Monday, September 23, 2013

Lodo Run in the Mud

My legs have turned pretty colors today.  Those of you who know me know that I bruise pretty easily (thanks for that inheritance, Mom), and that I treat each bluish-purple mark as a trophy and evidence that I did something awesome (or was rather hysterically clumsy). 

Yesterday was the Lodo Run—a mud run that a group of 25 of us from my school signed up for together.  It was my first Mud Run, because they’ve always sort of intimidated me in the past.  I mean, the running through mud and getting covered in filth sounds fun (embrace your inner child, right?), but the obstacles along the path always seemed a bit hardcore to me.  Climbing vertical walls, army crawling through mud…I didn’t really want to wear myself out too drastically. 

But when a group of 25 teachers (or 20 teachers and 5 friends/boyfriends of teachers) decides to sign up and go in matching orange or white jumpsuits with the theme “Take No Prisoners,” who wouldn’t want to join in? 

And what a fantastic experience!

The before...

At the start, our group got split up almost instantly as some people ran ahead to get through the crowds, and some stayed back.  Adam and I decided before the first obstacle to stick together, and we did all day. 

1st muddy hill...pants already split.
(Adam right behind me) 

The obstacles started fairly tame…a big muddy hill to clamber over, a ladder to climb up and over, etc.  At the first big structure, Adam and I met up with Carrie and Carmen, and the four of us continued together.    After pulling ourselves up a muddy hill with a very muddy rope, climbing up a vertical wall with wooden supports, and splashing through knee-deep mucky water, we came to an slanted wooden wall with a tiny knotted rope to pull yourself up.  There, we met up with Jordan and Dan. 

That inclined wall was the first obstacle I got over solely via the power of teamwork.  2 or 3 guys gave me a boost at the bottom, and someone at the top grabbed my hands and pulled me up.  I am not exaggerating here—I was lying on this board and sliding upward until I could get one hand over the top and pull a foot over the edge.  I used pretty much none of my own strength to get over that one.  Thank goodness for strong strangers willing to help!! 

From that point on, the six of us ran together.  It would not have been the same run without them there, as we all supported each other and pulled each other along.  We slid down what was essentially a GIANT slip and slide into a brown pool of water, army-crawled through murky mud, and employed “quick feet” to keep from tumbling as we ran through supremely slick mud in the forest. 

The slip and slide
(Photo from GuatEventos) 
And then we came to another intimidating obstacle.  It was a vertical wall, with a ramp at the bottom, and no ramp to help you up and over.  A big crowd was gathered at the bottom of it, and a bunch of people just bypassed it.  After watching several girls struggle up with the help of strong guys at the top, a few of us (me included) were quite willing to just skip this one.  But Dan…oh, Dan.  He told us to go on ahead, but he wanted to do each and every challenge, so he couldn’t skip it. 
So of course none of us could either. 

Again, it was a great feat of teamwork that got each of us up and over (and maybe a little bit of resourcefulness that we won’t label cheating right now).  Jordan positioned himself at the bottom, and someone we didn’t know (and later a few of us, as we got to the top) waited at the top, hand extended.  A bit of a running start, push off of Jordan’s shoulder to grasp the waiting hand, and then (here’s the resourcefulness) one foot on a support board that stuck out of one side a little bit, and we were up and over.  We all made it, and though it may not have been one of our more graceful challenges, we did it!

There were more obstacles—a slide into a lake, another army-crawl mudpit, a forest run.  Somewhere along the way I lost one leg of my jumpsuit, and I severely bruised my inner thigh.  But there were really no other injuries.  Our group of 6 finished in about 1 hour and 10 minutes, and since we weren’t running it for speed, and actually spent a bit of time waiting at the base of many challenges, I think we are all pretty happy with that time.  It wasn’t a race in a competitive sense for any of us. 

Start of the end (notice the missing pant leg)
(photo from GuatEventos) 

Crossing the "finish line"
(photo credit to Denise!) 

It was about teamwork, and bonding, and doing silly, grungy work, and realizing you can overcome obstacles you weren’t sure you were capable of—with a little help from your friends. 

I mean, who can ask for more than that?  

The after.  :) 

Would not have been the same race without these people!  

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Making home MINE

It seems ages ago I ran giddy through my new house, unable to believe it was really the place I’d live for the next few years.  5 short weeks later, these 44 walls are starting to feel like home.  (44?  Just a random number…it’s a whole lot more than 4, at any rate).

Welcome...come on in. 

Friday afternoon, my new furniture got delivered.  I finally finished unpacking—100%.  My bedroom now feels less like a place to sleep and more like a room to live in.  My suitcases are off the floor and tucked away in one of my many closets.  My alarm clock has a new home on a nightstand, and my bedside lamp has finally shed its protective bubble wrap and is plugged into the wall. 

In my living room, just by moving my router from the floor to my new side table, its bright green lights remind me that I live here and it’s home. 

In the kitchen, my stainless steel fridge finally bears one of my favorite magnets, which reads, “Wherever you are, it is your friends who make your world.”  When I first got that magnet, right before moving to PR, I didn’t really believe it.  My friends made up my world back home, of course.  But moving to a brand new place, how could I be sure that the people I met would be enough to “create my world”?  Yet they did, surely enough.  And now that I’m in yet another place, even at only one month in, already it is my new friends who make up a huge part of the reason life is worth living. 

But I digress.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve started to make this condo mine.  I’ve moved into its spaces.  Not all of them, of course.  There are still 5 rooms (6, if you count the bathroom in the maid’s quarters) which are simply empty.  I shut the doors and more or less pretend the rooms don’t exist.  Or, in the case of the “pantry room” next to my dining room, I leave the doors open and use it as a shortcut—a hallway, if you will—from front hallway to laundry area (via the kitchen). 

Seriously...can't we just get rid of that wall
 and double the size of my dining room?
(Dining room on the right, pointless room on the left) 

I have places, now.  I sit at the dining room table on my computer.  I watch movies (on my computer) on the living room couch.  I work out in the mornings (will Jillian Michaels egging me on) in the upstairs “hallway” area where I am fairly certain no one can see into the windows…even with no curtains over them.  My laundry dries in the covered mudroom next to the laundry room.  My keys hang on the decorative hook I bought which adorns the wall next to the front door.  This place, slowly but surely, is become more than blank white walls and cold floors.  It is becoming mine.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Rafting the Coyolate

About a month ago, Carrie started organizing a whitewater rafting trip for CAG teachers through her friend Max and his company.  All of her and his efforts culminated in Saturday’s adventure on the Coyolate River.

Our whole group
(photo credit to Carrie and Max) 

I was rafting once before—in 2006, the Canadian Rockies.  However, on that trip, there were 10 of us on the raft, and though everyone had a paddle, the guide sat in the back with the master oars.  We paddled, but he did all the work.  So, I’d rafted a Category V rapid…but not really.

Today, there were six of us in our raft, including the guide.  All our paddles were identical.  The day was warm and sunny, the water a perfectly refreshing temperature.  The scenery was green.  The river was high and fast.  It was a completely different experience than anything I’d ever had before. 

Especially at the beginning of our 21km (13 mile) run, the rapids were almost constant, with very few breaks for us to recoup and move on.  The river is mostly category II and III, but with the recent rains, there were more IIIs and one IV (which we ended up taking the “chicken line” around because our guide described the rapid as including a “death trap”). 

Skirting around the Class IV rapid
(photo credit goes to Max and Rios Guatemala) 

What a thrill to start out on those first rapids!  The raft bucked under us, and I struggled to keep my balance and keep paddling.  But seated in the middle as I was, it took me a while to figure out the best way to brace myself. 

It was perhaps our second or third rapid when we hit a wave, my feet knocked off the bottom of the raft, and I knew there was no way to regain my balance.  Out I toppled. 

I surfaced quickly but almost immediately let go of my paddle (oops).  I didn’t have time to think about that, though, because in the next instant I was under water again and passing underneath the raft.  I came up on the other side.  Before I had time to figure out how to face downriver and get my legs up in front of me, Jacque was yelling to me and I grabbed onto the chicken line on the side of the boat.  We were still in the rapid, and I went under a few more times—coming up gasping for air (but not panicking) at least a few more times.  I was right by the side of the boat, but I didn’t know how to get back up. 

But there was no need.  All of a sudden Jacque reached down, grabbed the front of my life jacket, and perfectly hauled me up into the raft—exactly how we’d been told to in the safety talk before the trip. 

Needless to say, after that tumble I wedged my feet a little more sturdily and wasn’t afraid to hold on and fall into the middle of the raft a time or two. 

You can tell it was a good rapid because it looks like Jacque
has fallen to the center of the raft in the pic
(photo credit to Max and Rios Guatemala) 

We were still in great spirits continuing down the river after our bout of excitement.  We counted cascades trickling down the canyon walls (until we lost count somewhere after 10 and just gave up) and watched for wildlife in between rapids.  At one point our guide steered us right under one of the bigger waterfalls and we all got doused.  At another point, we witnessed 2 bulls fighting in the long grasses on the shore.

Rafting under the waterfall!
(photo credit to Carrie and her waterproof camera) 

fighting bulls on the shore
(photo credit to Carrie) 

But our team’s next bit of real excitement (if you can call it that) came in the middle of another rapid.  The raft bent in two, then sprang apart, catapulting Jacque off the side of the raft and into the river. 

She did much better than I did—keeping hold of her paddle and pointing her feet forward to float downriver until we could catch up to her.  She didn’t have a smooth trip, though.  Her helmet was loose and she said it kept seeming to fill with water, holding her back and causing the strap to choke her, so she flipped back to look at us, which is wrong, but in her situation was better in a way.  At one point she tried to keep her feet up over an upcoming rock, and the water planted her there, pushing her up almost to a standing position.  Finally, though, after what seemed like a really long time (she was in the water much longer than I was) we managed to get close enough for Matt to reach over and haul her into the raft with us.  Safe and sound, though perhaps more than a little rattled. 

We were the only raft to have people fall out.  …People were pushed out of one of the other rafts, in a calm spot, by the guide.  But as for falling out in rapids?  Just us.  Although the bigger raft also did have foot straps for everyone, which ours did not. 

After more than four hours on the river, we reached the end of our run and pulled the raft in.  We faced an hour’s ride back to a restaurant for a late lunch.  The guides gave us the option to ride in the bus, or stand in the back of the pick-up truck.  I chose pick-up, along with everyone from my raft and a few others. 

Best choice of the day. 

While everyone else (I can imagine) experienced a slow drive on a gravel road that must have seemed to last forever, I stood at the back of the truck, surveying seemingly endless sugarcane fields, the wind in my face, loving every minute of it.  We passed through the plantations, through a small village (where we waved at all of the locals and they smiled and waved back), and, finally, onto a paved road.  At that point most people got off the truck and onto the bus.  But not Jacque, Matt, Hyung, and I.  We stood at our points as the road got smoother and the truck picked up speed.  It was a highway, so we had to have been going around 50mph.  Safe?  Oh, no.  But AWESOME?  Yes.  Oh my, yes.  I could not have asked for a more fantastic way to end the trip.  It’s an experience I will never forget.

On the back of the truck, through the sugar cane plantation
(photo credit to Carrie) 

On the way to the restaurant (where we had a fantastic meal, by the way) and later on the way back into the city, we came upon numerous torch runners out celebrating Guatemala’s Independence Day, which was on Sunday, the 15th. Every 14th of September, groups of people will light a torch and run throughout the town, or to the town square in Guatemala (and in other parts of Latin America).  It’s called La Antorcha, and it was really cool to witness.  A perfect cap to a perfect day!  

Torch runners, chicken buses, and the Guatemalan flag
(photo credit to Carrie) 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Happy Friday

I haven't perfected the art of teaching yet.  And there are so many variables.  Even though I have a well-designed lesson plan, I very rarely have a class in which everything goes "perfectly".  But sometimes...

My first class of the day on Friday was okay.  They didn't get their project done as quickly as I would have liked, but it was easy enough to adjust my plans and give them more work time next class.  Actually it works out well.  But my next was one of those picture-perfect moments that made me grateful for everything I have here.

The assignment was for the students to read an article in groups, highlighting the words they were unfamiliar with as they came across them.  Then, they had to copy those vocabulary words into the vocab. sections of their binders and add definitions.  After that, there were 3 questions the group was to answer about the article in complete sentences (but most groups didn't get that far today).  

The students came to me straight from intramurals, where the entire 7th grade class had been out playing kickball after lunch.  They were hot and tired, therefore.  When it came time to work in groups, they asked whether they could go outside, or sit on the floor at the back of the room.  I said sure.  We opened up 3 of the big windows on the far side of my room to let the breeze in, and 2 groups went out and sat in the open-air hallway back there.  One group went out the front door and sat outside.  2 groups found seats on the floor in the back of the room, and one group stayed at their desks.  This was more than enough space to get everyone away from each other.  Each group read the story aloud, taking turns at reading without me giving that instruction.  They diligently identified the words they didn't know, then went and grabbed their ipads and began looking up definitions on their own.  When the dictionary's definition was over their heads, they called me over and asked for help, rather than just writing down words they didn't understand.    

It's not that the lesson was anything awe-inspiring (in fact, I am a rather firm believer that looking up definitions to unknown words leads to almost zero retention...which is why this is not the end of our work with those words!).  But it just went so well.  The atmosphere in the classroom was relaxed and studious at the same time.  I was relaxed in a way that I often am not with 24 energetic students working in groups.  I mean...what a perfect way to end a Friday!!