My first week!
Trip Start Nov 15, 2007
1Trip End Ongoing
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Xela (the town in which I'm now living) is great. I was a bit worried before I came as opinion on the place seems to be polarised, or to use a more current phrase, "It's like Marmite." Well, fortunately for me, I love Marmite (god I miss it already!) The backdrop to the town is beautiful, surrounded by volcanoes, and most days the sky is an enormous blue expanse with nary a cloud to be seen (excellent use of a good Scottish word there - look it up Sassenachs!) I say town, but ask most Guatemalans and they will tell you that Xela is a city, billed as Guatemala's second biggest (however at 200,000 population compared to Guatemala City's 3,000,000, it's hardly a close call!) It really doesn't have the feel of a city though, possibly because the streets are little cobbled lanes, possibly because there aren't any buildings taller than a few floors. When I was first thinking about going away I found it so hard to decide which country in the world, and then which town in that country. When I stumbled upon Xela I immediately had a good feeling. Several weeks after that decision I read a quote in the Lonely Planet which said something along the lines of "bizarrely, Xela has the feel of a northern English industrial town." I had to laugh - seems you can take the girl out of Bradford but not Bradford out of the girl!
At the moment I'm living with a family who are absolutely lovely. They have two young daughters - Tania who is nine, very well-behaved and speaks English amazingly well, and Maria Jose who is two, very naughty and really cute. She wants to play all the time and calls me "Lala." But despite all that I'm not sure how long this beautiful union will last. The homestay experience just isn't for me I'm afraid! It's a bit like regressing to teenage years when you're old enough to want more independence, but not quite old enough to do what you want all the time. You have to be home at certain times for meals and you have to tell the family if you're not coming back for dinner that night. It's very restrictive. Also I feel a bit isolated on my own in my little room (which, by the way, is a tiny windowless, whitewashed prison cell (see picture.) So I'm really looking forward to moving out to a shared hostel either this week or next.
Spanish lesson are going incredibly well - I can't believe how much I've learnt in such a short space of time. I seem to be speaking Spanish all the time so my brain is poco fried - even as I type this I'm thinking it in Spanish. I MISS ENGLISH! But it's getting easier. My teacher, Byron, is very cool. On the first lesson we were giggling at rude words so he's pretty much on my wavelength! The school puts on lots of activities in the afternoons. Monday was Guatemalan cookery and we made a local chicken-based dish called Jocom - the main flavour of which turned out to be my most hated flavour CORIANDER bleeeeh. I still ate it though. Bloody British politeness, can't shake it off.
Food, on the whole, has been waaaaay better than I expected. People told me it would be beans, beans, beans every day but I've only encountered them once so far. Although they were liquified into a very unpleasant dark brown splodge which had the appearance of a young baby's poo. Nice. And this was for breakfast. Still, didn't taste bad so mustn't grumble! Oh and another totally minging dish is called "mosh" which tastes exactly as it sounds. It's the Guatemalan equivalent of porridge and is something like gruel from "Oliver" but I'm sure gruel looks much tastier in the film. That Oliver was a right whinger - give him some mosh!
Showers here are interesante to say the least. (see picture) This is my first encounter with a Guatemalan shower. There is no hot water plumbing in the country so the water is heated at the source, as it comes out of the pipe. Which means scary open wires right next to gushing water. Now I was never exactly a whizz at science but something tells me that is a little less than safe and that there is probably no Guatemalan equivalent to corgi registration. Oh and also all the lights in the building dim whenever you take a shower. Bit disconcerting.
The 5 hour bus journey from Guatemala city to Xela was somewhat bizarre. It was on a "Linea Dorada" bus, essentially a posh tourist shuttle bus. They had comfy-ish seats and played films. The first film was a predictably cheesy Disney-Eddie Murphy affair. The second however, was The Untouchables which seemed to me a tad bloody and inappropriate when the bus had several young children as passengers! There was a lot of traffic and instead of waiting patiently in the correct lane. The bus, and all the other vehicles, just ploughed down the wrong side of the road, thus creating a quite scary "3 lanes of traffic in a very thin windy road" situation, with cars, buses and trucks piling up all over the place and death-wish motorbike riders squeezing through the tiniest of gaps! Oh and worryingly, all the trucks in Guatemala have the word "Dios me guia" written on the front window which roughly translates as "God help me." Says it all really!
On Saturday I visited some hot springs with an American student, Felipe, and a Guatemalan guy called Juan. It was really beautiful relaxing in the naturally heated pools surrounded by mountains and mist. And believe me I needed the relaxation after the journey there in one of the local buses, known as "chicken buses," ex-school buses from the States painted in really bright colours. Now I consider myself to be a fairly well-seasoned traveler but I have NEVER seen so many people crammed into such a small space! There were faces in armpits and bums in faces and people hanging right out of the doors and off the roof onto the road. And just when you think to yourself "Right that's it, there's no way they'll get any anyone else on here," they somehow manage to squeeze three generations of a family in! It's insane! Oddly fun though.
Once we arrived at the Springs I went to the cubicle to change. Something - I don't know what - maybe the fact that I was there with two blokes, or that I knew everyone would be staring at my super-white wobbly bits, or just some sixth sense - made me decide to wear my t-shirt over my swimming costume. Well thank the LORD I did because when I got to the pool, I realised that Guatemalan women swim in their shorts and t-shirts, and that as it was I was already grossly underdressed. And, as predicted, every pair of eyes was on the ultra white gringa gingerly creeping across to the pool. Paranoia city! So I jumped into the pool as quickly as I could and didn't get out again till 3 hours later when everyone had gone ha ha!
Well I think I've written enough for this exciting installment. I've got lots of trips coming up this week and next week so I'll try and write more then. Hasta luego amigos!