Thursday, April 26, 2007

First Days in Guatemala

I left Copan Ruinas in Honduras for Antigua, Guatemala yesterday. The bus ride was the worse one so far (oddly worse than chicken buses), even though we took a direct shuttle. I think it was so bad because the seats didn't have head rests and the road was really curvy. It was interesting how suddenly the landscape changed when we left Honduras. It went from looking really jungly (but dry after 5-6 months without rain) to a sparse thirsty landscape. Both countries are quite mountainous, so I´m not sure what the difference is.

The highlight was seeing Guatemala City from the safety of the bus window. That city is insane! It's the biggest city in Central America (~10-12 million people) and has a ton of sky scrapers downtown. When we first got into town, we could have been in America--huge malls, McDonald's, Blockbusters, movie theatres, car dealership, even a Taco Bell! Until you looked across the street and saw huge poor neighborhoods of concrete or metal houses with tin roofs. The view of the city from the mountains is incredible; it goes on farther than the eye can see. Up close, it was so polluted and smoggy; the buses were the worse, emitting huge plumes of black smoke every block.

I am now in Antigua and will probably be here until Sunday or so before heading to Lake Atitlan for several days. I´m trying to decide if I want to study for another week somewhere or do some volunteer work, leaning towards the latter if I feel like I can make myself study on my own for about an hour every day. I´m carrying around a two grammar books and a workbook, which is ridiculous if I´m not going to use them.

Monday, April 23, 2007


I ended up spending a week on the island of Utila and could easily have stayed longer. Island life has a way of sucking people in. My scuba course went well and I am now certified to dive up to 18 meters (~60 feet). I saw a couple turtles (hawkbeak and green), tons of butterfly fish, porcupine fish, trumpet fish, parrot fish, spotted drums, and scorpion fish, among others (see for photo examples). I also got tosnorkel with a baby whale shark between dives on my last day. It was only about 8-10 feet long--they can grow up to 100 feet!

Besides diving, there is not much to do on the island but drink. One bar that was especially cool was called Treetanic--a bar built in a tree. The story I was told that this guy who made it got rich in the 70s-80s dealing drugs in the US then moved here and spent the next 12 years doing drugs and building a crazy bar/restaurant/hotel which together are called the Jade Seahorse. (I unfortunately didn't get to spend as much time there as I would have liked because I had a cold, felt terrible, and went home early.) There are also a lot of other good bars built directly over the water. And a great view of the entire island and the sunset from atop a water tower. (Although the original directions we got to that one left us in the middle of someone's cow pasture!)

I finally managed to leave the island on the 6:20 ferry Saturday morning and met up with the friends I met in Utila at the Omega Tours Lodge in the Pico Bonito rainforest. I arrived in time to have breakfast with them and then we all went on a great hike through the jungle to Honduras' longest waterfall, ~230 feet. The hike was the perfect difficulty, we all got sweaty but everyone was happy and felt good. Our guide, Alejandro, only spoke Spanish, but Liz and I knew enough to translate for everyone. The hike ended with a lovely swim in the river, which was cool enough to be refreshing but not so cold you couldn't swim for awhile. We spent the afternoon and evening talking and drinking tea, enjoying each other's company on our last night together.

In the morning, we had breakfast and I decided not to do the rafting trip I had planned on for the afternoon. I'd talked to a lot of people about it and it seemed like the guides were wankers and the actual rafting part of the trip was only about 45 minutes. So I decided the $45 could be better spent somewhere else. I tried to change for another kind of tour, perhaps horseback riding or canoeing, but they said that nothing else was available for the day. And I was basically told that if I didn't do the rafting thing, I wasn't welcome to stay there because I was taking a bed away from someone who would spend more money. Even though theyadvertise primarily as a lodge, with the option of doing all these other activities. By that time, I was all pissed off and decided to leave with my friends that day instead of staying for another night or two as originally planned.

This actually worked out really well as I arrived in La Ceiba five minutes before the next bus left for San Pedro Sula. And when I got there, the bus for Copan Ruinas left within about five minutes as well. So no waiting around, which is always nice.

After the standard 7-8 hours of traveling, I arrived in Copan Ruinas around sunset. Getting off the bus, I met Lisi from Austria and we went out in search of a hostel together. The one we wanted was either full or didn't have a dormitory (after drinking there too days in a row, I'm still unsure) so a woman who works there walked us to another hostel, Manzana Verde [Green Apple].

Ah, the dorm life... This was my first one of this trip; I'd forgotten how it is sleeping in a room full of strangers. I was woken up around 7:00 by an older woman who started packing at that time, rustling around with plastic bags, trying to stuff everything in her backpack, and was still there when we left for breakfast around 9:00. Rude. Either pack the night before or wait until at least after 8:00 if you're not in a big hurry!

Today, Lisi and I went to see the Mayan ruins. (Getting there was the hardest part. We asked for directions, thought we knew where we were going, somehow walked to another part of the city instead, and had to get directions again.) We hired an English-speaking guide named Berger who was 38 and had lived in Copan Ruinas for his entire life. Before becoming a tour guide, he worked with the archaeologists excavating the ruins for 10 years so he knew quite a lot about everything. The tour was really informative and he answered all our questions. I'll post pictures of this and everything as soon as I get around tobringing all my camera stuff with me to the internet cafe.

I keep meaning to mention this: If you have questions about anything, please let me know, either here in the comments or via email. I know that there is a lot of stuff I don't mention about life down here because it's just part of my normal life right now that might seem really different/strange/interesting to other people.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Island Greetings

After two days of 8 hour bus rides and a morning of sweating in the northern Honduras city of La Ceiba (much bigger, crazier, and hotter than I thought it would be--I had to go to the mall in order to enjoy some air conditioning and stop sweating; everyone in the streets were laughing at me and calling me "sudita" aka little sweaty girl) I decided to take the ferry to the Caribbean Island of Utila. While on the "ferry"--more of a barge enclosed by plastic, with benches inside and in the bow--I met a couple women from Britain who were going to the island for scuba diving (the main reason most people go there). One of them was already certified and the other was going to learn, so I decided to take the class with her. This is the cheapest place in the world to do it and it seemed silly not to, since I was already there. So we got signed up, found a hostel together, and spent the night chatting, eat ting mahi mahi and tuna kabobs, and drinking perfectly tart margaritas. It was so lovely after all the trouble and annoyances of the past few days.

Today we had our first class: videos and quizzes in the morning and shallow water exercises in the afternoon. I found it a lot easier than I thought I would. Breathing underwater for so long seems really strange, but it was fun and I got a wetsuit tan :) I'll be on the island for at least the next three days to finish my class and maybe stick around for a bit longer to see more of the island. Afterwards, I think I'll be headed to the nearby, mainland Honduras rain forest for a few days and then to the Copan Ruinas near the Guatemalan border, before heading into that country for a month or so.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Cada cabeza es un mundo

[Each head is a world.]

Well, I´m off to Honduras tomorrow. I´ve been here in Granada for a month and now that I´m finally feeling settled and like I have some friends, I have to leave due to a visa that´s shorter than I thought. Very sad. But I plan to return in 4-6 weeks for a couple more weeks here. I would like to see my Nica friends again and also do some volunteer work here in Granada to give back to the community that´s made me feel so welcome.

Here are some more pictures:

I´ll let you know when I´m settled somewhere new. Take care, have fun, and write soon!

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Photos at Last!

You can find photos from my first couple weeks here:

Hopefully, I´ll have the rest up soon.

San Juan del Sur

I returned Wednesday from the beach, having spent the previous three nights in the Pacific coast town of San Juan del Sur. The normally quiet-- from what I´ve heard--beach town was hopping and full of Nicas on vacation from work in celebration of Semana Santa (Easter Week). Almost none of them know how to swim, but the water was full of families playing. Oddly, almost all the women were wearing tee shirts and shorts. I think this is in part due to a lack of funds for purchasing swimsuits but is mostly due to modesty concerns that come from living in such a machismo culture.

On my way into town, via 'chicken bus' aka old school buses from the USA, I sat next to a man named Javier who was on his way to SJDS for the day to sell some clothes to a store in town. Our meeting did not get off to a good start, as I sat next to his bag on the bus and then he got on and told me that he was paying for the whole seat so he could sit with his bag. I asked him if I could please sit there as there were no other seats and I didn't want to stand for two hours. He finally relented and after that we got along really well. He even insisted on paying for my bus ticket and took me out to lunch. The bus got super crowded, as it stops and picks up every person on the side of the road that waves to it. There were so many people going to the beach that the aisle was totally packed and still people were squeezing on. The cost of this two hour+ trip was about $1.20.

Once we finally arrived in SJDS, Javier took care of his business (He told me that he bought 25,000 shirts from the US--though made in China, of course--for $.25 each [after import/export taxes, etc $.68 each] and was trying to sell them for around $4 each) then we had some lunch and then a couple beers at one of the beach front bars and watched the antics of people drunk at noon. Since I arrived on Sunday, there were even more people at the beach than on the following days.

We spoke a lot, in Spanish and English, about the problems of our countries and other topics of daily life. One thing that I really like about Nicaragua is that everyone has a lot of opinions about every topic. I think this is partly due to the fact that their news programs are really good here, having in depth coverage about a lot of important issues world wide and also streaming news briefs along the bottom of the screen (similar to the way we do the stock market reports). He left around 3:00 to catch the last bus to Granada and I had a long walk from one end of the beach to the other (~1 hour roundtrip) and got acquainted with the town.

Later that night, I met an Australian woman who's been living and working in SJDS for about ten months. She started out in Guatemala and told me about some places to check out, which was really good as I am going there next and know very little about the country. Apparently the infrastructure for tourists is better there than here, so I'm not too worried about it. But I really should have bought the Central America guide, not just the one for Nicaragua!

Monday morning I went to check out the "biggest English language bookstore in Nicaragua", El Gato Negro. It was really fun and I probably spent at least an hour looking at books. I bought one on the history of Nicaragua and also a novel (and exchanged One Hundred Years of Solitude for a discount--sorry Erin, I owe you a book!). I also read an interview with Kurt Vonnegut (Stop Smiling magazine, issue 27, 2006) where he said "Look, practice an art, no matter how badly or how well you do it. It will make your soul grow. That´s why you do it. You don´t do it to become famous or rich. You do it to make your soul grow. This would include singing in the shower, dancing to the radio by yourself, drawing a picture of your roommate or writing a poem or whatever. Please practice an art. Have the experience of becoming. It´s so sad that many public school systems are eliminating the arts because it´s no way to make a living. What´s important is to have the experience of becoming, which is as necessary as food or sex. It´s really quite a sensation--to become." This is great advice.

Then it was another lazy day of eating, drinking, reading, writing, and strolling along the beach. The sunsets were all spectacular and it was a terribly romantic place to be alone. Good thing I didn't bring my camera or I would have been tempted to break my vow of not trying to capture sunsets on film (I think it's best to just savor them in the moment).

Later, I had a few beers with Koko, an Argentinian musician living in Costa Rica because it´s possible to make a living playing music there. He has four bands and is happy, though recently, after 5 years of waiting, was denied residency and now has to leave the country for 72 hours every 3 months to renew his visa. He told me some places to visit in Argentina and we talked about the problems and assets of our respective societies. One thing that really stuck out was the fact that in Argentinian suburbs, unlike those in America, there are a lot of businesses and things to walk to. So it´s more like living in a city and people aren´t as isolated from their neighbors. Which I think is a really good thing. He also taught me some slang, which I will not post here but will email to you if you ask.

Tuesday, I had planned to take a water taxi to visit another beach, but it (unseasonably) rained really hard all morning. The afternoon was a little better, but I didn´t want to get stuck on a beach somewhere in the rain so I stayed in town and hung out on the same beach. I treated myself to a very expensive dinner ($11) of gigantic grilled shrimp and a perfect piƱa colada.