Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sit Still?

A while ago, I spent an evening trying to convince one of my best friends to embark on a roadtrip with me next summer, even though, I explained, I realized my original “Summer 2014 plan” had consisted of spending my entire break close to home with family and friends.

“You just can’t sit still, can you?” she asked good naturedly. 

I’d never thought of it that way, but she’s right.  Not in the physical sense as in sitting in one place to complete a task.  I can do that.  But it’s true that I am happiest when I am busiest.  I like to live my life full.  A calendar with commitments written on each day gives me glee.  I don’t sit at home relaxing by myself often.  I can’t sit still.

Last weekend was a prime example of the way I try to do everything.

Friday after my work day was done, I entered the school library for my last class in the 2nd course of my masters program.  (Have I mentioned I’m working on my masters through a program my current school supports?  I will take 5 courses this year and 4 next year and leave with a masters degree in International Education.  More on that later.)  Friday’s class consisted of a brief review and then our final exam.  I finished the test quickly, then dashed home to grab a sweater and drop off my school things before my classmates and our professor and I went out to dinner to celebrate the end of the course. 

When we’d finished eating, about half of us continued on to what is probably one of the biggest parties of the year.  My principal and assistant principal share a birthday, and each year they throw a joint birthday party which the entire school community is invited to.  It was huge this year, as well.  After a few hours of good food, music, and an amazing view of the city skyline from the roof of my principal’s home, I fell into bed exhausted.

Saturday morning, though, I was up with the sun, grading and entering final grades for the end of the trimester.  Getting up at 6:20, by 11am I no longer needed to be productive.  I was done, and could “relax” for the rest of the weekend.  Kenra and I went grocery shopping that afternoon—an endeavor made more of an adventure by the fact that, unbeknownst to us, Wal-mart was holding something akin to a Black Friday sale and traffic was backed up for nearly a mile outside of the parking lot, both coming to and leaving the store.  Though we left around 12:30, we barely made it to meet more friends for a 3:00 movie at the VIP theater.  After the movie finished, we went immediately to the sushi party our friend Dennis was throwing.  Dennis worked in restaurants for a long time, and makes exceptional homemade sushi.  He spent the evening rolling delectable bites for over 40 people and we all relished in his efforts. 

Stuffed, I went home just after 9:00pm that evening and set my alarm clock for 5:30 in the morning.

On Sunday morning, I got my first chance to drive in Guatemala.  Borrowing a friend’s car, Amy, Chris and I drove to Pacaya for a race, leaving at 6:00am.  We got turned around a few times on the way, but we made it to the starting line in time for Chris to leave on time for the 21K—barely.  Amy and I started half an hour later, running the 10K.  Because of a mix-up with registration and packet pickup, she and I ran without chips or race numbers.  We didn’t care about finish times, and we joked that the only way it would matter that we didn’t have our registration displayed would be if we won.  Since neither of us had been training, we weren’t worried about that.
Amy came in 2nd place and I finished 5th for women, making for an awkward departure as we were questioned about the absence of our race numbers.  We explained we hadn’t been able to pick up our packets, and though they wouldn’t give us our finisher medals (big deal), they coerced is to walk back for a photo before letting us leave.  Eventually, though, we hightailed it back to the city for an Ultimate Frisbee tournament with the Ultimate group from Antigua.  It was at school and had started at 11:00am.  (We’re still not sure whether there was a prize that Amy should have won for 2nd place in the race). 

We arrived at school around 11:30am, and playing hadn’t started yet, so we found our teams and jumped in.  4 games and 4 hours later, we migrated to La Joya for a BBQ with all of the Frisbee people.  As we ate—our first real meal since breakfast—exhaustion started to set in, and by 6:00pm, I felt ready for bed.

This weekend wasn’t much better.  Friday night was spent with friends, Saturday morning I worked at a school event until lunch time, and then I went home and baked in preparation for a Thanksgiving celebration that night which lasted until 11pm, complete with all the essential Thanksgiving food components and an epic game of Cards against Humanity (which is one of my favorites). 

I like to live my life full.  If that means I spend very little time sitting still, I own that. 


Monday, November 11, 2013

First Experience at "The Lake"

When you live in Guatemala City, you hear a lot about “the Lake”—everyone’s favorite place in the country, it seems.  And so, almost 3 months into my stay here, I was looking forward to my first trip to the fabled Lake Atitlan.

Last Friday, after the Kite Festival, our caravan of 2 Honda CRVs followed the meandering, sometimes pothole-ridden roads to and around the lake to arrive at our hotel in Santiago Atitlan by mid-afternoon.  After we’d dropped our belongings off at the room, we ventured down to the pool and hot tub, which overlook the lake. 

The view was breathtaking.  At 4:30pm, the light glanced off the surrounding volcanos and hit the water in a picture of perfection.  And because the property around Posada de Santiago (where we stayed) is so well-groomed and filled with flowers, sitting in the hot tub we had a sigh-worthy view in 360 degrees. 

Saturday morning, Annette, Carrie, Nikki and I hiked up a ridge for a view of Volcan San Pedro and the surrounding area.  Unfortunately by the time we reached the top, the mountain had become enshrouded in a cloud, but the views of the lake on the way up were spectacular, and the foliage surrounding us on the hike was in itself worthy of the trip.

View from halfway up our climb

Saturday afternoon, we ventured into town, I purchased some artwork, we visited the local cemetery and viewed their Day of the Dead celebrations (leaving shortly after because in such a small town, we felt like intruders in an intimate celebration).

Saturday evening, we played about 2 hours of Power Uno while enjoying the campfire on the patio, had a FANTASTIC dinner at the inn’s restaurant to the tunes of live music, and finished the evening with a crackling fire on the hearth in our room. 

On Sunday, we took a private boat across the lake to the town of San Antonio Polopo where there is a women’s cooperative that makes authentic and beautiful textiles and ceramics.  The women working in the textile shop offered to dress us up in tipico Maya garb and let us take pictures.  We did, and of course made a few purchases afterwards. 

This was the type of the trip that is perhaps better defined in pictures than in words, so I’ll leave you with a few that I hope do justice to my friends’ (and now my) claims that “the Lake” is one of their favorite spots on earth.  

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Kite Festival in Sumpango

I've been learning about the Latin American celebrations of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) since I started studying Spanish in middle school.  Last weekend, though, was the first time I had the opportunity to experience the celebration authentically.

We had no classes on Friday, November 1st, in honor of the tradition.  My friends and I took advantage of the day by going to Sumpango, where each year they hold the Festival de los Barriletes Gigantes (Festival of the Giant Kites) next to the cemetery.  

We walked first through the cemetery.  It really is true that el Dia de Todos Santos (Nov. 1) is a celebration.  The above-ground tombs were freshly painted in bright colors and covered with pine needles and flowers.   At some graves, family members still worked to decorate even that morning.  Ice cream vendors pushed their carts up and down through the pathways, ringing their bells and selling cones of bright yellow ice cream topped with a crimson jelly.  Kids ran past, their small home-made kites flying high above them.  

After we had experienced the cemetery, we moved through the growing crowds to the main attraction--the open field where all of the kites were set up.  

The kites were set up in rows, with the smallest--the children's kites--in front, and the largest in the back.  We meandered through the rows and watched as some of the kites were erected on giant bamboo poles.  It took a team of people and a bit of engineering to get the crepe-paper kites from their spots on the ground to leaning on the tall poles, and that was an event to watch in itself.  

As we moved towards the tallest giants, I was amazed by their size and detail.  These kites wouldn't fly, though from what I understand an attempt would be made at dusk.  But their beauty looking over the festival was unmistakable.  

The tradition of flying kites on All Saints Day dates back hundreds of years.  Flying the kites, which so easily are ripped to shreds in the October winds, is symbolic of life and death, or perhaps a way to communicate with the dead somehow.  Today, many of the kites also bear important messages in their designs.  Some cautioned us to care for our natural resources.  Some reminded the people of their heritage.  All were intricate and very beautiful.  

We only stayed for a few hours in the morning, before the crowds became too insane and before any kite larger than 6-8ft in diameter took the sky.  But it was worth it.  Truly a unique and gratifying experience!