Saturday, November 7, 2009

Greetings from Guatemala... Julie hits the Road!

OCTOBER 12, 2009

My dear friends and family:

For those of you who don’t already know, my job ended and I decided to take a sojourn... a sabbatical... a soul-searching journey so that I can get into a different frame of mind. I'm doing this to help determine what my next path in life will be - i.e. I need to determine what my new career will be when I return.... Any ideas???

So I am wandering the Globe and my first stop is Guatemala (specifically, the town of Antigua). I'm not sure how long I will be gone, but most likely at least 4-6 months; possibly more!!! Also included will be El Salvador, Cuba, Panama and possible other exotic spots.

Believe it or not, this is actually my 4th visit to Guatemala. I would say that on a good day, I am about 40% fluent in Spanish. So I am here to attend Spanish school and I have decided that unless some other amazing opportunity comes along, I am not going to leave here until I am 80% fluent!!! Please wish me luck and send some good learning vibes to me ;-)

I have made friends with a woman who is living in the same complex as me; and she eats meals with the same family I do. We have tons in common - Bonnie is the same age as I, we are both Californians (she is from the Bay Area), we are both down here for a number of months, we are both learning Spanish and taking private lessons from the same teacher, it is the 4th visit down here for both of us and we’ve both been to Burning Man (me twice and her 4 times).

However, the main difference between us is that Bonnie is almost blind – she can only see about 30% in the day and a scant 10% in the night. She is quite an inspiration though – nothing stops her, as she is here alone, travelling and walking all around by herself … and it doesn’t seem to bother her in the least! Last night a group of us went out to hear some Jazz and get dessert. I was actually shocked that she was going to go out at night and so I asked her if I could help her in any way. She said that I could be her “Sight Guide,” which means that she holds onto my elbow and I guide her and alert her of bumps and steps and other interesting things (like street grates) which show up. Antigua is not an easy place to walk in since all of the streets are rough cobblestone and the skinny sidewalks are accompanied by many wrought iron-cased windows which protrude into the walking area, making it difficult for one person to pass by, let alone 2 of us side-by-side.

Additionally, there are many driveways which appear as you walk, making it important to pay attention since you frequently have to step up, step down and walk on an angle. Even during the daylight hours when I am walking alone (without the distraction of talking to another person) I have to pay attention to my footing. And here was Bonnie… gliding smoothly along across all of these bumps, steps and holes chatting away the entire time there and back (15 mins each) and she was actually walking much faster than me !! I was so impressed that she could do all of this without skipping a beat that I was compelled to compliment her on her amazing multi-tasking abilities. And to this she replied, “Julie, you are such a natural as a Sight Guide that you make it very easy for me to just relax when I walk and not worry about anything.” I was really shocked and certainly humbled by her compliment. Perhaps I have a future helping the Blind ?!?

I’m renting a rather large cottage (approx 500 sq. ft. plus a bathroom and kitchen, which I certainly don’t need) and it is surrounded by tropical greenery with some wonderful bird sounds thrown in.

It is in a gated complex where locals, ex-pats and travelers like me are living – some just passing through, and others, like my friend Deet who I met on my second trip here in 1997, have been living here for 15 years. There are probably 20-30 different rooms/cottages/apartments/houses here – all different sizes. I walk 30 seconds to a house where Olga (my landlord) and her helpers prepare yummy meals for travelers/students like me. We usually only speak Spanish and Olga will correct us and help us along with our Spanish faux pas. Besides the instruction with my teacher, this ‘communal’ interaction at meals is the core of the Spanish Immersion life here and is one of many reasons why Antigua is so popular with students. There are a plethora of other students and travelers down here from countless countries and of all ages.

Besides Bonnie, there are 3 others who live at our complex and eat meals with Olga; they are all American. One lives on Roaton, one of the Bay Islands off the Caribbean Coast of Honduras, and the other two are down here indefinitely, which I totally understand since this place does kind of grow on people! So I get 3 meals per day (except Sunday) and the cottage all for only $130/week!!! And, I am paying more than most because I have a private bathroom.

Weather is similar to San Diego (which is one of the reasons that I like it here) except that it is even more mild and there is a rainy season here. This is my first visit during the rainy season, which runs from June through October. Apparently there has not been that much rain this year and they are in a bit of a draught. But I have been here 3 days now and there has been some rain each day. The inconvenience of the rain pays off as it is definitely lush and green. They call it “Eternal Spring” - temps are in the 70’s during the day and drop into the 60’s at night. From what I remember, as time goes on and it becomes Winter, the temps will drop into the 50’s at night. I have never met anyone who has heating here, in fact, I checked out the 5 star hotel in town last time I was here (2001) including the suite that Bill & Hillary Clinton stayed in, and it didn’t have heat either!

Another reason that Antigua is so popular is because there is a ton of stuff to do here. Even without doing any Spanish school, one could keep busy all of the time with activities. From Yoga classes in a beautiful, enchanting European style B&B to Salsa lessons to hiking in the area to drum circles to international concerts to art galleries to fine dining…. And the list goes on. See this link for more

Speaking of lists, if there is anyone that I missed that you know would like to be on my email distribution list, please email me or have them email me. I will be writing you updates so that you can learn about what I’m doing, however, if you do not want to be on this email list, please email me, let me know and I will take you off – no hard feelings! Thanks! Otherwise, I would love to hear from you…. So please do write me, but also be patient with me because I don’t check my email every day and it might take a couple of days for me to get back to you. In fact, if you want to see where I check my email, here is my “secret internet” place:

I think you’d agree that this is a much more special place than the typical run-of-the-mill internet café. By the way, I pass by these ruins:

which are right outside the entrance to the courtyard where I hitchhike on their internet connection.

Also, I am on both Skype and AOL IM as nomadicjulie – so please add me and look for me online or email me your screen name and I will add you too! Then maybe we can ‘talk’ to each other.

Happy trails,

:) Julie

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