Nikki's blog

Corpus Cristi parade in Antigua

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It's been raining for hours.  At first a slow drip, drip to a thunderous pouring and back to a gentle trickle.  I guess that's the rainy season for you!  This morning a grandmother and her grandson were placing flowers on top of a pine-bough bed in the street, so we ased if there was a special occasion.  Today is el festival de Corpus Cristi, and the town is decked out with yellow and white flags, the streets are full of flowers, pine, and confetti, and people dressed in their Sunday best.  The air smells of cinnamon (from the firecrackers or fuegos artificiales, that go off every five minutes?) and incense buring, lit by the jolly man who owns the funeral house next door.  We sit on the curb, watching the world go by, waiting for the parade to finally pass through this street, to honor the offerings laid down.  Groups of tourists walk by, the women wearing their newly bought Guatemalan purses (I, too, am guilty of this!) followed by families with toddlers dressed up like angels for the occasion.  Neighbors stand in the doorway, chatting and greeting passers by.  The parade finally passes with the drum beating, a man playing a march on a wooden flute, women wearing all black, and the climax--a gringo and Guatemalan priest under a a tent, holding a cross, pious, honoring the occasion.  The procession was almost a let down after the anticipation, but still a great slce of life experience.

Nikki – Fri, 2006 – 07 – 21 09:33

Antigua, Guatemala: An Impossibly Cute City

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Last time I was on my way home from Guatemala to Denver, the woman sitting next to me on the plane remarked "didn't you love Antigua?  It was just like Disneyland!"  Although now it's many years later, that comment has stuck with me.  At the time, I definitely didn't think of Antigua as Disneyland.  I had just spent two weeks doing aid projects with missionaries and Antigua to me was 5 year old Rosa who spent her days begging for food before ending up in an orphanage.  Antigua was the hospital full of people who couldn't live on their own--the 40 year old man with a birth defect who lived in a crib.  Antigua was poverty, struggle, and while the people of Guatemala were incredible and giving, it was definitely no Disneyland.  Being back now many years later, I understand what she meant.  Antigua is adorable--the parque central, the famous yellow arch, the cobbled streets, the bright yellow, blue, and salmon-painted fascades of buildings and the women and children dressed in their colorful hand-woven traditional dress.  The city is set among three volcanoes, hidden today by fog and has become a travel center for international tourists, refueling for a few days with international food, fellow travelers, and boozing opportunities before heading to their next destination on the Central American travel circut.  There are still reminders here and there that behind the fascades, poverty still exists--the kids selling jewelery in tourist bars, the grandmas begging in the plaza.  While still no Disneyland, Antigua is a treat.

Nikki – Fri, 2006 – 07 – 21 09:23

How the Other Half Live: Los ricos en San Salvador

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Today we spent inadvertently observing how San Salvador's rich live.  Our guide mentioned that many travelers to El Salvador are surprised by San Salvador's glitzy side and I'd have to say I'm one of them.  Yesterday we spent a short time transferring busses in Guatemala City--a capital that I'm sure has its bright spots, but one that seems to me like a small piece of hell.  When we originally arrived in San Salvador at the beginning of the trip, my vision of it was the same as many Central American capitals--polluted, full of traffic, industrial, dingy, dirty, and delapidated.  Escaping the city on that first day brought on my culture shock, while now, another part of that same city is creating a new shock.  We're staying along the Boulevard de los heroes, a street full of chain restaurants and one of San Salvador's nicest malls.  This morning we watched the Argentina vs. Germany World Cup game in the bar of one of San Salvadors ritziest hotels--the Real Intercontinental, where the bathroom is nicer than any hotel room we've stayed at so far.  The hotel is full of Salvadorian and international businessmen (not so many women), and the bar is packed with suits...or at least ties since it's so hot in here.  Smoke fills the air and men are sipping tequila and whiskey at 9:00am.  Later in the day, we went to the Museo de arte (MARTE) and stopped for lunch in the art museum restaurant.  Looking like our typical unkempt travel selves, we weren't quite prepared for the poshness of the restaurant, or of the other restaurant guests.  While the men watched the morning world cup game on the big projected screens in a bar, the women of leisure watched the afternoon game between conversations on the small muted restaurant tvs.  In the morning we saw a small slice of the wealthy male elite, while in the afternoon we saw their wives.  Well-dressed and put together, these women, accustomed to air conditioning and owners of SUVs, are the inspiration for telenovela characters.  Later in the evening we paid a visit to the local mall (are we in America?) and couldn't decide if the middle class is growing with its thirst for American-style consumerism, or if this is how those lucky few live.  When we left the mall to head back to the hotel for the night, we remembered that we're still in El Salvador when we saw a young boy juggling for money in the street. 

Nikki – Thu, 2006 – 07 – 20 15:13

La Palma, El Salvador

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Our tourist book promised a mountain town bathed in fresh, cool air.  After Suchitoto's heat, we definitely needed it.  As we hoped, La Palma is refreshing.  At 3,390 feet to be exact, La Palma is a small town nestled in the jungle...or what looks like jungle.  The whole town is painted in local painter Fernando Llort style, which to us seems like a mix of typical folk art and Picasso cubism.  But, it's nice.  We're staying at Hotel La Palma, a large compound of various buildings with plenty of opportunities to read a book in a hammock or relax and enjoy the views.  We are sitting under the covered porch enjoying a cold Cerveza Golden while it torrentially rains for 30 minutes.  The afternoon/evening rain is typical in June, so I suppose we'll have to find an umbrella.  Before we came, we read that only 4% of the country remains forested, so we came expecting Colorado-style barrenness in much of the country.  Not the case.  Everything is amazingly green here, from plants in the town square to the jungled hills.  Tomorrow we check out El Pital, the highest peak in El Salv at 2730 meters.

Nikki – Thu, 2006 – 07 – 20 15:02

Welcome to Central America!

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¡Bienvenido al mundo desarrolando!  In a word, it's chaos.  The sights: an open air market with people crammed together selling fresh fruits, vegetables (many of which I don't recognize), a woman with 15 crates of eggs to sell, a group of men selling tools; busses driving through the market, getting within inches of goods being sold; a young girl carrying a bowl on her head--perfectly balanced; young boys getting on and off busses selling bags of water to passengers; a man wearing a hat that says "Old Fart's Wife"; houses, pieced together with corrugated metal, guarded outside by roosters and skinny, stray dogs; women, gathered in a stream washing clothes; people running across the highway to catch their morning transportation; old men sitting on steps in the plaza, talking about the day, passing the time; open-backed trucks entirely filled with standing people; signs--an equal mix of advertising American companies, political ads, and graffiti; an open soccer field, high in the hills.  The smells: the fire used to make tortillas on the street; the smell of trash, rotting; of pollution, much of which is contributed by 30-year-old busses; but mostly, the smell of wet, the jungle, the afternoon torrential rains, the plants everywhere--in Colorado they are small houseplants, in El Salvador, they're trees; the air: thick, warm, wet.   A vacation to the third world is not a relaxing one--there's what you have to do before you go: getting shots and taking pills (if you're a cautious soul), planning routes and then changing them, and there's the explaining to people why you're going on vacation to the developing world and you're not staying at a resort...and you're riding local busses, the ones that are 30 years old.  There's the warnings--the crime, the robberies, maybe even rape and murder.  And there's being there--watching your bags against the crime you've heard so much about, watching waht you eat so you don't get sick, finding your way around, handling the chaos.  Although not relaxing, a trip to the third world can, if you let it, open your eyes, show you how other people live, and give you an authentic experience.  And you may even find some tranquilidad along the way. 

Nikki – Thu, 2006 – 07 – 20 14:45

Lonely Planet Central America guide

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I'm usually a big fan of LP guides on trips past, but seriously every traveler wandering around the streets of Copan, Honduras and Antigua, Guatemala, whether they were Australian, European, or American, were all referring to their green LP Central American guide.  It did have good info, but every traveler had the same advice and ended up going to the same places... 

Nikki – Thu, 2006 – 07 – 20 14:39

Greetings from Copan

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I'm writing from an internet cafe in Copan, Honduras.  We just got to
Honduras today after spending since Saturday in El Salvador.  So far it's
going really well, although the first few days were an adjustment, as I've
forgotten what a vacay to the developing world is like: bugs, heat,
confusion, and my fav...diarrhea.  We started out in San Salvador and then
headed directly north to colonial Suchitoto, a cute little town with
cobblestone streets and a nice town square, complete with big white church
(surprise!).  After that, we headed farther north to La Palma, where we

Nikki – Thu, 2006 – 06 – 22 10:40

3rd grade Spanish

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I was teaching a 3rd grade class the other day where most of the students were native Spanish-speakers but were all mostly fluent in English.  In case you were wondering, the new favorite 3rd grade song is Shakira/Wyclef's new "Hips Don't Lie", or as one of the students corrected the other students with his understanding of the song title, "Hips Don't Mind".

I gave the students an assignment to color and write their name on a cardboard building.  One student decided to call his building "chingate" and thought he was pretty sneaky and showed his building to his surrounding friends.  By third grade, you should know a) that if you're going to be sneaky, you need to use a sneakier word than chingate and b) more people speak Spanish than you think (even if they don't look like it).   When I asked him (in Spanish) "what did you write?", I've never seen a marker scribble out a word so fast.  He was so shocked that I busted him, that his fear ended up being punishment enough (although I did give him the old don't-do-that-evil-eye).  Also in case you were wondering, 3rd graders don't have a filter and will make fun of your accent in Spanish.

Nikki – Wed, 2006 – 05 – 31 15:21

Funny Boss in The Nederlands

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Greg and I went out to dins last night with my boss here and it was so funny b/c I come home and tell Greg all these funny work stories and stories about funny things she says, and then last night she said them all at dinner and Greg and I were both just trying so hard to not laugh too hard. my favorite things she says (and picture them in a funny dutch accent) are:

1) "oh thanks god" instead of thank god
2) "lookie lookie cookie cookie"
3) "oh, I am top!" to indicate being busy
4) "he is not so speedy"
5) "this is so handy dandy, don't you think so?"
6) "popie opie popie popie" for "the pope"

Nikki – Tue, 2006 – 02 – 28 10:06

Funny Dutch Day

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I ran across this Dutch word in a cover letter: verantwoordelijkheidsgevoel. Dutch (and German, where many Dutch words and constructs come from) are pretty funny languages for a native English speaker. So many of the words are similar or the same, and so many of them are so very very different.

When I was riding home, an older lady riding in front of me dropped her 4-pack
of toilet paper out of her side bags on her bike. So i rode up to her and
said "excuse me" and pointed back at the road, but she just gave me the evil
eye like i was some kind of biking salesperson trying to sell her some road

Nikki – Tue, 2006 – 02 – 21 10:05
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