Week 1- When I flew into Guatemala city, it was surprisingly modern. Billboards of the latest products, and nice cars.
But of course I know all of Guatemala isn't as nice as that. In fact, even though we are in the biggest Guatemalan tourist town - Antigua - the less touristy side of the city has a community area where they come to handwash their clothes (at 5am) because they have no running water. But before I came to Guatemala, I heard all about how it is the most dangerous country in the Americas, because it is so poor that some people have no choice but to steal. Antigua doesn't seem like that though. Antigua means ancient in Spanish. It is such a cute little town. The streets are all cobblestone, and all of the buildings are bright and colorful. Not to mention that it is right in the valley of mountains and volcanoes. There are 3 volcanoes in view from the town - Volcan de Agua, Volcan de Fuego, and Volcan de Acantenango. Fuego and Acantenango are both active. Volcan de Fuego erupts almost every morning! There is no lava that I can see, but billows of ash and smoke. Volcan de Agua has it's name because long ago it split open. The contents inside of it (massive floods of water and mud) washed an entire town away. We visited where the town used to be (mostly rebuilt). It is called Ciudad Viejo, or old city. The only thing that survived the flood was the church. My teacher for Spanish school is named Claudia, and she's really nice. I go to school for 4 hours a day, from 8:00 to noon. We get to have school in a beautiful garden with banana, plantain, orange, lemon, and avocado trees, and also coffee plants. The second 2 hours of school are usually playing games in Spanish, walking to the market, or something other like that. When we play games, we play with Soph and her teacher, and Natessa (a friend I met there) and her teacher. There are also activities every day (except Friday) for another two hours, and we usually try to make those. The activities we did in the first week were going to a macadamia nut farm, and the Museo de Chocolate. Monday and Tuesday were just salsa lessons.
I think by the first week, we pretty much knew the whole town. We walked around almost every day. There is a cute central park, and we go there a lot. I love finding new restaurants. Every single building and house has a beautiful courtyard in the middle. We even heard some of the teachers talking about the beautiful courtyard in McDonald's, so we went to check it out. That was definitely the prettiest McDonald's I've ever seen! There are tons of churches in Antigua also. The most famous and worshipped church is the church of San Francisco. It contained the tomb of Saint Brother Pedro. Half the church was ruins. There were also walls of plaques from people saying thank you to Brother Pedro for varying reasons. There was a wall of crutches and leg braces, and even glasses, that people didn't need anymore after Brother Pedro answered their prayers. I learned so much in a week of Spanish school, it was probably more than learning a quarter in normal school. I have been learning really quick! That is definitely the most effective way to learn Spanish. I can actually have a slow conversation with a Spanish-speaking person and they will understand me to some extent. On Saturday we moved to a new homestay for some more space. The person in charge is Ana, and she helps us learn a lot of Spanish. There were other students at this homestay also. We are getting to know them and they're all really nice.
Week 2- Today I got woken up at 4:00 in the morning
. It's Sunday! I guess that's what time the parties start here. There were fireworks and a marching band. Almost always for birthdays here, fireworks are set off to celebrate. So they are constantly going off. And they're loud! I'm pretty sure the whole town was woken up by these ones. Well, at least I did have to get up early anyway. We were getting picked up at 6:00 to hike up a volcano! The Volcan de Pacaya. We wanted to do the early hike because in the afternoon there would be clouds covering it, and there would be rain. Did I mention it rains everyday here? Every afternoon, at approximately 3:30. I actually don't think there has been a day where it hasn't rained. I was really excited to hike up the volcano. It's an active one! It was only about 3 and a half hours of hiking. But if you didn't want to hike, you could always ride a taxi up to the top (what they called the horses). There was absolutely no plantlife when we got to the top, because it's too active for anything to grow. The top was really cool (or I should say, hot). There was no flowing lava like we'd hoped, but in many areas the rocks were scorching red; still cooling. There was steam everywhere, coming off the hot ground. One of the guides even brought marshmallows. We roasted them over the hot rocks. That was definitely the best experience so far here. At the top of the volcano, there was a great view of all the little towns nestled into the valleys. This week for school, we went to a jade factory and museum (the first and biggest one in Central America), Ciudad Vieja, and we visited a coffee plantation
. I talked about Ciudad Vieja in the first week; we actually visited it in week two. There was also a cemetery in the Old City that we walked through. Since the guide was talking in fast Spanish and I couldn't really understand him, I didn't even know I had entered a cemetery. At first glance, without looking at the buildings, it just looked like we were walking down a normal street! Each family (that is wealthy enough) has their own little house that they are put in together when they die. There are just sort of drawers that they place the body in, then they seal it shut. There was a little walking street and 'houses' on either side. If your family wasn't wealthy enough to buy a tomb, you were buried by yourself in a different section. But your family had to continue paying a yearly tax on your individual grave. If they didn't pay it, you would be dug up and thrown in the trash. The guide said that on the Day of the Dead, everyone comes at midnight (with their bodies painted as skeletons) and stays in the cemetery for a full 24 hours - to make the most of the only day when the spirits come out. They bring drinks that they know their dead loved ones would like. In the fabrica de jade, we learned our Mayan symbols. I am Aq'ab'al, or bat. I am the sign of "place where one can pass the night." I am "the Spiritual Guardian of the Sacred Rod and the relationship between couples." My info said I was conceived in Tz'ikin. My mom is a woodpecker and Soph is a crocodile. On October 10, (Wednesday) of this week, it was my Mom's birthday
! My teacher got her a cake and we celebrated at school. Also that day, we went to a school for poor children. We played games with them. It was their last day of school. We also had pinatas, and the class sang happy birthday to my mom. Then she got to hit it first. On Friday we took a field trip to the coffee plantation, and a museum. The museum had lots of typical instruments. One of them was just the jaw of a donkey I think. You hit it on the side and the teeth kind of rattle and make a weird noise.
Week 3: On Sunday of this week we went to El Tenedor (which means 'the fork' in Spanish). It is a famous restaurant in Antigua, up on a hill so that you had a view of the whole town. It was beautiful. We went with our whole house. Me, Soph, my Mom, Kira and her grandma, Doris (from Germany), Kyla, Mick, & Byron (from Australia), and we brought Ana with too. Kira is 18 and she is staying in the immersion school for 10 months! She already is fluent in English, Greek, Latin and German (of course) and she is learning Spanish. El Tenedor was a pretty restaurant and a hotel, but it was also sort of an art museum. There were sculptures everywhere, and artworks hanging from trees. This week for school, me and Soph are sharing a teacher. I still have Claudia. On Monday there was an earthquake! It lasted only about 15 seconds, but the teachers say they never have them that strong. It was a 5.5
. Claudia is a few months pregnant, and was told my her mom and mother in law not to take a shower for little while after the earthquake. They said the shaken up water is bad for the baby. There were a few small aftershocks after it. We mostly then just did school all week, except for going to a traditional Mayan village. We took a chicken bus there. Chicken busses are just the city busses. They are a huge school bus that are painted to look cool I guess. When they are driving down the streets at full speed, I often see people just run after it and then jump on. They get so crowded that people have to stand on the steps towards the door. And the door is always open. It is really dangerous. At the Mayan town, we got to watch someone make a elaborately detailed cloth. It looked really hard. The Mayans are people in Guatemala that dress in the traditional Mayan clothes and go by the traditional ways. The traditional clothes are very colorful skirts and shirts that they make themselves, and it takes years. We got to view the routine of a wedding. The bride is to give a present to her new mother in law, which is a beautiful cloth. Mayan girls start making this present at around 12 years old, and make it for years and years until they get married. If they don't have this present, they don't have the mothers blessing and can't get married. Me and Soph got to try to make tortillas. You start off with a ball of dough, and then slap it between your hands until it is a circle (well, lopsided oval for me). Saturday of this week, we moved into our own apartment
. We just wanted more freedom and space of our own. It is a really cute apartment, with a rooftop with a hot tub. It is also just a couple of blocks from Parque Central. But the first day in our apartment, we were really sick. I think the reason was because we drank bad water. Ana had said that morning that she couldn't make us eggs because she had no heat for the stove. So she must have used hot tap water for our tea. It's easy to forget how sick we can get when you are used to the water. We have also figured out that we are staying in Guatemala for 7 and a half weeks in total (about 2 months!). 6 weeks in Antigua, then we are staying for one & a half weeks in Lake Atitlan. Out of the 6 weeks in Antigua, we are spending 5 doing Spanish school. Next week we are taking a break from school.
Week 4: We were very sick for Saturday, Sunday and Monday. We pretty much were in bed all day. I couldn't even stand up, because when I tried I would start puking. It was awful. It must have been the water. Besides the days we were sick, we did a lot this week. We started with visiting some more ruins on Tuesday. We went to 2 sites, called La Recoleccion and San Jeronimo. San Jeronimo was a site of beautiful ruins with a pretty fountain in the middle, built between 1739 and 1757. It actually used to be a school. The school was founded without a proper charter from the King, though, so he ordered it to be destroyed
. He changed his mind on destroying it after he saw it's excellent construction, and it was used by the Royal Customs. It was then modified later with living quarters and horse stables. The ruins of La Recoleccion were so cool. The whole site was huge, and in the main area it was just mounds of broken ruins. Me and Soph had fun climbing them. These ruins were a monestary, built in 1715. The church suffered earthquakes, and it has been added to and modified over the decades. After time, many earthquakes and causes of weather caused it to be the ruins we see today. Wednesday was exiting. We have been sponsoring this boy, Osduel for 10 years now (since he was two). We actually got to meet him! I made a seperate entry for this, so go on if you want to read about it. On Thursday we went to more ruins, called Las Capuchinas Convent. This convent was built in 1739 and was destroyed repeatedly by earthquakes (similar to many other ruins). Now it is sort of a museum, with artwork in the main area. There was this strange circular area surrounded by many cells - I think it was the living quarters. These ruins were fairly large. In one area, there was a long dark tunnel with stairs that was dark. There were no signs for it or anything, but I wanted to find out what was at the bottom of the stairs. My mom and Soph were too scared to go, but I walked down the dark stairs and came into this big dark room shaped like a dome. It was an echo room. They were the coolest echoes I have ever heard! The sound of my small footsteps filled the whole room. It was awesome. I was hesitant to go down the stairs, because the first time I went down dark stairs in those ruins I got really scared. I was alone, and at the bottom of the stairs there were some bars. I peered into the room behind the bars and saw an open window casting a light on a body..laying with their arms crossed over their chest on some narrow table thing. I freaked out and ran screaming up the stairs! Of course, the body was most likely made of ceramic and that was an exibit, but it still scared me
. Friday was a really awesome day. We went to Tikal! We were there for Friday and Saturday. I also have a different blog entry for Tikal, so visit it to read about my experiences there!
Week 5: This week was another week of school. Me and Soph shared a teacher again, but during the week we were gone Claudia got a new student. So we had a new teacher named Lleny (I think?). She has a hard time pronouncing my name, so it's kind of funny how she says it - she pronounces Jesse as 'Yo-sey.' On Monday we did the school activity, which was hiking up to Cerro de la Cruz (which means Cross on the Hill). It had a beautiful view of Antigua. I could see our apartment from up there! This week actually had 4 holidays - Halloween on the 31st, Day of the Dead and All Saints Day on November 1st, and All Souls Day on the 2nd. On Halloween we went to Parque Central and walked around. There were actually lots of tourists dressed up with their little kids and walking around. Some locals had costumes on too, but they weren't collecting candy. They clanged around cans and collected money for Halloween. There were many cafes and restaurantes that had a Halloween theme. Thursday was Day of the Dead and All Saints Day. We went on a tour with the school to the Santiago Sacatepequez cemetery. Read my separate blog entry to learn about my experience there!
Week 6: This was our last week in Antigua. We did school, and Claudia was our teacher again. On Tuesday November 6, we watched Obama win the presidential election on TV. There was a huge earthquake on Wednesday! We were walking with our teachers to a restaurant in the middle of the day, and the ground started shaking really hard. It was a 7.4, and the biggest earthquake to hit Guatemala since 1976. There were tons of aftershocks. On Thursday we visited the Santo Domingo Ruins. It was huge, and had tons of museums and even crypts! We also visited the Cathedral Ruins, which was an old church. We went to get my now-favorite snack/drink - arroz con leche. It's really good! Saturday was officially our last day in Antigua. We said goodbye to the beautiful town and left for San Pedro.
We decided that we needed to learn some Spanish before we went to more Spanish-speaking countries. And the best way is with a Spanish immersion school. So, we are in an immersion school in Antigua, Guatemala. Antigua is a beautiful, colorful little town right in a valley of volcanoes and mountains. We have a view of 3 volcanoes from the town, but there are many more in the area. We came here not really knowing how long we would stay. Possibly 4 or 5 weeks. The whole point of the school is to completely immerse yourself in Spanish, by staying in a country where everyone only speaks Spanish, and teachers that hardly know English. So you are forced to only speak Spanish, really. In the beginning it really is exhausting. Especially if you know absolutely no Spanish. But you learn so much.