Saturday, December 29, 2012

Hiking the San Pedro Volcano

View of Lake Atitlan from near the top of San Pedro Volcano
San Pedro Volcano from Panahachel

I went on a hike up the San Pedro Volcano.  The lake is at a pretty high elevation, so hiking can be difficult because of a lake of oxygen.  7 students and 2 guides went.  It took an hour just to get to the bottom of the volcano at the visitor’s center.  Another middle-aged guy, Roger, and I were going really slow.  He was slow because of the altitude; me because I’m out of shape.  We started from the school at 6:30 am and at 8:30 arrived at the “mirador” – a viewpoint 1 km from the visitor’s center.  The entire 2 hours were uphill, but not too steep.  Roger and I decided we had gone far enough, so one guide stayed with us and the other took the rest up to the top.  After ½ hour, Roger and I were ready to continue up.  We came to another pretty good viewpoint and continued, slowly, up the hill.  After we had gone about 2 km from the mirador and 1 km from the top, we thought about it and decided we had really finished our hike.  We were at that point going up at a very steep angle – kind of like going up steps in a house, sometimes more steeply than that.  We were very happy with our progress and within ½ hour the rest of our group came back to our position.  We all walked back together although the pace was a little bit fast for me – I got a blister on the way down.  No knee pain, fortunately!  More pics...

Kayaking Lake Atitlan - a beautiful, but dangerous trip

Lake Atitlan is about 50 meters higher than at its low point of a few years ago.  An underwater landslide has blocked the outlet, so things are flooding.  We just entered the dry period, so the water might go down for awhile, but it is expected to continue rising until the outlet unblocks itself.  There is evidence that the lake level could get to be higher than many of the homes or even whole villages.

We started our kayak trip at around 8 am but were not really prepared for hiking or for a guide that would walk off and leave us behind.  No warning was given about the diving platform, either.  Although the kayak trip is fun, Gary injured his sternum when he jumped into the water at 7 meters up.  It took at least 5 weeks for the pain to completely subside.

We walked around a bioreserve (which is where the diving platform is).  It was beautiful but we should have worn at least tennis shoes instead of sandals.  Not only that, but the bioreserve guide seemed to be in a hurry - twice he walked off without Gerry and I and we couldn't find them.  Eventually he found us, but we weren't very happy with him.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Spanish School in San Pedro, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

We started a month of Spanish classes in Guatemala Monday.  We’ll be at the San Pedro Spanish School on Lake Atitlan for the first two weeks and in Huehuetenango for the 2nd two weeks. 

Guatemala is so beautiful and cheap!  At least, here at Lake Atitlan.  For 20 hours of one-on-one Spanish lessons, activities at the school every day (a little more money for weekend excursions like a whole day of kayaking to a nearby community on the lake) and home stay with a Guatemalan family that includes a private room and bath and 3 meals 6 days a week costs only $169 per person!  I can’t live that cheaply anywhere in the U.S, let alone get classes on top of it!  
David, mi maestro
Our Spanish teachers are fantastic!  Here's a picture of David.
We have thatched roof pagodas to learn in - each teacher-student gets their own, with a small desk, two chairs and a white-board.
I’m thinking about that kayak trip – it’s only $14 and sounds like a lot of fun!  Getting across the lake on a public boat is only about $3 and takes about 35 minutes.
 I can see the lake and mountains from my room.  Going past are traditionally-dresses people, horses, and the little 3-wheel taxis called "TucTucs".
View from my window
Here in the rural areas people still wear their traditional, very colorful, hand-woven and hand-embroidered clothes.  When you see a whole group of them, you just go “WOW”!
The mother of my host family was in a “chicken bus” accident a few years ago and one arm is gone above the elbow.  She asked me to go to a store with her last night to help carry supplies, and it was my first time carrying a package on my head – I just never thought to try it before!  She let go, but I kept a hand on mine so I wouldn’t break anything.

Women wash their clothes the old fashioned way and men fish without a rod or reel.  People also bathe right in the lake.  Unfortunately, Panajachel has lost its water treatment facility and I don't know if any of the other villages even have/had one, so the lake water is unsafe to drink.
Local Guatemalan walking past my window

Gerry and I are staying in separate families right now so that we aren’t tempted to speak English to each other.  We haven’t seen much of each other the past couple of days, so tonight is our first “date”.  We’re going to have dinner at a local cafĂ© and then going to a basketball tournament – his teacher told him about it, and it’s a big deal here in San Pedro – a town of no more than 16,000 people.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Panajachel, Guatemala: Halloween, Kite Festival, Cemetary Visit

We left Vieques, Puerto Rico the morning of October 30, expecting to stay the night in Guatemala City before coming on into Panajachel on Lake Atitlan.  However, we were "picked up" at the Miami airport by a couple, Phyllis and Blaine returning to their home near Panajachel.  They convinced us to share a shuttle with them and found us an inexpensive place to stay ($25/night) right in town.  They took us under their wing, showing us around town and introducing us to many of their English-speaking friends at breakfast the next day.
Straight from the Ottoman Empire:  Blaine was Sultan  Mehmet and Phyllis was his favorite wife, Fatima.
Phyllis and Blaine's friend Jenny invited people to bring friends to her Halloween party, so we came as tourists and had a marvelous time, meeting many more people.

One person we met is Asrid, a Guatemalan woman who was traveling to Guatemala City on November 1 - the day of the kite festival and near to Sumpango where the kite festival took place - so we got a ride with her!  We stopped at the local travel company and arranged for our ride back - we have had angels guiding us all along!

The biggest kites stand but don't fly - but all of the rest were launched in a great kite competition.
The big kites are very elaborate and take the whole year for groups of people to make.  Launching the medium-size ones takes several people.  The food was great and there are lots of little kites in the air as well.  More pictures...

The ride back to Panajachel took us directly to the cemetery, where we watched families put flowers, candles, and incense at the grave sites.   We had a delicious meal in the cemetery as well.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Helen and Luvy's Excellent Adventure - Cayo de Tierra, Esperanza, Vieques, Puerto Rico

I got out of the house today in time to explore with Kathy's dog, Luvy!
Cayo de Tierra is near Esperanza on Vieques island, an islet connected to the mainland by a small spit of sand. Luvy and I went there today and explored as a way to get to know the neighborhood better. We followed a trail to the top of the Cayo and found a great place to look at the cliffs on the neighboring island.  There was a barbeque pit and some other signs that people come here.  We got lost in the forest on the way back to the sand spit - between the two of us we managed to find 
our way back to the path - right before it got dark!  Then we went for a swim in the Caribbean. What a fun afternoon!