Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Today Salsa, Tomorrow Tamales

Whoa whoa whoa. How is it already Wednesday night of my second week in San Pedro? My last day of classes is tomorrow -- crazy! This week is flying by.

Highlights of the past few days include:

Monday night: On Monday, 2 other students moved into the house where I'm living. John and Rachel are both from England and both just graduated from university like me. They're taking a major trip from Mexico to Argentina, and it's fun having English-speaking friends in the house! Although I will admit that sometimes I can't catch their fast British lingo. Anyway, they're taking Spanish classes at my same school, and this week we heard about the Lake Atitlan basketball championships. The top 2 teams from each town around the lake are competing against one another every night this week, so we went up to the town center and checked out Monday night's games. They were good, but the average player was about 5'8," and the announcer talked so fast that we had no idea which team was which. It sounded more like we were at a horserace. Quite the experience hahaha.

Today: Our school offered SPECIAL salsa lessons hahaha...taught by an instructor from a dance school across the lake in Pana. IT WAS SO FUN. It was 2 hours of fast music and awkward partner dancing. (Again, 90% of the males are shorter than me...and I'm pretty short, right?) The instructor was hilarious -- and quite the Latino stud. He kept telling everyone to get "Closer! Closer! And look into each other's eyes the entire time! LOS OJOS!" I was the immature American girl who couldn't stop giggling, but it was a blast. At one point he was giving the men instructions about where to lead the girls during a particular step. He said "And then you deposit her here, and then over here," and I absolutely lost it. I happened to be partnered with him at the time, and he accused me of making fun of his English. I tried to explain that deposit is just a funny word, and by then everyone in the room was laughing. We were a mess hahaha. However, in conclusion, salsa is my new favorite thing. Who wants to take salsa lessons with me back in the States? I'll  start taking names now. :)

Tomorrow: I talked about tamales in an earlier blog, and they will be making another appearance for New Year's! They are a tradition for El Año Nuevo as well as La Navidad, and today my house mom told me that she'll be making them tomorrow and that we get to help! Woohoo! I'm excited! I'll take lots of photos and report back to you.


Me stirring the corn flour filling. We had to take turns stirring for about 30 minutes straight without letting the spoon stop moving! When the filling sinks in water, it's ready!

Cleaning the leaves used to hold all the ingredients together.

Tamale ingredients ready to go: corn meal filling, pork/chicken, sauce, olives, peppers, and prunes. One of everything gets placed in a leaf and then wrapped up like a present. :)

Loving my job tying up all the stuffed tamales.
Loving that incredibly attractive rubber apron even more.

The finished product! About 100 tamales!!

Ok, enough for this blog. I'm loving San Pedro, but I'm also ready to get to NPH this weekend and start working. I find myself with tons of time on my hands, and I can only eat/nap/hike/study Spanish/read/explore town so much. San Pedro isn't that big haha. I'm ready for more to keep me busy. :) Hasta luego!

Monday, December 28, 2009

I Walked 17 Hours in the Last Three Days

Walk #1: Friday, Dec. 25, Christmas Day

About 3 hours

We walked up into the hills overlooking the town of San Pedro! The whole area is deserted fields of coffee, and it was cool, shady, and beautiful! Little did I know that this 3-hour hike was nothing compared to the rest of the weekend...

Walk #2: Saturday, Dec. 26

6 a.m. - 3 p.m. ish

I woke up at 5 a.m. in time to see the sun rise over gorgeous Lake Atitlan. We caught a bus at 6 a.m. and were dropped off at some random spot on the side of the road overlooking the lake, the towns, and the 3 volcanoes. We walked all morning along the very top of the mountains, and mist was hovering over all the corn fields and tops of volcanoes.

We stopped for a late breakfast picnic at the most gorgeous overlook that probably exists on the lake. It looked directly at the 3 volcanoes and down into the lake. Breakfast was delicous, with watermelon, platano, toast, avocado with salt, eggs, coffee and tea. Afterwards, we stretched out to siesta on the grass and begin getting my sunburn.

Breakfast at the overlook. The blob of white that you see straight ahead along the shore of the lake is the town of San Pedro, where we lived. That's how high up we were.

We walked for hours and hours and hours after that: through tiny villages, through more corn fields, and down the side of insanely steep mountains. There is no way tourists could have done this hike on their own. You would have died. It was definitely key that we had Urs as our local guide. I was scared for my life that at any minute I would slip and roll down this hill all the way into the lake. I only really wiped out once, and although I have a giant scratch down my entire forearm, I'll at least have a cool story if it leaves a monster scar, right? :)

Me with the lake, the volcanoes, and Mona -- the best hiking dog ever.

A million gorgeous but exhausting hours later, we caught a lancha (boat) from our final town and headed back to San Pedro. I ate a late lunch, fell asleep, and slept for about 12 hours haha.

Walk #3: Sunday, Dec. 27

Another 5 hours

This time, we left around 1 p.m. and hailed a lancha over to the town of Santa Cruz. From there, we walked right along the beach, passing kayaks and fancy hotels with lakeside bungalows. We stopped in the town of Jaibalito (only accessible by foot) for lemonades, and then kept up the hike. Like the day before, we hiked along the water the entire way, and it was almost sunset. Gorgeous. We also passed some of the fanciest and most expensive hotels in Guatemala (but for a price check, the most expensive hotels here cost about $45 per person per night -- WAY cheap by American standards). I was definitely plotting honeymoon ideas hahaha. We finished in the town of San Marcos and hailed another lancha back home to San Pedro.

In conclusion, I have a new sunburn, hundreds of incredible photos, and really really really sore legs. It was great though! I can now say I have walked almost the entire northwestern side of Lake Atitlan, and I definitely experienced the most fantastic views you can get from this place. It was such a cool weekend. I'll upload photos when I'm able to!!

W&M-ers, you will appreciate this.

In my last blog, I talked about how tamales were boiled in "leaf wrappers."

Well, when I re-read my blog before publishing it, I realized I had written "leafe" instead of "leaf" -- both times.

Haha, awesome. :)

La Navidad en Guatemala

So -- Christmas in Guatemala!

It was actually pretty awesome. They celebrate in style here.:)

The night of Christmas Eve, or La Noche Buena, I had a GIANT Noche Buena dinner with Urs, Juan Carlos, and 6 other friends they had over for Christmas Eve. We were quite the group. Out of 9 of us, only 1 person was originally from Guatemala, 5 were from Switzerland, there was a German, a woman from Poland, and me. Between all of us, we were speaking Spanish, German, Swiss German? (because apparently it's different from German German...I had no idea), English, and even some Greek!

Dinner lasted hours and hours with a billion different courses, and I ate so much food (soup, salad, potato pizza -- yes potato, toast with mushrooms, and more) that I literally thought I was goning to be sick. Everything was delicious though. Right before midnight, we ate dessert, and at midnight everyone rushed up to the rooftop terrace. At midnight, everyone in town sets off fireworks from their house. They aren't super fancy fireworks, but they are everywhere you look, and you have to look out for ones that are gonig to go off right above your head. Dangerous, definitely. Awesome, definitely. Since it was dark outisde, we could also look across the lake and see the little bursts of color that were fireworks coming from otehr towns along the lake. So pretty! While the fireworks are going off, everyone yells "¡Feliz Cumpleaños!" and gives everyone else the traditional Christmas hug (abrazo).

Christmas Day is actually pretty calm, but I ate the traditional and DELICIOUS Christmas tamales for breakfast. In Guatemala, a tamal is a treat for the holidays, and they are dishes of corn flour stuffed with chicken, veggies, cheese, or sauces, and boiled in a leaf wrapper. When they're ready, you take off the leaf wrapper and eat. YUM.

Later on Christmas Day we went hiking in the hills above San Pedro, where we walked through fields and fields of coffee plants. From just about every spot, there were gorgeous views of the town, the lake, and the nearby mountain called El Nariz del Indio or the Nose of the Indian.

More on our hikes in the next post!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Panajachel and La Navidad

Yesterday I visited the town of Panajachel! It's another hippie town on Lake Atitlan, and during the 60s and 70s a lot of Americans decided to check it out and never leave. As a result, there are a lot of grandparent-aged Americans still strolling around haha. It's maybe a 40 minute boat ride across the lake (maybe longer, maybe shorter, I wasn't really paying attention to the time), and the ride itself is gorgeous! Pana is on the other side of the lake, so it looks out over the water and across the lake at the 3 volcanoes that are over here by San Pedro. We were there until about 6, and so we also got to watch the sun set over the lake and the volcanoes. Need I say more?

Pana is much more of a tourist town than San Pedro, but it's still gorgeous. There is a newly renovated walkway along the beach, and I would be content to spend my entire year on that walkway haha. Pana is also known for its artisan market that stretches along an entire street. People from villages all throughout the highlands come and set up shops to sell paintings, woven bags, and all kinds of other crafts. I definitely want to make some purchases there before the year is over. Bobby also told me I need to check out the bakery El Horno that's in Pana, and I somehow missed it yesterday. I HAVE to get back for that too.

Views from Panajachel...

Look closely and you can see one smaller mountain in front of the larger volcano.

Pana sunset

For La Navidad (Christmas), the family I'm staying with has a bunch of other family members in town. They have 3 kids who are more or less around my age, so it's been fun talking about the best discotecas and how excited they are for the Metallica concert that's scheduled for March in Guatemala City haha. Tonight I'm actually eating dinner with Urs, Juan Carlos, and several other friends they will have in town. Tomorrow, I have no idea what I'm doing. No classes though! There are supposed to be big celebrations in the center of town, so I'm sure I'll check those out either today or tomorrow.

It's weird that it's Christmas Eve and I got a sunburn during Spanish class today, but I am LOVING this weather. :)

P.S. I have realized that I am now hungry about every couple of hours. As many of you know, that means my body has completely adjusted to Guatemala haha. I loooove that we have hot tortillas with every single meal, and we probably drink 2-4 cups of tea or coffee per day. YUM!

They're More Famous Than I Thought!

So, I was looking at the San Pedro section of my Lonely Planet Guatemala book yesterday, and there was an ENTIRE paragraph about the house and family I'm staying with! The book recommended that everyone stop at the Cafe Arte that's run by the family of internationally known Guatemalan primitivist artist Pedro Rafael Gonzalez Chavajay. This is so cool!

The foyer of our house, my door on the right.

Loved these.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

San Pedro! (and why I have to change my name)

Fact: Guatemalans cannot pronounce my name. The "a" sound just doesn't work. I mean, when you think about it, English pronunciations really make no sense. My friend Juan Carlos has been asking me how to pronounce words like "boil" and "Connecticut," and I really have no good answer. "Ummm, I don't know why, but you don't pronouce the second c in Connecticut, and no, it's not bo-EE-l." So, now when I introduce myself, I say "CAR-rie," using the word "car." English is stupid haha.

And now: San Pedro!

I'm currently spending 2 weeks in the town of San Pedro la Laguna, on Lake Atitlan. Lake Atitlan is known as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, and it IS. The town of San Pedro also looks up at 3 volcanoes, so the whole town is just gorgeous. My first night here, I stayed with Urs and Juan Carlos, friends of my Volunteer Coordinator at NPH. They are AWESOME. They helped me get a phone and learn my way around, and they also really only talk to me in Spanish. It was difficult at first, but MAN is it helpful. Juan Carlos speaks almost as little English as I do Spanish, so our conversations involve a lot of overexaggerated gestures, but we can still manage to talk for hours over coffee about the fact that we both love Glee and The Devil Wears Prada. Urs and Juan Carlos invited me to have coffee with them every day at 4 p.m., and it's so nice having friends!

The town of San Pedro

Gorgeous Lake Atitlan

My Spanish school is also fantastic. We have one-on-one classes with our teachers, and we learn in little huts right on the lake. Today, we even moved and sat with our feet in the water. My teacher is hilarious, and in order to practice past tense, today we discussed what types of alcohol I drank in college and what it would have been like if I were on the Titanic with Jack y Rose. My fist day in Guatemala, the Spanish was definitely intimidating. I RARELY hear English, and English isn't really allowed at NPH because not everyone knows it. But now, only after 4 days, it's amazing how comfortable I am with Spanish. It's bizarre now to hear English, and the Spanish is coming back to me pretty quickly. I wonder what I'll sound like after a year!

My school...desks right on the big deal.

Aracely, my teacher!

I'm also living with a host family for these 2 weeks, and they are awesome! The father, Pedro Rafael, is a famous artist (Google him if you don't believe me), so the front part of the house is an art gallery. Yes, I LIVE in an art gallery, and Pedro sits out back and paints during the day. It's so cool. A lot of their family is in town for Christmas too, so I'm becoming fast friends with the 11 year-old, a 23 year-old daughter, and her super adorable 1 year-old baby. I think the baby actually has a crush on me. :)

And now just a couple random facts about my time here so far before I run off to afternoon coffee!

1. There are no kitchen sinks in Guatemala (I haven't seen any at least). The sink is either somewhere else in the house, or outside. I guess it makes some sense though, since you can't drink the water in most places in Guatemala. It was just confusing at first haha.

2. When I first got here, the entire town of San Pedro had no water. They could get it from about 4:30-7 in the morning, but then it ran out if you used it all. It was crazy, and people had to wake up at 4:30 a.m. to wash clothes, or they had tons and tons of buckets set out to catch the rain. The problem has been fixed now, but it apparently lasted almost a week.

3. The rooster is everywhere in Guatemala. Statues of roosters, blankets designed with roosters, even the most popular beer is called Gallo (rooster). The other day, Urs explained why. In the Bible, Jesus told Peter that he would deny him 3 times before the rooster cried. So, there you have it. Roosters everywhere. Fun fact, huh?

Ok, that's the update for now! I took a bunch of good photos today, but I don't have a way to upload them yet. Stay tuned. :)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I'm HERE! (but this keyboard is hard to type on)


I'm here in Guatemala, safe and sound! It's probably been the longest 24 hours of my life, but I can tell it's going to be awesome. This keyboard sucks and I'm not used to where the keys are, so this might be a quick post. I'll be in this cute hippie town of San Pedro for 2 weeks though, so I'll write more soon. :)

Quick synopsis just so you know: flights were good, but about 40 minutes late. Luggage took like another 40 minutes to appear. BUT, it made it, so I was super happy. Leaving the Guatemala airport = there is no real waiting area, you just walk outside and look for the people you're meeting. Welllll, it's currently like the busiest travel time of the year here, so the airport was NUTS. There were barricades to hold the masses of people back, and it is literally a miracle that I found the tiny NPH sign to meet up with. My Volunteer Coordinator who met me even commented on how crowded it was. MIRACLE.

Then, everyone I met was so so so helpful! They made sure I ate lunch and dinner, found an ATM, and got set up with a place to sleep last night. The NPH home is actually gorgeous. The photos I was given did not at all do it justice. It's seriously a beautiful place.

This morning, I woke up and took a 3 hour ride to the town of San Pedro on Lake Atitlan. It's an awesome little hippie village right on the lake where I'll be taking classes for 2 weeks. It's gonna be fun. It's also going to be crucial, because there is basically zero English at NPH. It was incredibly intimidating and scary yesterday. I'lll get it though. :)

Ok this keyboard is driving me nuts. Just wanted to tell everyone I'm here! I'll post something more interesting and less spastic soon!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Here We Go

Ok, here is it: blog post number one!

My flight to Guatemala leaves waaaay early on Saturday morning, so I'm basically down to the last 36 hours now. It's crazy. I'm just about ready...except I haven't packed at all. Whoops. I've just been too busy. In the past 2.5 weeks, I have: parted ways with Birmingham and the SPC gang after an awesome Dodiyós dinner (yum!), visited Hannah in super-snowy but super-cute Madison, WI, caught up with friends here in Louisville, attended an epic get-together at Timmy and Greg's place, and baked a mean spanakopita with Emily. Phew. Everything I need to pack is more or less sprawled across the floor of my room at the moment though, so that's a good start -- right?

As a recap, here are the facts: I'm moving to Guatemala for 13 months. I'm working as the Home Correspondent for an international NGO called Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (or NPH). NPH runs orphanages in 9 countries in Central and South America, and I'll be living at the Guatemala home's site. My job means writing articles, taking photos, updating the website, and working on any other publications/communications projects that are needed for either the home or the U.S. and/or European fundraising offices. I'm excited.

The country of Guatemala is supposed to be incredible, and according to my Lonely Planet guidebook (wouldn't leave home without one, duh), "Guatemala is one of those rare destinations that rewards even the most jaded world travelers with revelatory experiences -- a place where indigenous life perseveres much as it did when the Europeans first showed up, and where there are still pockets unsullied by the 'been there, done that' crowd." I like what I'm hearing.

Oh, and did I mention that the wonderful Miss Samantha Fien-Helfman is coming along for the year too? You know her. You love her. You're jealous we get to hang out. :)

Alright, I have no idea how often I'll have internet access in order to update this little blog, but I'll do my best to keep the posts coming. If you're reading this, I miss you, so make sure you let me know what you're up to! See you in 2011!