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Ryan’s Great Adventures

Volume 16: Fri Jul 19, 2002

A park in Xela, not far from my Spanish school

My days in Quetzaltenango are numbered. (Today is number 26—I think.) Just thought I'd let you know.... =) Seriously, though, tomorrow I plan to leave for places that aren't here, and will be on the move for the rest of my Central American adventure. While I do intend to check my mail on the Internet when time and opportunity permit, until I return the United States I don't expect to be able to regularly check my e-mail or get the regular weekend reports as normal. For the last three weeks of my Central American adventure, my great adventures will become much more sporadic.

Last Sunday several of us students decided to head out to Chichicastenango, famous for its Sunday and Thursday markets. The four of us jumped on a bus heading to Guatemala City which we would switch a couple of hours into the ride to make it to Chichi. Yeah. That was the plan anyway. Before we realized what had happened, we found ourselves in the town of Mazatenango quickly approaching the Pacific Coast. This would have been great if that's the direction we had really wanted to go, but it wasn't.

As it turned out, the bus DID go to Guatemala City—exactly like we wanted. But if you're in LA and jumped on a bus clearly labeled with a destination of Seattle, you would more-or-less expect the bus to drive up I-5 in a rather straight-forward manner. Not our bus. Our bus would have stopped in Dallas and New York "along the way". As it turned out, our bus managed to find a route to Guatemala City that I didn't even realized existed!

Bimbo—always rich, always fresh. The locals did not understand why we found this advertisement for bread so darned amusing!

Anyhow, we jumped off at Mazatenango rather dejected. By the time we made it back to Quetzaltenango for the RIGHT bus and made it to Chichi, the market would already be over. If we continued on the current bus and transferred along the way, the market would have ended before we reached it too.

We stopped at a restaurant for some food and to figure out what to do with the rest of our ruined day. My guidebook didn't provide a whole lot of clues for anything interesting in the area. Moto's guidebook might have, but it was in Japanese and if it did provide any useful details, he kept them secret. =)

I tried cheering the others up a bit by insisting that things COULD be worse, but they refused to believe it. At least this town was large and interesting enough to have a McDonalds. The restaurant that we DID dine at was fairly nice and clean. And—most importantly—we weren't technically stranded in the town. All roads in every direction were open and buses running everywhere! Compared to the horrors of Poptun that Amanda and I experienced, this problem didn't even make the top 10 of ways to ruin an otherwise perfectly good day! =)

In the end, we ended up jumping back onto a bus to Quetzaltenango and that was pretty much my day. Three or four hours in buses to eat a $1.20 lunch in Mazatenango. That was how I celebrated my birthday. =)

Did I mention that the Pope will be visiting Guatemala later this month? *rolling eyes* I thought the World Cup dominated the news like you wouldn't believe, but the 'Pope Event' out here is being celebrated like the second coming of Christ. Memorial coins and stamps. Every newspaper for the past month has had several pages dedicated to the event. The roads that will be closed. The stages being set up. The life and times of Pope John Paul II. Where he is today. Where he was yesterday. Where he will be tomorrow. All about his previous two visits to Guatemala. Repeated every day just in case you happened not to read a newspaper or see a television in the past month. And, get this! They plan to close the main international airport in Guatemala City for the 36 hours that the Pope will be in the country! All I can say is praise the pope that I'll be out of the country four days before he arrives, because otherwise I might have to puke. Just wanted to get that off my chest. I don't mind the pope—really, I don't—but the fuss over his visit is absurd.

This church is hard to miss!

On Tuesday, I found myself on a chicken bus heading to the small little village of San Andres Xequl. The school arranged it, but my guidebook talked me into it with "Surrounded by fertile hills, this small town boasts perhaps the most bizarre church anywhere; Technicolor saints, angels, flowers and climbing vines share space with whimsical tigers and monkeys on its shocking-yellow facade." How can I miss something like that?!

It's not an exaggeration either—perhaps, even a slight understatement. I can't imagine a more bizarre, outlandish-looking church could possibly exist anywhere else in the world. I guess they had a two-for-one deal going too, because there were actually two freaky looking churches, although one much smaller than the other. There's a lot of interesting churches in Central America, but none are more memorable than these two.

Here's some of the details on the world's most tacky church

The beautiful Swedish women left this week, but were replaced by large, hairy men from Germany and Israel. Well, not all of them were large. I might even be able to beat one of them up if I had to, but fortunately it hasn't come to that. =) Last Friday was also the last day for the three students from England, Canada, and the United States, and I discovered this week that I was the only person left at the school that spoke English as a native language.

At first I figured Antigua was just the capital of Spanish-learning students from the United States since there were SOOO many of them compared to the other schools I attended, but Ruth—the secretary—was asking me why more students from the United States didn't go to this school. (As if I should know!) She told me that all the other schools have LOTS of people from the United States, but for some reason this school doesn't get many of them and she wanted to figure out why. I couldn't really help her with that answer since the school is just like any other school I attended with the exception of Antigua where it was much larger and filled with those annoying Americans. But I told her I thought a wide range of people from lots of different countries was a GOOD thing in my opinion, since it makes it far more interesting than hearing stories about a country I grew up in. Not that I don't enjoy those stories too, but the ones with a foreign element always seem more interesting.

Can you find the church in this picture? It's rather overwhelming, to say the least!

But I'm rambling.... For whatever reason, Americans seem to dominate all the other Spanish schools around here, and I find myself in the one where I'm not only the only American, but also the only person that speaks English as a native language. Go figure. I never did think I fit in much with all those other Americans. =)

Speaking of languages, in pursuit of knowledge, I learned that cats have only one life in Germany. Never did find out how cats fair in Israel, though.

One of the German students plays on the swing with mi miestra, Flor.

Today, one of the teachers at the school—Carlos—celebrated a birthday. There were firecrackers. There was a cake. There was a happy birthday song in German and Hebrew—not nearly as pretty sounding as the version in Swedish, but large, husky guys probably couldn't sound as good either no matter what they sung. There was an attempt to get Moto to sing happy birthday in Japanese, but our attempts did not succeed.

I was rather interested to see what would happen after the candles of the cake were blown out. While I was naive about getting my face pushed into the cake, the teacher obviously knew what was in store. Despite knowing his fate, he still felt compelled to take the bite before the cake was cut. At first I thought some of the other teachers might grab his head and forcefully stick his face into the cake, but he tried to make a quick get-in, get-out before anyone was quick enough to push his head into the cake, but he wasn't quick enough.

Afterwards, a few of us students visited the local zoo with our teachers. It really wasn't a very impressive zoo since it was missing some important things. For instance: Animals. Most of the animals looked like stuff they caught wondering through the park and dropped a cage on them before they could wander back out. One cage claimed to have a lion, but we never did see it so it could be a ruse. I did see one ferocious looking toucan. But given the fact that the zoo was free, I guess I can't complain too much about it. =)

If you sit anywhere in a public place for more than about five seconds, you'll be accosted by men, women, and children selling various items. And they're very persistent. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM has needed one or two quetzals or else they wouldn't be able to get lunch that day. Amazing. Many of the children try to sell shoeshines for one quetzal. (Although one kid had the nerve to ask for me FIVE quetzals. I told him where to go...)

They're very persistent too. They'll even offer to shine your shoes if you're wearing sandals! When I try to explain to the woman that the purse she's trying to sell me just would never go with my hair color, she plays dumb and tells me it would be perfect! *rolling eyes*

Never a dull moment in Central America.

Until next time, farewell!

— Ryan

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