Herein began the day of the ultimate adventure …traversing the mountains in a Guatemalan bus. I left the orphanage with a multitude of heartfelt ‘Adios’es, making my way to an unknown bus heading to Quetzaltenango (commonly and fondly referred to as Xela — pronounced Shela) at an unknown time and departure point. I was ferried by a staff member (who spoke NO English) to a point in town which seemed to be a popular stopping point for both 1st and 2nd class (called Chicken Buses) Buses. I really wanted to go to the bathroom before embarking on this 4 hour journey but I couldn’t seem to get my point across in a timely fashion … By the time I did, the bus to Xela had arrived and I was left to wonder how long I would be able to hold a burgeoning bladder. The bus was 1/2 full and the only window seat available was in the rear of the bus. The seat was like a platform in that it was elevated far above the others in a bench-like fashion. It was a pretty cool vantage point but I had to slouch down in an absurd manner to gaze out the window at the passing scenery. I must admit though, the first 2 hours I was too busy trying to figure out how I was going to ask the driver for a bathroom stop. Each stop that the driver makes is only long enough for the individuals to hop on or off and, if lucky, manage to enter the aisle before the bus takes off on a roaring terrifying gait. It was obvious that these bus trips are time-sensitive, and even with the best of Spanish mannerisms, a restroom stop seemed highly unlikely. Usually I have a pretty sturdy bladder, but being thrown back and forth in my seat as the bus screams around the non-stop hairpin mountain turns left me in dire need of a quick effective rush to service. After 2 hours I could hold it no longer. Someone must have been looking down on me with kindness and pity because the bus managed to stop for longer than 2 minutes — a small market was swarming with vendors ready to hop onboard and sell their wares. With a bravery that far exceeded my spoken skills, I rushed to the driver and begged ‘Necessito Banos!’. He pointed at his watch and shook his head (after I explained, ‘Hablo no Espanole’); he then grabbed my hand — in an effort to protect me from the onslaught of speedy oncoming traffic — and rushed me to a building behind the vendors stalls. Several men asked for quetzales to use the washrooms and the driver paid them in kind. I was ushered to a hole in the ground and in my speedy attempts at unbuckling my trousers, I dropped my phrasebook in this muddy little puddle. Ew!!! But with no time to fret over this messy inconvenience, I relieved myself and attempted to return to an incessantly honking bus awaiting my return. However, the man who managed to toilet huts beckoned for more money. Go figure that I had nothing small than a 100 quetzals bill ($15US). After a few futile attempts at explaining ‘No deniro’, the porter from my bus came to my aid and ushered me back, towing me with my soiled book and hands. Relief comes in the most basic of forms; it can make the difference between extreme discomfort and utter enjoyment and admiration. The rest of my trip was uneventful and I finally managed to snap off a few shots of the glorious mountainside and people.
My arrival at Juan Sissay was an event in itself! Trying to bargain with a taxi driver who was obviously trying to take advantage of my non-speaking Spanish status (obvious in that I was told taxi ride within the city were 10-20 quetzales and not the 50 qz he was insisting upon) was a lesson in steadfastness. The driver relented and accepted 25 qz as payment. Upon arrival, I was offered the option of attending the schools Salsa classes after they dropped my bags off at my homestay. Too tired to think twice, I agreed and enjoyed a lively session of sashaying and stumbling :). What a wonderful introduction to Xela! I look forward to improving my dance skills whilst here in Central America — something to add to my contact dance repertoire.
I was starving after the dance lesson and was stunned at reading the numerous house rules, one which stated that dinner each evening would be served no earlier than 8pm. Holy smokes! How was I going to make it that far? Eating that late seems pointless to me … 7pm is usually my latest preference. Boy, am I about to learn to adapt :). Luckily Melegra (sp??) was understanding of my hand ramblings which attempted to explain my hunger, and she relented in saying that tonight only, dinner at 6pm. 8 pm from here thereafter. No worries …. I won’t waste away :). Very much in tune with the bookmark that Lisa gave me quoting “Wisdom begins in wonder.” (Socrates), I will be an open vessel to all that surrounds me with the hopes of gaining wisdom and making the most of my stay here in Guatemala. If that means succumbing to local custom, so be it!!