This past week I had the honour of experiencing two major forces of nature; an earthquake and Lake Atitlan. Both were overwhelming experiences, and both are associated with huge problems for human development. In order to see my opinion about tourist resorts at the lake, see my previous post.

The first, the earthquake, was of course awesome, in the sense of awe-inspiring, and scary. At first a strange shifting, I thought I was about to experience a particularly strong bout of food poisoning. As the tremor increased, I realised it wasn´t my stomach that was upset, but the whole earth. As the house began to sway dramatically, Jose-Miguel ran to stand under the corner of the roof and Laura grabbed onto her chair and looked at me with worried eyes. Generally, if the locals are worried, it´s not a good thing. The quake turned out to be 6.6 on the Richter scale and the media didn´t mention whether anyone died. According to the classification system, it was a tremor with the epicentre in the sea off the Pacific coast. But I choose to call it an earthquake, because, seeing the house wobble like that was damned impressive for me. Of course, earthquakes are extremely dangerous things, especially in the mountains where the combination of water and loose earth buries many people. A few years ago the whole village of Santiago died when a mountain collapsed on top of them in the middle of the night.

The potential for landslides following an earthquake crossed my mind when I travelled to Lake Atitlan for the weekend. Cramped in an extremely sick-inducing ´Chicken bus,´we had to cross several mountains to reach the lake. On the way we had to wait several times on mountain passes for roadworkers to clear the road. I don´t know whether these mud paths were worse after the earthquake, but I was pretty scared when all I could see ahead was a tiny mud path alongside a drop with rocks falling constantly on it. So, when we crossed this path, my reaction was to shut my eyes and think I´m gonna die, I´m gonna die. Not very profound, but it was the best I could manage. In fact, the path was wider than I thought and our journey was incident free, but the impression was heavy.

Not very impressive picture of the lancha from Pana to San Pedro la Laguna

The Chicken buses are amazingly suped-up old American school buses whose seats for children have been moved even further to accomodate more people and which emit opaque clouds of black smoke as they pass by. And I mean really opaque and black. The sides are painted with a variety of bright themes, such as the generic speed flame, and are named either women´s names such as Linda Katy (Pretty Katy) or Regalito de Dios (Gift from God). Gift from a right-wing American government more like. I don´t know whether these donations demonstrate a sick sense of humour on America´s side, but they are one of the most dangerous and uncomfortable methods of transport I have ever encountered. If I am lucky enough to choose my seat it´s a toss up between travel sickness in the aisle and squished knees by nthe window (I don´t know how other taller travellers manage, but the locals fit comfortably). On the way back yesterday I was the third on a seat for two, and would fall off my seat (remaining airborne by holding onto the metal bar with my hands) when we went around sharp corners. Of course, the Guatemaltecos somehow manage to sit across this gap and squeeze into the most improbable ´seats.´They sure are hardcore.

Once I arrived in Panajachel on Friday night I crossed the lake in a lancha (speedboat) to San Pedro la Laguna, the hippie, druggy, travellers´paradise, and lodged in a hostel on the side of the lake. My room was ugly but clean with a private bathroom, but the hostel and surroundings were beautiful.

View of the small Maya village of San Juan, which is amazingly untouched by development, unlike the tourist haven just 2km down the road

San Pedro was my first stop as a lone traveller and the experience was very positive. Owing to lack of seats, I soon found interesting company in a restaurant and for the rest of the weekend. I felt a little naive when it comes to money and travelling but I think I will soon harden up. In fact, faced with a bus cancellation on Sunday I managed to make my own way back to Xela without hassle and with the company of a hardened ex-pat American student who had a ton of interesting opinions.

My decision to travel by local transport was bolstered not only by the relative cheapness and desire to integrate myself more with the local way of life but also by the experience several of my friends had recently travelling from the capital to Xela. Four armed masked men entered their first class bus and robbed them at gunpoint, taking everything they could find, including hidden money belts. A couple of these were robbed to next week of their borrowed (their own money having previously been taken) money in different circumstances. Of course, while armed robbery is scary and I hope I never experience it, as the only objective is capital you are unlikely to be hurt. But still, eek! I am reminded of the Foreign and Commonwealth website´s general advice to British tourists to not go to Guatemala. But really, I have rarely felt unsafe. In fact the only time I felt uncomfortable was when I was forced into ´participating´in a political monologue by a drunken local in a tourist resort. While I am happy to learn about the history of Guatemala and engage in conversations with the locals (such learning experiences being one of the reasons I am here), I resent both that he assumed I was totally ignorant of the general structure of recent Guatemalan history and the fact that he used me as a political sounding board without making any attempt to actively engage me in conversation. Added to his compulsion to touch me with his insistence that he wasn´t trying to touch me or hit on me and his insistence that he ´didn´t have weapons´ once I made it clear I wanted him to leave me alone left me far more furious and frustrated than scared. Conversely, I have always felt safe in non-touristy areas.

Drinking on a stoop after being enraged at resort beer prices on Saturday – I look a lot like my brother

Having spent the weekend wandering and relaxing, I returned to Xela amazingly exhausted and happy with what I had accomplished. Although the mist and rain had prevented me from seeing the stunning vistas of summertime, I now feel a lot more equipped to continue my travels alone.

This post is long overdue. I should have written it the first week I was here, but, in true traveller style, everything takes longer than it´s meant to. The reason I first came to Guatemala was on the recommendation of a couple of acquaintances. Shamefully, I wasn´t aware of the country at all. The name was familiar, but I couldn´t have placed it on a map, or have told you anything about it. I only thought of Guatemala as a possible travel destination once I had been told about the Projecto Linguistico Quetzaltenango. The Projecto, or PLQ, was started in the Eighties in response to the ´disappearance´of two students from Xela. Their friends started the school for foreigners in order to raise money for their case.

In Guatemala, ser disapaereciendo, to be disappeared, is the word given to the political murders committed during the civil war here (1960-1996). Villagers, mostly indigenous people who were accused of being involved with the guerrillas, went missing. Sometimes their mutilated bodies were intentionally left where they could be found, sometimes they were never found. The two student activists, René Leiva Cayax and Danilo Alvarado, disappeared in 1987 for organising against the genocidal government. Only one of the two bodies was found.

The courtyard of PLQ. The students either study under the canopy or inside.

PLQ obviously has very political beginnings and it is now established as a bona-fide left-wing, but very well run (the lefties manage to organize themselves well here) organisation. As a non-hierarchy, decisions are made by the collective, a group of self-nominated teachers and a couple of permanent administrative positions, who nevertheless have an equal amount of power. Decisions are proposed to the rest of the teachers and the two groups go back and forth until they come to a decision. Ah, I love functional non-hierarchy! The students, too, are generally socially conscious, with a fair smattering of activists from North America (I´m the only Brit). We all live in homestays with Guatemalan familys with whom we eat three meals a day and have 5 hours one-on-one tuition a day with a different teacher each week.

Especially educative are the conferences we have each week on a variety of themes, such as children workers, contemporary Guatemalan politics, recent history, and the political importance of the Dia de la Revolucion, which, as I update this, was yesterday (20 October). Tomorrow is one of the celebrations for the 20th anniversary of the school. Expect pictures of revolutionary teachers with guitars!

The pretty window in my bedroom at Laura´s casa; the dark and moody version

The main reason I love PLQ is because it feels like we, the students, are involved to some degree in Guatemalan society, not just freeloading off the currency exchange rate. Obviously we´re big, rich Gringos (even when we´re not American) and there are undeniable economic and cultural differences. But most of us are very kind people, and we´re not too gross with our privilege. One of the reasons I am slightly uneasy travelling in less rich countries is that it feels like a form of neocolonialism. I come here with all my money and if your country is pretty enough and you perform your ethnicity well enough then I will deign to give it to you. This hugely unequal exchange is disgusting. At the moment I´m staying in a Westernized resort at Lake Atitlan where the market women cook chocolate cakes and cookies to cater to the tourists´ tastes (the price of gas is such here that even well-off Guatemalans can´t afford to use the oven). It´s a backpackers´ paradise, with more-expensive-than-Guatemalan-but cheaper-than-our-own-countries´ Gringo food, freely available drugs, an amazing natural setting, and plenty of other people to get drunk and hook up with. Of course, I have chosen to be here because of all these reasons. It is amazingly relaxing to be able to chat with people freely in your own language, afford a room with a balcony (which most of us middle-class young ones can´t in our own countries) and eat good, familiar food while exploring the nature around us. But the economic disparity is still hugely wrong, as is our colonization of the Maya´s space.

This simultaneous enjoyment and guilt will definitely abate when I return to Xela for my last week. Living with Laura and Jose-Miguel I feel part of a community to some extent and I know I am contributing in a wholly positive way to Guatemala, rather than destroying and taking-over Guatemalan space. The money I pay to PLQ goes three ways. A third goes to the family for my board, a third to community organizations and a third to paying the teachers. The second third is my favourite. Xela has the only Women´s shelter in Guatemala to give a place to women and children who are fleeing from domestic violence. Organizations such as these (where you can also volunteer if you´re here for a month or more) wouldn´t exist without the PLQ.

Travelling back self-righteously on the chicken bus tomorrrow (Guatemalan rather than Gringo transport) my conscience will be appeased and I will recover from my weekend of gluttony here once I´m back with Laura and Jose-Miguel. However, I wonder how I will feel on the rest of my trip. This will be my last week at PLQ, and after another week studying at the rural mountain sister school, I´ll be off on a journey of no-holds-barred tourism. I do think it´s possible to be a ´good´ tourist, and I will do my best, but I will always know that the fact of my ability to travel here while no Guatemalan has the chance of doing the same in the UK is fundamentally wrong.

Two friends and a view

October 14, 2008

So this is the mountain I got up at 4.30am yesterday to climb. At 3772m, the Santa Maria is rumoured to be the hardest mountain to climb in Central America. Perhaps not such a good idea for an unfit person with an aversion to practically all forms of exercise to attempt. This was also opinion of the host father of my friend Sarah, Edwin. After seeing my performance on Saturday morning, he was worried enough about me to ask me not to climb the volcano for the sake of my health. I got up at the moderate time of 5.30am that day to run (yes, Mum, I said run) up the hill behind Xela which is about half the size of the Santa Maria. By the time we got to the base of the hill, I was too tired to run anymore. In fact, I was so puffed out, I felt sick and dizzy. The climb to the top of this hill was a struggle and, owing to the clouds, I wasn´t rewarded by much of a view.

The view from the top of the hill in Xela

Obviously the idea that I couldn´t so something only made me more determined to climb the Santa Maria just to prove how wrong he was. So, the next morning, armed with two ankle supports, 1.5 litres of water, chocolate, avocado, coke and bananas, I was at the bottom of the volcano, ready for the 8 hour hike up and down the mountain. Although it is unlikely to erupt, the Santa Maria erupted fairly recently in volcano time about 100 years ago causing devastation in the Western highlands. Two vents continually spurt clouds of volcanic gas and lava just below its peak. About 20 minutes into the hike, with the pink dawn spreading to my left, I was seriously out of breath and in doubt of my ability to climb up this steep peak. After about 40 minutes we split into two groups with me and my friend Lulu left behind the slow group with two Australians and a French woman while the rest of our school friends went ahead. We were given the choice to walk a much easier peak nearby, as the last hour in particular was meant to be a hard climb. I imagined a cliff, not too good for a girl with vertigo. But everyone decided to walk the Santa Maria, which was after all the reason we were there. Once we started, there was no option of turning back. I was extremely discouraged when our guide went ahead of us instead of walking at our slow pace. I had visions of being left behind alone on a strange mountain with my very limited sense of direction. About an hour into the climb, we were less than a third of the way up.

This is the view from about a third of the way up, while I was struggling. At least it´s sunny!

Of course, we didn´t start from sea level, so I actually climbed about 1300m, which is still more than three times the height of the Empire State Building, on a track of mud and loose volcanic rocks. However, after a very disconcerting beginning, my energy reserves kicked in and suddenly I was leading the group. I was still breathing heavily, but my chest and legs felt fine. I led for about an hour. I think I have the slow and steady skill, rather than the speed. Endurance is more my thing, and I enjoy it a lot more. My friends and I had wanted to climb Tajumulco, another Guatemalan volcano, which at 4220m is the highest point in Central America. However, there is a land dispute at the moment over which community gets the gringos´ tourism money and it´s closed. I plan to hike it when I return here to study more in a few years. So Santa Maria was second choice, but still damned impressive. Unfortunately, after this point I didn´t take any good photos of the view. Mostly because I was concentrating on the walk.

About 45 minutes from the top I began to feel really sick and dizzy. I don´t know whether it was unfitness, the altitude, or both. My hands swelled up to twice their normal size, like my feet do when I´m in an aeroplane and I could only walk at a snail´s pace otherwise I thought I would faint or throw up. This crippling feeling meant that I was fourth to last to complete the climb, when I think I could have been about 15 minutes faster. Anyway, whatever the reason, by the time my group reached the top, the mountain was shrouded in cloud and we couldn´t see a thing. On a clear day you can see to the Mexican border, as well as the daily lava and steam spurts from the adjacent volcano Santiaguito. As you can see from my photo of the starting point, taken at the end, the volcano has a a beautiful hat of cloud on the top. However, the first few minutes I was there, I was so proud at myself for completing the climb that it´s only now that I´m upset about the view. On the way up, the sun burnt the clouds away (as well as my neck) and gave us a view of other mountains beneath us and rolling valleys which made me feel like a character from the Lord of the Rings. It was truly amazing. On the last part, the view was stunning, but I couldn´t appreciate it as looking down such a steep slope with vertigo and dizziness was not a good idea. Anyway, I still climbed the hardest mountain in Central America in a measly three and a half hours! Next time, I´m camping halfway up and walking in the dark to see the dawn. View guaranteed. I´m sure I will climb another mountain on this trip. I hope to travel to Honduras, Peru, Bolivia and Chile after Guatemala and there´s some damn high country in those countries.

Hardcore at the peak of Santa Maria, with friends from my Spanish school: On the way up (and down) we were accompanied by two friendly dogs from the Maya village at the base. You can see one of them collapsed at the bottom of this photo. For some reason, we all look like gangstas.

For some reason, it took as long to descend as it did to climb the mountain, although we only took two, instead of about 5 breaks, and I ran at points. However, by the time we reached the bottom, having walked along paths I have no recollection of climbing (perhaps some survival instinct for endurance) my ankle, which I had twisted the day before running down Xela´s hill, was too painful to put weight on. I hobbled down the last few hundred metres by leading with my left foot until I felt that I couldn´t physically walk any further. Today, I still have an inability to walk up and down stairs without some serious effort. For my Guatemalan family, the most amusing sight of the British girl they have yet is of me hauling myself up the house stairs fully supported by my grip on the banisters. Sadly last night I also said goodbye to my hiking companions from Denmark, Anita and Lulu (the blonde chick and the girl in the grey hoodie). I may see them again in Chile, if we´re lucky enough to cross paths (with some organisation of course)- Today I am unable to move very much and have consoled myself for the loss of two friends and a view with a 70p purple wool skirt so I can look a little pretty occasionally. Goodbye North Face.

P.S: For those of you who wanted a picture of our guide, Eduardo. He´s singing.

Sexy post!

October 10, 2008

OK, not really. But you do get a picture of me in my bathing suit, which isn´t exactly the kind of image of myself I normally like to post on the world wide web. The sacrifices I make in the name of literary art! I had a slightly stressful school day, with student/teacher personality clashes (we have a new teacher each week, thankfully) and I decided to write about my indulgences of yesterday, rather than the communist politics of the school I´m attending, which I will get to in another post. The beautiful natural pool you see before you is the volcanic pond of las Fuentes Georginas. These thermal pools are pretty well known for their beauty and calming effect, and you can smell them halfway down the mountain. Mmm, sulphur . . .

Guatemala is a very volcanic country, and Xela is hedged into its natural bowl by 10 surrounding volcanos, one of which, Santa Maria, exploded in 1902 and killed a lot of people. Apparently, the diplomatic tendencies of the time led the President to send a town cryer into the parque central to announce that nothing was happening. This is amid a rain of ashes, massive clouds of smoke, and lava flowing down the hills. Hmmm. International politics. Stupid, much? (Well, not all of them, but certainly the ass-licking, holocaust-denying kind.) The highest point until Mexico, the Santa Maria is is the volcano I will be climbing at 5 in the morning this Sunday without fitness training. Again, I ask, stupid much? I´m hoping that my survival stamina will kick in and I will make it to the top for the sunrise. Apparently you can see Mexico and as far as Nicaragua from the top. Beautiful. As an impressive triangular and very steep peak, my first view of this mountain yesterday did instill some doubts in my mind. Well, so long as it doesn´t explode again. . .

Anyway, the volcano I scaled in a minivan yesterday was active as well, as the 50 degrees centigrade pool I´m sitting in proves. Eek! Apparently, apart from the odd spurts of lava and steam, it´s harmless. I didn´t get to see any lava unfortunately, as we just went to the pools. I guess I´ll save that for another post too! I don´t think these pictures do much justice to the beauty of the pools, especially as this one was taken from a shelter. The main pool, as seen above, is at the bottom of a wooded cliff, from which water falls into the pond below. It is truly magnificent. The water is then channelled into two following pools, getting cooler as it moves downwards into each. My opinion is that you start off in the coolest one at the bottom and work your way up to the fifty fucking degrees at the top. For some strange reason, no one else agreed with me. Huh! As beautiful as this last, naturally formed pool is, you can´t stay in it very long. At least not with my British intolerance of heat. Yet the mingling of monsoon rain with the hot water is really refreshing. To get the most out of the experience, I developed a pattern of dip, sit up, dip, sit up.

I really wish I had taken a picture of the surrounding countryside. The way up the mountain we passed patchwork fields and stunning sharp drops into misty valleys and the view of clouds ringing the surrounding mountains below us. Of course, this stunning landscape is accompanied by the extreme poverty of its inhabitants. The tiny steep fields probably don´t yield an easy harvest for their farmers, and the trading conditions here suck. The city at the bottom of this valley is flooded and industrial. It stinks of smoke and is full of shanty towns. It makes the house I´m living in seem an impossible dream, which I guess it is for many.

As always, the tourists (that´s me and my friends) paid a week´s factory wages to enter the natural spa and we spent the afternoon soaking away in the steam. It was truly luxurious. Unfortunately, I felt sick the whole afternoon, owing to the driving of the school´s lovely but slightly safety-challenged driver. Driving at hair-raising speed around breakneck bends up (and down) a mountain doesn´t exactly make for a peaceful ride. Most of us were getting ready to puke in both directions. By the way (please don´t read this Mum), to get a driving licence here you don´t have to actually take any driving lessons. You pay the driving school, who then gives you a certificate, which you then exchange for a licence. The illiteracy of many of the professional drivers here also contributes to accidents. They can´t read the road signs. So, the car sickness combined with extreme heat left me feeling a little dizzy, and after nearly puking on the way home I had to lie down for the evening. The sick-feeling also contributed to the not-taking-of-photos. Still, the fuentes were worth it. Here is a picture of the hills surrounding Xela, to give you a very small idea of the up-and-down nature of the countryside here. You can see the city´s market coming off the parque central.

Oh yes, that mountain top you see in the distance is the Santa Maria. Ha. Ha. Ha.

That is, for those of you who don´t know Spanish, the midwives of Concepcion Chiquirichapa, a small municipality of Xela, the city where I am now living for a while. I visited their fantastic organisation this Saturday and was inspired to write a post there and then. Of course, it actually took me until now to create it. The reason I fell in love with them is that they are an indigenous group organised at the grassroots level, without the help of the government or other agencies, both national and international, who don´t have the lives of these women and their communities at heart. In fact, the government and the ruling classes have a history of trying to eliminate these people, and officially committed genocide for about 20 years. In reality, the lives of Guatemala´s indigenous population have been considered worthless since the colonization of Guatemala by the Spanish in the 1500s.

In this post, I will try to replicate some of the information I was taught at this conference and organise my thoughts as well, if possible. As I didn´t take notes, I hope this is going to work. The comadrones collectively run a house which provides birthing support to all women in their four surrounding towns. There are 40 women in the organisation and they all take one 24 hour shift each week. They own a house in Concepcion of which they are very proud, not surprising since they have little financial help and they laid the foundations themselves. In fact, all the town got together to build this house! If that´s not grassroots, I don´t know what is! Their house comprises of several birthing rooms, a kitchen, a pharmacy and an education area. One of its most beautiful aspects is the herb garden. These women have no formal training and have learnt from their own and each others experiences. One of the comadrones educating us attended her first birth at 19. The other is on her second generation of midwiving a family. As I understand it, they offer the Maya women the opportunity to give birth in a homelike setting, with the aid of traditional medicinal herbs. In this house they have the privacy and respect they certainly wouldn´t at the hospital, where they are often made to wait in corridors (NHS anyone?), spoken to in Spanish, which many do not understand, and treated by a male doctor, which goes against their traditions. Moreover, to give birth in a hospital costs 3000 quetzales, more than they would earn in a year. The comadrones´ house cost about 300Q and provides a kitchen, a birthing and a private room for the family to wait in. For those interested, I will add the name of this organization when Fedelma gives it to me.

Here is a beautiful picture of my friend Melanie translating. Happily, I understood a lot of what they presenters said, but for the talk to be translated into English helped a hell of a lot as well.

One of the main treatments they offer the women is medicinal herbs, in drinks, salads, and baths in order to cure their ills. The ability of these plants ranges from vitamin replacement to diarrhea and pain cure. In fact, one of the plants the women swear by is the humble dandelion. If you want more iron, make a dandelion leaf salad now (be sure to wash the leaves first)! Unfortunately I can´t remember the Spanish name of the super duper cure-all plant. Although our guide used to be a guerrilla in the Guatemalan civil was and lived off it in the mountains! He´s a pretty hardcore man. More about him in another post . . . In fact, Chiquirichapa is located in the Western highlands, right next to one of the pivotal mountains in the war, where much of the fighting took place. This ´combat´took the form of the army napalming the forests where the guerrillas lived, as well as the local Maya population, in order to attempt to surpress their demand for human rights. Phew. More about that in another post too.

Among these traditional methods used is the quiche (a word I don´t know how to spell, pronouced ki-shay in Maya). Basically, this is a Mayan sauna! This photo doesn´t exactly do justice to the scale of the sauna, as it comes up to my chest and to enter it I would need to get onto my knees. One of the most amazing facts about this sauna, is that if the baby is breached and the mother is not yet in labour, the comadrones can take the women into this steam room and massage the baby into the right position! It seems that the comadrones are nearly wholly self-sufficient, apart from emergency situations. As I was saying, the group receives no help from any other bodies. One of the scams the current government pulls is to advertise its involvement in an organisation and then donate very little, such as a chair or a book. Other organisations also promise to help and then fall through, or attempt to impose their own ideas onto this group. As a collective run from personal and cultural experiences, such help really makes matters worse. As the rich visitors, our donations are one source of the collective´s income.

 The medicine cupboard (accompaniment to a more Western pharmacy)

One of the most forceful aspects of this group is that it is, of course, comprised of, founded and run by a collective of indigenous Maya women, a group doubly oppressed. These women have found a means to express and support their culture, in a society where such expression is extremely rare. As most of the companeros do not speak Spanish, read, or write, I find their power and success even more fantastic, in the good sense. One question which we, the tourists, asked is if there are any male midwives. The facilitators replied that there are a few in the country, yet their job is very difficult. As their culture does not allow them to see a woman naked or to touch her, male midwives can only catch the baby as it comes out. One for gender equality in all circumstances, this situation made me appreciate the necessity of having female midwives against my own general politics. The gender of the midwives is a requirement in such a culture for the health and safety of the women. Such an acknowledgement is difficult for me to make, and an example of the specificity of cultural knowledge. It´s not necessarily a realisation I would have come to myself. One of the best aspects of the school where I study is that they give their students the opportunity to have such experiences, and are very involved in outreach.

I´ll leave you with a final picture of our two presenters. They are wearing traditional Mayan dress, with cardigans over the top, and are two very compassionate and wonderful women.

. . . in Guatemala

October 5, 2008

So, first of all, an apology. For the 90% of you who have no idea where I am or my general health, I apologize. Please don’t take it personally, I truly am this crap with everybody. And, before I even start blogging, please note that the keyboards in Guatemala are both foreign and a bit crappy. My posts will be full of bizarre typos. As for the style of this blog, I intend it to be my own record of my adventures and a way to keep in contact with all my friends. You and I can both read this and enjoy the pretty pictures. That is, given that I know how to upload them.

Oh, there you go! For those who recognize these three, they are three quarters of the foursome who stayed up with me on my last night in Montreal before I caught my flight to Guatemala at stupid o’ clock in the manana. Chandra, on the right with the bowl, got out of bed to return my camera to me. I only thought it fair to take a picture of her in return.

I would really appreciate comments on my posts and the opportunity to communicate with my friends while I am travelling. So feel free to interact with this blog. It’s kinda one of the most appealing features for me. Finally, my blogs may be a bit sporadic but I will create them,so come and check here our of curiosity once in a while. I will try to be witty and entertaining.

So, onto the now. I am spending the next few months on a circuitous route back to the UK via Central and South America. My first stop is Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, where I am studying Spanish for about a month. In true Laura style, I have been here a week but this is the first time I have found to sit down and write a blog. Apologies! I will be back soon with some interesting tales. But, for now, please enjoy this view of Quetzaltenango’s streets.