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Belize gas Guatemala Tikal travel

Two Weeks South of the Border: Part the End

The adventure continues and concludes in this installment, which ranges from ruins to Kaluha (words which also sum up my current existence). See how travel broadened this broad?
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After a few days in Belize, my sister, some other Peace Corps volunteers, Cute John, and I rented a “taxi” to take us to Tikal, Guatemala to see some Mayan ruins. Alwyn, our driver, didn’t want more than five people in his car, for the roads are nearly non-existent, and, as Carol Brady would have, he feared for his station wagon. Pointing out that Cute John was spun from nothing more than clouds, fairy wings, and cotton candy, we unwisely coerced Alwyn to allow a sixth in the car.

Tikal was 65 km (let’s call that 39 miles, roughly) from our starting point that day. It was a four-hour drive. To amuse ourselves, we ran through our repertoires of “theme songs from every tv show aired since 1970.” Only Cagney & Lacey stumped the crowd. As I’ve asked myself nearly every day since my adolescence, Where’s Tyne Daly when you need her?


My favorite moment of this journey was when the station wagon got stuck in a rut in from of 10 Guatemalan lads–lazing on the edge of a village well–just as we all reached the high point of the All in the Family theme song “Those Were the Days,” doing our best Edith Bunker impersonations. Jaws around the well dropped, and we set back Central American/North American relations hundreds of years, putting a particular strain on the coffee trade (you no longer have to ask yourselves, “Why can I only get an inferior cup of Sumatran java these days?” After hearing our singing, Guatemalans were thrown into a decades-long bean harvesting paralysis.)

Tikal itself is amazing. We hiked all over the ruins, ending with Temple IV, a building that loomed several hundred feet into the sky, reachable only by maneuvering a series of sideways ladders and grasping at tree roots. I nearly wept at the top for fear of the descent.

Fortunately, right then a group of senior citizens came huffing and puffing around the corner. I eyed them quizzically and asked, “Do you, by chance, know an alternate route down?” They did. All it involved was shuffleboard, ice sculptures, and me sitting on my tush and sliding down the hill).

Dusty and sweaty, we had lunch, bargained at the market, and began the drive home.

Oh. Did I forget to mention that this was the first weekend this particular border crossing between Guatemala and Belize had been open in some time? There’d been a ban because groups of banditos had been attacking tourist vehicles and “molesting” (in all fashion) gringos?

This concern was firmly tucked into the back of our collective head as we started the drive home at dusk. On the worst possible stretch of sheltered road, Alwyn, our driver, slammed on the brakes and yelled, “I smell gas!” Without another word, he hopped out of the car, dove beneath it, jumped out, ran to a nearby shack, and came back with a pan and a bar of soap. What an odd time for a sponge bath, Alwyn.

It turned out we had two dime-sized holes in the gas tack, holes that had been worn through when the tank came into repeated contact with the road as it worked through the ruts that day. Our supply of gas was in rapid leak all over the road. Keeping his head, and smelling of an Irish Spring, Alwyn went to work ripping apart the bar of soap and shoving it into the holes.

Villagers from miles around gathered quietly, silently, in a removed circle around us, watching, sharpening their knives, eyeing our flesh and firing up their barbeques. Cute John prepared to sacrifice his life in defense of the five gringas in his company from the line of men that slowly started snaking its way towards us. He, in other words, plotted the straightest line between himself and the camouflage of the jungle, knowing he could outrun us all.

In truth, we merely felt intimidated, and Alwyn saved the gas and the day. And I had a reflective moment of realizing my imagination was alive and turning cartwheels. We got home safely, gratefully.

The next Monday, Kirsten, Cute John, and I got back on another bus to return north to Corozal. During that bus ride, I finished reading GONE WITH THE WIND for the 32nd time. They all die, by the way. On the way back to Corozal, we spent an afternoon in the smoky, polluted capital, Belize City, where, as we tromped around, I missed squashing a dead rat that lay near a burning garbage heap. Good times.

For the rest of that week, once we got back to Kirsten’s house in Corozal, we visited my sister’s schools, where she was a teacher trainer. Cute John missed out on one day’s school visit, as he was vomiting blood all day, the kind of vomiting that tests the limits of one’s attractiveness.

The kids in the schools were a scream; the teachers were barely adequate. At the first school we went to, the teacher wasn’t in the classroom with her nine 3 and 4-year-olds. She was making herself some popcorn in a nearby building. As far as school supplies went, the only toys or creative materials any classroom enjoyed had been sent down by my sister’s friends and family. But what you can’t do with a little paper and tape…


At the end of the week, we accompanied one of Kirsten’s schools on a field trip to a resort called Don Quixote’s. A few of the kids, after much coaxing, would get into the water of the swimming pool there, on the top step of the shallow end. None would go into the nearby sea. Culturally, there is a fear of being wet, as it leads to sure death, apparently. My sister had already learned that, on the days it was raining, she didn’t even need to get up and visit her schools, as no one would be there.


Towards the end of the trip, Cute John went to Antigua, Guatemala, where the sight of his smile and the smell of his minty breath stopped traffic. My sister and I went to Chetumal, Mexico, where I got a cheap hammock and a wheelbarrow-sized bottle of Kaluha. From there, I took a bus alone back to Cancun and found the myriad “hey, baby” come-ons helped me decide to spend some quality time in my hotel room. In Belize, groups of men hanging out on the corner are known as the Leaky Tire Brigade because of the zzzekkksy “SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS” noise they make when a female walks by. By the end, I was able to advise my sister that, upon her return to the States, her biggest adjustment wouldn’t be to the vast amounts of produce available in the shiny grocery stores but rather to not being noticed and commented upon with every step in public.

Ultimately, on my last night there, as sweated and scratched at bug bites, I had an epiphany. my biggest point of pride from the whole trip was this: due to a sorry bit of mis-packing back in the States, I had done it all without deodorant.

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coming home expats Guatemala meme











“Before You Click Your Heels Three Times…Is There Really No Place Like Home?”

Last week, Oroneta tagged me with a meme about living the expatriate life.

Now, I know Duluth is far North, we all talk like Canadians here as we putter “aboot the hoose,” people do willingly eat herring, and we celebrate St. Urho’s Day, but I have to admit, however reluctantly, that I’m still technically in the United States, the country of my birth. And although I’ve traveled a fair amount in my FORTY long years–even living for four months in Dublin–I can’t say that I’ve really set up shop in another country long or deeply enough to have ever felt that my “real” life was taking place in another country. At best, I’ve only had that sensation the morning after a big night of drinking, when I’ve woken up bewildered, confused, and wondering where my shoes went.

Luckily, I will still answer Oroneta’s challenge, for I have an expat in my life, my sister, Kirsten (Yes, yes, you’re right! She was named after opera singer Kirsten Flagstad!) Some of you faithful readers might remember that my family spent two weeks in Guatemala over Christmastime; it was to visit Kirsten that we made the trip.

Okay, and because we needed some new tablecloths.

At any rate, since I’m in the midst of a particularly busy week–ever since I turned FORTY, it’s just go, go, go, what with the big job promotion, all of my community service, volunteering at the kids’ schools, retiling the playhouse floor, opening a free dental clinic, and, um, trying to get through the entire boxed set of Sports Night–I’m going to hand over the rest of this post to Guest Blogger Kirsten, who has much to say about her life as an expatriate (just for your edification, she’s also done stints in the Peace Corps in Belize and Moldova; in a few months, she’ll be leaving behind her current job in Guatemala City and heading back to her teaching position with Denver Public Schools, which she fled two years ago in the face of the strictures and penalties inherent in the No Child Left Behind act).

Yea, this this is Kirsten. Nice buckers, eh? Here she goes:

There are stages of grieving, stages of detoxifying
and stages of living and leaving a country…I’m in the
stage of “I can’t wait to get out of here and I’m
never, EVER coming back”…and you ask me to name things
I like, even love, about this place?? What? Are you
trying to make me reflective on this experience
already??

Sigh….ok, here goes…

Name five things you love in your new country:
1. The textiles
2. The Mayan ruins
3. Being completely free and unmonitored in whatever I
do in my job
4. The couple of friends I’ve made who I think are
truly, deep-down good people
5. ???

Name four things that you miss from your native
country:

1. Standards in education (and it was the strictness
of which I was running from by coming here!)
2. Friends who share a common understanding of
..things, life…
3. Driving a car
4. Air quality standards (especially, emissions
standards!! Egads!)

Name three things (I’m making it four!) that annoy you
a bit (or a lot) in your new country:

1. Pollution (air pollution, littering, snot wads on
the sidewalk…)
2. The idea that outright lying to someone is actually
being polite…
3. Lack of personal safety (there are machine guns at
every business, residence…)
4. The acceptance and promotion of class differences

Name two things that surprise you (or surprised you in
the beginning) in your new country:

1. The number of people who speak English really well
2. The level of wealth and luxury enjoyed by the 13
ruling families and the lack of shame they exhibit in
treating the “rest” of the people here as unworthy
beings

Name one thing that you would miss terribly in your
new country, if you had to leave it:

IF I had to leave it? I AM leaving it! I’ve got a
countdown going! But, I’ll miss a teacher I work
with; she’s one of those truly, good people…I’ll
probably also miss the amount of free time I have here
to just read and watch TV. (I’m already calling my
Guatemala experience “my two years of TV watching…”)


Gracias, hermana, for the post. I daresay you might miss a few of the kiddles, too.

So how about the rest of y’all? When you’ve lived or traveled abroad, what have you loved and hated the most?

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Guatemala papaya spider monkeys trash

Stop Trying to Chop Off Your Sister’s Head with Your New Toy Axe While She’s Vomiting onto the Floor of the Shuttle

So we did it. Guatemala hosted us well and remains intact, despite our tear across its kidneys. All in all, I’d say we had a near-perfect two weeks there, particularly considering our respective ages, the ever-present noise of cars, birds, firecrackers, and drunken revellers, and the kids’ certainty that they would never, ever eat a corn tortilla. Oh yea, and considering that Girl got car sick for the first time in her life during a four-hour shuttle ride (and, yes, her berserker Viking brother did try to Anne Boleyn her during the regurgitation).

More shall follow in upcoming posts, but for tonight, as it’s late and I’m revving up another semester starting tomorrow, I’ll just smack y’all with this unabashed photo-log–a visual greatest hits, as it were. Here and there, the photos are in chronological order; the randomness and lack of strict order are my homage to the Guatemalan custom and character.

I bought everything you see here. Plus a lemonade.


This volcano photo, taken from a moving shuttle, is blurry due to the speed of the van. And the vodka in the lemonade.

We visited Xocomil, a waterpark. I know. I know. We went to Guatemala and visited a waterpark. But in our defense, I’ll say that it was perhaps the most “native” thing we did there, as we were just about the only gringos there, and this park was built by the Guatemalan Workers’ Association. Little-known fact: Guatemalan workers really dig ginormous turtles.

Up ’til now, I haven’t used photos showing faces much, but I guess I’d like to make the point that we were actually there, and I didn’t just get a passle more photos off of flickr.com, as in my previous post. Plus, I like to document each day that I wear a black bra. So here I am with Girl and Wee Niblet, who discovered that his legs didn’t work (he must’ve contracted polio from the pools at the waterpark) on this, the trip where we walked everywhere, all day long. Here is my solution. First, I tied him to my back. Then, when he really made me crazy with his refusal to pedal his own 45-pounds of pudge, I tied him to a chair in the hotel room.
I can’t even tell you how beautiful the textiles are. I probably don’t need to. But I can tell you that they are even more dramatic and bright back here, in Minnesota’s dreary January. People with Seasonal Affective Disorder should just drape Guatemalan fabrics over their heads for three months of the year.
Here are two guacamaya. Translated: indigenous birds that like avacado sauces.
 

With so few green spaces in Guatemala City, they close down a main boulevard for a few hours every Sunday, during which time every blasted person puts on rollerblades and/or brings out his/her four-year-old on a bike with training wheels. Or, in our case, puts the three- and six-year-0ld in a goat cart.
They DO eat green eggs and ham, by the way, dear Sam I Am. They eat them in a boat and with a goat. And in a cart.
We bought this table runner for our in-laws. I’m pretty sure my husband is their favorite son now.
Check out this shop featuring wooden masks and, um, big rat pelts.

We visited my sister’s “American Style” school one day. Here, you see Groom asking some students if they’d like to supersize their education.


Look! Cloth! And it’s hanging!

My sister reads way supermuch, bigmany good books to her kiddles. I want her to be my kindergarten teacher. She is my own Miss Bindergarten–although she’s not freakily anthropomorphized, as is that particular kiddie lit heroine.

These busy workers are drying, turning, and stepping directly upon the coffee that will be featured at your local Starbucks in two weeks.

I so much like this devil dude, who holds court in the Mayan Cultural Center outside of Antigua.

I’m pretty sure this photo of bananas is upside down. This is what upside-down bananas look like.

Here’s a typical street in Antigua. Check out them cobblestones. Now picture all the women in the city wearing three-inch mules around town while simultaneously carrying their groceries on their heads. I am possessed of a luggishness that makes me unable to imagine such feats of coordination.

This is the hallway outside our hotel room in Antigua. It did not suck.

Back to the coffee. You know how you seek out and covet “shade-grown, organic Guatemalan beans”? Here they are, being grown. Add to the packaging: “composted with only the best trash.”


Pwitty, pwitty fabric.

This tight little vehicle saved me from throttling Wee Niblet many-a-time. It’s called a Tuk-Tuk, and we took-took them all over. We’re considering opening up a Tuk-Tuk business in our own town now. Who doesn’t need a three-wheeled motorcycle with a comfortable cab area?

After a long day of hitting the market stalls in Panahachel, we needed to cool down our tootsies in Lake Atitlan.

Yea, cotamundis (Wee Niblet calls them “locamotis”) freak me out, too. After admiring it in the nature reserve outside of Pana, I sold the pelt of this one to a wooden mask store.

Trash + coffee beans = a $4.50 latte.

Spider monkey, spider monkey. What I wouldn’t give to have had evolution let us keep those crazy tails.Look at this business. It’s water. Falling.

Here’s our hotel in Santiago Atitlan. It was idyllic. Then, a hundred yards down the road, there was a huge field of trash coffee plants.

I’ve got to practice standing up in our canoe this summer. A few good capsizes will only help the kids master the breaststroke. And they can look for the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald while they’re down there.

I should have taken more photos of food. I love food. I loved this food. It was eggs in tortillas, and I have that food all the time here in the States. But it’s much more glamorous when you take a photo of it. And the fruit was killer good, except the papaya, which tastes like poo.

I was uncommonly taken with this field of cabbages. Cabbage is too-oft neglected. The leaves would make great Dr. Scholl’s footpads, for instance.


The Kiddles would follow my sister anywhere, even down a dusty rural path, next to a cabbage patch (she had just explained to them how the stork is a big myth and showed them where they really came from).

Wee Niblet croaked at me seventy times that he wasn’t tired and then did this. I like him so much when he sleeps. Plus, it’s easier to tie him to the chair when he’s limp and unconscious.

Upon our return home, we found that our neighbors, who had kindly not ransacked our house or made off with the silver in our absence, had assured themselves lifelong good karma by leaving a rosemary chicken dish in the fridge, a loaf of bread on the counter, and a bottle of wine chilling. I will be more than happy to shell out thousands of dollars on plane tickets from this moment forward, now that I know it means someone will have scampered into my house and left Chardonnay, thereby saving me the long drive down the road to the bottle shop.

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Guatemala human sacrifices open sores travel volcanoes

More Centrally American

“More Centrally American”

This may be my last post for a couple of weeks, for Groom and I, some months back, bolstered by a few shots of whiskey slammed down during a State of the Union address (by the end, we were channeling David Byrne, chopping on our arms, and slurring, “This is not our beautiful country”), decided to take Wee Niblet and Girl to

well,

yea,

*Guatemala* for two weeks.

Really, what better place to let The Kiddles have their first international adventures (not counting Thunder Bay) than a country recovering from a civil war? If they’re going to make it in this world, they need to know early and young that good coffee comes from countries where indigenous people have been “disappeared” through guerilla warfare.

We haven’t even been teaching them any helpful Spanish or Mayan phrases but instead have been honing their pronunciation of a single French term: “coup d’etat.”

Last weekend, for further preparation, we took them to see Mel “I hate Jews, but only when I’m drunk” Gibson’s APOCOLYPTO. There’s nothing sweeter than hearing my three-year-old son’s voice, piping up in the darkness: “Mommy, what’s a human sacrifice? Is that like the time I lost my Martian Manhunter action figure?”

All right, so actually we’re planning a rather-benign family vacation to visit my sister, who teaches at an “American-style” Guatemalan school in Guat City (“So, as long as we’re reading Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse, would anyone like fries with that?”). We’ll travel to a waterpark, a volcanic lake, and the town where my sister gets her eyelashes tinted. I predict, as well, that many a local market will benefit from our desire for gorgeous, colorful fabrics and folkart.

Along the way, I’m sure I’ll take a header into some lava or mangle my Spanish attempts and end up asking a waitress for “more green knuckles in my shoehorn”; in short, when I get back, you can be assured of a few new Jocelyn As Traveler Dork tales.

(Them ain’t puffs of smoke coming out of those volcanoes; them is word balloons in which Jocelyn is screeching “YEEEEOOOWWW, but lava stings my suppurating sores!”).

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