Better late than never, right? With that in mind the next several posts will provide recaps of my last few weeks in Guatemala (over a month ago), the trip through Mexico, and then my time in Southern California. After that I'll write about some of the highlights from Japan and eventually Indonesia.
As always, you can check the map linked at the top of the page for my route and stops I've made. I've also created a page with links to photo albums from my trips. I will still include some photos in the posts, but the albums contain many more and also the ability to leave comments and rate the ones you like. Another nice feature of the photo albums is the map showing where the photos were taken. Many of my photos are tagged with GPS coordinates which are then integrated with a google-map for even more internet-stalker/follow-my-journey goodness.
You'll remember that after 3 weeks in Rio Dulce I went back to Xela for more language lessons and some volunteering. Those last weeks were bittersweet – fun new experiences, great new friends, but also sad endings and little bits of drama.
I really enjoyed my new language school. It was slightly more spendy than the first one, but the quality of instruction was well worth the difference in price. I learned a lot at the first school – more than I would have expected in the 5 weeks I was there – and I would definitely recommend ICA to anyone looking for a language school. But if I ever go back to Xela, I'll pay the extra if I can for the instructors at PLQ.
The volunteering was also a really edcuational experience. I was able to help the folks at Alterna figure out what needs to be done before they can connect some microhydro systems (<100MW) to the local utility grids. Right now, the power from the systems is only used to meet the needs of the people who own the systems, thus at times there is unused power that goes to waste. If they connect to the larger distribution system, they can be paid for their excess production and help reduce the carbon content of the local power. Before connecting they have to meet certain safety and technical requirements set by the utility. In theory that's where I come in since I should know what needs to be done and how it all should fit together. In reality it was frustrating to realize how much of this I had forgotten or never fully learned. I did what I could, and ultimately made some valuable progress, but I felt like I should have been able to do more.
The group of engineers at Alterna was fun to work with. They are without a doubt doing some valuable things for the community, but in the end I was left with mixed feelings toward my future involvement in similar volunteering projects. There are plenty of things that need to be done, I'm just not sure if I'm a good fit for that type of work. We'll see.
As you might expect, attending a different school and working with a group of resident engineers resulted in many new friendships from a circle of people entirely different from the one I was with before. Though it is work at times, I like meeting new people – especially when doing so allows me to peek into lifestyles that I wouldn't otherwise get to experience: medical students learning the language so they can work in Spanish-speaking parts of the US; engineers who have been in Guatemala for years doing infrastructure work yet still have to leave the country every 3 months to renew their visas; ex-peace corp volunteers not sure what to do with themselves; yoga instructors; community development facilitators, etc, etc.
With so many different types of people in one place interpersonal drama is bound to result. I generally do a good job of staying out of the middle of such things – I like to address problems directly before they even become problems, but this time I guess the cultural, situational, and maturity factors were too much even for me. It really wasn't a big deal, hardly worth mentioning, but I do mention it just to provide a counter point to all of the positive experiences.
One such positive experience was having lunch with a Guatemalan university student and his family. One of the couchsurfers I met in Berkeley grew up in Xela, so she gave me the names and emails of a couple of her friends from home. I was a bit nervous about meeting with Mynor and his family – I wasn't confident in my Spanish skills nor did I know what to expect with his family since we had only been introduced online and spoken on the phone twice. Everything worked out great in the end. His family was amazingly welcoming and my Spanish was better than I expected; combined with their English, my Spanish and Mynor translating a little led to pleasant and mutually understood conversation over an all to appropriate lunch of pizza and popusas. I know I'm repeating myself, but the people I meet along the way continue to amaze me.
People - new friends, old friends, and interesting characters - are really the best part of traveling.