Monday, May 30, 2011

Brief Update

Today my chicken bus broke down. Something torpedo-like fell out of the undercarriage as we were speeding on the highway, causing the engine to shut down and a terrible metal on metal sound and sparks. The bus came to a stop inches from some houses on the side of the road (the residents were nottttt happy) and everyone flooded off the bus. It was only a matter of time... Pictures to follow

National Conference

This weekend the organization we are working for (Social Entrepreneur Corps, or SEC) had a national conference in Antigua. Accessoras (salesmen/women) from all over the country came to discuss the company, future enterprises, and annual progress. 

A brief aside on SEC: 

SEC is an organization devoted to providing disadvantaged individuals access to goods and services. These people usually live in very remote and rural areas of Guatemala where clean water, electricity, and medical care are rarely available. SEC provides things like eye exams and glasses, water filters, wood burning stoves, solar lamps, and seeds. The items are all sold by locals and the profit is split and reinvested in new technology and products.

While it was difficult to understand everything going on (the conference was conducted in Spanish) it was really cool to see such a large gathering of people devoted to and working towards SEC's goals. Everyone left their homestays for the weekend and stayed in Antigua. We ended up at "Las Camilas Inn" and had a yummy dinner at ??. After dinner we played a roudy game of Cheers to the Goveneor and met up with some recent Duke grads who are backpacking around Guatemala. Later that night we ended up at a bar on clock tower street. Highlights included finding an "autographed" photo of George clooney on the wall and ordering the worst long island iced 'teas of all time (tequila with a splash of tequila). After the conference on Sunday we explored Antigua, finding a delicious lunch at "Bagle Barn" and bargaining for goods at antigua's arteisan market. 


The food here is interesting, to say the least. The typical Guatemalan meal is eggs, beans, corn tortillas, and bread. Lunch is the biggest meal, followed by breakfast, and dinner is the smallest. 

Breakfast: Our host moms cook us everything from eggs to mush (cream of wheat/oatmeal/milk/vitamins/ I actually have no idea what is actually in this but the. Name is not encouraging) to toast with peanut butter to panqueques (pancakes, which are way better than any I have had at home) to Corn Flakes with hot milk. They have to warm up the milk to get rid of bacteria, and let me just say that cereal with hot milk is VERY weird. And mushy. But not quite as mushy as mush. 

Lunch: For lunch, our host moms pack us a meal to bring with us every day, very elementary- (Abby and I have both forgotten our lunch boxes many, many times). We usually have either chicken, beef, fish with rice, potatoes, or noodles, etc. We also usually have some type of fruit like papayas or piñas (pineapple). Finally, we have bread. Lots and lots of bread. Matt’s family usually gives him an entire loaf, just for lunch. Also, to add a little fun, There is an unspoken rule in Guatemala that says that if you don’t like something you get for lunch, just send it back home and they will realize that you didn’t eat it and thus don’t like it. At lunch, a hilarious discussion usually occurs about what to send back. If I kind of liked it, should I throw some more away before I send it back? Will I hurt her feelings if I don’t even touch it? Even if I do like it, should I send it back so as not to waste food? Sending food back is kind of nerve-wracking, because you never know if your mom is going to call you out on it, or just let it be unspoken. 

Dinner: My family eats dinner around 7:30, and it usually consists of chicken or eggs and beans, and always tortillas and bread. I helped my host mom make tortillas last week, and it is really, really hard. Mine looked like deformed amoebas, while hers were perfect circles. Oh well. 

Overall, it's important to be really careful about what you eat here, a bunch of the kids on the trip have gotten sick (bad water, unclean fruit, too many frijoles). Luckily I have not yet been a victim. The food here is a little weird, but I’m getting used to it. Last night, me and three other girls cooked pizza and apple pie for our families (20 people total, all related although we're still not totally sure how...) It was really, really hard to find all the ingredients in the grocery store, figure out how to light the oven, find measuring cups in the kitchen, etc. We had to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius, roll out the pizza dough using glasses covered in flour, and measure up to 5 cups of flour with a 1/4 cup measurement. Needless to say, it took forever. But, when we finally pulled it off, our families loved it. It has been really fun sharing our culture with them and learning about theirs. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Chicken Bus 101

In Guatemala, or specifically Antigua, the main form of transportation are buses the locals call "Las Camionetas", the tourists call them chicken buses.

1. Personal space: this does not exist on a chicken bus. There are 3 people per seat, people in the aisles, and people on each others laps...all in the size of a small school bus. 
Normal capacity: 50 school children
Chicken Bus capacity: 90-100 adults.

2. El Ayudante: this is the man who assists the driver in collecting money from all of the pasajeros (passengers). Unlike in the states, money is collected after you are on the bus, which means the ayudante must crawl, push, shimmy, and squeeze through the 100+ passengers, collecting money and giving change to each one. Woof.

3. Speed over Safety: there are no seat belts, hairpin turns, and drivers who get paid by the amount of rounds completed, not per hour. Therefore, the personal space and ayudante rules are then complicated with the buses' roller-coaster like pace. It's like riding the madderhorn with 5x as many people and a man running over the coaster-cars collecting your ticket.

4. Loading the bus: you have 2-3 seconds to get on and off the student was left hanging onto the back as the bus started to speed away (don't worry, he's fine) 

5. The Evil Eye: this is a Guatemalan superstition; mothers believe that if a gringo (foreigner) looks at their baby or child for too long the child will get the "evil eye" and exhibit behavior such as crying, spitting up, etc. So on the chicken buses, is is imperative to keep your eyes to yourself, otherwise you might be asked to move (see rules 1-3 to comprehend the difficulty of this task)

6. Backpacks: always wear them on your chest, pickpocketing is common on the chicken buses. So all of us gringas end up looking like awkward pregnant women

7. Vendadors: and finally, as if this wasn't enough, there are people who board this bus and try to sell you things like children's books, shoes, bracelets, and jade knives.

Best. Ride. Ever.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sunday Adventures

We had all day free on Sunday while the UConn kids were arriving, so we woke up and wandered to a café in the Parque Central of Antigua called Café Condesa. I got delicious French Toast (my go-to breakfast food) for about $5. Afterwards we decided to hike up to Cerro de la Cruz, a cross on the side of the mountain with a beautiful view on Antigua. I was kind of in charge of getting us there, but the directions given to us by a friendly and incredibly fast talking local were not very specific (i.e. go down there all the way, then turn left and go all the way down there and you will be at the cross). We ended up wandering into a part of Antigua we had never seen before, with me and Abby leading a group of about 10 nervous, hot, exhausted people. We asked for directions about 10 times and finallyyy found the foot of the hike. Everyone we had encountered said that it was "muy facil" so when we saw a very steep, straight up climb we were a little bit hocked. Matt had recently his ACL (about a week before), so he was trailing behind, having to fend off stray dogs with a stick. We finally got to the top of the gigantic climb but sadly there was no cross...only a horse statue and a mediocre view. We asked a policeman near the statue (he was on lunch break?) if the cross was nearby and he pointed the way...right back down a hill. We finally got to the cross, and the view was just as beautiful as we had imagined (pictures to come). Some other kids in our group were already up there, and they told us that there was a set of stairs that took about 10 minutes to climb.. whoops! So much for facil. That night, we had dinner at the SEC office and met the UConn kids. The leaders ordered Domino’s pizza, which was amazing, but the Cinnastix were definitely not up to par with Cinnastix at home/Duke (Abby was quite disappointed). Later on, we went out to a salsa bar. There were some of the best dancers I had seen in my life, and some of the shortest men I had seen in my life (all Guatemalans are very short, btw). Abby and Taylor tried salsa dancing with some locals. Abby danced with a Guatemalan named Renee (...?) and Taylor was dancing with an American man that we had met the night before that we discovered was a pathological liar (he worked at a hedge fund, quit his job to become a dancer, lived on times square but also lived 2 blocks from Juliard...whoops). All in all, a great day.


Guatemala is loud. Really loud. As we landed in the airport torrential rain and eventually hail pounded on both the plane and the tin roof (lámina). Volume comparison: Imagine a 5 year old banging haphazardly on symbols and you have about 1/3 of the decibels in that tiny airport. Since our plane landed in Guatemala city we had to take a small bus 30 miles west to our hotel in central Antigua, and that ride wasn't quiet either. The mechanical sounds of horns, grinding gears, and break pedals blended with the shouts, curses and music blasting from every car bus and truck on the road. Volume comparison: 10 rows back at a terrible dub step concert. Finally we arrived at our hotel "Internacional Mochilero Guesthouse" a cute establishment on calle seis in the heart of Antigua. The rest of the day was spent exploring the city, exchanging money at the bank (we were advised against the local ATMs) and buying a duffel bag (while in the airport i managed to execute a three-stooges like tumble when the weight of my backpack exceeded my strength to stand upright... Figured I'd transfer some weight to avoid future embarrassment). Antigua is noisy too: street vendors, firecrackers, local music, and voices filled the hotel and the streets. Volume comparison: a pre-tailgate C-1. We hit up a few local bars and cafès after dinner at "La Hamburguesa Gigante" (ironically the best dish at this locale was the veggie burger with guacamole) and ended up at a discoteca called "estudio 35" that featured 3 dollar cerveza and a remix on karaoke (everyone but us knew the words). Overall a great first day...ear plugs optional.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Hey everyone! This is our first ever blog please bear with us. This blog actually started today. We were sitting in a Internet cafè in Antigua (the cafè is called y tu piña tambien... specialities include the "Do me. Do me now" salad (with walnuts) and the "Monkey's Ass" smoothie. Yum) and spontaneously decided to write this blog. We've both been keeping journals so these posts will go back in time for a few days and then proceed for the next two months as we explore Guatemala. ¡Disfruten!