Monday, May 14, 2007

The Walkabout

Boy oh boy . . . it's been too long since the last update . . . where to begin? Well, we're all back home now in Prince George, Canada. Matt and I flew into Vancouver a little over 2 weeks ago from Guatemala City. Then we bussed it back home to PG. Home is always beautiful home; it's great to come back now and again. The last month or so in Central America was memorable, so I'll try to fill you in as well as post some photos.

We left the quaint mountain village of Juayua, El Salvador Feb. 20th and made it to Antigua, Guatemala by the afternoon. We had to pass through Guatemala City (Guate), which is always a fun time. By the end of the trip, I'd gone through Guate at least five or six times . . . the air quality is brutal and irritates the eyes and throat if you're there for a whole day. I can't imagine living there.

Jenny was flying out of Guate the following week so we though we'd finish off her time in pleasant, gringo-infested Antigua. We took another trip to Chichicastenago, which by the way means "city of nettles" in Quiché . . . ouch! Chichi has quite the colourful market. There were some huge Lenten processions taking place while we were in Antigua. Antigua goes all out during Lent and Semana Santa (Holy Week) with it's elaborate processions that last all day. The streets where laden with "alfombras" (carpets) made of coloured saw-dust, flowers, fruit, and veg. all put together in decorative patterns. All of this beauty is destroyed as the procession and giant floats with Christ, the Virgin Mary, and/or some saints pass by. Then it's all quickly cleaned up. I found it fascinating how it seemed as if the entire town participated. There were hundreds of "cucuruchos" (participants in the procession who carry the enormous floats). While in Antigua we randomly met Benjamin, an elderly Guatemalteco who has a love for talking about his home town, life in Guatemala, and the people of its vibrant culture . . . lucky us! We spent a number of afternoons talking to him over ice-cream, and Matt and I were later able to see him again before we left a month later.

Our time in Antigua passed by quickly and soon we were off to Guate's rugged international airport to drop Jenny off. Matt and I spent the afternoon in Zona 9, the posh end of Guate where all the embassies and malls are. It was a bit of a culture shock. The next day, we left for Quetzaltenango (Xela), where we had been about three months before with Jenny. Within the same day, we set ourselves up at Casa Argentina, the cheapest youth hostel around and found a relatively okay language school. We started classes the following day and got in 2 days of classes before the weekend. That weekend, we went on a trek with Quetzaltrekkers again, this time to Volcán Tajumulco, the highest volcano/peak in Central America at 4220 m. We had a great group for the hike. The best part was hiking to the very top at predawn in order to watch the marvellous sunrise. It was seriously the most beautiful sunrise I've ever witnessed. You could see Mexico as well as a handful of Guatemalan volcanoes off in the distance. That morning was Sunday April 1st, Matt's 23rd birthday. What a great birthday present for him!

We finished off the week at the language school and then enjoyed the Holy Week processions beginning on Good Friday. Saturday, a bunch of us from the hostel made our way to Las Fuentes Georginas, a natural spa system in a cloud rain forest just outside of Xela that's popular with Guatemalan day-trippers. Still being the Holy Week holidays, the place was packed to the brim. Matt headed out of Xela Monday morning. He was headed to Rio Dulce, in the eastern part of the country, from where he'd start his weeklong sailing trip up to Hunting Caye, Belize. As planned, I'd decided to stay in Xela to take more language schooling. This time, I found a different school. It turned out to be a lot more professional and my teacher loved to chat about everything Guatemalan. We had great discussions about the politics and history of the country, development work and its implications, poverty and economics, etc. I certainly learned a lot from him. I stayed with a Guatemalan host-family that week and basically spent most of my time studying at the school, reading, and chatting away with other language students in the numerous cafés and pubs of Xela.

That weekend, I went on an adventurous hike with some friends I had met in Xela. We hiked from Xela to San Pedro La Laguna. It was a gorgeous trek through the Western Highlands. Unfortunately, one of our friends was attacked by a dog as we were passing through a rural town. The bites were pretty bad, so he went back to Xela with another friend to get rabies and tetanus shots. That shook us all up and put a bit of a damper on the trek. However, we eventually made it to San Pedro after just one night of camping in the bush and two full days of hiking. We had gotten off trail a couple times and even found ourselves bushwhacking and cliff-climbing for a little while, which was very nerve-racking, but we survived and had a blast. We met up with a friend we'd hung out with in Xela for a while and decided to spend two nights in San Pedro before heading back to Xela. In Xela, I had just enough time to hit up La Luna, my favourite café in Xela, pick up a machete as a useful souvenir, then head out to a few pubs with some friends for my last farewell before I was off at 3am the next morning for my epic journey across Guatemala. Surprisingly, I made it to Rio Dulce in one day. The trip actually didn't take too long.

In Rio Dulce, I met up with Matt, who'd just gotten back from his sailing voyage in the Caribbean. We spent another couple of nights in the decrepit, pirate-like port town of Rio Dulce with its nightly fair music that resounded throughout the town until 2:30 am. One day we took off to Finca El Paraíso, which is exactly what the name suggests - Paradise. It's a natural pool and waterfall in the middle of nowhere. The pool is suitable for doing flips and diving and the waterfall is of steaming hot geothermal water. If you swim under the waterfall, you come to an above water cave system that is like a natural sauna because of the heat of the water from the waterfall. All of this is in the middle of the jungle.

On Saturday, April 21st, we made our way back to Antigua, via Guate. We basically chilled out in Antigua for our last couple of nights in order to avoid staying in dodgy Guate. Antigua's a comfortable city. We met up with a number of travellers we'd seen numerous times throughout our trip (that's what happens when these countries are so small), hung out with them, and tracked down old Benjamin for another ice-cream and enlightenment on Guatemalan culture. By the 24th of April we were off, flying back to Vancouver, B.C. via Houston, Texas. Central America was good to us. I experienced so many invaluable life lessons and learned as much about myself and my siblings as I did about another people's culture and language.

To use a somewhat cliché but appropriate quote that I've recently read (although it doesn't quite fit this context because we were merely two time-zones ahead of Pacific Standard Time), the writer Mary Anne Radmacher-Hershey once said, "I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world." I think that sums up this walkabout quite well.

-Erupting Volcán Santiaguito - Guatemala's most active volcano. Behind it is Volcán Santa María, which overlooks the city of Quetzaltenango (Xela).
-God's beautiful sunrise. Every morning I came to the beach to write in my journal and contemplate the sunrise while we were here in Placencia, Belize.
-A view of Volcán Concepción, on the north-western corner of the Island of Ometepe on Lake Nicaragua in southern Nicaragua. I took this photo during our descent from the crater lake on top of Volcán Maderas.
-Jenny looking over Lake Managua in Nicaragua as we take a short break while climbing Volcán Momotombo. The island volcano ahead of her is Volcán Momotombito ("Little Momotombo").
-(From Left to right) my brother Matt (aka: Mateo), my sister Jenny, and I standing on top of Volcán Cosigüina in the far north-western tip of Nicaragua on the Gulf of Fonseca. Behind us, El Salvador and Honduras are visible from across the water.

I plan to post some more photos shortly.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Volcanoes and FSLN bus rides

¡ Buenas!
Oh no, another month has nearly slipped by without updating. Matt, Jenny, and I are well . . . in fact, we´re very well. I don´t think we´ve been sick since leaving Granada, Nicaragua (nearly a month . . . that´s very good for being in Central America!). We arrived in El Salvador a little less than a week ago. Right now we´re staying in a small mountain village called Juayua in Western El Salvador. We came here today from the Pacific coastal villages of El Zonte and El Sunzal, which are surfers´ paradise beach towns. We tried some Boogie Boarding but were completely slaughtered by the waves.

Nicaragua was memorable . . . in fact, it´s difficult to describe, but something clicked in Nicaragua . . . even though it´s the second poorest country in the Western world, it´s the place to be! People are so friendly there and are genuinely interested in others passing through. I had a lot of stimulating conversations with locals on buses and boats, who just started chatting with me . . . curious about who I was and what I was doing in Nicaragua. It was a great opportunity to ask them about their country, way of life, and everyday struggles. On the island of Ometepe on Lake Nicaragua, I ran into Isimati and Mimag, a older French hippie couple who´d been living in Nicaragua for some years. They certainly knew a lot about the island, and shared a lot about what they´ve experienced there. We took some time exploring the island . . . climbing Volcan Maderas and checking out a waterfall and natural pool system. After that, we whipped up to Leon, a bustling colonial town surrounded by volcanoes and a mere hope skip and a jump from the Pacific. Although we were there for a little over a week, we spent most days hiking with Quetzaltrekkers, who are based here as well as in Quetzaltenango (Xela), Guatemala. In Leon, they support an interesting after-school program for the local kids, providing them with meals, homework-help, English lessons, and a place to comfortably relax and play.

I´m very interested in Quetzaltrekkers. In fact, Matt and I have actually recently decide to go back to Xela, Guatemala to do some more treks with them and be there for Semana Santa (Holy Week). Xela is said to have an intriguing fusion of Mayan and Catholic celebrations during that time.

While in Leon, we did three treks. A two day hike up Nicaragua´s pride and joy volcano, Momotombo - the one that the poets all write about. From the top, we had a magnificent view of the entire Marrabios volcano range, the Pacific Ocean, Lake Managua, and the cities of Managua and Leon. It was spectacular! We did a 3 day trip to Cosiguina, an exctinct crater lake volcano on the most Northwestern point of Nicaragua, right on the Golf of Fonseca. From the beach, where we camped out under the stars, we could see Honduras, El Salvador and the vast Pacific Ocean. We struggled with dehydration during the 37-40 degree C hike and were completely schooled by the local kids from the nearby village in a game of soccer on the beach at sunset. On our way back to Leon, we hitched a ride with one of 20 buses full of FSLN (Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional) political supporters. They were all headed to a political rally in Leon, where Nicaraguan president, Daniel Ortega (FSLN), and Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, were expected. We didn´t check out the rally, but the bus ride was definitely good fun. The other hike was a one day hike to Cerro Negro, a very young and active volcano that just popped up in a farmer´s field in 1850 and is now 728 m tall. Why we walked right into the hot crater riddled with sulphur vents boggled my mind . . . but it made for some great photos!

The bus ride from Leon, Nicaragua to San Miguel, El Salvador was a jumble of boarder-crossing and bus catching madness. We passed through Southern Honduras along the way. We´re actually saying farewell to El Salvador soon. We´re headed back to Antigua, Guatemala tomorrow. Jenny´s flying out from Guate (Guatemala City) in about a week.

I saw a fantastic film the other day called ´Cry Freedom.´ It´s a Richard Attenborough film based on the lives of Steven Biko and Donald Woods, two anti-apartheid activists in South Africa during the 1970´s. It´s defintely an eyeopener. I´d imagine that Woods´ book ´Biko´ would be worth a look at too.


Friday, February 23, 2007

Blissful Belize and Jalapeño Hot Honduras!

Hello all. It´s been a while since I´ve last posted anything here. I´ve had very limited Internet access over the past month. Believe it or not, I´m actually writing from Granada, Nicaragua! (Nicaragua was not on our itinerary, but a strange turn of events has brought us here.) If everything went as planned, we would have been volunteering in Comayagua, Honduras right now, but that opportunity has fallen through because of our lack of organization (typical university students). Although, Matt and I are now looking into volunteering there during Semana Santa (Holy Week). Having said that, the whole kerfuffle has left us with 3 free weeks. With no success in finding another very short-term volunteer project, we decided to come down here.
After Flores (I think that was the last time I wrote here), Matt started feeling much better, so we made our way to the ancient Mayan city of Tikal. It´s difficult to describe Tikal . . . I was completely blown away. The whole park is also a biosphere reserve, so as you walk from temple to temple around the city which is overrun by the jungle, you often here howler monkeys and see an awful lot of unique birds. The bus ride into Belize was a blast! As far as I know the Western border crossing is the only land entrance between Guatemala and Belize. The last 20 - 30 km or so of the Guatemalan part of the road into Belize is a messy, bumpy mud road. (Apparently, the British promised to build a nice road from Belize City to Guatemala City 200 or so years ago . . . they obviously haven´t kept up the promise . . . and it sounds like Guatemala won´t do anything about it soon either).
We had to change buses in the capital Belmopan, which is now my all time favourite capital city! . . . imagine a capital city of 8100 people, it´s 30 years old and is just as attractive as Cache Creek, British Columbia or Edson, Alberta. If you can picture that, you should be able to fathom Belmopan. In the same day we made our way to Placencia on the Caribbean coast. The thing that struck me the most about Belize was its diversity. It´s citizens are from all over. Within our first day in Placencia, I heard Belize Kriol English, Belizean, British, and American English, Mopan Mayan, Garifuna, Spanish, and Chinese from the residence . . . all in a town of 500. It was definitely a treat hearing Belize Kriol English. There seem to be different levels of the Creole, with some people speaking a more ´creolized´ (or ´less Anglicized´) form of the language than others, but for the most part, it was completely unintelligible for me. After a week in Placencia, we took a boat to Puerto Cortes, Honduras and made our way to Utila, Bay Islands via Tela and the Garifuna village of La Ensenada. La Ensenada was really something. We knew we wanted to see some Garifuna culture, but what we didn´t know is that the day we came they were having their annual fiesta! Perfect timing! The Garifuna, who are a mix of former West African slaves from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent and indigenous Caribes, sure know how to dance and drum. It was amazing! And, or course, I had to find out as much as I could about their unique language. It has a real West African ring to it but apparently it´s more Arawakan (Caribbean) than Yoruba (West African). But for those who speak a little French, you might be happy to know that you already know a little Garifuna! All the numbers and most of the days of the week seem to be from French!
We did a week of scuba diving in Utila and then spent a week exploring the island. There´s lots of history on the island (shipwrecks, burried treasure, and all that jazz!). Apparently even Captain Henry Morgan hid out there for a couple of years! But I´m happy we left when we did because two weeks on that English-speaking island, a week in English-speaking Belize, and all the English that Jenny, Matt, and I speak together is hindering my Spanish. I´ve realized that if I want to learn this language I better plan to come back here alone for a couple of years (or decades) and volunteer or study at a language school because, when it comes to Spanish, I only get to practice with myself, shopkeepers, and pushy hustlers. ¡Así es la vida!
Sorry to have put you through all that, but this is what happens when I don´t update for a month. I´ll be in touch.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Hola Again!
How´s life? Jenny, Matt, and I are alive and well. We´ve been up to a lot over the past 2 weeks or so. Right now we´re in Flores in northern Guatemala, quite close to the Mayan city of Tikal. After San Pedro la Laguna we headed West to Quetzaltenango (Xela), Guatemala´s second largest city. It´s a bustling place. We didn´t spend long in the city though. We went on a trek with a group called Quetzaltrekkers - they´re a non-profit organization run by volunteers that take people on treks around the surrounding mountains and volcanos. All of the money they get from clients goes to an orphanage, school for street kids, and a clinic. I´d love to come back down here to work with them and learn the ins and outs of their project. I think it could be implemented in some other developing nations too. Anywho, we did the 2 day Santiaguito hike with them: a trek to the base of Guatemala´s most active volcano. It was a "blast!" Some exciting parts were crossing a rickety, Indiana Jones style bridge with wooden planks missing here and there while suspended over a massive gorge created by the last major eruption in 1902. From the middle of the bridge, you could see two halves of a church, hanging from the edges of the cliffs on either side of the 40 - 50 m wide gorge. At night, while camping out under the volcano, we watched a couple of eruptions with lava flowing down the side of the volcano. Jenny thought we were going to die.

After Xela, we made our way to Coban, via Huehuetenango, Sacapulas, and Uspantan. Not many people go to Coban via this route because there´s not much of a road. It was quite an adventure.

We then relaxed in Semuc Champey, one of Guatemala´s parks. The highlight here was a spelunking tour of the caves with Domingo, the local guide. We must have used up at least 3 of our lives here. We were told to simply wear our swimsuits and sandals and not to bring anything. Armed with candles (no helmets or flashlights) we swam, crawlded and climbed our way through the dark labyrinth . . . And we didn´t have to sign a single form! I love this country!

We´re now in Flores, looking after Matt. Poor Mateo´s had to get a handful of shots at the dodgy Guatemalan clinic. I even had to give him a piggyback back to the hostel beacause he was so sore. Once he´s better, we´re headed to Tikal and then into former British Honduras (Belize). We won´t be there long though . . . probably less than a week. We just can´t wait to go to Honduras.
Take care.
We´ll be in touch!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

San Pedro

Hello again! I hope all is well. Thanks for the comments and e-mails. Matt, Jenny, and I have been in San Pedro la Laguna for the past couple of days studying Spanish and living with a Mayan family. It´s a bit of a hippie town, but our school and family are on the outskirts so we don´t see any of that. Guatemala is having a bit of a freak currency crisis right now. We´re still not sure what is happening, but after endless trips to the bank, we´ve managed to get some money out of the ATM. They´ve mostely been empty. Things are great now. Lago de Atitlan is beautiful and the people hear are friendly. Central Tz´utujil (the Mayan langauge spoken around here in San Pedro and surrounding town) is very much alive. Although, it has a lot of glottal sounds that I have no idea how to produce. Right now we really need to concentrate on Spanish. We´re headed up the volcan on Saturday (it{s right out the back door), and after helping our family in their coffee field on Monday, we´re heading West to Quetzaltenango. We´ll be in touch.

Na´an (Tz´utujil for Adios)

Saturday, January 6, 2007


Hello all!

I've got to be super quick! (very little time to write). I hope you're all well. Matt, Jenny, and I arrived in Guate last night, and we're in Antigua right now. Look it up - it's a UNESCO site - very beautiful, but full of other North American/European tourists though. We thought we 'd stay here for at least a week of Spanish language school, but we're heading out tomorrow for a smaller, quieter (?) town called San Pedro de la Laguna on Lago de Atitlan, which is in the highlands. It has the cheapest accommodation in the country and some of the best Spanish language schools . . . you can even take courses in some of the Mayan languages! Way to much fun! We're having a great time and we're safe and well. I'll write more when I have the chance in San Pedro. (We'll be there for at least a week - probably longer).


Wednesday, January 3, 2007

¡Vamos a Guatemala!

Well, I've finally got a blog going now. Talk about procrastination . . . we leave for Vancouver in about 6 hours, and on Friday, my sis (Jenny), my bro (Matt), and I fly to Guatemala City (aka: Guate), where we'll begin our long anticipated trip throughout Central America. Uni was so busy during the Fall term that we haven't had too much time to plan. But in a nutshell, we hope to spend time in Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador (at the very least) during the next 4 months. Along the way we hope to learn a lot about ourselves and the people in these countries and lend a helping hand where we can. I thought I'd set this blog up to help keep in touch and share the adventure. Whenever possible, I'll post photos and updates, so feel free to drop by from time to time.
I hope you all enjoyed Christmas and New Year's!