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tajumulco, finca, and constant lack of sleep

god i gotta get out of this city...

hello everyone. i hope that all are REALLY REALLY well, been doing some thinking of you all lately, hope that life's leading you in a rewarding direction. i just got up from a six hour nap, feeling like i'm in a cloud of grogginess. this last week has killed me -- so much going on! i gotta say my mind is pretty shot, so i'm going to start with the perfunctory info and maybe that'll lead to some deeper insights.

in this edition, you'l hear about the hike of the tallest volcano in central america, quite a week of dancing, volunteering, scrounging around xela, and then this past weekend, a trip to a guate finca (horses!!) way the hell up north. i'll also try to give you an idea of where i'm headed from here, as well.

so two weekends ago, 18 of the students from ICA went on a trip to Volcán Tajumulco, the tallest volcano in central america, and also the highest point, i believe, at 13,926ft. We started out at 7am, after another late night exploring xela's cafes and hangouts. i hopped in the back of the pickup with mateo, a international studies grad student from florida, and we snuggled in among the backpacks to escape the early morning breeze. we had a great visit over the whipping breeze as we climbed higher and higher out of xela, and couldn't help but notice an occasional US army hummer drive past, and once saw two f15 fighter jets rocketing overhead. as i'm pretty sure that guatemala doesn't have any f15s, it seems an ominous sign for the visit of our own george bush, due the following monday in the country for less than a day. we arrived with the others, our hair plastered to the side, at our breakfast stop, more beans and eggs. the countryside was beautiful, as usual, this time more arid ranchland, with small concrete block houses plopped onto the hillsides, looking like small toy castles on endless sand dunes (all with scruffy rebar sticking out their roofs, as i understand to escape property taxes, which aren't levied on "unfinished" houses), the vista is that profound, and we haven't started climbing yet. at the end of breakfast, a descision is made, though unbeknownst to the 17 gringos traveling, to change to a four wheel drive vehicle to save a little on the hike up. sounds fine, until the steed putts up the hill to meet us, and is just a regular pickup with a colorful wooden cage built up over the bed. somewhat intimidated, many grumble aloud how all of us with our gear will make it to the trailhead. through some complex hand gestures, facial gesticulations and discouragingly incorrectly conjugated spanish (it's still just 9am on 4 hours of sleep, jeez!), myself and the driver (typical guatemalan, vicously gregarious, "no hay problema" kind of energy) figure to strap all the backpacks to the outside of the bed-cage. after the work, we people pile into the bed, cramming in like cattle, and suck in our breath as the door is shoved closed. i can attest from my experience of the next two hours, absorbing the shocks, shimmies, and swaying of a truck (in the hands of an energetic guatemalan with way too much chutzpah) that travel on the 4 wheel drive roads of guatemala is... trying, at best. but, just my kind of adventure. we climbed higher, through many villages, past kids running to catch us, farmers gawking and joking about so many gringos quietly accepting this rather difficult form of local transport. the bald tires spinning, scratching for traction through sometimes four inches of dirt, and me in the very back, made for a layer of dust all over my face, head, torso, arms and pants that legitimately negated my white caucasian heritage. more than once, i jumped out of the cage when we slipped backwards more than 8 feet, just as precaution. we finally made it to our terminus, unloaded our packs, and waited for the others who had opted to walk once the rocks REALLY started, a mile back. as we were left in the dust as the truck, and its manic driver sloshed away down the mountain road, we peered vertical -- way vertical, and strapped on our packs. a diverse group, with regards to outdoor experience and exercise tolerance, we quickly dispersed through the shrubs and pine trees, climbing higher and higher, at times with all four apendages and a scoopful of curses, in our respective native tongues. the air is thin! we get a pace going, find our position in the line, and move onwards. i'm energized by the warm sun, more and more often obscured by swirling clouds and a cool jet of mountain air. i love this kind of SPACE! i hang out with our guide, just one of the spanish teachers at the school, who came up this mountain once with his friends, a different way. how can you get lost on a volcanoe, just head up! after a 3 hour slog (long to some, short to others), we reach a saddle squatting beneath the summit, and find some well-worn, trashed campsites. after a rest, we take a late afternoon shot for the top, following directions the guide for another group we met gave to me. it gets more and more vertical, and the trail turns from a well worn path in the grass to lighter parts among the pumous and volcanic sand. we break onto the slopes of the summit, red and green goretex jackets dotting the black, lunar landscape. we summit, on the top of central america, and stand speechless, each lost deep into their own meditations, gazing into so much air a bit like watching the flames of a campfire. we have incredible vistas for 15 minutes before a nefarious cumulus slams into the mountain, obscuring our view but for 40 feet. the setting sun, however, reflects off the enveloping water droplets, and before long, we are sitting quietly in a room that turns from pale shimmering marigold to golden to fire. spectacular, and we descend under the setting moon. after a campfire, and trying to down the s'more supplies that everyone brought, the absolutely coldest night of my life ensues. i decide to sleep outside with two others, underneath the flourescence of a now moonless night sky, the lights of the cities below illuminating the cloud cover below, a lightning storm rocketing around the horizon thousands of feet below us. wearing every single warm clothing that i brought to the goddamn tropics, and compressing myself within two sleeping bags, i barely stop shivering long enough to pass out from exhaustion. surprisingly, i slept most of the night, on a bed of pineneedles, and awake to a peculiar crinkling sound -- ice being forced out of the wrinkles of my sleeping bag as i roll up. it's 5am, still dark, and we can see by their headlamps that many of our group is already a quarter way up the trail to the summit. we take off loping, part to catch up and mostly to warm up. exhilerated, and threatened by an increasingly brightening horizon, i literally scamper up the trail, leaving many of the group. so much energy in this sunrise, it seems!! an abridged group makes it to the summit, and huddles down in the stillness together. it's fucking freezing. the sunrise is slow, stately, and ensues in a subtle illumination of the clouds stretched away over the ocean. finally, the god breaks over the horizon, and the mountain top is sprinkled with rays, which seem few and far between in the chill. behind us, our shadow stretches in a perfect triangle over the haze miles below all the way to the ends of the earth. silent, chilled, everything seems electric and magnetized. soon unable to bear the chill, we get up in the morning light for a walk around the caldera's rim. it's 1 degree celsius, before wind chill, which starts up viciously. we stiffly stumble over the volcanic rocks as we start down the hill in the morning sun, descending in to grasses, shrubs, then pines, loosening our muscles as the temperature grows. we clean up camp and soon head off down the ridgeline, the views unyielding, full-frontal. me and amir, from san francisco, start a garbage collection on the way down, sticking empty bottles into each other and into our waistbelts. a beautiful walk down, and a chicken bus home (four backpacks roll of the top around a particularly sharp turn). get home, take clothes to get washed, then sleep for 14 hours.

the next week was capitalized by continued spanish instruction, work at the orphanage, and frustrations as i begin to understand a little more about the latin culture. the parenting style of the two year old on the hosue strikes me and alina, my housemate, as neglectful and damaging to the child's development, and in no way alleviates her omnipresent screaming, at all hours of the day. i think back to a talk i had with deter, an australian on a similar spiritual path as i, as we came back from pacaya volcano, outside of antigua. there seems to be a lack of personal initiative in this culture, at some hostels, i've jumped up the same broken flight of stairs day in day out. when it would take just a few nails and 10 minutes hard work, many guatemalans seem content to walk around, deal with problems rather than fix them. i guess a decentralization of the individual and also diminishment of the fiscal rewards for enterprise i'm so used to in the us. people don't necessarily jump to help you so fast here as in other places i've been.

much of the week was also taken up by my flirtations with a certain dutch girl named annemarie, who by now has just become a big headache. i totally got a crush on her early, so much so as to buy her red and white flowers (first time i'd bought a girl flowers in a very long while), which she very clearly appreciated. she's fantastically attractive, as are so many of the scandinavians here, but her timidity eventually frustrated and then bored me. in fact, this theme is one of the principle reasons i've gotta get out of this city. there are so many beautiful girls here, studying abroad from all over, and all giving me meaningful glances, smiles. my life in xela has become routine (my nemesis, as many of you would smile and nod your head knowingly), dominated as of yet by me falling in love with every pretty girl that meets my eyes. this is not why i came to latin america. i've also increasingly become a social figure in xela, a few people all too dependent on my energy and spontaneity, and this constrains me. i need a clean slate, and so am leaving xela tomorrow morning, after a month of being here.

BUT, first i need to tell you about last weekend, which was spectacular. i was invited my one of my teachers (21, very attractive guatemalan, flirty, potentially bad news for my continual carefree independence) with four of her best friends up to her family's finca, in huehuetenango. after some fleeting images substantiating fears about being the only gringo and english speaker for 3 days, i accepted. after yet another late night (now clearly becoming far too much of a habit and far too expensive), we hopped on another chicken bus at 8am, they all excited, winking eyes and belting out guatemalan music to the morning commuters, me trying to stay awake and keep up with the conversation. a rather difficult day for me, trying to be outgoing and enthusiastic when absolutely shot for energy. 11 hours travel, a few bus changes and beautiful scenery, we climb through the huehuetenango department, enduring the rants of guatemalans behind me drunkenly convincing me that yes, i am in fact the only gringo on board. we abruptly disembark, meet one of the two caretakers of cuqui's family finca, and climb into the back of a pickup truck in the late afternoon sun, for the last leg to the finca. i'm happy how easily it's been to get along with the young guatemalans i'm with! after a bumpy ride, and a few barbed wire fence crossings, we arrive at the finca, after sunset. it's a rustic, beautiful a new ranch house, but deprived of much furniture or lights, so feels slightly cold, austere. after we get the generator going and some more lights on things brighten up. we settle in, dine on sandwiches made earlier that day, and flop down on couches in front of the fire that the caretaker was kind enough to build for us, the while resting his trusty shotgun and machete against the hearth. he speaks lazily and slurred, and is very difficult for me to understand. a little more energy restored, i teach the guatemalans some card games, and eventually king's cup, which absolutely delights them. we crash. the next morning, another friend has arrived, and we breakfast, dress, and are out into the morning sun, standing in front of a gorgous view of a distant lake and the northern mexican border, merely miles away. i can barely contain my excitement as we go for the horses, waiting bridled in a grove of trees. i love horseback riding, and i'm goddamn good at it too. something about the ego about willing, energizing this huge beast to get going really fast. we explore the finca, huge, and quite obviously not of the typical guatemalan family with regards to financial assets, check out a beautiful mirador, tour two groupings of mayan ruins scattered on the finca (like it ain't no thing to have ruins on your property), galloping everywhere. i have a young horse with two speeds: anxiously paw in place, and gallop. i have a blast flirting with cuqui while astride our horses, trotting up alongside her and then gunning my mount into a full run, spooking hers in the process. she squeals happily. we come across a small lake, which i jump in, refreshing after dust from the trail. i'm beginning to get an idea of the characters of the youth i'm with -- mostly rich kids, by guatemalan standards (and two of them, by any standards), not too aware of place and more interested in messing around with each other and talking pop culture. interesting too, the machismo dynamic, even among early 20 year olds. the girls prepared all the meals (i'm not too much help in the kitchen), and were surprised when i offered to wash the plates. after finishing their food, the two other guys stood up from the table and wandered off, which seemed matter-of-course. interesting. anyway, a beautiful day, incedible fun on the horses and swimming, and more cards games that evening (photo flashes going off constantly by some of the more self-involved guatemalans).

great fun with the kids at the orphanage, they seem really invested and needy of my attention, last wednesday spent hour and a half holding a five year old boy, who eventually stopped crying in my arms. heartrenching stories, some of them. more of this week exploring xela, a couple school activities, much joking around with gato, my teacher once again, more dates and less action with this dutch girl until i called myself off it on thursday.

let me know share my excitement for getting back out on the road and out of this city! from here i'm traveling with another student from ICA, a girl who just graduated from whitman college, is really fun, has a similar mind and energy level to mine (but, i'm not completely breaking out on my own again). she'd prefer to travel with another, i guess, so jumped at my leaving as opportunity to get out of xela. we'll be heading down to the southern pacific coast tomorrow, all the way down to monterrico, frisbee on black sand beaches, nature reserves among the mangroves brimming with wildlife, archaelogical ruins and a change of scenery! after a week of exploring, i'll head back to xela, pick up some left gear, and head over to santiago atitlan, this time on the south shore of lake atitlan. a little while ago, i found out about a medical clinic, called El Hospitalito (puebloapueblo.org), which specifically solicited the volunteer work of EMTs. sounds like they could use me, and i aspire to using my medical skills, albeit rudimentary, both directly and through some education of their local bomberos. it'll be a month long commitment, so i'll get over to the lake and check them out, look around for an apartment (with kitchen!) to rent, which will be great to host new friends, and check out the semana santa celebrations, rumored to be fantastic in santiago. very excited about the potential to do some medical work, and have been studying my EMT skill sheets that my sister graciously emailed to me.

also thought i'd share this idealization. i met a guy the other night from nome, alaska, quite a character. he came all the way down to guatemala on a polish sailing boat that was stopping over in his town on a circumnavigation of north america. anyway, he instantly piqued my interest, as i've long romanced of negotaiting passage on a sail boat to somewhere in the world. anyway, he told me details and tips of how to get on a boat, and encouraged me to get down to panama city and work the local captain's bars. how romanticidealistic would it be to end my journey with a month or two on a portuguese or german or south african boat, coming in through the golden gate bridge? my eyes are wide open and my mind is spinning for the horizon. a world of possibilities!

so that's where i'm at now, think i got a bit of the adventures of late communicated. learning so much about perspective, it seems. been thinking of late how it's absurdly pointless to do anything, to live at anything less than 100%, fully committed and intentional. reading a tom robbins book right now where the protagonist cultures a healthy fear of death, which keeps him living energized and without fear of life. doing some thinking about right living as well. so many of my compatriots at vassar, myself included, are so preoccupied with how they should life, what they should do with their life that they waste many weeks and forget to live in the moment! often the aforementioned romanticize the life of the poor farmer down here in latin america as noble and pure, but he lives as he does because he has no other option. he does not consider living any other way, because that would be absurd and the chores would not get done. therefor, it seems almost unethical to not utilize the opporitunities and privileges one is given. when i was at vassar, my academic study and use of the options there was so sporadic. too much self-involved thinking is useless. don't think, just feel and do. and commit fully to whatever opportunities you have. maybe a small nugget of zen with tyler.

hope you are all well. let me know anything i should know about! love, understanding, clarity, ty

Posted by tyrobinson 16:56 Archived in Guatemala

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Hey Tyler! I believe your frustration with higher education at the end of sophomore year might be contagious. Especially reading about all your adventures makes me just want to hop on a plane/boat/train and just see where I end up! I am going to Cairo from August-December, which helps.
But I'm so happy youre clearly enjoying yourself and living life to the fullest right now. And, of course, I'm insanely jealous!!
Oh, and don't forget to stay in one piece, although you seem to be doing a very good job thus far. Let's keep it that way shall we? :-)

by dancinnut

you are such a great writer, ty. you really have your own developed voice. i just love some of the images i could picture in the part about the ascent and time spent on the volcano.

i also appreciate it even more as i know it is difficult to spend all day thinking and speaking in spanish, and then go and write about your day in english....

well love you! i am leaving for Maui for spring break tomorrow! uber stoked! and guess what!? I'M EIGHTEEN!

by megs_214

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