I’m an American celebrating Australia Day in Guatemala…
With my teaching duties over and just a few days left in Antigua, I wanted to relax, get myself together for the next phase, and go nuts! Australia Day was coming and the Aussie volunteers and expats wanted to celebrate. “What exactly is Australia day?” I asked. “It’s the day when the Brits invaded Australia and told the Aboriginals to get the F out”, exclaimed Hanni. Whatever the reason, I was down to clown!
While Lincoln and Hayden had intentions of joining their student group for dinner that night, Nic decided to rebel and take part in Australia Day. It was his last full day in Antigua, so he wanted to go all out. He and I joined forces along with our local friend Evelyn, and went bar hopping in random places around the main center of town. We began rather early in the day.
Around 6:30pm, the three of us headed to the main site for Australia Day, the Jungle Party Hostel, where our friend Carina was able to hook us up with special bracelets that gave us access to free Wombat Puss Punch (it’s as bad as it sounds). Other volunteers from my house and Shekina met us there.
It was a giant sized Australia Day party that failed to live up to what Australia actually is (according to all the Aussie volunteers). I wouldn’t know yet.
We’ve been drinking all day long. You can tell by the fact that none of us could keep our eyes open whenever our pictures were taken.
We should have stopped there but instead we went to Monoloco one last time afterwards. I have to say, the walk home back to Olga’s was the best walk I’ve had back to Olga’s. Nic and Alex were completely gone! Alex decided to take her flip-flops off walking down the street.
“Alex” I said, “Put your shoes back on. There’s broken glass all over the street!”
“But it’s so sparkly!” she responded with a childlike grin.
She never put her flip-flops back on and somehow made it back unscathed, except for a blood gushing cut that happened way above her foot. How did that get there?
Meanwhile, Nic was stumbling all over the place and somehow broke the locks on his keychain and probably left a dent into some guys truck he fell into. He said he wanted to get completely loco today and I’d say he accomplished that, for the mere fact that he didn’t remember anything the next morning! Me on the other hand? I’d say those multiple stops at Burger King throughout the night absorbed any amount of alcohol I had. I ate about four double cheeseburgers in total. Plus, drinking a gallon of water right before I went to bed was the smartest move of the day. I felt about a 90% the next morning. So good, that I was able to watch some of the parade in main Antigua.
The next morning, I said goodbye to the Hoosiers (Though I have a strong feeling that I will see them again). They had to go to a nearby resort with the rest of their classmates before they headed back to freezing cold Indiana on Wednesday. Long after he had already left, I got a text from Nic saying he forgot his passport and his wallet. Fortunately, I was able to get them back to him before he left for the airport.
On my last full day in Antigua, I went back to my school and surprised my former students who had no idea I would pop up so soon. I took the middle class out for ice cream!
I went back home to Olga’s and enjoyed my last dinner there: empanadas, refried beans, guacamole, and bread. There was plenty and it filled me up! I went to Monoloco one last time with some friends I had made there and called it an early night. I still had to pack my things for my departure early in the morning to El Salvador. At this point, I was mentally prepared to go. I’ve been here for almost seven straight weeks and am ready to start exploring new countries and meeting new people!
The next phase of this trip begins as I enter backpacker mode, backpacking my way down and up Central America for a few weeks! As for what happens there, your guess is as good as mine.
I just want to point out that the spanish keyboards are pretty confusing. So if there are any weird accent marks anywhere, it’s because I haven’t figured this thing out yet! But anyways…
With pretty much all of my volunteer housemates gone, it’s just Carly and I now holding down the Olga fort. Usually every week we get a new volunteer or two but this week we came up completely short. I believe the reason is because Olga also rents out to people outside of Maximo Nivel and they’ve been taking up potential space for other Maximo volunteers who are more around my age. The others who have been staying here are generally a lot older and are here solely to study Spanish. They’re nice people but it’s just not the same hanging out with 50 and 60 year olds. Wondering at all if we’re going to get anyone half as awesome as the previous crew we just had, Carly and I still enjoyed the setup we had at Olga’s. From everything we learned the past few weeks, it sounded like our accommodation was the best in many regards. My bed is always made for me everyday. I have my own bathroom, fresh towels and linen every week, and the food Olga prepares for use every day always hits the spot. We’re pampered here. One day during dinner, in walked three guys who looked around my age. Olga said they were students studying abroad. They were actually a few years younger than me. Their names are Nic, Lincoln, and Hayden, all from Indiana, which is very close to where I live in Michigan. The three are here for about a month studying the history of Guatmela, fair trade, and Guatemalan coffee and chocolate. Interesante!
After dinner, Carly, the three new housemates, and I went out into the city to show em` the ropes of Antigua. We were planning to meet Hanni and her housemates at an Irish pub but weren’ sure which one. We found a pub with a green clover on it and when Carly walked in, she was applauded and cheered by all the women sitting at the rail. But when I walked in, I was booed and gestured to get the heck out! So out I went, a little baffled by what just happened. Why would they boo me out? Carly went back in with more applause and cheers and I went back in to more boos and sneers…just to make sure I was hearing correctly. I noticed everyone in the bar was a woman. “Is this a lesbian bar or something?” I asked them. One of the women pointed to a sign that was hanging by the door that depicted a picture of male genitalia with a huge red ¨x¨ on it. It made sense now. We immediately left and found the correct Irish pub just down the street where we met Hanni and the others. The next night, Nic, Hayden, Lincoln, and I went to Monoloco and sat at the bar. The bartender offered a challenge to the bar guests. Whoever can shoot the most plush basketballs into the hoop behind the bar would win a pot of money. The pot of money was ten quetzales that everyone who participated threw in. Nic and Lincoln easily, EASILY, whooped all the Guatemalan locals. But when it came down to just the two of them, Lincoln walked with the win and the pot of a little more than 100 quetzales. 100 quetzales is only about $13 USD so it wasn’t much, but here in Guatemala, $13 can stretch a lot further. Currently, they are considering coming back here often to hustle the locals each week, in which I think is a great idea!
Johnathan told me there were two new volunteer teachers joining me today. Ben (Australia) and Ron (NY, USA). Ben´s a swimming coach back home and Ron is retired and has just been doing some travelling. Johnathan asked that since they were new, that today in school they would be observing me and the structure of the classes. I told them that tomorrow, since the classes have been growing in size, we will split them up. I´d take three classes while they would split one. Even though Ben`s never taught English before, I was fully confident in his ability to do so based on his coaching experience. Ron´s a whole other story though. Nice guy, means well, but he´s a bit on the odd side. One day when I let Ron have a whole class for himself, I walked in to check on him and I heard him telling the younger class that his dog was dead. He then asked them if they had any dead dogs. What the heck are you teaching them man?Ben on the other hand was really great with his kids and didn`t need any help from me whatsoever. Ron told me he had difficulty because he wasn`t sure what to teach them or what to do with them at times. Poor kids would beg me to please comeback to them whenever I came near. As much as I wanted to, I needed Ron to get some experience because he was going to be doing this for eight weeks. It takes a few classes for a teacher to adjust and find their groove.
Cerro de la Cruz
The Hoosiers at my house are studying abroad so they´re a bit really restricted as far as free time, especially over the weekends. Their professors plan everything for them, whether they like it or not. They also have to do homework assignments and report to classes everyday. I cringe every time I hear that. I´m a free bird here, besides the teaching thing. They came with a group of students with the three of them being the only males, so they were put into my house, on the opposite side of Antigua away from the other students and professors from their college. It´s probably the best thing that could have happened for them. We have the best homestay and Carly and I were here to made sure they had a great time outside of their normal school activites by introducing them to our group of volunteers spread across Antigua. But unfortunately, it was Carly´s last night in Antigua, so we all went out to a nice restaurant called Casa Blanca for dinner. Carina (Wisconsin, USA), another volunteer we met joined us. She’s also pretty awesome.
Normally, when I’m travelling, I always meet other travellers who we can all relate with, by sharing our stories and current plans with one another. I’ve never met a group of students from my country, a good chunk of them being their first time outside of the USA during my travels though. I do notice the difference. Everything they see here is weird, different and amazes them while I was mostly unphased. I’ve been spoiled. My tolerance for the ‘strange’ has grown tremendously over the years. The students, especially Nic, were baffled when I told them I’ve been travelling since July going to pretty much any random country I felt like at the time and have been doing it for a few years now. I got the same questions I usually get when I’m at home, most of them beginning with the word “How?”.
We went around town for a bit more that night in celebration of Carly who had just about enough. She passed out at one of the lounges we went to.
The next morning, Carly, Hayden, Nic, Lincoln, and I woke up at 5:30 in the morning to go hike Cerro de la Cruz. Hayden came up with the idea and we thought it would be great for everyone to go. I knew the way there and led the pack in the chilly midst of morning. It’s not a long hike at all. It took about a half hour total to walk to the north of Antigua and up the flight of steps to the viewpoint looking over the city.
We stayed up there for about a half hour while the sun rose and the city came alive. At the view point, we met up with a couple of other volunteers from the Shekina house who were already up there.
When we went back home, the guys went to school and Carly and I hung out a little before we said our goodbyes “see you later’s”. That was the end of one really great group of volunteers. Jacob, Katie, Uma, Mark, Marco, Valerio, Ellie, Laura, and Carly. Thankfully now, the students were here and I wasn’t stuck in an elderly home by myself. I am also in the stages of planning a new expedition–my biggest one since Kilimanjaro. Up one of the largest, most active volcanoes in this region: Acatenango. It’s about a thousand meters or so smaller than my old pal Kili, but altitude sickness still happens there and I know all too well that altitude sickness is not my friend.
The end of 2014 marks the end of another year of worldy travels, but I’m not stopping now! I’m continuing well into the new year, a first for me. I’ve never spent the New Year holidays outside of Michigan and to celebrate the occasion, I wanted to go balls to the wall in Antigua with my comrades here in Guatemala!
I’ve heard Antigua is a pretty special place to celebrate the dawn of 2015. Everyone gathers around the central park and underneath the arch in hordes and bunches. The plan was to spend the night with a nice dinner somewhere and then hit up the squares and see where the night takes us. My housemates Carly, Laura, and Ellie along with Hanni and Abby (Chicago, USA) from the Shakina volunteer house joined me for dinner at a place called Luna de Miel. Before we left the house, Olga warned me to watch out for pickpockets and thieves since this is the night if anything should happen. I brought my big bad Nikon which Olga advised against, but I always protect my camera is if it were my child. I also need it for blogging purposes. At Luna de Miel, we sat upstairs and ordered up a feast. I was feeling fancy, so I stuck with vino tinto (red wine) for a good majority of the night. After a bit, I asked the ladies to say something about their year that they were the proudest of; a moment or something that will stick with them about 2014. They each had some pretty neat things to say, all of them completely different.
For me? I told them how lucky, fortunate, privileged, and blessed I am to be able to travel the world nonstop on a yearly basis with 2014 being my biggest adventure yet. The stars have aligned perfectly for me to be able to do this and 2014 was another terrific year that bid me well in those regards. I can’t take all my friends and family back home with me on these amazing trips, but the least I can do is share my stories and photos with them through this blog site.
After dinner, we went straight to Jungle Party, a hip hostel bar kind of place with swings at the rail in place of stools. It’s also the place with the cheapest beers that we’ve found so far. The bartenders here are really cool and pretty generous. They hit us up with multiple free shots!
I always mention how I don’t like to talk about our drunken antics on this site, but psshhh…it’s New Year’s!
At the Jungle Party we met up with a few other volunteers and hit the streets. It was jam packed!
I knew what Olga meant when she said this was the night of the pickpockets. I was on heavy guard though and thankfully I made it through the entire night with all of my valuables. Hanni, Abby, and I went over to Monoloco to meet up with a few locals who also gave us more free drinks. Beer this time. Antigua you’re too kind! It was about twenty minutes before midnight when we decided we should go near the arch and countdown to midnight. We found Jacob, who came back to Antigua for a visit, and somehow found the others as well and found the perfect spot in front of the fire explosives. As the time ticked closer to midnight, fireworks would go off behind us and all around us from all corners. I had a tube of confetti in my right pocket that was filled with compressed air that I blasted into the crowd!
Ten seconds! Five…four…three…two…one!……..Nothing happened. Maybe Guatemala’s watch was a minute or two off. Twelve minutes went by, past midnight, until suddenly the New Year’s explosive sign lit and finally went off!
The crowd was going wild and everyone held their smartphones and cameras up to capture all the action. We were squished arm to arm in the masses of locals and foreigners from all over the world and it was pretty great! The sparks flew and died down after several minutes.
“Let’s go to Parque Central!” I shouted as I pointed in the direction.
We grabbed each other so we wouldn’t get separated and slowly inched our way there. I had sparklers in my left pocket I had bought earlier that I wanted everyone to have and get silly with.
The mood was just right. We had our sparklers as people around lit stuff on fire and set them into the air. One group had a miniature hot air balloon that they lit into flames and set into the air. However the balloon didn’t go very far and almost sailed right into our group. Kids threw their snappers into the ground as other locals set off miniature fireworks in the park. There was cups and bottles of beer littered all over the cobblestone streets with people relaxed and perched on the corners of the museums and churches surrounding the square. Dozens and dozens of stray dogs were roaming between everyone, maybe looking for scraps of food or maybe just excited from all the exploding objects that were going off. There were people everywhere dancing and mingling. Everyone was having a great time!
A few of us went to another bar somewhere near the arch street. At this point, my memory was a little fuzzy so I don’t remember the name of the place or where exactly it was or what time it was. I do remember someone had bought us another shot there. The rule is you can’t refuse a free shot. Abided.
I had the severe munchies.
“I want McDonalds,” I told Hanni. It sounded like a great idea but only if it were open. A few of us left the bar and straggled to the only McDonalds in Antigua. There were still masses of people roaming the street. Bad news was, we could see McDonald’s in the distance…dark, lonely, and absolutely closed. Good news, there was a Burger King right across from us that was completely open! That should do. It was the best Burger King of my life!
I think I got home just a little after 3:30 in the morning. I’ve lost my housemates ages ago and had to walk home by myself. Even though I had a few drinks in me, I was still cautious and aware of my surroundings if anyone had tried to mug me. I got home safe and sound and instantly passed out. I had no idea if the others were home or not yet.
I woke up the next morning with a text from Hanni that she sent when I fell asleep:
“Not even remotely sleepy… Going to hike Cero to see the city at night, want to come? :-P”
This upcoming seventh season of volunteering lending my talents abroad leads me to Guatemala and I’ve been wanting to go there for years! In fact, Guatemala was supposed to be my very first country I’ve ever travelled to alone, fresh out of high school. But a phone call from my organization at the time asked me to change countries last minute because of growing civil problems within the country. And so, I changed it to Costa Rica.
I don’t know much about what’s going on but I do have some information to share. Once again, I will be working under IVHQ, teaching English in the city of Antigua, Guatemala! I’m scheduled to remain there for six weeks but I still don’t know if I’m staying in a homestay or a volunteer house. I’ve had great experiences with both situations, but I think I’m leaning towards a homestay. The best news I received is that the local organization I will be working with is called Maximo Nivel. I’ve worked with them before in Peru, three and a half years ago and they were a really great company to be a part of! They have branches in Peru, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. I also plan on getting my spanish on hardcore while I’m there.
Once again, I’m going in mostly blind. I don’t know anyone or what it’s going to be like, or even what excursions I’m going to be taking. The mystery is part of the intrigue. I’m hoping Guatemalan food is similar to Mexican food because if so, I’m gonna get fat for sure! Mexican is my favorite food! I’ll be spending Christmas and New Years down there which will also be a first. I spent my first Thanksgiving abroad in Nepal and now I’m spending my first New Year’s abroad in Guatemala. For those keeping record, I spent Christmas abroad already once before in the United Kingdom.
The last few days in Nepal was starting to get cold so I was ready to get to a warmer country, but getting there was tiresome. A five hour flight from Kathmandu, Nepal to Doha, Qatar-> a 12 hour layover in Doha -> a 15 hour flight from Qatar to Miami, Florida-> a two hour layover and then finally a three hour flight from Miami to Guatemala City.
This is also the first time I stopped back in the US during a lengthy trip to continue onto other countries. So that will be a little weird; seeing all the fat people again for a few hours. After not being in the US for a few months, you really notice it once you go back. Trust me.
I’m ready. I’m excited. I’m pumped! I’m planning on getting my Spanish on and will bathe myself in the language until I start to think in Spanish. That is one of my primary goals while I am there. Also, to get my hands dirty with the Guatemalan culture and explore as much as I can.
Continue following me on here, I have a feeling things are going to get interesting.