A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: sjcarsk

Soy Guatemalteca

Lake of hope and second chances...

sunny 65 °F

My host family is also hosting two other students. The first, Ursula, is from Colorado and a student and University of Denver. She is 31 and further along in her life path than me, but very similar interests and ticks. Tristan, is from Taiwan, and a traveler of Central America. We each live with our host family in different ¨habitaciones¨ or rooms. There are cold concrete floors, and minimal surroundings, but it is sufficient and easily considerable high class livin´ in Central America.

Ursula and I went on a hike to El Lago de Chikobal (Chikobal Lake) with a Mayan tour guide, Carlos. I was apprehensious, but eventually decided to go despite having to get up at 6 AM. The hike to Chikobal would reveal a crater with a lake in the middle. It also included a chance to see a volcanic eruption a few miles in the distance, but within perfect sight. It took about 2 hours to hike up to the volcanic eruption sight. Then we descended over 550 awkward stairs until we reached the crater. We traveled at a very very slow pace and with canes (totally my fault and lack of health, despite veganism :) ). In my defense, it was very steep over 45 degree angle and very uneven the entire way. Slippery rocks and uneven crushy dirt were all that we tread upon.

The tour guide mentioned at the start that the crater-lake was sacred. "It is necessary to think positive thoughts on the way up" he said. If there was anything in your life of particular ailment think on it positively and know it will go away. It is no longer needed. Whether it is anxiety, fear, pain, lack of money, or anything that you may need help with, give it up and it will be taken care of.

The lake itself is considered sacred, and therefore, you cannot swim in it. However, you can put your hands in it and essentially ¨wash away¨ your imperfections. I brought along my own. The tradition is you stand in a specific direction toward the sun rising against your forehead and you pray and give away your imperfections.. There I stood, arms outstretched, eyes closed and complete openness. I gave it away. All of it.

After that, Carlos, Ursula and I continued around the lake. It was beautiful. An absurd fog crept in and made it cold and difficult to see anywhere, but upon shore. The experience was about to turn surreal. We walked a little further, I moved slowly toward the water and Ursula and Carlos followed upon the beach sand. I dipped down and placed my hands in the water, only to feel utmost relief and spiritual connection with everything worldly and otherworldly. At the water´s edge there were a whole bunch of dead animals, a hummingbird, a fish, and two butterflies. This made me question the legitimacy of the water bringing only good. But, I was then reminded "That which gives, also takes away". We should be respectful of life and second chances.

We continued on down the lake, and out of the fog came a group of around 20 people. They were all seated or standing on the beach close to the water or near fires. They had Calla lilies, statues, crosses, and candles. These group of people were the Mayan Mam, a group of Catholics. They were celebrating the feast of the Virgen of Guadalaupe in prayer and chants. We stopped and thought it would be time to push on within a few minutes, but were suprisedly welcomed. Ursula, Carlos, and I knelt down next to the fire behind the Mams. I began to pray. A few of the women brought us over some tamales and Mayan rum. It was cultural acceptance, it was wanting to share. This was no luck. Something brought me to that exact point in time, to share with those specific people, and to get rid of all my woes. I needed this, I wanted it more.

Posted by sjcarsk 16:36 Archived in Guatemala Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Start of my journey in Xela, Guatemala..

overcast 58 °F

My trip to Xela, Guatemala was quite the experience. I stayed overnight in Panama City with some Americans that I met in the airplane, and with whom I discussed life's journey the entire time. I got one and 1/2 hours of sleep that night, and plenty of stories to relay. The following morning, the hotel bus took me to the airport about 40 minutes away. I took the plane to Guatemala City. In Guatemala City, I went through immigration and out the door to the street. To my suprise, there were about 1,000 Mayan people behind a guarded wall watching the foreigners and other airplane passengers enter into their country. There were people taking my picture and staring and calling out names. I called Raquel Lopez, a friend of my Spanish Language school, and she said she'd be there momentarily. The next twenty minutes were actually quite adrenaline filled as I awaited Raquel. Raquel took me to the bus station to take the bus to Xela, and instructed me to put my valuables below the bus. Sometimes the buses are raided for valuables during the journey. She also instructed me to go to the bathroom as no stops would be made over the course of the next 5 hours. I knocked myself out with dramamine for the bus trip to Xela. A few times I awoke curled up next to the woman next to me! It was freezing.. what can I say but I needed warmth?

I arrived in Xela December 5, 2009 at 8 pm. I took a taxi to my host school, filled out paperwork with the owner, and paid in full. It was $420 USD for 3 weeks of Spanish Immersion - Language school (5 hours a day, 5 days a week one-on-one instruction), family living, and 3 meals a day. Muy barata.. very cheap. My host mother was called and she promptly picked me up to take me to my host house. The house is only about 5 minutes walk from the school. The school is very small and there are only four other students that study there during the day alongside of me, two of which live with me at my host family's house. I have my own room and bathroom. It is very basic and very cold. During the day, the temperature is nice and warm. It is similar to a nice warm Spring day. At night, now that is another story. It is freakin' freezing! I wear underarmor and wool socks while sleeping in my sleeping bag made for 20 degree weather.

The next day, December 6, 2009, was my first day of school. It went well. I talk a good deal with my teacher in Spanish and at times we study grammar. I find now that my conversation is not the most lacking aspect. I need more grammar practice. It has been since my first year of college, almost 6 years ago, that I've taken a Spanish grammar class. I find that I don't remember the tenses (tiempos) like I thought I did. The teacher that I have this week is named Mario. He is Guatemaltezco and has been teaching for 18 years about. He has two children and his wife is a feminist with an organization that helps Guatemalan women who are victimized. Next week, I will switch teachers. There are about 10 teachers total that the students can study with each week.

Posted by sjcarsk 14:11 Archived in Guatemala Tagged educational Comments (0)

Arrival in Xela

sunny 60 °F

Will post more later...

Arrived in Xela and living well with host family.

Posted by sjcarsk 10:55 Archived in Guatemala Tagged educational Comments (0)

Leaving tomorrow..

60 °F

I leave for Quetzaltenango (Xela), Guatemala tomorrow. It's going to be a long, long, long trip. It will wind up being around 33 hours I think in total. I leave Lancaster at 11:35 am via train to Newark, New Jersey (2.5 hours), then take a cab from downtown Newark to the airport (20 minutes). I should arrive to the airport around 3 pm EST. The flight on Copa Airlines takes me to Panama City, Panama. I arrive there around 10 pm CST (7 hours wait and flight) and sleep overnight... don't worry there won't be much sleeping going on! I'll be too anxious. Maybe I'll find a fellow traveler to befriend and take shifts. That'd be ideal :)

The following morning, December 5, I will take a plane from Panama City to Guatemala City. The flight departs around 10 am and arrives around noon CST (2 hours). Then, Raquel Lopez, a friend of my language school, will be picking me up from the airport. She will take me to the bus station and help me get situated on a bus. Unfortunately, I'll be taking ALAMO bus line. I wanted to take La Linea Dorada bus line, but it looks like the next bus for that line doesn't depart until around 3 pm. That'd get me into Xela much too late. The benefits of La Linea Dorada.. there are bathrooms and the bus doesn't stop along the way to pick up and drop off passengers. ALAMO picks up passengers at several pit-stops along the way and has no bathrooms. I'm going to take some Dramamine and try to knock myself out. EEEKK! Once the ALAMO bus arrives in Xela, I will take a cab to the school. Oh by the way, Xela is pronounced SHAY-la, so I will be going by that while I'm there... very close to Sheila and with a Spanish accent it always winds up sounding like SHAY-la or Chay-la anyways.

I was instructed the school is "One orange house with white door. Located close to a blue house with a small garden." Then, the address was provided. The appearance of the house was told to me so as to properly instruct the taxi cab driver. Looks like this isn't a very well known place. Hey, I found it on LonelyPlanet though! Don't worry too much! .. right?

Once I get to the school, called Educacion Para Todos, I will be greeted by its owner Oscar. He will take me to my host family. The host family will provide me with a place to live and to eat three meals a day. I'm not sure what other obligations they hold. I've heard mixed information that I will likely live in a one room home with all family members in that room, or I will get my own room in a traditional home with a courtyard (seems like extremes). I guess we will see. Either way, it will be interesting and definitely a learning experience. When I studied abroad in Mexico, I didn't live with a family and didn't get much exposure to the language. I am excited to only be spoken to in Spanish.

I start classes December 7. It will be 5 hours a day, 5 days a week of one-on-one instruction at Educacion Para Todos. I believe I start at 9:30 am CST each day. After class, I will explore the city and also volunteer at CENTRO INFANTIL. "Centro Infantil is an orphanage/Day-Care for children from birth to 10 years old. The majority of the children are from battered homes; children of mothers that died at childbirth or are children who were abandoned at birth. The school has a special partnership with the home. We try to have various activities with the children including playing games, parties and piñatas."

On a side note, in my application process for the Spanish Immersion program at Educacion Para Todos, I listed that I am vegetarian. I am actually vegan, but I wanted to refrain from a communication issue as much as possible. However, I recently found out that as a traveler, you are much more likely to get sick from local parasites with a vegetarian diet. A vegetarian diet means that the traveler is much more likely to eat fresh fruits and vegetables that were washed in the local water. The local water being the key culprit in downward spiral of health i.e. diarrhea, nausea, terrible stomach pain, etc.

Also, in not eating the local cuisine, I am missing out. I won't be able to try all the local cultural dishes, especially those that the country is "noted for". Guatemala specifically has chicken in almost all of its dishes. Not to mention that I am likely to insult lots of people, particularly motherly Guatemalan women, that just want to feed my foreign little belly. I'm torn. I feel like I need to either do one or the other because it will be all too confusing to simply do it "at times". But, if I decide to eat meat, dairy and eggs, I want it to be as a result of cultural appreciation. Other meals, I would limit my intake of such.. um.. evils. One benefit is that meat is indeed limited because of its cost. So, chicken is most popular, but limited.

Well, I will write again with more updates soon.

Posted by sjcarsk 11:45 Archived in Guatemala Tagged air_travel Comments (1)

Bring me to life

During college, I studied hard. It was what was important to me. I saw it as my ticket around the globe and to interact with people everywhere.

After college, I moved to Pennsylvania to live with my family and to consider employment in the nearby metropolitan areas (Philly, Baltimore, DC, and NYC). A career-type job didn't come quickly and to pass the time, I took on jobs that did not make use of my college education nor acknowledge my interests. They helped me know what I didn't want in many ways. I kept continuing in keeping up hope for a "real position" that was paid and allowed me to fulfill the all-American dream.

Eventually, I gave up. Was this what I truly wanted? What was I really interested in?

Money has never been my driving factor. Growing up in a family of adequate means, it was never a real "struggle" to get by or support ourselves. Money never played a crucial role, as it does for many. It wasn't the same lifeblood that millions of people struggle for every day. It was just assumed that we had enough, and never really discussed. It wasn't what was important or emphasized. We tried to reduce our spending through coupons and "steals" at the department store, but it was more the thrill of a bargain then not being able to pay full price.

I wanted something that would brighten my soul. An action that I needed in my life, and not one that just took place to fill my closet full of business suits and fancy shoes. I wanted to do great good for this world.

So far in my life, the biggest connection I've felt to such an activity was through travel and female empowerment.

I am going to start my journey. I am going to Guatemala to take part in those two joys.

Posted by sjcarsk 09:26 Comments (0)

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