Visitors Galore, Round 4: Christina & Aundrea

My visitors just kept pouring in. Just over a month after Jeffrey had come to visit me, my next set of visitors, Christina and Aundrea, came to Guatemala for a week. Their trip was the shortest of all my visitors, but we stayed active and really did a lot with the small amount of time they were in Guatemala.

Christina and I know each other from college as we shared a double room together in the dorms during our freshman year at St. Mary’s College. After our first year, she transferred out, but we have stayed in contact ever since and see each other about once a year. Aundrea is Christina’s partner and they are currently living in San Diego, both working a ton as well as trying to start up a community organic farm on Aundrea’s mom’s property. They are busy, busy, busy so the main purpose of their trip to Guatemala was to have a vacation and relax. And I got to be their tour guide. A couple things Christina had told me they would be interested in included hiking a volcano, visiting farms such as coffee and chocolate, and learning about the Guatemalan diet and attending a cooking class. I did my best to work those things in as efficiently as possible.

Christina and Aundrea took a red-eye flight from Los Angeles and arrived in Guatemala early on a Friday morning. Instead of meeting them at the airport, they hopped on a public shuttle to Antigua; between the two of them, they spoke enough Spanish to figure it out without a problem. When we finally found each other that morning, we went straight to breakfast in Antigua, and then we spent the rest of the morning strolling around Antigua. It was a beautiful day, which made for a lovely introduction to the country. And neither Christina nor Aundrea had done much traveling before so they were stoked to be in another country!

Christina and Aundrea in Central Park in Antigua.

Christina and Aundrea in Central Park in Antigua.

At one in the afternoon, we headed to the Choco Museo for our chocolate workshop—the same one I had done with Jeffrey. Since there really wasn’t an easy way for me to get them to a chocolate plantation, I figured the history and discussion regarding how chocolate comes to be would be enough. Plus, we all got to make our own little chocolates at the end! (Since I had already done this, I knew what combination I liked and made all of my chocolates dark with macadamia nuts and sea salt. Yum!) Being that the girls hadn’t slept much in the last day or two, the two-hour workshop was a little draining, but the interactive parts got their attention again. They both highly enjoyed the activity and felt like they had learned so many interesting things about cacao and chocolate.

Christina, me, and Aundrea making our personal chocolates during our workshop at Choco Museo in Antigua.

Christina, me, and Aundrea making our personal chocolates during our workshop at Choco Museo in Antigua.

Shortly after our workshop ended, we had to catch the pick-up that was going to take us up to Earth Lodge. Since Mari, Russell, and Jeffrey had all loved this place, I thought for sure it was a safe bet with Christina and Aundrea. Plus, the lodge is set on an avocado farm, which was appropriate since Christina and Aundrea had been doing a lot of farming. For their trip, I was able to reserve the Deluxe Tree Cabin for us to stay in which is actually built around a tree. As soon as we settled in, they completely unwound and relaxed. They loved the place and said they could probably spend the whole week there because it was so peaceful! (I realized later that maybe I should have let them stay there all week…) And as it seemed that they never really slow down at home, for them to be able to just enjoy doing nothing was a nice change. Everyone left happy the next day, and Christina managed to acquire a recipe for avocado key lime pie, as well, while we were there.

Christina and Aundrea enjoying the view of the forest and valley from the Deluxe Tree Cabin at Earth Lodge.

Christina and Aundrea enjoying the view of the forest and valley from the Deluxe Tree Cabin at Earth Lodge.

On Sunday mid-day, we made it back down to Antigua on time to drop our stuff off at our hostel, run out for some food, and then embark on the big Saturday activity, which was a hike up the active Volcano Pacaya. The hike up only takes about an hour and a half, but since most of the way is uphill, it seems a lot longer. Once again, seeing one of my visitors in utter misery during a volcano hike made me second guess planning volcano hikes in the future. The good thing about the hikes is that you can go at your own pace, more or less. Although it was a strenuous activity, especially for Aundrea who was having a problem with her knee, we had a nice guide who explained a lot about the plants in the area during the necessary breaks that were taken.

Christina, Aundrea, and I with Volcano Pacaya in the background (constantly spewing a little lava and some ash, but the last major eruption was in May 2010).

Christina, Aundrea, and I with Volcano Pacaya in the background (occasionally spewing a little lava and some ash, but the last major eruption was in May 2010).

As always, arriving at the destination is both a relief and a reward. Since Pacaya is very active and the volcanic gravel and debris are so soft and unstable near the top that you would sink into it every step you took, tourists are not allowed to ascend the cone—it could be very dangerous. However, being right up close to an active volcano is enough, especially for people who have never been to or on a volcano. Another special thing about Volcano Pacaya is that it emits vapors from heat vents at the base of the cone that are hot enough to not only roast marshmallows but to set them on fire if you let them sit there too long! Most of the tour guides pass out marshmallows to their hikers and I had packed some “Chiki’s,” which are Guatemalan vanilla cookies with a chocolate layer, so we could make the Pacaya version of S’mores. Delish!

Aundrea and I roasting marshmallows in the hot vapor vents on Volcano Pacaya.

Aundrea and I roasting marshmallows in the hot vapor vents on Volcano Pacaya.

Christina with her marshmallows on a stick, getting ready to toast them on Volcano Pacaya.

Christina with her marshmallows on a stick, getting ready to toast them on Volcano Pacaya.

Christina and Aundrea were both very satisfied with the hike and feeling accomplished and exhausted by the time we got back to Antigua around 8:30 that night. (We had walked the last 20 minutes of the descent in the dark!) I don’t even remember if we went out for any formal dinner at all because we were all just so wiped out. We slept really well that night and had a nice Sunday morning in Antigua before heading up to the PC office Sunday afternoon to catch the shuttle for part of the way back to my site.

Christina and Aundrea stretching right before going for a chicken bus ride the day after hiking Volcano Pacaya.

Christina and Aundrea stretching right before going for a chicken bus ride the day after hiking Volcano Pacaya.

The ride out to San Andrés was windy, bumpy, and long, as usual. We did some grocery shopping for the week before we headed down the infamous unpaved road for an hour and a half to my town. Since it was during the week and I couldn’t take vacation because I already had plenty of activities on the schedule, Christina and Aundrea were with me at my house from Sunday in the afternoon until we left again Thursday morning. Since I had run them wild for their first 48 hours in Guatemala, I think they were ready for a break and being at my house gave them exactly that. My place was a great spot to relax and breathe.

Exhausted from many activities and finally giving her body a chance to slow down, Aundrea was found like this in my hammock more than once during the week.

Exhausted from many activities and finally giving her body a chance to slow down, Aundrea was found like this in my hammock more than once during the week.

During the week, we did a lot of cooking and recipe sharing, story-telling and catching up. I learned so much about Christina and Aundrea that I didn’t know before! And it was funny because since Christina and I lived together for a year in college, we could still relate to each other’s habits and “methods of madness,” per se. Once you live with a person, I don’t think you can ever go back to NOT knowing them: Christina and I are sort of like sisters and have the same relationship dynamic that we had in college. It was really fun re-living the roommate situation again, but in Guatemala. And, gosh, we all talked SO MUCH that week!

Christina and Aundrea spent most of the time at my house and gave all the cats a ton of attention. Mama kitty had just popped out another litter and they were just under two weeks old while the girls were there so that was a good source of entertainment. Christina also had the opportunity to do some leisure reading and Aundrea caught up on some movies—two activities that they don’t have he opportunity to do very often at home. I was happy to see them enjoying my home so much.

Christina loving on my kitty, Missy, who Aundrea dubbed "Joan Crawford" for the couple of days they were at my house.

Christina loving on my kitty, Missy, who Aundrea dubbed “Joan Crawford” for the couple of days they were at my house.

I did take them out once to visit my neighbors, the sisters Irma and Olga who lived around the corner and always wanted to know where I was going or coming from, who was coming to visit me, what my work activities entailed, what my weekend plans were, what my views were on dating and marriage, and how to make banana bread. These are very talkative, friendly women who can get up in your face with your curiosity. I came to adore these women—they were so good to me and warm, always insisting that I keep them in the loop of my life and also comforting me when I was feeling down or lonely.

Christina and Aundrea had very opposite experiences with them during the time we were there. Irma, Olga, and their mom, Josefina, were very hospitable serving us food and beverages and trying to make my guests comfortable. And then the non-stop questions from all three of them to the girls poured out, overlapping each other. Aundrea was having a blast because she finally had the chance to really practice her Spanish. She is of Mexican descent and grew up hearing Spanish all the time so she understood the conversation and kept up with it.

On the other hand, Christina, like me, knew Spanish grammar a lot better than she could comprehend what people were actually saying. She is also a processor, needing time to think before answering, but she just kept getting bombarded with questions and comments before she had the chance to process and respond so it ended up being a very frustrating and overwhelming visit for her. It reminded me of how I felt during pre-service training in Peace Corps when I felt so isolated when I couldn’t understand what people were trying to say to me and therefore couldn’t keep up with the conversation. Christina truly got a taste of the PC experience in this sense of isolation. Although a rough experience, we talked about it and planned to maneuver around such intense situations for the rest of the week, which meant that the anticipated interactions with my local community were slightly cut back, unfortunately including the nutrition lesson and cooking class that I facilitated out in Pajquiej that week.

The incident that occurred actually rose a good point, something that I had overlooked and failed to plan for: culture shock. My previous visitors had not had such strong reactions. Krista had been very curious about everything, Mari and Russell both had plenty of travel experience, and my brother just doesn’t react very emotionally to anything. Looking back, I realize from comments my visitors made or from how they acted in certain situations that they each were experiencing a bit of culture shock and handling it in their own ways, observing, asking a lot of questions, looking at me wide-eyed, etc.

Christina and Aundrea had a more intense experience in my site and vocalized how it affected them, which led to us finding a ways to help them feel more comfortable. Aundrea was stressed out just walking through my town because it triggered negative associations from a handful of stories and visits to the rural Mexican town her mom was from. It was definitely something that threw me off a little bit because I hadn’t been faced with managing extreme culture shock for my guests before, but it made me realize how different everyone is and how everyone copes with new situations in their own way. It was another opportunity to be flexible and to adapt to the unplanned occurrences that you can always count on in Guatemala, the Land of the Eternal Unpredictability.

We left my site on Thursday morning and headed to Antigua for their last adventure before going home early Friday morning. We set up a coffee tour for the afternoon and actually hiked out to a coffee plantation to learn about the differences in the two coffee plants this particular farm harvested, pick the coffee berries off the plants, and then distinguish between the usable berries and the “bad” ones (that get recycled and used by companies such as Nescafé to make instant coffee). We were shown the drying and roasting processes and even got to taste the fresh coffee that came from the beans that we ourselves helped to roast. It was a very informative, interactive tour—a great way to end Christina and Aundrea’s trip.

Christina, Aundrea, and I picking coffee directly off the plants during our Coffee Tour the day before they flew back to California.

Christina, Aundrea, and I picking coffee directly off the plants during our Coffee Tour the day before they flew back to California.

After the tour, we went out to Frida’s Mexican restaurant for excellent Mexican food and 2-for-1 margarita night. Christina and Aundrea were ready to get back and put all their fresh ideas for their farm, traveling, and possibly starting their own business into action. That is always my favorite part of having visitors: hearing all their favorite things and new ideas at the end of their trips. They left super early Friday morning, souvenirs and gifts in hand and stories at the tips of their tongues, for their flight back to L.A., where they had a fast-paced, fully booked weekend ahead of them. It meant so much to me to have them come out for a visit, even though it might not have been what they expected. Nevertheless, it was a solid bonding experience and an effective travel bug planter. Last I heard, they are already planning their next trip, this time to Costa Rica, this upcoming winter!

Speaking of Costa Rica, I am on my last couple days here before I make my next move. Since recovering from dengue, I have been on the move and very active, trying to make the most of my time in this beautiful, jungle- and wildlife-clad country. It is wonderful!

Love,

Alexandra

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Common Peace Corps Acronyms

PC = Peace Corps (sounds like "peese kor")
PCT = Peace Corps Trainee
PCV = Peace Corps Volunteer
PST = Pre-Service Training
ET = Early Termination
COS = Close of Service
NGO = Non-Governmental Organization
HH = Healthy Homes, the PC program I am in.
YD = Youth Development, the other program in my training group.

Disclaimer

Anything that is written or views expressed on this blog are mine personally and do not represent the Peace Corps or the United States government.
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