Today is our 4th day in San Andres, and our first free day. We´re loving it so far, enjoying the beautiful views, friendly people, and the chocobananas. We´re getting used to the humidity, the very vocal roosters, and the giant hill we have to climb to get anywhere (the other volunteers call it “death mountain”).
The town of San Andres sits on the banks of Lago Peten, in Guatemala´s northernmost departamento (like a state), which is also called Peten. The lake is huge and beautiful–the kind of clear, blue-green water that you usually don´t see outside of resort brochures. And it´s warm–almost too warm, but not quite. Swimming, for obvious reasons, is a popular pastime here. My host-mom laughed at me yesterday when I told her that we had walked to the lake, but not gone swimming because we didn´t have our trajes de baño (bathing suits). She explained that people usually jump in with clothes on; only extranjeros (foreigners) wear bathing suits. We decided to do as the locals and jump in in clothes today after we walked to the next town to use the ATM, only to find that it is broken. (San Andres is too small to have an ATM; even the one bank is a new addition.)
Our host families are great, so let me introduce them. Jess and Ronnie are staying with Candelario and Marcelena and their 12 children. Candelario works in the ecological park run by Volunteer Peten, and Marcelena, as you can imagine, has plenty to do at home. Many families here don´t live in houses, exactly–they´re more like compounds. Candelario and Marcelena´s home is composed of several small buildings, some enclosed and some only covered with a corrugated steel roof, with small paths and gardens in between (the gardens are unusual–Candelario´s home is landscaped like the park). During lunch today, the kitchen was filled with us, Marcelena, a few of the younger kids, a dog, a cat, and a few of the 7 fuzzy baby ducks that waddle around freely. My host family is a little less chaotic. Carmelina, Oscar, and four of their five kids live two steps away from Marcelena & co. Carmelina cleans the biblioteca run by Volunteer Peten and a nearby government building, and Oscar works at a park far away, where he lives for 22 days at a time before coming home for 10. I´m pretty sure Carmelina is the best cook in San Andres. Every meal is awesome. Sweet chili, tomato, onion, and lime find their way onto most plates along with the standard frijoles and rice. Unfortunately, I think someone told Carmelina that all Americans eat a lot, because three times a day she brings me a heaping plate of food that I couldn´t possibly finish. I could have worse problems.
So what are we doing between enjoying the food and the people and the swimming in tropical paradise? We´ve visited three different schools, planted trees in the park (Parque Nueva Juventud), and spent four or five hours each night at the biblioteca, practicing English with some of San Andres´ most motivated students, and helping the younger kids with their tarea (homework). Jess has also started working with the marching band. In the next week, we´ll fill you in more fully on what we´ll be doing for the rest of the month.
NOTE: Right now, we don´t have a way to get pictures online, since our only net access is at the internet cafe. That should change in the next few days, so stay tuned for pictures!