Tuesday, August 26, 2014

New Year

“I think teaching is maybe the only profession in which we get to say ‘Happy New Year’ twice a year,” my assistant principal told us last week at our first middle school staff meeting of the upcoming school year. 

She’s so right.  I’d been thinking exactly along those same lines for the past few days since coming back.  My mind has been a whirl of plans and goals for the new school year.  How can I make my classroom run more smoothly and more effectively?  How can I start a routine to be even more active and healthy?  Which places will we travel to this year?  It’s a new year, and we’re starting fresh. 

But at the same time, not really.  It’s my second year here, and my friends and I are so excited to already know so much.  There’s none of the stress of last year wondering where to buy curtains and how to get there and how to spend our weekends and who can help us get our internet turned on.  We, the brave 2nd years, are the people who can answer all of those questions now. 

So it’s not just me, but it’s all of my friends who are here and excited about the new year.  It’s going to be a great one.  For a lot of my closest friends, this is their last year in the country and we’re determined to make it great.  A few weeks ago at dinner, five of us went around the table listing our goals for the year.  Improving our Spanish is a big one, as is making an effort to get out of the city more often and do more traveling.  We have renewed drives to stay fit and get in shape for even more races and events, and a strong desire to meet new people and broaden our social circles.  It’s the support and accountability, more than anything, that assures me we’ll meet our goals. 

The social dynamic here (and I think in any international school) is so different from being in the States, or from what I experience when I go home for the summer.  At home, I stay with my family, and if I spend a day sitting on the couch and exchanging few words with my retired father, that’s perfectly okay.  I might see one or two friends one day and another group the next day, and that’s good.  In Guatemala, our families are not here.  So co-workers here are friends, family, and support.  There’s always something going on and someone to see.  We lean on each other, help each other.  My friends in Guatemala are quick to do favors, because we’ve all been there.  If your car is broken down, or you haven’t purchased one yet, someone with a car will happily pick you up…because we’ve all been there.  If you need to go to the doctor, there’s always someone with a great recommendation of who to see or how to make the insurance work or who you need to talk to to get things done.  My friends and I make each other dinner, push each other to be fit, study together, work together, help each other.  Simply put, we are, out of necessity, more invested in our friendships and making them solid here.  While we’re in Guatemala, we try harder to take care of each other than all but the best of friends elsewhere might.  It’s a really, really special community that I’m a part of.  I’m lucky.

And I’m glad to be back and starting this New Year.      

Friday, August 15, 2014

Summer: Completed

This summer was good for me.  It gave me the chance (perhaps a chance I didn’t even know I needed) to slow down, reevaluate, and enjoy. 

When I catch up with friends and family, the almost inevitably ask me two questions:

“How much longer do you have in Guatemala, then?”

“What happens when you’re done there?”

Sometimes I wonder if they’re working as secret spies for my mom, checking to see if I’ll tell them my hidden plans to never come home, travelling the world forever and ever.  Of course, that’s not true.  I tell the people who ask the exact same thing that I tell my mom: “I don’t know.” 

I thought, originally, that Guatemala would be my last international teaching job.  But, I love it.  A lot.  And that leads me to believe I would love another international location just as much.  So I’m leaving the possibility of one more international post open, and I’m keeping an open mind to returning to the States but not to my state, and yet it’s also quite possible that I will stick to the original plan and come home when my time in Guatemala is complete. 

I confess, though, that when I came home at the beginning of this summer, I was so enamored with my life in Central America that I was scared—actually afraid—that when I eventually returned to Wisconsin for good, I would feel confined and bored.  Living in a place with no mountains to climb, no oceans to visit, a place where winter lasts for too many months and teaching means stress and standardized tests and tight budgets…why would I want to do that? 

This summer, I was reminded that, despite “all that,” my hometown is a very nice place to live.  Maybe it’s not a top tourist destination.  But there are people there who make life worth living, and that’s really, really important. And there may not be towering mountains or crashing oceans, but forested bluffs and clear blue lakes will do just fine. 

The trip across country, too, helped me appreciate where I came from.  I saw some beautiful sights and stopped in some comfortable towns in Utah and Colorado.  There are mountains to climb there, and canyons to explore.  But Wisconsin in the summertime is overwhelmingly green, and those bare snow-topped mountains simply aren’t home.  

I still can’t give a straight answer about what will happen after the next two school years are complete.  But I’m a lot less scared about making the decision.  It’s kind of hard to go wrong, whatever I choose. 

Hiking Perrot State Park with friends from out of town

DCI show at my university's stadium in July

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Pikes Peak Peril

Of all the adventures on this summer’s road trip, the story of our drive up to the top of Pikes Peak deserves to be told.  So, it’s a bit past due, but here’s what happened on that Sunday afternoon at the end of July.

After we conquered Manitou Springs’ Incline and had a hearty breakfast at a buffet next to a stream, Rachel and I, Carrie, and Josh and Amanda drove to the base of the Pikes Peak road.  The ranger on duty at the toll booth warned us we’d be going through “some weather” and told us we would need our windshield wipers.  Amanda patted the windshield and assured her with a smile that we had good ones, and we were off.

The drive up the mountain is beautiful, with forests and meadows dotting the sides of the road and great views into the valleys below.  The first probably 12 miles up the peak were quite pleasant, with only a few clouds in the sky to hint at the “weather” we were bound to encounter.

Photo by Rachel Hix 

Sure enough, though, those clouds eventually turned to rain.  Thunder boomed ominously in the distance, and the sky darkened.  Soon tiny balls of hail dotted the windshield as well, and the clouds more or less blocked out our view as the storm got closer. 

Photo by Rachel Hix 

Still our car kept plodding along, Josh confident behind the wheel.  We watched the lightning flash on either side of us, the sounds of thunder following in quickening succession. 

The hail kept falling in tiny white balls the size of pinheads.  The hillsides became coated in white, and eventually the snow accumulated in the road.  As Josh rounded a corner and the car slipped a bit on the road below us, we made the wise decision to pull over when it was possible. 

Open the window...get an immediate
coating of little hail balls. 

Amanda reached out of the car and grabbed
a snow ball while we waited.

That spot on the shoulder of the road was ours for at least thirty minutes, if not closer to an hour.  We were less than 3 miles from the summit at that point, but there was still a climb ahead of us, and it was a slippery, snow covered climb that the little Corolla just might not be equipped to handle.  Going down would probably be no better, so we sat and waited out the storm. 

Photo by Rachel Hix 

It was rather entertaining watching the other cars.  Some trucks and SUVs zipped past us, passing slower vehicles on their way up.  One white van simply stopped in the middle of its lane, and would occasionally reverse a short distance down the road until another car came up behind it and had to pass.  Eventually a ranger arrived, got out of his truck, and walked the driver of the van through turning around to head back down the mountain.  Still, the van driver came to a bend in the road and once again simply stopped, causing traffic to pile up behind him as no one was able to pass him on the curve. 

White van stopping traffic.

As for us, we had just decided to try our luck heading down the mountain (as going up seemed the more dangerous option), when a snow plow passed us traveling up towards the summit.  We waited for it to come back down to where we were, then, assuming it had cleared the road, started up for the peak.  As we rounded our 2nd bend, however, we were confronted with a stretch of the road where it appeared the driver had either picked up his plow blade or simply hadn’t been able to clear the snow effectively.  We slid a bit, lost traction, and ultimately reached a point where the little car could go no farther.  So, with some careful maneuvering (it was difficult to tell where the shoulders of the road were at this point), we turned around and headed back down the mountain towards a place where it would be safe to pull over and wait again.

On the way, we passed a car stuck on the side of the road.  We pulled up beside him and asked if the driver needed some help.  He explained that he’d pulled over for the safety of the 2 kids he had in the backseat, but now there was a boulder in front of him—so he couldn’t pull out—and the tires just spun if he tried to back out.  So Josh hopped out of the car (in his sandals) and together he and the man pushed the rock out of the way and the guy was able to get his car onto the road again.  3 lives saved by us!  Well, really by Josh.  The rest of us just managed to wave at the kids in the backseat. 

So we pulled into our now familiar parking shoulder to wait, once again.  We watched 2 more snowplows pass and head up to the top of the mountain.  We flagged down the second one to ask if he was going all the way to the top.  He looked at us like it was a stupid question—but we’d just experienced an icy road left behind by a snowplow!  He said he was, and that they were keeping everyone at the summit because so many cars were sideways further down the mountain.  “Up” suddenly sounded even better to us, so we followed the plow all the way to the top.  Take 3, and we finally reached the summit of Pikes Peak. 

A-following the snowplow we go!
Photo by Rachel Hix

Photo by Rachel Hix

Of course, almost as soon as we got there, there was an announcement that the roads were now clear and it would be a good time to leave.  This was followed a few minutes later by a more urgent announcement, “People, you need to leave nooow.  There is a second cell moving in.  The roads are clear now and this is your window, so you need to go.”  So, we went.  We stopped just long enough for Amanda to grab 2 bags of donuts from the shop and to take a group photo by the Pikes Peak sign. 

On the way down, the roads were very clear, and snow was already melting and running down the hills.  We saw one more sports car in the ditch, but the driver of a pick-up truck was already in the process of going to help as we passed.  We rolled down the window and Amanda handed out our remaining donuts, telling the pick-up driver to give them to the guy whose car was stuck.  He, too, looked at us like we were a bit touched in the head…but hopefully he actually passed along the donuts as our goodwill gesture and the dude trusted that they weren’t scary poison donuts or something. 

Clear roads (and a bit of traffic) on the way down.
Photo by Rachel Hix

So, our trip was not quite what we expected.  The view from the top was not as clear or picturesque as you might imagine. But it was most certainly a memorable experience, and all ended well. 

Photo by Rachel Hix 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Epic Road Trip: Recap

I spent two weeks on the road with one of my best friends in the world, and we packed a lot of sights in, so it follows that I have about a month of stories to share.

Except, the best memories I have from our epic road trip don’t translate well into stories.  They’re the moments of over-tired hilarity and inside-joke ridden silliness that had me laughing until I couldn’t breathe.  So I’ll by and large skip over the stories like those of D’Artagnan, the dino cats, the Utah black hole, and the dead baby elk. 

I’ll share instead our highlights.  Rachel and I crossed 7 states, visited 5 national parks, and crossed paths with 10 different friends and family members. 


The third day of our road trip brought us to the first big stop…the Grand Canyon.
It was…grand.

photo by Rachel Hix

Then it was on to Antelope Canyon in Page, UT, followed by a brief stop at the Glen Canyon Dam as we passed it. 

Antelope Canyon
photo by Rachel Hix

Glen Canyon Dam
photo by Rachel HIx

Next was Zion National Park, hands down our favorite part of the trip, where we hiked a short portion of The Narrows due to the recommendation from our B&B host and the fact that he lent us ski poles (in place of trekking poles) and a backpack to use.

photo by Rachel Hix

The Narrows, Zion
photo by Rachel Hix

We spent a marathon day driving and visited both Bryce Canyon National Park and Arches National Park on our way to Colorado.

Bryce Canyon
photo by Rachel Hix

Arches National Park
photo by Rachel Hix

We drove through Rocky Mountain National Park  (and saw a moose!) on our way to Rachel’s sister’s home in Fort Collins, CO, where we spent a day and a half.

Rocky Mountain National Park
photo by Rachel Hix

She made me get out of the car and stand on the snow.

Kayaking with Lauren
photo by Rachel Hix

After a lazy morning with Lauren in Ft. Collins, we met up with Amy in Denver for an afternoon packed with sightseeing and tubing.

Red Rocks Ampitheater

In Colorado Springs, we met with Puerto Rico friends and a couple of Guatemala friends too (what were the chances Carmen would be staying with Carrie the same weekend we were passing through?).  We did a lot during our time there, too. 

Balanced Rock at Garden of the Gods

Pike's Peak.
This is my favorite picture of the entire trip!!  Carrie and Amanda are
photo bombing elves!! 

And then we drove back through Kansas and came home.


I will say this about the trip.  The quintessential phrase “road trip” always brought up, for me, images of best friends who can talk about anything and make a joke out of any bad situation, spontaneous stops, and, for some reason, the desert.  And shockingly, my own trip with Rachel met all those criterion.  We talked and talked—to the point where I feel like Rachel must almost feel like she’s already been to Guatemala and met all my friends there—and we laughed and never wanted to kill each other.  Our 6 hour driving days had a habit of taking us 9 hours as we stopped at places like Dorothy’s house in Kansas or the Meteor Crater in Arizona.  And of course, our drive encompassed a lot of rocks and dirt and sun in the American Southwest. 
All in all, it’s all I could have wanted in a road trip.