Saturday, December 30, 2006

San Pedro, why not stay a while?

I've spent just over a week in a sleepy town called San Pedro, living with a local Mayan family and taking Spanish lessons. The town climbs up the bottom of a volcano, and as you walk through the narrow stone streets and maze of little alleys, you can hear the rhythmic clapping of women's hands making tortillas and life generally just going on. Even though I´ve called it a 'sleepy town', in fact a lot goes on here. Like the exciting arrival of my spanish teacher and neighbour's baby boy on christmas eve, or the local school that has been trashed and vandalised by fanatics from the local government that want to turn it into a marketplace. Or the fiestas, always fiestas! It seems every time I step out of the house I have walked into a celebration of some kind - religious processions, christmas dances in the street, birthday parties that blast out the whole surrounding area with music... and of course, the bombas. Amateur fireworks, everywhere, all the time. Lola (the mother of my house) said to me,' Si no hay bombas, no hay fiestas' - if there are no fireworks, there are no parties. Little boys of about 3 years old let off bombas right in the middle of a marketplace, or massive bombs go off and echo across the town and the whole lake. For Christmas, a three day dance party was set up in the street outside the Catholic church next to my house - a troupe of dancers in big masks danced away, and all the families came together at night time for dancing. I really like the family atmosphere of everything. For Christmas, I went to midnight mass with Lola and her young daugher Juci - it was a marathon service and the church was absolutely packed, people were cramped up and standing. Instead of an organ, the accompaniment for hymns was a guatemalan marimba.
I came down with a cold earlier in the week, which was a bit annyoing - but Lola keeps me so well fed and watered that I quickly got better. The women here are forever serving and looking after others, very strikingly so. I'm so well looked after - Lola will affectionately chide me [´'Tus Zapatos Senorita', (your shoes, miss),] to make sure I stay healthy and happy.
Of course, when I recovered from my cold I absolutely killed myself by going on an epic rocky bike ride to the beach with my mate Pedro (of San Pedro!). He's off to new zealand today which is a huge thing here, in a town where hardly anyone can afford overseas travel.
Anyway, so I have been charmed by this town, and I{m staying for new years eve - I mean, come on, Javier has bought 18 bombs for the occasion and our house is throwing the biggest party around, how can I not stay? I was going to go to another small village for a traditional new years event, but there is so much going on here!
I have learnt a lot of spanish and complex grammar this week, but the challenge now is to stay on track and keep practising! But it´s a good town for practice, where pretty much all the tourists speak spanish to each other as well. The community also speaks Tzutu'jil, a Mayan language. I can say 'thankyou' and 'goodbye' in Tzutujil. Come to think of it, it's time for adios now! Happy new year everyone! ... one last thing, oh the whole internet cafe just shook with a mini earthquake! wow, okay gotta go...

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Peace on the Lake in Guatemala.

Thurs DEC 21¨: I´m in a town called Panajachel (´Pana´), a town on an enchanted lake called Lago de Atitlan. The bus trip from Guatemala City was awesome - the 3 or 4 hours passed in a flash as I was glued to the window, passing through the highlands (the bus often overtaking trucks on perilous turns), and observing everyone going about their daily life. I have instituted a tiny little notebook and pen in my pocket, and everytime I hear or see a new Spanish word, I write it down and look it up in my dictionary. I was lucky enough to sit next to a couple from Spain on the bus, and ended up having a beer with them this evening in Pana. They are very obliging at correcting my Spanish and we have chatted away - and I am also going to take the boat around the lake with them tomorrow to a small indigenous village called Santa Catarina Palopo.
The FUNNIEST thing of the whole day was when I hopped on the bus in Guatemala City this morning, and one of the bus guys told me that for the first 10 minutes of the journey I would need to lie down below the line of the window in my seat. He then, very matter-of-factly, proceeded to demonstrate this, lying down with his hands clasped behind his head. He said that I should ´go to bed´ for the first few minutes so the police dont see us. I was totally bemused at first, and when I asked him he told me that they were not supposed to be picking passengers up from this terminal, and if the police saw passengers sitting on the bus in this area of the city, the bus driver would get in trouble. So, myself and two other local passengers, giggling, stowed away in our seats for the first 10 minutes! ha ha! It was hilarious, and uncomfortable trying to lie down in the awkward clanky seats.
It´s good to be back in guatemala - the smell, of pine needles mixed with dust and exhaust, the beans, tortillas and fried chicken, the ropas tejidas (weaved Mayan clothing) makes me happy. Í need a bit more sleep to get on track, but it´s all good.
Photos to come... I´m sorry but the wait will be worth it!

Los Angeles: the Beauty and the Beast

19 Dec 2006: The Getty Centre. Finally a place of beauty in Los Angeles. I was beginning to think this town had no beauty. I´ve been settling into a rhythm of disappointment in LA (I had to stay here last night on my way to Guatemala). Of course, not that I expected much from LA. My last experience passing through LA and checking out Santa Monica and Venice Beach left me underwhelmed, so I suppose it´s not surprising that Hollywood should leave me with the same feeling. It certainly did. I´m staying in a hostel populated by people all taking the LA-Las Vegas- San Francisco trail. They are either all paying lip service to the idea that LA is cool, or they seriously do get off on the Kodak Theatre, the Walk of Fame etc etc. All of which I found astonishingly tacky. I am usually able to woo myself into a ´get amongst it´attitude, but not with Hollywood. The fakeness of everything: faux European, faux tropical, faux chic - chose your theme: LA strikes me as a mass of borrowed motifs strung thoughtlessly and callously together. On Hollywood Boulevard, a star plaqued with Bing Crosby´s name is fronted onto the street by a cheap souvenir shop or a tacky hocker joint. It just feels as though the whole area is selling something that is no longer authentic or vibrant, if it ever was. I really dont know how actors and directors chose to hang out here, or how they find inspiration here. But enough grumpiness! I have actually enjoyed LA, it has sparked in me a morbid fascination. And, of course, I did ´get amongst it´and go for a fun night romp around the Sunset Strip with fellow travellers ( I got to the second ´place round of this crazy bull ride competition at ´the Saddle Ranch - an apparently famed bar on Sunset Blvde, which features in an episode of Sex and the City).

So then, today, coming to the Getty Centre was pure bliss- a haven of wonderful architecture, art and gardens overlooking LA high up in the Santa Monica Mountains. I simply loved it. I went photo mad, and tried to take all these arty shots - the angular architecture with travetine stone blew my mind!!!
Photos to come... My camera requires the use of software for uploading, so I need to get them put onto CD at a camera shop first.. hmm. I´ll figure it out.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Setting up my blog

Hello all. Okay I have set up my blog. That means I have ticked off one more thing on my 'to do' list before I head off on my big trip. Phew! Now all I need to do is, well... the list is rather long!!

So when I actually do get on the road, from Dec 18 - join me and drop in every now and then as I post updates on thoughts and photos from my overseas travels through Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Canada and beyond.
I'll still be sending out the occasional email, but am saving long considered passages for this blog!