Antigua- Week 2
Jan 12, 2009
|This week has been everything we had hoped for. Our host family invited us out to help celebrate the birthday of a sister. It was a surprise party, and I still think we were the surprise (“Surprise! Unknown Gringos for your birthday!”), but she was very gracious nonetheless. Her husband is Rigoberto, who is the director and founder of Probigua, which is our Spanish school. The Spanish school part is really just the money maker, the group does so much more. Probigua stands for Proyecto Biblioteca de Guatemala. He has spent the past 19 years developing this foundation whose whole purpose is to enhance the education of the Guatemalan youths by getting more books and furthering their reading. This week alone, he picked up 50,000 books through a sister organization in the US- ChildAid. Quite a remarkable man.
Thursday afternoon we went to a tour in a Macadamian nut plantation called Valhalla. With a name like that, you’d think they’d give out more samples of their chocolate covered nuts. Small, quaint little place. Long story short, the nut grows on trees, and falls to the ground when ready. The exterior skin is removed to reveal a very hard shell inside of which is, of all things, the nut. Very good for you, lots of Omega-3s. Please buy some. Preferably Valhalla brand.
Friday after school we headed off for our weekend adventure. We had hired a driver named Minor (yes, he was the youngest in his family) and a minivan for a long driving adventure. First we weaved our way through the molasses of Guatemala City rush hour. The cars on the roads in Guatemala seem to have their own language- a forma of “honish” morse code far friendlier in the states. Quick toots for “Gracias”, “Con gusto”, and the occasional longer) “chupame”.
After passing through the main city, we were off for a 4 hour ride to the northeast mountain area, towards a city called Coban. We stayed in an incredible little hotel where each room had it’s own separate reading room with its own fireplace. Que romantico! Loved sitting there by the cozy fire reading our books and reflecting on the vistas along the way. The dining room had not yet figured out the finer points of interior design, such as candlelight instead of flourescent bulbs. However, they served a mayan soup known as Kak-Ik, which has to be one of the most wondrous soups I have ever tasted. Served with rice, and a huge Fred Flinstone-like Turkey drumstick, this soup is made from an amalgam of various chilies and vegetables, and has an amazingly rich, deep and complex flavor. I asked for the recipe, and got it- though only the names of the ingredients (few of which I had ever heard of), but no quantities or directions. Good luck with that, Senor!
The following morning, we visited the Biotopo Ecologico de Quatzales. This was a protected cloudforest, home to the national bird- The Quetzal. This is a beautiful, multicolored creature, often with two very long hind feathers dangling down. We were fortunate enough to actually spot two of these timid and rare creatures. After this, we drove for several hours more, across roads that were about as rough as I have ever encountered (those of you who have ventured to the Eel river campground----kind of like that!). Our driver actually stopped by a touristy hotel and told us we would have to pay another driver in a 4x4 $50 to go all the way to our final destination. Some “discussion” ensued, and we all continued forth in the minivan to Semuc Champay. This has to be one of the most wondrous places in the world. Multiple levels of crystal clear, tourquoise water, separated by small waterfalls. We dove right in and swam around for a couple of hours in this pristine oasis that must surely be used at some point by travel agencies as pictures of what is in Guatemala, and by ad agencies as their image of cleanliness and purity. This was followed by happy hour and dinner at the most charming hostel in the world. A small series of bungalows designed for backpackers, with hammocks in front, lighted candles throughout, and right next to a slow, flowing river. If any of you ever gets the travel itch (con backpack), we highly recommend this trek.
We, however, stayed in the blandfood, loudnoise, charmless tourist hotel- mostly because it had warm water, electricity, and (most importantly) available rooms.
The following morning we headed off to the caves of Languin. These are incredibly deep and vast caves with stalactites measuring up to 30m, with equally large stalagmites and (apparently) millions of bats. We saw some, but glad to report not millions, and none too close (rabies!).
A long 8 hour car ride later and we came back to our lovely Antigua, ready to resume our Spanish classes.
Hope you’re all well.
Random additions by Jill
A venti skim latte at Starbucks costs about $3.40
It takes a family of 4 Guatemalans one day to pick 100 lbs and for this they earn 20 - 30 Quetzales ( about $3)
The school year runs from February through until November. Kids are off November until February because it is coffee harvest time.
Guatemala suffered through 36 years of civil war. The war was started by the guerrilas who felt the indigenous people deserved more rights. The Ejercito (army) countered and in doing so massacred thousands of indigenous. The war ended in 1996 when both sides signed a treaty that basically decided they had done enough killing.
Wealth is relative. We are living in a cement house with the all too fashionable rebar roof decorations. Laundry and dishes are done by hand in the back yard. Cooking is done on a stove in the kitchen and on an open fire in a corner in the yard where the chicken runs around. Frills are few though they do have a TV and occasionally warm water. Turns out our family is one of the richest. Their kids go to private Catholic school and the family takes occasional trips around Guatemala and Central America. I was practicing my Spanish with my Spanish teacher by explaining about the cold showers. She said she and most Guatemalans don’t have hot water. She has also never been out of Guatemala. ( Honduras and El Salvador are 2 hours away. )
A personal note...
The kids are doing great. No tears. Lots of fun. It sure helps to have other kids to play with and a loving 18 year old Rosie here. Peter and I are in full absorption mode. Soaking it all in though it still feels like a vacation. ( We don’t start at the hospital until February). We have loved our first week but I still can’t remember why we signed up for 7 months!! Please keep us updated on your lives. .
Much love to you all.