Saturday, January 24, 2009

Allright class today we're going on a field trip.

Most days after class there are extracurricular activities that students can participate in. We've been to a textile museum, had a lecture about the system of government in Guatemala (and the US's involvement but we'll get into that another day), and even a free salsa lesson which confirmed that, yes, I do have two left feet. I can jump around all night at a Little Feat concert but salsa is just a little too structured for me.

On Saturday's we get a little further afield. My first week we went to a traditional home business near the village of Momostenango. Luis, his pregnant wife, lots of children, and a grandmother, make beautiful woven rugs, and other traditional textile items. Their homestead is carved into a hillside that would be untillable in the US. In Guatemala there's a lot of land in the hands of a few doing big agribusiness and not a whole lot of prime stuff left for the indigenous majority of the population. Luis and every member of the family work hard every day. They raise their own food, keep a cow for milk, chickens for eggs and an occaisional sunday dinner, have a very tasty looking pig (we don't eat much meat here), and keep sheep for their wool(ummmmm lambchops). They raise plants that become the dyes used in their beautiful weavings. A vertical operation that provides for the large family.

Luis and his wife gave us a hands on demonstration of how they do their weaving. Students got to spin and use the 150 year old loom built by Luis' great grandfather. After the demonstration Mrs. Luis had a tasty snack waiting for us, yummy herbal tea, fresh tortillas hot off a ceramic grill placed over an open fire on a stone hearth with a hole at the top of the wall for the smoke to exit. I've never had better guacamole and everything else was delicious as well.

Next stop was the market in Momostenango, Saturday isn't market day but there were still dozens of vendors peddling their wares. Grabbed an apple and a bag of roasted peanuts in the shell for a couple quetzales, toured Luis´church and then back on the road in our minivan.

Xela is about 7700 feet above sea level and to get to Momo we climbed up into the mountains until the trees turned to evergreens. At one point we could look from our mountain over at the adjoining one where a waterfall reminiscent of Yosemite came out of the side of the hill and dropped 100' or more to the forest floor.

Monday we had the chance to hop on a chicken bus, just a retired US school bus that has been customized with lots of chrome, a stereo system to keep things lively, and lots of graphics on the upper part of the windshield that usually say something like Deos es Amor(God is love). The place where it used to say school bus above the windshield tells you where the bus will wind up. Hold up your hand and they'll stop for you anytime, anywhere, and no matter how many are aboard there´s always room for one more and chickens are optional.

The school's assistant director, Alma, walks us out the front door of the school down to 8a avenida and within moments we´re on a bus headed to Salcaja. It´s a 25 minute trip north of Xela and the fare is 25 cents. Salcaja is a major textile producing town and monday is their market day. Street after street have vendors in the middle selling wonderful looking fresh fruits and veggies and everything else. Clothes, tools, shoes, livestock, fast food, even a guy selling loofas almost as big as one of John Runyan's legs. We sampled fruit I´d never seen before, saw some brightly dyed chicks (where easter eggs come from?) and stopped at a stand selling carved wooden kitchen tools. Our guide and I both bought pestles, her's was Q2(26c) and she thought I was extravagant buying a larger one that was Q5. After leaving the market we walked to a home where they have two looms on the roof and participate in Salcajas other home industry, moonshine. When we came downstairs from seeing the looms the matriarch had a table set with sample glasses of liquor, bottles for sale, and the fruit used to ferment and flavor the shine to munch on. Smoooooth, and at $2.60 a pint I had to take one home. As we were getting ready to leave the doorbell rang and a regular customer entered, bought a large bottle, hopped back on his motorcycle and took off down the road.

Salcaja is home to the oldest church in central america, built in 1524 at the orders of the conquistadors, its a beautiful wood and adobe structure that has survived almost 500 years defying earthquakes and lava flows. The picture of the girls and I a couple posts down was taken there as was my profile picture. I´ll be uploading more photos soon but it´s time consuming and I´m trying to get caught up.

Today is saturday the 25th of January and today's trip was to the hot springs at Fuentes Georginas. I arrived at school to find that no other students were going, bummer. No hay problema. My teacher wants to go anyway and it´s out the door and down to the chicken bus terminal, a short walk. We grab a bus for Zunil and watch the city turn to countryside within moments. The first town we pass through is Almolonga, it's located in a valley and every inch of the valley floor is a patchwork of tilled plots. The soil is rich and at any local market those in the know want Almolonga produce. Bigger carrots, tastier tomatoes, sweeter fruit, the valley floor has rich volcanic soil and delivers the goods.

We continue a few clics more to Zunil where we get off the bus and into the back of a Toyota pick-up that has racks to accommodate a dozen or more standees. Gladis and I are early and we ride alone sitting on the floor against the front of the box. As we climb, and climb and climb the view opens up to an unbelievable scene of volcanoes, mountains, the town far below, waterfalls, families working their plots on both steep sides of the road, and a beautiful cloudless azure sky. I can smell onions growing and Gladis points out the aromas of saffron and sulfer. Gladis can't remember ever making the trip when the mountain wasn´t in fog and I tell her, ¨tenemos buena suerte¨(we have good luck). She agrees but tells me to get my pictures now because it could change at any time.

We arrive at the top and schedule our descent with our driver. Fuentes Georginas is a wonderful private enterprise built around hot volcanic springs. Q20 gets us both in, Gladis gets in free as my guide, and we change and rent a locker for our stuff. It´s very cold at the top of the mountain and my bare feet can´t wait for the hot water. The main pool is made of rock carved primarily by nature but with a dam at one end to flood a larger area. When they say hot they aren't kidding.
The main pool is fed buy a waterfall of hot sulferous agua. The pool is large and the far end is cool enough to lounge in for about ten minutes but if I swim for the inlet I feel like I'm starting to parboil. The outlet leads to another smaller pool which is a little cooler and beyond that another one that's cooler still. There's a cute little restaurant for snacks and after a couple hours we meet our driver and descend ro Zunil and another bus back to Xela. A very relaxing saturday morning.

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