Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Escuela, Pueblo, y Musica

Hola Chicos!
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,
Jake

Monday, March 7, 2011

Volcan Tajumulco and first day of spanish class

Hey folks,
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

Guate again

Ok folks, just a super quick post to let you know what is up.
After a fantastic weekend at home (Broadway, Hackensack, New Ro, NYC, Montauk) i flew back down to Guatemala so that i can take a few weeks of spanish lessons in the immersion environment. I got to guatemala city and went straight to my friends house in zona 14, where i stayed two nights enjoying delicious food and great company. This morning i took off for Quetzaltenango (commonly referred to as Xela...pronounced ¨Shaylah¨) and when i got here i signed up for an overnight trek to the highest volcano peak in central america (i cant remember or pronounce the name). We leave tomorrow morning at 445am so i got a dorm bed at the hostle next door and will be leaving first thing in the morning. There will be an 8 hour trek up the mountain tomorrow, followed by dinner and camping at base camp and a sunset hike to the peak, then another hike to the peak for sunrise. we should get back to xela by late afternoon on sunday. ill check my email then, or monday.
I start spanish school on monday.
Sorry for the berevity and the typos, this keyboard stinks.
keep in touch and please comment or email,
jake