Thursday, 25 August 2011

A Week In the Life

It's a times like this when I am quite glad of the fact that my mother does not read my blog. In fact she may not even be aware of it's existence. For starters she would probably berate for abhorent blog keeping, but then again, I said from the start that I wasn't very good at this.

The challenge seems all too much like a distant memory these days. It was an epic few days, where we battled tropical storms, paddled until it felt like our arms were going to fall off, but where we also managed to float along beside our boats for a couple of hours, and enjoyed a few well deserved end-of-a-hard-day bevies. I have a post about the Kayak challenge waiting to be posted, I just need to finish writing it...

In other news, this evening I finally did something I have been meaning to do for the last five months or so. Close to my house is one of the poshest hotels in Antigua, and every Thursday night they play host to a living legend, Iganicio Borell of the Buena Vista Social Club.

Before I moved to Guatemala I knew very little about Latin American Culture, but I had (thanks to some univeristy firends) heard of the BVSC. Now strictly speaking old Ignacio is not Guatemalan at all, he's from Havana, but for a long time now Antigua has been his home.  It was fantastic to sit and soak up the atmosphere, sadly you can't just sit and soak it up when you're watching somone play in a restaurtant, and the evening came at an epic price by Guatemalan standards. Unless I can find somewhere slightly more budget friendly to see him play in the future it will have to to be a (very) iregular treat.

In contrast last Thursday was a pretty crazy night here in Antigua. Most of the time we live in a bit of a bubble. Last week that bubble burst, and in a brutal spate of attacks 7 people were stabbed and injured on the streets of the town. What I have found hardest to handle has been the epic under-reporting of these incidents. Luckily no one was killed, and admitedly my Spanish is still not quite up to Newspaper standards, but the reporting of the incidents was sparse at best, verging on non-existence. In fact the only mention of it on the web was from a CNN Iwitness report, and some quite incoherent ramblings by a fellow expat, who spends a lot os his time in local drinking establishments staring at the bottom of his glass and slowly overfilling his ash tray.

The more I learn about this country, the more hilarious I find it's resident expats. The Thorn Tree Travel Forum is a prime example of this. I occasionally venture into when something like this happens, or when I'm looking for a hotel to stay in... I'd never actually become a member though as it seems that the entire population of people who frequent these 'boards' live in some kind of crazy alternate reality to me. They live in one of the most beautiful cities on the continent, seemingly have a LOT of spare time and disposable income, and yet all they can do is snipe, at each other! I have images of bearded older men nursing their ilegal mescal whilst typing ferociously into their macbook pros, whilst an enitre community carries on underneath their noses...

Sunday, 26 June 2011

For those of you who have just joined us...

It's three weeks today until I start a six day Kayak challenge here in Guatemala to raise money for local community and education projects.

If you have virtually wandered over here as a result of my Facebook message, then thanks for taking the time to look further into this, and hopefully many thanks for your kind donation to my fundraising efforts.

Usually my posts are witty at best, pretentious at worst. Today, I'm going to have to be serious for a moment.

This is Maria Angelica. She's seven years old and goes to the GVI school in Santa Maria de Jesus, about half an hour outside of Antigua where I live. Every Thursday morning I get 'realeased' from my duties in our office in town and go up to School. I work mainly with Maria Angelica as, although she's a complete character and great fun, she does struggle with basic literacy and numeracy. As well as free schooling, Maria Angelica recently had clean burning stove installed in her house as a result of GVI volunteer contributions.

These are the kinds of things that the money raised from challenges (like the one I'm doing) go towards. Yes if you check back you will get to undoubtedly see pictures of me in a silly hat looking knackered in the rain, but you will also be able to put faces to the donation that you have made.

Wish me luck! 

Monday, 20 June 2011

It never rains but it pours...

So, this time in four weeks I will be on the water! And doesn't it look like a long way?!

I'm still not fully sure what is involved in this here Kayak challenge, but I do know that we are going to be kayaking 70kms, pretty much solidly for 4 days. At first when I was told we were going to have 'floating luches' it sounded like some blissful idle; I think I had wind in the willows esque images in my head, of boaters and champagne flutes. The reality I feel, will be something alltogether different!


The challenge is looming, and I have decided it's time to up the ante from lunch-time laps  in the pool to some full on gym action.

Gyms in Antigua are something of an experience. On one of my first trips I went with my housemate Sophie to a spinning class. We got there witha  good twenty minutes to spare before the start of the class, however, to our amazement we found that they had all already been reserved! It seems that the desire to cycle so hard and for so long that it feels like your legs are going to fall off, without ever going anywhere is way more popular than we had guessed it would be!

I've recently migrated from what we jokingly call the poor mans gym, to the 'gringo' gym. Why? Because it's closer to my house. Hypocritical? Me? Never...

Amongst the characters at this gym are the portly instructor who spends the vast majority of his time at a pace no faster than a waddle, barking intstuctions to a group of red-faced bemused followers. There is also the woman who wanders around wearing a top that could be described as minimalist to say the least. It's suprising that more dumbells haven't been dropped on feet as she strolls past the free weights section of the gym, boobs out, hair up and a full on face of make-up. She occasionally puts down her caffeinated energy drink long enough to do lunges across the middle of the room!

I suppose I can't really talk though, the most energetic thing I have done today is write a blog post about going to the gym, and listened to wimbledon on the radio....

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Further Afield - Part 1

I was doing a bit a clearing up earlier and came across a piece of paper torn out of my Spanish notebook (naturally) with some almost illegible scribblings on it. They were hastily written and full of the self indulgent waffle of a pendant, but hey, if a blog is not the place for that kind of thing then where is?

A few weeks back, when my fellow Britons were re-discovering their patriotism, or making use of the back to back bank holidays to take a couple of weeks holiday in the Med, I too went on a little jaunt.

The aforementioned ramblings had been scrawled as I sat in the communal area of a backpacker's hostel in Flores, in the Peten region of Northern Guatemala (it was before the beheadings).

And the reason I was in a backpackers in Flores? I'd spent too much money at the ruins of Tikal the previous day! Who've thought it, spending too much money in a 'lost' city...

"I feel like I've stayed at this place before. There's something about the plethora of bamboo, mismatched furniture, and untamed pot plants that strikes a chord with me. Even the beds seem to have been bought from the same supplier as many a backpackers on many a continent. I wonder if somewhere there is a giant warehouse that stocks the furniture needed for these kinds of places. Row upon row of sturdy wooden bunkbeds with lumpy mattresses and pillows no thicker than a Graham Greene novel (I had one, I checked).

The people are the same too, I sometimes feel that they may be like rats in a neverending maze. The haristyles change (slightly) but essentially they seem doomed for all enternity to all follow the well trodden trail, from one  must-see destination to another.

The girls (for they are most definitely girls and not women) fall into two distinct groups, characterised by their uniforms. You have the floaty dresses / big hats brigade, who periodically circulate between hammock, bar, and roof top terrace. They are almost always holding a copy of the latest bestseller in one hand, and a vodka soda in the other.

The second group prefer to see themselves as more worldy, less image conscious, they're not. They swap the dresses for Shorts and sturdy walking sandles, the bestseller for the biography of Castro or Guevara and the soda for the beer, but they are still desperately trying to convey a message, usually to themselves more than the rest of the world, because the rest of the world has seen it all before.

The boys are slightly more difficult to categorise, favouring open shirts, a lot of facial hair and too many tattoos that they got done at some 'great little out of the way place' called Koh Pahngan...

And they all smoke. A lot. They smoke like it's the 1950's and cigarettes haven't had cancer put in them yet. They smoke and flirt and drink Latin American beer straight from the glass bottles which have aided and abbetted thousands of tourists and locals on the road to oblivion.

The sound track diverges little from India to Guatemala via New Zealand and South Africa. Jack Johnson, oh that mediocre troubador of the Backpacking masses!

One thing that has changed over the years is the explosion in personal gadgets. These penny concscious traveller types (who will quibble over a 50p taxi fair outside the confines of the gated gringo community) will happily sit with one hand on a laptop, the other on a smart phone, whilst they upload their pictures and listen to a podcast of the latest edition of the adam and joe show." 

It seems not even sunsets, palm trees, cheap booze and Mayan ruins can tear these people away from their virtual world. During the course of my stay I overheard an Australian woman retreat from conversation with the wider group because she was 'way behind' in updating her blog, it's probably why it's taken me over a month to write this up on my own blog...

As a qualifier, I do love backpackers (Well except perhaps that one in Palmerston North... ;o) ). They have provided me with a job, and some life long friends and some truly unforgetable memories. And I hope that they continue to thrive and grow, and provide a whole new generation with life experiences. As someone who was passing through for a night, I  was glad I spent my evening observing this inimitable section of society rather than be stuck in a hotel room on my own watching re-runs of an out of date American sitcom.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Hitting the three month mark

This was going to be a nice blog full of pictures, sadly, Blogger is not playing ball, so you will get my ramblings instead.

We've just got back from spending a weekend at Lake Atitlán. On the surface of things it was lovely to get away from the 'city' for a weekend, meet some new people and take a walk in the hills.
I can never quite switch off though... Like so many tourist places on different continents it is a place of stark contrasts. Hotels sprawl along the waterfront charging hundreds of dollars a night to tourists who want to get 'back to nature' whilst enjoying a five course gourmet dinner and silk sheets in their ensuite bedroom.
A hundred metres or so up the hill there will often be a village, a settlement developed after years of observing the variation in water levels year in and year out, rather than the inate desire to have a private dock directly from the French doors of your apartment.
And somewhere above the village there is a rubbish dump. A big ass ticking time bomb rubbish dump. A mass of the detiretus of two communities consuming with little thought of the consequences. Each community feeds the other, in a manner of speaking, their lives are so different, yet the result is the same.
I'm starting to sound a bit like a nutter aren't I? Don't get me wrong, I can hardly talk. My credentials are probably not that green, and I'm sure I played my small part in damaging the environment as much as the next person. And there are people who are trying to solve these problems, people like the Friends of Lake Atitlan
The lake is a stunningly beautiful destination, unlike anything I have ever seen, somehow I just hate to think that my experiencing it will go some small way to it's demise. Here-in lies the crux of the issue of being a perenial traveller I guess, we get to experience so many wonderful sights and sounds, but how far does the ripple effect go?

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Both Sides of the Story

Today police raided several locations in the north of the country. They were looking for suspects in a case relating to the massacre and beheading of 27 people last week.

What did I do? Well I went to work, chatted with friends and colleagues over coffee, and went to an aerobics class. Not exactly what you would call living life in a danger zone is it?

Obviously it's not all sunshine and roses here in Antigua, (about 10 hours drive south of the Peten region where the violence is occuring) but it does seem like a world away from drug cartels and mass murder. We don't tend to go out alone at night, or carry anything of value on our persons, but I don't often feel like I am living in a dangerous place.

                                  The Catalan Shepheard takes a break

Another thing that I'm learning about living here is how to deal with the constant ebb and flow of people. I live and work with my colleagues, in a gated condominum. The fact that my spanish is still pretty atrocious, it's not safe to go out alone at night, and I'm not exactly rolling in dinero means that you form very close friendships very quickly.

Things change though, and as I find myself settling into the routine of living here, it seems that a lot of my colleagues are debating their next move. Life here at number 9 is significantly quieter without our resident Catalan songstress Eli, but she is moving on to bigger things and endless African sunsets.

I couldn't resist, an actual African Sunset, Chobe National Park, Botswana. (Not quite Ghana though)

Friday, 22 April 2011

Scenes of Semana Santa

I don't really have the words right now to sum up the last 25 hours. Easter is a BIG deal in Guatemala, and in Antigua especially. Thousands upon thousands of people have converged on our little town. The term 'Eat, drink and be merry' is not necessarily the first one which springs to mind, but it has certainly been an experience.

Here a few photos from Today and last night

One of the many floats, they weigh a ton (or two) and are carried for hours on the shoulders of the devout

Part of an Alfombra (carpet) made from sawdust, and trampled by the floats!

It's all about the Big JC

I don't really know what crocodiles made out of bread have to do with Easter...

But hey, it's an excuse to wear a big ass hat...

... and pose for cheesy photos...

They finished this one seconds before the procession hit, I won't show the 'after' picture, too upsetting!

cucuruchos (or pilgrims) follow alngside the floats

Some take it more seriusly...                                                       

... and some not so seriously...