Saturday, April 29, 2006

First Impressions


I made it to Antigua! It is so gorgeous here.

The flight into Guatemala was both breathtaking and eye-opening. From above I could see the mountains, the enormous urban sprawl and all the rusted roofs of the hillside shacks. The buildings here are mostly one or two story structures and because of the population in Guatemala City, the footprint seems to go on forever winding around steep vegetation and divided by streets.

Our flight arrived about 35 minutes early, so I looked like the very lost American tourist until the guy from the school arrived. He was super nice and friendly. He spoke very good english (thank goodness) although he denied it. He gave me all kinds of tips and I asked him questions about the local football scene and what a few unfamiliar words meant on the billboards.

Driving through Guatemala City was fun. There are Pizza Huts, McDonald's, Dunkin' Donuts and Burger Kings just like every other city I have ever been to, though it didn't make me feel at home... There is an amazing mountain pass between Guatemala City and Antigua. The hillsides look like jungles and all kinds of people are walking up and down the steep shoulders of the road, some women were balancing baskets on their heads. For the most part, the "highway" didn't have any defined lanes and everyone tailgates and cuts evereyone else off, it kinda felt like I was in a video game.

In Antigua, the streets are all cobblestone which adds to its enormous charm. The locations of my accomodations, the spanish school and the elementary school is so ideal. They are all within about 7 blocks of each other and are all very close to the main square here in Antigua. The internet cafe I am at is 2 blocks from the Rodriguez' place and costs about US $1.50 or 8q per hour.

My host family and "roommates" are also very friendly. I am so lucky to have been placed with Rafael and Violeta. Rafael asked me all kinds of questions about my food preferences- making sure I don't eat meat (except for fish), what was my favorite food, were there any vegetables I didn't like....that is truly amazing. I did not expect that. I told him I was very pleased that he was so accomodating but that I wanted the true Guatemalan experience (minus the meat, which there isn't much of here anyway) and not to cater to my tastes.

The Rodriguez house is so great. The "houses" here in Antigua are a block-long continuous facade and each different apartment or house is painted a different color, similar to Burano, Italy- they are all bright and it appears as if they all try to contrast the neighbor's color as much as possible. The Rodriguez' house is a light but vibrant blue and there is a huge wooden door that is right at the sidewalk. In the 'entry' they have a tiny restaurant, maybe 8'x12' with about 4 or 5 tables. (I'm not sure what the hours are or what the deal is exactly with this restaurant thing as it was closed, but my driver is friends with them and told me- I will find out more.) Past the restaurant is a narrow hallway that opens up into a small sunny courtyard. Rafael keeps his 2 parakeets there. Straight past the courtyard is another student room and the Rodiriguez´ rooms On the right in the courtyard is an exterior stairway that I'm sure to break my ankle on before I leave. None of the risers are the same height and vary from about 3" to 7" each. The stairway is probably 2'-6" wide with a minimal iron railing. I know these may seem like petty observations, but architects notice these things.....I also think the walls and floors are concrete and/or concrete block, but I haven't inspected fully yet.

At the top of the stairs is a small common area with a washer and dryer and a table with four chairs. My room is straight ahead. The walls are pink and bare of decoration, but I have a small window that faces the volcano and overlooks the neighbors' courtyards and roofs. I even have a skylight!! Ok, a translucent corrugated fiberglass section of roof (among corrugated metal roofing) but it lets a fair amount of light in. I am the architect and I call it skylight. The bed is huge- probably king size (I've never owned anything bigger than full) and there is one nightstand and one armoire with mirrors. The belongings I brought don't even fill up a quarter of the armoire. I love living simply.

Across the hall is the bathroom- shower, toilet, sink. You can't flush tp here, so there is a wastebasket next to the toilet. This will be interesting. Down the hall are 2 more doors- one is Samatha's room and the other is a girl from Japan. She is traveling so I haven´t met her yet. Samantha is here from England- I will be taking over teaching her english classes after this coming week. She is here because she was also burnt out on her job!

NOTE: I realized how freaked out it made some people when they read some parts of my first post (ie- "They will kill you for that") so I would like to reassure everyone that Antigua is very safe and I have been given detailed directions about what to lookout for and where and when not to walk around alone. I am pretty cautious anyway, but really- I have nothing of value for anyone to steal. I will not be carrying my passport or large wads of cash around. Please do not worry about me. I am almost 29 years old.


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