Chicabal, Cathedrals, Clubs, and Chi-Chi

It’s been awhile since my last post, so this one is going to be a bit longer.  I continued my Spanish classes this past week and started in the clinic.  The Pop Wuj Clinic is a free clinic funded by the school and run by two Guatemalan doctors.  When we get there at 8 in the morning, there is a line that runs down the block.  We open up and work non-stop until 1.  So far I’ve worked in triage and pharmacy.  Getting thrown into a clinic is a great way to practice and develop a working amount of medical Spanish.

It is also a great way to begin to see how basic some of the health problems Guatemalans regularly suffer from.  As a mentioned in an early post, Guatemala has the highest rate of chronic childhood malnutrition in the western hemisphere and the 3rd highest in the world.  Many of the kids and adults look much younger than they are because they are so small.  We had a tape measure on the wall to measure height.  For the first week, it only went up to 5’8”.  We have had one patient taller than that.  Genetics play a role in the shorter stature, but so much of it is the lack of sufficient nutrition.  I was taking the vitals of a 4 year old who came in with flu like symptoms.  I took him to the scale.  He weighed 27 lbs.  He looked at me and said, “Estoy muy flaco” which means I am very skinny.

Now to bore you with Spanish grammatical structure.  There are two verbs that mean “to be” in Spanish.  Ser is used for permanent qualities, like where one is from, one’s personality, or physical traits.  Estar is used to express more transient qualities, for example hunger or sickness.  This little boy used estar to describe his skinniness.  In that he expresses the idea that he shouldn’t be as skinny as he is, that it is something that should be transient.

A scale at the market

To pull a complete 180, Kate, another student, and I cooked dinner for the school this Thursday.  We were originally planning a plato typico (rice, beans, meat, plantains, and tortillas).  After day 10 of eating a variation of this twice a day, we decided it would be better to get as gastronomically far away as possible.  We made a summer salad with feta, strawberries, mango, and pumpkin seeds, pasta with a putaneska sauce and an alfredo sauce, and flan with a raspberry compote for dessert.  For throwing a dinner party in a partially functioning kitchen in a third world country, everything went smoothly.

Volcan Santiagito

Saturday, I went with my Spanish professor Alberto and a few other students to Chicabal.  Now a preserved area, Chicabal is a volcano with a lagoon in the crater that has been used by the Mayan’s for religious ceremonies for centuries.  It is located in an alpine rainforest.  We hiked up for about two hours and caught a great view of the surrounding mountains, including an active volcano south of Xela. As we walked the 560 stairs down into the lagoon, fog began to roll in.  Along the shore, there were flowers placed in the water as offerings to the Mayan God.  As the lagoon became enclosed in fog, the primordial nature of Chicabal became apparent.  We walked back down and made our way back to Xela.

Mayan offerings with fog rolling into the lagoon

I went home to shower after a sweaty and muddy hike.  For the fourth day in a row, the water was not working at my house.  At this point, I had a gringo breakdown.  I changed clothes, got on my bike, and did the most American thing I could come up with.  I went to McDonalds and bought a Big Mac meal.

The rest of the day went much more smoothly after this.  I went to a café for some internet and when I got back home, my normally quiet host home was filled with my host mom’s children and grandkids.  I played and talked before heading out for my first night of Guatemalan clubbing.

We met up with Anne’s host family who took us to the most exclusive club in Xela.  Because we had connections, we didn’t have to pay the 30 quetzal cover ($4).  We got bottle service ( $20) and brought some American dancing skills to the first few tracks.  Then the music switched to salsa and we were promptly embarrassed.

Chicken market in Chi-chi

It was a late night and I woke up Sunday a little bleary eyed.  Luckily the shower was finally working.  I got ready quickly and met Kate and Nikita at the bus corner to go to the market in Chichicastenango.  The market at Chichi is one of the largest in the country.  Booths fill every street in the city selling anything and everything you can think of.  Many of the booths sell almost the exact same thing.  The free market is extremely important in an economy based on bartering.  A typical interaction with a vendor:

“I like this one.  How much does it cost”

“That, that’s a very nice one.  The best quality.  It costs 200 quetzals.”

“Whoa, that is way too much.  I am not going to pay that.”

“Ok, for you, I give you a special price, 150 Q.”

“Too much, I am going to look for a better price.”

“Ok, how much would you pay?”

“30, maybe 35, but no more.”

“I can do 100, but you’re robbing me.”

“40, and that’s it.”





“50… ok 45.”

“45 is fine, but I only have 40.  40 then?”

“Ok 40.”

And so it went on for 3 hours.  We wandered through the booths, grabbed a quick lunch, and did some more wandering.  We all got most of our gifts before hopping on the chicken bus back to Xela.

Quieter side of Chi-chi

After dropping my stuff at my house, I went to a café and grabbed a coffee before heading to the evening mass at the cathedral.  One amazing thing about the catholic faith, is that even if I didn’t understand what was being said, I knew what part of the mass we were in.  I rode my bike home in the rain and got ready for another week.


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