Sunday, November 25, 2012

Spanish lessons in Guatemala

2000, 24 November, 2012. Onboard Gosling, Bahia Del Sol, El Salvador We have just returned to Gosling from Antigua, Guatemala. It has been 2 weeks of intense Spanish; well, as intense as 4 hours a day can get, 1 on 1 with an instructor, but with homework thrown in, the “intense” classification might just be appropriate, OK, we are over 60, so any brain drain over 20 mins is pretty serious….. Fran and Carol had arranged for the courses online at the Antiguena Spanish Academy. Initially we were a bit nervous as this was within weeks of the volcanic eruption of Fuego, just west of the town, and of the earthquake in Guatemala City. That one, and some of its aftershocks, had also been felt in Antigua.
Fuego (Fire) Aptly named but out of focus... We arrived in Antigua on Sunday night (2 weeks ago) after a long and grueling 8-hour taxi and mini-bus ride through the El Salvador and Guatemalan foothills. After a night in a cheap hotel we checked into the school and were assigned our homestay venues and our teachers for the course. The homestay system consists of a number of families who have been contracted by the school to provide room and board for their students. Our first family was the home of an elderly widow and her daughter who had 4 rooms available. We soon found out that the quality of food and lodgings varied considerably among the providers. Fran soon became unhappy with the food quality and we found the accommodations to be wanting. The bathroom sink drain leak and wet floor, the lack of hot water and the barking dog on the roof were sufficient for us to seek another location. Ken and Carol were in another homestay nearby and ranted about the place and, as luck would have it, there was a vacancy when we inquired. Problem solved: great food, comfortable accommodations and a super group of students, mostly half our age but it didn’t make any difference. Another student (in another homestay) almost got electrocuted when the showerhead caught fire. This probably requires a bit more explanation to those who have never taken a Latin American shower where the shower-head is an electrical appliance. It actually heats up the water as it passes through it, similarly to the instant hot water systems we are familiar with. No way would this meet the electrical code of anywhere north of the Mexican border. She was OK but later did feel a jolt as she shut off a bedside lamp. It was just her day…. On Monday of the first day we showed up at the school office, completed our registration and were assigned our own private maestras de Espagnol (teachers). We walked with them to another location, a park setting, chatting all the way, in what halting Spanish we knew so that the teachers could establish the level at which we had to begin. Neither of our teachers quit right away so we must have shown some potential. Every morning at 8 AM we would meet at the park, find our 2 chairs and table and slave away. By noon we were both fried, so after a homework assignment we both went our separate ways until the next day. We have to admit that we both actually know much more that we did 2 weeks ago. Our vocabularies have increased dramatically and verb conjugation is actually something we consider now. On the weekend we decided to visit the Mayan ruins at Copan, Honduras. It was another bumpy 6 hr minibus ride that began right after classes and ended after dark. We spent Saturday morning visiting the ruins with an English-speaking guide who explained in detail the history of the Mayans and purpose of the various buildings, the Mayan customs and traditions and so on. That really made the visit! I highly recommend to anyone visiting sites like this one to employ a guide. Without one the ruins are just a pile of rock; with one they become alive. The photos below show ruins that are much worse for wear than at Paleque (Mexico) where we toured last Feb. Most of the truly spectacular artifacts recovered from the archeological digs are in museums around the world, but some have been preserved in an adjacent museum where some of these pics were taken. Only a fraction of the existing ruin sites have been explored in this park. For those of you who have heard that the Mayan calendar is predicting the end of the world (or worse) and are considering entering a bunker on the Winter Solstice, it is a lot of crap. The date signifies the end of a Mayan era. One of many that was predicted centuries ago by their astrologers. Try a Google search for “Mayan Calendar End date”. There are some really good articles there including the Wiki site.
Temple ruins
Warrior Training Ground
Reconstructed wall panel showing a macaw god figure
The accurate location and reconstruction of a past mayan king's bed. Oh, come on, you'd have done it too!!!! The following day we toured a rescue bird sanctuary where hundreds of rescued exotic birds which cannot be returned to the wild are sheltered. Fran had her photo taken with several Macaws.
Fran, the bird lady. She found out later that while this was happening sand fleas were biting her ankles. Apart from the Spanish lessons and Copan there were other highlights worth mention: -we made lots of new friends. Arv and Belinda from Tasmania deserve special mention. If it wasn’t for Belinda, Arv would surely self-destruct as the Tasmanian Devil in the Looney Tunes cartoons is prone to do. Also of note were Jeri and John, an American couple taking time off from cruising their 50 ft steel trawler, currently in Rio Dulce. They are in Antigua for 6 weeks while John learns Spanish. Jeri is actually fluent in Spanish and teaches back home. She is spending the time learning to play the harmonica. We hope to catch up with them in the Caribbean next season; -We met Barry (Passat II) and his friend who were touring the area while Passat II is undergoing a refit. Between him and another couple we met on our course, Jerie and John Milici (MY Peking), who also have their boat at Rio Dulce we obtained a lot of detail about the area. This might be our final destination to store the boat for the summer season this season or next; -Shopping in Antigua was great from Fran’s perspective. We also discovered what is reputed to be the best rum in the world, Zacapa 23 yr old. We haven’t tried the premium Gosling rum yet so our jury is still out… - the town had more coffee shops than bars and Guatemalan coffee is very nice; - We decided to splurge for our last 2 nights and stayed in a beautifully appointed bed and breakfast, Casa Menta. It is run by a young Japanese couple who opened it just a few weeks ago; -on our last night we went out with a number of students for a final dinner and bar visit. On our way we discovered a specialty chocolate shop that provided a history lesson on the origins of chocolate and a demonstration of the manufacturing process. We were also able to sample the products of the various stages of production, a fascinating ½ hour accidental find; and -The volcano actually puffed for us on Friday morning, When we arrived back at the marina, Steve and Linda (War and Peace) were waiting for us with their tale of woe. When they arrived back from their Spanish lessons the previous week they discovered that they had been hit by lightning over the summer. Most of their electronics have to be replaced and they will be delayed a few weeks longer than expected. We were lucky to be spared as they were the closest boat to us in the mooring field. Just discovered that one of the cameras is defective. It took the photos but didn’t record them on the storage card. Bummer!!!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Another year, another adventure bigins.

0800, Friday, 9 Nov, at the buoy, Bahia Del Sol Up early today, before Fran for once. She seems to have had a good restful night. So, as they say, let them lie….. It is another clear and bright morning. It is already getting hot so the new fans I have installed will come in handy again today. The few hours of rain we had this past week appear to be the final remnants of what has been a very wet summer and the start of the gradual transition to the dry season. Our min/max thermometer indicated that the cabin only reached a max of 98F this season, however, the humidity would have made it feel much higher. We left last Thursday via Vancouver and San Francisco, so we had a leisurely day via the ferry and to Surrey where we met up with Bill and Janet (Optical Illusion, who will be catching up to us after we leave here, the boat is in Huatulco) and Ken and Carole (Nauti Moments) who graciously offered to accompany us to where the truck was to be stored for the winter and also drove us to the airport. They left the following day to join us. We flew with United and TACA, the predominant Central American airline. The TACA plane was a newer A-320 and the service excellent, much better than United. We arrived at 8 AM to a considerably hotter climate than we left. All of our baggage was there (whew) and we later discovered that only a bottle of contact cement had been removed by TSA. The going rate for a van taxi is $30, for the 40 minute drive, such a deal! It was with heavy hearts that we left Rosie behind this year. The airline industry is making it more and more difficult to bring animals as cargo. Also, after considering the areas we were heading to this season, it was getting increasingly difficult to plan pet friendly stops and inland travel. We’ll miss our alert dog but she is with very good friends who will undoubtedly teach her a bunch of new tricks and spoil her. When we arrived at the hotel/marina, Carlito was waiting for us with his panga to take us out to Gosling. He is Murray and Colette’s right hand man at Island Marine where Gosling and 8 other boats, (Including Nauti Moments and Warren Peace) have spent the summer. When we arrived onboard we were amazed at the sparkle and cleanliness. The crew had washed the upper-decks and even polished our stainless. When we opened her up Fran’s phobia of finding mold and mildew everywhere was eased. The boat had been aired out repeatedly during our absence and the interior had been wiped down several times by Murray and Colette’s crew. The fans, we had left on, also helped. There were a few closets that had a bit of mold but nothing serious. Fran’s vacuum packing of the majority of our clothes, bedding and dry goods paid off in spades. After getting the dinghy and outboard from storage ashore we were ready to start prepping for another season. We needed to get our bags unpacked and their contents stored in an already strained storage network. We must remember to take the time to get an inventory before we depart next spring. It is a common cruiser’s dilemma to bring lots of stuff from back home that really isn’t needed, especially clothing. Maybe if we were younger we’d remember what we had onboard form season to season. Next we had to get water onboard and start the process of putting up all the running rigging, sails, tending batteries and getting all of the items in Murray’s storage lockers, including all of the electronics back onboard. So far we have found a few items that have failed, probably from lack of use. One is the command microphone and the other is the charger-inverter that is, once again, not responding to a shore power input, the same problem we had 2 years ago and cost us about $600 to get repaired. Half of that was shipping costs to the factory in Minnesota….. So, it has been a busy week but we have had the time to socialize. Carole and Ken arrived, as scheduled, last Saturday and there are several other boats at the other marina that have, either just arrived or have spent her summer here. Among others are, Ideal 1, another Victoria boat, Timeless, Que Bella, Mita Kuulu, Blythe Spirit and Saucy Lady. A few boats left this week to continue their adventures, including Contento and Desmarais, a couple we had met in Guaymas in 2008. Yesterday was the first big shop. 4 couples shared a local mini-bus for the day and went to capital, San Salvador. The normal routing is a few hardware stores, a fabric supply store (where you can get Sunbrella for a low a $4.50/yd), a large shopping mall, Price Smart (Central American version of COSTCO), a large grocery store and back. We left at 8 and were back at 4, a long and expensive day but critical to our progress. We’ll do this again before we leave. Things are much more expensive in Costa Rica so stocking up here is essential. Sunday we are on our way to Antigua, Guatemala for our 2 weeks of Spanish lessons. We heard about the earthquake in Guatemala 2 days after it actually occurred. There was quite a bit of damage in the capital but Antigua was spared, as was the lake Atitlan area where Steve and Linda (Warren Peace) are doing their language training for another week. Once we get back from that we’ll be focused on preparations for our departure. We are aiming at the first week in December.