Since I know some of you haven't been able to follow my adventures via my facebook page, here's a little recap of the first 9 days of my trip (with photos)!.
Day 1 - The good, the bad and the painful
So the day started out with me getting to the airport 55 minutes before my flight. Yeah, not the best idea, but I was able to sweet talk my way to the front of the baggage and security lines and I made it to my gate in plenty of time for my flight, especially since my flight was a little delayed. I was worried that I might have to run to catch my connecting flight, but was pleasantly surprised when I stepped of the jetway and saw my next gate right in front of me. (win!) My flight was pretty quiet, I napped (it was really difficult to sleep the night before since I couldn't stop thinking "holy crap! I'm going to Mexico tomorrow!!!") When I encountered a friendly bathroom attendant in the Mexico City Airport, I felt sure my good travel karma would last, and then things went kinda down hill...
-I got swindled out of my pesos by an ATM... twice
-Twisted my ankle and fell to my knees on the textured concrete floor of the airport with my 40 lb backpack strapped to my back, along with my other two bags, while on the phone filing a claim with Chase for the aforementioned swindled funds.
All in all, it was a... relatively ok start to my trip, I guess. I mean, at least I have my luggage, the plane didn't crash, I didn't get abducted and am not now being held for ransom, I haven't been asked to be a drug mule. etc. I made it to my hostel (Hostal Santo Domingo) in Puebla safe and sound. Considering how busy it is on these streets, I'm glad I decided to avoid Mexico City for the present. I'd like the advantage of being able to understand all the hubbub... bub.
I asked the guy at the front desk of my hostel for a restaurant recommedation for dinner the first night and he suggested I go to the Flor something, which he said serves really good local dishes and is close by. So I headed out and found La Flor de Puebla, a bakery (panaderia). Inside were tons of carts filled with different types of bread. Not exactly my idea of dinner, but when in Rome, right?
I made my selections and returned to my hostel. When I told the guy about the great breads I picked up he laughed at me. Apparently, he had told me to go to La Florcita (the little flower) which is one door down from La Flor de Puebla. :/ In any case, I enjoyed my feast of bread and went to La Florcita for an excellent torta (kind of like panini) lunch the next day.
I also spent a couple of hours in a shop that sells the pottery that Puebla is famous for.
Days 2 - 5 = whoa
I’m sure there are some highly relevant quotes about change out there, but I’m paying for internet access by the hour so I’m not going to bother to look them up. :P Suffice it to say the past few days have been an exercise in my ability to deal with many, frequent changes.
Days 2-5 have been an adventure, to say the least. I traveled by first class bus from Puebla to Oaxaca (4 hours) on Thursday afternoon, then traveled overnight on Friday evening to Tapachula, arriving at about 7 am. I took a quick taxi ride (5 mins) to the pickup area for combis (basically a mini van) to Ciudad Hidalgo on the Mex/Guate border (50 minutes), then took a tricicolo (sp?, a cart pushed by a bicycle in back) to the border, across the border, and to the “bus station” in Ciudad Tecun Uman (about an hour) where I boarded a chicken bus (sans chickens) to Xela. My handy tour book says the trip from Ciudad Tecun Uman to Xela is supposed to take 3.5 hours, but my ride was closer to 5 hours. I finally arrived in Xela at about 2 pm local time (an hour behind Mexico because they don’t observe daylight savings, so basically Mountain Time). All in all, my trip from Oaxaca to Xela took about 21 hours and I have traveled about 980 miles in total since I arrived in Mexico City on Wednesday. Whew!
So now I’m chilling in an internet café and trying to quickly adjust to my new surroundings.
Quetzaltenango is a large, bustling (it doesn't seem so bustling now that I've been here for almost two weeks) town 7,661 feet above sea level. My first impressions were definitely marred by exhaustion, general crankiness, the crowded confusion of the chicken bus drop off area, and the weather, which no doubt was trying to ensure a smooth adjustment from typical Seattle weather (it has literally rained at some point every day of my trip).
My host family is very gracious and accomodating. Within the household is a mother, father, two daughters and the mother’s parents. One of the daughters is almost three and is therefore very curious about the stranger in the household and frequently wanders into my room. It is nice, however, to have someone whose language skills are somewhat more comparable to my own.
Things seem pretty separated between students and the family (two other students will be staying at the house for a time.) There are student rooms and a student bathroom, which is far nicer than the bathroom the family uses for themselves. I am unsure of what the other living areas look like.
Other than meals, I rarely see the family, which is fine for me at the moment as every encounter is a serious exercise and challenge to my language skills. It’s not that I don’t want to interact with my host family, but it can be quite exhausting trying to have a conversation for extended periods. The mother amd father usually try to engage me in light conversation during meals, adopting the louder, slower voice that one often uses with “foreigners.” I appreciate the practice. The rest of the family eats elsewhere.
I will begin my classes tomorrow afternoon from 2-7. I’ll begin with an exam to test my level of Spanish proficiency (nada) so that my instructor knows where to begin. After that my progress will be tested weekly to assess my strengths and areas for remediation. The guy I spoke with at the school estimates that I should be proficient enough to begin volunteering in 4-5 weeks.
Day 6 - Smooth Sailin'
Last night, two high school students joined our homestay family. They are part of a larger group of students visiting from Vermont for the week. The two girls staying with my family have each been studying Spanish for over 5 years, so they can converse a little more easily with the family, giving me the opportunity to listen and learn (a/k/a letting me off the hook).
The weather here is so much like Seattle - shifting from cloudy to sunny to rainy within hours or sometimes moments of each other. According to my house mother, Tropical Storm Agatha did not do much damage to their home because Zone 1, where there house is located, is higher up than the other Zones in the area. I'm also sad to report that the hot springs that my friend, Cate, told me about were destroyed by Agatha.
Day 7 - "Time for school, time for school!!!"
The first day of class was good, but a lot of work. I learned my alphabet (yeah, it's different and has some additional sounds), numbers to the thousands, days of the week, months of the year, greetings and farewells, mini conversations and even started conjugating verbs. Not bad for my first 4.5 hours (she let me go a little early since it was the first day). I even got home work.
My tutor for this week, Helen, is muy simpatico (nice), but challenging. Each week we get a new tutor. I understand from the other two girls staying with my family this week that I should watch out for Norma Uno (there are two). She's a super tough cookie. :/
I'm starting to develop a pretty relaxed daily routine, which is a nice change after my first year of nursing school. I get up at about 7:15 to have breakfast with the other homestay girls who have class at 8:00. Then I spend a couple of hours enjoying my tea, reading, watching world cup and (more recently) practicing my lessons from the day before. Then it's time for my daily coffee/internet fix (i.e. the Seattleite Special) at Cafetera.net. While it's not the cheapest for internet (at a whopping $0.63/hour as opposed to some places that only charge $0.50/hr), the Cafe Americano con Leche ($1.50), heaping with foam is worth the extra Quetzal. At around 1:00 pm we gather for a quick lunch at the homestay before my 2:00 class. By the end of class, I'm starved and can't wait to rush back home for dinner (usually yummy leftovers from lunch). Evenings are pretty quiet with most of the family disappearing soon after dinner. I think I could get used to this...
I tried to post an update yesterday, but without a shower and my daily cafe americano con leche, I just couldn't do it. Apparently, from time to time the water and or electricity will go out. Yesterday we experienced both: loss of water in the morning and loss of electricity at night. Good thing I brought a flashlight with me and my host family provided me with a candle in my room.
Today I am feeling much better and up to the task of posting an update.
Lessons are proceeding very well. It's amazing how much you can learn in only 5 hours per day. I'm feeling more and more confident about my language/communications skills every day. I'm having a lot of fun with my instructor this week, Helen. She apparently has a sweet tooth and likes junk food in general, so we're going to go to Wendy's for lunch on Friday. (Don't hate!)
On most days of the week, the school organizes some type of (optional) activity for the students. On Tuesday, we visted the Trama Textiles women's weaving cooperative (www.tramatextiles.org). The co-op was started over 20 years ago by women who had lost their husbands in the Guatemalan civil war and needed a way to support their families. The co-op is made up of women from over 14 districts in Guatemala. Each district has it's own style and pattern of textiles. The women create the textiles (fabrics, clothing, bags, etc.) in their villages and representatives bring the finished products to Trama to sell at the prices determined by the producers themselves. Trama returns 100% of the proceeds to the producers and they offer weaving classes to pay the costs of operating the co-op in town. In addition to picking up a few gifts for people back home, I'm definitely going to try my hand at backstrap weaving. Lessons cost about $4/hour and are conducted one on one, at your own pace, and whenever you have time.
Well, that's all the updating/photo uploading I can do right now. It is, unfortunately, a painfully slow process and I need to head to the market for guacamole fixings before my weaving class!