As part of my total immersion in español I am staying with a local family. The house is very nice, although the student boarders are consigned to the servants' quarters.
Monday is the first day of school. My teacher is Mynor (named after a Guatemalan saint). Luckily, he speaks fluent English since I speak no Spanish. I have him as a private tutor seven hours a day. Plus, I am extra diligent and do three hours worth of homework evrey night. It's a dull week, but not without fireworks.
I'm done with school, but not with my trip. On Friday, December 24th I head to Tikal for Christmas in the jungle. Tikal was once was a major Mayan city with a population in excess of 100,000, but has been abandoned for a thousand years. About 20% has been excavated; the rest is still buried. I spend the day tromping around, climbing pyramids, and such overnighting in the park at the Jungle Lodge.
I awake early Christmas morning and climb a pyramid to greet the dawn in solitude. Actually, I am not quite alone, as the howler monkeys vociferously remind me. The park is crawling with wildlife, whereas outside the boundaries most everything has already made it to the dinner table. Toucans are the coolest, but unfortunately I do not have any Froot Loops to lure them down for a picture.
|Monday is Volcano Day #1. Pacaya is one of the more active volcanos in the world. The start point is a village fairly high on its shoulder. After an hour's uphill walk we get to the fun part. The cinder cone is comprised of very loose black lava at a 55° angle piled 300m high. It looks impossible, but that is only an optical illusion. It's not quite impossible, just extremely difficult and tiring. It's like climbing loose sand -- after every step up you lose almost all your progress sliding back down. At the top clouds of sulfurous steam vent through fissures in the ground. The inner crater spews rocks, bright orange lava, volcanic ash, and poisonous gases at irregular intervals. The ground is too hot to sit on. No safety nazis here! You can walk up just as close as you like. The weenie outfitters won't go to Pacaya because they think it's too dangerous.|| |
| ||Tuesday is Volcano Day #2, the assault on El Agua. Departure is at 5 a.m. Antigua lies right at its foot, so we start the hike well before dawn. No one else was stupid enough to sign up, so it's just me and the guide, who speaks no English. (Of course, by now I am fluent in Spanish. I am able to shout phrases like "not so fast!" "how much further?" and "my feet are killing me!" with facility.) It is miserable. Six hours of slogging uphill with not a bit of encouragement (the guide wants to go home early). Ten miles uphill. Twelve thousand feet (we start at about 5,500.) As we got higher the air thins, so I have to stop every 10 steps to catch my breath and rest every 50 yards to let my heart stop pounding like a pile driver. And it is cold! At least it's a clear day, so I can get a view from the top. Coming down seems twice as far and twice as long. Actually, the descent took four hours, mostly because by then I thought all ten toes were broken. What a terrible idea! Well I'm glad I did it, so I don't have to do it again.|
|The ruined alfromfras look like modern art,|
then the sawdust is swept away.