Saturday, 12 January 2013

From Buffalo to El Chal

Here’s the game plan: every two weeks I post an update on this blog about what I’ve been doing, what I’ve been learning, etc. Since I have not been here for two weeks yet, here is my “journal” about my journey to Guatemala. Enjoy!

January 8th, 2013…
>>We got to the airport this morning in good time… about two hours before my plane left. I checked my bags and then said a very sad goodbye to my family. No problems going through security other than an older gentleman trying to run off with my computer. He had a MacBook Pro identical to mine and came through security right behind me. I grabbed his computer and he grabbed mine. I thought something didn’t look quite right with the computer I had, so I asked the man if he was sure he had his. He was. Thankfully, I was able to convince him that there was a chance we had switched. We fired both computers up made sure that we each had our own.

The first flight (Buffalo to Atlanta) went very smoothly. It seemed really short plus I got a glass of Coke and a cookie. That was a nice addition to the ham, egg, and cheese sandwich I had for breakfast at the airport. Little did I know at this point how much I should enjoy each ounce of food. One simply does not know where his next meal will come from while traveling to Guatemala.

I had a layover in Atlanta with a duration of 1 hour and 9 minutes, a perfect duration. Plenty of time to ride the train to concourse E and find the gate for my next flight, but not to long that I had to wait forever to board. I fell asleep during the takeoff of the next flight, and when I woke up everyone around me was filling out immigration papers. I was sure that I had just slept for 3 and a half hours straight and missed the drink cart completely. Thankfully, on Delta international flights they hand out immigration forms early. I still got a glass of coke… and a small bag of pretzels, which was the last food I would consume for a loooooong time. I sat beside a Guatemalan family of four with two really cute children. I was sitting beside the Mom and didn’t talk to her a whole lot. I did find out however, that they live in Guatemala, and I told her a bit about what I’m doing the next two years. I’d like to say we conversed in Spanish... but we didn’t. She spoke English perfectly. But at the end of the flight she gave me a paper with her and her husbands name (Poncho and Miriam) and a phone number. She told me to have a good trip and to call if I ever needed help! I thought that was pretty cool!

Everything it the Guatemala airport went as smoothly as it could have. I went through customs, found my luggage almost right away, and then went through another custom thing without any problems. Then I stepped out side and figured out that I have absolutely no idea what the guy picking me up looks like. There were just a lot of Guatemalan people staring at me. Some had signs, some were yelling “Taxi!!” (it’s nice that some words sound the same in English and Spanish). Then I saw two guys that were looking at me like they were the ones going to pick me up. So I walked over to them. One of them asked, “Are you Ricky Martin?” to which I responded “Yes, I am!” I’ve never felt so happy to be Ricky Martin. Lee and Tim were the names of the guys that picked me up and they helped me take my luggage to the Mitsubishi van. Tim told me that usually people hold up a sign saying who they are. Man, some people think of everything.

Once we were on the road, Lee told me that he’s taking me directly to the bus station to take the bus to El Chal. He asked me if I had a cell phone. I didn’t. He asked me if I had any Guatemalan money. Eleven quetzales. He told me that I probably wouldn’t need money until I got to El Chal anyway. So he bought me a ticket, told the bus driver that even though my ticket says Santa Elena, drop me off at El Chal. I also got a chance to talk to Stephan a little bit. The first thing he said was, “You’re not in Guatemala, are you?” I told him I wasn’t really sure where I was. Then he suggested making friends with someone on the bus and asking to use that persons phone to call Stephan when I was getting close. I figured I’d just try to talk to whoever sat beside me on the bus, but nobody sat beside me. So I figured, “Hey, I got eight hours… no need to rush this.” I got some sleep and woke up to a lady rambling of a list of food items in Spanish. “Oh, nice!” I thought. “Finally some food.” When she got to me I asked her, “Cuanto cuestan?”
She replied with, “Quince quetzales.”
That was four more quetzales than I had on me, so I shook my head no. I don’t think she understood the reason I said no, because next thing I knew she was holding some food up to my nose for me to smell. I didn’t know how to tell her that lack of money was the problem here, not lack of hunger.
I did try asking, “Dolares Americano?”
But she said, “No.”
So I decided that I’d just have to be fine with water until I got more food.

Then it got dark outside. This made me wish I had tried this whole “making friends” earlier when I could see my “friend” and my “friend” could see me. After a little while, the bus stopped and some guy yelled something in Spanish to everyone. All I caught was “veinte minutos.” When I saw everybody exiting the bus, I assumed that the bus was stopping for twenty minutes. This is when I had to make my move. It was now or never. So I just took a deep breath and walked up to a guy that had been sitting on the seat in front of me and asked him where we were. We talked for a little while, but all I understood was that we were in the town of Morales, and that we were still 3 hours from El Chal. Then I think he asked me if I was the guy sitting behind him on the bus. So I said, “Si. Diecisiete.” (my seat number) Then I went and bought a bottle of coke. I should have probably bought food, but I didn’t think I had enough Guatemalan money. The 10Q bill that I gave the lady to pay for my coke got rejected. I don’t know why. Maybe it was too old and wrinkled. The guy in line behind me held it up to the lights and then laughed. Whatever that means. I still have the bill and I’m going to try it somewhere else and see what happens. Thankfully, they excepted my dolares Americano at this place.

After we got back on the bus I asked my buddy (Freddie was his name) if I could borrow his phone. I think what I literally said in Spanish was something like, “I can to use your telephone, please?” But he understood me! And he let me use his phone!! Such a nice guy! So I was able to tell Stephan that I was just outside of Morales and he said he’d have someone there in El Chal to pick me up. He also said that he was impressed that I was actually calling him from a complete strangers phone. I thought that was nice, because when I talked to him before, it seemed like he thought if I can’t do a simple thing like make friends with someone on a completely Spanish-speaking bus and use their phone to call him I should just turn around and go right back to Canada. Instead, he said that I was already getting points.
I was like, “What kind of points? Do I want to be getting points here?”
“Oh yes!” he said, “They’re brownie points!!”

Long story short, I made it to El Chal at about 10:30 Guatemalan time, 21.5 hours after my day started. Jason game me a plate of noodles so I didn’t go to bed hungry<<

Thanks for your thoughts and prayers everybody! In my next update I’ll tell you about what exactly I’m doing down here, but for now I’ll just say that it’s hot and we’re doing a lot of hard work but I’m having fun!
Buenas Noches!

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