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Ryan's Great Adventures

Volume 15: Sat Jul 13, 2002

Hello to all once again!


In Xela, I visited another cemetery. This crypt looked like it was about to walk away!

I have an update on that whole strike thing that caused Amanda and I so much grief. It seems the United States government issued a warning about traveling around Peten (which includes Flores and Tikal) since the possibility exists that similar strikes could happen again. Naturally, this warning only appeared AFTER Amanda and I suffered from our misadventures. In any case, the warning is quite amusing to read, and you can read it here.

No, I do not plan to visit this area again in the near future!

These folks in Central America don't think like we do. Maybe you've already figured that out from some of my previous mass mailings, but I really mean it. For instance, seasons. It seems like a simple enough concept. Spring, summer, fall, and winter. Not necessarily that all places FEEL like they experience all four seasons with equal duration, but we still call them by that. Spring starts in March. Summer starts in June. Fall starts in September. Winter starts in December. At least for those of us in the northern hemisphere. Naturally, it's reversed in the southern hemisphere. But no. Here in Central America, even though we're in the northern hemisphere, they swear up and down it's the middle of winter. And it lasts for more-or-less six months. Then there's summer, which also lasts for six months the rest of the year.


This is one of the more elaborate cemeteries in Guatemala where the 'rich people' get buried

The reasoning is that now is their rainy season, thus, it must be winter. I try to explain rain has NOTHING to do with what season it is, it's how the earth is tilted and where in its orbit it is, etc, etc. But no, they insist, it's the rainy season, thus it's winter, even though we're in the middle of July in the northern hemisphere. I try to explain when it's the rainy season, it's CALLED "The Rainy Season". But they say no, it's called winter. *rolling eyes* They can't seem to separate the two concepts. These people have no concept of seasons. None. Zero.

Then there's the concept of names. I tried to cash a travelers check last week, but when the lady compared my signature on the check to the signature on my passport, she said they weren't the same name and thus she couldn't cash the check. The check said "Ryan Carpenter". The passport—being the legal document that it is used my full name of "Ryan Scott Carpenter". But she couldn't cash the check because the names were different. And I tried to explain that Scott is my MIDDLE name. Optional—in a sense. Only used on "official" stuff like drivers licenses and passports. In everyday life, it's not used. And this is NORMAL for people from the United States. Surely I couldn't have been the first with this problem! In the end, she finally relented and cashed the travelers check for me, but be warned—this could happen to you too. At least if you have a middle name.


This elaborate burial plot houses a former govorner/president/something of Guatemala—some sort of bigwig who had died

Middle names really seem to confuse the people here too. I've discussed the issue with a couple of my teachers, and they seem to think the concept is bizarre. Keep in mind, they have names like 'Jesus Roberto Zinafed Fundelando' with FOUR names in them. The last two make up their last name, a combination of the surnames from a person's father AND mother. And everyone always seems to have two first names. NEVER a middle name, though. Just two first names. How confusing is THAT?

Just to get even with my teachers, though, I tried to confuse them even more by telling them sometimes people don't like their given name and end up using their middle name as their 'common' name. And many other people don't have middle names at all. And typically when women get married, they completely throw away their last name to take on their spouse's name, but not all do. Those that don't then end up with kids with hyphenated names and bizarre childhood phobias. Or occasionally they'll move their last name to become their middle name and then take on their spouse's last name. I can confuse them just as much as they can confuse me. I'm very good at that. =)


Zunil is a small town in some of the most beautiful scenery in Guatemala

But on to more interesting matters....

On Monday, as an after-school activity, some of us students headed out to the small, scenic town of Zunil. There's a rather impressive looking church. The market was colorful and alive with bizarre fruits, vegetables, and assorted choices of non-refrigerated meat dripping blood to the floor. The real reason I wanted to check out the town was because of what my guide book had to say about San Sim�n. "While you're in Zunil, visit the image of San Sim�n, an effigy of a local Maya hero venerated as a (non-Catholic) saint. The effigy is moved each year to a different house; ask anyone where to find San Sim�n (local children will take you for a small tip). The festive of San Sim�n is held each year on October 23, after which the image is moved to a new house."

We didn't actually check out the effigy itself, but scoped out the place it was located. I thought the concept of a "moving tourist destination" was kind of interesting, but didn't really have any great desire to see the actual object itself, especially since they charged people to see it. I was perfectly satisfied scoping out the house and the little ceremonial area they had just inside the door.


A glass blowing factory cranking out bobbles for the masses using recycled beer bottles (among other pieces of glass)

Thursday the school made a field trip to a glass-blowing factory. I've seen glass blowers before and really wasn't impressed with the idea of going, but it was certainly more interesting than sitting around the school learning Spanish like we usually do. So off we went. As it turned out, was far more interesting than I imagined. They really have an entire factory going. The glass-blowers I've seen before seemed like they would play around with a piece of melted glass for half an hour before forming it into something that wasn't especially impressive. It was as if it was more for the show than for the actual end product. Here, there were maybe twenty people blowing glass objects and remarkably quickly while whipping around each other yet never stabbing each other with molten glass. It was rather interesting, and I'm glad I got to see it.


This worker prepares the melted glass for a mold

For those who don't know it, my birthday is tomorrow (Sunday), and yesterday (Friday), the Spanish school decided it would be fun to throw a party in honor of said birthday. I generally prefer not to be the center of attention like that, but I didn't have much say in the matter.

First there were those firecrackers. I've mentioned them before, usually in terms that weren't completely flattering, except this time they were being fired off for my birthday, and just a few feet away. What sounded like a war going on when I had walls separating me from the firecrackers now sounded like I was a participant in it. The smoke generated from it afterwards filled the air.


I try to break open a piñata

Then came the piñata. Of COURSE there was going to be a piñata. Even I could have guess that was coming. I was blindfolded, knowing my sad fate and unable to do anything to prevent it. Balloons were taped to my back. They decided to spin me in circles as many times as the age I was turning (27), and found it rather difficult to stand by the time they were done spinning me. And I went whacking for that piñata.

Then some more games, which actually were kind of fun—especially since others had to participate too and I was no longer the center of attention. One involved popping a balloon by putting it between the stomachs of two people and squeezing together until it would pop. My 'squeezing' partner was one of the beautiful Swedish girls, which I couldn't complain TOO much about. When someone points you to a beautiful girl and says hug, you do what they say! =)


Let them eat cake! Or at least shove someone's face into it when they aren't expecting that. =)

Inside the balloons were pieces of paper telling you what sort of humiliating chore you were supposed to perform. Singing, dancing like a chicken, or whatever the case may be.

And finally, there was the birthday cake. First all the teachers sang happy birthday in Spanish. Then all the students sang happy birthday in English. Then the Swedish girls sang happy birthday in Swedish. Which I couldn't understand a word of, but it did sound kind of pretty unlike the dorky sounding versions in Spanish and English. I blew out all of the candles. Then it was explained that there was a tradition in Guatemala where the person whose birthday it is is supposed to take a bite out of the cake before it gets cut. Which I wasn't too fond of the idea, because—well—I felt like a dork just thinking about doing it. And just as I went to take the bite, a hand whacked me in the back of the head pushing my whole face into the cake.


It looks calm and tranquil, but don't be fooled. Music is blaring (see the stereo with the glowing blue lights?), people are dancing (out of the frame), and bottles of rum and beer litter the table (including this empty bottle of rum).

This was NOT an accident. I was later told, after cleaning up, that THAT was a tradition in Guatemala too. They didn't warn me about THAT tradition. Now, I had went to a birthday party a few weeks ago and they didn't do this to the birthday girl, and I pointed that out. They claimed it was because it was an innocent three year old girl who was having the birthday. "Yeah, sure...." I replied.

And not to worry, there were plenty of pictures to capture the moment as well. But you've been warned: If you ever have to suffer a birthday in Guatemala, you know what to be on the lookout for! =)

Later that night there was a general, all-purpose type of party. There was alcohol. Loud music. Dancing on tables was involved. No, not me, but it was interesting to watch. The Swedish girls showed us some kid's songs from their country where they'd bounce around with what looked like horns made from their fingers, then waggling their butts, and other strange stuff. Naturally, none of the rest of us had any idea what the words meant, and later they translated it for us as something like a frog being ugly because it didn't have ears or a tail like a rabbit, and expected the rest of us to follow the body motions even if we didn't know the words. The Englishman afterwards insisted that everyone play the hokey-pokey, which seemed completely foreign to everyone but those from the United States and England. Like I said before, there was much alcohol involved....

And today, itching to see Attack of the Clones, I went to the movies. Turned out the movie wasn't playing anymore. It finished its run here a couple of days ago. Just as well, though, since it was dubbed in Spanish and I probably wouldn't have understood it anyhow. Instead, I ended up going to see Lilo and Stitch, which was also dubbed in Spanish so I didn't end up understanding a few things in that movie either, which was okay though, since I didn't really have a pressing desire to see it in the first place. But for a buck, you can't go wrong!

While wandering around the nearby supermarket, I was browsing through the book selection and discovered an amazing thing: dictionaries. Don't get me wrong, I've seen dictionaries before. I've used dictionaries before. In fact, I've been using that Spanish/English dictionary of mine so much that the cover fell off and is now hanging on by the nearest tape I could acquire at the time of the emergency. What was different about THESE dictionaries was that there just simple, ordinary dictionaries—in Spanish. It never even occurred to me to consider a Spanish-only dictionary. When we don't know a word in English, we look to the dictionary. It would make sense Spanish speaking people would do the same. What an incredible concept! A dictionary with Spanish words for Spanish-speaking people! =)

Flipping through it, I tried reading some of the definitions for various words and discovered I could actually READ the definitions in Spanish! At least for many of the entries. Other entries had me mystified. But it got me thinking. I should be trying to wean myself away from a Spanish/English dictionary and go to a Spanish-only dictionary. So I found a small dictionary that looked like it was designed for kids in elementary school and promptly added it to my worldly possessions. =) It also allowed me to use my credit card, which has been very sad from its lack of use in Central America. Life is good. =)


This statue can be found at a bus station in Xela.

I learned an interesting thing in school yesterday. My teacher and I were reading through a newspaper, and there was an article that mentioned a cat. And out of curiosity, I asked my teacher how many lives do cats have? I wondered if the "cats have nine lives" had jumped languages or not, so I figured I'd get an answer of nine lives or a confused look that said, "One, are you stupid or something?" =) As it turns out, cats have SEVEN lives in Guatemala. With that stunning revelation, I instantly became curious about how many lives cats have in countries around the world, so I polled various students from other countries. This is the result: In Canada, England, and Sweden, cats have nine lives. In Japan, they don't have ANY lives. And only in Guatemala do they have seven lives.

Speaking of Japan, I should mention one of the students, Moto, is from Japan. Which makes him very interesting, because he doesn't know English very well at all. Granted, English isn't the native language of the Swedish girls, but they speak VERY good English. Moto speaks Spanish better than he does English, so that's how we usually communicate. It's quicker and easier, and it's great practice using Spanish. But Moto is hilarious. We played a game of Pictionary of sorts where we had to draw Spanish verbs for our own team to guess. The rest of us would make these lousy stick figures which, after the word was over, we'd laugh at the drawing and say, "Oh, that was a LEG! I thought...." Well, you get the idea.... =) But Moto would always make these elaborate figures that somehow always managed to look oriental with the thin, slanted eyes and all!

Anyhow... my thoughts have rambled on long enough. Until next time, farewell!

— Ryan

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