Friday, July 21, 2006

good times in guatemala

before i start writing about my little viaje to guatemala, i have to let you all know that as i’m sitting in my cuarto typing this entry, niña teresita’s son and her son-in-law are out in the hostal lobby watching a kung-fu movie at the loudest volume possible. kung-fu movies can be really tranquilo – like if they’re at a low volume, they’re something you can fall asleep to on the couch. but at the highest possible volume, they’re out of control. especially in spanish. have you ever seen a kung-fu movie that’s been dubbed in spanish? it’s really funny. even funnier than it normally is dubbed in english. i bet they’re even funnier dubbed in german or some language like that. ahhhh, kung-fu movies......what fun.

so where to begin...... courtney and i had a GREAT time in guatemala even though we didn’t do everything we planned on doing. the beach we visited is called “monterico” and is about three or four hours from the border of el salvador. the reason we went there is because when courtney was visiting el tunco (the beach in la libertad in el sal) with her friend kevin from the states, they met this guy from guatemala, bayron (pronounced “byron”) who was there with one of his friends. anyway, bayron invited her to come visit him in monterico whenever she wanted. he lives there with his parents and other family and works at a spanish school there – teaching spanish to tourists. so that’s why we went there. and basically, we stayed in monterico the entire time because it was so beautiful and we were having such a good time. what’s different about guatemala? first and foremost – the spanish. it wasn’t until i went to guatemala that i realized how much el salvador’s spanish is campo. it’s like how sometimes in the states you can’t understand people from the south, or from way back in the hills in appalachia or something. that’s basically what all of el salvador is like. in guatemala i could understand everybody and they could understand me. they used proper conjugations, they used direct and indirect objects where they are supposed to be, they didn’t use caliche. ashley, our tech trainer, apparently went to the states to interview for grad schools because she wants to study spanish and one interviewer was like “where did you learn your spanish?” and she’s like “uh, el salvador?” and the interviewer said he could totally tell because it was so campo. rolando told me once that i should take advantage of the fact that i’m working with teachers, who generally have better spanish than farmers or regular people in a community. but honestly, half the time when they are having a conversation i can’t understand 50% of it because it’s all slang and campo. i can’t imagine if i had to work with farmers all day. at one point i asked bayron if courtney and i spoke like salvadorans and he said that i had a salvadoran accent and that courtney had an american accent. i was like “nooooo! i don’t want to have a salvadoran accent!” and he said it wasn’t my words and gramatics that were salvadoran (thank god) but the way i said things like “con permiso” and “buen provencha.” ugh. anyway, that, to me, is the biggest difference between el salvador and guatemala. i didn’t really notice that huge of a difference between honduran spanish and el salvador spanish – but there was a slight difference in that honduran spanish was somewhat clearer, but not as clear as guatemalan spanish. anyway, more about the trip.....

courtney came to apaneca on thursday night because she’s so far away, it would’ve taken her forever to get monterico if she would have done it all in one day. the trip from my site is only about 6 hours or so, so it definitely made sense for her to come to apaneca the night before. so on friday we left and i still didn’t even have permission to actually go. i had e-mailed rolando a couple days before telling him i’d just made the decision to go and on thursday he e-mailed me and told me i had to get permission from the country director (the guy in charge of everything peace corps el sal) before i could go because i didn’t have an actual vacation form filled out. so i e-mailed him, but since we were leaving friday a.m. pretty early, i wasn’t sure how i was going to actually get this permission. i asked him to call me, so on friday a.m. i kept waiting to get a phone call. we got to the border at la hachadura and still nobody had called me. courtney kept telling me to call mike (the country director) but i felt like an idiot and didn’t want to. but finally i did and he’s like “i haven’t been in san salvador so i didn’t get your message, but oh, sure that’s totally fine! have a great time and be careful at the border!” so then i felt like even more of an idiot that i didn’t want to call him in the first place. so we cross the border which was a lot less organized than at the honduras/el sal border. we exchanged our dollars for quetzales (which were simple to understand after having already gone through the lempira craziness) and then had to walk really far to the actual guatemalan frontera. so we get there and some dudes tell us where the bus is and it doesn’t leave for about 20 minutes so we chill out outside of this tienda, and it’s like it is everywhere else. we sit down and five guatemalans decide it’s time for them to stand outside the tienda too and stare at us. it’s really weird, even after having been in latin america for so long, when people – normally guys – just sit there and stare at you like you’re animals at the zoo. but whatever. so then there’s this other guy who pulls up in this car and comes up to the tienda to drink a coke. i make a comment that he looks like aaron, one of the guys in our volunteer group, only older, shorter and guatemalan and we’re laughing hysterically. then after he finishes his coke he asks us if we are coming from el salvador. and he’s really jovial and nice and then after a while he tells us he’s going to be passing through taxisco, this town where we would have to catch a bus to monterico, and if we need a ride he can give us one. and at first i was like – no way – that would be just stupid. so courtney’s like “what do you think” and i’m like “i don’t know.” so we asked him his name and he says “mario,” like that was some kind of security question. but it was like i was 85% sure this guy was completely harmless. but i was thinking the whole time, this is everything they tell you not to do. and i looked around and it was like there were 10 other guys there that i would have DEFINITELY not even had to think about taking a ride from because i would have known they were shady. but this dude just looked like an everyday 50 year old guy. i don’t know....i mean, even the bus driver and cobredor that were hanging around looked way shadier than this guy did. so in the end, courtney and i decided it would be ok – just going on instincts and common sense. so we get in mario’s car and he’s got this country CD of songs like “the gambler” and “rhinestone cowboy” and he turns it up and he’s all like – i love this song! it was funnnnny. i never once felt like we made the wrong decision or anything and he delivered us to taxisco in about 45 minutes instead of 2 hours like it would have taken us. he was super nice and in taxisco he let us use his phone so we could call bayron to tell him where we were.

so courtney and i waited for the bus for monterico and discovered that in guatemala they make tostadas – something that el salvador doesn’t have – at least all the time. mmmmmmm. we got some from this women selling them on the side of the street and ate them on the bus and hoped that they’d have them in monterico too. so finally the bus leaves and we get to la avellana which is the little town where we have to get a ferry/lancha (small boat) to monterico. monterico is actually on an island, the chiquimulilla canal separates the island from the mainland which is surrounded by mangroves. anyway, so we get on this boat and take it for about 15 minutes and then get to the monterico side and bayron meets us there. we walk to his house, which is actually in the campo part of monterico – separated from the beach, tourists and everything. his house is pretty big, and i guess at times students from the spanish school stay there, so there’s a room for me and courtney with two beds and mosquito nets. so we hang out there for a while and while we were there, mario calls bayron’s phone (he had the number because we had called bayron in taxisco from mario’s phone) and asks bayron if we made it ok to monterico. and we were like “that’s so nice!” anyway, then we go down to the beach to check it out. you really can’t go wrong with a was beautiful. there were tourists there, but it didn’t seem like it was crazy. we walked a ways down and saw some tourist hotels and stuff then walked back and through town to bayron’s house. it was really hot and the mosquitoes were nuts and all you really wanted to do was sit in a hammock and fall asleep.

anyways, his mom makes us rice and shrimp – apparently it’s shrimp season there and shrimp’s super cheap so there was A LOT of shrimp. and it’s not shelled or anything so it takes us forever to eat this dinner because we’re breaking the heads and shells from the shrimp. then because we were taking so long to eat, bayron said he was going to go over to his friend’s for a little bit because he was supposed to be there earlier, and then he’d come back and get us. so we ate, showered and bayron came back and took us to his friend’s house – oliver, a hungarian dude who’s been living in monterico for a couple years. his girlfriend, eva, had just arrived about four days ago and didn’t know much spanish, but was taking classes at the school. bayron’s other friend victor was there and they were all drinking cuba (rum/coke) and so courtney and i joined the festivities. let’s just say we drank a lot and after a while we headed out for the beach. it was awesome because there was this lightning storm off a ways and just seeing it light up the ocean was so cool. we bought these huge 40 oz. gallos (guatemalan beer) and just sat there on the beach arguing about soccer and talking about other stuff. then we shuffled back through town and ended up sitting in front of this tienda until 5:00 in the a.m. drinking gallos and talking to the police. ?????

the next a.m. i was feeling way shitty, but walked down to the beach to find courtney. she had gotten up earlier than me and i figured she’d headed down there so i found her hanging out taking in some rays. i didn’t have my swimsuit with me because i didn’t know if she’d be there or not, so i hadn’t brought anything with me. and it was such a long walk back to bayron’s – well, at least it’s a long walk under the sub-tropical sun – that i decided i’d swim in my underwear (again, for the second time in two weeks). underwear looked like a swimsuit bottom anyway, and i had a tanktop, so like i said, whatever. it’s hard to swim in the ocean. i mean, first of all it’s a little scary – it’s the ocean and all, with currents and all that shit. plus, the sand is just out of control. it gets everywhere on you when a wave comes and there’s nothing you can do. anyway, it felt good though. we hung out on the beach for a while and then decided to walk back to bayron’s and de-sand ourselves. we had gotten a lot of sun and i still had a little bit of a hangover. but we saw this woman outside this tienda near the beach selling – you guessed it – tostadas, and we made a bee line over there and parked ourselves in front of the tienda at this table and ate tostadas. then after a while, when normal people would have left, we ordered more food. we people watched and it was hilarious seeing all the different tourists walk by and look at us like we were crazy because we were sitting in front of the tienda eating the local food and not in one of the restaurants that all the tourists were eating at. then we see this one guy by himself walk towards the beach, then back again, then back in front of the tienda and he finally orders food from the lady. he sits down and i start talking to him, then he comes over by us and orders a gallo. he turned out to be one of the coolest people i’ve ever met. his name was william, he’s 39, a first grade teacher in the south bronx in new york city, and is spending a month in monterico before he has to go back to new york to teach. he has been to monterico three times now and he says it’s such a great place to visit and stay for long periods of time. i’m thinking he’s got that right because yeah, there’s tourists and whatever, but most of them come on saturdays from antigua and leave on sunday and you don’t see a lot of them again until the next weekend apparently. anyway, we sat out in front of that tienda all damn afternoon people watching with william and meeting more of the guatemalans who live in monterico. i swear, we met half the town and the whole time we were having a great time. i think i ended up eating something like 7 tostadas and two tacos (which are actually what in mexican food are flautas) and that lady running that little stand must have thought we were crazy. plus, there was this little tiny guatemalan lady that courtney and i saw on the beach who was carrying a guacal around selling quesadilla. it was weird because she tried to sell it to some of these tourists and they looked at her like she was crazy, and we were like – hell yeah, we’ll have quesadilla! so anyway when we were sitting out in front of that tienda, we saw her again and she asked us if we had change for 100 quetzales and i didn’t and neither did courtney. then william gets out his money and he’s counting it and he goes, “i don’t have it either.” and that little old lady’s like “you have it” pointing at his money, and we’re dying laughing because william’s getting told off by this 4 foot tall little old lady. finally, he convinces her he doesn’t have it, but man, was that hilarious.

anyway, at about 5 that day we finally all left the tienda and william went on his way – he had to go to guatemala city the next day to get money and he was going to take a little vacation up to the guatemalan caribbean coast and come back down through the rio dulce, so it was sad having to say goodbye to him because he was hilarious. anyway, courtney and i walked back to bayron’s and when his mom asked us if we wanted dinner we were like – ugh, no! because we had eaten so much food.

bayron wanted to go do something again that night, so we dragged ass and finally showered and all that and we three and victor went down to some bar on the beach called “animal.” it was ok i guess...seemed to be filled with lots of tourists and pretentious party-goers. we had a couple drinks and then bayron decided we should go down to this other bar where there was salsa dancing and stuff. i drank enough that i wasn’t feeling like an asshole when bayron wanted to teach me how to for real dance salsa. it was soooo fun! and now i can pretty much half dance salsa and merengue. anyway, after a while we just sat around watching people and that was getting boring for me, so i wandered down to this hotel near the bar that had hammocks out front and i chilled out for a minute. but i was on my guard because there was this dude with a flashlight over a ways and i’m like – who is this asshole? then he comes over by me and says hello (in spanish) and asks me some stuff, and then he says he saw me and courtney outside the tienda (god, probably the entire town saw us) and then he says that i gave him quesadilla. and then i remembered who he was – i had some of that quesadilla leftover from when we got it on the beach and i didn’t want anymore after eating those tostadas, so i asked the owner of the tienda and his buddies if they wanted some. but it was all crumbled up because it was in my bag, so it was funny when they took some because they needed a bowl or something. ha. anyway, so this guy had been one of the guys i gave quesadilla too – so i didn’t feel all weirded out that he was talking to me. i guess he works security at night at the hotel where i was hanging in the hamaca. so i talked to him for a while and then went back to the other place and danced some more. we were all pretty tired, so we decided to head back to bayron’s house. there, we sat outside for a bit and watched the gazillion bats fly around us, swooping down inches from our face. that was weird. especially when you’d look up at the sky and the palm trees were silhouetted in the moonlight and you’d see these bats outlined as well flying from tree to tree.

the next a.m. was slow.....we decided on another day at the beach. oh, before we left, the most embarrassing thing happened. so, i went to use the bathroom which was off of the kitchen. the door was just this shower curtain, which was fine because i’ve used bathrooms with NO door before. and at least it was a bathroom and not a latrine. anyway, so i go in there and bayron’s dad and mom are in the kitchen, and through the shower curtain, i can see the dad coming over towards the bathroom so i cough really loud and fake-like to “warn” him that i’m in there. and he pulls this towel that was hanging over the shower curtain door and i think “oh, he was just coming to get his towel.” well, as i’m in mid-thought, he sweeps the shower curtain to the side, sees me there and it takes him like a second to register that i’m there. meanwhile, i’m trying to get out the words like “i’m in here” but trying to say it in spanish, and with that he’s like “ah!” and shuts the curtain. oh my god. WTF???? then, i have to go outside and use the pila out there to wash my hands because the mom was at the one inside. and the dad is out there in the outside shower, so i have to look at him again and i’m thinking – like i haven’t been embarrassed enough these past 9 months.

anyway, back at the beach - it was hot and despite the sunscreen we had on, you could just feel that sun penetrating down on the beach. before we walked down to the beach, we approached the tienda with the women selling tostadas and when she saw us coming she just started laughing. so we ordered more of those and told her we wanted to take them to the beach and so she lent us this big plate to carry them on. after eating those though, i pretty much had my fill of tostadas. more sand and ocean followed and we headed back to bayron’s pretty early because it was just so damned hot. later, courtney and i decided to walk back through town and get cerviche – this really good dish, it’s kind of like soup, but it’s made with tomatoes, onions, cilantro and shrimp. i don’t even know if we have that in the states. anyways, we got that to go because we had to meet bayron’s family back at their house because we were supposed to go to this other town and get licuados. so we rush back and of course, everyone’s just laying around in hammocks and we don’t even leave for like another hour. so we take this pickup to this other town and then there is no electricity so we can’t get licuados because you need a blender. so we eat more fried food and cokes and then go back to bayron’s. the family’s getting ready to go to bed and courtney and i decide to walk back through town, even though it’s pretty dead because it’s sunday. we make it down to the beach and there’s this one cantina open, but we’re not sure if we should go in there because it looks like just local guatemalans and they’re drunk and we’re not about to go in there with a bunch of drunk guatemalans. so we hang out in front of our favorite tienda on this table. we called bayron and told him to come meet us so when he came down we just hung out talking. then some big, huge guatemalan dude comes over and starts talking to bayron and then he asks us if we want a beer. so we all four go into that cantina. apparently this big dude is working security at another hotel and so after a couple beers he’s like “i’ll be back” because he has to go “do his job.” so he comes back and then some other idiot drunk comes over and he’s just so ridiculous. like i can’t imagine my life being a drunk like that. he’s just wasted, and being totally stupid. but he was kind of making us laugh because courtney and i would say something random or normal like “man, i’m tired.” and that guy would bust out laughing like we just told the funniest joke in the world. so that was amusing. anyway, i’m not even sure how many beers were had there, but i don’t even think i drank half of what was bought for us.

the next a.m. courtney and i had to leave pretty early because we had long trips back to el sal. the trip was pretty uneventful, except that it seemed to be 20 degrees hotter than it had been the past couple of days. maybe it was because we were on buses or something. anyway, when i finally got back to apaneca i was like “i miss monterico!” it was cold and raining and weird. i think we’re going back to monterico for our birthdays in september. i mean, you can’t go wrong knowing someone who lives in a really cool beach town like that. courtney and i kept saying that we should try to get third years in peace corps in or near monterico. there was also this house that nobody was living in near bayron’s and we kept saying we could buy it with our peace corps readjustment money and live in monterico for a couple years. can you imagine????

i don’t know, as much as i love the beach, there’s something about living in the mountains too. i like having my fresco nights here, even if i had to go buy a winter hat (that has a fake PUMA patch on it – hey, i’m playing the part of a salvadoran, i might as well do it in style...). i feel like i live in this little mountain hideway town amongst the pine trees and ceibas, separate from the rest of the country. that’s the cool thing about living down here in central america can be at the beach one day and that night you can be in the mountains. but living on the beach in central america is something i think everyone should do once in their lives. you know? it’s cheap, it’s beautiful, it’s a really good time, and at least for now, monterico isn’t that touristed. leave that to cancun or acapulco. it’s taken me a couple days to get readjusted to apaneca though. it was raining like a banshee when i rolled back into town and it was really cold and i was thinking “how was i EVEN talking about how hot it was in monterico?”

you know, and i hate to make this entry longer, but i’m gonna anyway...... courtney and i were talking as we were sitting on the beach about how this is basically our life now. we don’t hang out with any of our friends from back in the states....they’re all living their lives as if we were still there, going about their business with their families and what-not. and yet we’re so far away, our lives are so changed, we’re doing something completely different than we were a year ago. we’re living down here in central america, speaking another language, eating food that’s different from what we’d be eating back in the states. things that were not part of our lives a year ago are now embedded in our lives now to the point that it’s just normal. like getting on a bus and having latin american music playing and it being packed with people with machetes and chickens and canastas full of corn and mangoes. and it taking forever to get anywhere. and saying buenos días and buenas tardes and things like that to everyone you pass by.

or even our peace corps lives....we can pretty much come and go as we please. if i want to go to mexico next month, all i have to do is fill out a form, have my counterpart sign it and turn it in. it’s that simple. if i wanted to go to brazil it’s just as easy. i can live on a few dollars a day, i’m used to all the cockroaches and community bathrooms and other fun surprises you find in the cheap-ass hostals down here, so it’s just a matter of filling out a form and figuring out how to get from one bus to the next. it’s just all normal now. i mean, how weird will it be to return to the states? when i have to have some kind of job where i show up for a specific set of hours and have to wait a year to have a couple weeks vacation. here we officially get 2 days of vacation a month, plus we get paid for those vacation days – even if we use them. and if we need them ahead of time, all we have to do is ask. then, technically we get one night a week where we can be out of our sites overnight without it counting as a vacation day. they set up this policy where we call this number and say where we are so that if there is an emergency, the security person knows where we’re at. but the policy is, she’s not allowed to tell anyone else, because in the past, lots of people wouldn’t call the security person because she had liberty to tell our APCD’s (in our case, rolando) that people were out of their site a lot. so people didn’t want to get in trouble from their APCD’s, so they just wouldn’t call – and that wasn’t safe. so the peace corps said, well it’s the volunteers safety that comes first, so we’re implementing this new policy where the volunteers can call this number and just say where they are. even if you’re out of your site for two days, or three days in a long as you’re still in country, and you call the number, the security person can’t tell anyone, and the only way you’re going to be contacted is if there’s some kind of emergency. and so the only way you can get in trouble is if you DON’T call the number and say where you are and there happens to be an emergency and they can’t find you. so basically, it’s all up to us now. i mean, it’s all about what kind of volunteer you want to that’s always out of your site, or one that’s in your site working. so we have a lot of freedom here. and i do think the more freedom you have, the more you’re apt to do what you’re supposed to be doing. i mean, sure, there are probably going to be times where i’ll call out of site a couple of days in a row, but for the most part i’ll be here unless i take vacation time.

but anyway – i was talking about my life here vs. my life in the states (past and future) and i really can’t imagine what things are gonna be like when i return to the good old US of A. i’m thinking that house in monterico is the way to go....... it’s possible. so stay tuned.

i have more pics than this to upload, but it takes forever and blogger´s being a bitch right now, so i´ll post more in another entry later!


the dock where the boats from la avellana leave for monterico

playa monterico just before sunset

fisherman´s boat on the shore

guatemalan kids swimming in the tide pool

victor, me, eva, courtney and bayron

courtney, victor, bayron, oliver, eva

me and courtney

fisherman out in the sun

courtney, bayron & me