Monday, December 14, 2009

Some thoughts before I leave...

I'm leaving tomorrow, it's so sad. I really had a good time here. Hmm... unfortunately I do have to pack, buy people things, and say goodbye to a few people last-minute, so I don't really have a lot of time to have a good, heart-warming "goodbye Mexico City" blog entry. I'll try, though.

Some thoughts... I really wish I would have kept this blog rolling while I was here. I learned a lot. I saw a lot of things. I can communicate in Spanish now. This is a really cool city. Honestly, if you haven't been here, you don't understand. An American's perception of Mexicans, Mexico, and Mexico City is so backwards... I'm really glad I came.

Ugh, so much I didn't blog about...

...museums, parks, the beautiful view and sunsets from my apartment, the dogs I live with that are adorable but poop in the tv-room all the time, learning how to cook cookies and "impressing" the Argentinians I live with, street food, the juice stand by my house with the juicer whose name translates to "Candy Jacob," Tepotzlán, how I'm now obsessed with the artist "Jesús Helguera," some of the great bargains I made in the markets, the culture and awesomeness of Lucha Libre, all the beautiful monuments and statues around the city and Avenida Reforma, my crazy search for an apartment, being able to decipher accents in Spanish for the first time, that one time I wandered into a weird clown-protest, Zócalo, finally finding Aztec dancing again and being disappointed, Mexicans' perceptions of me with my gringo hair, all about food and how Mexican food is different in the states, discovering that a street performer dressed as an angel taking pictures with children was actually a man, giving directions to a Mexican for the first time, the amazing subway system, the fun of power outages and water shortages, how you CAN drink the water here, that time I stumbled upon the creepy closet of dismembered dolls in our downstairs bathroom, not telling any of my visitors about the closet and letting them discover it on their own...

... two months of discovering a new culture and place. All I can really say is, if you get the chance to do something like this, DO IT!

Goodbye, Mexico. I had a great time.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Teotihuacan!

Oh, where to start...

Today I got some great pictures, bargained an awesome deal, and saw some awesome pyramids.

About an hour North of Mexico City (the old capital of the Aztec empire) is the 3rd largest pyramid in the world, the Pirámide del Sol (Pyramid of the Sun). It lies in the ruins of the city of Teotihuacan, a house-hold term for those in this area.

Teotihuacan was not Aztec, but a different culture that thrived about a millennium earlier. In the Aztec language, the name roughly means "birthplace of the gods." Really, I could believe that. These things are huge! And pictures cannot capture the sheer size. But of course I took some, several in fact. We got some great pictures that really make it look like we're doing awesome things in the world.


Laura and I. We're friends from Miami.



Climbing the Pyramid of the Sun

The view half-way up. Look at the horizon. Beautiful.

The top. Make this big. It's a really cool picture.

The Pyramid of the Moon from the Pyramid of the Sun.

Look how small those people are on the top. This is perhaps the only picture that accurately portrays it's size.


Forget the ancient city ruins! Check out this orange bug!

Resting. So many stairs.

Ah, what was that bargained deal I mentioned earlier? I know you were wondering this whole time! I saw a nice necklace that a guy wanted for 500 pesos... I bargained him down to 100! Somebody's getting a nice Christmas present this year!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Estrellas en el Cielo

I abruptly woke up this morning after my window rudely decided to shatter itself.

I knew it was going to be a great day. Oddly, the sky was a brilliant blue, which is a very rare day here. White fluffy clouds were blowing by from a strong wind, the same wind which coincidentally drove my window to suicide this morning. It must have been swinging open and shut and shut itself so hard it broke into pieces. The remnants of glass are now duct taped together, so more doesn't fall out. I live on the tenth floor, so if glass falls down to the sidewalk below... bad things can happen. Strangely, I couldn't find any pieces of glass anywhere at all. I'm not sure if they blew away or what.

Anyway, wind does strange things to a smog-ridden city. Tonight was a sight. The sky was painted like the fur of a pinto horse. Sprawling clouds reflected the city light, but cavities of sky gave way to black. And the wind continued, eventually pushing all the clouds away. I just walked home from my friend's house and looked up to see stars... over the Ciudad de México. There's a first for everything I guess.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Aztec Dancing

I love Aztec dancing.

Let me start with that, then continue with the story from the previous blog.

I was at a Day of the Dead festival with some people that was turning out to be an awful night... two hours in traffic and then we arrived too late for the main attraction. After scoping out the festivities, we started walking back to the car.

Then we heard some drums beating in a different section and a large crowd of people gathering around something. I was curious, but sort of just wanted to go home. I am so glad we stopped to see what it was.

There were over a hundred people, many dressed in full-out Aztec gear, dancing in a large circle around six or seven drums, which were being pounded on so hard I could feel it in my chest. Around all of their ankles they had some rattling beads. When they started dancing the whole area erupted into rhythmic percussive noise. It was awesome.


We watched for probably about twenty minutes. Then my friends wanted to eat, so I left them and returned. I had completely lost myself. Of course I memorized the footwork and I really wanted to jump in there with them, but obviously that might not have been appropriate.

I captured a bit on video. But just know... without feeling the drums and seeing the grand scheme of things, it doesn't at all compare to how neat it really was.

video

Needless to say. I am obsessed. After the show the dancers posed for pictures... I'm not sure if it was family, friends, or strangers that were asking to take pictures with them. It was one of the few times in my life I've actually wanted to have my picture taken with someone in costume. I really wish I had.

Since then I've been looking for other Aztec dancing, with no luck. I heard they dance in the city center a few times every week. If anyone has information as to when they do that, let me know. It was really cool. Did I say that, yet? It was really cool.

Día de los Muertos

Twenty days ago I went to a "Day of the Dead" festival in a little village about an hour away. The holiday is interesting. It's actually two days, following Halloween, making a three-day creepy death fest. Of course, one has to remember that it is not intended to be a scary holiday, but because of America's influence with Halloween it is common to see children walking the streets with costumes all three nights, at least here in Mexico City. (I had two children come up to me on the street, as if I would just be carrying around candy all day... a walking candy dispenser. I gave the children nothing)

Anyway, decorations for the Day of the Dead are really interesting. We've actually seen a lot of the style in America, in other forms. It's called "Calaca," basically skeletons, but dressed up and... stylized. I don't know, and I'm sure there are people reading this who know a lot more about this than me.

Creepy, huh? But it's a really interesting look... very distinct.
(Thank you Wikipedia for the picture)


We ended up getting to the festival too late and the cemetery (with all the decorated graves) was closed. We spent about two hours in traffic and it should have taken a little over forty-five minutes to get there. Fortunately there were still lots of people there and .... well, read on to the next blog entry. It made the whole trip worthwhile.

How many times in life have you been in a small mob, clamoring to get into a graveyard? I doubt I will find myself doing that again.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Aztec


What do we think of when we think of the "Aztecs?"

Before I came here, I honestly didn't think much of them. Even in Guatemala, I imagined them as the more gruesome tribe somewhere in Central America that was didn't stand up to the Spaniards when they came and took over. Well... here's a brief and simplified history lesson for those who share my old indifference.

Central America was divided into lots of tribes before the Europeans came over. One small tribe was looking for their homeland they would recognize from a vision: an eagle sitting on a cactus. The vision supposedly manifested itself at an island in the middle of a large lake. Though that doesn't seem ideal, they settled "Tenochtitlan" on the island and flourished, forming the Aztec empire.

*Please don't get angry if you know this history and I'm over-simplifying it.

When the Spaniards came over, the Aztecs were at the peak of their empire, doing very well for themselves. They had the organization and power to fight back and could effectively kick the Spaniards back to Europe. However, smallpox has a funny way of destroying civilizations that aren't prepared for it. The Spaniards were able to take over Tenochtitlan, thereby destroying the heart of the Aztec empire.

A representation of Tenochtitlan in lake Texcoco. It looks a little different today.

Yes, we've all heard this story before, be it the Native Americans, Hawaiians, Maya, Aborigines, etc. It's not pleasant, but it happened all over the world. The difference is what happened after the European empires fell.

Take a look at the coat of arms. Does it ring any bells?

Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire is now known as Mexico City, the capital of Mexico. The eagle on the cactus, the vision that supposedly spawned the Aztec empire is now the center piece of the Mexican flag. Even the word "Mexica" is roughly another word for "Aztec." I imagined the Aztec Empire had shared a similar fate as the Native Americans in the states and the Aborigines in Australia, and the dominance of the Spanish language instead of the native language really threw me off, but the people are still very much alive. Mexicans are Aztecs, one of the few native tribal empires to keep their land and traditions as their own. Isn't that cool?

Yo Soy Chiapas

San Christóbal, the first city I visited, is in the state of Chiapas. There was a festival that weekend coincidentally, and I watched the festivities held on a stage in front of about 1000 people in the city center.

It was the worst bit of performance I have seen in my life. I'm not exaggerating. I was actually mad. They had a budget, a massive audience (waiting in the rain for 30 minutes for the show to start) and they could have left a crying baby on stage for an hour and that would have been more entertaining. I feel like the person producing it just had a child scribble on a piece of paper and then a bored middle school student try to decipher the chicken-scratch to come up with a product to put on stage.

This is me venting, by the way. A lot of people put time and effort into the festival and the entertainment, the focal point of the whole thing was junk. Perhaps the whole thing hit a buried nerve.

Anyway, before the performance, they blasted this song, "Yo Soy Chiapas," or "I Am Chiapas" on huge speakers and I was tricked into thinking it was being sung live from backstage. Little did I know that it was their state anthem. I really enjoy the song, though. Listen to it. If you get bored, skip to 1:15, where the beat kicks in.




(Wow... that is hideously oversized for this blog column. Oh well.)

Does anyone know where I can download this song? I'd like to download it legally, if possible, but it's not on amazon, so I'm not sure where to turn.

No watch. No cell. No worries.

So... I realized today that I haven't had a watch for about a month. Occasionally I've had a cellphone for a day or so, but usually I have no idea what time it is. This is what I've learned:

-The sun never really sets East to West. Even this far South (beneath the tropic of cancer) the sun sets South-East to South-West for most of the year. Especially in winter, this is very, very noticeable. When telling the time by the sun, there is always a shadow aimed towards the North, even at noon.

- I wake up naturally here between 9:30-11:30, although in Guatemala it was 8:30-9:30. Even when I go to sleep very late, it's something about the noises in the environment, my motivation to wake up, and the sunlight that triggers this naturally every day.

- I still jump when a cell-phone rings, wondering if it's mine that's ringing.

- Wasting time on a subway or bus isn't quite as irritating, but that could be because I don't have a life.

One would think I would have had a more... enlightening observation, but not really. It's just sort of liberating not being able to be contacted all the time. I hope I take note and remember this back in the states.

Friday, October 30, 2009

If Alice had bags...

I had a several hours with my bags to wander the city before I met my hosts. Sometimes I talk to things in my head. It's healthy as long as they're not talking back, right?


Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.

Alice: I'd like someplace to sit down, someplace to rest a bit.

Cheshire Cat: Oh, you're sure to do that, if you only walk long enough.

>>1 Hour Later<<

Alice: You again? Have I been walking in circles this whole time?

Cheshire Cat: Yes.

Alice: Why, you sassy cat, I ought to skin you...

Cheshire Cat: They say it isn't wise to kill the messenger...

Alice: Some message! You told me I'd find someplace to rest!

Cheshire Cat: Eventually, you will.

Alice: What kind of message is that?

Cheshire Cat: One that can be headed or ignored.

Alice: I just want someplace to sit down! Maybe a Caribou or a Starbucks...

Cheshire Cat: In Wonderland?

Alice: Oh yes, a talking cat is fine, but heaven forbid there be a Starbucks!

Cheshire Cat: I'm not even sure I know what that is.

Alice: Well how about a locker? Someplace I can put my bags for a bit so no odd creature comes and steals them.

Cheshire Cat: Now that you might find.

Alice: A locker or an odd creature?

Cheshire Cat: What do you think?

Alice: Oh, you're no help at all.

Cheshire Cat: Wonderland is full of fantastic places to hide things. One might hide all sorts of treasures...

Alice: Then where can I find a good hiding place? Which direction should I walk?

Cheshire Cat: It doesn't really matter where, if you only walk long enough.

Alice: I do wonder why I even talk to you at all...

The Quest for an Immigration Stamp

Let me tell you the story of a man. He was a fool who did not decide to get an immigration stamp because he wanted to save five minutes and didn't think it was necessary.

The man is me, in case you didn't catch that.

So in San Cristóbal, a city about three hours from the border, there is a migration center. I set out to find it one morning, probably about a two-three mile walk. It wasn't bad. San Cristóbal is a really neat city, and I found it with relatively no difficulty. But it was closed. I'd have to come back on Monday. So, I canceled my trip to the Palenque ruins, which is really too bad because I've heard they are awesome. But... I really just wanted to get legal and not worry about it.


A nice little creek on the way to the Migration Center. It looks sort of like Asia, huh?

Monday morning I started walking to the migration center for a second time. It was probably a bit after 7AM. Here's the odd thing. I made friends on the way, and I have no idea why.

I noticed, when I first started walking, that there were two dogs roaming the streets. One of them walked not far from me, peeing on everything to mark his territory. The other one was bigger and would smell the other dog's pee and try to pee on top of it (sometimes), but he followed the other dog the whole time and it seemed they were friends. I really was intrigued.

So this continues, for a long time. They took several turns away from me and many times I thought that was the end, but come one more block they'd find me. Yet the strangest thing about it was that they never looked at me directly and usually walked about twenty feet away. Finally, after about two miles, one looked up at me occasionally and walked close by. This happened right after we encountered another dog and they chased him away. I'm not sure if I was finally accepted into their dog gang or what, but there was a whole lot of unspoken communication going on that I wasn't aware of.

Nevertheless, eventually I reached the migration center and we had to part ways. But did they leave? No... It turned out I'd have to wait another hour for the place to open, so I sat down and the dogs took a nap right next to me. Really, it's so funny how quick dogs are to take possession of things.


My two loyal companions.

So, waiting in the migration center, the doors finally open and I'm allowed inside. It opened at 9AM, however the head-lady finally decides to stroll in at 9:30, as if nothing was the matter. Seriously? Well, I didn't even talk to her. The secretary tells me that they don't have immigration stamps at this migration center. I sort of want to scream, "Why not?!" But, instead I am nice and she helps me write a note I can give to anyone if they give me trouble on my way back to the border. Yes, I had to take a bus three hours back to the border to do something that literally did not take five minutes. I don't even think I filled out the whole form. The old man didn't notice.

And then to just sprinkle sugar on a lovely day, they didn't even check my passport at the first checkpoint! The guy poked his head in the taxi I was taking and did not even notice me. Was I hiding? No, I was not. Fortunately for my sanity, I learned that there are checkpoints all over, between every big city and I was checked later. I learned that they check people randomly, and it really depends a great deal about your expression and stance as they search the bus. That's a great system right there.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Aliens

So... here's something interesting.

Right now I'm technically an illegal immigrant in Mexico. Actually there's no "technically."

It was mostly an accident... kind of. I went into the Migration office, which I thought was the Mexican migration office. Through gestures, he asked me if I wanted a stamp. "Do I want I stamp?" Honestly, my passport is full of them and I'm still not really sure what they do. He stamped it anyway and typed something in the computer for a long while, finishing a chocolate-covered banana as he did so. Later, I discovered that he was actually checking me out of Guatemala, not into Mexico. So I entered Mexico without approval. In my defense, I did see the Mexican migration center by the bus station before I left, but no one was going in or out of the building. How important could the stamps be?

Are you still reading? Well done. Anyway, so we drive a half an hour into Mexico and stop at a second migration center. A guy comes in and inspects all our passports, stopping me because I had no stamp. I helplessly show him my Guatemalan stamp and will earn an Oscar later for my stellar performance when he told me that the stamp was the wrong one. Through gestures and my awful, awful Spanish, he tells me that I need to get off the bus and go back to the border. Of course I ask if I can get stamped at the migration center right outside the bus, but he tells me I can't. Really? Why was I allowed to ride a bus thirty minutes beyond the immigration point? I was very upset, but really was in no place to argue because I can't speak the language.

Fortunately, by the time I gathered my bags and almost got off the bus, he'd explained the situation to his supervisor, who told me I could just get stamped when I got to San Cristobal. That was wonderful.

But here's the kicker. We stopped at another migration center more than an hour later. I had no idea what to expect. It's so limiting, not being able to communicate with people. But he didn't even ask to see my passport and harassed some other guy. I'm so very confused, but grateful that things are working in my favor.

And let's throw in a picture that has nothing to do with this entry, just for fun.

Now I'm in San Cristóbal. Believe it or not, this was the better of two pictures.

Mexico, First Impression

Do you remember that time I wrote about first impressions and how you can never really remember all of them? Again... such is Mexico.

The differences between Mexico and Guatemala are so very evident, within miles of the border. Example... In Guatemala I was riding ridiculously crowded buses where seat belts are laughable and every turn you seriously fear for your life (no joke). Often, I'd be sitting partly on the lap of the person next to me, if I was sitting at all. Strange smells, torn seats and stuffy mini-vans are common place in Guatemala, for better or for worse (it makes for very cheap bus rides).

My bus ride in from the Mexico border was three hours and I paid roughly US$7-8. It was a charter bus. Full out, there was no one around me. The air was conditioned. The seats reclined. There was plenty of leg-room. There were bathrooms! They played two movies during my trip. I missed the first bus and waited a full 10 minutes for the next one. I still can't get over it.

So how does America compare? This is my response to a trip I took with Greyhound in November. If you don't feel like reading that, basically summed up: Every greyhound bus I take makes me lose faith in humanity for a short period of time. The worst part is, my overnight from Utah to Denver was $70-80, literally ten times as much. Yes, it was longer, but it was not ten times longer and about an hour of that was standing in the freezing cold outside at about 2AM listening to some drunk idiot yell racial slurs at the bus driver. Oh, America. I do love you, but let's get our act together with public transportation.

Wow, I ramble. I'll be honest... I am exhausted.

So I don't finish on a bad note, Mexico looks great. I'm seeing a lot of similarities Korea, which is oddly understandable. These two countries have very similar economies and a similar juxtaposition of city and rural life. If you know me at all, you know I love almost everything about Korea so this is a very good thing.

One big difference: The Food! I've had two meals tonight. Yes, two... within a few hours of each other. I'm not ashamed. Mexican food is delicious. We all know this. I am so very excited that I'm going to be eating the genuine deal for the next two months.

And I know you're all jealous.

Goodbye Guatemala

Today was a long day. You know those days where you're put into a situation that can potentially go very wrong, but you've handled these types of things before and you know you can pull through alright? That was today, only for some reason it seemed more... difficult than in the past. My Spanish is horrible. And really, no one here speaks English. I have talked to so many people today, and only one of those conversations was mostly in English. I taught myself the "past tense" today really quick on a bus because I realized when... actually it's not really worth explaining the whole story, but basically:

When you're put into tough situations, you'd be amazed how well you can adapt and learn.


Two men, waiting for a bus near the border.

I had a great time in Guatemala. Seriously, it was an awesome. I had some extra pictures I didn't post, so I wanted to put them up here.


Kyle's house. This is where I spent most of my time. It's too bad you can't see the hammocks in the back.


The view from the bathroom, which was separate from the house. You can listen to birds and smell fresh air when you poo!


The street in front of his house. Are those kids smiling? They sort of ran into the street right as I was taking the picture. I decided to take it anyway.


For the record, Kyle is an amazing host. Really, he had a lot of work going on these two weeks, but he made sure I was enjoying myself, more than I was expecting and then some.

Thanks, Kyle! I had a great time.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Trek to Mexico

Up until this afternoon, I really had no idea how I was getting to Mexico City. I think I've got it all figured out, though. Here's the plan:

Hmm... I don't really want to type it all out. Four blog entries is too many to type. Basically, I know roughly where I'm going now. I think I might even book a hostel in advance one night! I think it would be awesome to go to a hostel and be like, "Hi. My name's Jake Akemann. I have a bed booked tonight." And they'd be like, "Oh. Of course we have room. Right this way." No hostel shopping. No begging. No taking what I can get. I take what I want.

The Mexican Flag

Either way, I'm going to be in Mexico City on Tuesday. Somehow... I'll be there. It looks like I'm going to be staying with some locals, too. I used couchsurfing.org to find friendly people who like to travel and who are willing to house people for a few nights. I'm very excited.

A note to the nay-sayers:
Every person I've talked to who has been to Mexico city in the last 5 years has given it rave reviews. I'm not exaggerating. I know the media is scary and everyone knows someone who knows someone who had something horrific happen to them. But please... unless you've been there recently yourself and had a miserable time... I've heard the precautions. And I've heard them again. And again and again. It's a bit... overwhelming. But thank you for your concern. I'll be careful. Moving on...

That's my email. I bought some postcards today and realized I don't know any home addresses. This ranges from friends, to cousins, to my very own sister. I wanted to surprise people, but for some reason no one puts their mailing address on facebook... Anyway, drop me an email with your address attached. Don't be shy. It's fun to pick them out and send them to people. And then I feel popular.

Wish me luck in Mexico!

First Ruins

I've been anticipating seeing ruins this whole time. I finally got the chance yesterday. I went with Kyle to some ruins that aren't usually visited by American tourists. They're a bit out-of-the-way, especially if you don't have a car.

I was a little unimpressed, at least visually. I was expecting the high towers of Tikal. What we saw was mostly mounds and rocks. See, the thing about ruins is... the further you go back, the less technologically advanced the civilization was. It sounds simple, but one doesn't think of stone buildings as being technologically advanced. Pre-300BC Mayan culture would create mortar out of mud, and two and a half thousand years in a volcano-based jungle is a bit rough on mud. It's a wonder anything is left at all.


This fertility altar had been used by Mayans earlier that day.
I thought that was neat.


I like Mayan art. It has a... "happy cartoon" feel to it. This is a frog.


An unexpected but welcome surprise was the little zoo they had in the back.
This monkey really wanted Kyle's notebook for some reason.


Summer Nights

Monday and Tuesday it didn't rain.

That is a big deal in the rain forest climate of El Palmar. It always rains. Every afternoon, and usually for a little bit in the morning or night. This weekend it rained so hard the power went out for several hours. Rare, cloudless nights are social events.

Kids that might as well have been playing "Ghost in the Graveyard" or "Kick the Can"

I noticed the other day how "white-picket-fence" this little village is. The culture is very different, but the set-up is not that different than 1950's America. Bare with me on this. The lots are all little. Everyone knows all their neighbors. There's a little shop at the end of the street where you can buy snacks and eggs. If you work on a project, men come to watch and chat. The ice-cream truck (or bike) drives by every week. Women (or unmarried men like me) hang their laundry, smiling and waving as people walk by. And on warm nights, kids play under the streetlights and parents sit on their front porches and chat.

It's relieving, somehow. Maybe I'm a little pessimistic from growing up at the brunt end of a Chicagoland area expansion and living by the remnants of what used to be small-town Elgin. Either way, it was nice to see. I tried capturing the moment, taking the picture above, but was swarmed by children. Suddenly I needed a reason why I was taking pictures of them in the dark.

I did the "one two three jump" game. It tried it in Korea with the first graders. You tell the kids to jump on three and take a picture when they're in the air. They usually understand after the first try and freak out. It's great. They're all having the time of their life. All smiles and fun.

One of the first tries. I love that girl's smile on the right.


And they multiply.


Kyle got in on it, too. Cute kids.


Wendy's

We went to Wendy's today. It was majestic. Yes, we took three buses up a mountain for about an hour and a half to get there, but it was worth it.

Wendy's in Xela

Seriously, this was the nicest Wendy's I've ever been to. They had free WiFi, that was the main reason we were going. I needed a fast connection to figure out how I'm getting up to Mexico City (still haven't quite figured everything out), but the atmosphere was fun, too. Everyone was clean, smiling and laughing. There were laptops everywhere, three at the table next to us. Think... college library.... or an urban coffee shop, only it was Wendy's.

You think you know a country...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hot Springs!

I'm not sure why I have a tendency to run into hot springs wherever I go. They must be more abundant than I realized, either that or I'm just freakishly lucky. Seriously, though, these hot springs are the coolest I've been to.


The trek up the mountain.

To reach Fuentes Georginas, one must travel up a clouded mountain on a small road. The temperature drops sharply as you ascend. Thick fog comes and goes, sometimes covering the road entirely. The smell of sulfur is scattered in the air, a lingering reminder of the inferno that warms the waters.


The morning haze

Though clouds come and go, the entire grounds are often covered in a fog, very reminiscent of steam off of the hot springs. It's a very relaxing place, very unlike anything I was expecting to find in Guatemala.


The main spring

Finally, the springs are guarded by a high canopy of rocks and trees. The hot steam is funneled up the cliff side. There's fresh moss at the base that can be used as a skin exfoliate. I thought that last bit was a bit odd, but all too well it added to the ambiance around us.


A hot tub pool. Just don't open your eyes. It burns. I tried it twice.

Kyle was organizing a big Peace Corps gathering. There were upwards of twenty of us there. We rented all seven of the bungalows and spent the night. It was a good time. Who wouldn't want to spend a night up on a cold mountain with a bunch of crazy culture-lovers and a mountain hot spring just around the corner?


Waiting for a truck to take us back down the mountain

Some Polaroids That Aren't

How many gringos can you fit in the back of a pickup truck? I'm glad one person is looking at the camera. And the answer is 10.


I fed this dog some chicken bones in San Felipe.
I also imagined ways I could bring it back to the States.


A girl sitting in front of me was wearing a blue bandana. The Peace Corps volunteers I was with thought it was crazy that a guatemalan would be wearing that. I thought it was crazy that I had that same bandana in my backpack. I put it on to make a friend. She didn't notice... or care... or both.


People will look at this picture and say, "That guy's been places"


Nice fog/clouds settling on the mountains.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Beyond the Plantations...

Awesome hike up the mountains, past the plantations.

This morning we woke up at 4:45 and got up and ready to go up the mountain. We had to get up at that ungodly hour because there is one free truck-ride up to the plantations, and if we missed it we'd have to walk.

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect... but... at this point I've learned to expect the unexpected.

The truck ride was interesting. Picture a big truck... one that is spacious enough to have about fifty Guatemalans plantation workers in the back. Then put them in the back. Then put two gringos in, just for kicks. Really, I was a bit unimpressed with the results. Sure, I was standing literally body-to-body with those around me and I elbowed a few people in the head and every bump made me a bit fearful I'd fall off, but how is that any different than riding on the Seoul subway system during rush hour? Well, I guess the difference is if you lose your balance on a subway you don't fall out of the subway train.

There were great views going up.

So one of Kyle's jobs in Guatemala is to take measurements of the volcano emissions. He's the guy that says, "Hey, that volcano's acting as if it's going to explode. I'm going to warn people so it doesn't kill us all."

Volcan Santa Maria y Santiguito

After the truck dropped us off. We hiked up the mountain about a half hour, maneuvering off path at the last moment. I was a bit skeptical when we trekked down a thickly vegetated slope, but it opened up into a high, rocky waterfall. We were at the top.

A little scary, but very cool.

Kyle then spoke of another waterfall, one that required a small trek up through the jungle. The "small" trek turned out to be... a bit rougher than planned. Several times, we tried to climb down through the foliage, only to realize that it would be a vertical drop off a few feet in. Nevertheless, it was fun.

I filmed some of it, if you care to watch. It's eight minutes long and might give you a headache, just to warn you. I sound weird, sort of like I'm doing a really bad impression of Ray Romano. Is that what I sound like all the time? Anyway, I watched this and was a bit unimpressed. It's just not the same as feeling the thorns digging into your legs or wondering if the next branch you grab is going to tear out and you'll slide down into the mud or fall into an ant hill or... well, you get the idea. But seriously, this was one of the few times in my life I sincerely wished I had a machete, not because it'd be awesome, but because it would be oddly and sincerely practical.

video
The first falls you see is what I described above.
The second is the more... adventurous of the two.


Anyway, when we finally made it though, it opened up into a beautiful, tall waterfall... it was eerily awesome.

I can't believe I didn't get a wide-angle shot of the whole thing. I guess pictures never really do these types of things justice, anyway.

Good times.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Birthday

Tomorrow's my birthday. I usually get really depressed around birthday time, but I think I'll be alright this year. Thanks for the cards, Mom, Dad, Mr. and Mrs. Brill. And thanks for the guidebook, Sarah. What do you do on your birthday when your host has to work and you're alone in a little jungle-village in Guatemala? I think I'll sing a happy little song to myself.

First Solo Excursion

I went to the beach today by myself. There and back, I took a total of 6 buses and 1 rickshaw. Most of those weren't at bus stops. You sort of have to wander around town and ask people where the bus is... or just run up to it if you happen to see the right one drive by. It is so satisfactory to be able to get around in a country using no English, though. You just feel good about yourself, very competent. Of everywhere I've gone, there's definitely been the least amount of English here. Nothing's written in English. No one speaks it... well. I'm sure there are places in Guatemala where it is used a lot, but I have yet to see that place.


The beach at Champerico. It was actually really nice while I was there.


It rained later.


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