I waited 20-30 minutes to be let through the barrier and continue on my journey. I dread to think how long the queue of cars I passed to get to the barrier had been waiting!
[caption id="attachment_4014" align="alignnone" width="225"]
The fog obscures just how many cars were in this line...[/caption]
It started to rain gently as I finally started the bike and started along the steep, twisty, under-construction road that leads down to Lake Atitlan. The rain turned torrential and I was very proud of myself for staying calm and navigating the potholes and gravel under the newly formed rivers running down and across the road. I suffer from irrational fear when on difficult roads which is a constant battle for me to overcome.
Luckily by the time I reached the switchbacks on the lower half of the road the rain had stopped.
I reached San Pedro La Laguna in the afternoon and called Phil when I no longer knew which way to turn. He showed up beside me within a minute, I had stopped only a few meters from the narrow alleyway that lead to the Flor del Maiz Spanish School
, my new home. I was so happy to see my little brother! Two weeks apart had reminded me how much I like travelling with him. We make a good team!
Javier is the owner of the school, and the head of the beautiful Guatemalan family Phil had been living with for the week.
[caption id="attachment_4015" align="alignnone" width="300"]
Lola, Magda, Javier and a teapot enraptured by the laptop[/caption]
To reach their three story house/school one must walk down a passageway between buildings, narrower than most sidewalks, filled with chickens and dogs. There was no way our bikes would fit down there, so Javier kindly arranged for us to park them at his brother's house down the hill.
[caption id="attachment_4025" align="alignnone" width="225"]
Our Guatemalan home. This is taken from as far back as I could get before hitting the house across the "road".[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_4035" align="alignnone" width="300"]
Parking with the chickens[/caption]
I arrived on a Thursday - my schooling started at 8am on Friday. For my first two lessons Javier was my instructor.
[caption id="attachment_4037" align="alignnone" width="300"]
Maestro Javier and I chill out over home grown coffee at break time[/caption]
The concept of living with a local family, whilst studying Spanish four hours a day, is an excellent one. For less than $200 a week we were fed three wholesome meals a day cooked by Javier's lovely wife Lola, given one on one instruction, and comfortable beds.
[caption id="attachment_4042" align="alignnone" width="300"]
Some of Lola's delicious cooking[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_4038" align="alignnone" width="225"]
Phil learning Spanish with Demis[/caption]
It rained so much in the afternoons that I rarely left the house in the first few days. I went downstairs to the kitchen for meals, upstairs to school, and then studying, blogging and reading in my room in the afternoons and evenings.
Javier and Lola have two energetic, beautiful daughters, Lolita (12) and Magdalena (2). Lolita was obsessed with playing Angry Birds on my iPhone and Magda was into everything!
[caption id="attachment_4034" align="alignnone" width="300"]
Don't let her innocent smile fool you - this two year old is full of beans![/caption]
[caption id="attachment_4044" align="alignnone" width="300"]
When not playing on my phone, Lolita was playing basketball. (She's in the Yellow)[/caption]
It is a sign of globalization that a girl in a small village in Guatemala knows how to use a smartphone and is aware of what games she likes best!
The whole family spoke only Spanish with us, although I soon realized that they were often speaking a completely different language with each other. Tzutujil Is their mother tongue - a Mayan language that is only spoken in three villages. (Less than 75,000 people!!)
[caption id="attachment_4016" align="alignnone" width="300"]
The heart of the home[/caption]
The main living area of the house was the kitchen, where all the cooking and eating and hanging out with the family took place.
[caption id="attachment_4017" align="alignnone" width="225"]
Despite having a gas stove, the vast ,majority of the cooking was done on this fire.[/caption]
Phil and I had lessons on Saturday morning, but we had the whole day off on Sunday. When we were in Playa Troncones in Guerrero, Mexico, our new friend Sarah told us that we should go meet her friend Angela at Lake Atitlan. Angela lives in San Marcos, a short boat ride across the lake from where we were staying in San Pedro. I had contacted Angela when I first arrived at the lake, and she had invited us to attend a Cacao sharing circle, and then a Cacao Ceremony with a local Shaman (her mentor) called Keith.
When Sunday morning rolled around, it was the morning after the night before (the one Phil wrote about in this post
), and we were both feeling tender, Phil much more so than I as his evening had kicked on several hours, and 3 or 4 walks up the hill to our house, longer than mine had.
[caption id="attachment_4089" align="alignnone" width="300"]
Lake Atitlan really is stunningly beautiful.[/caption]
We managed to get to Angela's apartment by 9am, where she welcomed us very warmly and gave us big mugs of special cacao. This cacao is unprocessed, bitter, and pretty strong. Apparently 99% of the active ingredients of cacao are removed in the mass market chocolate we usually eat. We added sweetener and a bit of chili to our mugs, and joined 10 others in Angela's warm, comforting living room.
We each introduced ourselves, and gave our mother's and grandmother's names. Angela then led us in group meditation. The cacao raised my heart rate and made me feel very mellow. Phil was struggling to stay awake over on his side of the circle. I have been learning to meditate and this was a very deep meditation - I liked being surrounded by others who all had the same purpose.
After the sharing circle, we walked down the road to the Cacao ceremony at Keith's house. It was the last one of the season, meaning that everyone had come. There were 40 or 50 people crammed onto the shaman's front porch. We squeezed into tiny spaces between dreadlocked hippies.
[caption id="attachment_4040" align="alignnone" width="300"]
Me in my tiny space on the porch[/caption]
To be honest we didn't get a lot from the cacao ceremony, there were too many people to be comfortable, the hangovers were worsening, we hadn't eaten anything, and it went on for hours. Phil hated every minute of it.
The cacao shaman spoke a lot about empaths, people who take on other's negative energy. I feel like I am a bit like that, in that I find people often tell me all their problems, even when I don't know them very well. He was talking about how to not hold those negativities in our bodies. It was a bit "new age" with a lot of visualising energies etc, but there was a lot of meditation too. I still found it interesting. For the first couple hours. After that, I was uncomfortable, couldn't adjust my position, and just wanted to leave.
[caption id="attachment_4039" align="alignnone" width="300"]
The Cacao Shaman[/caption]
Finally there was a break in the proceedings. The ceremony was not ending, but Phil and I exchanged a look and made our move to freedom. It's likely that the only people who noticed we were gone were the people sitting next to us who would have had a bit more room to breathe!
The next day was the start of my "official" week of classes. Phil went to see Alex
, and so Demis became my teacher.
[caption id="attachment_4021" align="alignnone" width="300"]
The view from the roof terrace classroom was nice when the sun shone.[/caption]
Our four hours consisted of chatting in Spanish about life, and doing verb exercises. So many verbs. Regular, irregular, ones that changed letters in the middle (sometimes) and ones that didn't. Home grown coffee and muffins or cookies at break time. When the weather was good we would go for walks around town, walking and talking. We even went to see Demis' son play soccer.
[caption id="attachment_4024" align="alignnone" width="225"]
Demis outside the Catholic Church, a key landmark.[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_4023" align="alignnone" width="225"]
Demis' son Diego (on left)[/caption]
I found it very interesting talking to Demis and Javier about life in Guatemala. They get married young, and have lots of children who will look after them when they are old. Women tend to stay home and cook and clean and look after the kids. While the men dress in modern jeans and t-shirts, the women mostly wear colourful traditional dress.
[caption id="attachment_4019" align="alignnone" width="225"]
Two girls in traditional Mayan dress[/caption]
Their society suffers from the same issues as all societies, including alcoholism, child abuse etc, but because families all live together in multi-generational units, everyone in the village knows everything that is going on. This does not however mean that justice is served - being staunchly religious, they feel that God will punish offenders.
It rained a lot. Eventually I grew tired of staying home all the time, and went out, getting caught in the rain a few times.
[caption id="attachment_4041" align="alignnone" width="300"]
Wet flip-flops and steep streets flowing with water make for precarious walking![/caption]
[caption id="attachment_4028" align="alignnone" width="225"]
No washing machine? No problem. Wash your clothes in the lake![/caption]
[caption id="attachment_4027" align="alignnone" width="225"]
With no outlet for the water to escape to, many people have lost their homes in the past 5 years as the water level rises.[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_4022" align="alignnone" width="225"]
Me with the view from the balcony outside my room[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_4026" align="alignnone" width="225"]
Magda at the entrance to the main level of the house[/caption]
Magda was thrilled when her friend "Filipe" came back!
[caption id="attachment_4018" align="alignnone" width="300"]
Little and large[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_4029" align="alignnone" width="300"]
Filipe eats children for breakfast[/caption]
My schooling finished on Friday morning. I am really glad that I finally had some proper lessons, and learnt to change all the things I'd been doing wrong. I only learnt verbs in the present tense though, so need some more lessons soon to learn to speak about the past and future! I can hold a conversation in Spanish now, which is a big step forward, although the person I am speaking with needs to be very patient.
After school ended Phil and I took a boat to Panajachel. Pana is the biggest town on the lake, and was where Erik and Tanya were staying. We had a nice visit with them, Tanya apologised for hitting me the previous weekend, and we walked around town a bit. It was much more touristy, and expensive, then San Pedro. We were glad that we had chosen the smaller village for our school.
[caption id="attachment_4088" align="alignnone" width="300"]
A volcano poking out in the distance[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_4045" align="alignnone" width="300"]
Visiting Erik and Tanya in their very nice rented house.[/caption]
We spent one last Friday night out on the town with Alex.
Saturday came, and we packed up our bikes. The past month had been a real rollercoaster for me, and I found being part of a Guatemalan family very cathartic.
It was sad to leave, but it was time.
[caption id="attachment_4046" align="alignnone" width="300"]
Lola tied bracelets onto my and Phil's wrists to say goodbye[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_4036" align="alignnone" width="300"]
Lola and Magda in the yard[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_4031" align="alignnone" width="300"]
Lolita came to watch us pack the bikes in the street[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_4032" align="alignnone" width="300"]
There were some lovely views on the road up away from the lake[/caption]