Mama we love you

This week has been all action in the village preparing for Mother’s Day. It’s a massive event here.

Kids have been selling raffle tickets to raise money for the big event – a meal for all the mothers in the village, performances from local talent and acts from outside – all to take place in ‘la cancha’ – the basketball court outside the school.

Women have been making wooden horse carts out of rolled up newspaper to decorate the tables.

The kids have been learning some universal street dance moves and a strange theatre piece where 2 people die and a big cardboard coffin is placed over them. We have been teaching the kids two songs – Rise by Gabrielle and Stand by Me. This was a final rehearsal in the square.

It’s been really fun – me playing the guitar and Carla singing.  The kids really like it and it’s a great way to learn English. Every day we’ve had different kids so it was a gamble who would perform on the final night. In the end, it went OK – actually a bit nerve wracking as I have only learnt guitar whilst being here and my fingers started shaking and sweating –and we performed to over 300 people so it was a big achievement for us! All the mothers got a home-made flower to wear in their hair, there were enchiladas and grilled meat to buy and the lovely slush puppy ‘granatizados’ with pineapple and coconut on top. Our lovely neighbour Ruth won the grand prize – an old Singer sewing machine. Carla has plans to pop over the fence to use it.


The night before, we were invited by Monika the hairdresser to a pre-mothers day celebration in the open air church, decorated especially with hearts and balloons. Everyone was pretty much guaranteed a prize (a Tupperware bowl or plastic mug)

The word ‘feliz’ (happy) in balloons we popped gave us our prize.

One lucky lady won a prize for having the most living children (dead children didn’t count, they made it clear!), another for eating a lollipop the fastest and another for singing the best lullaby whilst rocking a pretend baby.

Our day ended with a bonfire on the beach with some locals, some marshmallows and our repertoire of guitar songs – a  bit of Bob Marley, Jeff Buckley, Cranberries and Britney. Here, instead of at home,  the aim is to get as far away from the fire as possible as the air temperature at night is still about 25 degrees!


Sideways scuttle

Crabs. It is the season. All summer the crabs have been hiding in the sand, eating leaves, getting fat. Then the first rain comes. And they run out in their thousands, ready to breed. Everyone in the village goes out in the rain, big thick gloves on, boots to stop the snakes, to catch them. White sacks full of clackering crabs.

The rain has come.

Marcelo, one of my students, who talks faster than anyone in the village, gave us a little bag of crabs, purple, clawing at the bag to escape while I taught Simon Says.

He came home with us to show us how to kill them, cook them, hissing their final farewell. Salty boiling water. Crabs in quick. Thrash around, stunned, ready. Then Marcelo left us.

Lucky for us, Axel, our new friend, owner of the ‘hardware store’ (lots of bags of nails in boxes) popped in just as Marcelo left and showed us how to eat them, laughing as we scrunched up our faces at the strange innards going into our mouths. We now have the technique sorted.

Which is just as well, because the next night we were given more crabs, then the next night yet more – a big bundle of rare blue crabs which are only for the rich in the city – from a new little friend of ours Dinora who came to eat them with us along with the sign painter in the town.

We bought tortillas, made a tomato salad and sucked and cracked shells while lightning flashed outside and rain tested our palm roof. It was pure magic.

Step one to finding a Guatemalan husband

In order to find ourselves Guatemalan husbands, we have been told we need to learn how to make a good tortilla. Every meal here comes with tortillas – soup, fried chicken,even pasta. When you walk round the village, you can hear the sound of women slapping the maize dough between their hands to make the perfect discs before sliding them onto hot metal over their open fires.

We wanted to learn. So we asked our friends Gracie and Lindsey and they said their mum could show us. This is Lindsey in the bedroom where everyone sleeps. Sparky, sparkly, affectionate, wide eyed – a little monkey – she has already found a place in my heart.

This is Gracie, her sister, in the kitchen. Calm, wise, smart and great to be around.

Their mum made the dough and we rolled it between our hand with just a little water. Slap slap from one to the other. And then..on the floor! Drop. Into the sand, there are no second chances. This is not easy.


In the end, la señora made most of the tortillas while we kind of gave up and played with the kids.

But she gave us loads to take home – Carla carrying them Dick Whittington style back to our house where we ate them with guacamole.

Fire fire


A little girl came screaming into the surf camp. And by the time everyone rushed to their home, there were only 4 corner posts and black ash on the floor. A charred bedframe. A line of clothes hanging on barbed wire which had escaped. A dead dog, suffocated. The baby was dragged out just in time. The girl had been playing with matches and her dad was away, building roofs from palms as his was up in flames. Here is the video of local house burning down filmed by a local.

But when Carla and I arrived later that day, to see what we could do to help, the family were surrounded by neighbours, friends, all chatting, smiling. The dad was back at work, earning more important than ever. There was a morose feeling in the air but also a feeling that this was just another day. And that it was God’s decision. And that everyone would muck in and help them rebuild what little material goods they had in the first place.

We cobbled together a bag of clothes from gringos at a nearby hostel and offered to cook the family dinner now that we had a stove. One of my students, Marcelo, passed by our house that morning with a bag of fish he had caught. We bought 5 and suddenly all our friends were there – surfer dude Charles, sweet Armando, 13 yr old Derrien as sharp as his smile is wide, tiny cute Enok who is constantly covered in dirt. We don’t have a fridge so we had to work fast to stop the flies eating our dinner before us.

Onion, tomato, the whole fish gutted swiftly by Armando, stock, tomato juice, pasta, corn. The boys were in charge.

The soup bubbled while I drew cards for teaching later. ‘He is playing football, they are dancing’

And our neighbour came round with coconuts – cool juice, fleshy white heart and we gave them mangoes in return, falling in dull thumps in our garden.

Just the dad and daughter came round for food later, the mum taken away by friends to try and take her mind away. Sweat dripped down our foreheads as we ate the spicy soup, a mouth of bones, but tasty. Hopefully within a week they will start building their house again. Scrape away the ash and start again.

Fear of spiders? Small spaces? Darkness? Heights? Walk this way…

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…

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