Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Reflections on One Month in Guatemala

The time has come for me to leave my cozy abode in Linda Vista. It has been a good, productive month and I am thankful I had this opportunity to focus on my writing, Spanish studies, trip research, and overall well-being prior to continuing my onward travels.
entrance to colorful cinder block home in Guatemala
Entrance to Casa Perez, my home in Guatemala for the month of October.
If you have read all of my blog posts this past month, then you already have a good idea of how I spent my time here. In case you haven't, here's a quick recap with embedded links to my previously published posts:

It took me a few days to settle into my new home and reflect on my upcoming adventures. As always, I love getting to know the local way of life and taking public transit to shop for groceries is the perfect way to assimilate. Midway through my stay here, I had the opportunity to help my friends launch their new business and I spent a weekend working at Coffee Fest. Later in the month, I was invited to go on a day trip to Antigua, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I also managed to go 31 days without drinking any alcohol!
woman looking at view of mountains in Guatemala
Enjoying the beautiful surroundings at Hobbitenango near Antigua.
In terms of other accomplishments, I published at total of seven blog posts here on Alethea's Excellent Adventures not including this one, and wrote one article for Coast to Prost. I drafted several more posts and did some exploratory writing for my novel. I also read a lot, which is how I like to wind down in the evening just before I go to sleep. I have a Kindle Paperwhite and use my Multnomah County Library account and my Nashville Public Library account to check out e-books for free. Besides multiple guidebooks and language learning books, here are the novels I completed this month:
The Yellow Envelope: One Gift, Three Rules, and A Life-Changing Journey Around the World by Kim Dinan
At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe by Tsh Oxenreider
Walking the Americas: 1,800 Miles, Eight Countries, and One Incredible Journey from Mexico to Colombia by Levison Wood
Living in Guatemala, 2017 Edition: Antigua, Lake Atitlan and Other Expat Hot Spots by David Anicetti
Latin America Traveler: Travel Essays From Around the Region ed. Nicholas Crowder
Jungle of Stone: The Extraordinary Journey of John L. Stephens and Frederick Catherwood, and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya by William Carlsen
The Tattooed Soldier: A Novel by Héctor Tobar

During the month of October, I studied Spanish for a total of 100 hours using a variety of methods like apps (e.g. Duolingo), YouTube lessons, language learning e-books, vocabulary builders, streaming movies or TV shows in Spanish, and conversing with native speakers. My total vocabulary is now over 1,000 words. My biggest weakness is verbs, particularly using the correct tenses and conjugations. I will continue to study independently as I travel and hopefully, by interacting more with locals, I will gradually improve. But when I make errors I need to be corrected immediately so I can learn the proper way to say things; unfortunately strangers are not inclined to intervene in this regard.
screenshot of Spanish verb lesson on YouTube
I will eventually memorize all of these verbs and conjugations.
I am making plans to go to language school in Copan, Honduras for one week in December, and possibly study in Granada, Nicaragua for one week in January. I am also finding ways of "forcing" myself to use the language; for example, a few days ago I switched my phone's operating system setting to default to Spanish. This means that all of my apps and search engines are now in Spanish, so if I accidentally unfriend you on social media or send you an unintelligible message, then I apologize in advance! For now I am still doing all of my writing, commenting, etc. in English as my immediate goal is just to be able to hear, correctly comprehend, and speak a bit of Spanish. Eventually I hope to be more confident in writing as well.
screenshot of Samsung phone settings menu in Spanish
A screenshot of my phone settings menu.
For the past week I have been focused on trip research since I had very little time to do much before I left the U.S. in early September. I have now created a rough itinerary for the three and a half months that remain until I meet up with my mom, stepdad, and Greg in Buenos Aires on February 20, 2019. I am including it here in case anyone has any suggestions or feedback. Note that nothing is set in stone other than my travels with my friend Corey for the next two weeks and my flight from Bogota, Colombia to Buenos Aires on February 19. I plan to travel overland and occasionally by boat or ferry when necessary; my only other flight should be from Panama City, Panama to Medellin, Colombia in early February. Note also that, especially in Honduras and El Salvador, the destinations are not necessarily in the order I will end up visiting them.

10/31-11/12 Traveling in Guatemala with Corey (Guatemala City, Lake Atitlan, Monterrico)
11/12-11/14 Visiting with the Perez family (Hilda's parents) at their home in Linda Vista
11/15-11/17 Flores, Guatemala (to visit Mayan ruins at Tikal)
11/18-11/20 San Ignacio, Belize (to visit Actun Tunichil Muknal cave and Xunantunich or Caracol ruins)
11/21 Dangriga, Belize
11/22-11/24 Placencia, Belize
11/25-11/26 Punta Gorda, Belize
11/27-11/28 Livingston, Guatemala
~11/29~12/15 Honduras: Lake Yojoa; Copan (Mayan ruins and one week of Spanish language school); Celaque National Park; Comayagua; Tegucigalpa
~12/16~1/1 El Salvador: San Salvador; Suchitoto; Joya de Ceren (like Pompeii); Lake Coatepeque + Santa Ana Volcano; Ruta de las Flores scenic road; Concepción de Ataco
~1/2~1/18 Nicaragua: Matagalpa; Masaya Volcano National Park; Granada (second location for one-week Spanish school); Ometepe Island; Playa La Flor
~1/19~1/28 Costa Rica: Tortuguero National Park; Osa Peninsula (Corcovado National Park)
~1/29~2/7 Panama: Boquete (Baru Volcano); Portobelo; Panama City
~2/8~2/19 Colombia: Medellin; Guatape; Jerico; Jardin; Salento; Bogota
screenshot of Google Map of Central America
A screenshot of a Google Map where I pinned some of the
places I'd like to go in the next three months.
As I wrap up this final post from Linda Vista, I want to mention a couple more things that I'm sure a few of you will enjoy reading based on your responses to my previous posts.

The weather this month has been in the mid-70's during the day and low 60's at night. I was very thankful for the mild temperatures considering there is no air conditioning here. A few days of sunshine after my arrival were followed by two weeks of heavy rain, which mostly occurred in the afternoon and evening, but occasionally lasted all day. I noticed that the ceiling in the rear bedroom where I had been sleeping was leaking, but upon further inspection of the roof above it, I discovered that the drain was clogged by debris from a neighbor's tree which caused the water to pool and slowly seep through the cement. Clearing out the drain solved the problem immediately and there have been no further maintenance issues to deal with.
view of volcano from roof in Guatemala
The view of Agua volcano from the roof of Casa Perez.
There were also some nasty thunderstorms and strong winds. One afternoon, after intermittent rain showers throughout the morning, lightning struck out of nowhere, hitting a nearby house. It was so close that I could feel the electrical charge in the air and it gave me an instant headache. Surprisingly, the power did not go out immediately, but the next morning it was out for several hours while workers repaired whatever damage was caused. Now the rainy season seems to be wrapping up and it has only sprinkled a couple of times in the past week. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes have gotten worse and, in spite of my best efforts, a few manage to invade the house during the day and then wake me at night with their buzzing near my ears.
view from rooftop in Guatemala laundry underwear hanging clothes line
I call this weather "hazy with a chance of underwear."
Speaking of sleep, I did change bedrooms for the last 10 days of my stay at the house. I was still struggling with getting a good night's sleep due to the constant noises: fireworks at all hours; large airplanes flying almost directly over the house during final approach to Guatemala City's airport; dogs barking; the rooster crowing; neighbors slamming their metal gates and doors; all of which I could still hear even while wearing earplugs. So I moved to an interior bedroom which, although it doesn't get as much airflow, is better insulated. I did sleep a bit better overall; even though I could still hear all of the sounds, they were more muffled. The one exception was the resident gecko, which makes a chirp-chirp-chirp sound at night as it moves around the house.
lizard gecko on house wall in Guatemala
The resident house gecko.
Finally, today is Halloween in the U.S. The holiday is not widely observed here, as the focus is more on All Saints Day tomorrow and Day of the Dead on November 2. Besides, I have already realized that, at least in the town of Villa Nueva, I would have no need for a Halloween costume. I look different enough from everyone else here that I can just be myself, "the gringa world traveler."
Halloween cupcakes in display case
Halloween cupcakes for sale at the ChocoMuseo in Antigua.