December 2: Livingston

Livingston reminds me of Belize- the palm trees, tropical water, colorful houses… We wake up at 6am for a hike to some natural pools. The walk along the beach for about 20 minutes and pass a family transporting a family of cows on our way.

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The walk is long but we eventual find a small group of garifuna people running the entrance to the pools. For about 15 quetzals- we enter begin (slippery) walk deeper into the forest.

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At last, we find ourselves at a large rock at the end of the pool. our guide climbs up, and jumps off the slippery rock into the cool water. It’s an open invitation. I decide I just wade around the pool- it feels so fresh after a sweaty slippery walk. However, I catch sight of my coordinator- at 40 something man jump off the rock, and I gather some courage to follow. It was worth it 🙂

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Once we return to the hotel, we have a couple hours to enjoy the sun before our trip back to Antigua. I decide to look for some coconut leaves to make another hat.

At 10:30, we head out towards Livingston town. There are more garifunas here. They are the black culture. A garifuna man grabs our attention and gives us a tour around town, but not to the tourist side but the garifuna slums. Half the time, I think we are going to be robbed, the other half is curious. We learn that there is some tension between the garifuna and guatelmatecans – the man also voiced some complaints of Americans buying property on the Main Street for their house but it is only occupied a couple weeks a year and is then a waste of space for the rest. We also learned how to say hello in their language: “ahyo!” People respond to our ahyo with an ahyo back.

At the end of our tour, he tells us he is raising money for a save the starving children organization. He leads us to a restaurant and then waits for us to tip him. It’s a very awkward moment. We tip him but we would never know if the organization was real. But we can only hope I guess.

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We leave Livingston and boat for another 30 min or so at a restaurant off te shore, we are just there for a quick break. Dring that time, a cat plops on my friends lap and enjoys all the attention 🙂

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After that, we drive another 6.5 hours towards Antigua!

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December 1: Tikal day 2

At 5:30, we wake to take an early bus to Tikal. It’s about an hour drive and we arrive in time for the park gates to open. It reminds me of Jurassic park.

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Coming to the park early is good because more of the wildlife is out and about – like these cute little guys (from the raccoon family- and not shy at all)

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Our tour guide speaks very clearly in English and talks a lot about the history of Tikal. But before all that- we do some exercise before breakfast!

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Breakfast wakes us up a bit- so our tour guide takes us on a unpaved jungle hike to temple 2.

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We get a lot of exercise climbing up and down. Feels pretty nice after sitting around all week studying!

We make our way to the main plaza- many tourists are here and a few Mayans are performing a ritual. I believe they are also catholic – they thank God for the blessings in their life. It’s interesting seeing what was once a pagan religion changed to a God-fearing one with some of its cultural rituals intact. I’m thankful for this because after doing a missions at a native reserve, some natives voiced their fears that by becoming Christian, they are giving up their culture. In a sense- we all are giving up our paradigms to have Jesus’ but I don’t think it means not acknowledging where you came from either. I still follow some Chinese traditions but I am first a follower of Christ. Anyway- that’s what I came to from seeing this ritual.

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After Tikal, we have lunch outside the the park while others do Ziplinig for 30$. It was a good experience seeing these ruins. It is said that only 20% of tr ruins have been discovered and most of it lie under natural growth that look like large mounds or tiny mountains. Every time I see a large mound in Peten, it makes me wonder…

We now head to Livingston – it’s about 4-5 hours from Tikal and another hour by boat. It takes us 2-2.5 hours though because it gets dark and our boat is overloaded. What an experience tho! A bunch of non citizens traveling a boat silently through the night…

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We finally arrive at Livingston at 8pm. Its a tropical looking place with coconut trees, beaches, and thatched roofs. Our living quarters are a fun bungalows- but less fun with the damp sheets and giant bugs crawling, flying everywhere. Still an interesting experience i wouldn’t trade!

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A full but amazing day!

November 30: Tikal – day 1

At 4am I am waiting at my door for the mini bus to pick me up. It’s advised not to wait outside, no matter how desolate it is on the street.
In the car are 6 other sleepy passengers- we don’t bother knowing each other until breakfast.

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At breakfast, I learn that there is another bus with us- predominantly German girls fresh out of high school, and one American woman. The people in my bus are a bit more mixed – San Francisco, Belgium, Austria, and Spain. We make good company and the American from the other bus joins us- the German girls are a bit standoffish and cliquish… Maybe I was like that too at that age, I don’t remember.

After breakfast, we drive to a banana plantation. Its amazing how many bananas come out of one flower- about a hundred. we also catch a banana train fly by!

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After another 3-4 hours, we arrive in Rio Dolce- a small town with a bustling Main Street with lots of vendors and ppl selling things at car windows.

We arrive in a park outside te city for lunch and take a tour around an old Spanish castle that was built in the 1800s. It’s actually quite beautiful, but it was used with different purposes throughout its time, including a fort, home and prison.

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We have a filling picnic lunch of sandwiches and fresh fruit. Then we head for Flores.

It’s around 6:30 when we arrive in Flores- a quaint town with a lot of tourists. We check into our hotel- my first experience in Guatemala. The bathroom is my favorite 🙂

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For dinner we head to a restaurant by the water. The weather is warmer here than in Antigua so we enjoy a patio view. It’s also happy hour. I get two Cuba libres for 18q’s. it’s enough to put me to sleep- and I did sleep very well!

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November 29: indigenous culture day

It’s Thursday. The after school activity is a short ride outside Antigua to an indigenous artisan and culture center. We are introduced to the Mayan culture of Guatemala and witness how their textiles are made (the fabric given at weddings typically take 6 months to make!), how weddings typically work (with demonstrations!), how to make tortillas, what the typical food is (with samples of course), and how coffee is grounded. Muy interesante!!!

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November 26-28: stomach flu

On Monday I felt queasy and unfortunately came down with a stomach flu- possibly somethig picked up from something I ate or drank on the weekend. But life goes on, I went to class- returned, and slept from 12-7pm.

The teacher and my host family were very kind. My parents responded quickly and just seeing their emails or hear their voice gave me comfort. Host Mama also made me chicken noodle soup, my house brother lent me his pepto bismol, and when that didn’t work, my teacher recommended something stronger called yodocalores. You can buy them by the pill – 1q per one. I took one, drank Gatorade the whole day, and by Wednesday I was almost all better.

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With the sermon in mind, I also spent more time in prayer… Maybe God prepared me for it through the message. I really also wanted to get better by Wednesday so I could confirm with the trip coordinator about going to Tikal- a 3 day intensive travel to the largest Mayan ruins in Guatemala. By Wednesday I was sure my recovery was definite by Friday so praise God for that!

On Wednesday, I also made a trip to the macadamia farm. It’s social justic farm that gives thousands of trees away each year to villages that need sources of income. And they also sell lots of products made from macadamia. We also got a free facial!

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November 25: a day around Antigua

It’s Sunday – day of corporate worship. I did some research before hand and found a bilingual church called Iglesias del Camino. But before that, I look for a breakfast place and find one close to te church.

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I head to church just before 9 and get seated next to a woman who lived most her life in the US but moved down to Guatemala in the last 4 years. The service starts – we sing worship songs in both English and Spanish and I’m impressed at how smoothly they pull it off. Being in a bilingual church as well, we sometimes struggle with the gap in languages i think. The message was over Matthew 7:7-8. I was reminded to continually ask, seek, and knock at all times. It’s easy to forget when things are going your way… But God is good and he shakes things up to remind us to rely on Him (look out for November 26 post ;))

After church, I stroll the city. There are lots of tourists at Central Park and live music is in the streets. I weave my way to the famous arc.

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The textile shop is also something worth checking out. They also sell/swap used books!

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It’s around 2 and i want to head to the sky cafe- a place recommended to view the sunset and volcan de agua. But I forget where it is!! And so my walk begins and I spot new things along the way…

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I finally find blue building that represents the sky cafe and make my way to the top. I buy something to drink so I have an excuse to stay there and pull out my school materials…

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At around 5:15, (not exactly sunset)- I remember the bagel barn has a movie showing. Everyday they have free movies with English subtitles in their cafe. Today it’s Y Tu mama tambien. I’m a bit shocked at the opening scene and about 60% of the movie but overall it’s pretty good. Along the way I have a conversation with a British woman in her mid 40’s maybe. She’s been traveling for exactly one year on her own. She had a corporate management job where every moment of her life was planned (one secretary scheduled her work and another scheduled everything else) It must have been quite a change- I’m amazed at her boldness to just quit but it made me reflect on myself- I don’t want to be without a plan or without a ‘base’. The people you meet in your travels can be fleeting. It’s easy to make new friends here but I find it difficult to keep them once we go our separate ways. Still, it’s worth it still if we can retain a close friend in the long run!

November 24: festivals and Pacaya

It’s Saturday- the day I climb Pacaya Volcano. I get picked up at 2pm so i have about 6 hours to kill.

I attempt a FaceTime conversation with my dad and brother who are in the states for thanksgiving. It’s good to see their faces and makes me miss home a little. Afterwords my homestay brother and I head to town for an arts and music festival for children. We spend a good hour walking around town without any luck. Just before giving up, he shows me a Taiwanese stall in the market that sells the sweet smellin pancakes, 1 quezales for one! Yum 🙂

We head out one more time and finally stumble upon it!

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My homestay netherland sister meets up with us- its her last day with us before she continues her Central American trek. She helped me a lot transitioning to Guatemala.

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It’s 2pm and the mini bus picks me up at the school. I meet a guy who works for deviant art and we meet up with other tourists. Note: I don’t think it matters what agency you buy from- people in the van paid all different prices.
After about 2 hours we are a little ways up Pacaya. It’s a 4km incline and already a bit chilly. We’re greeted by lots of kids begging for everything including money, your shoes, marshmallows… They also rent walking sticks which i recommend.

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After about 1km I am dreadfully winded. I must be out of shape, or not use to the altitude… Or both. It also doesn’t help that there are horses behind us and men telling us we can ride them if we’re tired. I give in. 🙂

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After 1.5 hours we ascend near the summit. I wouldn’t really call it active where you see lava but there are some very warm areas in the crevices. We warm ourselves in these because its cold everywhere else.
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It’s so warm in the crevices, we roast marshmallows. Yum 🙂

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We spend so much time roasting, we miss the sunset lol. Our steep walk back is extremely dark but I manage without the horse 🙂 great experience tho and would recommend!

November 23: TGIF?

The day starts exactly as the previous- I’m starting to get in the groove of things. In Spanish class i learn more words, pronunciation, and how to say the time. After lunch, I decide to take a walk around town.

It’s another beautiful day. I go to BAM to exchange money- I’ve been told they have a good exchange rate and they don’t charge service fees- but you can only take out $200 per week.

I also make my way to a travel agency on the same street as Tecun Uman (my school). There are dozens of agencies but I was recommended this one for its prices.

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I book a trip with them for a tour of Pacaya volcano. It’s $8 USD which includes the 2 hour shuttle there and back, a tour guide, and security. Not bad!

Once that is done, I roam the city an stumble upon San Francisco cathedral and ruins. The remains of friar hermano Pedro. There’s a huge emphasis on relics here- his clothes, scull, writing materials, etc are all on display.

I’m then lead by a really insistent employee to see the ruins- my Spanish is still pretty bad ad his English was non existent so he just did a lot of pointing to help me see things.

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Afterwords, I continue on my walk of Antigua- more or less to Central Park.

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I don’t think I will ever tire of seeing volcan de agua!

November 22: Spanish 101

I woke up with a chill in the morning. At 6:30 I’m up and at 7am, my host mama Thelma has an amazing breakfast for us students: fresh papaya, pineapple and banana, yogurt, granola, chocolate chip pancakes and tea.

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At 7:45, I head out with te other two students to class, it’s about ten minutes away.

I’m greeted by the manager, and introduced to Kathy- my teacher. Over the next four hours, I learn the basics. By the end, my head feels filled to the brim but I feel much better knowing more than I did coming in. We cover simple conversations like yo me llamo Myra… Yo soy de Canada (I’m from Canada), me gusta mucho (I like very much)… Yo tengo un hermano y una hermanas (I have a brother and a sister). It’s helpful stuff 🙂

Class ends at 12, and I use my limited Spanish to buy some mosquito itch balm from the pharmacy. I was so happy the person understood my broken Spanish!

Lunch is back at the house and its delicious again (I was half expecting rice and beans everyday).

At 2pm, my ‘sister’ and I meet her friend to visit the mercado (market) and there we spend a couple hours digging through second hand clothes (that’s where all our clothes get donated to…)
I see fun things like snow pants and Halloween costumes.

We head back at 5 and study more Spanish until our heads hurt again, then 7pm hits and its feeding time. Another delicious meal!

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At night, my sister and I head out once more to get a drink with her friend again. We stumble upon a very rustic and European-like wine bar and share a bottle of red wine for 70 quetzals. That’s about $3 per person.

Unfortunately I wasn’t sure what the surroundings were like so I didn’t bring a camera… Maybe next time!

November 21: transition to Guatemala

At 9am, my mom dad and I left placencia via maya air to Belize city where we would fly out in all separate directions. My dad to Ohio, my mom to Toronto, and myself to Guatemala.

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I arrived in Guatemala at 3:30 and was greeted by Julio- from Tecun Uman Spanish school. We set off for Antigua -about an hours drive from Guate. I was glad to get out of Guate though, the roads smell strongly of fumes and it reminds me of the things I don’t miss about big cities. One big difference is seeing men carrying machine guns outside banks and also kids hanging from the back of trucks on the highway.

At last we arrived in Antigua – it’s on the other side of the mountain and surrounded by 3 volcanoes. Quite a beautiful sight!

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Now I am staying just a short walk away from my school at a host family’s place. Three generations live in this building along with 2 other students. One from Netherlands, and Taiwan.

I feel a bit lost without knowing the language- but it makes me really excited to learn Spanish so I can start speaking to my family here! :p