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¡Dios mio!

Drama in Sololá over the weekend

semi-overcast 75 °F

Given that our internet access is sporadic and getting international news is difficult because those pages don´t tend to open, I´m not sure if this made the news back home. In Sololá, across the lake from where we are, there was some drama over the weekend that ended horrifically. First some context. In Guatemala City, the gangs have been extorting bus drivers for a while now, charging them money to drive through their territory. If they don´t pay, the bus drivers get killed. So, the bus drivers and their families went on strike recently, pleading for more police protection. I don´t think anything has been resolved on that front yet.

Fast forward to Sololá and keep in mind that I´m paraphrasing the stories that I´ve patched together from locals since I have yet to see a newspaper this week (surprisingly difficult to get). About a month ago, three young people from Guatemala City, who are suspected to be tied to gangs there, arrived in Sololá and began extorting the bus and cab drivers. At the end of last week, they killed a bus driver and the person who grabbed the steering wheel to keep the bus from going over a cliff. The police quickly arrested the three people, two young men and a young woman, and put them in jail. Soon, a group of 2000-3000 citizens arrived at the police station and began demanding that the three criminals be released to the public. Obviously the police didn´t want to do that because it was a lynching waiting to happen. So, they held off. The towns people kept the pressure on outside beginning to throw Molotov cocktails and overturning police cars, eventually setting fire to the jail and the overturned cars. The station virtually burned to the ground and the policemen inside narrowly escaped the blaze. When the flames died down the townspeople went through what remained of the station to the jail, which is behind the station. They grabbed the three criminals, took them out in front of everyone, and the mob set them on fire and burned them alive.

After I picked my jaw up off the floor I found out this is the second time in the last year or so that the people of Sololá have taken justice into their own hands, burning people alive after attacking the police station. According to locals, the people have so little faith in the justice system and the police that they feel they have nothing else they can do if they don´t want to see the criminals set free in a week or a month. In other words, the people think the police are so corrupt in Guatemala they won´t even wait to see if the justice system works before lynching the suspected felons. The most telling thing about the whole situation is how matter-of-factly everyone described it. None of them seemed to have a huge problem with the actions of the mob and chalked it up to justice being served. Even considering the people were probably guilty, it still leaves me shocked and horrified.

Posted by BenjaminE 16:07 Archived in Guatemala Comments (1)

El viaje hasta la orilla del infierno!

Pictures of Ben and Kim stupidly close to an active lava flow

sunny 80 °F

Many tourists come to Guatemala to do things that no one in their right mind would let them do in the US. We are no exception! This weekend, we climbed a volcano that is still spewing lava and crossed a barely crusted over rock pathway to get there (yes, that means there was red hot molten rock possibly only inches beneath our feet!). Like average Americans, we assumed that if people let you do it, it must be safe, while here the modis operandi is if people will pay for it, we'll tell them it is safe.

This was no trip for the faint of heart or the heavy of foot and belly. At one point during our scramble up loose pumis and red lava rock, a huge smoldering rock the size of a sack of bowling balls broke off the mountain and came cascading and tumbling towards our group. Luckily, it passed through a gap in the line without injuring anyone. This was the point we were sure that this was one of the most ridiculously stupid things we had done in our lives, an opinion shared by most of our hiking companions.

Nearer to the top, the temperature rose by 20 degrees or so as we started seeing red hot molten rock between the cracks in the lava flow we were walking on. We could feel the heat through our shoes, which were quite torn up by the end. It was more or less the kind of place you would only go to destroy an evil ring or smelt diamonds.

Finally we reached the top of the lava field where there was a river of molten lava flowing down the hillside, and a constantly smoking volcano cone above us. Only a few tourists have been killed from time to time when the volcano decides to give a hiccup while they were on top.

Here was the view while we climbed. These are the three volcanoes that surround Antigua: Acatanengo, Agua, y Fuego, you can see a plume of smoke coming out of Fuego in the back:


All around our feet were cracks similar to this one with glowing, molten rock inside:


Ben looking scared:


Me looking cool and collected like always, though based on the previous shot of Ben I would say my hands were shaking slightly:


The river of lava cascading down the mountain:


You really can´t get tired of shots of lava:


Oh, also, here are two pictures of another hike that we did up La Nariz which is the mountain right next to our town, San Juan. Not quite as exciting in comparison but still pretty!



Posted by KimJay 15:53 Archived in Guatemala Tagged luxury_travel Comments (3)


I thought we were supposed to be on a vacation

all seasons in one day 75 °F

Guatemalan culture is very laid back. At least here in San Juan, the norm is to work from about eight in the morning until about noon and then maybe again after lunch until about two. Very similar to what I saw when I was in Mexico, a teacher is considered full time if they work just in the morning or just in the afternoon. So in our effort to fit in to this very relaxed way of life, Kim and I got ourselves involved in so many projects that we have little to no free time. You know how we were supposed to be travelling through Guatemala and then maybe on to the rest of Central America. Forgettaboutit. Since we arrived in San Juan on the seventeenth of September, we´ve only left once to go two hours away for the weekend. And it doesn´t look like that is going to change much until Kim´s parents come in December. Luckily for us, it´s so beautiful here that it makes it hard to leave. When we first got here we wanted to take lots of day trips to other towns around the lake. Now, we´re too lazy and also too busy to walk the fifteen minutes to the next closest town. Granted, there´s not much reason to go there since it´s overrun by drunk and drugged out gringos.

We´re keeping ourselves very busy here in San Juan working at the Centro five days a week. Kim also started up Spanish classes again this week. When we´re not at the Centro or taking classes, we´re working on the video that we are making for the Centro and on our new project, teaching English to all the kids in the family we are staying with. Without any resources, we´ve had a good time teaching ourselves how to teach English and making lesson plans and we´ve come to two conclusions: there are a lot of really ugly sounds in English and we are really glad we learned English as a first language because it seems much harder to learn as a second language than Spanish.

Posted by BenjaminE 15:52 Archived in Guatemala Tagged volunteer Comments (3)


Finally some pictures after some technical difficulties

So I made a very nice photo gallery for all to see... but cannot figure out how you can access it from the blog. So I´ve attached all the photos below. I hope you enjoy!

Here is some authentic straight from Trader Joes into your cup Shade Grown Organic Coffee! This coffee coop is about a quarter mile from our house. And this is Lucas, a coffee farmer and my tour guide.

Another picture of Antigua

Me and Rex... The rather aggressive to outsiders but nice after he (actually a she) gets to know you.

This is Ura... she belongs to the Spanish man Raul that lives in the room next to us.

Ben and Yasmina. A member of the family we live with.

Ben and Chello---one of the kids at the centro--working on a pinata for Dia De Los Ninos (a day where they have a big party for kids at each school)

This is the view from the road as you approach our town. The town is situated just underneath that mountain which is called La Nariz de Indio... or Indians Nose.

Ben in a Kayak.

I can Kayak too.. ha!

The central plaza in Xela. The second biggest city in Guatemala (about 200,000) and about 2 hours from where we live. A nice place!

A Super Chivos (Super Goats) game in Xela. They are a professional soccer team in the Guatemalan league, which is kind of like our minor league baseball here. Except the fans are WAY more dedicated and fanatical. We were also interviewed on the radio in Spanish before the game started... quite a stressful test for me!

Posted by KimJay 15:03 Comments (5)


...and other things that go bump in the night....

San Juan is a sleepy little town, except for some reason between the hours of 4 AM and 7 AM. If there is one thing that exemplifies a modern Guatemalan celebration (and of course I am an expert after being here all of a month), it is Bombas. Otherwise known as GIANT firecrackers... the kind that us law-abiding Oregon citizens have never seen. These fireworks shoot far up in the air and explode in a house-shaking boom. Every special occassion requires at least 3-4 bombas, usually set off around dawn--and for some reason adjacent to the house we are staying in. Special occassions include...deaths, births, Sunday (they especially like to set them off right outside the church during masses to make sure the parishoners are alert), saints´ days (which seem to come quite often), ANY holiday no matter how small, for no reason in particular, and in celebration of the town winning any sort of regional competition (especially related to marching bands).

Speaking of marching bands, bombas are not the only thing that start at dawn. In preparation for a regional marching band competition, the school band began practicing a two blocks away from us at 5 AM a few weeks back. According to the locals, policemen don´t enforce the noise ordinances if children are involved--and besides the policemen (and the whole town) have great pride in their marching band (which plays routines lifted directly from Drumline the movie). The practice did pay off... the band took second in a regional competition (mind you it was a regional competition of three bands) which was celebrated by firecracker ropes in the street and of course bombas the following morning.

You have probably been thinking for the last few entries, enough of the yakity yak, show me some more pictures. We have taken many but laziness usually trumps the desire to load them up to the web. I´ll be working to get some up soon!

Posted by KimJay 14:03 Comments (3)

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