Published: May 5th 2009May 3rd 2009
Another post. Lots going on in San Pedro.
Naturally I’ll start with the part I don’t remember. I decided to hike Volcan San Pedro last Saturday, so I paid for a guide (necessary on many hikes in Guatemala--mainly for personal safety reasons). Joining me were Jodi, one cool Kiwi, two lovely Brits, Hazel and Phil, and our guide, Antonio. We started plodding up the mountain around 9 am on a hot, humid day. That’s up as in straight up, not a switchback to be found. An incline more aptly labeled merciless than merely steep. Around 4,600 feet later, we apparently made it to the top. Or so claim my stalwart hiking mates. I really couldn’t say. See, I’ve blocked out the entire thing. And I’m all the happier for it.
Now, from what I hear, we passed lush forested areas, maize fields, coffee plantations, avocado trees, dense patches of green green plants, a massive 1,000-year-old tree, and a few other groups intent upon summiting the volcano. We may have even tasted a cocoa bean or two, but, like I said, I can’t rightly recall. As I also understand it, Jodi carried my pack quite a ways in an erstwhile
attempt to keep me (1) breathing and (2) moving. For all I know, she threw me over her shoulder and hauled me up the mountain as well. This hike seriously kicked my butt, and I’m certain I would never have made it to the top without the support of my mates. High spirits. Friendly. Encouraging. Oh, and at the top my digital camera saw fit to leap off the volcano to thank it for my continued breathing and moving. Nifty camera, that--quite devoted to me really. Not trying to brag, but your camera couldn’t hold a candle to mine. Not that mine could really hold a candle. You know, cause it’s a camera. And cause it’s now living in a deep, dark volcano. It wishes it had a candle. Anyhow, as I understand it, the volcano then subsequently used my sacrificial camera to photograph me passed out on a large rock. Seriously, don’t believe what you hear about volcanoes, about how they’re so cool and awesome. Please. Truth is, they’ll kick you when you’re down, and they have the pictures to prove it. I’ll close this chapter by noting that the walk down was itself quite a slog, especially in
the afternoon rain. Or so I’ve been told. I came to only when we hit the bar back in town. Muchas gracias to Jodi, Hazel, Phil, and Antonio for being such good sports.
This past week, I continued with 4-hours-a-day of Spanish classes. Now I’m speaking exclusively in the future tense, much to the delight of my instructor, Flory. I also ate three massive meals a day at Alejandra’s house, hit the huge market at Chichicastenengo with Sara, saw a couple of flicks at local bars, dined at an Israeli restaurant with Jodi and Emma (another Kiwi), attended a lecture on human development (the educational, health, and safety programs in Guatemala are--no surprise--sub, sub, sub par), went kayaking with Sara (we made a 3-hour roundtrip to San Marcos, another town on Lago Atitlan), and helped Alejandra sweep approximately 42 gallons of water out of my room (I left my window open during a 4-hour torrential rain).
Over the past week, I spent as much time as possible wandering the streets of San Pedro, taking note of the many aspects of the town I’ve come to love. The love begins and ends with Lago Atitlan, a lake that in
my mind rivals Lake Louise (near Banff) in beauty. And scattered between the beginning and ending lago love are poorly cobbled hilly streets, tuk-tuk taxis that chug up narrow winding roads, collarless strolling dogs (all 8 million of them), women pushing fruit and pastries in vibrant marketplaces with the determination of car salesmen, and my fellow Spanish-language students from Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Canada, the US, France, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, ...
I’ve also really taken to the people of San Pedro. My friend and instructor, Flory, inspiringly, frighteningly wise and periodically, always right when you least expect it, really quite joyful and a bit silly (that's high praise in my book). Alejandra, la madre, who says she’s sad that Sara and I are leaving and who, more importantly, means what she says. The other instructors at la Cooperativa, each of whom does a killer job of helping students improve their Spanish (which happens to be the second language of all of the instructors--their first language is Tz’utujil). La directora and the teachers at the grade school, who day in and day out happily (gleefully?) allowed me to take over their classes for 45 minutes at a shot.
One day, Sara and I paddled a two-person kayak from San Pedro to San Marcos, another town on Lago Atitlan.
Alejandra’s parish, the members of whom welcomed Sara and me into their church. The guys at the Internet cafe who all know me by name and push me to type faster so I can finish my blog entries before my computer dies. The old guy--he's 85 if he’s a day, though in reality he’s probably 23 (see below)--who makes a point of greeting me from his kitchen window every morning as I walk to and from the elementary school.
Lest my praise come off as too effusive, let me note that the Guatemalan adults I’ve met aren’t an overly affectionate lot. A lot of them don’t seem to smile too big or too often (and they like to point out that they can pick grinning Americans out of crowds of tourists with no difficulty whatsoever). And, interestingly, many adults seem pretty somber and prematurely aged, often by as many as 20 years or more. A teacher I pegged at 45-50, for example, is 26. A woman who looked about 60 came into one of my classes to inspect me (a common occurrence--the mothers all want a firsthand glimpse of the new teacher), and I assumed she was the grandmother
of one of my girls. Turns out she's the girl’s mother. Since then, several women have asked me to guess their ages, but that’s a game I refuse to play.
But back to the love. Lago, roads, tuk-tuks, markets, dogs, students, the Guatemalan people. Lots of San Pedro love to go around. Most of all, though, I love the children of San Pedro. I’m charmed by the way they don’t listen to me, and I’m bowled over when they actually do. By the way they’ve adopted me--the way they take care of me and include me in all their activities. By the way they give me the courage to do that which I wouldn't otherwise do (such as stick around vs. fleeing the school building at top speed).
In particular, I’m still more than a little amazed by the events of this past week. Last Monday, I taught classes as usual, but on Tuesday I was greeted by loads of children before I even entered the schoolyard. “Why aren’t you in class?” I asked them. “Because today we crown a queen,” they told me. In the schoolyard a walkway and stage were set up under canopy cover, and
Women washing clothes in the lake. Not too many washing machines in San Pedro ...
Antonio, one of the fifth-grade teachers, played DJ while many kids rocked out to the sort of music you’d hear at most any hockey game. Some kids played basketball, some ate chocolate-covered mangoes and gelatinas (similar to freezer pops), and some of the smaller children sat in little chairs facing the stage.
Over the pounding tunes, Antonio told me that every year the children and instructors celebrate the school’s anniversary during the 3 days before Labor Day (Friday, May 1 this year). About an hour later, the teachers and students all gathered in the street and marched a half-mile to the home of Julissa, the girl who would later be crowned the school’s queen (la reina). The school’s marching band, along with five flag bearers, led the way. Small crowds watched from the sides of the road, and the road itself was blocked off to traffic. When we arrived at the reina’s house, the children (a couple of hundred of them) waited outside while we instructors went inside to greet the new reina (age 10), her mother, and her grandparents. We instructors kissed the reina's cheek, then sat down to a meal of tamales in the dining room before
You try walking out on this pier. I double-dog dare you.
rejoining the kids outside. From there, we marched to a second destination, where the children were fed warm fruit buns. My amigas María Elena and Juanita (ages 8 and 9, respectively) each held one of my hands throughout the hour-long procession.
Later, we returned to the schoolyard, where the children, instructors, and parents gathered to witness the crowning of the new reina. Boys in traditional dress danced and waved incense in the air as the two queens (old and new) walked upon the stage. La reina pasada, Dolores I, burst into tears before giving her parting speech, then the new queen, Julissa I, thanked everyone for the honor bestowed upon her as the school’s newly elected representative. After the crowning, the crowd sang the national anthem (a song that goes on for some 10 minutes, all told), then kids from all six grades performed songs and dances, read poems, and acted out short dramatic pieces.
During the three-hour multi-site event, I was the only non-Mayan in attendance, and, truth be told, I’m still a little overcome by everyone’s willingness to include me in the festivities of this extraordinary day. A little overcome and left with nothing else to
Cool photo taken by Sara. (She took a few of these pics; I took others using her camera. You know, cause the volcano ate mine ...)
say. A first for me, no doubt. And I’ll leave it at that.
There are more photos below