I got up early Saturday morning and walked to the office of one of the first class bus terminals to catch the bus to Guate. Ended up in the very far back, which was hot and stuffy, and I got a little carsick, although, fortunately, not to the natural destination of such things. I ended up spacing out and missed Chimaltenango, the changing spot for Antigua, so I ended up just riding all the way to Guate and taking a bus from there. Not the end of the world, but it did add about an hour to my trip and meant that I arrived in the midst of the afternoon rain, so I got soaked while looking for a hotel. I ended up turning one down for being too expensive, and kept looking, until I found a cute little place on a back alley that was still more than I probably SHOULD have paid, but what the hell. I got a double bed with COTTON SHEETS!!! so I was pretty pleased with all that.
It turns out that Antigua has mosquitos. I think it's still too high to have the malaria ones, but damn, the ones they DO have are voracious. They also have a helluvallotta tourists. I knew this, but it was really interesting to actually see it in action.
I decided that Antigua is like the rest of Guate in the same way that Las Vegas is like the rest of the US. It's both utterly like and utterly unlike the rest -- something of a charicature, and yet incorporating all the elements that make the country what it is.
The lots of tourists made for some good stuff, including a huge variety of food options. I ate Thai on Saturday night! Very good, although not the Pad Thai noodles that I'd hoped they'd have. I missed the sushi restaurant (which is closed on sundays), probably just as well, and got some very good baked goods, including a loaf of banana bread that I brought back with me.
Sunday, I met with the volunteer coordinaty guy, and got a bunch of info that was actually review for me since I've been in the country for almost a month now, but we did, of course, talk about volunteer options, which was good. He doesn't have a lot in Xela, but we'll see what I can pull togteher from the contacts he gave me. One of them would be working for a left-leaning radio station (that doesn't actually have a frequency yet) and could be way cool, but they want 3 months' committment, which doesn't fit my plans. We'll see, there are some options, and folks at the school have some ideas, too.
One of the interesting things that came up, though, is the possibility of spending a week or two in Monterrico, on the Pacific Coast, working with the turtle hatcheries there. This is turtle season, when the females lay big hoardes of eggs in the sand around there, but poaching the eggs is big business, so volunteers wander the beaches at night hoping to find a nesting female before the poachers so they can take the eggs to a safe place. Could be interesting, if somewhat in the middle of nowhere.
Today, I'm pooped after getting up quite early and negotiating the chickenbuses from Antigua to Xela. The whole experience of travelling a new route is really tiring for me, especially when having a seat is something of a luxury. The Antigua-Chimaltenango leg, about an hour, went very smoothly, and a nice fellow was sitting next to me who helped me know what the fare was (they'll often overcharge gringos who don't know better, so it's useful to ask someone what they're paying) and he told me when I should get off! Then waited in Chimaltenango for about 30 minutes for a bus to Xela, which was pretty packed. I stood for the first 30 or 40 minutes and then got a seat in the jouncy back of the bus. I thought the bus would go to Xela, but it turns out I had to change in Cuatro Caminos -- surprise! Fortunately, again, a nice guy sitting near me told me I needed to change after asking where I was going. I'm not sure where I would have ended up otherwise! So I got to climb out the BACK of the bus, in classic Guatemalan fashion, and then in the back of another. Whee! Or something.
Made it to Xela without further ado and then took, for the first time, one of the city buses (rather than a smaller, faster, slightly more expensive) shuttle. Ended up in the right place eventually, and with all my stuff intact. *phew*
The buses are an amazing cultural experience, not just riding them, but the changing spots. Dusty, smelly, noisy, with lots of people milling around, some selling food or drinks, others drumming up rides to more out-of-the-way spots, and still others shouting for the destination of the bus they're running. The buses are old school buses, painted bright colors and spitting out black exhaust. Dogs run around, belonging to nobody that I can tell, but trying to get by on scraps and discards of the crowd. In Chimal, the dogs were smarter about crossing the road than the people!
I spent more money in Antigua than I had really planned to, but that seems to be the case for me when I travel. I hit my limit with bargaining for things like hotel rooms and food, and so end up going through money a little faster than I might otherwise. Not gonna break the bank, certainly, given the exchange rate and all, but it makes me feel like I'm Doing It Wrong.
On the other hand, I didn't go spend 50Q on a massage and sauna, which I think I will the next time I'm in Antigua. It really is a beautiful town, and it has a lot of things you can't get elsewhere in the country because of the density of tourists. I could also get a more thorough reading of my Mayan spritual stuff there, which could be interesting. It's a good place to be WITH people, though, as nearly everyone else seemed to be, and I found myself, by yesterday afternoon, really wishing that I had a friend or love with me for the weekend.
All in all, I'm glad to be back in Xela, and feeling pretty spiffy about having negotiated the buses successfully (even if I did have help!) Lunch soon, and then I start my last week of classes for the time being!
I'm thinking about doing 4-6 weeks of volunteering, and then travel to Honduras to get my SCUBA certification, and then back here for some more Spanish work and then lots of travel with the fam in December. But... could also bus to Panama, or Belize, or... fly to Cuba...