Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Mountains to the Coast

It's been a couple weeks since my last real post ... over three weeks, actually. Wow, that time just flew by. I spent most of those three weeks in Xela, attending the same school with basically the same daily routine I outlined before. There were a few interesting afternoon and weekend trips to different places which I'll write about in the photo captions below, but first I want to answer a couple questions you all have asked.

photo of the courtyard at the school. classrooms are upstairs
Regarding classes: The classes are almost entirely in Spanish. Yes, we are "allowed" to speak English, but very few of the instructors speak English well enough to have a conversation. All of them know how to translate basic words, and the ones who have been teaching for a while know sentences, but from day one, the classes were 100% in Spanish except for when trying to explain the meaning of new words. In truth, many words in Spanish sound or look similar to their English counter parts, so figuring out the meaning is often pretty easy either from context or similarity. In the beginning at least, I would speak in English and the instructor would respond in Spanish, and that was pretty effective.

The other students at my school are an interesting mix. The school has an association with a Danish volunteer program, so there are quite a few Danes, but we also have students from Germany, Canada, and the US. Everyone is, of course, there to learn Spanish, but that's about it for our similarities. There is a very broad range of ages, previous Spanish experience, planned stays at the school (weeks to months), and motivations (some just want to learn traveler vocabulary, others to be professional speakers). Almost all of the students plan to or have volunteered in the local community, usually at schools as English teachers. I've had lots of fun spending time with all of the students. Naturally, I've been learning a lot about Guatemalan culture while here, but it's also been interesting hearing about these other places, languages, and customs as well.
A few of the other students at the school taking an ice cream break. 

Moving downhill

Near Semuc Champey
As I mentioned in my last mini-post, I left Xela (in the western highlands at 6000 ft) a couple weeks ago to attend a DIY (do it yourself) sailing meetup in Rio Dulce (on the east side of Guatemala, near the Caribbean coast). Excluding a 2 day stop over in Semuc Champey for amazing caves and great swimming, I've been in Rio Dulce ever since The sailing meetup was amazing - a week full of workshops and hands-on training on boats, all organized, hosted, and instructed by young punks who bought cheap sailboats, fixed them up, and started sailing all over with very minimal funding or formal training. About 40 people, 7 sail boats, and a couple sailing dinghies  participated. It was an eclectic mixture of people and skill levels, but everyone really learned a lot. Photos from Semuc and Rio are at the bottom.

Sailing in the lake at Rio Dulce.
Now that the conference is over, I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to do (nothing new there). The hostel I've been staying at in Rio Dulce is associated with an orphanage and school down the river from here that can only be accessed by boat. They want to install a solar electric system at the orphanage to power computer lab for the kids, so I think I'll stay around at least a couple days to help them size and specify a system that will fit their needs and budget. This kind of project is right up my alley, so I'm pretty excited to get to help out on it. If things go well, and there's more work I can help with, I might stay here for quite a while. If not, I'll probably find somewhere to take a few more weeks of Spanish lessons while doing some volunteer work. Stay tuned.

As usual, I need to apologize for not replying to emails or messages as fast as I should. I hope you all understand when I say I've been pretty busy. Everything just takes longer when you're in a new place with a new language. But, the good news is that I'll probably have a little more down time during the next couple weeks to get caught up ... and get started on my taxes :(

More photos in the photos link at the top of the page.

Also, I updated the 'track my location' map linked at the top of the page.

That's all for now. More later this week. Hope to hear from you all soon. 


  1. I think you have a mistake in your paragraph that starts "regarding classes" --- "the classes were 100% in English"

    you mean, 100% in Spanish?

    1. Oh, good catch. Yep, that was a mistake. Thanks!

  2. Don't forget to put arc flash "stickers" on all the electrical equipment!!

    1. I'm putting together a collection of photos for your electrical safety presentations. There are some real winners here.

  3. Hi Thomas, I ran across the use of clorinated water filled plastic bottles as solar tubes at work while looking at some daylighting options. I don't know the housing situation down there but consider this as a project possibility.



    1. Yeah, that's a pretty cool project. Using water as a diffuser ... and cheap too. Thanks for keeping me in mind :)