Friday, August 31, 2007

How To Survive A Guatemalan Bus Station

Well I am not going to explain Germans or pineapple pie in this entry. I am back in Xela (freezing my butt off). It's amazing that you can go from hot beaches to cold mountains in just a couple of hundred kilometers. I leave to climb the highest point in Central America tomorrow (Volcan Tajumulco at 4220 meters it is just a little shorter than Mt. Rainier). I am not expecting good weather, so the weekend might not be much fun, but I really want to climb this peak and am glad that I passed on El Salvador.

What I really wanted to do with this post was describe how I have been survivng some of the crazier bus stations in Guatemala. This way if anyone is planning on coming here in the near future they will have a survival manuel.

1. Arm yourself to the teeth! Shotguns and machetes are readily available, and I recommend one of each. Also slightly more difficult to find (as in it will take you ten minutes) are 9mm handguns, these are also recommended, but remember that a 9mm does not have a lot of knock down power and some of these women selling bread have been known to take several rounds before going down.

2. Make an example out of someone as soon as you get to the station. This will establish your dominance and after this you should be able to walk around freely. The first couple of times I tried this technique I picked the biggest, toughest looking bastard I could find and made sure plenty of people were watching. Usually using the butt of your shotgun and coldcocking him will bring even the toughest man to his knees. This technique was somewhat effective, but the women with bread and fruit did not seem deterred. I quickly realized that if you target the oldest lady you can see, and drop her with a swift elbow to the stomach everyone will back off. Here is why. If you are willing to hit a helpless old lady selling fruit, they figure there is no telling what you are capable of. You will find that everyone becomes much less obsessed with slamming you around and shoving fruit in your face.

3. Remember to smile and thank everyone for their help!

OK I was killing sometime, and just having fun. I do not endorse violence of any kind, and certainly do not support targeting old women selling fruit. However, if anyone would like a shotgun or machete, they are seriously everywhere! I am going to count the number I run across on any given day and will report back. My estimate is that I see at least 20 shotguns a day.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Una cosa mas

After just posting that last bit, I realized I did not explain pineapple pie or GermanS (plural). For the rest of the story you will have to tune in next time, as there is a beach, a licuado, and book beckoning me to return!

Buses, Germans, ¿and Pineapple Pie?

At times on my travels so much happens during a short period of time that by the time I sit down to write about it so many other things have happened that I quickly forget what I was originally going to write about. So here is a brief list of things that I remember I wanted to share (sadly there are probably twice as many that I simply do not remember right now).

- I was hit by a car in Xela. It was scary as hell, but thanks to my superpowers I survived with only a sore shoulder.

- I went to the Sunday market in Chichi. It was crazy!! I met this German guy there who I had bumped into the night before in Xela. At the time I thought he only spoke Spanish and German, so we spent a bit of time trying to converse in Spanish before, to my surprise and relief he started speaking English, though we practiced Spanish as much as possible all day. We spent the day bus hopping through Guatemala (nine buses four destinations).

- I fled Xela after two days with my tail between my legs. It was super cold, and as I am doing a six day trek next week through the highlands I decided I wanted a bit of warmth first. I hit Monterrico Monday night and have been loving it. I am splurging a bit and spending $8 dollars a night on a room. It is super nice with a great pool! Monterrico is deserted, there are like maybe 6 or 7 travelers here. Apparently on the weekend the place is packed with people from Guatemala City. I ran into a fellow traveler (Paul from UK) who I have been meeting everywhere I go (except Xela). He is headed to San Salvador and I am thinking about tagging along and, doing a blitzkrieg strike into El Salvador for a couple of days.

- I am giving a lot of thought to trying to fly to Cuba in about three weeks, and skipping Nicaragua. Castro will only be alive for a bit longer and if there is ever a time to go NOW is it.

Finally, I want to quickly try to explain the emotional events that are occuring on my travels. I have had many great times (now is one of them), but also a lot of bad. The sense of isolation that I feel every single day can be, at times, incredibly overwhelming. The week I spent learning Spanish in San Pedro was the worst. Even when I hung out with fellow travelers or locals I felt completely alone, but not in a good way. Yet, despite this I can definitely say the best experiences I have had have been when I am alone (or at least without fellow travelers around). For example, I have been taking only Chicken buses through Guatemala, something that I quickly learned most travelers only do when necessary. I have maybe seen three or four other travelers on the chicken buses. Meeting locals on these buses is great and, excuse the language but there really is no other way to say this, the bus drivers are fucking insane! If you want an adrenaline rush forget extreme sports, ride a bus in Guatemala! As a rule they pass on blind corners at 80-90 km per hour whenever they get the chance. Any bus designed to hold 50 people can easily accomodate 125. On Monday I held two children because we were so crammed in and their poor 100 pound mom was dying trying to hold them both. Memories like this, as well as the overwhelming kindness of the people I meet on these buses have been the best experiences I have had.

Arriving in Monterrico at about 6:00 p.m. Monday night I quickly discovered the town was deserted. After checking into the hostel where I stayed the first night I decided to find some food. Despite the fact that I was the only one in the town I was filled with happiness from the wonderful experiences I had had on the buses all day (and it was warm and humid, two very welcome sensations after the freezing temperatures in Xela). I found a small restraunt, which of course was completely empty, and using my new found Spanish skills I started a conversation with the two women owning it (for those of you who don't know I should mention that these restraunts also double as their houses, so you basically just sit on their front porch). I said that all I wanted was a huge plate of beans and rice with a basket of hot tortillas. They were more than happy to accomodate my request and soon I was stuffing myself on an incrediblely simple, yet delicious meal. I savored every bite, taking in the flavors as if I had never eaten anything so wonderful in all my life. Afterward, I paid the bill, which was 15Q ($2 dollars) including a Coke and walked back to my hotel as happy as I have ever felt in my life, enjoying every noise, smell, sound, and sight. A truly wonderful night, one which will not be forgotten no matter how many other wonderful nights I have!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

No Hablo Español

I am in San Pedro this week, a trashy village on Lago de Atitlan, studying Spanish. It has been raining like crazy thanks to Hurricane Dean and the two things I wanted to do here (kayak the lake, and climb Volcan San Pedro) have not happened yet, and I am not hopeful that they will get done before I leave.

So about Spanish, I was really starting to feel confident asking directions, ordering food, and bartering, but now I just feel hopeless. I am doing four hours of class everyday this week, and while I am learning a lot, I am quite certain my teacher has decided I am hopeless. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I have difficulty understanding English if there is any noise around. Usually at bars conversations with me are one sided and I just nod my head when I feel it is appropriate. Now would be a good time to say that if anyone has had a really weird conversation with me at a bar, and I was agreeing with something truly bizarre, I probably was just nodding along so please don't hold it against me! As usual I digress. The original point was that I have trouble deciphering English, so imagine how hard it is for me to understand Spanish when I am on the street, or even at my school. I will hear a word (or group of words), have no idea what the hell is being said and after several minutes my incredibly patient (though becoming less so every day) teacher will write it out and I find out she was saying something like: Hola, Como estas? I heard: Jolacom oesates.

Resolving not to be defeated by something as trivial as learning a new language, I am headed to Xela on either Saturday or Monday to continue with language school and to volunteer in either an orphange, a clinic, or both. I am hoping after two weeks I will be on solid enough ground that I can continue learning on my own for the next two months. Wow!! It is weird to think that I only have a little over two months left down here. By the time I leave Guatemala, I am really going to be in a rush. Considering that I will be in Utila for at least a week getting my diving certification I think I will need to start cutting areas from my trip.

Here is my tentative itinerary for the next few weeks.

8/27-8/31 Spanish School in Xela

9/1-9/4 No clue!!!

I interrupt this blog to bring you an important announcement. A Guatemalan girl just brought me steaming hot banana bread (one of the other reasons I love Guatemala)!!!!

9/5-9/11 Trek with Quetzaltrekkers through the highlands.

9/12-9/15 Copan and making my way to the Bay Islands

9/16-??? Diving in Utila

That leaves about a month to hit the rest of Honduras, Nicaragua, and then fly out of Costa Rica. I am feeling a bit panicked about the time crunch...

OK that was a pretty lame post, but there really isn't anything else going on.

Monday, August 20, 2007

By Popular Demand

OK, OK!! After the emails and comments I have decided to drop the vulgarity from my blog posts. However, I must point out that I am a product of the public school system so my vocabulary is rather limited (especially when it comes to expressive adjectives).

I apologize to all who were offended. Please send me some of your favorite expressive adjectives and I will start using them from now on.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

TIG (This Is Guatemala)

Two posts in one day! OK I admit it I'm bored. I am in Antigua waiting for a bus to take me to Lago de Atitlan and hae some time to kill. Antigua is awful, I strongly recommend no one ever comes here. The entire town is built on tourism, and unlike Flores which is also very touristy, Antigua is expensive, consumer driven, and has a fucking Subway. If there are two things I hate in this world they are paying too much for beer and Subway. After buying one beer my first night here I decided to boycott Antigua and refused to either go to bars, or eat at any restraunt that was not attached to wheels. I met an American couple here on holiday who were spending $125.00 a night for their hotel room! People are driving Mercedes, Land Rovers, and get this, a fucking H2. So actually I hate three things because I really really really hate people who drive H2s (especially in Guatemala). OK enough ranting about the evils of Antigua, below is a short list of the things I love most about Guatemala.

1. The People. OK I had one bad experience on a bus, but I am convinced the Israeli I was traveling with was being rude to someone when I was out trying to find another bus. I will get into another rant about rude travelers at another time, but I digress. Everyone here is super friendly and some of the best times I have had so far have been with people I meet on the chicken buses. It is so cool to get off the beaten path and meet people who are just plain nice. Hey everyone in Seattle, why don't you try this for a while (no one in Seattle ever invites you to join them if you are sitting alone, here everyone does).

2. The Country. Wow is it ever beautiful. I don't really know what else to say...just WOW!!

3. The Pace of Life. Buses breakdown, roads wash out, and floods happen. No ones pulse ever gets above 60. SO RELAXING!!!!!

4. Two dollar meals that are DELICIOUS and HEALTHY!

Hmmm there are more but I need to go catch that bus...

The Curious Incident of the Woman on the Volcano

I hiked Picaya yesterday, an active volcano near Antigua. The hike was short, but steep and I left my group behind in order to get a workout racing up the mountain. At the top I took some great photos, then joined my group to watch the lava flowing down the magma field, and to roast marshmellows. It was very hot!! I again decided to leave my group and hike around on my own for a while. As I was getting ready to leave the lava fields and catch back up to my group, who were already making their decent, I passed two young women climbing off the hardend magma on to the ground. As I was passing them the one in the back suddenly lost her footing and took a short fall. Normally you would not expect some one to get her just slipping on a rock, but these rocks were incredibly jagged and she sliced her wrist when she tried to break her fall. I ran over to her and was shocked at the amount of blood oozing from her wrist. She was bleeding like a stuck pig, and her friend was freaking out! When I was packing for the short two hour climb, as an after thought, and basically just because I had so much room I tossed my first aid kit into my pack. Phew! Was that ever the right move! I poured some water on her wrist to figure out where the big cut was (I don't think I can emphasize enough how much blood there was), and then applied some gauze and pressure to stop the bleeding. After a few minutes and a couple of gauze pads (remember, just keep adding pads never remove soaked ones!) I wrapped her up, and we hiked out. She found her group and I rushed to catch up with mine, who by this point were quite a ways ahead of me. I figured I would see her at the bottom, but my group was waiting and we immediately left. Hope things worked out for her, but I never got the beer she promised me at the bottom...damn a good deed for nothing, next time I am demanding a monetary payment before I render my services!

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Disclaimer: Skip the first paragraph if you don't want to read about bowel movements.

So I am going to try to keep this short, as I am having a pretty bad bout of travelers diarrhea, which has waylaid me in Lanquin for an extra day at least. I guess on the plus side if you are going to be stuck somewhere and emptying your bowels every five minutes this is the place to be.

I'm not really sure how to start a post like this so let me just try to come out and say it. Traveling is really lonely. I am definitely having a good time, but as I was laying by myself under an amazing sky last night marveling at where I was, the thought that I was completely alone hit me like a freight train. It is interesting that I have met so many great people and am having fun exploring Guatemalan culture, talking to the locals, hanging out with travelers, playing volleyball, hiking, swimming, drinking beers, and discussing life yet can still feel such a sense of complete isolation. Looking at that sky last night (and it really was one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen) I felt as though I was the only person on this earth. Not really sure where this rambling is headed, just wanted to share what is one of the weirdest sensations I have ever felt. It may come across a purely negative by the way I just described it, but I assure you it was not. There was a weird mix of sorrow and joy filling every cell of my body as the 'aloneness' washed over me. Very intense experience.

OK so now that you all know that it took less than two weeks for me to lose my mind, I need to head back to the bathroom!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Adventure Continues...

So when we left off last time the hero of our story was wading through sewage and trying to get the hell out of Coban. After two hours of searching the city we found a bus willing to make the drive to Lanquin (we were told no by the fist three we asked, as the road was flooded). Rapidly gathering our things Nir and I raced to the bus and set out for Lanquin hoping everything would be O.K. Of course it wasn´t. The road out of town was flooded so we had to take a weird detour that added about an hour to the trip. After that we hit two other crossings and spent about 45 minutes at each one while the driver figured out what to do. Eventually he crossed both, though after the first one the bus died and would not start for almost 20 minutes. After the second one we had to get off the bus, ford a third crossing that was to deep to cross in the bus, and then get on another bus that had been stuck on the other side. We arrived in Lanquin after 4.5 hours of travel (the trip usually takes just under two), and went directly to El Retiro. The place was packed with travelers who had been unable to leave, and because we were the only two travelers to make it to Lanquin they had two beds still available! The night was spent at the bar with fellow travelers drinking beer and playing cards.

According to some of the locals this is the worst flooding in over 15 years. Semuc Champey is flooded, and even though I am here until Thursday it does not look like I will be able to go visit what I hear is the most beautiful place in Guatemala. I may have to come back after my language schools, which is where I am headed after this. Though from what I have heard I am going to have quite a difficult time studying in San Pedro, so I may take a few days to hang out before I devote myself to studying full time. I am quite anxious to start the schools, and am already amazed at how quickly my Spanish is improving. At this rate I will be fluent in a month!!!

I also have some unfortunate news to report. The night of the flooding 6 people died in Coban. Sorry to leave on such a grim note. I have been having trouble dealing with the fact that people were dying while I was just taking pictures and having an adventure. Sadly, none of the other travelers seem to give a damn about this and that is also bothering me.

Hasta la vista

Monday, August 13, 2007

A New Adventure

I departed Flores after two wonderful nights spent swimming and drinking beer on the lake. I then traveled to a ranch in the middle of nowhere called Finca Ixabel. It was fairly cheap with good food, but the atmosphere was very lame, so after reading a book one day, and stuffing myself at the buffet dinner (isn´t it funny how small portions become when you leave the U.S.! That was the first time I had been full since leaving.) I decided to head for Coban, and then Semuc Champey. As I was about to leave the ranch I started chatting with an Israeli named Nir who was going to try to take some back roads straight to Semuc Champey. His plan seemed sound enough and so ten minutes later we were on the road together. This is were the adventure truly begins. We really were on a path less traveled and pushing my spanish to its limits I learned that very few backpackers ever travel where we were. I had an absolute blast on some of the buses, passing around photos of my family, Natalie, and Jager. Natalie was quite a hit with the Guatemalan men, who wanted to know when we would be getting married, and if she was in Guatemala as well. The Guatemalans on one bus that we were on were not nearly as friendly as the rest, so we were anxious to get off that bus. It was interesting going from being so welcomed, to literally having backs turned to you when you asked questions. I do not know if I unintentionally offended anyone, but like I said we were clearly tolerated, not welcomed on that bus. Well after all our hard work we missed the bus to Lanquin (which is just outside Semuc Champey) and ended up in Coban anyway. Around five in the afternoon the rain started, and it has not stopped. For those of you in Seattle imagine the hardest downpour you have ever been in, and then just extend it for 19 hours (and counting). Half the town is flooded, we can´t get to Lanquin, and our hotel is flooded with about eight inches of water on the ground floor. We were counting our blessings (we are on the second floor) until around eight this morning when the roof could finally no longer take the assault and began admitting steady trickles of water into the room. After moving beds around to try to avoid the rain we ended up sharing one double size bed for a couple of hours before fleeing the hotel in full rain gear in hopes of finding an internet connection. Of course this really meant finding a section of town that still had power. In order to do this we waded through streets filled with up to 8 inches of water and sewage, as the sewers are now overflowing in our district. Having made it I can tell this lovely story and kind of laugh about it, as it is in the past. However now that I have reached the end of this entry it means I now have to go live it again as I wade back into the muck and try to figure out how the hell to get out of here! Adios amigos (and if you are having a bad day just remember you are probably not wading through sewage and if you are... well I guess do it like me, with a smile on your face and the spirit of adventure in your heart).

Friday, August 10, 2007

Ummm I can´t understand anyone...

So apparently, unbeknown to me, they speak a different language in Guatemala. Someone told me it is called Spanish and apparently to communicate you need to learn it. I have been getting by by making weird guttural noises and hand gestures. Usually after a few minutes whoever I´m talking to just realizes that I am completely hopeless and takes pity on me. I spent yesterday in Tikal and had a wonderful time. I´m in Flores and enjoying life on the road. The first three days were pretty awful, I was missing home, completely isolated (don´t ever get stuck in Chetumal, worst town ever), and just plain miserable. As I was reaching Flores the bus suddenly pulled over and the driver shouted ´Tikal, Tikal´. I was exhausted but for some reason I just was compelled to get off the bus, grab my pack, and hop in a van headed to Tikal. Apparently my bold move empowered three other travelers to make the same split second decision, and once we hit Tikal the four of us sat back had a cold beer and suddenly life was good again. Since then I have relaxed, recharged, and am as happy as anyone with a lot of time and no worries could be. In other words I am REALLY FUCKING HAPPY (sorry grandma and Bonderman folks, but you´ll have to get used to the language. I will try to put up disclaimers when I start talking about my bowel movements.)!! Well hopefully I can post pics of Tikal soon, but now I need to go decide what I am doing for the weekend. I really want to go to Semuc Champey but it will be expensive and crowded over the weekend, so I might go to Poptun, though I´m not sure what I would do there. Hasta luego (I think that means something in this ¨Spanish¨ I keep hearing about).

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Awaiting Departure

Well I figured I should post something before I took off. I am leaving Seattle in three days, flying into Cancun and then busing to Guatemala from there. Can you believe I got a $78.00 ticket to Cancun (thanks Kathy)! I'm all packed and ready to go, getting really anxious. Over the past few days my mood about traveling could easily be graphed as a sinusoidal ftn. I'm excited, nervous, curious, and really anxious to find out what it's going to be like to be on my own for the next 8-12 months. Saying goodbye to my friends was pretty hard, and I know that I am going to feel really lonely as I adjust to a life where I can't just pick up my cellphone and talk to people. With all that said, I have never been more excited about anything in my entire life! I have many preconceptions about what the first few days are going to be like, but I won't be surprised if it is absolutely nothing like what I am expecting. Well that's all for now...