The 5th installment of the emails sent home, chronicling the time I hitchhiked, jumped freight trains, and rode with strangers down to Guatemala from my hometown of Stratford, Ontario. In the last episode I had made it to Mexico, pooped my pants in a hostel bed, aaaaaand…a bunch of other stuff happened, none as sensational as the pooping unfortunately, but most of it is interesting.
It’s been interesting for me to revisit these writings, and to have a bit of a window into a younger self. Sometimes I wonder why I am the way I am, and why I have these “strange” ideas about how things should be. Rereading these journals after some time has passed has helped me remember that I didn’t just come up with these thoughts and ideas randomly, they are based off of lived experience, and interactions with people far outside of my home bubble.
Anyways, here’s some more stories.
Dec 24th 09
Hola mi famila y amigos! I made it to Xela (shayla) Guatemala, after a long, strange 2 day bus ride from Guadalajara. (I didn’t pronounce Xela correctly until I got there, I was calling it Ex-ela, like a dum-dum) Crossed the border with an older German fellow who I think was running from either his wife or the law in Mexico, he spoke espanol so it made everything easier. The first thing I noticed about Guatemala was that when people try to sell you things and you say no thanks, they still smile at you. That was my first introduction to the incredibly nice people of this country. We rode a school bus painted funky colours called a chicken bus, probably because it’s likely that´s who you´ll share your seat with. Parted with the german fella at a wildly hectic bus station and continued on my own (1), helped a bunch of dudes carry sacks of potatos to the rack on top the bus (50lbs sacks, like we did on the farm, except these guys carried them on their shoulders/heads and climbed a ladder). Sat right through my stop, (probably thinking about what I had just seen at the bus station), got to the next town and got on a bus going back, made it to Xela, and all I had was an address written on my hand 3 days ago that had half sweated off and no idea where I was in relation to where I wanted to be. This was my second experience with the people of Guatemala, every person I asked for directions was friendly and at least pointed me in the direction I was to go, 2 hours later, covered in sweat, I arrived and was immediately hooked up with my host family. It´s part of the program that I stay with a family here and eat my meals with them, and I have my own room with a desk and a tin roof that makes a lot of noise when it rains. The house mothers name is Alicia and she made me dinner right away, scrambled eggs, which I stuff in tortillas and smother in salsa. The food has been great everyday, cereal and fresh fruit for breakfast, bananas, papaya, and apples, which come from Washington state (The food system is so f’ed). The tortillas are the real deal down here, small and thick, made from corn by a woman with a wood fired grill in an alley, she’ll sell you 15 of them in shopping bag for 10Q, which is about $1.30. Lots of beans, great cheese, the lettuce is grown locally but unfortunately right beside the road, so it`s subjected to terrible amounts of exhaust and pollution (funny story about that lettuce, which involves food poisoning and vomit and poop on Christmas day, but we’ll save that for another time). There is a lot of garbage lying around down here, and people driving 2 stroke engines, so the air gets thick.
The school that I´m attending has been around for 30 years or so, teaching travellers and students spanish by immersion, they do a lot of work within the community as well. So far I´ve been out in the countryside transplanting pine tree seedlings with a 60 year old indigenous woman who laughed kindheartedly at my poor spanish and pale skin for most of the morning, there were 4 of us, 3 students and her and we worked well together and got a bunch done, I was pumped to be working with dirt again, and she was pumped to tell us about the countryside. Of course I hardly understood anything, which made her explode with mirth. (This lady was super spry, jumping off ledges and skipping about, I remember how pleased she was to tell us she was 60 years old)
I´m finding it difficult to learn another language, and now realize that my english is very poor as well, basically I know very little about grammar (this is still true). It´s coming along though, and I can communicate very basic thoughts, like I´m hungry, I´m full, how much is that, stop doing that, keep doing that, etc. There are a lot of subtle differences down here, and I´ve made a few mistakes. Little things involving accents and emphasis, like papá and mamá mean father and mother, while papa and mama mean potato and breast, stuff like that. In my first week I told my teacher I was horny, my potato lives by a river, I want to have intercourse with a pig all the way to the capital and I told a woman her breasts make great dinner. It seems like a very sexual language, that or the people here all have dirty minds. Ask for a spoon in a restaurant and someone will snicker.
Dogs, everywhere. I love it. Most live on the street and have certain turfs, like the downtown dogs stay downtown, the dogs near my place don´t usually travel far, and can usually be seen sleeping in the same spots night after night. I´ve befriended a few, right now I´m working on this 3 legged chow with dreadlocks that sleeps by the soccer field, it is the funniest looking dog I´ve ever seen, I´m going to try and get a picture because I can never describe it properly. I laugh out loud every time I see this dog, and will go out of my way to walk through it´s neighbourhood. (I went to great lengths to befriend this dog, I even went and bought a box of dog biscuits, which was not easy and led me to a shady part of the market in a strange shop with a scary shopkeeper who thought I was insane buying food for street dogs. The box of dog biscuits was so old, and I never made a breakthrough with the chow, but other dogs and I became fast friends)
Went to a coffee plantation with the school and the first thing I saw was 10 guys in a field with machetes and handkerchiefs around their faces, using their giant knives to cut the glass down low, for a soccer game that was to be played there in a few hours. They turned out to be great guys and showed me around, even though we didn’t speak the same language we still shared the love of the harvest and it was easy to communicate. (This was one of the most illuminating days of this adventure. These people work and live on his coffee plantation, the owners are italian and are almost never there. They rarely leave the plantation, and buy most things from the company store. They considered this a good farm to work on due to the fact that the owners were pretty hands-off, and there was a decent amount of job security. There is nothing like hanging out with the other labourers and producers around the world. No war but the class war). Also visited a hot springs and soaked my bones. It was a great feeling. I´m glad I came.
That´s all I´m going to write today because I think the guy wants me out of his garage.
(1) I didn’t want to write this up there and destroy the weak flow that story had going for it, but I saw a guy get backed over by a bus about 5 feet in front of me at this bus station, folding him in half and crushing him. I’ll spare you the gory details, but it gave me nightmares for a long time.
Sometimes these adventures are all fun and games, and exploration and discovery. And sometimes some very real shit would happen, and you just have to find a way to understand what you just experienced, and hopefully not bury a piece of it and have it fester.