Saturday, May 7, 2011
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Just a fast post today--I went to Spanish classes from 8am-1pm this morning and discovered that the school really is pretty nifty. Since i was there on the regular school schedual today (instead of starting at 2 like yesterday) i got to see the school in full swing. The courtyard was filled with Spanish students and teachers, all giving one-on-one lessons and when my mind drifted, i could still hear spanish learning all around me...it was really a great way to stay on task. During the break, instead of standing around waiting for my teacher to finish her cigarette, the entire group gathered outside to chat (in Spanish), and the administrators brought around hot tea, fresh mangos, cookies and sweat breads for us. Then when least expected it, the teachers all broke out painted eggs filled with confetti and cracked them over our heads! Of course, we then got ours by storming the officina and getting some eggs for ourselves which we proceeded to chuck at the teachers for the remainder of the recess! A fun day...
After classes, i went to the market and spent about 3 dollars on a truck load of fresh veggies and made myself the first propper meal that i have had in days at the hostel. I had a short nap, and then made my way back to the school to meet a few of the teachers for the afternoon activity (included!) which was a tour of a nearby pueblo where a lot of the region´s produce comes from. There we toured a church, saw a pagan shrine for San Simon (the patron saint of vices to whom locals offer burnt sacrifices of rum, money, candy, ciggs, and drugs, and checked out a local artisian collective. I also bought a strange fruit a the market called a cuchina (spelling?) which was like a huuge string bean filled with cocao like meaty-seed things. It was muy rico (tasted a pit like pear or banana). The whole trip was filled with tons of relaxed spanish conversation (a good thing, because i opted out of a host family--i figured that 5 hours was all my sanity could handle) which was a nice supplement to the intensive lessons in the morning.
After that, i came back to the hostel, ate a bit, hung out with some of the other hostelers, and then went to a jazz concert that was part of a national jazz festival featuring artists from all over the world (free!). Interestingly enough, the band tonight was from Italy, and im sure that i was one of the few in the audience who could understand their banter. The music was great, but what really shined (for me, at least) was their awesome stage presence. They were really energetic and a bit silly, occasionally leaving the stage in the middle of a number leaving one of the four on stage for an inpromptu solo. They would then come back in strange outfits or hats and taunt eachother--a nice break from all the guatemala-ness around me. The theater was also a strange anomoly for Guatemala, it seemed to be modeled after some of the nicer theaters that i have seen in Europe, and was really inpressive.
After that i came home, and that was my day.
And they all lived happily after,
Monday, March 7, 2011
Where did i leave off, lets see...right, i was telling you about the trek that i was about to embark upon to the higest peak in Central America, heres the tale:
I woke up at 4 in the manana along with around 5 other brave souls in the dorm near the treckers office, we went downstairs and got our gear together, i needed to pack the following things: Thermal sleeping mat for the below zero temperature, sleeping bag, a poofy winter jacket, two teck-thermal shirts, a sweatshirt, my fleece, gloves, wool socks, a hat, 5 liters of water (for american readers, thats two and a half soda bottles), plate, coffee cup, spoon, a kilo of peanut butter, a kilo of humus, and about 5 kilos of dry pasta. Obviously a lot of that stuff was communal, we had to share the load--and boy did i get a good share.
We left the office around 445am when the rest of the group arrived and finished packing (there were 15 of us, 12 clients and 3 guides from America, Canada, Australia, the UK, Ireland, Korea, Israel, the Netherlands and more i cant remember). We then hopped in the back of a pickup truck and bounced our way accross Xela to the Xela bus terminal which for some reason is in a neighboring town called Minerva. We waited for the first chicken bus to San Marcos, and threw our bags on top of the bus for the two hour ride there (i slept the whole ride!). In San Marcos we went to a comodore and ate a pretty decent breakfast (dont worry folks, i wont regale you with the contents of every meal, snack, and sniff like the Honduras post!) with way oversweetened coffee-like hot water. We finished and hopped a second chicken bus which took us up to the base of the volcano.
Let me take just a minute here to tell you about this volcano. When i was told it was the higest peak in central america, i too scoffed a bit. I have climbed quite a few of the montains and volcanoes here in Centro America and they have never been much of a challenge for me. It was only when i saw the sign at the entrance to the park that i realized how high we were going to trek. The volcano peak is 4, 220 meters, thats higher than nearly all the highest peaks in the Alps. Plus, i have never climbed anything with a pack that heavy before, I have always done day trips and it has always been hot as hades, but this time i was weighed down and bundled up in layer upon layer of poofy clothes. This was not to be an easy trek.
About halfway up the volcano, a group of about half a dozen machete weilding men confronted us and demanded that we pay them money to continue up the volcano. They showed us bogus identification what was obviously fake and told us that the official at the base of the trail was an impersonater who esploits trourists, and that they were the real officials (creative, right?). The guides were not sure what to do (because they knew that was obviousy a shake down but they had never encountered this before--the guides at the place i went through are not trained guards or mountaineers; the company is a not-for-profit and all the proceeds get donated to a school and shelter for street children). We discussed our options as a group and when the discussion turned to the fact that they had machetes, i pointed out the fact that we had machetes as well, and that if we just kept walking they surely wouldnt follow. The group wasnt totally convienced, but the half that agreed on this point (including two of the guides) all picked up their bags and we kept going, and once the rest saw that the shake-down-ers in fact werent going to follow us, they too joined and we never heard from those guys again. All bark, no bite.
I took us about 6 hours to climb the volcano (2 hrs faster than most groups) and the last 20 minutes felt like an eternity. I was dead tired, dehydrated from overrationing my water, frozen solid, and suffocating in the low oxygen. None-the-less, i made it to the top and at the front of the pack.
After we arrived at the base camp (which was a clearing at the top of the tree line where the gound was still insulated and coushined by the pine needles) we immidiately saw to building fire and shelter. We pulled the food and tents out of the bags and the girls built the tents while the guys collected firewod, and built the pit and cook-station. There was a mist like you wouldnt believe on the mountain side, and the group decided it was too cold and the visibility was too low to keep goint to the summit that night. Instead we built a roaring bonfire out off all the twigs and pine needles we could find (because the area was hugely deforrested and any legitimate firewood had already been burned away (monst of the forrests in the region had been torched during the Guatemalan civil war to eliminate potential geurilla hide-outs) and chilled out playing corny camping games and stuff. Dinner was the food we brought up (pasta and PBnJ and stuff) along with some much needed coffee and tea.
It was so cold that night, and luckily there were only two tents for all of us, which meant a rather cozy, yet warm night in the tent. At some point in the night we heard people milling about and making noise outside the tent and i was convinced for a moment that it was machete wielding geurillas come back to sley up for not paying the exploitation fee to climb the mountain. Alas, it was just some dude trying to find his own campsite and no harm done.
We woke up at 4am again and packed our sleeping bags, mats, and water and climbed the remaining 500 meters or so to the summit of the volcano where we took a minute to marvel at the fact that we were way above the cloudline ( it looked like we could just walk out onto the surface of the clouds), and the fact that there were absolutely no clouds above us to block out the infinite sky...then we rolled out our mats and bags and did our best to go back to sleep (even though it was deathly cold up there.
I woke up in time for one of the most beautiful and unique sunrises i have ever experienced. It only lasted a few seconds because as soon as the sun rose over the cloudline, it vaporized the nice fluffy clouds and a fast rush of mist washed over us as the clouds rose, diffusing the sun to the point where we could look directly at it, and then to the point where we couldnt see the sun at all or ever our hands in front of our faces. We waited for the mist to clear and then went back down to base camp where we had hot mosh and coffee, packed up the camp and headed back down. A far easker trek (although death on my bad knees) that took just about 4 hours (no more water and food to carry!).
At the bottom we got lunch at a comodore and then made our way back to Xela via chicken buses. It was a good weekend, ended with a few of us getting dinner at a street carnival that had just opened sunday night.
Im getting kicked off the computer now so i need to be brief, this morning i slept late and moved into a nicer hostle, then napped a bit, found a spanish school, signed up, napped a bit more, took 5 hours of spanish lessons and sat down to write this blog. Im still dead tired so to sleep is where im about to go now.
Keep reading, and please comment!
Friday, March 4, 2011
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Sunday, January 30, 2011
Ok folks, here is an update, I know you have been dying to read one. Im not so sure how exciting this update is going to be, or how long, but here we go.
In the past few weeks I have been taking Spanish classes, teaching English at the hotel, and selling wine at Tobacos y Vinos. It hasn’t been a very lucrative time in my life, but I have vastly improved on my Spanish since I started taking lessons from a teacher I originally worked with at a Spanish school, and then hired him privately. Hiring him privately was great because I was able to make my own lesson hours, and he came to my house to tutor me. Literally, all I had to do was roll out of bed and go downstairs to the garden where I took my lessons in the early morning sun. Each day we tackled a different tense or set of grammatical rules, and then had an hour or so of conversation using it. Normally our conversations consisted of talking about Guatemala, my travels, cultural differences between the US and Central/Latin America, and of course the ever present ‘what did you do yesterday?’.
Working at the hotel was interesting—and I’d probably say it was exactly the same as it would have been to have been tutoring the service staff at any hotel in the states. That is, I was teaching a group of adults with little-to-no experience in English, and less in formal education. That being said, they were a nice group of people, ages ranging from 18 to the late 50s. Each day was essentially a matter of reviewing the material of the previous day and hopefully building on that to teach some new material. This proved to be a bit more of a challenge than expected because there was no accountability for my students. No grades or exams meant that nobody was checking on their progress. Any homework that I assigned was usually disregarded and forgotten about before the next class. As such, each day required a re-teaching of the last class. Had I more time or a plan to remain at that job in the long term, I would have written my own tests/quizzes and created a grading scheme of my own—if only to establish routine and build procedures for comparing the performance of the individual students over time. Alas, by the time I had acclimated to the class environment, I was already leaving. But more on that later…
My job at the wine shop has proven to be a rather disappointing investment (strictly monetarily speaking). After working here full-time for the past two weeks (and now that I am moving on) I have earned less than the equivalent of two hundred bucks. It’s good that I saved my earnings from working at the school last semester, that’s been enough to keep me afloat through my time in Antigua, and should easily get me through the next month or so I plan to be spending traveling. However, working here has been a positive experience—I learned a bit about cigars, even more about wine, and I now have a better understanding of the ins and outs of a business (well, a cash business). Tambien, working here was mad fun. Otherwise I would have just been sitting around at home all day with nothing to do. Unlike I had previously imagined, the shop is much busier here in the new location (that’s the reason I haven’t posted more—I anticipated more down time in the shop)—people stop in for single (or double, or triple) glasses of wine constantly, and when I’m not serving them I usually need to be washing the glasses, labeling bottles, reorganizing the shelves, taking inventory, counting cigars, or disposing of bottles—not to mention the occasional glass of wine I am forced to enjoy with a customer for far longer than I should. [the photo above is me in the entrance to the wine shop]
Anyway, all that is over now and I am on my way. A few days ago I quit my jobs, and informed my tutor and landlord that I would be leaving (good thing I only took a 2 week lease!). It’s a bit funny that I quit a job for the first time just three weeks ago, and now I have done it again, and again…I hope I’m not developing a taste for quitting! Toda via, everyone was fairly to extremely understanding, and I had no troubles squaring away my last hours and making my plans to move on.
So here’s the plan (or lack thereof): My friend who was my roommate here in Antigua last semester is flying down to Guate (today, actually) and joining me on one more epic adventure. We are not quite sure what the plan is. Originally, we were going to rent a car and drive it to Nicaragua through Salvador and back through Honduras, but upon further investigation, it seems as if I can only drive out of the country as far as one border away, and Nicaragua is one border too far. Furthermore, the rental prices are about the same as in the states, and that’s pretty high when paying in Quetzales. Regardless, we are going to sally onward, probably bussing or thumbing it down to Nica—I really want to see the volcanoes there which are said to be an entirely different breed of awesome than the ones we have here in Guate. I’m thinking that maybe we can rent a car in Honduras and drive only for the southern leg of our trip, that will cut down on rental and gas costs (esp. cause everything is a bit cheaper in Honduras) as well as ameliorate the one-border issue. It makes sense in my head.
This whole debacle should take no more than the next three and a half weeks—we need to be back in Guate by the 22nd for my friend to fly home to return to work. After that, I may fly home later that week, or stay until my planned fly-home-date in mid-March. If I stayed, those few extra weeks, it would give me the chance to go to Lake Atitlan and take more Spanish lessons in San Pedro—a town I have always wanted to plant myself for more than a few days—and consolidate what I have learned here since the beginning of January (or August, really). I haven’t decided this yet, and I have a feeling that it will be more of a last minute decision.
Anyway, once I get home in March (or whatever) I will hopefully be able to start teaching in the states (in NY, back in Rochacha). I heard that there may be an opening in the ESOL department in the Rochester City Schools and I have submitted my application to them. If I have any luck, I will be able to work the rest of the year in Rochester (spring up there is beautiful), and either continue working in NY or choose another international destination in which to teach for the following year. Everyone tells me that now is the time, and I couldn’t agree more—I just wish that deciding to keep traveling was more of an easy decision for me. Well, regardless of all that, I will probably be returning to Italy to teach around the boot for the summer again—that’s always a blast, and it’ll be good to have some Euros in my pocket again.
Well I think that about wraps it up for this post, keep reading and please comment!
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
So yes, this is the first blog post that I have written in FOREVER, I realize that. But you know me, super important, super busy, doing all the important and busy making awesome things that you wish you could be doing…that’s not to say that you aren’t awesome as well—if you weren’t awesome, you wouldn’t be reading such an awesome blog.
Anyway, to get to the point…I have returned to Antigua, Guatemala and will be staying here for at least a couple of weeks. The first thing I did when I got here was to quit my job at Colegio Boston. The atmosphere was crappy, the pay was insulting, and honestly I got little reward out of the day until I left. After only one day back at school, I decided that this most certainly was not the place for me. So on day two, I walked into the director’s office and told her so. I also told her that I was willing to give her two weeks’ notice so that she could find an adequate replacement and have me train him or her for the tumult they were about to endure…unfortunately, by the end of the day, they had found a replacement—no joke, the literally (not figuratively) hired the first guy to walk in off the street. He walked in off the street about two hours after I gave my notice. Because they are so unabashedly cheap in blatant disregard for the interests of their students and the parents who pay thousands of dollars (x8 in quetzales) to send their students to “the best bilingual school in Antigua” (read: “the most expensive and therefore most prestigious school with a front as a bilingual school in Antigua”), they decided that they didn’t want to pay me for those two weeks if they had another teacher in the classroom, green though he may be. Whatever, no big deal, I hated that place anyway, and two weeks less of that torture is no skin off my back.
Anyway, the quitting process itself was great. Seconds after I told the director that I was not going to be staying on for the year, the owner if the school walked in and began to commend me for my excellent teaching the previous year, cvelling about how pleased she was that I had returned, and about how she only expected the best from me and my students in the commencing year. The director tried to interrupt her several times, but the owner ignored her so that she could continue her rant. Finally, the director cut in (quite rudely, I might add, as I was enjoying the owner’s endless stream of complements) and informed the director that I intended on staying for only two more weeks. The director lost the ability to speak for just a moment, and then asked me if I was staying in Antigua. I told her that I had planned to and she immediately offered me a job as an English tutor for the staff at a hotel she had a share in…the swankiest and most expensive hotel in town. Of course I accepted, much to the chagrin of the director, who I am sure at this point would have been happy to feed me to the wolves. This new job pays per hour over four times what my job at the school paid.
Anyway, since then, I have been tutoring at the hotel, which has been a challenge, because the students are adults, and rather uneducated and lacking in a lot of the school culture I have come to take for granted in secondary school classrooms. Yesterday, I spent two hours teaching and re-teaching, “Hello, how are you? My name is…” It’s not the easiest group to teach, but that’s part of the challenge of being a teacher.
I have also picked up hours at the wine and cigar shop that I worked at in the fall. As I am writing this, I am on my first shift since returning and quite a few things have changed. Firstly, the entire operation has moved across the street into a different location. It is smaller, but it is now within the domain of a restaurant (I’m not really sure how the lease works) and they are able to sell wine by the glass, so now there are more people around, and it functions kind of like a wine bar…except there are no tips for the quality servers. Also, I make a fifth per hour what I make tutoring, so in the five hours that I will have worked by the end of the day today, I will have made half as much as I earned in the two hours I worked yesterday. C’est ca.
I have also been taking Spanish lessons with a private tutor for the past week and have really noticed a marked improvement in both my understanding, as well as my ability to speak with ease and accuracy. After just a few intensive lessons (they are one-on-one) I have learned and put to use quite a bit or grammar as well as vocabulary. I think most importantly, however, is the fact that these lessons force me to speak in Spanish for three straight hours every day which has made me much more comfortable with my ability. Also, I have really good teacher which is always important.
Ok, well I have two and a half more hours of wine to sell. Keep checking in on this blog, I should be writing plenty more as it’s a good way to use my time at the shop.