Adaptamos a pura vida.

After a full month and 1/2 out of the country, I have learned many lessons, but there are some that stand out more than others:

1. I am not as tough as I thought, but I am braver and more open than I could have imagined.  People, myself included, are able to adapt to anything.

2. It is best to accept a difficult situation in a Zen manner, step by step, and realize that there is much good to be found in moments where you are unable to control your surroundings.

3. People are all pretty similar, good, and kind.  Cultural difference is a state of mind that can easily be bridged through Humanizing. However, the language barrier is so thick that is might as well be physical.  Learning foreign languages will get you far.

4. The American lifestyle is disgustingly excessive.

5. Hot water, fresh food, and education are things that should never be taken for granted.

I am currently writing from Playa Potrero, Costa Rica.  A tiny beach village set amongst dirt roads and scattered tiendas that all carry the same dirty plastic dishware and even dirtier vegetables. It is about 25 miles to the closest gas station, and only 2 or 3 buses a day come all the way into town.  There is one school that serves 120 students in 3 small rooms for 3 hours a day, but only until 6th grade.  The closest High School is over an hour bus ride, each way.  Today, I met a 13 year old whose education ended about 3 years ago. It’s no wonder the area has a 40% unemployment rate. Sadly, behind the beautiful beaches and quaint casitas, Playa Potrero is quite the dismal situation in many ways. But, the nonprofit we are working for here, Abriendo Mentes, is doing everything they can to offer educational services to village children and adults alike in an attempt to pull the area out of its impoverished past and create the possibility of a brighter, more educated, future. But, before I get to the deep, learning experience crap, let me tell you about all the good stuff.

We spent our first week in Costa Rica living with a family, in a large house atop a hill overlooking a breathtaking view of the pacific ocean.  What seemed too good to be true at first, turned out to be, well, too good to be true within in about 5 or 6 hours of arriving. 

We first noticed there was a problem with the house when we went to turn on the AC unit in the bedroom the first night, and of course, it wouldn’t turn on.  That alone wouldn’t have been much of a problem at all, in a month of travel it was the first AC unit we have encountered, and while it would have been a welcome luxury, it is still just that, a luxury.  And luxury is something I am certainly learning to do without.  The problem came when after inspecting the unit for about, hmm 2 seconds, we discovered a hoard of termites leaking out the bottom and making their way all over the room.  To our further delight, the AC unit was conveniently embedded into the wall directly next to our bed.  Thus, we found a pile of termites on the ground about a half foot away from where we were supposedly going to be resting our heads the next 5 nights. Disgusting. 

We immediately attacked the floor, walls, and AC with bug spray and tape until we were satisfied with our level of extermination.  There were definitely still a few stragglers, but we seemed to have eliminated the bulk of the problem for the time being, so we thought.  We settled down in bed to try and watch a movie, but we quickly found ourselves swatting termites off our legs and grabbing them off our faces every 30 seconds or so.  When I turned around and saw a line of them marching down the headboard, I determined that enough was enough.  I have slept in some questionable places the past month, but at that point I was officially grossed out. 

Luckily, the downstairs apartment we were staying in had a second bedroom, so we decided to give the other one a shot.  Again, we settled down, turned on the movie, and immediately were swatting termites. Ugh, a mere few hours swatting flying ants off your body in bed like that will give you a serious complex, never mind 5 nights!  At this point it was late, and we didn’t have a lot of options, so Jonathan got out the bug spray and we pretty much covered ourselves and the walls in it and then proceeded to huddle into our sleeping bag bunkers to avoid the bug bombardment. 

At some point in the midst of this we saw something rather large crawling out from underneath the closet.  At first I thought it may be a giant cockroach, which I am pretty used to after dealing with the South Carolina “palmetto bugs”, but upon closer inspection I realized that we were not alone with the termites.  Joining the party that evening was a huge, scaly, sharp-clawed, scorpion. 

Anyway, the first night was a little rough, but truthfully it was nothing a large can of raid and a shoe couldn’t fix.  And we were able to skate through the rest of the week with little more than the occasional bug sighting.

Since, I was pretty much out of commission for the first 4-5 days we were here (i.e. I was covered literally from forehead to toes and everywhere in between in a red, blistery, itchy concoction from hell PLUS I picked up a cold with a nasty cough), we spent the majority of our time resting, taking large doses of absurdly strong steroids and anti-histamines, and playing with our adopted street puppy, “Rio”, and homestay sister “Fio”.  And as the rash cleared, we began exploring the local beaches, trying our hands – or feet – at surfing, exploring nearby cities, and enjoying the Costa Rican “Pura Vida”. 

After a week of being laid out with my horrific rash experience, and then another few days of being zonked out on strong steroids and anti-histamines, I am back to my old self and able to jump into the role I intended for myself in this little village. 

Today was the first day I attended the English classes at Abriendo Mentes (AM), and I was greeted by 15 or so eager, smiling faces, each with their own heartbreaking story.  I spent a couple hours teaching 10-year-olds the parts of the body and working on math problems, while simultaneously learning from Meradith and Drew (the directors of the program) the back stories on many of the students and the current issues facing the community.

Most of the kids that attend classes at AM are just about as poor as you can imagine.  The parents either don’t work, or work very low paying jobs, and most families have about 6-10 children plus extended family members all living under one very small roof. The majority of adults in the village are completely illiterate and don’t have more than a 2nd or 3rd grade education, and according to them, they “are doing just fine”.  As a result, there is a lot of apathy in the community surrounding education, and kids rarely get to continue their school past the 6th grade, if they even make it that far. 

Because the public school in town is underfunded, understaffed, and generally under-appreciated, the teachers have become incredibly apathetic, and the education the kids receieve there is lackluster at best.  Drew told me that he and Meradith have tried time and time again to form a relationship with the school Principal so that they can teach English, art, and computer classes, but thus far the administration has been completely resistant to working with them. It is so bad, that the public school was gifted a set of computers a few years back, and because they refused to find someone to teach a computer class the useless boxes are now sitting dormant in a closet.  This is happening mostly because the administrative staff are old, tired, government workers that are fed up with the system themselves and unable to see the merits of incorporating new methods into their current, failing institutional structure. But problems like this are why villages like Potrero are so hopelessly stuck in poverty.

There was one kid in particular that I was teaching one-on-one for a while this afternoon, and later Drew told me that his family recently moved to Potrero from Nicaragua for a construction job.  Apparently, the administration at the public school won’t even let him and his sister attend classes, even though Costa Rican law says that all children under 13 must legally attend school whether they are citizens or not.  To my understanding, this is a recurring problem. So these two kids just hang out in Potrero all day, with no supervision because their parents are at work, and make due with the hour or so of schooling they can muster at AM. 

It was all pretty tough to stomach, but today, I remembered why I came here.

While the majority of my time working with the organization will be spent doing “back-end work”, i.e. writing grant proposals, formulating a development plan, researching the community, and doing all their blogging and newsletter writing, I will be able to spend a good amount of time teaching the kids and integrating myself into the community consciousness.  I have also started a conversation with the President of the Potrero Association, and I am hoping to kick off an organic community garden project, so I will keep you posted as things develop with that.

Alas, amidst the overwhelming problems I have a strong feeling that we are in for a beautiful 3 months here in Playa Potrero.  We have puppies, sunshine, beaches, and loads of international community development work to do; what more can an idealistic wanderlustful passion driven twenty-something woman ask for?

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Vida en la Finca

I am currently writing from an open air kitchen, watching my farm-mates cook a vegan dinner over an open fire, on the side of a volcano in the middle of a giant lake in Nicaragua.  The past few days I have been living in an open structure under a mosquito net and spending my mornings learning how to: feed pigs; harvest cashews; build flower beds; clean Peligway pens; and the science behind composting, solar energy, and permaculture agriculture. 

How did I get here?  My old friend from New Hampshire, Katie, has been working on the farm for over two months, so on her suggestion I made the trek out to the island.  After thirty hours of buses, one night in the most dangerous city in Central America, two boats, hours of travel over dirt roads, and a final thirty minute uphill climb in the dark carrying our packs, we arrived at Finca Bona Fide (an organic permaculture farm project) in Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua. 

So far, the experience has been amazing. The work is – at times – hot and hard, but it’s only 4 hours a day and the benefits of living completely off the grid and learning about how to provide for yourself using only what nature gives you is overwhelmingly worth it. 

The farm is set on slope on the side of a volcano overlooking Lago de Nicaragua.  There is a tree house near the kitchen that offers a view of the most satisfying sunset behind volcano Conception, that I have ever seen.  There are 43 acres of banana and mango trees, a medicinal garden, vegetable terraces, pigs, peligways, dogs, and various other exotic specimens. There are only dirt roads and paths leading to “town”, which is a made up of a handful of casas and tiendas selling onions, garlic, mangoes, and a few packaged foods.  Almost everything eaten on the island is from it.

My hands and feet are dirty, the only toilet is a composting hole in a cob shack, and the facilities are almostly absurdly rustic.  But it is everything and more than I could have ever expected, and I cannot wait to see what else the next week brings. 

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I am perpetually amazed by the breadth of things that can happen over the course of a single week while traveling.  It feels like my entire world is different since my last post in San Pedro Laguna, but alas, I suppose that is the point.  Since the moment we left Quetzaltenango, our entire trip has shifted from a cultural immersion to a backpacking/touristy whirlwind, and at the end of the third week I can see very clearly the merits of both experiences. Let me attempt to get you up to speed…

I am writing from a Pullman bus (a really old, run down coach bus) driving through the Jungle countryside of the Northeastern El Peten region of Guatemala en route to Rio Dulce, a small riverside town on the Carribbean coast.  Rio Dulce is our last stop in Guatemala before we make our way across Honduras and into Nicaragua for the next 10 days. 

About 40 or so minutes ago, I woke up from a surprising deep sleep to a man asking me for my ticket.  I explained in my broken Spanish that “El hombre a la estacion toma”, hoping that he would get the point, which he did. (A few words of wisdom, ALWAYS remember to get your ticket back from someone who tries to take it, they seem to rarely be the correct person).  Anyway, I realized that I had to use the bathroom, so I made my way to the back of the bus only to discover the bathroom was closed tight with a padlock; no deals, and 5 hours to go.  

I made my way back to my seat to contemplate when would be an appropriate time to ask the driver to stop.  As I rehearsed my sentence in my head, I suddenly heard the loud screeching of breaks, crackling of breaking metal, and something that sounded much like the engine had fallen out of the bus followed by a pungent billow of smoke.  I gripped my seat in horror and leered out the window trying to figure out what had just happened.  The driver pulled over amidst the rubber and metal debris falling from the underbelly of the old bus.  Once the smoke cleared and we were safely on the side of the road, I was secretly stoked that my bathroom break prayers had just been answered.

I have heard a few stories about these buses breaking down, so I knew instinctually that we were going to be sitting on the side of this jungle road for a while, waiting for another bus to come pick us up.  So, I grabbed Jonathan and my bag and headed out to find a good spot to pee.  

I made my way into some brush on the other side of the road, pulled down my pants and let loose.  After about 3 seconds of bliss, I looked down and saw my sandaled feet completely covered with tiny black ants that had decided my toes and ankles looked like an excellent almuerzo. As the burning and stinging set in, I started yelling and dashed out of the brush pulling up my pants and trying to wipe the suckers off my feet simultaneously.  Not an easy task.

Anyway, I crossed the street not knowing whether I should laugh or cry (I decided on laughter), and took a seat next to the broken down bus to watch the welts begin to form across the tops of my feet. Lovely.

So that was the last 45 minutes or so of my life, but let’s go back a little further to Monday, when we hopped in a shuttle out of San Pedro Laguna bound for Semuc Champey National Park.

Our trip from Lago de Atitlan to Semuc Champey cost about $20 each and took about 14 hours of being crammed into a tiny shuttle van with 8 other people.  By the time we arrived, we had made friends with an amazing English girl, Bean, with whom we have spent a large chunk of the past week. When we arrived in the closest large city to our final destination, we were able to stop at a hostel and call our respective hostel destinations.  We were heading to a year-old highly recommended backpackers dreamland, Zephyr Lodge, but we had been told it can be difficult to get to because there is some animosity in the community surrounding it’s status.  We found that out real quick when the receptionist “called” the hostel and said it was full, only to find out later when we checked our email that Zephyr had written us back that day and told us they had space.  Sketch.  So, we got back in the van and upon arrival in Semuc at 11pm, most of us were shuffled into the Guatemalan equivalent of an all-inclusive resort complete with cockroaches, over-priced tours, an atrocious techno dance party, and the smell of cow manure.  So, the hostel part of the Semuc trip left something to be desired, BUT, the park itself was absolutely beautiful.

We signed up for a cave tour, with pretty much no idea what was in store, and spent two hours of the following day being led through a limestone cave with nothing more than candles for light.  We swam through cave pools, climbed up waterfalls, and even jumped from the cave walls into a deep pool surrounded by the candle-light of our tour-mates.  Needless to say, it was pretty epic.  After the tour we hiked up a steep mountain to see the view of the Semuc Champey pools, which are the most awe-inspiring shade of blue you can imagine, and then spent the afternoon swimming in them. 

Throughout the passing days we began to meet people from all of the world; there was Bean from England, two girls from Germany, Chen and his dad from Israel, a couple from Key West, Emya from Tunisia, the group of Israeli boys, Caitlin and Charlie from Alaska, and the list goes on.  After a couple weeks of mostly hanging out with ourselves, we had finally started to meet the current Central America backpacking community.  And there is something very special about a 24 year-old American girl chatting with an old Israeli man about the depressing poverty in Central America and the benefits of living a minimalist life while traveling in a van through the Guatemalan jungle. 

After only two nights in Semuc, we said goodbye to our new friends and crammed into another van, where we met even more people, and began to make our way to Flores, the town right outside the Tikal Mayan Ruins.  This time, we made it to the “right” hostel, Los Amigos, which gave us a couple truly incredible days. 

We woke up at 4am yesterday to head into Tikal, which was definitely worth it because we barely saw any one in the park besides our tour group, and arrived in the park at 6am.  We spent the morning climbing ruins, learning about the fallen city, poking at the Mayan calendar (our tour guide was FROM Tikal), and basically acting like kids in a candy store.  One of the best parts was climbing to the top of Temple IV, the highest ruin, and looking out over the expansive rainforest.  While we were up there, it started pouring rain, and I must say that being pelted by rain on the top of a Mayan ruin was, in short, insane.  It simply looked so beautiful there aren’t even words to describe it.

Luckily, Jonathan and I saved enough energy to walk back through the park ourselves without the tour, which was one of the most relaxing and beautiful experiences thus far.  The park is set in the jungle with tons of monkeys, giant spiders, and interesting flowers, and we had fun doing a little exploring on our way back to the entrance. 

Last night, all sides of the world collided again in the Los Amigos bar for drinks and tons of interesting conversation.  Some of the people from the hostel in Semuc had reunited in Flores, and many of us were getting to know each other quite well at this point.  The past couple days we got the inside perspective on the youth revolution in Tunisia, contemplated the anti-Islam streak in Dutch politics, met the guy that created Movember, and discussed the pros and cons of tourism in Guatemala.  At this point, I am not sure whether the country itself or the tourists in it have been the most eye-opening part of the trip. 

This morning, we ate breakfast with everyone and then boarded the bus for Rio Dulce, and you already know what happened from there on. 

I am incredibly sad to only have a couple days left in Guatemala, crossing the border into Honduras will not be one of my favorite moments thus far.  But, I know that this country has given and taught me so much in such a short time, and other places ahead will do the same. 

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Yo amo San Pedro Laguna.

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Lago de Atitlan

After two weeks of intense emotional, spiritual, and mental transformation, I am finally able to enjoy some of the more physically beautiful aspects of this country.

Yesterday, after the chicken bus ride from hell (and by hell I mean being packed into a school bus with three or four people to a bench for 3 hours going 70 mph through mountain passes, scary) we finally arrived in Lago de Atitlan, one of Guatemala’s most spectacular sites.

The Lake is in the middle of a circle of volcanoes, with a plethora of authentic and tourist ridden pueblos nestled amongst the valleys.  It is truly breathtaking.  When Jonathan and and I arrived in Panajachel, we literally skipped down to the shore gulping as much fresh air as we could.  I can’t help but think my lungs are 3 shades blacker after two weeks in dusty, polluted Xela. 

The past 24 hours have been filled with insanely cheap vegetarian food (i.e. $3 meals that you can barely finish), funky hotels that average $10 a night, somewhat sketchy speedboat rides across the lake, an amazing kayaking experience at 10:00 this morning, and plenty of R&R.

After 1 night in Panajachel, we packed our things and took a boat across the lake to the Hippie/Burner dreamland of San Pedro Laguna, where I now sit in our crazy hotel room filling you all in.

Lago de Atitlan is easily the most tranquil, beautiful, and refreshing place I have ever visited. I truly hope you have the chance to visit someday. 

Oh, I should probably tell you, I contracted some sort of disgusting skin disease and it looks like a small patch of flesh is being eaten off the back of my left knee.  I showed my teacher at the school, and she seemed to think it was flea bites, so she took me to the pharmacy to buy an antibiotic cream that I have now been applying obsessively.  However, I’m not convinced it’s working. Pleasant.

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Adios, Xela.

Hoy es una dia muy dificil porque despues de dos semanas, somos saliendo Quetzaltenango.  Yo estoy feliz que nosotros decidimos quedarse in Quetzaltenango porque la ciudad ensena mucho acercade vida simple.  La ciudad es muy occupada, sucia, y rustica pero hay son muchas personas intelligente que son interesado en cambia. 

Yo voy a extranar las personas en la ciudad mucho, porque las personas son muy diferente de personas en los Estados Unidos y muchas personas son muy activa en la comunitaria.  Yo apprendo mucho de las personas en la ciudad. 

Yo quiero a regresar a Quetzaltenango en la futura y estudio espanol and trabajo en una escuela con los ninos.  Yo voy a extranar Quetzaltenango mucho. Pero, no extrano los perros ruido en la noche y la contaminacion.  Muchos partes de Quetzaltenango son muy dificil.

 Hoy, nosotros vamos a Lago de Atitlan y manana vamos a Antigua.  Entonces vamos a Tikal a mirar las ruinas.  Yo estoy emocionado para la viaje. Yo pienso que nosotros viajamos por dos semanas y media en los buses y durante America Central.  La viaje va a estar muy divertido.

El sol es muy fuerte este manana y la clima es muy bonita.  Hay es no nubes en el ciel y la ciudad es muy silencio.  La manana en la ciudad es my favorita parte de dia. 

Yo salgo un parte de mi carazon en Quetzaltenango, pero la viaje continua. 

We took a trip to the only Mayan/Catholic Village our last day, interesting.


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Ahora, yo miro. (Now, I see).

The beginning of our second week in Guatemala has been nothing short of heartbreaking, enlightening, and unforgettable.  The gravity of the poverty in this country is really starting to hit me, and I have been racked by an overwhelming guilt about many of the choices I have made in my American Consumerist life.  

Interestingly enough, the realization didn’t come from seeing the adobe shacks that house families of 10 or more dotting the mountain highlands of Guatemala, or the trash littering the ground the milk cows graze, or even from the dirty faced children that spend their days peddling candy in the streets.   I couldn’t quite grasp it when I saw the Mayan women with babies strapped to their backs selling tortillas from sun-up to sun-down, or smelt the fumes of completely unregulated pollution, or learned that even the “well-off” here can barely afford to eat at McDonald’s.  It didn’t really hit me until a conversation with my Spanish teacher, Merella, a brilliant woman of 28 years with whom I have had incredible bi-lingual and bi-cultural conversations over the past week and half. 

We were talking about average salaries in our respective countries, and she disclosed that she makes 1,700 Quetzales per month.  For those of you who don’t know, 1,700 Quetzales is the equivalent of $200 American Dollars.  $200 dollars per month!!?!  I don’t even want to admit to myself how many times I have wasted $200.  And here I am looking at a woman, a woman that I have grown to respect immensely, that not only lives on that amount of money, but also helps the child of a neighbor in her village.  And she, a bi-lingual college graduate with no children of her own to support, is doing much better than approx. 98% of the country. 

Enter, overwhelming guilt.

It’s not that I don’t know people live on (what we consider to be) practically nothing, but it is truly different when it is thrown in your face like this.  It is truly different when you walk down the street, and realize that the amount of money in your bank account for your little excursion could literally support the family you walk by— for an entire year.  It is truly different when “that person that lives on nothing” becomes someone with whom you exchange ideas, someone you learn from, and someone you see as a friend.

If you don’t know just how spoiled you are, talking to people down here will really change your perspective.

Alas, the story continues.

After what feels like years of thinking and talking about teaching ESL, I finally got the chance to manifest one of my many “causes of the week” in a dilapidated schoolhouse in Tierra Colorada, Guatemala. 

First, let me give you a little background on la escuela.  The school is called “Inter Vida” after the Spanish NGO that built it in 2004 for the rural Tierra Colorada area outside of Quetzaltenango.  Before the school was built, los ninos (the children) in this area had to walk up to 2 hours to get to school in the morning, and 2 hours back home in the afternoon. (And unlike your grandparent’s tales of yore, these kids really did it with no shoes).  Needless to say, many ended up forfeiting the endless journey and spending their 6-12 year old daylight hours selling the wares of their respective families; a choice that is terrible for a young mind and horrible for an already struggling country. 

In 2003, a group of educated individuals in the area appealed to Inter Vida for financial help in building a school and paying effective teachers.  Inter Vida agreed, and began construction of the school under the assumption that they would help with financials for 5 years, and then the community would have to find a way to sustain the project. 

Well, unfortunately, by 2008 the economy in Guatemala hadn’t improved at all, and the community was unable to create a sustainable project.  Thus, Inter Vida agreed to continue to pay the salaries of the teachers, but would not continue to put money into the building itself.  Basically, they left it up to the teachers to get the rest of the job done.

So, now there is an unfinished building in the middle of a field of trash with a pile of dirt for a front door, half a roof, broken windows in the classrooms and construction materials lying about as if they are children’s toys, with no money in the community to support renovations. Not the best situation.  But, the good news is they do maintain quite a large roster in their small classrooms, a roof is technically under construction, and the teachers are dedicated to doing the best they can with what they have.  In short, the school is far from ideal, but it is exponentially better than nothing.

Even though the school is a little on the run down side, to say the least, the children inside it are absolutely amazing.  I walked into my first class with a 1-page lesson plan, a stack of flashcards, and no idea what I was doing.  To my pleasant surprise, I left my last class to a round of applause from some of the most inspirational little people I have ever met.  To see these kids sit in a run-down classroom and focus so intently, behaving in way that indicates how eager they are too learn, was truly awe-inspiring.  In 2 short days, teaching ESL has already given me more than I ever could have expected, and I hope I was able to give those kids a little something as well. 

Oh Guatemala, each day you simultaneously break and fill my heart.

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Nuestra el fin de semana en photographia

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La sauna natural en las montanas de Guatemala (and other stories)

Yesterday was nothing short of simple and beautiful, but of course, it was also filled with moments of ridiculousness.

In the morning, we attended class and during the break we took a walk to bustling Zona Tres to change a few dollars into quetzales for our trip. While we were there, Jonathan and I decided to stop and purchase a new Spanish-English dictionary (unfortunately, our Lonely Planet guides weren’t cutting it).  Our teachers, Merella and Rosario, took us to a glass-front store full of American textbooks, dictionaries, and computer programs.  All of the books were kept behind glass cases or behind the counter, and were easily the most expensive items we have seen thus far.  The books ranged from 70-300 quetzales, which is only about 8-36 dollars, but considering the average person makes 3 quetzales a day, it seemed muy muy carro (very expensive). 

Anyway, we asked the clerks for a diccionario and were presented with a Merriam-Webster for only cuarenta quetzales (about 5 dollars), so we bought it. 

As we walked away from the store, I flipped through a few pages, then handed the book to Jonathan and continued my broken Spanish conversation with Merella.  A minute or so later, I hear Jonathan say my name and the words “Al, we just bought an English Dictionary!”. 

Sure enough, he was right.  We had just bought a brand new 5 dollar Merriam-Webster English Dictionary in the middle of Guatemala.  Yeah.

We walked back trying to figure out how to say “We made a huge mistake” in espanol, but luckily, the clerks were understanding and allowed us to exchange the book with no problem.  But alas, we were not without a little embarrassment.

You would think it ends there, but no, the drama continues.  While walking away from the book store (this time with an actual Spanish-English dictionary) we passed a tiny woman decked out in full traditional Maya gear walking down the street with…guess what…ok, you’ll never guess, a goat on a leash! We were pretty much floored, but our teachers barely even gave her a second glance.  Apparently, in Guatemala, Mayan women walk from the surrounding villages to the city with their goats and cows and sell the milk along the way. If someone wants milk, they literally stop and milk the goat right there in the street. No joke.

Anyway, after our eventful morning and a quick lunch back our home stay at 1 p.m. (lunch is ALWAYS at 1), we made our way back to la escuela to meet everyone for our trip to the sauna.

Jonathan, Marjorie, Nora, Joseph, and myself piled into a private van and began our trip through the montains and Mayan villages surrounding Xela.  On the way, I talked with Nora about the political symbols painted on the walls lining the roads throughout the country.  I had learned the day before that in Guatemala there are 3 main political parties: Uni (who are currently in power), Patriota, and Alliancia.  Apparently, it is almost time for an election and the people are not happy with the Uni party because the country’s economy is, well, horrible.  The Partido de Patriota is a military power, and thus many people are not too fond of their ideas either.  The most progressive party in the country that stands a chance ahora (at this time), is the Alliancia.  The Alliancia is interested in preserving the cultura de Maya, putting more money towards education, and helping lift the country out of poverty.  Of course, this party is the least fuerto (strong) ahora.  Alas, it is a typical story. 

The drive to the sauna (Los Cumbres) was filled with inspiring and depressing images of Mayan village life in Guatemala.  We drove past fields of cabbage, huge markets, completely dilapted houses, dirty children, and plenty of women with goats and cows on leashes. 

When we arrived, Nora led us into what was basically a rustic resort set in the mountains outside a Mayan village.  In the middle of the resort, we placed our hands over what looked like smoking rocks, but I learned they were actually geysers from the nearby Santa Maria Volcano.  Cool. 

She then led us to a door that she claimed contained the sauna, but to be honest, it didn’t really look like a door I wanted to open.  As it turned out, I was kinda right.  Behind the door was a pretty grimy room with mildewy walls and an even more mildewy shower, with the curtain barely hanging onto the rod for dear life.  Inside the room, was another even more questionable door that was supposedly the sauna.  The sauna that at that point, I wasn’t sure I wanted anything to do with.  Alas, Nora said it was a natural Volcanic sauna, and I wan’t about to pass that up.  So, we undressed and made our way in. 

I wish I could say that behind the next door was a beautiful room filled with plants, comfortable seats, or something even remotely resembling an American Spa, but, that just wasn’t the case. I’ll be the first to admit, I couldn’t stop my mind from flashing images of my mother turning and walking out. But, like good little travelers we sucked it up and ended up really enjoying our hour of authentic sweating.  Jonathan even got the chance to make a cool photo.

Today, we went with our teachers to visit the school we will be teaching at next week, Monday-Wednesday.  We will teach English to grades 5 and 6 from 8-10 a.m. at a small village school.  And from what I saw today, next week will be quite the experience. 

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