Guatemala final update. Top left photo is from when we volunteered to work at a coffee farm, which happens to be in the mountains. Next to it is a photo from a Black Nazarene parade. Women carried the statue. Next is a photo of a church ruin, with the heads of statues stolen. It’s apparently a lucrative thing. Then there’s a photo from a children’s benefit that we went to. The next two are from a demonstration for women’s rights, and against abuse and violence. Next is the Guatemala city dump, where thousands of people work as scavengers. Next is from a forensic lab. You can read more about our forensic lab trip on our Political Science professor’s blog right here, where you can also read a lot about our other class activities. (While I’m at it, check out this website for our Sociology class. It has some interesting modules.) The last two photos are of painters at Plaza Mayor and of Volcan de Agua in Antigua.
1. There are two currencies — one for locals (CUP) and one for tourists (CUC). This is a fact that makes me feel like there’s a whole layer to the country’s (economic) story that I can’t access. My favorite bill is the 5 CUC one. It has a picture of soldiers having some sort of meeting. Amidst the seriousness, a couple of the soldiers are in hammocks.
2. People would randomly walk up to you and ask for soap (or your shirt, your towel, gum, or straight-up money). Sometimes they say it’s for their kids, sometimes the kids themselves ask. When I asked someone about it, he said that rations are not always enough, particularly for soap.
3. We stood in line at a famous ice cream store for an hour (and didn’t get any ice cream because they ran out). In front of us was a group of 15-20 kids singing and dancing to religious songs.
4. We took a cocotaxi (which is like a Guatemalan/Thai tuktuk or a Filipino tricycle) to the beach. A few hours later, when we were heading back to the city, we saw our cocotaxi driver chilling at the beach; we took his same taxi back. I wonder if this is a manifestation of the theory that communism removes incentives for productivity. This is plausible if the driver gets paid by the hour, and if there are no performance measurements of any kind.
5. Apart from the ration booklets, people do get cash salaries (and not in equal amounts). Somebody said that Cubans can and do get rich, but economic position is not used to gain political power, and rich people often still live simply so you barely notice them.
6. We saw a group of people at the parque central in Havana, holding sheets of paper. They were swapping houses. This is how you move to a new place in Cuba. Mortgages and that kind of stuff are uncommon.
7. I withdrew Cuban cash from my Canadian visa. My visa was charged in USD, which is worth more than the CAD in Canada, but less than it in Cuba. So I lost some amount in the USD-CAD exchange. Plus, there is a 10% surcharge for USD-CUC exchanges, so I lost some more. The clincher is that they refused to charge my visa in either CAD or CUC.
Batch three! What new adventures have we gotten ourselves into now? Well, we went to the beach in a city called Churirin. It was a nice place with a swimming pool and a tiki hut. We did the beach bonfire thing, as you can see in the second picture. We also went up the highest peak in Central America. It was so beautiful up there! After about an hour of hiking, you could see where the fog ends. Near the peak, you could see where the low clouds end. Check out the photo of the sunrise. Whut. Thirdly, we went to see the Mayan ruins in Zaculeu. See those shapes in the corner? Those are people. After visiting the ruins, we had dinner in a restaurant with a marimba band. And guess what… I walked up the stage (with some prodding from our professor) and asked them to teach me to play. And they did! It was fun. The next two photos are of churches. The one at night is of the church in Huehuetenango; the other one is of the church in Todos Santos, where we went to for their November first celebrations, which included a horse race, a football game, a small fair with ferris wheels and various stalls, and a little performance by people in costumes. We’ve also been busy with schoolwork; we have an essay due every week, tons of reading, etc. But these are very fun times.
Here’s batch two of the Guatemala photos. The first photo is of a free concert by a band using traditional instruments. The next one is ziplining. Then there’s Lago (Lake) Atitlan. Then there’s the market. Then there’s a parade/campaign for better financing of mental health care and mental health education. Then there’s the inside of the church at Santiago. Then there’s this fountain with the statues of two women wearing traditional clothing and carrying clay jars for water. And finally, there’s the circle at Parque Central in Xela, our home for two months.
Things have been wonderful, yeah. I got a bit sick for a couple of days, but it’s nothing serious. Just a really bad, prolonged headache. It’s all good now. Aside from that, there’s schoolwork, and I’m moving into homestay on Sunday. I hope that works out well. I would like to do homestay for my entire second month here in Xela. I’m still not sure about what to do for the 10-day break before we move from Xela to Antigua, though. Hmm.
I’m at day 20 out of 87 in Guatemala, currently staying at a hostel in Xela. I played football (for the first time) with my Habitat for Humanity teammates, our masons, and the beneficiary family. I kept reaching instinctively with my arms, volleyball-style, so I switched from defense to goalie for the second period. I blocked four shots and let four others through. Hahaha. On another day, we watched football live, most of us sporting Xelaju jerseys; it was Xelaju MC vs Municipal and our team won! We also visited a Mayan archeological site (Iximche), hiked up a volcano (Chikabal) that had a lake in its crater, took some free salsa lessons (at La Parranda), and basked in hot springs (at Fuentes Georginas). I also visited a Catholic church (Catedral del Espiritu Santo) and observed a town festival. It’s a lot of fun.
We’re having Spanish and Philosophy classes right now. Spanish is cool; Philosophy is making me pensive. Sociology and Political Science classes will come later. Housing arrangements are going to change; I’ll start on homestay in a couple of weeks. And then later in the program, we’re all moving to a different city, Antigua. I think a few of us are going to stay at an apartment there.
I should blog more often, eh? In the meantime, here’s what other students in the group are saying:
Thu Sept 17 5:00
I may have dreamed about a bus ride from Vancouver to Seattle. I dunno, I was asleep the whole time.
Thu Sept 17 11:50
Flight from Seattle to Houston. Continental Airlines is not for the are-we-there-yet traveler. No on-screen flight maps.
Thu Sept 17 19:24
Flight from Houston to Guatemala City. My textbook-filled, 20-pound backpack is breaking my shoulder bones.
Thu Sept 17 22:45
Why do I keep calling this apple-vodka-with-vitamin-water concoction a rum coke?
Fri Sept 18 11:30
I’m in Iximche, an archeological site. Google it, go.
Fri Sept 18 13:00
Having delicious hilachas and much-missed papaya (juice) at a truck stop en route to Quetzaltenango, aka Xela.
Fri Sept 18 15:30
Now in Xela. Will be here 8 weeks. My room rocks. Bricks, colorful wood. If only for the windows, it’s the best room in the hostel.
Fri Sept 18 18:30
Went to the bank, got a local cellphone number, bought groceries and food. All transactions done in Spanish. Win.
Sat Sept 19 08:53
Just woke up. Alarm was set for 7:45. Call time is 9:00. Phone says it’s 20:53. Duh.
Sat Sept 19 13:30
To market, to market, to buy pineapple marmalade and bread. Yeah, I’ll do real cooking, but not now.
Sat Sept 19 22:00
People, activities, life. Is this happiness I’m feeling?
Transcript / May 19, 2009 / 2:00 pm / Seattle Tacoma International Airport
I eat my honey-garlic chicken alone, and I wonder if I’ll see him again. I met him about five hours ago on the bus I took to cross the border (Vancouver to Seattle). When the driver hit the brakes, Trevor’s water bottle jerked forward, under my seat and to my feet, from two rows back. Later, at the bus terminal in Seattle, we both stood around a while, poking at the public transit maps. A couple of nice gentlemen directed us to the bus stop where we could catch the 194 or 174 to SeaTac airport. We walked around and got a little lost even if the stop was just two blocks away. We also had to go into a bank and a coffee shop to get US$ change for bus fare.
We parted ways on check-in. He has a United Airlines flight to Denver; I have a Virgin America flight to LA. He gets back to Vancouver from his hometown Denver in August (three months from now), before school starts. He goes to the same school as my brother. By the time he’s back in Vancouver, I’ll be getting ready to leave for Guatemala for a three-month term. In the meantime, I shall proceed with my lunch. My flight to LA leaves in an hour and a half.
Downtown Victoria is a pretty small area. We ran into this guy 4 or 5 times in one day. He’s from South Africa, moved to Canada 5 or 6 years ago. Speaks English and Afrikaans. Gave us a sample of his native tongue, told us about his day. Said (in English) that it was his first day as a Kabuki Kabs driver. There are a lot of them in Victoria. Pedicabs, I mean.
He’s cute, right? :D I think he’s the first South African I’ve met. I wanted to talk to him about growing up there and moving here and stuff. International cultures interest me, especially those I’m not too acquainted with. And cute guys interest me too, hehe. But we had museums to go to, and only two days to spend in the city. I don’t remember what his name is.
The bus trip took around twelve hours. We didn’t see Mt. Mayon when we were in Albay because it was so cloudy, but the trip had its own highlight. Something climbed onto one of my friends’ feet and into her pants. She stopped it with her hands mid-thigh. Between laughs, we suggested that she crush it, or have someone reach in and fetch it from her waist. In the end, three friends helped her take her pants off together with the creepy crawler. It was a little rat.
It was raining when we got to Sorsogon. We went for the hot springs, praying the whole time that Dante’s Peak’s boiling hot springs scene wouldn’t play out. The town was at a low alert level because Mt. Bulusan registered some volcanic activity. Thankfully, we weren’t boiled.
That night the entire region lost its electrical power, and water supply was gone the next day. Both were caused by a heavy storm. We had a lot of food, but we had to control water usage by rationing. We satisfied ourselves with card games, board games, and all other sorts of games all day, until the gods spoke to us. They wanted us to know that the Olympians’ unanimous choice of where the storm would be unleashed was Austria, but Gaia noted that Kofi Annan was delivering the keynote address at the 4th European Union – Latin America Summit in Vienna that day. Gaia isn’t an Olympian, but she’s the goddess of the Earth. The Olympians could only shrug, and the storm hit Bicol.
On the third day, the storm moved northwest and our party was able to enjoy the beach. We braved the waves that threw our helpless limbs against the sharp but pretty corals. When it’s worth it for you, go every time. Poseidon snatched my left slipper, and I threw him my right. What was the point of holding on? We also danced to a novelty song with a catchy melody (Huh! Huh! Yay, yay, yaaay…) on that semi-private beach. We all sang: “Pag ang puso ko ay nagmahal, garantisado na magtatagal. Pero kung ito’y masasakal, hindi mo ‘to matitikman.”
On the fourth day, after hearing mass in Bicolano, it was finally safe for us to traverse the Pacific Ocean and swim with butanding (the biggest fish in the world). Then we had both lunch and dinner at once at 4 pm, and then we drove back to Manila with 15 kilos of crabs to take home to our mothers as a belated Mother’s Day gift.