San Jose

Trip Start Mar 21, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Sunday, May 13, 2007

We were picked up from our respective hotels at 12pm and taken to San Jose.

San Jose is a traditional Maya Itza village where attempts are being made to preserve the language and revive old traditions. Its very neatly kept and sits on the very steep slopes of the lake shore. The school we decided on gives a proportion of the money we pay to the community for the above reason.

We were introduced to the family we would be staying with: Florinda (madre), Fausto (padre) and 3 kids, Paco (6), Sandra (14) and Wilson (16). None of them spoke any English (at least thats what they told us!). The house had a fantastic view of the lake .

(Just to show how bad our Spanish was at that time, at the end of the week we discovered there was another son, who we hadn't seen all week because he'd been in his bedroom studying. He was called Wilson, which meant we'd got completely mixed up as to who was who - very confusing).

We were shown to our room, which was a separate breezeblock building to the side of the main house. Apart from the beds, a table, chair and a set of shelves, there was a fan, some purified water and a roll of toilet paper. Probably our greatest "food for thought" moment was when we went to the loo, we had toilet paper while the rest of the family used newspaper.

It seems that this type of Guatemalteco family start off with a one or two room house, i.e. TV and/or bedroom (if a one room house they just sling their hammocks up whenever they want to watch telly or sleep). Then once the kids come along they build other outbuildings from breezeblock, no decoration, with bare dirt floor. Very simple but effective. The kitchen was an open air affair at the back of the house with a couple of fires on the go instead of a stove, and the loo was earth-loo in another outhouse.

Lunch was ready, Florinda and Fausto tried to chat to us, initially it wasn't too bad with the 'where do you come from, how many brothers and sisters do you have?' etc. A common question also is 'what currency do you use Scotland?' and 'how does it compare to the Quetzal?' etc. That can be a bit awkward. After all the introductions etc thats when it got tricky!! But to their credit, Florinda and Fausto patiently tried to communicate with us, it took ages because our vocab was non-existent! We stammered and stuttered our way through with the dictionary always in use.

The food Florinda served up was excellent though; massive bowls of fruit with sweet bread (pan dulces) and coffee in the mornings, lunch is the main meal of the day so we'd have chicken and some veg with tortillas, then something simple for dinner like soup and tortillas or platanos with frijoles and tortillas. Tortillas really are the tatties of Guatemala (and Mexico)!
It was during meal times that we realised how 'fluid' family life is here. There was always a mixture of people arriving for dinner, or other children being cared for temporarily, the term 'open house' really applies.

We started school the next day 8am sharp(ish), full of hope and expectation that the 100% immersion was going to be our ticket to becoming semi-proficient in Espaņol! That drained from us as soon as we saw our teachers. They were 19 year old girls who, it became apparent as the week progressed, didn't really want to be there. To be fair mine was definitely better than Welly's. At least she was able to explain things and we could understand each other on a 'pictionary' sort of wavelength. Meanwhile Welly was spending 45mins on one simple question trying to see if he understood what his teacher meant -- arrrgghhh!! Frustration set in rapidly!

During the week the school oganised activities in the afternoons to keep us entertained. There was a herbal garden out the back that some local Mayan women tended and made various treatments with . One afternoon activity was helping the women make a herbal soap that they sell locally in various markets. I thought, excellent, how would they make soap? Turns out they buy the cheapest of the cheap bars of soap from the supermarket in bulk, melt it and add in whatever bit of things they like, e.g. pepper corns or mahogany bark. Then re-package it and sell it as authentic Mayan remedies - mmmmm. After that I lost interest in Mayan remedies.

While we were walking to the soap-making activity Welly fell over on the road and twisted his ankle really badly. A guy on the street came up and asked if he could help but we said it was ok. Welly managed to hobble to the school where they rubbed (freshly picked) aloe vera on his ankle and (after the activity) he got a lift home in a pick up. The next morning he got a lift to school on a scooter and I had to walk!

Another day we made 'comida tipica' with Florinda, Bollas (boyas),(aka Tamales in Belize, rest of Guat. and Mexico). They are imperial leather-sized bars of ground up corn mixed with flour and either beans or leaves through them, wrapped in banana leaves and boiled for about 40min. Not the tastiest of things (better when you add a bit of salsa), but the people of Central America go crazy for them. We made enough for the whole family for a year I think (as you can see)!

On the Friday we went fishing out on the lake in the afternoon. That was an excellent laugh. Before we could start we had to get some bait. This entailed sailing to a specific bit of the lake and two folk (Karsten & Jose) holding a fine net while a 3rd (Aderito) literally chased the fish into it - in theory!
They were there for at least half an hour, finally they caught a decent amount for us to have a go at fishing with. The fish knew the deal and managed to eat all our bait without getting caught! Only Sara out of the students managed to catch anything (Welly did but only with the help of the launcha's cap'in so that doesn't count). It was good fun though.

Due to the teaching we decided to move on to pastures new and hopefully better schooling.
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