Sunday, January 29, 2012

Last week in Guatemala!

Wow. I know I keep on saying this but I cannot believe our time is at an end here!

So, our last week we were able to do one more big thing like we had hoped! Julio (Luis's grandfather) took us to Quetzaltenango (Ket-sal-teh-naan-go)! It is on the western side of Guatemala and took us 4 hours to get there.

We went for two days and had to get up at 4 in the morning because that's when Julio wanted to leave. Another uncle of Luis's went with us, Julio's nephew and Luis's aunt Julita. His name was Max, it was a little weird calling him Max and hearing the name for those two days, kept on thinking of my dog Max!

Well, we left bright and early... actually it wasn't bright, it was very dark. I don't know why people say that because when it's early it's usually dark, not bright. I know I'm rambling. Back to the point!

Julio drove there and... well... let's just say I didn't think I was going to survive. My whole life I've never gotten carsick. I can go on car rides and read a book, watch a movie, do whatever, and I have NEVER gotten sick. I was sick on this car ride. While I didn't actually throw up, I was nauseous the whole ride and clinging to the back seat with all my strength. Once the ride was over, Luis had to pry my hands off of the seat! I was not only nauseous but sore from clenching my body the entire trip.

Julio is 81 years old, and I should say for his age he is one of the better drivers but he is still 81. His driving lacks quick reflexes and there is no medium. He is either driving extremely slow or extremely fast, he slams on his breaks seemingly for no reason, he either ignores pot holes and speed bumps and we hit our heads on the ceiling of the car, or he swerves none to gently to avoid them and we get slammed into the sides of the car. This drive to Quetzaltenango had serious speed bumps, potholes, and curves. We were driving up and down mountains and through canyons. The ride would not have been an easy one no matter who was driving but not just anyone was driving it.

After our harrowing drive through the mountains we ended up first in Huehuetenango (whey-whey-teh-naan-go). Huehuetenango is 6,237 feet above sea level so it is actually one of the colder places in Guatemala.

*Side note: I am forever amazed at the different terrain in Guatemala, there are beaches, mountains, plains, cold weather, warm weather, jungle, and so much more. And it's all within the size of New England!

We got there and checked in to our hotel, a very large bedroom with two beds and Luis and I paid 200 Quetzales which with the conversion rate (8 Quetzales=1 U.S. dollar) would be 25.00 U.S. dollars! Never would you find such a cheap price for such an amazing room!

After checking in we ate lunch, I had plain pasta noodles with a little butter (my stomach was still queasy from the drive) and Luis had a yummy looking club sandwich. Simple things you could get anywhere in the U.S. almost always tend to taste better here! After lunch we made our way to a set of ruins called Zaculeu (sa-coo-lei-oo). We got lost several times along the way but Julio and Max were not afraid to stop and ask for directions. I've actually noticed that most men here aren't afraid to stop and ask for directions when they're lost, hmm... So we get pointed in the right direction and all of a sudden, BAM! There they are! Right smack dab in the middle of the city. 

Not at all like Tikal where you have to drive an hour from the closest town and then walk even longer than that to get to the pyramids.

We park and I get told again to not speak English so we can get the native rate. 5 Quetzales for natives and 50 Quetzales for foreigners! 50 quetzales is only $6 but the difference amazed me! So much more expensive for foreigners, good thing we have Luis's family to play hardball and pass me (white skinned, green eyes, & red hair) as a native! Hahahaha...

The person was stuffed in there!
You could see their broken bones.
We first walk around the mini museum, where I took one picture and was promptly told "No fotos por favor". Apparently pictures were only allowed outside of the ruins which was a bummer because there were old conch shells, pots, jewelry, and even a skeleton of a girl in a large urn! Luis actually snuck a picture of her, not a great one but here it is!

Here is the one picture I got inside the museum, I wasn't even taking pictures of the artifacts! I was taking a picture of a picture...

A picture of the Zaculeu Ruins, don't mind the flash... I didn't
get a chance to take the photo again!

After the museum Luis and I had fun walking around the small area of ruins, taking pictures, and pretending to sacrifice me on the Temple of Sacrifices. Before showing you the pictures we'll do the history lesson! Zaculeu literally means White Earth. These pyramids are much younger than the ones in Tikal and believe it or not are not as nice as the ones in Tikal! It's almost like the technology that was used to build the Tikal pyramids was lost by this point. You can tell by the curved edges of the pyramids. They did not withstand the time very well, whereas the Jaguar Temple in Tikal to this day has perfectly straight edges! Zaculeu was mostly a place of religious ceremonies. There is the ball court where the winner used to be sacrificed and a very large temple for sacrifices. I'm not exactly sure of the timeline but these pyramids were definitely built after the ones in Tikal. Zaculeu actually had some strong connections to Kaminal Juyu (the ruins here in Guatemala City) and trade was frequent between the two cities. The Spanish came in the 1500's and conquered Zaculeu and built a town a few miles away leaving Zaculeu to rot.

Finally the pictures...

                       Luis finding a Blue Man group moment.      The court of the ball game!

Look at the bottom most step. Can you see the slant? Guess they weren't
lucky enough to have the right technology!

Look closely on the top! There we are!
I don't want to be a sacrifice!!!
PLEASE! Not a sacrifice! 
Enjoying the warm weather and the ancient ruins.
Luis, Julio, Max, and Julita.

After the ruins we went back to the hotel. I was emotionally and physically exhausted from getting up early and the drive there so it was only natural to take a nap. Once refreshed we walked around the town of Huehuetenango. The feel was calm and very similar to the little island of Flores (near Tikal). While walking around the market everyone either had a small portable TV or radio and everything, I mean EVERYTHING, was tuned to a soccer game. The only thing on TV was covering the soccer game! And it was a good one :). After that we all went back to the hotel and crashed for the night.

The next day we spent in the clouds... literally! We drove 5,000 feet up a mountain to get to an overlook. We were 11,675 feet above sea level! There was a mini replica of Zaculeu and a gorgeous view of Huehuetenango and farther. As we were up there we were level with the clouds and two or three clouds went right through us, enveloping us in white mist. When you're up that high you can tell how fast the clouds move. Once inside what seemed to be a large cloud, it passed by us within 1 or 2 minutes! If you stared only at the clouds you felt like you were flying, a pretty amazing feeling!

           Our Day in the Clouds!

Can you see all the roads? All the switchbacks we had to climb to get 11,000 feet above sea level!

                                                      Making our mark in Guatemala!

                            Remember the blue sky in the          On top of the replica pyramid..
                            other pictures? This is us in                        Do as we say!
                            a cloud!

After driving down the mountain we stopped in a little town called Chantla. Chantla is famous for a silver Virgin Mary, so we stopped at the Catholic church it was in and while there we got to listen to an indigenous women say her prayers in a native language! It was so different than spanish. It sounded more like an African language, very choppy, clicky, but fluid.

Right outside the catholic church was a market full of food so we walked around that for a little bit. Luis and I bought this coconut candy that I decided is my favorite typical Guatemalan candy. Yum!

 Then after Chantla LUIS took over driving. Yay!! Luis got to drive in Guatemala and I got to have a nice drive to Quetzaltenango! We drove to visit the new Mormon Temple there and it was very beautiful! We didn't spend any time there but it was very cool to see it. It was built on top a huge hill that overlooks the whole city of Quetzaltenango. Quetzaltenango is actually the second biggest city in Guatemala and is very similar to Guatemala City. Beautiful and crowded!

Julio had to make it home for a meeting so we ended up leaving shortly after that. Julio drove until it got dark, we stopped for dinner in Tec'pan (near the Iximche ruins), and Luis took over driving again. Pat on the back for Luis, he drove all the way into Guatemala City (where the driving is the worst!) and did great!

On Saturday we ate dinner with Luis's Cousin Velvet and her family. We played Rockband with her son for a while and then Luis's Aunt and great grandma Graciela and another cousin (Moi) came over for a small dinner. We had fun talking and laughing (most of them there spoke English!). Luis's great grandma still talks to me in Spanish but usually someone just translates and I pretend I understand her in the moment.

I have to tell you about Luis's great grandma, she is an amazing woman! She is 98 years old, had 13 children, and 71 grandchildren and great grandchildren. She was married for 58 years and her husband passed away many, many years ago. The wrinkles on her face are around her eyes and mouth proving she has laughed and loved through life. She still laughs nonstop, dances, and tells outrageous jokes and lies. She is the most spry 98 year old I have ever met and I hope to have her joy of life and be just like her when I'm 98 years old!

What a great way to close our time here in Guatemala! So many places we didn't get to go to but that means we just HAVE to come back!!!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Week 7!!

Can you believe we've been here almost 2 months? We can't!

This week was fun. We did a few things that we (especially me) really enjoyed!

Sunday January 15th... Went to church and went to Antigua and Applebee's with Rosie and her husband Ricardo.

Tuesday January 17th... Got to go back to the Mormon Temple.

Wednesday January 18th... Went to the BEACH!!! A beach with black sand! The water was ridiculously warm. If you are from New England, you know the water will always be cold no matter what time of year it is. So for a New Englander to set their feet in bath water warm ocean is unbelievable! After 5 minutes you can still feel your feet!

Puerto de San Jose (Port of San Jose)

"I'm in the water and I'm not cold!" -Luis Mendizabal


What black sand looks like on your feet. They kinda look like hobbit feet!

Where we ate lunch, right on the beach.

Little kids selling gum and candy.

A guy selling fish he JUST caught from the ocean!

Recharging my batteries.

There is something about a beach. It just makes me so happy!

After the beach we went to a club house pool. But on our way there we stopped at an area where Luis's family owns some land! I said lets move here and build our dream home... so close to the beach and always perfect weather. I think I could live with that :)

An unassuming piece of land but Luis's family owns it!

The entrance to where their land is.

Very cool places. I love that in Guatemala you can drive one hour and find a completely different climate. We left Guatemala City in the morning and it was cloudy and 60 degrees. When we got to the beach it was sunny and 80 degrees! From mountains to ocean views, Guatemala has been gorgeous wherever we've gone. Here's the club house where we went!

So happy!

The mini waterfall at the pool.

Thursday January 18th... Nothing exciting to report. We can tell our time in Guatemala is winding down.

Friday January 19th... Julio took pity on us doing nothing so took us to a Natural History Museum. It was cool, although I wish Luis had translated more. A place that had several stuffed animals, like the Natural History Museum in Washington D.C. They also had a small pond with one real live turtle and a butterfly exhibit. You could see the different stages of the butterfly from caterpillar to cocoon to mariposa (butterfly)! We weren't allowed to take pictures.. what is it with cool museums not allowing pictures? But we took some with our phones, there were some HUGE bugs we just had to show people!

                                     The butterfly room.              This caterpillar went at this leaf and finished
                                                                                           it while we watched!

                             That bug was the size of Luis's hand!    Cool shot of Luis getting a picture.

A stuffed (or fake) Quetzal. The national bird of Guatemala.

Saturday January 20th... Went to a park to celebrate one of Luis's Cousin's birthday. Happy birthday Pablo!

From left in back, Andrea, Pablo, Luis, Me, Ana, David, and Juan Carlos.
From left in front, Ana Sofia, Velvet, and Moi.
Luis is related to all of them except Andrea (Pablo's girlfriend), and Ana (David's new wife).

Our final week in Guatemala has arrived. I don't know how I feel about that. Hopefully we'll get to do one more cool thing, but I have to thank all of Luis's family for making our trip so amazing! I know we will spend the last few days saying goodbye to everyone and that is more important! Who knew we would love it here so much!