A Travellerspoint blog

The Last Post - Visiting San Marcus/4th Friday of Lent

It has been real y'all, hope you enjoyed following along.

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Mynor and I are a team now. We do everything together, including activities on the weekends.

This week, my ability to sit in Spanish class four hours a day was at a second-time low, so we made lots of excursions in and out of town.

On Thursday, we went to San Marcus, Mynor's hometown, by bus. The bus was intensely crowded, so much so that even Mynor thought it was unacceptable and we left the bus 20 minutes early in San Pedro. San Marcus and San Pedro are neighboring cities, San Pedro is said to be more commercial and San Marcus centers around education.
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After getting off the bus, we stepped into what seemed to be a bakery, but in the back there was lunch being served. We sat ourselves at a long table. The local restaurants always serve a meat, so I asked for whatever was vegetarian, and they brought out boiled veggies and rice with salsa. In front of us was the San Pedro team of soccer players. They were all very nice. Mynor informed me that the players were no longer considered professional level because the team did not perform well. They were all incredibly attractive, as soccer players tend to be.
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We walked the span of space between San Marcus and San Pedro, stopping into a beautiful plant store and chatting up the young boy who grew the plants. We walked 4-5 miles to the city center, where Mynor pointed out the military school. The military school is a school that takes young men in high school, and preps them for the military. There is not regular high school or university for those in the military, they are required to do the school. Mynor told me to be careful about what we said and did around the school. I walked up to a young guard and asked if I could take a picture of the recruits doing drills in front of the school. They replied with a curt no.
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We continued walking until we reached a police building with guards out front. Mynor introduced me to his cousin, a military police officer. We chatted a bit and then continued on. We went to the cemetery, where Mynor recounted stories of people he knew. There was a photo of a beautiful woman who Mynor said was kidnapped years ago. Her husband was a very rich man. The kidnappers requested ransom, and when the husband gave the ransom, the kidnappers returned the woman dead.

From the cemetery we walked another three miles to the public hospital. The people of San Marcus were so kind, and when we arrived and asked, "I am a doctor from the United States, can I tour the hospital," they provided a security guard to take us around. As a huge surprise to me, when we walked into the emergency room, the guard opened all the curtains to every patient room. I felt that I couldn't say not to, because we had asked for a tour and I wasn't sure of the culture in hospitals. We also got invited into the maternity ward, which was us standing in the middle of a large room with 20 people in labor. When we got out of the hospital, I asked Mynor, "is that normal to do?" Mynor replied, "absolutely not." Those poor patients! But also, I learned a lot about what patients experience when in the hospital here. The SM hospital actually did have quite a bit of resources available for patients, which from what I have been told, is quite different from the regular public hospital in Guatemala.

We stopped at a restaurant to eat a quick snack before boarding our bus home. The bus was not as packed luckily, so we comfortably rode home. The first rain of the season happened while we made our way down through the green hills. It poured. We made our way home wading through the streets. I wasn't expecting the rain, so I still had my flipflops on, and in my OCD brain all I could think of was all the urine and feces that probably touched them while we stepped through the pools of whatever. It was intensely beautiful despite this and the city the next day was free of smog and dust.

The next day was the 5th Friday of Cuaresma (lint). The country is gearing up for Semana Santa (Easter) on the following Sunday. Mynor and I attended the church procession and parade. We blessed ourselves with holy water. We ate wonderful street food.
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This will be my last post for this trip. It has been a long, beautiful, sometimes challenging journey. I still have the same love for Guatemala as when I started. I definitely speak more Spanish. I definitely look at the world differently. That will be another story for another day. Thank you for traveling along with me. Blessings and Love - Drea

Posted by dredayhurray 10:22 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Xejuyup

An ecological theme park

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Last week, Xejuyup opened. It is an ecological theme park 45 minutes by public bus outside of Xela to the NorthEast. It is part of a coalition that built 5 parks throughout Guatemala for the government workers. Government workers are able to access the parks for a small monthly fee and the goal was to provide beauty and relaxation for the workers. Mynor told me that the land used to be a coffee farm, and the coalition made sure to build around all the old growth trees. The park included a horse stable complete with Spanish and Guatemalan horses and a covered arena for daily Spanish riding shows, a roller coaster, an organic garden, a fishing area, and restaurants. We rode the roller coaster, watched a horse show, and went to the organic garden where a man talked to us about all the different plants and gave us fruit. It was so beautiful! 10/10 recommend if you are going to Xela.

Posted by dredayhurray 18:31 Archived in Guatemala Tagged park bus guatemala xela theme ecothemepark Comments (0)

Slowing Down

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It is my 7th week of traveling, the fiestas, the constant spending of money, the weekend trips and the speed of learning Spanish have all slowed at this point. I finished my last tense of Spanish, so now I have 3 weeks left to practice speaking the totality of the language. I can not believe I have come so far in speaking Spanish in a grand total of 5 weeks in Mexico and 7 weeks in Guatemala. Because there are fewer students at the school now, I sometimes go days without speaking English.

This week, Mynor and I went to his old university. There are 7 universities in Xela, but only one is public. It is free to attend if you make the cut. It is very competitive to get in. He introduced me to the engineering professors. They were all very nice and the environmental engineering professor told me how he wished permaculture were more accepted in Guatemala.

Classes stop for 40 days each year during lent as it is the only legal time to protest the government in Guatemala. However, there were students swarming the grounds, partying and listening to protests. Students in the hooded costumes spoke gibberish from stages as others surrounded them.
There were also engineers/scientists doing research in laboratories on city planning and histology. We walked home through the Terminal Market, which looked especially beautiful in the late afternoon breeze.

Since things are slowing down I thought I would write some of the most memorable things that have happened in the last 7 weeks:

Best Quote: Netty: I really thought I would end up with a Asian, African, or Latino man, but my man is so, so white (me too girl, me too).
Messiest Moment (Runner up, because let's be real): People getting so lit in the top of Pop Wuj (the grinding was impressive, even by my southern root standards) after the weekly dinner because someone made jungle juice and said every cup was 10 Quetzale donation to Pop Wuj. The next day, the school said we drank so much they were able to buy 2 extra trash bags of medication for the clinic (look at us!). Another moment is in Antigua where we were so lit in a bar and dancing with everyone and then people began asking to take pictures of us. We may or may not be on promotional materials for that club.
Specialist Moment: The 2 year old in my house, Evan, calls me Papito (little dad) because he only knows some words and is shy. Every day, he comes to get me from my room for dinner. His 9 year old sister accidentally came to get me for dinner one night before he was able to. He had a fit because he wanted to tell me it was time for dinner. So I went back in my room, pretended I hadn't been called, and he came and got me for dinner with the biggest smile on his face.
Best Moment in Clinic: A 40 year old man with constant severe headaches and anxiety telling me that he came to clinic from hours away because he can't afford any of the clinics closer to him. I did OMM on his severely contracted neck muscles and we talked about how well he felt afterwards for about an hour. Anxiety is powerful ya'll.
Most spiritual moment: I went with Mynor to the first Friday of lent celebrations and we went to the ceremony in the church. The church was absolutely beautiful and surrounded in elegant statues of Jesus. It was the only building to withstand a past earthquake in Xela. We both prayed in the pews while lines of people went to each Jesus and received a flower from one of the church workers. I cried.
Most ridiculous conversation: Mynor: Who is this Natasha person on your facebook Me: My wife Mynor: Really Me: Yes, Mynor: It is Gareth's wife too Me: Yes, pretty much Mynor: oh wow Us Both: Dying laughing

Posted by dredayhurray 10:36 Archived in Guatemala Tagged in university spanish school guatemala summaries Comments (0)

The Realer Xela

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Xela - 2nd largest city in Guatemala in the Northwest corner, 1 hour from the border of Mexico, on the narcotic route from the south to Mexico
Guatemala - most diverse country in Central America, was in civil war until 1996, still struggling to recoup
What is Xela like? It is a polluted, crowded, bustling city with tons of diversity. The two indigenous groups are Mum and Mayan, plus there are Mexicans, Guatemalans, Spaniards, and are ex-pats from South America and many other countries.
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The tourist scene here is different than any place I have ever been. It is a lot of volunteers or medical students, and the only touristy things here are a few hostels and Spanish schools. I like it that way. The local nighttime scene include regular bars or salsa bars. There are two salsa bars here, Charlies and Pool and Beer. They offer short classes on salsa throughout the night, and the locals are more than happy to teach tourists as well. Uber has not made it here yet, but there are taxis, I've only had good experiences in them and have one that will come at any hour of the night because we are friends now. There are also buses that can take you to the surrounding cities. Some call them "chicken buses" but I have been told that the term is offensive to the locals and the correct term is Camionetas.

The markets are extensive here, because Volcanoes surround the city and farming plots surround the bases of all of them. Volcanoes provide rich soil. The Mayan people farm the lands and bring their goods into the city everyday. They have so many types of squash, sapote (a fruit that tastes like pumpkin pie), lettuce, cucumber, peppers, and the darkest most delicious avocados you can find in the world (I promise). This week, I made a traditional dish called Paches de Papa with Mynor to celebrate match. We went to the market and for less than 20 Quetzales, or three dollars, we found all the ingredients in the outdoor market. It is the traditional food of Christmas. The ingredients include white potatoes, tomatoes, onion, garlic, chili guac, sesame seed, red peppers, chili coban, chili pasa pumpkin seeds, salt, and oil. First we washed all the food thoroughly (I'm trying my best not to need albendazole before I go home because a friend of mine got entamoeba histolytica recently so I'm on high alert). We put the 3 red peppers/chili coban/chili guac/chili pasa with some water into the blender with 2 ounces of pumpkin seeds, 2 ounces of sesame seeds, some curry for color (traditional is using a plant called achoite to make it red), salt, pepper, garlic, and onion and blended into a thick liquid. We had the potatos boiling throughout this time. We peeled them when they were only slightly soft and mashed them into a thick paste. We then combined the liquid and the potatoes into a thick orange paste. We then took the large leafs related to banana leafs, and carefully wrapped 20 "tamales" of the potato and chili paste. They were set to cook in a large pot with a bit of water on the bottom for 2 hours. The water vapor cooks the tamales and you can tell when they are done from the light green color of the leaves. Sabrosa and vegan!
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While we ate, Mynor told me of the university's long standing "guelga de dolores" or "strike of pain" during lent. Always adjacent to the festivities/carnival of lent, are the protests of the university students against the church. The intellectuals of Guatemala believe that the church hides corruption, and represents racism and colonialism while preaching "god's love for all." The students protest for all 40 days of lent while the university if closed. Every year. During the war, it was much more brutal. Now, the students give speeches and walk through the festival of lent with black hoods over their heads and long black gowns. During one festival, Mynor told me that one of the students puts fireworks all over his body and they shoot off into the crowd as he dances representing the belligerent, unyielding danger of the church.
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After dinner, Mynor shared that it was the anniversary of his friend who was assassinated by the government. In 1985, his friend Joaquin Rodas Andrade, who was a leader of the underground intellectual movement (Huelga de Pena) against the government, was walking with Mynor after school. Joaquin suddenly told Mynor to drop his books and run. Mynor did as he was told. He lost site of Joaquin, but never saw him again. Mynor saw a group of military men in a truck in pursuit of him. The mother went on to write a book about her lost son. "El Cristo Del Secuestro" by Hellen Andrade.

There of course was not only this incident. Mynor lived in San Marcus during the government massacres of protestors. Mynor tells me that Guatemala is no longer dangerous like it was, but nothing was fixed. Now not only the government, but the people take advantage of each other. Dentists, lawyers, and medical specialists will charge people exorbitant, life-altering amounts of money and not deliver outcomes or diagnosis after multiple visits. I suppose it is the the effect of years of living with little and in pain.

Talking to locals here has really made me appreciate where I am attending spanish school and doing my last medical rotation. The school is called Book of Time. People in bars and that I meet randomly tell me that the school does a lot for the people of Guatemala. My clinic offers basic medical consultation for 20 Quetzales and a pack of formula (that goes to a impoverished school near the city dump). There is no other place where medical services are that cheap. The school is run by Guatemalans, the doctor and nurse are also Guatemalan. The patients usually drive in from the rural cities to receive care. Most of my patients have never seen a doctor. There is a ton of untreated diabetes and hypertension. I saw one young man who was 20 years old and had never seen a doctor despite having seizures since he was 4 years old. He was completely mentally disabled from the constant attacks on his brain. Besides the affordable clinic and free medications, the school/students builds safe stoves for Mayan villages to prevent lung cancer and upper respiratory illness. The school gives intensive history and cultural competency lessons before seeing patients so that doctors respect the local beliefs and natural medicines before listening to their histories. Attend Pop Wuj for spanish school or medical rotations, it is amazing. You will be changed if you let it happen.
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However, the conversations and friendship I have had with Mynor over the past 5 weeks have been the most life-altering for me. I see Guatemala in a more real way now. I see Mynor in a very real way now. My original like/lust of Guatemala is turning to a deep understanding. Along with the 364 days of fiestas and incredible resilience is a very real hurt, an entrapment due to lack of opportunity, and post traumatic stress in every body I touch. Just like in impoverished America.
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4 more weeks of deep learning. Go out and be a blessing to this world. If you want to help the people here, let me know and I promise your time or money will go to good.
-Drea

Posted by dredayhurray 11:15 Archived in Guatemala Tagged vacation real war tourism xela fiesta strike understanding narcotics Comments (0)

T-1 Day Until Match

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In less than 18 hours I will find out if I have a job next year! It has been difficult to focus this week, as a lot rides on if tomorrow's email says I matched or not, but I am hoping for the best. If I did match, I will be told on Friday where I matched!

This weekend, there were only three students left at the school. Myself, one other medical student, and a young girl on her gap year before college.

The other med student and I went to a sacred Mayan lake called lake Chicabal on Saturday. We had a wonderful female guide who talked to us about the sacred sites around the lake and her life in general (in Spanish). The lake is on top of a volcano. It is unknown if the lake is connected at the bottom with other sources of water. It is at least 600 m deep, but divers haven't yet reached the bottom. Around the lake, Christians and Catholics put fresh flowers, which last for days after their stems are stuck into the ground close to the water's edge. Mayan families sit in circles around the water's edge and use eggs, mangos, chiles, coffees and chocolate in prayers both in offering of the good in life and at time's to ask for bad to happen to people who have wronged them.
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The water's green tint reflected the dark green jungle surrounding it. It took around 7 miles to go up to the lake and back down. In typical fashion, there was an issue with the entrance fee, but we know enough Spanish now not to be tricked. We had paid for it, and we simply refused to pay until the park rangers let us go.

We drove home and met with the young gap year student at a foreign owned restaurant called Tacorazon. We had chipotle style burritos and margaritas. We all agreed to go out later in the evening, but ended up falling to sleep.
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I met with the gap year student this morning for studying and food at my favorite spot - El Cuartito. The restaurant didn't have all the normal faire, as electricity and water were cut off most of the day in Xela. We quizzed each other on flash cards, ate guacamole and drank margaritas in the sun all afternoon. I listened to all her hopes about college and reassured her that college will be one of the best times of her life.

I hope match day is as sunny as today was. I hope all of you have a great week! Happy b-day to my girl Tasha! - Drea

Posted by dredayhurray 16:40 Archived in Guatemala Tagged lake year chill el college gap xela margaritas weekends cuartitio chicabal Comments (0)

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