I’ll start by saying that I have cried since coming to Xela. On my first day in Xela I cried long and I cried hard. My first day here was overwhelming. First off I was exhausted. It took me two flights, two taxis and a 4 hour bus ride to arrive in Xela. On top of that I have very little experience traveling internationally. Being thrown into a new situation was much more overwhelming then I expected. Then on top of being in a new town I joined a new family and I had no idea how to communicate with them. I was not going to write about my experience during these first few hours in Xela because I didn’t want my family to worry about me. Or maybe I didn’t want to admit on a public forum that I was scared and doubted my decision to move here. After all I chose to take this adventure. I made the choice to come to Guatemala for a year. I bought the ticket. I have been planning this trip since September. I actively sought out this opportunity. And then I cried within the first few hours I arrive? For those of you who know me you will not find this surprising. I am a crier. But what might surprise to you is that my crying episode was one and done (so far). After that first crying episode I realized that self care was going to be instrumental to my success during this first week.
This is the perfect moment to introduce you to one of my blog ideas: self care moment. I learned a lot about self care in graduate school. For me, self care is being conscious of my emotional, physical, spiritual and intellectual needs and then feeding those needs in a way that feels good. I would like to share worked for me this week.
Self Care Moment
The first few days I was here I really enjoyed coloring a card for my dad. I brought Secret Garden Postcards and two types of Prism pencils: Prismacolor Premier Water-Soluble Colored Pencils and Prismacolor Premier Verithin Colored Pencils. I picked up this turtle card from Michael’s a few months back but decided to bring it on my trip. When I wanted to relax during my first few days in Xela I would color. I also invited my host sister to color with me. Coloring together was a good way to bond since I am still learning Spanish. This week coloring feed the need to clear my mind and relax. It also helped me to feel connected to my host family by spending some time coloring in the kitchen.
Meet Mi Maestra and PLQ
I honestly don’t think I could find a better place to learn Spanish! I am so happy with my choice to attend PLQ. During our orientation we learned about political oppression in and the history of Guatemala. We had a crash course learning centuries of history the Mayan Civilization to Internal Armed Conflict all the way through present day politics. Did you know that the current president of Guatemala is a comedian (not saying he is a joke he was literally a comedian before becoming president). Then we learned about the weekly activities. Each week the school gathers together on Monday’s to hear about the weekly activities. Here is a mini schedule of my first week and some of the events I attended.:
- Every day I have class from 8:00-1:00 with a half an hour break from 10:30-11:00 (which is amazing because they have coffee, tea, snack and time for your brain to chill)
- Monday: I watched a documentary about a man who was separated from his daughter during the armed conflict. The film followed his journey to find his daughter 20 years after being separated from her.
- Tuesday: I slept a lot! I took a 3 hour nap from 2-5 and then went to bed again at 9:30
- Wednesday: I took a trip to Almolonga. It is a town known for growing large vegetable. We learned about the history of the town as well as farm practices that take place there. We ended our tour at the bathes in Almononga which were hot spring saunas.
- Thursday: Fútbol! (from here on out I’m going to call it Fútbol no more soccer) I haven’t played Fútbol since I was in high school but it was so much fun! We drove there packed into the back of a pick up truck with railings.
- Friday: I took a group salsa class with students from the school and we had our graduation. This weeks dinner was international themed so we had a potluck where we all made food. During graduation the departing students create something or say a little something about their time in the school. Even though I had a hard time understanding everyone’s speeches it felt like a very special moment. I could feel so much love during that communal dinner.
- I’ll save Saturday and Sunday for later because I am going to go into the amazingness in more detail!
During my first day at PLQ I met my amazing maestra Rosario. She was kind and had so much patience with me. The first few hours of class felt really scary. When I learned the alphabet on Monday I thought O shit I have a long way to go. But by the end of the week I was really surprised how far along I had come. I was able to share jokes and laugh with my teacher. I really appreciated her and I’m excited to meet my new teacher next week. It wasn’t only my maestra who was amazing the students and staff at the school have made me feel so welcomed. Everyone here is so interesting. The students that I have meet are so great. Their stories and passion for life has inspired me. PLQ feels like a warm and communal space. I am really enjoying my studies here. Ok now onto the week or as I learned recently fin de semana.
Why Am I so Tired?
Maybe it’s because the altitude is twice the height of Denver? or maybe it’s because my brain is on constant overdrive trying to understand/learn Spanish? it could be the hiking? the trips? the dancing? Fútbol? Going out with other students?
I think it’s a combination of everything.
This question leads me to my last topic, Volcan Chikabal and the drive to Fuentes. I’m not sure if I’m just really out of shape or the altitude kicked my ass but the hike to Laguna Chikabal was one of the most exhausting hikes I’ve done. It was almost entirely uphill and then very steep going back. And it was totally worth it! Here is what I know about Chikabal. The lake is sacred and therefore you are not allowed to swim in it. The story goes that before Chikabal there was another sacred laguna but someone swam in it and it dried up. Then Laguna Chikabal appeared later to replace the one that dried up.
To get to Chikabal we met at the school at 6:30am to get an early start to the hike because the fog roles in making it impossible to actual see the lake. We got there right in time to see the laguna in all it’s glory. It was one of the most majestic things I’ve ever seen. I watched the fog creeping over the mountains and diving down into the laguna. It was unreal to see the lake before and after the cloud came in. See for yourself:
As a nice recovery from the hike up Volcan Chikabal some students and I went to Las Fruentes Georginas Hot Springs. Fruentes is a beautiful outdoor natural hot spring in the nearby city of Zunil.
To get to the hot spring you have to take a bus to a tuk tuk. For those of you who don’t know what a tuk tuk is (as I didn’t know until today), it is a small car/motorcycle combo.
The drive in the tuk tuk (I just love that name) was so beautiful. As we continued on the road to the hot springs it became more and more beautiful. I could see the town below and the farmland surrounded us. As we continued up the road we could see more of the surrounding scenery. Then we turned a corner and I could see it. There was a volcano erupting! The smoke billowed out of the volcano. Our tuk tuk driver stopped so we could get out to marvel at the volcano. He told us that it has been erupting for three days. As we continued down the road to Fuentes I felt at peace. In that moment I began to reflect on my journey to Guatemala and I thought, “I’m really happy”.
P.S. In the future I am going to try to have more blogs that are less dense but as you know I am new at this whole blogging thing so getting into the rhythm may take some time. If you have any advice or would like to share anything with me please do not hesitate! Thanks for coming along on this adventure with me.