Chicken buses, food poisoning, and almost killing a guy lay ahead…
Well after two weeks down here, the newness of Antigua has officially worn off and – probably too much – I fashion myself a local. The tourists have started to annoy me – ugh, Americans… – and in my head I know where everything is. Which isn’t true. I got lost late last night. But it was raining. And the rum kept on telling me to go the wrong way. I guess what I’m trying to say is it wasn’t my fault and stop looking at me like that.
The highlight of the week was that on Tuesday the other four members of my “team” that will be joining me in Honduras arrived. I went with the language school to pick them up from the airport in Guatemala City. They’re all great. Arrived every bit as wide-eyed, excited, nervous, and overwhelmed as I did. There’s Curtis and Noelle, married and from Connecticut and Milwaukee respectively. Then there’s Tiffany, who just graduated with a major in Spanish from Florida State. And then Natalie, also from Florida, and our nurse and resident hahayeahthatcouldreallymakeyousickologist. It is great to finally have them down here and start getting to know each other.
The low point of the week was getting incredibly sick last Sunday. Food poisoning I believe they call it. I call it everything on my insides wanting to be on the outside. I only had one thing to eat that day, and it was just a sandwich from an Irish pub – I know right? – not street food. So go figure. It did have tomato on it which could have done it if not washed properly, but really, no one knows. When I showed up to class still feeling miserably on Monday, my Spanish teacher, Lety, just shook her head at me and said, Es el problema de los turistas. Siempre se enferman de la segunda semana. Pobresito here was getting no sympathy from Lety, that’s for sure. It took a couple days to stop feeling queasy and get my appetite back, but I’m almost fully recovered now. Anyways, not sure if montezuma was involved, but something had it’s revenge.
This past Thursday ended up being a real fun day as it was the Feast of the Assumption. When we got to class, our teachers suggested skipping official lessons and going to the local pueblo – small town – of Jocotenango as it was their patron’s feast. We immediately agreed and walked across the city to the local bus station to catch a chicken bus. Now a chicken bus, similar to a tuc-tuc, is a fantastic, local, slightly dangerous, experience. Most American yellow school buses, once a school district deems them too unsafe for children to ride, get their second lives down here. It’s like the Island of Misfit Toys… for buses. They get a new – dare I say pimpin? – extremely colorful paint job and get absolutely chromed the hell out. Running routes all over the country, they are great for both a cheap ride and easy robbery depending on your persuasion. Packed in like sardines and laughing with some Mayan woman who’s spilling half into your lap, though, it’s hard to remember the dangers that lay all around you. I’ve seen men jump on and off the buses while still very much moving and in the busier cities during rush hour it’s not at all bizarre to see a dozen men hanging onto the back on the outside because there was no room on the inside. For a couple quetzales, the driver and his assistant that takes money are happy to have you aboard. Also, remember that unbelievably loud and annoying buzzer that was the safety alarm on that emergency exit in the back of a regular school bus? Yeah, haha, it definitely doesn’t do that down here. Meet regular door number two.
When we arrived in Jocotenango, the Mass was already underway and packed in the little local church with the bishop celebrating. We joined in outside, a loudspeaker pumping out garbled versions of the readings. When the Mass ended, a Eucharistic procession made it’s way slowly out the doors and began to wind through the pueblo. It was one of the moments I really wish I had brought my camera because the scene was deeply moving and impressive to behold. All along the route was a wide alformbra – carpet – of flowers and palm leaves. The candles, the incense, the old women and young children and professional men alike all kneeling and following the procession, it was fantastic.
One thing that is a constant all over the area, is the habit of shooting off fireworks for any major event. Okay fireworks is a bit of a stretch. They’re more like home-made mortars that explode in the air instead of somewhere else in town. And maybe major event is a bit of a stretch too. Any excuse for the men to shoot them off, believe me, they will. A parade for the anniversary of a local school, the beginning of Mass, the consecration during Mass, the end of Mass, Wednesday… any of it is game. The especially funny thing is that no one seems to like them. They really are more explosions than fireworks so everyone jumps every. single. time. they go off. The women all roll their eyes while the men gleefully load another mortar and car alarms within three city blocks all start going off. But hey, why not?
As I’ve said previously, at least half of my four hour a day Spanish lesson is just talking one on one with my teacher. Here is an example of an average conversation, and Lety’s wonderful sassiness.
[After learning the verb to bother: molestar]
Me: [grinning] do I bother you?
Lety: Interpret my silence.
Me: [laughs nervously]
Lety: No, it’s the adolescents that bother me. They all think they are Justeen Beeeber or Hahnah Mahntaaahna.
Oh, so I almost killed a guy yesterday! Okay, maybe I should explain.
I was going to meet up with some friends from school for drinks as it was Nicholas’ last day in town before heading back to Montreal. It was absolutely pouring down rain as it is winter here – don’t ask me how that works north of the equator – and winter means rain every afternoon and evening. Anyways, I was walking along and coming to a busy intersection in front of me a guy and girl were trying desperately to cross. The guy was attempting to make eye contact with various drivers, hesitantly stepping out when cars came to a rolling stop and then scuttling back to the sidewalk when they kept going, stepping out, then falling back again. When I arrived next to them he frustratingly yelled to the girl next to him in English, “how the hell do you cross a street in this town!?” I laughed and said, “you’ve basically just got to walk out there and they’ll go around you without a problem. I showed them how and we introduced ourselves as we walked the next block. They were both from Belgium, and he was down here visiting his girlfriend who had been studying here for the past two weeks. We both happened to be headed to the same bar so I fell into step with them and was explaining how great Texas is to his girlfriend when the guy walked confidently out into the next intersection and the fast-moving oncoming traffic had to slam on breaks and swerve and honk and cuss immediately at him. In the middle of the rain-soaked street he spun around and just glared at me. I was too shocked to even know what to say. “YOU SAID TO JUST WALK OUT AND THEY’LL GO AROUND!” He bellowed. “I meant if you’re both stopped and hesitating about who should go!” I offered meekly, not sure if I should run up and shake his hand or turn around and walk in the other direction. His girlfriend just started laughing and called him an idiot and pushed us both through the intersection and on to the bar.
Saturday afternoon Curtis, Noelle, Natalie, Tiffany and I hiked up Cerro de la Cruz, a local hill that overlooks the city. It was a warm and perfectly clear day. The trail going up, while paved and well lit, is rather notorious for robbery, but we made sure to go up during the couple hours each day when the police station guards throughout the hike. That’s one interesting thing about the city that I’m not quite sure how I feel about yet. The city officials have basically told the various crime syndicates that they will have no patience for anyone who tries to rob or kidnap or in any serious way bother white tourists. They simply don’t want the international attention and hit to the local economy that it would inevitably bring. So while I appreciate the added protection and confidence, it feels horribly wrong knowing that I’m getting much different and better treatment just because of the color of my skin and where it can be assumed I come from. It’s not a problem I can fix, but it certainly doesn’t sit right that it is there, either.
But when we made it to the top of the hill, the view wiped all that from my mind. The city looked stunning in the afternoon sun. The Volcán de Agua dominating the background reminded me just how much the whole town was surrounded by volcanoes and steep hills. El Volcán de Fuego – aptly named – was fuming off in the distance, billowing smoke and gas that was quickly being swept off by the wind away from us.
People come and go a lot here in the city of Antigua, visiting for a weekend, studying a couple of weeks and then moving on. It all begins to feel so very rhythmical, meet new friends, older friends leave; morning sun, afternoon rain; class, study, explore, eat. It’s a good life, but already I’m looking forward to the “steadiness” of life at the orphanage in Honduras. About six more weeks to go, but hopefully it’ll come along soon enough. I love learning and exploring, but I’m getting anxious to start giving too. But I’m sure a few more adventures are around the corner first!
Lot’s more pictures on Flickr here if you’re interested.