Each day is an adventure here. We step out of the house with no clear plan each morning, except to teach at 3pm. And things come to us. People always used to say to me that life should just flow. And it never really did. Until now.
Yesterday was a good example. Our first stop was to Estiven’s auntie’s house – plants creeping out of old coca cola bottles stuffed with earth, clothes tangled up in a corner, outside sink dripping onto a kitten head. A little girl with moon eyes, shy smile. The aunt called her brother Alexander in San Jose, our new landlord. And yes, we can have the little green house next to the football pitch, opposite a bar that pumps out tinny tunes all day. The house with windows you can see into, with a big garden out the back strewn with leaves and fallen mangoes. And two bare concrete rooms, full of potential, ripe for colourful hammocks to hang.
So it is organised, to go today to collect the keys and buy the essentials for our new home – a hose pipe to fill our sink and dampen the dust, some material to make curtains, some sheets, some hammocks, a stove, some sandpaper for little Derrien to smooth his surf board. And someone’s friend will drive us there and wait while we buy our things and bring us home. And someone’s uncle will make us a table from the palms he is about to cut down. And we can borrow mattresses from the tents at the surf camp. People look out for us. We are giving a lot for free. But our lives are pretty much self sustaining as we begin to spend less and trade more.
Then we went to buy some fish from the river where the boats bob. And people hanging there for 3 hours, waiting for it to arrive. We swam instead, to cool off, laughing with the boat drivers. And there we met Eddie and Joel, who showed us how to mend their fishing nets with nylon and gave us mangoes and I have organised to teach them English, 15 guys who work the lanchas (boats), in exchange for free boat transport into town (and maybe some free fish). I start on Thursday, at 6pm, with the names of all the Guatemalan fish in English.
And from there, we bumped into Janet, who wants to start a little artesania kiosk with jewellery made from coconut shells. And she cuts hair and paints nails in the open, looking out onto the river, with a beautician’s chair donated by 2 Americans who she had met. So she painted our nails with a palm tree and sea and her boys came home from school, all of them our students, and they gave us mangoes and bowls of water to wash our hands while our nails dried. And we have organised to meet the Mayor again on Sunday, Carla, Janet and I, to ask him about the jewellery equipment he owns and if we can use it to run workshops from our new house.
And school, well, each lesson has different students but there is a trickle of regulars, all feisty, fun, easily distracted 11-16yr old boys. And we played snap with weather cards and pretended to be in a fruit and veg shop and people cling onto the metal bars of the windows looking in from outside, too shy to come in. Yesterday, they wanted to learn the words to ‘Where is the love’ and talk about their upcoming football trip to Esquintla. They are understanding more each day, some of them hungry to learn. Most of their pronunciation is appalling.
The owner of the surf camp is at a surfing competition in El Salvador and so we are co-in charge in his absence. So we greeted some new guys – blonde Dutch twins and an awkward American and we went – a big posse, with our local surfer friends and Pati the hot girl in town, to the other surf hostel where we were all thrown in the swimming pool and we drank sangria. And that was just another day in El Paredon. Every day, Carla and I turn to each other and grin and hug and say ‘I love our life!’ It is truly brilliant.
As a reward for helping with the beach clear up we were given a food bag
In it was beans, tortilla flour, ketchup, chow mein noodles, sachet of juice drink, bag of rice, bottle of oil, bottle of ketchup, sachet of chicken noodle soup. A really practical gift. On the right hand side of the photo here is Mylvia, who is one of the teachers in the school. She comes to my English class.
People have started giving us food which is so lovely – mangoes from their gardens, spare limes, fish tacos…the people here are amazing – so open and friendly. We are starting to feel properly part of the community. We know the family who run the eatery and we also often eat at Sandra’s family house, along with their 21 yr old son and his pregnant 16 yr old girlfriend, 7 puppies, the grandparents and 4 kids. We eat what they are having and laugh and chat. We pay Q15 (about £1.20) for the meal. Yesterday was fried eggs, beans, avocado, rice. It is so nice to turn up there and just hang out.
Carla met a sassy girl called Pati at the beach clean up who took us to see some land she has for sale along the beach.
Yet again our day became an adventure, having to wade through the river to get back. There are lots of empty ranches all along the beach. People say they will be full for Semana Santa. Carla and I are trying to think of enterprising ways to make money so we can break even here. We need to make Q72 (£6) a day each to live.
Yesterday morning, we tried our first enterprise idea – making and selling fruit lollies for tourists. Carlos, one of our surfer friends, lent us his blender and we experimented with pineapple and banana.
We are thinking of having a liquado (milkshake), lollipop and ceviche stand during Semana Santa (or do we go to Antigua and watch the processions..?)
On the way back from our trip with Pati and Gracie we found our ideal house / workshop / exhibition space. Gracie said it is haunted but it is incredible and we could rent it if we stay for longer….
Today, Carla and I got up at 5am and made the spooky 40 minute walk along the beach to help the school with the annual beach cleanup. In our bleary eyed state, we forgot all-important water and food supplies. Just as well it was the first cool day of the month and that families shared their mangoes with us.
When we arrived, half the school was already there. Teams were given bags to collect glass, plastic or bottle tops. These would be sold for recycling. The remaining wood and rubbish were scraped into big piles and burnt. Carla and I were on plastic watch and we gathered together colourful scraps, combs, toys and drift wood we can use in the recycled art projects we want to initiate here. Lots of the kids showed an interest in getting involved in our projects and we met 2 great women who are dead keen, who have made things in the past but lost impetus. We’re going to have our first meeting on Friday with them to see what they have already made form coconuts and shells and what materials and equipment the mayor’s sister has already.
What a happy day. So brilliant getting to know the local kids, a lot of whom we are also teaching English. They are funny, smart, silly, shy, wise, able to laugh at themselves and hard working.
We have just found out that tomorrow there is a big party for everyone who was involved, starting at 9am! I will be able to squeeze in surfing before that if the waves are small enough….
All has changed.
We are now proud residents of El Paredon, a magical secret surf town on the South Coast of Guatelama. We were never supposed to come. We met Adam in a hostel in Antigua, a Financial Times journalist living in Mexico City, who has a plot of land on the coast. He invited us down for the weekend two weeks ago. When he left, we stayed.
We are learning how to surf. We have new friends – local surfers, children, shop owners, families who cook for us, look after us and try and marry us to their sons.We pick mangos when we want, knocking them down with sticks. We can choose to swim from the volcanic beach of the Pacific or the mangrove lined river. We have organised to teach for an hour a day in the local school. Our first lesson (yesterday) had 40 kids, packed into a hot classroom. We laughed a lot, learnt a LOT. We have met the Mayor. He said ‘let’s collaborate’ and offered us a free home in the local pharmacy, surrounded by old sewing machines, painkillers and cockroaches. We have found somewhere better, for £50 each a month rent, all bills included. We move in later this week. And there is much more, so much more to write about to tell the world about this incredible place and the way our lives are moulding into the shape that I have wished for for so long without thinking it possible.
I am not a cave person. Darkness, dampness, slippery floors, water, bats = not my thing.
However, we’ve had THREE amazing cave experiences in TWO weeks that I would advise anyone to do coming to this part of the world. Especially anyone who secretly wanted to be in The Goonies or Indiana Jones and who is up for tightening every muscle in their body (from fear and an intense workout)!
1. Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave, San Ignacio, Belize
A true adventure starting with 3 river crossings and a swim into the mouth of the cave, followed by squeezing your neck through rockfaces into an endless series of caverns where skeletons and pots from ancient Mayan human sacrifices reside. This is the cave version of the Great Barrier reef – with stalagmites forming proud friends with stalagtites, coral like walls and only purple tape on the floor to stop tourists treading on old skulls. Wobbly ladders would fail every European health and safety test so this day trip should be prescribed for those who need to face their fears. All fears.
2.Bat Caves, Lanquin, Guatemala
We just thought we were going to wander into some caves, look up and see some bats, then walk out again. BUT NO – this was another TRUE ADVENTURE! The tour agents are so chilled here, at no point do they have warnings like ‘this is not for the faint hearted’…’people with fear of spiders, the darkness or small spaces should consider this trip carefully’ or ‘if you aren’t in full survival mode, this isn’t probably the tour for you’…
Instead, within an hour we were scaling deep slippery stone steps with just candlelight, housting ourselves up a deep crevice and worshiping a Mayan stone shaped as a Mayan woman who will grant us all our wishes for 2012.
3. Caves at Semuc Champey, Lanquin Guatemala
An added bonus of going to the spectacular waterfalls at Semuc Champey is the adventure into the nearby caves.
Swimming with candles, climbing up a waterfall, jumping in darkness – superb fun – again breaking every health and safety rule in the book. A true test of heart and body!
I think I have been in enough caves now for a while…