So let’s start with an image for y’all:
3 gringos (2 tall white Washingtonian guys and I) racing down a flat 4-mile dirt road with tall grass and palm trees to one side, an orange grove to the other desperately trying to get to the main road to catch a bus that may or may not be coming within the next hour.
That’s how the middle part of the day turned out.
Note: at this point the 11-person group has split up and I am in a group of 3.
We started out the day in Dangriga, where we had spent the previous day walking around and taking in the town, it’s not technically tourist season yet so activities are limited, but the relaxation was wonderful. We ate a wonderful complementary breakfast of waffles and coffee after staying the night at Val’s Backpacker Hostel. Dana, the women who runs the hostel, did not hesitate to wake up early to prepare our breakfast before we trekked out to Bocawina National Park for a long day of hiking. She even let us keep our stuff in the hostel for the day even though we wouldn’t be staying the night. She was a real sweetie that Dana (pronounced dawn-ah).
We hopped on the 8 am bus with 5 pb&js and some other snacks on hand and almost missed our opportunity to tell the bus driver to stop because it took us a while to figure out exactly where the park entrance was in the first place.
In order to save money, we opted to walk the 4 miles to the entrance of the park. The road was flat and the scenery was amazing so we just trekked on in past the orange groves and palm trees and other sorts of exotic plants that I don’t know the names of. We finally reached the entrance after being passed by a couple resort vans taking in their travelers and probably wondering who the crazy people walking all the way to the park with hiking trails were.
We chose the antelope falls trail first which turned out to be quite the thigh master as we ascended somewhere around 1,000 feet to the top of the waterfall with a breathtaking view of Belize.
Breathtaking partially because it was so beautiful, but mostly because you finally got to rest for a second.
As if it could get better, there was a postcard picturesque pool under a smaller waterfall that we could swim in. That was also breathtaking because the water turned out to be quite chilly.
We had heard the bus drove last the entrance to the park at 2, 4, and 6. But considering it gets dark here around 6 and we had planned to catch the 6pm bus out of Dangriga to a small beau town named Placencia. The moment of realization went some like this:
So we need to get to the road before 4?
And it’s 4 miles to the road?
What time is it?
We’re going to have to run this….
And then we were off! But never fear, we made it, flagged down the bus, and got back back to Val’s with time to spare. So we chit chatted with Dana for a little more, had some coffee, some more food. And then back on the bus to Placencia, where we are now staying at Lydia’s guest house.
There’s really not a whole lot I can say about Placencia at the moment considering we arrived after dark and only wandered a small bit to find a place to stay. But the beach is less than 100 feet away and there is Internet and hot water here.
Therefore I am completely and utterly content.
And also ready to just sit on the beach and do absolutely nothing tomorrow.
Good news, we all made it alive to Belize after leaving at 4:30AM Saturday morning, driving for 7 ish hours, and taking an extremely fast water ferry. It was quite the adventure.
Everything after this has pretty much seemed like an episode of some sort of travel channel show. Here’s why:
1. We made some local friends, asked them where to go.
2. We checked in to a hostel that more or less looked like an art project due to it’s haphazardly put together walls and floors.
3. We went to the local restaurant, saw some of the same people from earlier (we were pretty much on a first name basis at that point) ate some tasty creole inspired food and drank the local beer Belikin.
4. We found a local coffee shop owned by a woman named Jill who has maintained (or not maintained, however you put it) dreadlocks for 25 years or so. They kind of looked like they were taking over her head but she cooked some tasty vegan food including some sort of bran muffin, a super green food called chaia (pronounced chai-ah, I don’t actually know how to spell it) and some of the tastiest coffee beverages made with local espresso and fresh cacao I have ever tasted.
5. We jumped off a dock into the carribean after we saw some locals doing it. It was a lot harder to get out than it looked so I actually ended up being lifted out by a local guy who only needed to use one arm to do so.
6. We went to a local soccer game and tried to understand all the creole that was being spoken around us. We didn’t get very far with that.
7. We ate dinner with our local friends and enjoyed live drum circle music and some guitar.
8. To top it all off, the restaurant had a little dock over the ocean and the moon is almost full so everything was reasonably bright and you could see the stars in the sky and the ocean spread out in front of you and the drum circle going on behind you.
I guess the best way to sum it up is to say the cultural experiences have been amazing and it’s only been 2 days. Next up is dangriga. Here we go!
No, that was not an offensive term.
Yes, that’s actually a word and a phrase that I’ve heard.
But alas, I am off to Belize for vacation week. It really snuck up on me and the other students. You can tell by the the frantic planning and shortness we have had with each other while planning all of this. It’s been real fun.
This week was also particularly hectic because it’s my group’s turn to cook dinner for everyone this week. We planned the menu (which I can’t post yet because it’s a surprise and I don’t want anybody to read this before dinner and then have the secret get out), gave the CC’s our ingredients that are really just guesstimates because that’s how real cooks do it (I think? Actually probably not). Everybody was scrambling to do homework and make it through the pre-vacation slump which is actually just post-praxis week slump just mushed all into one.
But tomorrow afternoon we will be free for an ENTIRE WEEK *confetti and streamers* *that noise made by those weird party favors that look like you’re sticking our you’re tongue* During this week, 11 of us will be making the voyage to Belize.
So here’s the plan:
- Get on a bus at the ass crack of dawn on Saturday morning. The good thing about this is that there are enough of us going that the ever-trusty Samuel can drive us in a micro all the way to the border of Guatemala. Much better than public transportation.
- Get from that point to Punta Gorda, a city in Belize, this involves some sort of water taxi.
- Stay overnight in Punta Gorda to prevent over-committing to travel and getting on each other’s last nerve as a result.
- From there, take a water taxi to Dangriga, a city with a name that sounds like a combination of gangrene and dengue.
- Get to a hostel.
- Have adventures.
I apologize in advance for the ridiculous amount of pictures I will be posting. But there’s good news! The hostel is supposed to have internet so I can post tidbits from my phone (possibly). It’s going to be quite the vacation.
This is how we jam in El Salvador. It’s actually been on repeat all day. And everybody has been walking around singing it. It’s kinda catchy.
In all honesty, if I could post videos to this blog instead of write it, I would definitely choose to do so for this post. You see, I have just returned from a silent retreat. Meaning I just spent the weekend in silence….
Zero words spoken.
Zero conversations had (well there were some nonverbal ones).
There was even a point when I saw a very large spider in my shower when I went to reach for my shampoo and you know what? I didn’t say a word (but I do imagine my actions mirrored that of Kramer from Seinfeld when he’s shocked about something). Pats of the back for me.
You could say I did a lot of thinking, but that would be an understatement. I sat around, marinating in my own thoughts the entire weekend.
There was an amazing lake (Ilopango I believe) that was breathtaking enough, but then we were told that there’s actually a volcano UNDER the lake. Can you even imagine that? My mind was just slightly blown.
Anywho…back to this retreat.
So we all sat around in this wonderful place about an hour and a half outside Antiguo. We were surrounded by plants, flowers, trees, even some bamboo (which I did not know existed here). Most of the time I would go and sit on this edge that overlooked the lake and let my feet dangle as I journaled or read. I listened to music but most times it wasn’t necessary with all the lovely bird chirping and wind breeziness that made me feel like I had bought a “Peaceful Sounds” CD in the $1 section at TArget or something.
And I let myself go, I found the me that was one with my surroundings and at peace with my thoughts.. It was wonderful to be liberated and know that I can come back to this moment and find peace in the future.
We also meditated like none other. Like I said, kind of hippie things, but I mean, it was all for the best and I regret none of it and I love this new hippie side of myself. There’s nothing wrong with that. We had 5 reflections and each one included a meditation. They usually lasted for around 20 minutes and focused on breathing which in turn helps focus your mind. After we would have time for journaling, drinking tea, taking a candle to our rooms, making art in the art corner. Anything to help us with our reflecting.
We had a morning of yoga and a morning of hand massages. Yes. We sat in pairs, meditated for 50 minutes and gave each other hand massages. Complete with oil. This happened after we stared into our partner’s eyes for almost 10 minutes straight (if anybody thought of the scene from Baby Mama when Tina Fey gets 5 minutes of uninterrupted eye contact, then we must be good friends.) I will also admit that the first time we tried this exercise I had a very hard time keeping a straight face. And I’d like to see you try it after spending a day and a half in silence and then having to stare at someone’s completely relaxed face. It’s difficult.
Lastly, we practiced mindful eating. It was slightly challenging since I normally eat very quickly so I can keep on schedule. But I savored each bite of my food (shout out to my Dad and my cousin Brandy who always do this) and I cut everything into smaller and smaller bites, I even cut my watermelon with a knife and fork, it was that serious. And I enjoyed it a lot more. I don’t know how often I’ll be able to do it without everybody else also eating slowly, but I think I’m going to try.
We ended by reading a poem out loud together, and then one more time while shouting. I was going to post it but I forgot the paper in my house and I am now sitting at the internet cafe. My bad.
It was an inspiring weekend. I filed up half a journal with thoughts, reflections, and poems, I watercolored and drew even though I was previously under the assumption that I was completely incompetent at both of these things. And now here I am at the internet cafe, after a bus ride filled with shouting and stories and sharing artwork. Back to the homework I neglected and the week ahead.
Next up: Vacation week, starting Friday afternoon. My plans aren’t final, but I’m excited nonetheless.
It appears that at this point I am halfway done with this program. Well I guess more than halfway now that I have procrastinated updating this blog post. Most people probably assumed I had forgot, but never fear, procrastination hasn’t got the best of me (this time).
I can hardly believe it. And everything just keeps speeding up from here.
Even though this is the first year they have done it, praxis week is basically the most important aspect of the program because it allows students to be fully immersed and able to accompany a Salvadoran family they have been spending time with for around 2 months. Before this year, students would spend a week in the Campo, which is the more rural part of El Salvador. This was a good experience, but also difficult because students had to build new relationships with their host families while knowing they are going to leave after a week with a small chance of ever seeing them again. In order to avoid this, the Directors of the Casa program decided to give us the opportunity to further build our relationships with our Praxis families. Some of the families live in the Campo, or more rural areas in general so it turned out similar to having a campo week after all.
So here it goes, one week of immersion in my Praxis site.
First off, my Spanish has improved quite a bit from being fully immersed for a week. I gave myself a couple pats on the back for that.
I’m going to try to rapid fire through most of the events and then things may get a little serious for a second so be aware that this post won’t be all sunshine and rainbows (mostly because it rained all week so there wasn’t any sunshine to begin with. So first off we had to drop off 2 other students at their site up the hill/mountain. Considering we were carrying small mattresses and 2 gallons of water we opted to go in the pick up. But then that meant that we were all in the back of a pick up with the mattresses, water, bags, and food for their site. After dropping them off we just went back to the house and got started with the week.
So the house that I stay at is actually on a larger area that has 5 more small houses inside of it. By house I mean one room with a couple beds, possibly an area for a TV, and and even smaller possibility that there is an area for a refrigerator. All of the inhabitants are somehow related to one another and they all share the large kitchen/comedor area for cooking.
Note/reminder: The comedor is a lunch program for kids in El Salvador run by my praxis site coordinator. She opened it to provide a free lunch to the kids who cannot afford food, some aren’t even able to eat breakfast before school, which affects their attention and ultimately their education.
During the week I learned how to cook plenty of delicious meals and I learned a lot more about what kind of cooking methods they use, why the tastes are different, what produce is available in what seasons, and more stuff along those lines. Angelica (my praxis coordinator) really knows how to cook, and the 24 kids she serves now are getting a way better free lunch than I’ve ever seen in the US. We made rice with vegetables, eggs with vegetables, a different sort of egg and vegetable dish that involves beating the egg whites first, then putting the yolks back in, then frying the vegetables covered in this mixture, then simmering in some tasty sauce made of only onions, tomatoes, and green peppers.
Yeah, we did a lot of cooking. And just eating in general. It’s something I love about my praxis site.
I also learned how to make arroz y leche (basically rice pudding), tried some tripe soup (I approved), drank plenty of warm sugar leche (My own name for it. It’s a popular breakfast drink where you make powdered milk with warm water and then add sugar, trust me it’s a lot better than it sounds), and also cafe con leche (same deal as the sugar leche but also add in a spoonful of instant coffee).
Onto the shower situation.
So there’s no running water in Tepecoyo. Meaning they take showers using rain water collected in large plastic barrels and use a guacal (still unsure about the spelling, but it’s basically a bucket) to pour the water over themselves. But there was also a problem with the small outhouse/shower room because the rain ruined the roof panel. To get to the point, we got to take our showers outside in front of the pila (large sink used for everything) in a sports bra and shorts. And to the next point, we built a lot of confianza with each other. It was wonderful. Mostly because guacal showers are amazing, I don’t know why, but the whole just-pour-on-the-cold-water strategy is wonderful, even when it’s 6 in the morning and the water has been sitting out all night and so cold that steam actually comes off your body when you pour it on yourself.
Thursday we spent with William, one of our night guards for our houses in Antiguo. he lives in Tepecoyo in a house that resembles both an eco-hotel and a curio shop. he has a balcony that overlooks the mountains of Tepecoyo as well as an impressive garden containing fruit, vegetables, and chiles. We went on a “walk” (that was really a 2ish hour hike) to Rio Shutia, which is about 1km (or around 3/4 of a mile) down a very steep hill into a valley, through the river a few times, we drank some fresh mountain water from a little spigot and then hiked back up through some corn fields to a rock that looked very similar to pride rock from The Lion King. Naturally I sang “Circle of Life” for a little bit to set the mood. And when we returned we had a wonderful feast of chicken, vegetables, rice, tortillas, and chiles waiting for us.
Over the week I really felt like I was becoming more and more apart of the family than during Monday/Wednesday praxis visits. We all went to bed around 9PM, woke up around 6ish, hung out together, watched the rain together (there’s really not much else you can do when it rains because the roofs are made of tin which means that when it’s pouring you can’t hear much over the pounding of rain drops on tin), cooked meals, watched movies. It made me homesick to have family back in my life, other than my Casa family of course. But having Angelica take care of us, tell us to put our jackets on when it was raining so we wouldn’t get sick, make us breakfast in the morning, she even put another blanket on my praxis partner one night because she could tell she was feeling cold. And on the last night I felt like a big sister for the first time in my life of being the baby in my family when we were watching Bambi (in Spanish) and Brian (7) and Brianna (4) both crawled onto my little mattress on the floor and just cuddled up against me as they mimicked the movie, made commentary, and laughed along.
But the best things about this family are the hugs. When we were leaving and giving our goodbye hugs the women held on for that extra second, reluctant to let go. It reminded me of the hugs I get from my mom before I go back to school, or the hugs I give when I know I might not see someone again. I was reluctant to let go of these hugs as well, because I felt so loved and cared for in these moments that it made me not want to leave this place but at the same time it made me long for home.