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2011 Travel Diary
No Photos 16th Apr 2011
Nebaj, Guatemala

I spent the past week "getting off the gringo trail", as they say. Well, yes, I did that. I went to Nebaj, Guatemala for another week of language school. Nebaj is supposed to be one of those places where you have to use your Spanish because no one speaks English. As usual, not entirely true, but to do anything in most places, I needed Spanish. Good practice!

Unfortunately, the school turned out to be a bit of a bust. Unorganized, and my teacher didn't come one day, and arranged for me to do something else another day, which turned out to be wander around the nearby town of Chajul with another teacher, speaking Spanish. Good practice, but I paid for Spanish CLASS! Still need to work on my imperatives....haha!

The two amazing things about my time in Nebaj_

1) My host family. They are an indigenous Mayan family. Maria, the mom, is Mam and Domingo, the dad, is Ixil. Maria has learned both Ixil and Spanish in order to live in Nebaj with her husband. She grew up in a small village near Xela, so it's pretty amazing that she is where she is. They have four children: Juana, Jose, Javier, and Fernando (Nando), with another baby on the way, which Maria claims is her last with an exasperated sigh and a smile. The kids are, as you would expect, beyond full of energy, especially Nando, who is 2 years old and the epitome of the terrible twos. Wow. That kid would wake us up by screaming bloody murder at 4 am, he almost removed one of the dog's eyes, and was constantly causing trouble. His mother was always very...tired. :) But he was fun, nonetheless.

Having the kids around was fun because they are closer to my level of Spanish, and I can ask them silly questions like, "Are you an elephant?" and they think it is funny. Good vocab practice (yeah, I'm a dork). We did fun things like make jewelry (those beads are the best investment I have made on this trip) and play outside. Whee!

Another awesome thing I got to try was the traditional Mayan sauna at their house, called a "chuj" or something like that. I had to crawl in through the door, and ended up sitting there in just my underwear with Maria and Juana, which was funny at first (being naked with strangers who are extremely conservative under all other circumstances is weird), but then just relaxing. Saunas are awesome!!! It was relaxing and nice because the weather is cold there.....

2) The hiking. Nebaj itself is pretty...ugly. Concrete buildings, dusty, chaotic, you know the drill. But it's in a bowl and once you get across the ridge, in almost any direction, you encounter the joy of the highland aldea. An aldea is just a village, but here they are simply perfect. The two that I got to hike to are called Cocop and Acul. Cocop was a harder hike, and was a more historical visit. This is a village that had about a third of it's inhabitants murdered during the war during a massacre in the 80s. There is a nice cemetary there that memorializes these victims, and the guide I went with gave me lots of insight into the people's lives there now, as they are finally rebuilt (the village was razed) and have a proper, permanent memorial.

Acul was one of the first "model" villages that the government installed indigenous Mayan people in during the war, and for this reason is has, I believed, received some kind of money from the government to rebuild. Lots of construction, but it is nestled in this Argentina/New Zealand-looking valley, with huge, rapidly rising hills and amazing rock formations and green pasture land. Very tranquil, with only a dirt road in. Lots of horses, cattle, chickens, etc. And everything just slows down. It was beautiful!

So, the week in Nebaj was a bit of a let down in some respects, but in others it was great. Regardless of all that, it was great to be in one place for a week and get to know some people! Next, into the forest around Coban to search for quetzals (the national bird)!!!

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Next: My birthday on a volcano, and getting to Mexico
Previous: A collection of successes and embarrassments I have completed in Spanish...

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