Tag Archives: Spanish

Mixed tape

TIME KEEPS ON SLIPPING, SLIPPING (INTO THE FUTURE)

Time has a strange way of warping when you’re wandering. I ended up staying in the sleepy lil town of Salento for just over 6 weeks. Most folk come to see the wax palms, do a coffee tour, and stay for maybe 3 nights. 4 nights, tops.

When Sammy – the self-appointed ‘Director of Happiness’ (the perfect role for the happy-go-lucky lad) – left, I started working at La Serrana. I did that for just a fortnight. The rest of the time, I was just a paying guest. Far preferable in many ways. It meant I was free to come & go as I pleased.

The work wasn’t hard. It was just a matter of being around every night. All we had to do was take care of after hours’ check-ins / outs and ensure guests were taken care of. In exchange we got free nights & some meals. I also did a marketing strat for Jon in exchange for some additional nights.

I’ll be straight up with you: there’s not a whole lot to do in Salento. But that is kind of the whole point. Having said that – sometimes I would get to the end of the day and would be at a complete loss as to where it had gone. And it wasn’t because I was busy.

In fact – quite the opposite: it was all I could do to maybe have a bit of a morning stretch, take my time over a big breakfast and then struggle through a Spanish lesson. Afterwards I’d stroll into town, buy a Salpicón de frutas & have a bit of a jibber with the locals. Sometimes I’d meet a friend for lunch or a coffee. Then I’d pop in the supermercado, buy some groceries, amble on home, and cook up a tasty feed for new friends. All of a sudden it would be time for bed.

How did I fit everything else in before I started travelling? My sabbatical looks to be coming to an end pretty soon and I’m getting a wee bit anxious about returning to my old life: Getting so busy that my friends have to schedule a date with me 6 weeks in advance. Getting so frantic that I need to diarise a few hours to be on my own. Getting so hectic that I don’t have time to notice flowers opening, new graffiti, or lilting butterflies – you know, the important stuff.

Apart from 6 months in Europe in ’98, I’ve never had the luxury of this much time. And maybe I won’t again for quite some time. At first I felt guilty. Thinking in particular of my new-mummy friends, who also have to work full-time and just never seem to have time to scratch themselves. But now after one year – finally, I am truly able to live in the moment and just enjoy. It’s a nice lesson to have learnt – and it’s one I hope I can hang onto when I go back to my ‘real life’.

BREATHE

Having said that, in amongst all this beautiful non-busyness – this simple slow life to which I’ve become accustomed… there’s still a part of me that needs to be productive: to learn or to create.

In the last year, I’ve spent two months taking Spanish classes (on Isla Mujeres in Mexico and also in Salento in Colombia). In Antigua, Guatemala, I took a month-long class learning how to teach English. And on Little Corn Island in Nicaragua, I worked in a bar for just over a month & can now pour a bloody good Cuba Libré. I figure if you’re going to stop & be productive – you may as well do it somewhere gorgeous, Right?

In terms of creating – I’ve discovered I actually do have creative instincts (been in denial for 30-something years) and I’d like to spend more honing this when I go home. But one of the best things to come out of this trip for me is I’ve finally discovered my passion! Writing. How good is that?

So it was a little strange how in Salento – where I had all the time in the world – somehow I struggled to find the time to write. In part, I think this was because I was spending a bit of time doing some soul searching. But I also think I just need to face up to the fact that even when it comes to your passion – you need to practice discipline. Make it a part of your daily practice.

I think this doesn’t relate just to writing. But other stuff as well.

A few weeks ago, a truly gentle man by the name of Nas came to stay with us. Originally from India, he’s been travelling the world for the last 29 years! You don’t travel the world for that long without accumulating a bag load of stories, a good sense of humour & quite a bit of wisdom. Nas informed me I needed to learn how to breathe properly. He talked of noticing the differences in how we breathe in different situations. He said the air we breathe connects us to the outside world. And he suggested that everyone needs to have a practice, such as yoga, where we observe how we breathe. He told me that when you are able to breathe normally in uncomfortable positions, this helps you replicate this type of breathing in difficult situations in life. And that helps you manage the situation. It’s not something I’ve ever given much thought to before. But it really made sense.

I learnt a lot from Nas. I also laughed a lot with him. And I ended up buying two of his paintings (he’s a very talented artist). One was of all the butterflies in the fairytale landscape that was Ometepe (in Nicaragua). The other a light-infused jungle landscape inspired by the northern parts of Panama. I love love love them and can’t wait to get them framed & hanging on my walls someday soon.

THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE

Nas was just one of the many amazing people who came to stay at La Serrana. It’s the type of place that just draws beautiful people to it.

The ‘front yard’ is an unfettered lush green valley with all these gorgeous feminine curves… and just like a woman: it is forever changing moods – the shapes shift, the clouds drift… sunshine peaks out and rainbows form before a headstrong storm… Not once did I tire of looking out at that valley on my way up to breakfast.

Breakfast is held in an ambient dining room. Lots of solid timber & glass. Apparently, the entire property was once owned by a massive, wealthy Cali / Medellin family. And the gorgeous vivacious Olga who cooks us brekky every day used to be their family cook. She told us she once did a dinner for 150 of them. I love eating here: the sun spills into the glassed walls… and from the exposed beams hang hundreds and hundreds of empty wine bottles.

I spent my weekday mornings taking Spanish lessons at one of the alfresco tables. 180 degree views. Marcia, my gregarious teacher, is qualified to teach at university level. She’s one of 6 kids (all of whom are professionals) and she’s also a single mum. Her son is at uni in Bogota studying law. She’s rightfully very proud of him. She’s really helped improve my Spanish and I just loved spending time with her. I‘ve learnt a lot about Colombian culture through her.

Marcia was sweet enough to invite me and Marc – an Aussie larrikin who arrived here on crutches – to dinner at her house for Santa Semana (Holy Week). She cooked up a most delicious traditional dish called Ajiaco Bogotano for her son, friends & us. Marc had 3 helpings it was that good!

He was a good boy that one. Bit out there, but a heart of fucking gold. He reminded me a bit of wild brumby. We had a great night literally (okay, maybe not literally) laughing our arses off on golden tops we’d found in the fields under cow patties. That was definitely one of my all-time favourite ‘big nights out’ in Salento. Mind you – they were very far & few between!

Most of my evenings were spent cooking up a storm in the communal kitchen… generally huge vegetarian feasts for the long-termers – teaming up with the softly-spoken Fernando from Argentina (who was one of the other volunteers there) and drinking cheap Chilean reds.

Either that or revelling in Olga’s culinary skills. Mexican nights were my favourite, followed very closely by her mushroom & nut burgers. Which Olga gave me the recipe for, as part of my farewell present from all the staff – I was stoked! I ended up getting quite close to the staff there. Particularly Olga and the one of the hardest working Latin Americans I have ever met, Luz. They all only spoke Spanish which provided a great opportunity for me to practice. But moreover, I just really enjoyed getting to know them. We shared lots of girly goss & giggles. Tears were shed when I left. I’m gunna miss them all terribly.

TATTOO

In fact, I’m going to miss the whole country terribly. I ended up being there close to my 90 days. It’s a stunning country. And the people are so warm & welcoming. It’s funny: you hear all these things about how dangerous Colombia is & blah blah blah.

One night I found myself stumbling home down the 1.2km dirt track from town, in the middle of the night – quite drunk & completely alone. I don’t know that I would even do that in Australia. And here I was in goddamn Colombia! I know for a fact that I had absolutely nothing to worry about. I was safe as houses.

Colombia was full of surprises for me: It’s no secret that a lot of tourists  go there for a *good, cheap* time. And as someone who’s always been up for a *good cheap* time –it is a little ironic then that Colombia for me was the beginning of something a lot deeper.

This vacation has never been about eating, loving and praying (just quietly – I hated that book). I originally just wanted to take some time out, see a bit of Latin America, do a bit of diving & possibly drink a *few* mojitos.

I’m not even certain if Colombia was originally on my hit list. I was only supposed to be away for 4 months. Nearly one year later & here I am – still going. And I’m delving more into the spiritual and less into the spirits.

I ended up participating in the Ayahuasca ceremony three more times. And every time was wildly different for me. And extraordinarily enlightening. Sometimes scary. My past came back to haunt me. My future made itself known to me. I took a walk with my demons. And I saw my guiding lights. On my last night, I thought I was going to die. In all seriousness. I saw a white light. I heard a voice calling me. My body temperature dropped dramatically. I was unbearably cold. And then I started thinking about everyone I loved. It was terrifying. But also very revealing. I learned what I need to focus on from here on in.

I feel very fortunate. It might be overstating it a bit, but I felt like meeting the Shaman – Señor Carlos (or Tita) was akin to meeting the Dalai Lama. He is very clearly an extraordinarily spiritual, wise man. He sees stuff. He knows stuff. He can fix stuff. He and his people are very experienced and are all amazing caring individuals.

The morning after my penultimate ceremony, I spent some time with another Shaman, ‘Jairo’, who amongst other things told me I needed to meditate on these four words: Humildad, Respeto, Amor & Gratitud (Humility, Respect, Love & Gratitude). These words – while simple & essentially non-revolutionary really resonated with me. I knew immediately that I wanted to tattoo these words on my wrist as a reminder of my time with these people, as a reminder of the things I need to be mindful of on a daily basis and as a reminder of my time in Colombia. Beautiful, surprising Colombia.

Never can say Goodbye

By 545am the next day, “the breeze” had dropped off a bit but the seas in the distance were still looking real choppy. It was also raining pretty heavily on & off. A small crowd of tourists gathered round the dock, optimistically. Eventually Louis & Flacco sauntered down the street and informed me they didn’t have the permission from Big Corn to go ahead, but they would take everyone out anyway… they were going to charge everyone double “because it was too dangerous”. I knew they wouldn’t charge me double. That wasn’t my concern.  After some thought, I figured they wouldn’t go if it was so dangerous they were going to endanger people’s lives. They were just being opportunistic. A few Euros got their backs up about it, which was probably fair enough from their POV. But I defended my new friends by citing the economic law of demand & supply.

It started bucketing down as we got on, so we pulled the big black industrial plastic sheet over us and I wished I had thought to buy a garbage bag for my pack. I spent the ride with my head almost between my knees, curled up into a self-protective ball and wishing I believed in God. I swear the boat nearly flipped sideways a couple of times. Every time i got a glimpse of the outside world, all i saw was the inside of waves. Whoosh. Up the boat would rise. Slam. The boat came down. I started to think about strategies for saving my stuff, myself. I got off the boat a shivering wreck, retrieved my dripping pack, and said a sopping wet & sad farewell to the boys.

I then jumped in a cab figuring I would try my luck for the morning flight, given i had nothing better to do. It was bedlam at the airport with dozens of people who’d had reached the night before all there with the same idea. I didn’t even bother trying. Instead I got changed into drier clothes. Smack bang in the middle of the airport. No one seemed to notice it was so chaotic. I hung around to see if I could leave my pack there for the day. I got chatting to a rugged looking man from San Diego who was on vacation in Nicaragua for a few weeks. He was unsuccessful in getting a wait seat, so we decided to hang out.

We went to a restaurant & bar back by the dock and spent the day swapping stories. He was my age, lived in LA, oversaw set design & production for TVCs, and was exceptionally articulate and well-travelled. Spending time with this handsome bloke was a really lovely way of passing the time on such a miserable day. It was a shame we were heading in opposite directions. We returned to the airport, where I saw a bunch of people I had met on Little Corn including the girl Cimba had hooked up with & her friend. It was good to be able to squeeze in a bit more time with them. Smart sassy girls – the pair of them. I particularly gelled with Jess.

As soon as I got on the plane, I started tensing up. I’m not afraid of flying. It was the fake air which was bothering me. Arriving into Managua airport, I started getting even more anxious. So many people. So much noise.

The girls & I had tossed around the idea of sharing a cab to the hostel I always stay at, but in the end they decided to go their own way. There was a part of me that wanted to tag along with them because I was a bit shell-shocked, but I really needed to pick up a bag of TESOL books I’d left at the Backpackers Inn. There was some comfort in knowing Arlen would be on the front desk to welcome me and help me with my Spanish. And that Chris the Canadian, a long-term resident of the place & I would order home delivery Japanese. I also needed to do some shopping and I knew where the mall was. So I stuck to my original plan. I’m glad I did.

I had a hot shower (the first in months) & got an early night. In the morning I jumped online and saw my friends Shannon & Queso from Ometepe were online too. I had been expecting them on Little Corn the previous Wednesday night. I had no idea where they were. I started ‘chatting’ with Queso & found out they were also in Managua!

‘Let’s have dinner tonight!’ She promptly cut me off saying she was really sick & had to go. Umm, okay. I messaged Shannon saying I’d love to see them both, could we make a plan. No response. Weird.

Then they both burst in the door of my dorm & there were lots of Big excited squeals all round!!!

We were all starving, so we went to the mall and had rubbish food hall Chinese food for brekky. I know it was wrong. But it was oh so tasty. The three of us had lots of catching up to do. It was surreal having deep & meaningful in the middle of a brightly lit food hall, filled with well-heeled Nicas in a mall in Managua.

Shannon & I then spent a couple of hours cruising around & doing some shopping. Shannon makes me laugh like my best girls back home: Michelle, Andrea, Lea. You know when you laugh so hard, you think a bit of pee might come out. Shannon’s like that for me. She taught me a new acronym; LTBD (Love That Black Dick) and we had a “Tampon party!” in the supermercado when boxes of the things jumped off the shelf on top of us. Too freakin’ funny.

Queso had been sick and so had stayed in to rest. When we met up with her, she’d been through a horrible ordeal: 3 teenage boys had tried to jump her for her money. Queso’s a tough lil Aussie nugget and she wasn’t having any of it. She bit the guy who put his hand over her mouth and punched & kicked her way out of the situation. The boys ran away, laughing, but completely empty handed and most likely a little shocked. This was in broad bloody daylight. Queso said neighbours came to their security doors to see what the commotion was about but no one came out to help. Typical of big fuckin cities. Queso was of the opinion they were just kids having a go. It was a good job none of them had any weapons. She was naturally a bit rattled but jesus, she took it in her stride. Nothing a hug & a bit of a cry wouldn’t sort out.

Queso’s a hairdresser by trade, so we took her mind off things, with a much needed haircut for me. (I love it!) Later that night we cooked up a super delicious & healthy meal of loads of green vegetables (I couldn’t even tell you the last time I had asparagus). I’m not a fan of big cities in Central America but they are great for getting your greens!

Yesterday, we said our goodbyes. I am hoping to see Shannon in Colombia later in the year. Queso? Who knows when. Probably back home one day. We shared a cab to our respective bus stations. And then i was all alone again. It’s been a while.

I choose to travel by chicken buses rather than the international buses simply because of the massive price difference. I wouldn’t think twice about spending $20 on a bottle of wine but i resent paying the same for a bus ride which i know i can get for $2. It just seems like such a waste of money. The thing is, it’s always a little bit more hectic doing it yourself. I ended up catching 4 different buses and walking across the border which is at least a kilometre form checkpoint to checkpoint.

Border crossings are no fun at the best of times. They’re certainly no fun when you’re on your own. And it’s hot. And you’re sweating under a 20-something kilo pack. My Spanish is pretty shithouse, and so if things aren’t easy, they’re really difficult. I was sent to an office over an anomaly in my paperwork. There was a lot of debate in Spanish as to what took precedence: the 20 weeks I had accumulated in all C4 countries (you’re only supposed to have 90 days all up) or the 90 days I had been given just for Nicaragua. If they’d wanted to be arseholes about it, they could have given me a massive “fine”. After a lot of umming & ahhing, they decided to let me go.

After 8 hours of travel I found myself a room in Playa del Coco in Costa Rica. I washed and just laid on my bed to decompress a bit. I had found the day pretty stressful: So many times I nearly stepped out in front of cars. So many times I had to stop myself from drinking from a tap. There was such a big part of me that wanted to turn right back around & go back to my Likke Corn.

Running up that hill

Last Monday, we had our second last day of class. We had a paper and a portfolio to turn in the next day, but I managed to get 99% of it done by the time London Mike bowled in from San Andres that afternoon.

I had somehow managed to score myself a ‘job’ hosting trivia up at the Irish pub and I was due to start at 7, so I made arrangements to meet him beforehand for dinner & drinks.

I was having a post-class bevy the week before, minding my own business, when I got the gig. I got talking to the bartender who suggested I stick around for trivia that night. I mentioned that I used to host a night in Sydney, the boss overheard me & asked me, “Would you like to host ours next week?”

Sure. Why not.

He gave me a one pager which answered most of my questions. I asked him how much he’d pay me. He said he’d pay me with a dinner and all I could drink. I laughed and asked him if he knew I was Australian. We shook hands, and that was that.

London Mike and I had met in San Ignacio Belize, had met up again in Flores (in the north of Guatemala) and had kept in touch while we both studying. Sometimes when you meet people on the road, they remind you of friends back home and it instantaneously feels familiar. It’s like that with Mike, who I had nicknamed Sparkles. We were both looking forward to catching up and letting our hair down a bit.

It was a pretty international crowd at Riley’s and they got rowdier & rowdier as the night went on, but it was a fun night. Sparkles pitched in with the scoring and music round, so it was an easy night for me. I drank like drinking was a sport, and I was representing Australia. We stayed until stumps. Sparkles walked me to my door and stumbled off into the distance to his hotel.

On Tuesday, I woke up with a raging hangover the size of a Whopper burger. I only just scraped through that last day of school, and somehow managed to finish all my work.

I called Sparkles, when I knocked off. He was having a social in a nice little courtyard bar with Dave – an Aussie bloke he’d bonded with during a small bus crash up north. I met them for a beer. We later met another one of Sparkle’s mates on a rooftop bar, a young Scottish lad by the name of Cameron, who would come to make a really big impression on me in a very short space of time. We ended up in the bar where Shelby sells shots on Ladies’ Night. You can get a plate of nachos about the size of a horse’s head at Monoloco’s. I kid you not. And damn good they are, too. So we did. Many beers later and I have to say I don’t really remember much of the night.

I collected Sparkles on Wednesday morning, we went to the markets to get some stuff for dinner, and then went for a walk up to Cerro de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross). I can see it from my lil casa. It’s lit up at night, providing a nifty navigational point if you’re really drunk. I’m sure that’s not what it was designed for, but it’s come in handy a couple of times. There’s a great vista of the city from up there. It was a cracker of a day, so we decided to go back to the Sky Cafe to get the photos we missed the day before. We ambled about a bit more and then went our separate ways for a few hours.

I had him and my lovely teacher, now neighbour (just call him Stalker Phil) over for a roast dinner. Phil’s from Watford and there’s not a lot of English folk here, so I thought he might appreciate Mike’s company and a traditional English meal. I did a bloody good job of it, even if I do say so myself and we had a very civilised night.

Thursday, Sparkles and I were up at 6 to climb Pacaya, an active volcano about 1 & ½ hrs drive from here. After being dormant for a century, it erupted violently in 1965 and has been erupting continuously since then. The last time was in May last year. It rises to an elevation of 2,552m which is just slightly higher than Mt Kosciusko, NSW.

I leaned in to talk with Sparkles at one point on the bus trip in, and all I could smell was booze. I don’t think I smelt much better, truth be told.

It was a hard 1 & ½ hour hike up a pretty steep incline. I was bringing up the rear of our group, huffing & puffing and behind me were about ½ dozen caballeros – basically dudes with horses. The word translates to gentlemen in Spanish, but they were pissin’ me off by breathing down the back of my neck and asking me if I wanted a “taxi” the whole freakin way. As much as I would have loved to have jump on one, I knew I would regret it if I did. The only way you’d get me on one of those things is if I was with a particular group of friends and we were in fancy dress. You know who you are.

I made it. And it was totally worth it. Even though, we didn’t have the clearest day, it was simply stunning in a very surreal way. It was like standing on another planet. Volcanic ash is like rough, rocky black sand. There was a remarkable amount of tenacious greenery growing. Smoke billowed from natural potholes. We climbed into a big one and it was like stepping into a natural sauna in the cloudy chill cloaking the mountain. We toasted marshmallows, and breathed in the sharp crisp air.

I had an afternoon kip, and later that night, met up with Phil, Sparkles and Cameron and a few others at Gaia – a gorgeous hookah bar with lush cushions and beautiful decor. We had a few drinks and easy conversation, while an awesome local band played. Albeit too loudly. But hey, it’s Latin America – they don’t do ambience here.

Friday afternoon, Sparkles, Cameron and I had a very cultural afternoon. We stopped into La Merced, which is a building I’ve walked past nearly every day. It used to be an old monastery, which was built in the 1700s. Outside, there are all these intricate white religious carvings, niched into the happy yellow walls. Inside is surprisingly massive and the courtyard features the largest water fountain in Antigua. From the top terrace, you’ll get a great view of Volcán de Fuego, which you can see almost everywhere from this pretty little city. But not like this.

We then walked up to a place called Casa Santa Domingo, a glorious old hotel which is situated in the stupidly beautiful grounds of another monastery. We wondered around for a while, oohing and ahhing at the gardens and the statues
and the art and the relics and the pretty Scarlet Macaws, which are kinda like rainbow lorikeets but bigger and brighter.

From there, we got a ride in a fancy golf cart to a place called El Tenedor del Cerro (which translates to “the fork on the hill”). It’s essentially a wedding reception venue / high-end restaurant, but the reason we went there is because the place offers what has to be the best views of the city, and all throughout the grounds is this eclectic collection of completely unexpected weird-arse large-scale sculpture by lauded local artists. We spent a good couple of hours there, taking photos and fooling around.

We missed the return shuttle so I flagged down a fancy car to hitch a ride back down the hill. The wife of the Guatemalan driver was an American lady, all decked out in jewels. I asked her for her story and she told us she had been living here on-and for some 30 odd years. Her mother was a missionary who took in 58 orphans and gave them a home. She told us she was still in contact with many of them. Amazing story right there in a 15 min drive. Awesome stuff.

We parted ways for a bit of downtime. The boys had to pack as they were both leaving the next day. Cameron back home to pick up his studies back in Scotland. And Sparkles was headed for Honduras. We met up one last time at Monoloco with all their mates. Many beers and many silly photos later, I bid my farewell to them both rather unceremoniously, given how much I had enjoyed their company. It’s very likely Sparkles & I will be able to link up again in Nicaragua. and I wouldn’t be surprised if Cameron rocks up on my doorstep one day.

I’ve spent the last two days just chilling out, mucking around on my new netbook, listening to music, watching movies, cooking meals and drinking wine. I did venture out yesterday afternoon for a tasty Asian meal and a poke around a contemporary artist’s workshop, but apart from that – it’s been
pretty quiet since the boys left town. Which has been fine by me…

Don’t worry, be happy

Sometimes it’s not the big adventures, but the small pleasures that gets me springing around and acting all crazy in love like Pepé Le Pew.

I never intended to come here. I was going to go to Costa Rica to do my TEFL course. I met a few people on my travels who’d discouraged me from CR saying, that while it was utterly stunning – it was almost as expensive as the States. They suggested i might enjoy Guatemala more. Everyone who’d been, just raved about Antigua. I got the impression that while it was far from being off the beaten track – it was completely worth it.

So, I flipped a coin, and Guatemala won the toss. A few days later I was here.

The school arranged my apartment, and to be fair to them – i didn’t really brief them properly as to what was important to me. I ended up in a pokey little hotel room above a deceptively lovely Italian restaurant run by a friendly Swiss man. It was a stone’s throw from Central Park and a block & a bit from my school, which is just un-fallible in terms of location. But it had these extraordinarily tiny windows up near the ceiling, looking up and out to concrete walls. My biggest deal breaker when it comes to a home is natural light.

I realized very quickly, I didn’t really want to spend any time in the place. Which could be viewed as a positive -because it meant that i would get out and see a lot more of the city. But, if you’re going to stop somewhere for a month – you don’t want to spend the ENTIRE time in cafes & bars. You want to feel like you can chill out at home. And invite new friends over for dinner. And what-have-you. Otherwise, you may as well stay in a cheap hostel, right?

So, I ‘moved house’ today. The change i felt when I walked into my new place was instantaneous. And it all came down to the natural light.

My apartmentito is in an old stony colonial building. Upstairs, in the kitchen & living areas, there are these low-set bay windows with rustic wooden doors which open inwards… They offer a view onto a busy & beautifully wonky cobblestone calle and beyond that, I can see a small mountain range, called El Rejon. One of the montañas is called Cerro El Narizon (or “Big Nose Mountain”) & it reaches an elevation of 2,247m (approx the height of Mt Kosciusko for my Aussie readers).

I unpacked all my worldly possessions & immediately went out for a walk, so I could orientate myself at this end of town.

And i got excited all over again…

Antigua is a city that reveals herself slowly. On her own terms.

Depending on what day it is & what time of day it is, sometime she will be closed for business: All her heavy-laden, impenetrable wooden doors with their intricate wrought-iron door knockers: You daren’t knock, for fear of what beast you might stir.

Sometimes she flirts with you…teasing you with what could be yours…
her doors ever so slightly ajar: Showing you an insight into everyday lives: Extended families & friends all noisily coming together from school & work, wherever – to enjoy a late lunch of the most simple but sumptuous food, in a big homely kitchen you can’t see but can absolutely smell and almost taste.

And other times, she flings her gates wide open and invites you into her come-on-in courtyards with insidious ivy twisting over stone bricks that have weathered all sorts, for hundreds of years: waiters dressed in vests who warmly welcome you with a “bienvenido” and tempting you with just one wine…

Never is this on the same street at the same time. So you can have a completely different experience of a street, each and every time you walk down it…

That feeling of newness hasn’t left me.

I went to the grocery store, and standing in the checkout line – it dawned on me, again: I’m in Guatemala!!!

I jumped in a tuk tuk and spoke only in Spanish to Saul…  we bounced along the bumpy road to my new house. Saul was sweet enough to help me with my bags all the way to the door and farewelled me with a kiss on the cheek (this is such a commonplace event between complete strangers in Latin America, that even a driver kissing me on the cheek doesn’t take me by surprise anymore).

I celebrated mi nueva casa with a couple of different types of cheese, some spicy salami and a gorgeous bottle of Chilean Cab Sav which cost me the princely sum of AUD$6. Simple pleasures, indeed.

One more cup of coffee

I crossed the border to Guatemala with relatively little hassle all things considered, and caught the collectivo to St Elena. From there I caught a cab to Flores. But only after having the usual argy bargy with the driver over the agreed fare. I remember my friend Claire saying she never tipped cabbies on the assumption they were taking their tip anyways. I suspect she might be right. Got no change, my arse. Fucker.

It was pissing down when I got to the gorgeous rainforesty Los Amigos Hostel (this was the impact of Tropical Storm Harvey who was making headlines and making his way to the Belizean coastline). I was welcomed by London Mike and the two Carolines. Mike showed me where the ATM was, so i could withdraw Quetzales. We agreed it was just easier to call them Pretzels. We got stuck into the drinks, played a few rounds of Pigs and then I snuck off for a nanna nap. Toowoomba Caroline woke me up for a skinny dip. Some people love getting their kit off in public. I am not one of those people. However, I was totally up for a night swim in the warm freshwater that surrounded the tiny island. We later went out for a few drinks at a couple of bars, where we watched an excellent 7 piece band squished into a space that we’d see 3 musos in, back home. I got my first chance to observe the locals. First impressions? The females ‘carry the race’, as my Dad would say. Meaning the girls are much better looking than the boys.

They all left the next morning. Because I am traveling slower than everyone else, I feel like everyone’s always leaving me. I’m getting used to it now. The upside is, I’m constantly making new friends.

I had brekky in a cafe with a vista of the lake, revising my Spanish notes and then spent the afternoon taking photos.

On Monday I got up at 4 to take a tour of Tikal. Of all the Mayan ruins I’ve seen so far, this has by far been the most impressive. I won’t bore you with all the historical details, here. What I will say is this: The area the National Park covers is approximately the size of the Byron Bay shire. It is also one of the locations for the original Star Wars films. Nerdcool!

I retired early after being bored to bits by a very earnest Dutch boy who wanted to talk stats pertaining to world economics. Should have crapped chatted him, but I was so dang tired I couldn’t be bothered.

Next morning I jumped in a tuc-tuc to the tiny airport to get on a tinier plane for the flight to Guatematla City, where I was picked up by a driver from my school to take me to Antigua.

We drove past what seemed like a million billboards for a multitude of candidates running for President. The election is on 11 Sept. One woman has divorced her husband so she can be eligible to run for office. There have been reports of politically related violence including the murder of three candidates since campaigns started in May. Checking the smarttraveller website, it warns I should reconsider my need to travel. Mmmmm.

It’s hard to image why. Antigua is so ridiculously pretty with it’s quaint cobblestone streets and colonial buildings. It’s nestled between three impressive volcanic mountains, which wear cloudy cloaks. This time of the year, it’s mostly Spring-like sunny days with the ocassional afternoon shower which provides a perfect excuse to duck into a very European-feeling cafe. Guatemala has what is considered to be (among) the world’s finest coffee beans and what’s more: they know how to make it here!!! It has its own Central Park, where horse-drawn carriages wait for a fare. Young lovers steal a furtive but passionate kiss. And bored armed policemen watch the girls go by. It’s a big city and from what everyone tells me – it’s not without its problems of petty crime. But there’s a very cosmopolitan international feel to the place and it’s all wrapped up in this old world charm. Yes, there are many expats and tourists and students but still the locals look you in the eye, smile and say ¡hola!

I just know I’m going to be very happy here for the next month, while I undertake studies and training to become a teacher of English to students for whom English is a second language (TEFL / TESOL). Teaching is something that takes my interest as a potential alternative career (I’ve been in marketing for 12 years and prior to that I was a graphic designer). This seems like a good way to test the waters. I’m also hoping it will help my own pursuit of a second language. And additionally it may become a source of income to help sustain my travels for a bit longer. (I just may need to take on my stage name for professional purposes.)

Wed 24 Aug

La Isla Bonita

For the last 2 weeks of my stay on Isla, I fell into an easy pattern: coffee chats with Coleena, classes in the morning, ambling around the town and practicing my Spanish with various cafe owners & shop keepers I’d befriended, a meal at a different loncheria or cafe every day,  back to my bed for some reading, writing, and napping, swims until sunset, then catching up with friends for dinner and drinks.

I did take a day tour to Contoy with Dahlia before she left. Contoy Island is completely uninhabited and teeming with wildlife. “Capitan” Tony has a very interesting life story and he was “all over it like a fat kid on a smartie” to quote a good mate of mine. He had us ahead of the Cancun tourists by about 2 hours. One of the highlights was meeting Samantha, a very flirtatious ray and some pretty spectacular snorkeling.

I spent one afternoon on a fuck-off swanky yacht- owned by one of Isla’s richest men, a friend of Coleena’s. We partied like rockstars to extraordinarily bad 80s music, whilst cruising around the island.

Coleena also introduced me to Pamela, a talented artist with a big heart and a smile to match (you can check out her work here: pamelasplanet.com) She had also been renting a casa for a month. She invited me to her farewell party, a fun tequila fueled night!

And I was absolutely chuffed when a wee group of friends I’d made through Coleena, decided to join us for a beautiful seafood dinner on my last night. Jill, the effervescent social butterfly, who’d chucked it all in to manage a boutique hotel on the island. Chris, the Canadian nightclub owner, who I met and shared great conversation at a 4th of July party. And the absolutely one-of-a-kind Rowdy, the muso from Nashville who constantly had me in stitches.

It was the perfect way to end an idyllic month living on a Caribbean island.

I lived on a Caribbean Island!
“Now, you don’t get to say that every day,” as my mate Dave would say.

So here’s 31 reasons why Yo heart Isla. One for every day spent on the island.

1. I thought I’d get bored. I didn’t. In fact, I ran out of time to get through everything I wanted to do.
2. I may have kissed a rather cute young Mexican man with gorgeous skin.
3. I can now get my point across in a slightly Special staccato style of Spanglish after 60 hours of lessons.
4. I wrote some 7500 words in 8 posts and my blog reached almost 1000 hits.
5. I finally got to swim with (and throw up all over) whale sharks!
6. Almost every day I watch the sun set and I can now say with some authority: no two are the same and some really do deserve applause!
7. Ceviche!
8. Micheladas, made by Jose at Buho’s.
9. Max –  the noisy town dog who walked me home late one night.
10. Rami – for getting me properly stoned and the philosophical chats.
11. Jacob – the lil pocket rocket entrepreneurial candy seller.
12. Dahlia’s sun lounger bloke, who I adopted for free luxury
13. Tony “I’m so lonely” – the barman from Argentine Steak & Grill for all those free tequila shots.
14. Mario and Omar, from La Terraza for drinking games, salsa lessons, Mexican Bingo and stuff.
15. Gloria, the gorgeous Italian gal who helped me get the keys to mi casa.
16. Carlos and Mariano, for the daily practicar.
17. Fausto for being the first person on the island to extend his hand, and also for my private snorkeling tour.
18. Every shop keeper who let me practice my Spanish with them, when what they really wanted was for me to buy something.
19. Coleena – thanks for the coffees, and the girly chats… You made conjugating irregular verbs on a hangover so much easier x
20. Dahlia – things could have been a lot different had I NOT missed you, when I was vomiting in your general direction. Thx for being the best vacation buddy, I could have wished for x
21. I met a bunch of really interesting, quirky, downrightfucking gorgeous people in Jill, Pamela, Rowdy & Chris (amigos: mi casa, tu casa)
22. I’ve left my legacy at La Luna (top right hand corner on the black wall, in big drunken writing: “IT’S ALRIGHT CHRIS, I’M AUSTRALIAN! xChelle”
23. The Texan Swingers (let’s just say they’re not a baseball team. And no- Derek, I didn’t play with them.)
24. Tortugas! On the sand, in the sea. Oh my gosh, you guys know how  to make a day feel special.
25. There is no MacDonalds or Starfucks on the Island.
26. That I got to party like a rockstar with one of the island’s richest men
27. Its perfect blue water and perfect white white sand, and crazy colorful underbelly
28. My postries lady (jamon y queso para dulce!)
29. Goran, my lovely Spanish speaking, Bosnian neighbor, who bared his soul and brought me cakes.
30. My feet and bed have never been more sandy than they are right now.
31. I get to say to my granddaughter one day, “you know, your grandma once lived on a Caribbean island…”

Muchas gracias, Isla Mujeres y su gente. Tu tienes un lugar especial en mi corazon.

Could you be loved

So last night, I turned down an opportunity to have sex with a hot curly headed surfer boy by the name of Javier, from El Salvador. It wasn’t like he outright asked me, but I know I could have had him if I wanted to.

Even though I yearn for physical human contact (is there anything better than the feeling of being wrapped up in the arms of a man with big strong arms), the “intimacy”, and the satisfaction of an orgasm not brought on by myself… the idea of having meaningless sex with a complete stranger just holds less and less appeal for me, the older I get.

When my best friend (who I won’t name) & I were in our 20s – we were like a pair of girl monkeys on heat in a steamy jungle, mating aggressively with all the hot boy monkeys, any which way, just about every weekend. And it was fun. A lot of fun.

Now it just all seems a bit arduous. A lot of effort for what.

You’ve met at a bar. You’ve had a few drinks. You’ve had a bit of a banter. You’ve eyed each other off and have decided, “Yeh, you’re cute… I’d go there”. Then somehow, you’ve agreed you’ll go home together. Sometimes the agreement is explicit and outright. Other times it’s an under the table agreement.
So you get home and this is how it pans out:

There’s the “getting to know you” chat (Noone cares what your favorite book, film or album is, by this stage).
The taking off of clothes business and worrying about what he thinks of my belly, arse, or other body part which happens to be the concern of the day (yes: I know he doesn’t care, because he’s getting laid).
The negotiations with my self esteem (oh god, we don’t want to go there, Trust me.)

The act itself. Let’s just say that invariably – it’s Average. Good at best. But rarely Excellent. I mean, I think I’m a good ‘hostess’… I look after my guests if you know what I mean, and for me personally-  and I can always get to the end point with relative ease (I’m a lucky girl). But even if we’re having technically Excellent sex, it still feels Average to me because of the lack of emotional connection. If i feel nothing, it’s getting increasingly hard for my whole self to translate that into better than Average.

Then of course, there’s the post coital chat (I now have zero interest in any book, film or album now that I’ve come, and I’m guessing he does too).
The lack of sleep (because it appears I can only physically sleep with a select few men in this world).

And then there’s the morning awkwardness (assuming they’ve had the decency to stay the night).
What’s your name again? I’m bad with names, Okay.
I always want to do breakfast just because it seems the polite thing to do. Plus it’s my favorite meal of the day. They often don’t.
Do we swap numbers? I only want to, if they’re going to use it.
The kiss goodbye is nearly always the worst. A pash? He hasn’t brushed his teeth for quite some time and reeks of rum. A peck always seems a bit cursory after what you’ve just done all night.

The thought of the ‘comedown’ the next day is enough to put me off. I know i will just feel too easy, empty, vulnerable and / or lonely afterwards, to warrant doing it in the first place.

(Sometimes, rarely – everything just clicks and it’s like an explosives testing ground at an army base. And then all of the above is null and void.)

But i think what I’m really after these days is a sense of connection. I’d like to have hot sex with a gorgeous curly headed surfer boy from El Salvador who was really into me, thought I was interesting, and wanted to get to know me more. And maybe teach me to surf.

Perhaps I just need a good kick up the arse and be told to just get out there and have lots of meaningless sex with hot curly headed surfer boys from El Salvador. Dunno.

Ps, I’ve spent the last week in Isla Mujeres, Tulum, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen conducting a reccy for places to lay my hat / study Spanish for the next month. I have decided on Isla Mujeres. A brief travel post on this past week will go up soon.