Jilin Panorama

Huang's World

¿Remember that movie ¨Wayne´s World¨? Back in the day, a friend of mine made up a song, using the music from Wayne´s world and substitued Wayne for Huang. I think it went like: ¨Huang´s world, Huang´s world, Chinese food...¨ Anyhoo, the following is on my adventures in life.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Volcan Pacaya

Volcano Pacaya is located between Guatemala City and Antigua, at about 2,600 meters and its still active! At my first Trivia night in Xela, I learned that there are only 4 active volcanoes in Guatemala. The last big eruption was on August 2, 2000. I was a bit nervous walking ontop of the dried lava, as you could feel heat emanating from the lava underneath the rock. I had images of me taking a step and breaking through the ground and melting in the lava. Nevertheless, it was pretty amazing to see lava coming out of the ground!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Volcán Tajumulco

This past weekend, 3 friends, Michelle, Lisa, and Aaron, and I went with a trekking company, Quetzaltrekkers, up to the top of the tallest Volcano in Central America: Tajumuclo. The peak is 4,223 m (13,854 feet) . Quetzaltrekkers is a non-profit organization that runs a health clinic, school for street children, among other various projects in Guatemala and Nicaragua. The quetzal is a national symbol of Guatemala and is supposedly a beautiful bird. When I was living in Costa Rica, I temporally took up birding and wanted desperately to see the famed bird, but alas it was not meant to be.
The hike was quite hard due to the altitude rather than the actual trail. I was a bit worried because I had experienced altitude sickness in Perú, which is probably the worst I´ve ever felt in my life. I had a pounding headache, nausea, vomiting, malaise, and I honestly thought I was going to get cerebral edema and die. Obviously, I ended up being fine, but it was still a horrendous experience. Luckily, we hiked the mountain at a moderate pace and I didn´t really feel sick. Although during the night a few times, I woke up out of breath.

Quetzaltrekkers is great, not just because of the work they are doing with the local communities, but also because they have all the gear one would need for camping overnight on a frigid mountain. It was so cold that it was actually hailing when we were setting up our tents.

The following day, we woke up again at 4am, and hiked up to the peak to watch the sunrise. It was an amazing and beautiful experience (rest of the pics are at the link).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lago Atitlán

This past weekend, a few friends and I took a short shuttle ride to Lake Atitlán, a peaceful, beautiful lake. Once you arrive, you´re overtaken with serenity and its a fabulous feeling. We headed to Santiago Atitlán, and stayed at this gorgeous hotel with lake views. Five of us shared a ¨cottage¨and it was beautifully crafted with wood, stone and even had a fireplace!

Besides visiting the lake, we had made the trip to go see a benefit music festival for the local hospital. There were various bands including a bluegrass band, a Costa Rican singer, and an all female Guatemalan band. From what I could tell, there were only foreigners there, and a ton of ex-pats I believe. The ticket price, while a donation to the hospital, was expensive for the locals, and many were peering over the fence, watching us crazy foreigners. I thought it was unfortunate that locals weren´t allowed to come in either for free or at a reduced cost, especially because I´m sure that the cacophonous music was keeping them awake until midnight.

The concert had great music and great people watching. As I mentioned earlier, a ton of ex-pats, so many were, let´s just say, hippish and were in full effect during the day. There was one guy that had multiple wardrobe changes, including clothing out of a 80´s female closet (tight colorful spandex pieces). Besides watching (white) people dress up in, what I assume are, indigenous costumes, it was great to see the mixing of cultures. There were indigenous children in their traditional clothing (part of a performace group earlier in the day), dancing around with other children, to bluegrass music.

While there are some towns overrun with tourists, there are still many places around the lake that are less visited and there are still many indigenous people living at the lake. The women still wash their laundry in the lake, which is causing problems in the lake. An expat at the festival was telling me that the soaps are increasing the nitrate concentration and reeking havoc on the ecosystem. So he was learning more about natural soaps and trying to encourage locals to use the more eco-friendly soaps. Its always a sticky wicket when outsiders come to another culture and try to dictate what´s best for them and their surroundings. Thus, I´m not sure what´s the best way of going about trying to work with the community, but making sure that we´re not forcing our ideals and beliefs on them.

One belief that is interesting among the people at the lake is in St. Maximón, ¨an idol formed by the fusion of traditional Mayan deities, Catholic saints and conquistador legends.¨People pray to the smoking, beer guzzling saint for good fortune or to get revenge on others.

Anyhoo, the lake was grand fun and I came home to some great news, I was informed that I matched somewhere, and I´ll find out where I will go for residency tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Xelajú, aka Quetzaltenango

Xelajú, shortened to Xela, is my hometown for this month, which in K´iche, means ¨under the ten¨. The ten most likely refers to the surrounding moutains, or it could mean that its always feels like 10 below. It is frigging cold in this city, and in reality, this morning it was 32·, and in buildings with no heat or insulation, you definitely feel the chill. In fact, in my bedroom, I have a wool blanket, a down blanket, and some sheets keeping me warm and I never want to leave it in the mornings.

Xela is the 2nd largest city in Guatemala and is home to a plethora of Spanish language schools. Its been great so far because its not as touristy, from what I´ve heard, as Antigua, where there are also a great deal of schools.

I asked my teacher today about life in Xela and she told me that it is very peaceful and relaxed here. The people are warm and welcoming. After 1 1/2 weeks here, I agree with her and am happy to be living here. Picture of Xela

Monday, March 9, 2009

Its a small glass world afterall

The school has an activity planner, who organizes various outings and activities for the students, which is an added bonus. This past Saturday, we went to Copavie, a place that is known in the area as a recycled glass factory.

Its a great business because its a center of not only recycled glass, but they also recycle newspaper. The workers break up the glass and then melt it in this huge oven. Then they take these long, hollow metal poles and dip it in the vat of liquid glass, which begins the making of glass objects. The process involves blowing the glass a little bit, and then redipping it in the liquid glass and forming it into the shapes desired. Its fascinating to watch them work because they work together without the need to speak to each other. Everyone knows what to do and when to do it. When the glass is ready to be placed in a wooden mold, there is wet newspaper in the casing to cool down the glass. So in a way, they recycle the newspaper, even if it isn´t reusable after. Its wonderful to see a business thriving on recycled products, since there are many things that are not recycled here. To some extent, this is understandable since the funding and infrastructure is not present and the government is preoccupied with more pertinent issues.

While I was perusing the glass goods, two people entered the room and I did a double take! There was a classmate from UVM! It was totally bizarre to be in this random glass factory on a Saturday morning and run into someone who I knew. He has been here for the past 3 weeks, doing a similar program as me. When I recounted the story to my host mom, she commented, ¨what a small world.¨

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Host family

This is the fourth host family that I´ve stayed with over the past several years and things have been going well thus far. I had an interesting experience with my Peruvian host family, mostly with my host mother who seemed to be running more of a business rather than providing a home. Also, it was my first experience with hot water being heated by electrical wires coming out of the shower head.

This prepared me for the electrical rigging of my current shower, but this one is a bit more tricky. When the water is turned on, which is only during the day, and off after 17:00, and I turn the shower on, the ¨heating¨machine makes a loud rough noise. In order to maximize the hot water, I have to turn the dial just right, so that I elicit the loudest noise possible. If I hear the noise dying out, it means that there´s cold water acoming, which is painful, when its surprisingly cold here. Since we are at a pretty high altitude, the weather is relatively cold in the mornings and evening. I realize its nothing compared to the winters in the NE, but there´s no insulation or heating here, so I´m usually wearing jeans and a sweater most of the day.

My host family has been great so far. There is Amanda, with her daughter Karen, and her grandson, Luis. There is also another Guatemalan student living there, who is studying law. Amanda´s son also lives nearby and she babysits her 4 year old grandaugther Wed-Fri who looks like the little girl from Monsters INC, so adorable. The other night, we watched ¨El Patito feo y yo¨ which means ¨The Ugly Duckling and Me.¨ A cute story, about a rat who inadvertently ¨adopts¨the ugly duckling and raises him.

I was placed with this family because Amanda has had a whole bunch of vegetarians, and she is quite the cook. Although, the meals tend to be carb overloaded with rice, beans, tortillas, bread, pastas, but I can´t complain because its all good and I get my full servings of vegetables.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Romero and Sunday

Last evening, the Spanish school that Im enrolled in, Miguel Angel Asturias, showed the movie ¨Romero.¨ Its a film that I´ve seen a few times, and wanted to remind myself again about this extraordinary man´s life.

Raul Julia, of Street Fighter fame, plays Archbishop Oscar Romero, a prominent figure in El Salvador in the late 70s. Before he was elected to Archbishop, he had been a relatively quiet, passive figure in the church, which was he was placed in a leadership position. He superiors thought that he would not ¨cause any waves.¨

At this time in El Salvador, there was a great deal of turmoil and the poor were suffering. Some priests advocated for economic justice for the poor and that these people should not have to wait for heaven for salvation, but that salvation can be found on Earth. These priests were labeled as communists and the military and government tortured, kidnapped, and killed many of the people who were speaking out and organizing the masses.

Romero eventually saw the reality of the situation and began to use his influence to speak out on behalf of the poor. The once passive priest was transformed into an active, vocal, and impassioned man. This is a person that I admire and respect, who has been a huge influence on me. One of his quotes has stayed with me ever since I heard it, ¨Be a voice for the voiceless.¨

In the United States, its easy to forget that the Catholic church exists, but like most countries in Latin and South America, the Catholic church in Guatemala has a prominent presence. Most of the pueblos and cities have main plazas where there is a church and its interesting because many of the Mayan beliefs and artificats have merged into Catholic traditions here.

This past Sunday, I was wondering the streets of Xela, when I happened upon a huge procession, with about 50 people carrying a huge casked with Jesus on top, carrying a wooden cross. Here are some pictures.

Saturday, February 28, 2009


I only stayed the night in Guatemala City because many of the things that I had read said get out A.S.A.P. To be fair, the hostel guy told me that the archelogical museum is one the best muesums in the country and that there are plenty of things to do in the capital. On the otherhand, another hostel guest, who was a bit questionable himself, advised me to be careful. Regardless, I took a morning bus to Cabón, about 4 hours north, which is set in a higher altitude and is famous for coffee growing and Semuc Champey, a limestone formation over a river.

I visited a coffee farm, which was conviently right next door to my hostel. It was originally started by some Europeans, which transformed the region into a major producer of coffee. I opted for the Spanish tour, hoping to practice and it ended up being not too confusing. Most of the coffee plants had been there since when then farm started and they just keep trimming the plants.

Originally, I was planning to cut across to the west to Nebaj after Cabón, but there had been some major mudslides recently and the road was no longer open. Bummer, but part of traveling is going with the flow and I decided to travel up further north to Tikal, a major Mayan site, instead of going there at the end of March.

This left me with an extra day to explore the surrounding area. Since I was short on time, I went with a tour group to some local caves and Semuc Champey, which was gorgeous.