Postcards from the West 1

Postcards from the West ……

I have been here just over 3 weeks now and it is beginning to feel like home.  Antigua is certainly a very beautiful and peaceful place.  Even the cars trundle along as the old cobbled streets don’t allow for speed.  I can virtually walk faster than the cars travel.  The houses are brightly painted and often back off the streets around pretty courtyards with brightly coloured flowers, in a colonial style.  The volcanoes tower above the town and at night you can see the smoke and fire coming out of Fuego the live volcano.  The electric storms at night can be incredible … like laser shows.  I love it.

Some of the restaurants have exquisite décor.  Hector my Guatemalan friend works in one of the smartest restaurants/hotels in town, which is called Panze Verde – Green Stomach.  This is the nickname for Antiguans as they eat so many avocados.  The hotel is one of the most romantic places I have seen, the rooms have private courtyards and enormous bathrooms up spiral staircases.  I pop in for a sneaky glass of fine red wine and to cuddle the hotel cat, as I miss Smudge.

There are lovely shops selling contemporary and traditional arts and crafts and all the typical Guatemalan textiles.  I’ll have plenty of time to decide what to get.  They also have fantastic Jade and silver stuff.

I was thinking about getting a bicycle but I have just found a beautiful little apartment for myself right in the centre of Antigua near the main square {or central park as the American influence calls it}.  It is costing me $5 more than my room in a shared house.  Everyone is very jealous … it certainly was good luck – the 4 apartments I saw before that were dark and dingy and expensive.  Antigua is so small you can walk everywhere.  There are bike trips you can do in groups to go out of town …. Some of them look quite good, although I am tempted by the horseriding option … it’s been a long time!

I suppose I should have been expecting it but I had not realised how these countries are totally colonised by the US …. in so many ways.  I suppose this is my first time traveling west.  In fact I am having to learn two languages…..!  I have done 2 weeks of Spanish nearly and have almost stopped pronouncing everything in a French way!  I feel very stupid at the moment but trying to be patient with myself.  I think I will succeed.  I have met plenty of Spanish speaking friends of friends who I can’t really talk to yet but I hope to be able to chat to them in a few weeks.  [Nicaraguans, Peruvians and Chileans as well as Guatemalans]  I have been doing 4 hours of one on one Spanish a day and I can tell you that at 8am I am useless so next week I am going down to 3 hours from 9 til 12.  I got them down to $40 for the week.  I’ll probably do another 2 to 3 weeks of school and then someone has recommended a private teacher who can come round to my apartment – so lessons on my terrace after that.  I already feel very comfortable with my central American friends so once my Spanish improves things can only get better.  At the moment I feel like an ugly idiot when I try and talk!

I have rented some office space for a nominal fee in a shared house co-operative where amongst other things they are doing post production on short films, trying to organize a film festival in Antigua next year and designing websites.  {Si and J, it is Spanish Rich’s place} People live and work here and there is a big roof terrace for chilling out when I need a break from the screen.  It is a great place for me to be to carry on my research into creative freelance careers.  I met a Guatemalan film director the other day in the park with his French Canadian wife and he invited me to the showing of his latest film in the City on Monday.  I think he will be my first interviewee.  Quite intrigued to see his film anyway.

Workwise I am putting adverts in the ex-pat magazine for career counselling and adverts elsewhere for English classes.  There are jobs available to teach English at the Bi-lingual school from January so I will probably apply for one of those positions.  I have also been asked to do some life-modelling at the French art school in Antigua – it is an all female class so I am contemplating it.  I don’t think they are used to seeing such long skinny white bodies ……3 hours should pay for a few beers on Friday night.

Hector is my main contact here {thanks to Anj} and I have been living with him and some other people for the first 3 weeks …… but I think it was rather ambitious to think I could go back to sharing after 4 years living in my own place with Smudge.  I was very lucky and found a new place which is small, light and pretty {most Guatemalan houses only have one or two storeys and tend to be quite dark].  My little studio apartment is on the third floor with lots of sun, plants on the balcony and the most amazing roof terrace in town.  I have a panoramic view all over town and of all the volcanoes surrounding Antigua and look over into private gardens full of bright flowers  Hector has been working very hard in his new job at the hotel so I have not seen him as much as I thought.  Scott is my new partner in crime, he’s from London, is Jewish and lives out here after selling his business.  He lends money to Guatemalans at high interest rates, I have told him that he is morally dysfunctional but he is the most fun person that I have met so far – we are a bit like a grumpy old married couple.  I keep on teasing him about being gay but he insists he is not.  If I go out with the Americans I have to leave my sense of irony at home in my suitcase and they don’t always understand me – although I’m beginning to learn Americana too.

There are also lots of Dutch here who are working on voluntary projects in villages around Antigua.  I have decided to help out at an orphanage in town where a British doctor I know works.  They are mainly abandoned disabled children who have no-one.  I have already been along to meet them.  As I did a bit of work with young autistic children in Hong Kong years ago, I feel quite comfortable with these little things.  Leslie the doctor is actually adopting a little three year old with cerebral palsy.  He is called Luis and has just started smiling and laughing again.

The Guatemaltecos are gentle, smiling people who don’t hassle you very much.  The Indians all wear their traditional dress which looks so regal and the children are so cute ……. I can see why all the rich American lesbians are here adopting … strange to see them round town with their new charges!  The men tend to leave me alone but if one of them comes up to chat they are quickly followed by three others telling me to be careful as the first one was after my money and a ticket out … taking it all with a pinch of salt.  I have not really explored outside Antigua yet due to the elections approaching so have so much more to learn.

The climate up in the mountains is like the English summer I have just left behind ….but the sun is stronger and the nights draw in quicker.  I am slowly developing a ski tan just from walking around town going about my chores. The food in Antigua is great as there are lots of international restaurants.  In the market you can buy almost anything in the way of fruit and veg.  Tropical fruits as well as apples and blackberries and things I have never seen before!  Last week I succumbed to street food and paid the price for 24 hours so I am now back onto sensible food but I think my constitution is hardening!    And the street food always looks so tasty ..grrrr.

Hector plays in a band which does Latino, Reggae and Cuban tracks … I have seen them 3 times already, in fact I am they’re offical groupy now.  You can’t avoid the salsa here so I will have to get some lessons at some stage.  Would much prefer to find a tango teacher.  I have been to Guatemala City once to have a little look round with a friend but it was nice to get back to Antigua.  I also went to a huge kite festival not far from here last Saturday which was to celebrate old saints day.  The kites were all homemade out of crepe paper and some were enormous.  It was quite a visual feast.  Still trying to work out he complexities of my new digital camera ..

It is election weekend in Guatemala so I cannot travel until after things have settled down as there is a lot of uncertainty but …..

I am getting ideas of travel plans and finding cheaper non-tourist ways of doing things i.e. friends with cars and houses.  People already know me just from walking around this small town so everyone knows they need to do me a better deal.

In case I can tempt any of you who said you might make the effort to come out and join me while I am here…………My plans are to visit the Guatemalan sights of –

  • Tikal … Mayan ruins in the north
  • Lake Atitlan …. Beautiful lake close by for many weekend trips – a friend has a hotel up there.
  • Monterrico beach for a full moon party sometime soon – I need to dance!
  • Down to Livingstone, the Rio Dulce and Belize for a bit of Carribean
  • El Salvador for the beaches and surfing. It is supposed to be good Harry!!!  Can I persuade you out for a Christmas surf trip.
  • And Honduras to go to the Bay Islands and hopefully visit Michelle an old Trailfinders friend of my brother’s.

My mother has just booked an amazingly cheap flight for February but if anyone is looking for a Christmas/New Year escape …… you know where I am until April 15th!

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