone is getting into vans. At this point, one of the guides says to us that we are going to take a 20-minute ride, do a tour of the neighborhood,  run with a torch (We can run a long way or a little way, he tells us), and come home. Much to my dismay, it is at this point I realize that he is literally talking about running with a torch. As we begin our bus ride, it starts to rain, and my hopes are lifted by my (false) thoughts that since it is raining, we will not be running with a torch today. Wrong. We show up to some little town, the mayor lights our torch, and we (all 30 people) start running. As we are running off into the distance, one of the teachers is kind enough to inform us that we are only running 9 km. Ok, so I’m not very good with the metric system, but I see Evan mentally calculating our distance. Turns out this little rain-jog is going to persist for approximately 5 1/2 miles. Luckily, the vans are following us. So I’ll be honest, MAYBE a mile into the torch-run I am finished. We squish back in the van for a little rest. I kid you not, we follow the 5 Guatemalan guys who were in shape enough to actually carry this torch for the next 2 hours. The radio is blasting Spanish music, our driver is continuously (literally) honking his horn to encourage the runners, people are coming out of buildings to laugh at us, and I am in the back of the van trying not to blow chunks. Needless to say, we were happy to return home.

A couple of language mishaps: Evan tells his teacher that I am 46 years old. I tell mine that Leo has 4 pounds of fat, instead of that he weighs 4 pounds. Whoops.

I also added pics of our new city for Joan. More adventures to come.


7 02 2010
Whelp, we have arrived. In Antigua (old) Guatemala that is. Yesterday (Saturday) morning we left the Atlanta airport at 9AM, flew to Miami, flew to Guatemala City, and rode 45 minutes in a van to Antigua. We are staying in our school’s “Guest House,” which is like a really small dorm. We were able to use Skype to video chat with our families. We can also call unlimited US cell phones and landlines from our Skype for only $3 a month, which has already been an awesome blessing.

Today we have had a lot of time to explore the city. One of the teachers from the school met us this morning and gave us a little tour for about an hour. Antigua is a really old, really beautiful city with lots of ruins and churches. These buildings all have beautiful architecture (pictures to come). The (really tall) outer walls of all the houses and businesses are connected to one another, so most of the city doesn’t really look like much. Behind the walls, though, everything is gorgeous. Most of the houses are deceptively large and ornate, but they all look pretty much the same from the outside because building codes prohibit the owners from altering the appearance of the antique buildings. There is a really nice “central park”, which is surrounded by cafes, banks, restaurants and little shops. Down the street there is also a super market and a local market with fresh fruits & veggies & souvenirs.

So far, we have really enjoyed the city. It seems to be a very friendly and family-oriented place. The climate is also awesome (60-80 degrees), especially compared to the freezing cold and snow we left in Jackson. Oh yeah, and Rachel (stupid gringa) is already sunburned, which I think means that we will be able to get a nice tan while we are here. I think for both of us though, the highlight of the day was ordering Domino’s pizza and watching the Superbowl (hey, we’re still American).

Tomorrow morning we will start classes and hopefully start getting into a routine. We are both looking forward to bettering our Spanish and getting to know the people of Antigua. More to come….