Saturday, December 17, 2005

Finca Ixobel, San Andres, Tikal & Xela - Guatemala (9/16/04 - 10/24/04)

"Is this a joke? That can't be real," is what I was thinking as I noticed the tarantula in the narrow "hallway" leading to the bathroom. But since I had on flip-flops I was taking no chances. After all, it was the size of my hand (fingers outstretched).

"Dona Candida, esta es una tarantula?!" I called to my host mom.

"Oh, si es una tarantula," she responded calmly after she came from the kitchen to investigate. Now I'm a man who's killed a few spiders in response to females' requests, but I was dumbfounded here. The thing's body was the size of a mouse! It's not like I could swat it with newspaper! Enter Dona Candida to save the day with a 6 foot long 2x2 to smash it with from a distance! The "juice" from the spider was still a stain on the cement floor when I left the house 2 weeks later. But I'm ahead of myself.

My Host Family, San Andres, Guatemala Posted by Picasa

So after 30 hours of no sleep - 20 hours of which were spent on a bus, 3 planes, a taxi, and a minivan seating 16 - my group and I finally made it to Poptun, Guatemala on September 17th.Finca Ixobel (, our home during our 3 days of orientation was pretty cool. We stayed in "tree houses" (cabins on 12 foot stilts). I played a lot of soccer, and swam in their pond to cool off afterward. We ate good food and had some pretty good orientation sessions.

My l.e.d. headlamp is definitely my most valuable purchase for this trip. It came in most handy while the group and I were SWIMMING through a cave after a 2 hour hike. The cave had no artificial lighting beside the flashlights we brought. I'm not one for spelunking (Swimming in the cold darkness while bats whirl around above me just doesn’t appeal to me.), but it was the activity that the group decided they wanted to do together (because there hadn't been enough rain for us to float lazily down an outdoor river on inner tubes – the activity that got my vote), and as the group leader I have to be supportive. So there I was trudging and swimming a mile through water in a cave with 16 other people. We ended our hike at "the leap of faith," jumping from a ledge about 30 feet above a waterfall basin. After I stopped shivering (I really LOVE the sun!) I realized that it was a pretty cool experience (no pun intended).

My headlamp was also very handy as I made my nightly hikes to the bathroom during the first homestay in San Andres. It wasn't as bad a hike as the one to the hole-in-the-ground"outhouse" behind the cows in Mallco Rancho, Bolivia (See Mallco Rancho entry). This family actually had a bathroom with a toilet and toilet seat. Well, there was really only half a seat (How they broke a wooden seat in half, I do not know.), but it was a real bathroom none the less. My room was at the front of the house, at the bottom of the hill. The bathroom is at the back of the house through 3 passageways, 2 rooms, 4 doorways, and 3 sets of steps. Guatamalans are short, so the light helped me avoid the countless obstacles (hammocks, wind chimes, doorframes, tin roofs, etc.) that were high enough for my host mom and daughter to avoid, but low enough to make me feel like I was running a gauntlet every time I had to make my way to the bathroom. Had I not had my light the first night, I might have stepped on the fist sized frog (my fist, not yours) that was chilling on the stairs right outside the 3rd locked door at the top of the first set of stairs. Now since I had just seen the most poisonous snake in Central America in a jar of phemaldehide earlier that day, I'm pretty sure that my not realizing it was a frog underfoot in the dark in the middle of the night wouldn't have been an enjoyable experience for anyone in a 3 mile radius of my house. Hooray for headlamps.

Questions: Why are they zig-zagging across the street like that? And if the language school is at the bottom of that hill why don't we just go straight down?

Answer: Because the "street" is at LEAST a 60 degree incline! It's too steep for PEOPLE to walk straight up it. A van fully loaded with 16 people and their huge backpacks just might go tumbling bumper over bumper. (It might also have something to do with trying to avoid the TONS of dog crap that scores of stray dogs have left EVERYWHERE, but I digress.)

San Andres, Guatemala Posted by Picasa

We were in San Andres for 2 weeks of language school ( I learned the more you know, the more you realize you don't know. Yeah, I'm still wrestling with the subjuntivo, but my Spanish is getting better day by day.

I can't exactly remember what the acronym ARCAS stands for right now (, but the organization rescues and rehabilitates exotic animals confiscated from smugglers. So we got to feed spider monkeys, macaws, "pisotes", baby howler monkeys, parrots, etc. The spider monkeys were cool, but I opted not to enter the cage when it dawned on me that I really didn't want their privates hanging anywhere near my ears and face.

The most impressive sight to date was that of Tikal, an ancient Mayan city in the jungles of the Peten region. I've been reading Ivan Van Sertima's They Came Before Columbus since arriving here. The 9 foot high x 18 foot diameter Olmec heads found in nearby Mexico prove that there were Africans here as early as 680BC who were highly revered within the indigenous society. The arguments laid out in the book were proof enough for me to finally accept that the pyramids in Tikal and other regions of Latin America weren't built out of coincidence, but because of an African influence. Africans were so advanced that they successfully sailed across the Atlantic and showed other ancient cultures how to build pyramids and interact with the heavens 680 year BEFORE CHRIST!!

Tikal, Guatemala Posted by Picasa

Broad Nose & Thick Lips, Tikal Stela, Guatemala Posted by Picasa

We left the cold bucket baths and oppressive heat of San Andres for warm showers and the fickle weather of rainy season Quetzaltenango about 3 weeks ago. Now we're in San Marcos after hiking for 3 days from Xela. Hopefully I'll be updating Xela and the trek soon.

I must admit that since finding out that I'd be going to Central America instead of Fiji, New Zealand and Australia I wasn't extremely excited because I felt that visiting Guatemala, Costa Rica and Honduras again would be "old hat". But that was before I checked the web site set up for my group before we left. This trip is far from old hat. I'll be doing things this time that I couldn't afford to do last time (e.g. visiting Tikal and learning massage techniques in San Marcos)! I’ll be sure to send details in future updates.

I returned from Italy in mid August (LOVED IT!!), and was running around like crazy until I left the states on September 16th. But being home was most enjoyable. I was able to spend time with friends and family in DC, Baltimore, NYC, Columbia (SC), Charleston, and San Diego. There's never enough time to see everyone I want to see, or even spend as much time with those I am able to work into my crazy schedule. But rather than lament such things, I am happy that I got to kiss my 3 month old niece (Anaya) and march with 450,000 invigorated humanists in protest of the Republican war profiteering agenda in New York.

Anaya at 3 months, Brooklyn, New York Posted by Picasa

Peace March, Manhattan, New York Posted by Picasa

Truth Be Told, NYC, Summer 2004 Posted by Picasa

Peace March Signs, NYC, Summer 2004 Posted by Picasa

What are my plans upon returning to the states in December? I plan to high-tale-it to Colorado in search of a ski resort gig through March. Teaching English in Japan is looming big on the horizon, but I need to be in the states for 3 months to go through the application process. Even if I decide to lead another tour with LEAP Now it won't leave until March, so either way I have at least a couple of months to kill during which I need to make a little money, and thoroughly research my next move out of the country (I plan to live overseas for at least a year or 2, unless Bush wins, in which case it will be 4). If I can’t get an evening/night gig, (Vail is my resort of choice, but they don’t have night skiing), I'll settle for a day job at Keystone so I can snowboard at night if push comes to shove. So if you have any contacts out there I would be very happy to know about them. My current plan is to be working in Colorado by Christmas.


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