Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Let’s go on a field trip.

I wasn’t crazy about our accommodations but on day two our Spanish lessons took us out of the school for a field trip and just getting out was enough to make me feel better.

Karina and Christian, Adrian’s teacher, took us on the local bus out to the small town of Salcaja. Then helped us navigate the biggest grocery store I have ever seen. Okay so it was the local market and considering you could buy everything and anything there, it was better than a supermarket. And it all looked so good – even the meat hanging in the sun. Everywhere there were Mayan woman balancing huge baskets on their head. Each woman wore a different-coloured blouse, particular to their region – Guatemala, Honduras, even Mexico and El Salvador. Karina explained that these women spend most of their day on the chicken buses just to come to this market and do business. It was amazing but no pictures because I know the Mayans don’t like their picture being taken but also because it was so cramped I didn’t have room to reach into my bag to pull out the camera.

We then went to the home of a man who made some of the traditional cloth that the Mayan women were wearing. I assumed it would be a woman but the cloth, called corte, is so important to Mayan culture that men are honoured to do the work. He explained the colours and patterns are symbolic and then tried to show me how to weave the thousands of threads on the loom. I did three rows before giving up and I’m sure he had to redo them once we left.

Downstairs his wife introduced us to the local homemade liquor. Now that’s my type of field trip. Caldo de frutas or rompopo, is kind of like a fruit punch if fruit punch was made by moonshiners in the deep south. Rather than take a sip I opted to eat some of the cherries and other fruits from the bottom of the bottle. Oops they’re actually stronger than the liquor but super tasty. It packed quite a punch, pun intended. Karina and Christian laughed at us. Adrian liked it so much he bought a little bottle from her.

On our way back to the bus we stopped in at the oldest church in Central American. It was closed but Christian fetched the caretaker who gladly showed us around. It was small but interesting because the inside was built like a boat using old boat timbers that the Spanish brought with them. Karina was very proud of the church and reverent too. It was obvious that her religion was very important to her. We started talking about the difference in relationships between Guatemalan and North American culture. I think she was a little shocked by the fact that so many people in North America live together outside of marriage. Then I blew her mind by telling her it was rare for Quebecers to get married and they’re Catholic.

When it was time to head back to Xela, tiny Karina worked her way through the crowd of women (photo above and that´s Karina in the green jacket ducking under and around the Mayan women) to get on the bus and save us some seats. And good thing because it was soon packed. We continued to talk about beliefs on the way back to Xela and I discovered that Karina believed in ghosts and Bermuda triangle. She tried to convince me but I tried to explain in Spanish that I want to believe but first I need some proof. Tomorrow she said she’d do her best.

In the afternoon, Adrian and I decided to continue our sightseeing by visiting some of the sights of Xela. We started in the Parque Centroamericano and popped into the Municipalidad. There was no museum but a guard motioned us into the council chamber. As we were looking around the head of and assistant manager of public relations popped in and introduced themselves. Good thing they were there because they were able to explain the symbolism in the weird painting depicting the founding of the city. It was the view of the city and surrounding volcanoes. In the middle was Mother Nature accompanied by the moon god and the god of music – two very important gods to the city – and surrounded by the food grown in the area. They told us to check out the museums across the park for more about the history of Xela and then shook our hands and said goodbye. I felt like a visiting dignitary for about three seconds

After such an official invitation, how could we refuse to check out the museum in the Casa de Cultura. The building was once the town jail but now housed two museums both not allowing photos. On the first floor were exhibits relating to the history of the town, including an odd display of ancient office equipment (typewriters, Photostat machines, mimeographs). It was more like an old storage room than a museum. And upstairs it got weirder. This was the natural history museum. It started off with pots and ended with room full of ancient moth-eaten mounted animals, including a 2-headed calf, 8-legged lamb, and a foetus or two for good measure. It was all just a little too creepy and we were happy to get out.

We were starting to run low on cash after paying for half of our Spanish lessons so it was time to visit the bank machine. But the Plus system was down and all 5 of the bank machines denied us any money from both our bank card and visa card. It was too late to get a cash advance or cash travellers’ cheques. This was not good – we had only $3 and were hungry. Time to find a restaurant that accepts credit cards and hope that their machines were still working. We ended up at a Tex Mex place but unlike our great experience with Indian, it was bad. Which just goes to show you that price is no indicator of quality. We probably would have been better off with the stuff from the Salcaja market. Amazing that the most adventurous part of our day wasn’t the field trip to a small town but western dinner around the corner from the hostel.

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