Email 4: Date: 26-Sep-2005 15:20
Subject: San Pedro, Heavy hurricane rains, and an Adventure to the Coast
My apologies in sending this email a few days later than usual, but we have received an incredible amount of rain since last Tuesday and the internet is a bit of a trek. It has been reported that the heavy rain is due to Hurricane Rita since our rainy season is on the decline.
On that note, my thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who was affected by Hurricane Rita. I have read a few local papers here and it sounds like Rita brought even more wrath to the southern United States.
This past week and a half has not been nearly as eventful as last week because of the rain. I have been stuck in my room for most afternoons since the heavy rains have started around 2:00pm and lasted throughout the night.
As I mentioned last week, I planned to spend last weekend in San Pedro, the neighboring lake village. When you read Lonely Planet's description of San Pedro it reads, "It's heavily populated with bohemian travelers who liked it so much they stayed . . ." San Pedro is the second most visited town by tourists after Santiago, but the major difference is that visitors to San Pedro spend the entire afternoon or night there enjoying the "hippie" lifestyle.
After kayaking in Santiago, Leslie and I left for San Pedro on Saturday evening. My visit to San Pedro on Saturday was to spend the night and relax, but more importantly to hike San Pedro's volcano on Sunday. My host family gave me grief for the latter part of last week for going to San Pedro because they think it is drug filled and lacks any Guatemalan culture, but they did support me climbing the volcano, the lake's most beautiful attribute.
Upon arrival to San Pedro, I was already slightly turned off. We walked around for nearly 1 hour trying to find one hostel that had room. Leslie and I both forgot that this weekend was the infamous, monthly "Full Moon Party" that brings flocks of tourists to San Pedro. After finding a hotel, we (including an Australian that we met on the boat) went out for dinner. I don't think I saw more than 3 local villagers the entire night. We dined at an US owned restaurant that served over-priced and poorly-prepared food and blared techno-music. However, it was nice to go out with good company in a social atmosphere, something that Santiago lacks and discourages. (There is absolutely no evening night-life or socializing in Santiago especially for women, unless you are one of the few prostitutes at the only bar in town. This conservative mentality is attributed to a vibrant and powerful Evangelical religious culture here in Santiago.)
The rest of the evening we met other travelers who were attending the Full Moon Party, which is a 48 hour party or "rave" on an unidentified piece of land off-shore of San Pedro. The party is only accessible by boat. Although meeting new people was fun, I was 100% turned off by the people we encountered. Everyone appeared more interested in going to the party.
(Earlier in the week, I visited a resident who lives on lake-front property in Santiago and she had explained how the residents were protesting the monthly Full Moon party because in recent months, the party came to Santiago. A man from the U.S. rents his land out to party-goers. She explained to me that the party is 48hours of loud noise and that many of the local Santiago teenagers have been attracted to the party and that a new drug scene is infiltrating Santiago by foreigners.)
On Sunday morning, we woke up intending to climb the volcano. However, our plans changed. Leslie woke up with food poisoning or an amoeba of some sort that lasted until Thursday! We headed back to Santiago. (My host family was not surprised by my reactions to San Pedro and I know they were all saying "I told you so."
On Wednesday, I went to Argentina's class to observe and help out. It is interesting to observe international school systems because they are quite different than the U.S. School starts at 8:00 and ends at 12:00 with recess from 10-10:15, but it really lasts for the entire hour. With only three hours of "organized and scheduled" class, it is difficult to teach and difficult for students to learn.
On top of that, teaching a Special Education class is even more difficult. The students are easily distracted by the other students walking past the classroom and the basketball court that is directly in front of the classroom. Due to a lack of funding and resources from the Municipal government, ADISA and Argentina cannot provide a separate private classroom for the students. Furthermore, every student has different needs and different intellectual abilities. Even with three teachers (Argentina, Amanda, and Juanitawho speaks Tzutujil and Spanish), it is difficult to cater to all of the students and their needs.
During my visit, only Juanita and I were in the classroom trying to do language comprehension worksheets with six students, doing puzzles with the younger kids, and always keeping an eye on the door for those students with Attention Deficit-like Disorders or Basillio, a young boy with Autism who is known for wandering off.
The rest of the week quickly passed due to the rainy afternoons. I have no idea where this week went. In my down town, I managed to finish 2 books. I am shocked that I have read two novels in less than three weeks. I have changed from someone who rarely free reads to someone that is already starting a third novel. However, I would like to devote more time to writing about my fellowship experiences here in Guatemala.
This past weekend, Leslie and I headed to the coast on Friday afternoon to Sipacate. We decided that we wanted to go somewhere off the beaten path and out of the guide books. So we hopped on chicken-bus in Santiago for Sequinla. The bus ride was quite an experience. Guatemala is the junk-yard for old-yellow school buses that turn into "chicken buses" and Guatemala's public transportation system. I had no idea so many people could fit on one bus! We literally sat six people across the two seats and aisle including the many people that had to stand. It was hot, musty, and most people on the bus were wet from the rain. I was squished in between a young teenage boy and heavier middle age women with my purse and my overnight bag. It was a long two hour ride to Sequinla where we changed buses. Fortunately, the bus to Sipacate was not crowed and we had room to breathe.
Once we arrived to Sipacate, it was of course pouring with rain just like the entire four hour bus ride. For some reason we thought that the weather on the Pacific coast would be different and that our image of beautiful beaches, warm temperatures, and a glowing sun would be fulfilled. We arrived at the first and only hotel in town, La Costa. (There was another resort on the beach, but we figured it would be over-priced.)
For $3.00 a person, we had the opportunity to spend the night in the most disgusting hotel in my life. I get the chills thinking about where I slept Friday night. To start, we were by far the first tourists to visit in a while. When we saw our room, I am not sure why we agreed to stay the nightwe had few other options. And I figured at least we were not given the room where the beds are on concrete blocks.
To give you a visual of our room just imagine: turquoise walls covered in some pen graffiti, chewed gum, what appeared to blood in multiple areas of the walls, a dirty old rusty fan that surprisingly worked, two thin sheets that covered the beds, 2 dirty pillow cases, 2 blue blankets that had interesting stains, a toilet without a seat, a rusty shower, fluorescent lighting, and 100's of mosquitoes!
After paying, we immediately left to walk around and escape the mosquitoes who had already attacked our ankles. It was evident that we were the first "gringas" to visit Sipacate in a while as everyone stared as us walking down the dark streets. We decided that maybe it wasn't in our best interest to be walking around at night and found a pizza restaurant for dinner and headed back to our "hotel" before our 9:00 pm curfew.
After putting on a pair of cargo pants and a long sleeve t-shirt, wrapping myself up in the blue blanket, putting my towel over the pillow, and taking a Tylenol PM, it was time to attempt to sleep at our hotel. (Next time, I will travel with bug spray.) The rusty fan turned to be a saving grace to keep some of the mosquitoes away, but I have a dozen of bites of my legs and ankles.
When we woke up at 8:00, Leslie noticed she had blood on her shirt. We decided that she must have killed a mosquito in her sleep. We didn't think anything more of it. We headed to the Maya Mar resort to spend a beautiful day at the black sand beach and go surfing. (They are known for their surfing at the resort and provide you with lessons.) When we arrived after taking a small lancha to cross the river, we noticed the weather was still as inclement as Santiago. Furthermore, there were not any rooms available because of the high waves and tide were flooding the ocean bungalows. Instead we had breakfast and watched a handful of Guatelmateco surfers before heading on a long walk.
The long walk turned into a two minute walk on the sand before it started pouring with rain. At that moment, we both knew that we weren't going to surf or see the sun. We got back on the small lancha and heading for the town and the bus.
We got back on the bus and headed back to Santiago sopping wet. The bus ride went quickly and fortunately the long bus ride was not nearly as crowded and we managed to get on an old "Greyhound-like" bus. It seemed quite luxurious given the circumstances of the last 24 hours.
I was ready to get back to Santiago until I realized I'd have to walk in ankle and calf-deep rain and street water all the way home in the pouring rain. If there is one criticism for Santiago it is how dirty the streets are with trash, sewage, etc. So, walking/immersing my legs and feet in the sewage-rain water was not a highlight of my day. Moreover, when I got home I realized that 1) my room had flooded 2) there was no hot water and 3) the electricity went out.
In order to relax and escape the rain, I went over to Leslie's to eat a travel jar of peanut-butter (a little piece of home), drink tea, laugh about the last 24 hours, and read by candle light a September issue of Oprah magazine (currently being passed around among Santiago foreigners) by candle light.
It was wonderful to wake up to electricity on Sunday morning and switch rooms, but I would have preferred a hot shower . . .
. . . But mostly, I was a freaked out when I noticed blood stained on the inside and outside of my bra that I wore to the "hotel" on Friday night. (Leslie and I ruled out the killing of mosquitoes and decided maybe the hotel had bed bugs of some sort.)