Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Eco Tourism at Monterrico

Well, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. With that in mind, I took a couple of weekends off with my fellow students to take in some of the sights of Guatemala and grab the chance to recharge. Playa de Monterrico is on the Pacific coast. It was pleasantly hot, the black volcanic sandy beaches were almost deserted and stretched out as far as the eye could see. While the sea and it's undercurrent were a little dangerous, it was worth it for the waves some of the biggest and most exhilarating I have ever seen. Just hanging out, drinking and eating tender coconut was what just what the doctor ordered.

The majestic leatherback turtle lays its eggs on this beach and the locals are keen on capitalising on this. For 10 pence, you can buy a turtle to race it down the beach. Sadly, this is what passes as "eco tourism" in this part of the world. I found a bucket full of floundering newly hatched turtles at the hotel. The staff just couldn't understand what the fuss was about as the turtles were for the tourists! I protested but to no avail. Not only is this so cruel, the turtles were kept in the bucket for at least 24 hours. This practise guarantees their death once released. A new born turtle is equipped with a yolk sack under it's shell. This is it's fuel source to break through the shell, dig itself out of the sand, make it's way down the beach, into the crashing waves and beyond. Should you see practises that seem to be outside the range of normal animal behaviour please don't be part of it.

The countryside of San Juan

Thankfully, a more relaxed pace here in the countryside. My new EspaƱol teacher Alba, didn't push me as hard and I got to enjoy a few afternoons off! This was spent with my family harvesting Nisperos, a fruit that has made San Juan famous. Felipe's family have a few acres of agricultural land just outside of town, and for more than thirty years his family have been harvest this delicous fruit. In more bountiful years there is a European export market.

In the mornings at 6AM, I could be found kicking a ball around the local football pitch with the boys Bladimir and Paulo or going for a jog/walk with dad - Felipe was was a runner of some repute in his hayday judging by pictures I saw. This was a great opportunity for me to see first hand how even the roadside boasts an array of edible flowers and vegetables. Felipe could name them all while I took pictures and recorded their Spanish names. However, after just a few weeks it was still difficult to communicate effectively and surviving on such small mealtime rations will always be a challenge for me.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Dos boot camps

After spending a relaxing weekend in the mountains, I ventured into Antigua.

I thought daily classes of four hours, one to one tuition at a Spanish language school would be a breeze. No such luck! The sessions are intensive and there's no respite. Have I just been beaten up by Mike Tyson? My head hurts. Thankfully my teacher, Amabilia,  is very, very patient. In order to stay afloat, I have to put in about four hours homework on average per night, so sadly I didn't make it to the salsa club last night. Oh well, maybe next week.

Sandwiched in between all this is one to one salsa dance classes with Nancy. Once again, the classes  are high tempo. Who said Guatemalans choose a slower pace of life? I'm really enjoying the movement and working on stringing consecutive moves together. Something I never mastered back home.

The language programme also offers homestay with a Guatemalan family. It's a opportunity to understand local people better and to practise Spanish too. My home for the next wo weeks is tucked away from the bustle of town. My wee bedroom looks out into a courtyard loaded with plants. Both Delia and Aurturo, my hosts are elderly and so is the maid Gloria who has been with the family for 25 years. Delia, prides herself on her apperance and is always keen to help me with my pronunciation and ettiquette. Sadly, Aurturo is a Man Utd fan, but on the plus side he drinks hot water (albeit with a heap of sugar!). Gloria (the maid) cooks delicious food which is usually meat and four boiled veg (I could be in England!), she's a chirpy character and easy to chat to.

After two weeks of this. I up the pace again as I ship out to the countryside (San Juan) for more intensive language studies. Not sure I'll be able to cope after the twin boot camps here in Antigua.

Something for the weekend?

I elected to head for the hills before starting my studies in ernest on Monday. To the south Antigua is encircled by a mountain range including a number of volcanoes, one of which is active right now. Dominated by volcan de Agua rising to nearly 4000m, ice capped during the winter, it is now extinct. Further to the west is volcan de fuera. At least a few times a day on. At least a few times a day, one can hear the bang and fizzle similar to a jet engine as the volcano bursts into life followed by the visual confirmation of the vertical stacked plume of debris rising into the sky. 

Here at Earthlodge, I indulged in some hearty eating and stimulating conversation with alternative thinkers that this venue attracts. Interesting ideas and megabytes of “learning Spanish” mp3s were swapped. I also took the opportunity for my first reading of the landscape. I  ventured out on a long rambling walk in the midday sun. The locale is set at 2000m above sea level, the rich volcanic soil  is owned and farmed by local people over many generations. Here I wandered through the cornfields and the coffee fincas. Maize is a staple crop here, grown to be ground into flour for the making of the ubiquitous tortilla. Personally, I would take a chapatti every time!

Most interesting to me was the waterfall that I stumbled upon. The air danced to the tune of myriad butterflies. In shades of yellow, mauve and brown, these preoccupied insects are really tough to photograph. However, one specimen posed for me. Upon my return, I recollected a previous trip to Laos in South East Asia involving camera shy butterflies. I wonder if they are related. Oh to be a botanist!

Diego Maradona

As my roots and culture span three continents and coupled with a plainly demonic passport photo, I'm something of a cross border curiousity.

Immigration lady flicked through the stamps in my passport, and lingering over the impressive full page, shiny embossed visa to the Republic of Laos she eventually  declares out loud “Bombay?”. My feeling is this is not going so well. Hearing the B word (B-O-M-B) in airports makes me anxious.

So for the third time this year, I'm diverted from the main queue and marched off to a back office where I am greeted by a certain stocky Argentine 10 look-a-likey in an impressive uniform.We quickly ascertain there a lingustic barrier and with stern consternation he explains in Spanish that  I'm going to be asked a series of searching questions. “Oh good I love quizzes”. With precision (in Spanish), my number 10 says “Who is the most famous footballer from England”.

Me: “Easy, Nobby Stil-es”
DM10: …......(blank expression)
me: “er ok, Bobby Shartlon”

The brain is befuddled after 20 hours of journeying, I'm starting to sweat and my inquisitor has knotted his brow. I want to say in rapid quick succession: “Peter Shilton, Gary Lineker, Paul Gascoigne”, but through gritted teeth, I replied with “Daveed Beckham”. It was as though I had scored a goal! The arms went, chorus of approvals from his even shorter side kick in uniform. “HE SHOOTS, HE SCORES”: I've secured entry to Guatemala! 

1-2-3 The plan

'Whatever you can do or dream, you can begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.' – Goethe

What does this mean to me? “I'm not smart enough to know all the answers however I'm smart enough to start out on this journey”

What does 1-2-3 refer to? A span of time travelling in central America traversing three countries. One month of Spanish language education in Guatemala; two months of research study in Belize; three months working in Mexico, applying permaculture principles. Er, although a plan nearly always changes over time.

What is permaculture? Website of the co-creator:

Why permaculture? Well, I'm part of a growing network of people and organisations around the globe seeking alternative solutions to global issues. Over the next 10 years we will all be grappling with the effects of climate change and the end of cheap oil. As the banks, major corporations and the wealthy seek to control us and the world's ever depleted resources, I'm interested in creating a compelling and practical vision for a brighter future where citizens and their communities are empowered to be less dependant on external influences.

What am I doing in central America? Essentially, I'm working towards a diploma in Applied Permaculture. I understand that I work best with authentic problems, real problems that I care about. I know that as I seek knowledge, I will attract the right knowledge to me at the right time. I like the idea of having the freedom to experiment as it makes my learning vivid and exciting. With an engineering background, designing and implementing solutions, is what I enjoy the most. I'm looking forward to developing my systems thinking, breaking down complex systems to find the connections between the more simple underlying structures.