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Guatemala: May 30

Monday, May 30, 2005 by Jeff

This week I wrapped up my Spanish lessons with Julio, the 37 year-old conservative Catholic and father of four who explained to me that Communism has caused the downfall of the Catholicism and all things good, and that humans are on an inevitable path of increasing misery, poverty, and violence. He was a very kind and open-minded guy, but I wish we'd been able to go beyond the simplistic discussions of these subjects necessitated by my limited Spanish. I think he's getting a biased view of leftist politics in the U.S. from the young, radical population of travelers who tend to visit Guatemala. Meeting me couldn't have helped. [Photos: 1 2 3 ] You'd be surprised how much vegetarian and vegan food are available in the cities here. They've definitely had some experience with Western travelers. Tofu is commonplace on menus in the well traveled areas - on pizzas, hummus sandwiches, hamburguesas vegetarianos - although I haven't yet seen it in the markets, "super" or otherwise. Oddly enough, this internet cafe (obviously aimed at travelers) has a flyer on the front door saying it sells tofu. With so much easily accessible food, I've been discouraged from cooking for myself in the decrepid kitchens of the hostel. I did find one little place that has a rotating menu of mostly vegetarian/vegan food, home-cooked by a nice woman with a taste for good food. Within the first few minutes there, her overly friendly dog peed on the backpack of a young guy at the next table. Is that why dogs aren't allowed in restaurants in the States? [Photos: 1 2 ] I spent this past weekend atop Central America's highest peak, Volcan Tajumulco (13,845 ft), on a hike led by a local non-profit housed at my hostel. The trail (to the extent that there is one) is virtually straight up. No one here knew the Spanish translation of switchback. Twenty-two of us camped a short distance from the top, then awoke at 4:30 a.m. to climb to the peak and watch the sunrise. We were trapped in fog much of the way up, but that morning we were looking down upon lush green mountains and what looked like pools of clouds between them, and an incredible display of rural sprawl. The landscape is dominated by small family farms growing corn, potatoes, and other unrecognizable crops. The line of 22 white backpackers trapsing through their land was clearly an unusual site for the locals, whose kids came out to watch us pass by. These are people who probably know as much or less Spanish than I do. Today the muscles in my legs are a grim reminder of the beauty of that place. [Photos: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 ] Tomorrow I leave Xela for the capital to meet Heather. From there I think we'll head to nearby Antigua for a few days to wait for friends Steve and Camille who arrive on Friday. Antigua has been described as a clean, colonial, and traveler-friendly place, and the most beautiful city in Central America. Hopefully Heather will bring the camera cable by that time and I can start posting pictures. Hasta pronto.

Guatemala: May 23

Monday, May 23, 2005 by Jeff

San Marcos Xecul is a little pueblo near Xela that took about 45 minutes to get to by bike, and that was with very, very slow riders. It´s nestled in the foothills of a small mountain that overlooks a beautiful expanse of farmland and scattered homes. Its most striking sight is its garishly painted church which seems to be the draw for people like me to make this trip. It was all part of a trip organized by the language school this past Saturday morning. It´s the first time I´ve really gotten out of the city to see a less developed pueblo. Needless to say, eight westerners with mountain bikes, one pant leg rolled up, and wearing bike helmets is an unusual - although not unheard of - site here. [Photos: 1 2 3 4 5 6 ]. The rest of the weekend I spent with a small group of new friends from Australia, England, and the Netherlands - plus a rotating bunch of extras from the U.S. One Aussie in particular, James, has been with me for most of my free time here. He´s a great guy - a 24 year-old soon-to-be lawyer - who has already been on the road for nearly three months on his way from Mexico City to Ecuador. We´ve been studying Spanish, watching films, eating, drinking, talking politics, and meeting people together...and having a great time doing it. Today is Monday and it´s time to get back to work. Practica, practica, practica!

Guatemala: May 20

Friday, May 20, 2005 by Jeff

During my first one-on-one spanish lesson yesterday afternoon, Julio, my maestro, asked if I remembered Hurricane Mitch. He was talking and drawing a map of Central America - drawing, always drawing. Oh, and by the way, a hurricane is expected to hit Guatemala at midnight tonight. It was the first I´d heard about it. Today is the sunniest (or least overcast) day I´ve seen yet and, to my eye, there isn´t a storm in sight. Last night "Adrian" hit El Salvador, just south of here, with a bit less force than Julio and others expected. That´s not going to stop me from saying that I survived Hurricane Adrian! Maybe I can find a shirt that says as much. Speaking of natural disasters, two nights back I awoke to feel my bed shaking like a tourist in the Guatemala City airport. The next morning everyone was talking about the earthquake, a relatively small one as these things go. I suspect these are not at all uncommon phenomena in Guatemala, a volcano-ringed region that sits at the convergence of three tectonic plates. Maybe one of these volcanoes will erupt while I´m here and round out my natural disaster experience. I´m now registered for daily Spanish lessons - 5 hours each - at Celas Maya, one of the bigger schools here (40 students perhaps?). Yesterday, Julio and I talked about global politics, veganism, hurricanes, our families, and little bit about verbs. Actually, time flew by. It feels great to be able to have a conversation in Spanish about important things (not just, "do you have a vacant room?"). During the break I met some travelers who invited me out for a beer or two or three and to play some pool. Everyone wants to know about veganism. I´m beginning to feel like a de facto missionary for the movement (no, I´m not preaching). My second lesson begins in a half hour.

Guatemala: May 17

Tuesday, May 17, 2005 by Jeff

I expect this to be the first of several posts from the road. I´m in Quetzaltenango in the western-most part of Guatemala, sitting among a surprising number of enlish-speakers at an internet cafe. The mountains are covered in fog and the streets in rainwater. I arrived in Guatemala City last night with a small backpack, a bankcard, and a poor ability to speak Spanish. This morning I took a 4 hour bus ride way up into the highlands to Xela (CHE´-la; the city´s more common pre-colonial name). This is going to be the center of my activities on this seven week visit (the longest I´ve ever been out of the country). While here, I intend to get a little more Spanish under my belt and learn more about this underappreciated part of the world. Heather joins me in two weeks. Before spending all my Quetzales at this internet cafe, I need to find a reliable vegan food source (e.g., a produce market) and a language school to begin the endurance training. I hope you´ll check back here for updates and leave some comments for me too. This will be my first major trip in the blogging age. Let´s see how it goes.

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Jeff A. Larson
Sociologist, Arizona.


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