Books Worth a Look

  • Little Bee by Chris Cleave - This book is a must read. Better than anything else I've read, it takes you vividly into the life of a person in the 3rd world who has no choice but to escape. It is brilliantly written & works well as an audio book. Often I've sent info about the wonderful refugees I've met in Europe. We know only so much of their plight as it is painful for them to recall much less live through again by recounting it. But over time it is clear what they've lived through. This book is excellent as you discover the horrors of their world. Somewhat how to me, it is like being in Europe near a Concentration Camp. One has an obligation to visit it. 'Never to Forget.' In this case, to have our eyes opened.
  • Garbage King by Eliz Laird - The book is set on the streets on Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia and here lives Mamo and his sister Tiggist. When Mamo's "uncle" offers a job, he soon sets out on a bus to work. Little does he know that he is actually being sold into slavery...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

How nice and 6 hours in San Pedro

How nice!

Arriving in San Pedro la Laguna via mini van and lancha, I met a delightful couple from England /New Zealand. We plan to meet later this week for lunch.

Ah, the sun, so warm - all 3 layers off!

After checking in with the school, I was off to the Tuch family. Like coming home, such a warm welcome. After sharing small gifts I brought from Andalucia, I headed out for lunch and a nice walk.

6 Hours in San Pedro vs. 48 hours in Xela!

Ah, que bueno! There´s nothing like returning to a place you like without the need to figure everything out.

My homestay is in a Mayan neighborhood. As I made my way toward the lake, I entered what the locals call ¨Gringo alleyIt´s actually not that bad. Lots of little restaurants, wifi places, Spanish schools, tiendas. What makes it quite pleasant is that the road is wide enough, barely for a smaller car, and it makes sharp 90 degree turns several times.

Along the way, I went into Tony´s, an ex-pat from Holland. He sells used paperback books - great found a Jack Higgins book whichwill require no sustained thinking!

After a very delightful lunch, I went to Zooland, which in Hebrew means a place to rest. As I sat, reading ´Prensa Libre,´ a good Guatemalan newspaper with an insert of NY Times Sunday news, I could not help observing a Hasidic young man talking in a very animated fashion to 6 young Israelis.

When I was leaving, unsure but fianlly decided yes, I asked them if they minded me asking what he was talking about. Apparently there is a worldwide Jewish mystical religous group. He was trying to get them to come visit it.

I´m glad I got over my hesitation to approach them because we began an interesting conversation about religion in Israel, Israeli military service, events in Cairo etc.

As I prepared to leave them, Itay, a young Israeli asked me if I would ask my Mayan homestay if they would be willing to sit and have tea. I said I´d ask and get back to him.

How wonderful, an interest in meeting with local people. It just occured to me though, that their Spanish is basicaly non existant and my local family´s English is worse - hmm I´d best get back pronot to my studying!

I completed my walk along gringo alley making my way toward the Pana dock. All of a sudden, the magnificent lake comes into view. Along the way I met a young man from Switzerland who promptly asked me ¨Do you not speak spanish?¨ So we did. An interesting feeling of being with a person who demanded full out effort!!

So a quite different start to a week! Mrs. Tuch made a point of saying my room this time was their best. Indeed!

So it´s back to my homestay and then to Mass at 6 p.m. Mrs. Tuchs did make a point of telling me to get there early as it will be packed. Otherwise I will have to stand. Nice, but I am so happy to be here that standing is just fine.

Oh and BTW, a hard to take 77F 25 C here at 4 p.m.

Have a good week all. I´ll post pics on Facebk of gringo alley later. Cheers!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Xela - 1 Week Later!

This is a bit of a hodge podge post as I'm trying to include info for family/friends as well as details for possible travelers to Xela. (I've learned that with google etc. a simple travel blog for family & friends becomes a source for those researching travel. Bien, bien!

Well, to be sure, the 1st 5 days were hell. Homestay, only 1 in my 6 experiences, was dirty, erratic food & oh so cold. 4 nights later I gave up & moved to Siete Orejas - a jewel. Teacher in the school which is also somewhat dirty was moody & thus not easy to be with. My allergies were in overdrive, due to help from the incessant cold inside buildings.

BUT now, a sunny day, class over, warmer weather & I can give a fair account of this city for possible fellow travelers & interested persons or those experiencng insomnia!

Xela (Quetzaltenango) is Guatemala´s 2nd largest city. As it is near active volcanoes, there´s dust everywhere. Hard to know where dust leaves off & dirt starts. Nor receommended for those with breathing problems.

I include much of the following esp. for fellow travelers interesting in Xela.

If your goal is to learn Spanish then this is good place. For to be sure, you will encounter almost NO locals who speak English. You´re forced to make your way in Spanish, occasionally slipping into Spanglish!

There are local sites, but for me, it´s not that particularly interesting. Several small pueblos are nearby with individual attractions.

  • North & South is a great Engllish language bookstore/cafe
  • Adrelina Tours offers great tours & info.
  • owned by an Am ex-pat is a good resource.
  • Great volunteering opportunities.
  • Siete Orejas hotel/hostel.

Spanish Schools: CAREFULLY research out schools. I got burned & I'm told some are great including, hopefully, ICA Spanish School, Ulewtinimit (try pronouncing that!), Proyecto Linguistico, Pop Wuj, and one I'm likely to go to if I'm back Celas Mayas.

Odds & ends

  • Internet cafe use for 1 hour ranges from 50 to 75 cents (American)
  • Hyper Paiz - a small mall has lots of shops, eatery area & a movie theater - $ 3.
  • La Democracia - outdoor large market with food, clothing etc. Quidado pickpockets!
  • Walking on your own seems ok so long as not after about 9 p.m. Ladies, esp. blond, quidado especially.
  • The large Cemetary - stay away unless with others & then, ten quidado.
  • an intelligent street numbering system whuich makes geeting around very easy - Cadiz would benefit for it!

Walking - If you're young, not much of a problem. For those not so...

  • Sidewalk to street home is easy. Here it can be 4-6 times as steep a drop AND often you're stepping onto cobblestone (mas or menos).
  • Buses, mini-coches(esp.) are a mystery. No route map yet, but a gringo working on one! Ask if it goes to... Mini-vans(coches) crowded. Both buses(chicken) cost 1.5 Q = about 19 cents!
  • Taxis - try to use one's with the # on side door. In & about Zone 1 is about 20 Q = $2.50.
  • Sidewalks can be quite narrow. There you are, a gringo - not tiny - about to merge with a local lady carrying a large basket on her head.
  • As you stroll along the sidewalk (lol), you come upon a electric poll which is impossible to walk behind it you're not tiny!
  • Crossing the street - quidado.
  • Holes in the street - many - deep - carry a mini flashlight at night if you're not on a very well lit street.

Safety - This really varies depending on whom you talk to. At night, keep to well traveled streets where possible. Alone at night, avoid walking after 9 or 10. Though my cabbie friend told me today, after 7:30, he's done, ladrones - robbers.

Coming back ?
I might well come back, but only possibly in the month of March when I´m told it´s not sooooo cold at night & in the a.m. without any source of heat. (It´s not the cold per se, but the effect it has on making my allergies so bad - thus 24/7 exhausted.

Why come back, maybe? Other good schools here, great Siete Orejas hotel for $105 a week with breakfast and many opportunities to do volunteer work. One organizatiom has a full time person to hel yopu find the right volunteer opportunity - tons of choices. Now that's a way to meet people, learn Spanish &give back.

Manana off to San Pedro la Laguna & return to the school Corazon Maya.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Quetzaltenango (Xela) Guatemala - 1st 48 hours

Should you be interested in visuals, this will further explain the photos in my Facebook album

Bus trip from Guate was fine; 4 1/2 hours flew by. But arriving here jolted my emotions to be sure. The school & homestay are a bit dirty; the city itself is Guatemala's 2nd largest & consequently the dirt, impoverished buildings, and traffic can be a tad overwhelming.

Ok, out & about. Well it seems the school person & homestay person do not know their bus system. I went to a mall to purchase items needed. Was told the bus stop to come back was on the next block. RIGHT! Basically made my way through throngs of people in markets more crowded & dirty that I've seen before. It just went on & on.

I found myself right in the middle of the local bus turn around station. Buses everywhere, people running about, callers calling out loudly destinations, exhaust to kill instantly, horns, buses backing up, me asking again & again Where is my bus? You get the picture.

After two hours I came upon the Central Park - 15 minutes from my homestay.

Adventure right? Hmm!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

1 week at home & off to Guatemala Friday 2/11

I have to admit the pace is a bit much! Then again, I was determined to not be here for the snow & ice. So far so good. There are though trade offs! Can't drink local water in CA & one must be quite alert & careful re: safety. And, I've built in several lazy days in Guatemala!

1 week of Spanish study in Quetzaltenango (Xela) 2/14 - 2/18 The weekend to hang out & see Xela.

1 week of Spanish study in San Pedro La Laguna - return visit. I will stay with the same wonderful Mayan family, and enjoy the lake. 2/21 - 2/25.

THEN lazy! Two days at a hotel on the lake at Santa Cruz la Laguna My friend Ellen suggested it & I loved it on my 1st visit. There I will also be able to visit my young friend Servando and also visit the Amigos de Santa Cruz, I'll also be able to visit with my friend, Pat Torpie, one of the founders of Amigos & its current director.

Lastly, I return to Antigua for my 3rd study visit. My excellent teacher, Juan Luis, will be teaching me 3 hours in the p.m. each day, Tecun Uman Spanish Language School. I will have the weekend between classes to hang out, rest, and stroll this lovely city with mountains in each direction.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Madrid for Two Days

It has been 38+ years since my wife & I accompanied fifteen 9th graders to Spain. Returning was most interesting. Cadiz, Jerez de La Frontera, Seville, and Granada were all new to me. Not Madrid!

The hostal. Las Musas Residence, was really good. There I got to meet Mislav from Germany, Ana from Brazil, Onur & his amigos from Turkey (with an invite to visit!). Pedro from Argentinian is the main man in the hostel. He has a good personality, honestly interested in each person. There's a large flat screen TV - saw some of protests in Cairo on it. The kitchen is quite good & all of it is very clean. AND mercifully, the kitchen, and large living room - both are closed from midnight to 8 a.m. Yes!

El Prado This was a return visit, though without fifteen 14 year olds!! Tuesday thru Sat, it's free from 6 - 8 p.m. I went both nights. So much to see: Goya, Velazquez, Dali, Rubens & a host of other painters well worth seeing their work. Do take a look online:

Plaza Major go figure! On my 1st visit to Europe 38 years ago, this plaza was unbelievably impressive. Still quite lovely, I was reminded of the fascinating square in Brussels. Oh to be so spoiled!

Tapas Tour & ?? Provided by the hostel, it brought you to 3 tapas places : truly Madrid, Andalucian, and Basque. The most unique by far was the latter. They hold the bottle well above one's head and aim for the glass. small barrel like buckets are on the floor to catch your poor aim!
We each tried it, but not soemthing I'd seek out!

the ??? I wasn't interested in the Pub Crawl that began shortly after, but Mislav & Ana nudged me. It takes in 4 bars, an hour each. I managed 1 & 1/10th. I'd heard of the term: clubbing. But here it was in our 1st stop. Increasingly more & more packed, very loud music, little light (my hair lit up the room a bit!), and young dancing or some version thereof! Here is where I first met Onur & his two friends from Istanbul. Very pleasant young men. Very aware of other cultures & enjoying conversing about them.

Later two Spaniards from Madrid started a conversation with me. One was quite alert & spoke English well. we went back & forth betw. eng & Spanish. His friend was a tad far gone. Still they wanted to converse with me. Porque, no se! Probably a curiosity!!

Ana was quite surprised that I chose to depart after about 10 minutes of bar two. I went along for the experience' and agredable nature of my companions. I happily departed.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

People and places you meet- a Reflection

A reflection - should you be so inclined, read on.

It has been my good fortune, blessing, to have met so many wonderful people. Added to the blessing of my terrific daughter & son in law, family & friends in the U.S. Europe and Latin America, this blessing simply does not end.

I think my visit to the Alhambra has put me in quite reflective place.

Yesterday arriving at the hostal in Madrid, I met Mislav who is German/Croatian. Such good fortune. Along with Ana from Brasil, we enjoyed the tapas tour (Madrid style, Andalucia style and finally Basque).

Though I had not intended to, I joined them and about 10 others for part of the Pub Crawl (4 pubs for them, 1 1/2 for me!) While sampling a local beer, I talked with 3 young men from Turkey, several Aussies (Australia), and many Brasilians & Aregentinians. Watching the young Brasilians dance was a treat. Such form Crowded and loud beyond belief , well for an ole dude) two Spaniards struck up a conversation.

Our guide from the hostal, Xavi from Mexico, amiably kept an eye of us, lest we get lost in the crowd.

Two days ago, after six hours at the Alhambra & a commnity dinner at the Hostal in Granada, I sat quietly working on my uploads. After two hours of loud, animated conversation among the 15 Aussies (I said nada - really!) one 24 year old came to my table to start a conversation. Soon there were 5.

Now I know you will find this almost impossible to believe, but I really just wanted to be alone & quiet. But, when young people seek you out, you simply cannot ignore them. (I kept wondering why not now & when they'd join the others smoking shisha (sp?) a non narcotic water processed smoke. I passed!

They simply just wanted to hang out w/ this ole man, possibly like attending a curiosity!

Days later, as I walk around Madrid and reflect on my 3 1/2 weeks in England, Croatia and Spain, I cannot but think of the beauty I saw in Dubrovnik & Granada, think about myvisit with my good friends in England, and then day after day ,meeting one after another, practically, such really good people. There is such goodness out there. If only leaders could get a clue.

Some say you cause what you experience. Maybe, but not in the case of my good fortune in travel and at home. From family & friends in the US, to 'holy' and real friends in England and Latin America, from visiting places of awe like the Alhambra, the old town in Dubrovnik, the Muslim Quarter in Mostar, Bosna - all so real, so full of grace, such a comfort.

How can one not bask in the wonder that is the ground of our being?

How can one dare ask for more?

A footnote (which I've edited here ) in one of Marcus Borg's book summed it up well:

He comes to us as One Unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake-side.

He came to those who knew him not. He speaks to us the same word.

He will reveal himself in the toils, ghe conflicts, the suffering which we pass through no alone,


as an ineffable mystery, we will learn in our own experience Who he is.

When I was a kid, I often heard: See Christ in others. Verdad! I'd say see the ineffable ONE, in Christ, Buddha, Oscar romero, Francis of Assisi, Dorothy Day - all with whom you come into contact. A ready blessing and one we simply forget almost daily

Phil or as my Zutijil friend in Guatemala says in his native tongue. Talip!

Alhambra in Granada, Spain

Alhambra, literally the 'red one' because of the red earth there, is a wonder that I have not the ability to describe in words. I truly felt the presence of God in there. It is truly incredible. sadly a word all too often used casually. But in this case, it is truly beyond belief .

The palaces, gardens, vistas - are not to be missed. Come to Spain & spend the day in The Alhambra. I'm planning to trip to Europe during Easter break 2012 with Laura & Jay. Alhambra has been added to list.

I try to post on Facebook a brief selection of pictures of places visited for those who might be interested. But with the Alhambra, it has to be quite a few. My photography will not do it justice, but perhaps one will spur you to visit it.


Thoughts on the amazing people I get to meet.

Rich, my 19 year old friend, soon to be Franciscan and recent community member at Haley House in Boston. An article he wrote.