Tag Archives: guatemala

Christmas on Fire!

It’s Christmas Eve and it doesn’t even feel like it!

I looked everywhere in Antigua for a Santa Claus hat. Whenever I asked people where I could find one, I was always directed to the main outdoor market. The place was sprawling with holiday spirit!

The market in Antigua was sprawling with festive life!
The market in Antigua was sprawling with festive life!

I found plenty of Santa hats but none that could fit my big noggin. Finding a big fluffy red one required going into Guatemala City, which I didn’t have time for.


Christmas in Monterrico!

For me, Christmas without the cold weather and snow is like having Oreos without the milk. It’s like a hamburger without any fries. The Australians always tell me the opposite, they can’t imagine having a cold Christmas. This particular Christmas was gonna be a hot one and I couldn’t wait! Laura, Ellie, Carly, Mark, Valerio, Marco, Katie, and I organized a private shuttle about two hours drive to the Pacific Coast. Our destination: Playa Monterrico! Monterrico is a beachside village with slate black sand made of volcanic ash. The shores are torrential with consistently strong waves. The dark color of the sand heats as the sun rises over. During midday, the sand is scorching hot; too hot to stand on. The heat from it rises and boils Monterrico like a giant sauna. We arrived to Monterrico just before sunset on Christmas Eve.

T'was the night before Christmas...
T’was the night before Christmas…

The eight of us checked into a hostel resort called Johnny’s Place, one of the higher rated spots in the area. We walked around the villa and it really is the place to be! Tons of huts, pools, hammocks, and chairs to lounge on. We put away our bags and went to the outdoor restaurant near the beach. The mosquitos were biting! Thankfully, Johnny’s Place was smart enough to sell mosquito repellent to their guests. We sprayed it up as we began to drink and feast! It was only 7pm, so we still had ways to go before midnight officially struck.

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What’s great about this particular group of volunteers is that they’re easy people. We evenly split the costs of everything between the eight of us: drinks, foods, and even our rooms. Although majority of us shared a dorm, the Italians were stuck in a private room in which we just split everything evenly. It made life easier that way. Plus, still it was fairly cheap. We went up on the drinks and casually moved over to a hangout hut just a few meters away. There we met a separate group of volunteers, all from Germany including one named  Lionel. We merged our groups and played a massive game of “Werewolf”. Afterwards, Lionel joined my group over to another bar next door. Carly spotted a silly excuse for a Christmas tree there but thought it was festive enough to have a holiday group photo!

Top Row: Marco, Mark, Lionel, Valerio, Ellie, Me Bottm Row: Laura, Katie, Carly
Top Row: Marco, Mark, Lionel, Valerio, Ellie, Me
Bottm Row: Laura, Katie, Carly

The bar we went to was situated on a rooftop which was perfect for the night. It was too dark to see the ocean but you could hear the sounds of crashing waves booming in the background of the salsa music that was playing. Still it didn’t feel like Christmas Eve at all. I’m not used to all this heat during the holidays yet!

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As the hours went by, we began to realize that even though it wasn’t officially Christmas here in Monterrico, Guatemala, that it was Christmas in our respective countries. The Australians were first, followed by the Italians, and at 11pm in Guatemalan time, it was Christmas back home in Michigan. Everytime we announced it was Christmas in our home countries, we toasted and cheered! Soon enough, midnight hit and fireworks went off along the beach. Everything that night was more than amazing!

The next morning, I was feeling it. I had a little headache but it was the good kind of headache knowing it came from a really great night. Katie and I woke up a little after dusk and walked along the beach. The sun was in the beginnings of its intensifying rays as our feet sunk into the thick gravels of dark ash. Sizeable pelicans flew by across the shore scoping for their morning breakfast. During the morning, the ashy sand is cool enough to walk on. The waves left blankets of thick white foam among the crests. It was Christmas day and it was going to be a good one.

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Even though some of us weren’t feeling well from the night before, we still had an appetite, albeit a small one, for breakfast. I heard a vanilla banana smoothie does wonders for hangovers, so I ordered one of those. But it wasn’t until we decided to go into the water that my small hangover went away. I discovered the cure to hangovers! Those waves in Monterrico knocked the hangover right out of me! Those waves were freakishly strong!

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The tide was so brutal that it literally swept you off your feet and pulled your whole body into the currents. It was advised to not go out too far into the ocean or else you could get trapped out there. At times I felt like I was stuck, but in these kind of currents it’s best to just relax and not fight it. Flow with it!

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Later on, a group of volunteers from Antigua joined us on the beach. Roxy and Hanni among others. The sand started to become too hot to walk on. Our plans to play soccer and volleyball during the afternoon were put on hold. It was so hot that the sand made the air and everything around it sweltering. I’m known for doing dumb things, so I challenged Hanni to see who can withstand the sand the longest between us. We weren’t even out there for 20 seconds before we caved. We felt our feet burning for a long time afterwards. Don’t do what we did!

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It was so hot out that all of us stayed under the huts, lounging on the cushions and hammocks. What a relaxing holiday!

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Lionel volunteered here in Monterrico with the sea turtle rescue project. He knew of a place, about five minutes walking distance into the village that served cheap but tasty food. We followed his lead and went on. There we spotted a litter of puppies, barely a couple of weeks old scattered among the village. I’m a sucker for cute animals.

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It was midday and the suns heat began to lessen a bit. The sand was still burning, but now it was bearable as long as you didn’t stand in one place for too long. It was perfect for volleyball because it forced everyone to move around. It was team Mark vs team Valerio. I was on Valerio’s side and we ended up losing by two points. It made for a great game though.

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My group I came with only planned on staying one and night and headed back to Antigua at 4pm on Christmas day and what a Christmas it was. Pure relaxation and fun under the Pacific sun. Thanks for hanging out with us Lionel!

This was the best Christmas gift I’ve gotten this year and I’m glad I got to spend it with such a great group of people.

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Welcome to the Volcanic Arc!

First things first: I’m sicky poo.

I spoke too soon when I boasted about not falling ill in Nepal. I almost, almost escaped unscathed. But I found myself coughing every few minutes between two hefty guys on a 15 hour flight to North America. That was not comforting in the slightest. Thankfully, they were just coughs and not anything worse. Upon landing in the Guatemala City airport, the time was now around 8:30pm on Sunday. I easily navigated around, found my luggage, eased through customs, and went on my way out the door. I saw a guy holding a yellow flag with a smiley face on it. That’s my guy! I received an email a couple of weeks ago telling me to be on the lookout for a yellow flag with a smile on it. There were two other volunteers there waiting. I was so out of it from flying, lack of sleep, and falling ill that I couldn’t remember their names.

Our Guatemalan driver handed us a folder labeled “Maximo Nivel” that had information specific to us. I opened it and read that I would be placed in a homestay. My host mother’s name is Olga. Can’t wait to meet her! We were picked up in Guatemala City but had to drive about 30 minutes west to the city of La Antigua, my new home for the next six weeks. I expected the roads here to be crap but they were as smooth and paved as can be. On the way we passed multiple McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bells, and Burger Kings. I haven’t had McDonald’s since Germany! That might be a new record for me.

We entered the charming city of Antigua, which was festive with Christmas lights and colorful buildings. The roads were made of cobblestone that spread evenly between perfectly parallel and perpendicular streets and avenues. Smack dab in the middle of the city was Parque Central, a very small square with a fountain and lot’s of greenery surrounding. Speaking of squares, Antigua was very square in nature. Streets ran directly north and south and directly east and west. This was block city at it’s finest. It would be difficult to get lost here.

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After dropping the other two volunteers at their volunteer house, the driver dropped me off at my homestay, door number seven.

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I walked inside with my bags and met a young woman, maybe about 20 years old, and a little girl around 10. The older woman didn’t speak a lick of English but welcomed me anyways. Her name is Lorena. Where was Olga? The woman showed me to my new room. Would I have roommates? Would the room be cozy? This house smells like my grandma’s house when I was growing up and that’s a good thing. It’s a comforting scent. “El desayuno es a las siete,” she said. Breakfast is at seven in the morning.

My room was a single bedroom, with a really soft bed, blanketed with multiple covers. I had my own dresser, night desk, and a few towels to spare. To top it off, I had my own bathroom across from my room with an actual toilet I could sit on and best of all…a hot freakin shower! This was luxury compared to my more primitive homestay in Nepal. And since I was coming down with something awful, I needed to be as comfortable as possible with the peace and privacy I needed to relax. But, were there other volunteers already living here? I arrived late at night so if there was anyone else then they’d be sleeping. I’d see who else was around tomorrow.

My room.
My room.

I woke up early from jet lag and from constant coughs. Thankfully, me new bed welcomed me with much needed comfort and warmth. Soon enough, I got ready and entered the dining room. There I met my pleasantly pleasant host mother Gloria and a few other volunteers. Three of the volunteers were here independently studying English. The other four were part of IVHQ and were only here for one measly week. Three of them came together for nursing and another, Adelah (New York), came here for construction. The breakfast we had was wholesome and filling. Yogurt, granola, omelets, fruits, toasts, and tea. We had a brief orientation later that morning at Maximo where I was introduced to more volunteers, including Roxy (USA). She will be teaching English alongside me.

The place where we would be teaching is in a new building that Maximo is still renovating. It’s about 25 minutes outside of Antigua in a place called Alotenango. To get there, we must take a chicken bus. A chicken bus is a pimped out American school bus that the locals can take to nearby areas on the cheap.

A chicken bus.
A chicken bus.

They call it a chicken bus because they pack it so tight that everyone’s heads are bobbing around like chickens packed in a crate. Honestly, I’ve been on far tighter buses that deserve the name “chicken bus” more so than these here in Antigua. These buses here weren’t so bad in comparison.

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A team member from Maximo named Jonathan took a few of us to our placement on our first day and gave us the lowdown on our teaching gig.

Our building where I will be teaching.
Our building where I will be teaching.

Roxy and I expected today to just be an observation day to get the scope of things but instead we were thrown into our own classes of three groups of students. I haven’t been in Guatemala for 24 hours yet and already we had our own classes. As a matter of fact, there were no other teachers here, just Roxy and I. We found out we would be teaching to kids who couldn’t afford language classes and that these kids would be coming to our building after their normal school day. We teach for three hours every weekday to three classes, all ranging from five year olds to adults in their early twenties. We have to be basic and simple here. Constant repetition is key. Unlike Nepal, Vietnam, South Africa, and even Tanzania, the students here in Guatemala were severely lacking in the English department which surprised me. I thought they’d know at least a few things here. This will take some time!

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Roxy teaching the students their numbers.

 

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I’ve been pretty sick for the past few days and instead of mingling with the other volunteers and getting to know them better, I was stuck in bed, sick as a dog each night. I signed up for Spanish classes every morning and I wound up getting my poor teacher, Sandra, sick. Lo siento Sandra! I worked up enough strength to finally go out into the town with Adelah and a new arrival named Katie (England).

Me, Adelah, and Katie.
Me, Adelah, and Katie.

Turns out Katie and I have a mutual friend by the name of Sam. Remember I met Sam in South Africa some time ago and visited him when I went to London for Christmas two years ago. Small world! A few volunteers from the volunteer house planned on going to a place called Semuc Champey over the weekend and invited me along. By now my cold started to wear off and I felt better enough to join up. I had no idea what Semuc Champey was. I never heard of it.

Turns out it’s one of the best places ever to do something I’ve never done before!

The Latin Linguist

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.

Guatemala! My new major area of exploration for the next few weeks.
Guatemala! My new major area of exploration for the next few weeks.

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.

La Antigua, Guatemala.
La Antigua, Guatemala.

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.

Goodbye Nepal!
Goodbye Nepal!

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.