Spanish School Part 2: Quetzaltenengo, Guat
Trip Start Aug 09, 2007
47Trip End Jul 29, 2008
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We checked in with our Spanish School and met our host family for the next 3 weeks and both the school and family are awesome. We are living with a lady named Monica and her family of husband and 5 kids
Our Spanish School is really politically minded and focuses a lot on the social and political history of Guatemala which is basically tainted by US intervention...A short summary is something like this: After Spain had been warring in Europe for 300 years, they were extremely poor and therefore came over to Guatemala and claimed this land for themselves. Spain used the Guatemalan land to ´pay´ Spanish people and as such, the land useage was taken from the Indigenous and given to the Spanish, very similar to Canadian history at this point..
After a long history of monopolizing Puerto Barrios (the only shipping port for Guatemala), the railroad to it, the land of both coasts and most in between, the United Fruit Company secured it´s US grip on Guatemala. It paid no taxes - only bribes - to the government and fully exploited the indigenous workers on it´s fincas. In fact, it was the government who exploited the people by forcing free labour from it`s people and allowing about 70% of the land and 80% of the businesses (electricity, entertainment, agriculture, transportation) to be owned by about 2% of the people, Americans. Needless to say, Guatemala was very important to the US. The Guatemalen people were forced to import everything despite their fertile land because it was all being used by US landowners (UFC) for export. Again, because the UFC owned the port, the UFC determined the cost of this imported food as well.
Their President around this time was Ubico who was ruthless and murdered many many people, instituted the scorched earth policy among other horrific events. He was ousted by Ponce who was ousted by Arevalo who served 6 years and Arbenz who served 4. In this time, Arevalo and Arbenz instituted land distribution reforms taking idle land back from rich land owners and re-distributing it, created education programs, labour laws, minimum wages and began to tax the foreign landholders
We spent our first week at school volunteering in the mornings for a reforestation project called Chico Mendez. A project that has been going for 10 years now, but, it is extremly unorganized. So we would leave Xela with a bus of Teachers and then head about 20 min. out of town. We got dropped off in front of a church where other foreigners were studying and then walked for another 15 min. to the project. We did this for about a week. We met the organizer and Will, this dude from Vermont that lives in a makeshift tent made out of a tarp and rope. He has lived there for about 3 weeks. We were told about the project, how the reforestation is supposed to help the water table return to normal. Currently it has dropped in this town (Pachuk) and some drinking water fountains have dried up
Now, we ususally study in the mornings from 8am -1pm with a 30 min. break. We switch teachers every week and also get meals from the home stay family (3 squares a day). Usually the school does outings to the country side and also to cool looking churches or to volcanos. The school tour guide is an ex-gorilla who fought from the Guatemalen jungle for 3 years in the 90´s with 70 other men. His family lived in Chiapas at this time...He told us he lived for 3 years in the jungle with just a pack and said it was incredible hard - it´s just amazing what people go through down here for basic rights like freedom and access to clean, publicly owned water.
One of this excursions we took was to a place called Salcaja which was the first catholic church built in Central America. Pretty neat, we took a chicken bus there and about 45 min. later we walked around the church. We got a history of the church surrounding area and then went to this house where 2 dudes were on weaving machines making intricate and beautiful clothes - one skirt for example takes 8 weeks to weave, they are amazing. Pretty cool place - the little shack where they were weaving had the walls plastered with Sunshine girls, girls in bikinis and half naked girls. We then left and went to another house where they make this reddish liquor made from fermented fruit (5 months!) from the area (strawberry, cherry, some other fruits) we bought a bottle and then bought another bottle of local liquor that is yellow (egg, cinimon, some other stuff)
The other outing we did with the school was to a place called San Andres. This place has a wicked yellow painted church. It is super colourful and is one of the pictures that we added. Nik had heard of a saint in this town that is a hybrid of Mayan and Christain beliefs, Santo Simon. There are only 4 families in Guatemala that have this Idol in their homes, scattered all around Guatemala. There is nothing physically written about the saint, it is all story and history by word of mouth. But, as saints go this one has been dubbed the ´Santo of Cool.´ This saint is supposed to be the saint of health and realationships. So the idol which is human size is sitting in a chair and has a sombrero and sunglasses on, drinks rum (bottle in hand) and smokes cigarattes. Our host mom wanted us to light a health candle for her (blue) so we did. And then you can also buy about 5 shots of rum for the saint to drink (about $1 CDN). I bought some rum for him and this little mayan woman put it in a mini watering can. She then poured it into a hole in the wooden idols mouth. I have heard that all the elders of the town on certain days collect all the rum in the stomach of the idol and drink it. Good times had by all leaders.
Another one of the midweek outings/confrences was a free salsa lesson - super fun!! Though waaaaaaaaaaay more difficult for the guy (ie-Nik) than the ladies. They also have parties every Friday nights for all the students. Either they provide the food and us the booze or vice versa. What is constant, however, is that Latino Elvis is there rain or shine decked out in his full-on Vegas attire and pumping out the very-non Elvis Guatemalan tunes
On Wednesday the 26th, we went out with a group called Quetzaltrekkers to hike one of the highest active volcanoes in this region, Santa Maria. The best part is that this was a full-moon hike, offered only once a month. Quetzaltrekkers is also a non-profit organization so all of our money goes directly to supporting rural schools and programs for kids who otherwise couldn´t get to school. So about 20 of us met at QTs around 11pm where we collected some extra warm clothes and had some soup and then piled into the back of a pickup truck. About 10 per truck bed standing up and watching the perfect cone-shape of Santa Maria approaching slowly but surely - it was lit by the moon and the peak covered in clouds - really beautiful! Though it was raining for a couple of hours before we left, we were really lucky and spared any rain at all!! The group set out walking around 12:30 and for the most part, we didn`t need our headlamps at all, it was very clear and very warm as well - perfect conditions!! We trekked for just over 1 hour to our base camp where we regrouped and had another snack
Right after this the sun started to come up just to our right and it illuminated all the other volcanos in the region - against the sky we could see 3 perfect cones and then the centre one erupting too and the plume it cast out
Today is Friday and we are going to go to another school graduation/party. We are supposed to bring the food, actually we are supposed to make the food. But, I think we will be classy and order Domino´s Pizza delivered right to the school. Tomorrow we are going with a bunch of peole from PLQ to a mayan ceremonal lake, Chicobal. It is a lake that has formed in the crater of a volcano.
That its for now, write another entry soon and we won´t make it as long.
As an extra, please change over Sarah´s email from hotmail to gmail - Hotmail really doen´t work donwn here!! Thanks in advance! firstname.lastname@example.org