5.19.2009

japan!

So i know we’re home now, but in all our speediness moving through asia (and all my laziness) i didn’t get to write about Japan. And last night when I was posting pictures I realized that I didn’t have photos of a lot of it and my memories are already fading fast. SO! since the blog’s purpose is to record my travel adventures, I think it’s perfectly fine to record them in retrospect.

Everyone was really psyched coming into Japan because after going through southeast Asia and Africa and heeding travel warnings about water and communism and fruit we got to Japan and they were just like - go ahead! eat and drink whatever, talk about everything, plus, did we mention the toilet seats are heated? Needless to say, we were excited. My ship mom, Joan was the nurse onboard and it was her job to do medical pre-port before Japan. Since Japan is basically a country of safety and medical wonder she decided it would be cute for our family to help her out and recite haiku’s about the various medical things we would come in contact with in Japan - drinking water, toilets, clinic hours etc. I had toilets and we all got up in front of the shipboard community to recite our poems. Mine read as follows -

i hate to squat, ugh.
warm seats and tinkle music
this is an upgrade.

I think I should probably leave haikus to basho, busson and issa for now. But anyway....

We got into Kobe the first day and the first thing we had to do getting off the ship was go through a face-to-face customs inspection. This involved some long lines, staggered disembarking and a few hours but eventually all of us got off the ship ok and we left to our devices to go and explore the city.

I went out with Steve, Keith and Britton and we decided to just start walking, find some food and see where we ended up. We strolled around, grabbed lunch at a spanish tapas place and the stumbled upon an indoor/outdoor mall. We explored the shops and found this really neat place that sold all kinds of clothes and accessories and Steve bought a pair of lime green suspenders. I had recently started to learn how to do the rubik’s cube so I was on the hunt to find one of my own to practice on. After looking around for a while to no avail we headed upstairs to check out the manga shops. The walls were lined with stacks upon stacks of manga comic books with craaazy characters on every cover. There were vampire schoolgirls who fought crime, pokemon and dragonball-z and of course lots of porn. After poking around looking for a specific series as a gift for one of Steve and Keith’s friends from Pitt we decided to walk back to the ship so we could go to the welcome reception for some local Japanese students.

On the ship we had two interport students, Haruna and Asami, join us from University of Kobe. This afternoon a bunch of students from the university were going to come on board to hang out with us, see the ship and show us some traditional Japanese music and dance. We arrive at the ship just as the students did and we all headed into the union. One of the girls performed a traditional Japanese dance in a full kimono and makeup. After a few more presentations we were allowed to just break off, get snacks and they had tables set up for us to learn calligraphy and origami. Steve, Keith and I had sat down next two three students and started talking to them and hanging out with them. Rieko, Aya and Koji got some food with us, and then taught us how to do some origami. We made some cranes and then they showed us how to write our names in Japanese characters. Aya helped me out and my name didn’t even look half bad.

The girls and Koji wanted to see the ship so we took them on our tour, showing them all the decks, the dining room and our cabins. It was dinner time so we decided to all grab and quick D1 and then head out together for some D2 and karaoke. We had a little food, met up with Magoo and headed out into Kobe with our new friends.
We all hopped on the subway and headed into the center of Kobe. Keith had never tried sushi before so all of us went to a local sushi bar to have some. I got some salmon, a tuna wrap and some salmon with cheese. Rieko was next to me and she really liked this sticky fermented soybean thing which she ordered in a roll. I forget the name but I remember the smell and the texture. Magoo tried it and really didn’t like it, as apparent by his face, so I decided to try some. I pulled away a little piece and it left a sticky trail behind it, almost like candy, except it was kind of smelly and tasted a little weird. Sorry Rieko, different strokes. But, Keith had a good first sushi experience and all the fish I ordered was incredibly tasty (not to mention really cheap) and we headed out full and happy.

We took a walk through Kobe to see the local Chinatown and then decided to find a place for karaoke. Anyone familiar with karaoke in the states knows that it’s usually a semi-embarrassing, often drunken, public event. But, the karaoke places in japan are much less embarrassing since you have a private room. So, even if you’re drunk or out of tune, only you friends will be able to make fun of you. We got to the place, grabbed a room and started picking songs. Koji knew some songs in english and was no karaoke novice. He sang a really good version of Imagine by John Lennon and It’s My Life by Bon Jovi. Not wanting to look like American wussies, Keith and Steve sang some Killers songs, Steve and I did Summer Lovin’ and Magoo and I did Semi-Charmed. The girls sang a song in Japanese and I san Girlfriend by Avril Levigne per Koji’s request. I can’t say I’m a big Avril fan but apparently the Japanese are all over that. She had almost a page and a half in the song choice book devoted just to her stuff.

After a hour in our little room our time was up and the girls decided to take us to this photobooth place to take pictures. We walked into the photobooth place and it was like a pre-teen bubblegum explosion. There were young Japanese girls dressed to the nines stepping into the photo booths and all of us piled into one. It wasn’t your average tiny photobooth but was about the size of a VW van. We took a bunch of pictures of the group - smiling, funny facing, peace signing. It was really fun and we had a good time being silly, enjoying the bubblegum surroundings and the 90s pop hits. After we took the pictures Rieko took us over to a screen where you draw on the pictures, add stuff to the and pick the background. We added hearts and space ships and hats and mustaches and ended up with a strip of the seven best pictures I think I’ve ever seen.

After photos we deiced to head to a local pub for a drink before the girls had to head out. We chatted for a little longer, took a pictures of all of us together and then the girls had to get going since it was a weeknight and they had class the next day. Koji said he could stay a little longer so we walked down to the pier to see the Kobe tower all lit up and the ferris wheel across the bay. Koji then had to head home as well so we decided to hop the subway back to the ship. It was pretty early but the guys wanted to go back to the ship so I tagged along figuring I could take an early night and maybe pick up some free wi-fi in the cruise terminal. But when I got off the train a whole bunch of my friends were on their way out and urged me to get on the next train with them and go dancing. I figured it was good luck, said goodnight to the boys and turned around and headed back into downtown Kobe.

A local club knew that there was a ship full of people wanting to party on a Monday night so they had passed out fliers outside the ship. As a result almost everyone was there and the place was crowded and very sweaty. My friend Taylor was on her way out as we were arriving and she gave me her wrist band so I could get away without the cover charge. I secured it with bubble gum and headed into the fray. The club was packed but everyone knew each other and we were all excited to be out dancing and drinking in Japan. I ran into Jill and Hannah and we danced and laughed in the crowded space. It was our friend Monica’s 21st birthday and we all celebrated with her as well. We would dance inside and then when it got unbearable hot we would hang out on the street outside until we were finally ready to head back into the heat. After a good night of dancing I split a cab home with my friend Peter and hoping to get a few hours of sleep before waking up to catch the shinkansen bullet train to Tokyo the next morning.

5.01.2009

camino seguro

The next morning I got up early to go on a service visit to Guatemala City with an organization called Camino Seguro, or Safe Passage in English. Founded by a woman named Hanley Denning in 1999, Camino Seguro works to help some of the most impoverished people in Guatemala City who make their living scavenging through waste at the city dump in order to find and sell scraps of recyclable materials. After sleeping during the two-hour drive to there, I awoke to look out my window and see zone 3 of Guatemala City, one of the worst districts, and home to the dump. Our first stop was the national cemetery. Unlike the trip I had taken in Vietnam, however, we were not there to see the graves of war veterans. Rather, we walked around the numerous mausoleums, through the cemetery, over to a spot which gave us a good view of the dump. Even though we were far above the area where the dump was, the stench was strong and stung at our noses while we listened. My friend Chas, who works as an EMT told us to put Vicks vapor rub under our noses so that we would only be able to smell the mint, a trick he uses when working with burn victims.

 There were vultures everywhere, crowding in trees, swooping in the sky and moving in giant packs as they picked through the garbage. Our guide, Freddy told us that 2,500 people work daily in the dump collecting items that they can re-sell to companies that will recycle them – like cardboard, cans and plastic bottles which they string together. Along with these materials however, they also collect food, sometimes rotten, to help feed their families. They would often have to eat vegetables or meat found in the dump, sometimes cooked over fires built by burning other debris, like plastic bags and rubbed with lemons. 80% of the people working in the dump are women and they earn as little as 7-15 quezals a day, around $1-2 US dollars.

Freddy then informed us about the dangers of the dump. The land on which it is built is incredibly unstable and as a result there have been many accidents where trucks, and people, have literally sunk into the ground. The people who work there also suffer from food contamination, have a risk of HIV and have skin and eye problems because of the constant exposure to methane gas. They wade through seven to ten thousand new tons of garbage daily.

After seeing the dump we then went to see the areas where the project is working to improve the lives of those in the community. Our first stop was the preschool, gym and food bag program. We went into the preschool to find about 50 children, all sitting on little benches at little tables, eating hearty helpings of rice and black beans. They were so adorable, all with big brown eyes, smiling and waving to us as they ate, many with plenty of black bean on their faces.We saw the beautiful playground they had out back, which was built by students at Washington University. There was a big wooden play structure painted with bright colors, a swing and a slide for the kids to play on. When you stood at the top of the play structure and looked out you could see the slums stretching out beyond the area, with barbed wire all along the top of the fence. It was such a juxtaposition to know that right outside the walls of this clean, positive place, there were miles of slums where they children would return home after school.

After seeing the playground we looked at the children’s classrooms and then went to learn about their food bag program. Until recently, children had also been allowed to work in the dump until child labor laws changed and made it illegal. Before the child labor laws were instituted many parents did not want their children to be a part of the program simply because having them in school meant one less person to work for food that day. In order to even out the loss of profit that a family would have from sending their child to school Camino Seguro started a once monthly food bag program where families would come and get a garbage bag full of rice and beans, as well as other staples like salt, oil, sugar and flour. This was the one day a month where bags were handed out and we watched people come and go, collecting their bags and walking back out towards their homes, often carrying the bags on their heads.

We stood on a balcony looking over the slums as one of the women at the foundation told us a little more about the economic climate and Guatemala and what the foundation is up against. Land distribution in Guatemala is strikingly unequal, with 2% of the population possessing 80% of the land. There is barely a middle class as most of the people are either very wealthy or living below the poverty line. And while a subsistence farmer living in the lowlands may be able to support his family on very little, the people living in Guatemala City were not able to adequately survive on the incomes they received from working in the dump. Plus, the nature of their work caused the people who work in the area to be discriminated against more than any other segment of the population. They were stuck in the cycle of poverty and it wasn’t easy to get out.

We then walked over to the second complex of buildings which included the facilities for the older children and adults. We learned about the new adult literacy program which was training the mothers of the children in Camino Seguro in basic reading and writing, allowing them to earn their 6th grade equivalency certificate, which is comparable to a US GED in the Guatemalan job market. The women who were enrolled in the program had also started their own jewelry co-op and have started to generate a lot of interest in their products and have begun to make a profit, allowing them to work less days in the dump and work full-time at home making jewelry. We learned about the women who had graduated from the literacy program and were now in training for higher paying jobs, like nursing our accounting, and others who had gotten work with Camino Seguro, teaching their peers or as the head chef in one of the kitchens. They also have self esteem workshops and social workers who come in and meet with the families once a month. The men in the community are starting to become interested in the programs too and they’ve just started a men’s literacy group.

After that we toured around the classrooms for the older children and were able to learn a little more about the program for ages 6-22. Since these kids are enrolled in public school half-day they spend the second half of their time at Camino Seguro, learning English, working on school work and also learning vocational skills and doing programs that promote positive personal values. They also have sports programs where the kids learn lacrosse, soccer and even break dancing. Finally, the kids are fed lunches and two snacks every day and Bayer pharmaceuticals sponsors a free clinic for the families of all children enrolled in the program. 

To be honest, it was overwhelming how incredible this place was. The buildings were clean and beautiful. They had outdoor spaces for the kids to play. They were working on not just helping the kids in the communities, but their whole families and making sure that they have the tools to be successful and get out of the dump. In just 10 years Camino Seguro grew from one woman from Maine with 5,000 running out of a local church to a 1.8 million dollar non-profit with three facilities, friends groups in the United States and Europe and hundreds of volunteers. I really want to look into coming down to volunteer for a week or a month and if anyone is interested in doing the same or just learning more about the program I would urge you to check out their website at http://www.safepassage.org

After we left the facilities we got back onto the bus to eat the bagged lunches they had provided us with for the trip. We were all given sandwiches, chips, cookies and a drink but not everyone wanted all of their food. Seeing all the leftovers, I didn’t want them to go to waste so we collected everyone’s unwanted sandwiches and such and gave them to Freddy to give out when he went into the dump later that afternoon. We drove away back through Guatemala City and I think everyone on the bus was asleep by the time we hit the highway.

We got back on the ship and it was strange to think that when I swiped my card it would be the last time I would swipe into the ship. The next time I get off the MV, it will be for good. They had a bbq for us out on Deck 6 and I sat with Keith, Magoo and Steve as they told me about their adventures climbing a volcano and I shared my stories over some really awesome bbq ribs, fruit and ice cream. YUM. It was so bittersweet getting back on the ship for the last time. I love coming back from a port and seeing everyone get together after being apart for a few days. Everyone hugs and takes time to talk about where we’ve been and what we’ve done. The community we have on the ship has been really great and I’m starting to realize more and more how much I’m going to miss it.

After dinner I responded to some emails, started on this blog and just hung out in the room until Rosaly, Taylor and I decided to go up to D7 in the front, our favorite place, to sit a talk and watch the stars. Ben Gelb, a hall director from UConn who is on the trip with his fiancé was up there and the four of us told Guatemala stories until he went inside. It was so warm and beautiful out and Rosy, Taylor and I stayed out talking and enjoying the ship until it got late and we got tired. On my way back to my room though I ran into my friends Chris, Mike, Peter and Monica and ended up staying up for another hour or so just talking and laughing with them. When I finally got in my bed I was exhausted and happy.

I’m going to try and write more frequently over these last few days on the ship. I want to hold on to everything that is going on and while they definitely won’t be novels, I think that writing will be good. So, expect some updates. Until then...

guatemala

I’m not going to lie, I was nervous about going to Guatemala. About 5 days before we were set to arrive in Puerto Quetzal I hopped on wikitravel to see what there was to do in the country. What I found was an article warning about increased violence, muggings, bus-jackings and murder of tourists in particular. It stated - Please be aware that the security situation in Guatemala has deteriorated dramatically since the beginning of 2009 with 40 murders a week in Guatemala City alone. Tourists are directly targeted, robberies are common place and travel to Guatemala is strongly discouraged until the situation improves. NEVER EVER take photos of children without permission. - Hm. Scary.  SAS, in their best efforts to keep us safe, also warned us about every possible threat, from swine flu to drug trafficking. Also, we were told not to travel to Guatemala City or the airport unless with a trip and we had an 11pm curfew for the ship and hotels.  This, on top of lots of exams, papers and end of semester projects, left me without a lot of time to actually get excited about visiting the country. But, if I’ve learned anything on this trip it’s that we always end up being over-scared. We receive a lot of safety information and while it’s important to know what threats are out there, as long as you’re smart about your surroundings chances are you’re not going to get your kidney stolen or your car hijacked. 

Despite all the safety warnings, Guatemala ended up being an amazing last port. In fact, I think after being in places like Hawaii and Japan, I had forgotten how much I really love traveling outside of big cities and being in places that are a little more off the beaten path. I really hated being around American tourists in Honolulu and coming to Guatemala and getting to see locals, eat the food, try (and usually fail) to speak the language and go off on the back roads allowed me to realize how much this trip has made me love traveling this way. We had gotten used to relative comfort in our last few ports with cool weather, lots of commercialization and plenty of reminders of home. But I think it was important for us to be a little hotter, dirtier and less comfortable in our last port of call. At least for me, it reminded me of all that is out there to experience and explore and how much I have the desire to go and see it.

We woke up the first morning still a little apprehensive and unsure about what we would encounter when we got into port. I slept through the diplomatic briefing, missing yet another warning about muggings, crimes, murders and the dangers that were lurking ahead of us. The port we docked in was pretty industrial, a lot like Namibia or Morocco. Luckily SAS has shuttles going to another area of the port where we could catch taxis or walk to a nearby town. The first day my friends Jill, Hannah, Caroline, Alicia, Greg, Brendan and Mike decided we were going to go this place called Iztapa lagoon which we had read about in one of the SAS independent travel suggestion books.  According to the article you could get boats to go deep sea fishing and there was a sandbar with a black-sand beach where we could hang out and get some lunch.

Our cab driver Jorge took us the 20 minutes to the “tourist pier” where we got a little motor boat from one end of the lagoon to the sandbar. It turned out there were no places to get boats and the area was pretty sparse. We crossed over to the sandbar and it was completely deserted. It looked like there were a few places that had food and cervesas but they were closed up. Aside from some stray dogs, a few beachcombers and one Israeli surfer, the sandbar was empty. I went over to talk to the surfer and we found out his name was Aaron, he was from Israel and he spent about 3 weeks every year surfing in a new location around the world. He was staying in a one-room cabin on stilts with a hammock on the other side of the lagoon. He told us that the restaurants were only open on weekends and that the place was pretty much cleared out. He asked if we were surfers and once we told him no he was very confused as to why we would even come to Iztapa in the first place.  Even though it wasn’t exactly what the guide book had sold, we weren’t at all disappointed. We had a strip of black sand beach all to ourselves and a few hours before the little boat was coming back to get us. 

We immediately set down our stuff and ran into the water. It was so warm, the waves were big and it felt great. There was a little current but we were all fine swimmers and Aaron has assured us he would rescue us on his surfboard if anyone got pulled out. After going for a swim we went to go lay out on the sand. I’d never been to a black sand beach before but we learned that the ash from the volcanoes that are all along the coast of Guatemala are what give the sand its color. It was definitely the coarsest and hottest sand I’ve ever been on. We swam and laid out for a little while and then went back over to an area in the shade, hanging out and looking at the stray dogs, a really cute stray puppy in particular, while we waited for the boat to come back for us.

Our boatman finally returned and we walk a few blocks down into the town with Jorge to try and find some food. There was a little restaurant showing the soccer game with a few guys sitting inside watching and having a beer. We brought a couple tables outside and pushed them together, ordering a round of Gallo beers and some food. The boys got burgers and we split platters with beans, chips, french fries and meat with tomatoes and onions.  After a couple beers and our fill of food, and some creamy halls cough drops that Jorge bought us, we decided to head back to the ship to shower and go out again later. We got back and I ended up passing out and taking a really great nap. I woke up and Jill, Caroline, Alicia, Hannah and I went down to the dining hall for dinner. They had a really tasty dessert called “paris brest” which was a round pastry with coffee cream in the middle. Yum. We ate a filling dinner, along with bunch of the brests, all the while making a number of immature jokes. 

After a shower we met up in Tymitz square with our friend Doug and headed out. We caught a shuttle to the taxi area and Jorge, along with a translator named Edwin, were there waiting for us. We drove into Puerto San Jose, the nearby town and they said they would take us to a place playing music. After driving through town we arrived at this bar that was lit up like a Christmas tree. There were lights all over, blinking and sparking and music blasting. Not just any music, but the best worst 80s and early 90s music we could have asked for. They played Lady in Red, Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley, Billie Jean by Michael Jackson, Red Red Wine by UB-40 and What Is Love from Night at the Roxbury. We bought a bottle of Rum and Jorge and Edwin mixed it with coke and club soda, along with salt and limes. We drank, listened to the music and talked to Jorge and Edwin. It was a Tuesday night but there was one other group of locals at the bar. There was one guy who was very far gone and was dancing like crazy, all over his table and the dance floor. We got a big kick out of him and were dying laughing at his moves. We wanted to dance a little too so the DJ put on some reggaeton and we danced for a few songs before deciding to head back to the city center to walk around.

We stopped at a park where couples were sitting on benches and a bunch of teenagers were trying to do skateboard tricks. Jorge and Edwin walked with us so we would be safe and we explored the few blocks that constituted downtown. It was after 9 so a lot of places were closed but Jill bought a reggaeton CD from a stall and we also got some tacos from a street cart. We walked to the park to sit and eat our tacos. There were three little corn tortillas topped with meat and onions and slaw and fresh tomato and onion salsa. They were drippy but tasty and we scarfed them down, doing our best not to drip. Afterwards we started talking to a few little kids who were watching their siblings do skate tricks. Jill actually spoke Spanish and I remembered most of what I learned in third grade after school Spanish class so we were able to ask their names and their ages. We took pictures and they loved seeing themselves on the camera screens. We decided that we should head back to give ourselves a good buffer before the 11pm curfew so we got back in the cab and Jorge and Edwin took us back to the port.

When we got there we still had some time before curfew and we heard music coming from a bar that was located right in the port area. We walked down there and found a live band and a bunch of our friends from SAS. We went over to the bar and saw that three girls from the ship were behind the bar serving drinks. We got some margaritas and went to dance while the band played. We talked to our friends and some of the crew that was there and drank and danced. At one point the band invited us up to play with them and Alicia and I took over the drums. They were “Ricky Ricardo” drums and we played along to the beat while our friends danced.  The music was great and it was such a fun time. At just before 11 o’clock we all piled into the shuttles and made it back to the ship in time for curfew.

My friend Martha and I weren’t tired so we decided to go for a swim. The pool was covered up and closed but the small kiddie pools on either side were still open so we laid on our tummies and penguin slid back and forth through the water. The water was warm and we eventually sat up and just started talking. We ended up staying up late talking about our hometowns, our boyfriends and the idea of going home. We made plans to go to Antigua the next day and after changing into warm dry clothes I curled up in my bed and fell asleep.

The next morning we slept in a little, waiting for our friends Colin and Ali go come back so we could meet up and go to Antigua. They has been camping on a volcano the night before and we weren’t sure when they would we back. We took our time in the morning, getting ready and then grabbing some lunch on the ship before leaving them a note on heading out. It was me, Martha and Martha’s friend Molly who I had just met that morning. We took the shuttle to the other side of the port and tried to get a taxi to Antigua. The prices that the companies had listed were insane but since we were seasoned barterers by now we were able to get them down from $140 for a car to $15 per person. Score. We ended up with a really great cab driver named Mike and we started the 2 hour drive to Antigua.

Since Puerto Quetzal, where we were docked was super hot and humid we were expecting a sticky, sweaty, day much like the previous. However, upon arrival in Antigua we were pleasantly surprised. It was warm but not hot, the sun was out and there was a really nice breeze. Molly had been to Antigua the day before and it didn’t take us long to get a sense of the city. Antigua is the former colonial Spanish capital of Central America and it still retains a lot of Spanish influence in the architecture, the cobblestone roads and the Arch of Santa Catarina, one of the hallmarks of the city. We started walking in the direction of the market and decided to get some ice cream on the way. We stopped into Pop’s Heladeria for some really tasty ice cream cones and munched on them as we walked. We reached the market and after walking through the locals market where they sold food, clothes and household goods we made a left into the more touristy market. The stalls were all located in this open air enclosure with courtyards and fountains in the middle. We walked around looking at the hammocks, textiles, coffee, leather, dolls, pipes and weaving. Martha bought some really great slippers for her brother and boyfriend and some woven bracelets and I bought some little doll magnets and a bag a coffee for my Mom-mom.

While Martha was paying for her bracelets I started talking to some local kids who were sitting near their mother. In my terrible Spanish I asked their names and ages and told them mine. I was somehow able to explain that we live on a boat and are visiting Antigua. Their names were Elice, Ana, Fernando and Juanito. Elice was 7, Ana was 4, Juanito was 3 and Fernando was 1. They were so sweet and curious and we had a nice little conversation, despite the language barrier. I was sitting next to Elice and she showed me how to play a handclapping game. She sang in Spanish and I followed her lead with the claps. Since she had taught me I showed her how to do Miss Mary Mack and we clapped for a little while until it was time for us to go. 

We walked around into the next market, similar to the first, and found a little coffee place on the corner. We got cups of coffee and hot chocolate and sat on benches right outside talking and sipping our drinks. The coffee and the hot chocolates were delicious and it was nice to take a break, enjoy the breeze and people watch while we talked.  Once we were all shopped out we decided to walk back near the Parque Central in the middle of town and find some food. We ended up at a restaurant called La Fonda de la Calle Real and we sat in a little open air courtyard in the middle. There were some other SAS kids at the restaurant and they assured us that we had made a good choice. We ordered some nachos, chips and guacamole and some papousas which are an El Salvadorian dish with cheese and potato cooked in the middle of tortillas with an onion and tomato relish on the side. The food came and it was DELICIOUS. The guacamole was out of this world tasty, the chips were warm and fresh, the cheese was thick and melty and the nachos came with this awesome black bean paste and more guacamole. Finally the papousas were warm and crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside and they tasted great with some of the tomato onion slaw, guacamole and a little salsa verde on top. All in all, the best D1 I’ve had in a very long time.

After our snack/pre-dinner/D1 we walked back down the main street to a candy shop that Molly had seen the day before. We grabbed little bags and filled them with sour gummy bears, coke bottles, gummy worms and orange slices. As we were coming out of the shop a car passes and the window rolls down and it’s Colin and Ali! We meet them up at the square and they tell us that they need to go check into their hostel but that we should meet in an hour for dinner. While they went to their hostel we decided to walk down another side street to see the Arco de Santa Catarina and explore that area. It was golden hour and the sun was just starting to go down and clouds were coming in. We walked down the side street toward the arch and it was just so beautiful. All the buildings were painted golden yellows, brick reds, assul blues and there were ruins on one side of the street and the volcano rising up behind in the distance.

After walking up and down the street, taking some pictures and doing some general marveling at the fact that we were in Guatemala and having a great day, we still had some time to kill. We had passed a really cool looking hookah bar on the way down the street and decided to pop in and see if they were open. They were but we were the only ones in the place. We sat underneath this white linen tent at a low table with soft stools and ordered a peach hookah. As we sat, trying to blow smoke rings and talking about the day the clouds started to close in and we could hear the thunder rumbling in the distance. The place where we were sitting was in a courtyard but we were covered by an awning. We could see lightning start to flash and we all got really excited. After we had smoked our fill of peach hookah and dinnertime was approaching we paid our bills and headed out just as a little rain started to fall. It has rained in almost every single port but for lack of a better term, it never put a damper on things.  We walked in the drizzle towards the park and all yelled when we saw an incredible streak of lighting cutting across the sky. We met up with Colin and Ali and their friend Joe and the six of us headed to a place called Mono Loco for dinner. We were there in time for happy hour and ordered rounds of beers, gin and tonics and cuba libres as well as salads, quesadillas and chips with dips.

Meanwhile in Connecticut...The Undergraduate Student Government was having its first meeting of the new year in which they new officers were set to be sworn into their positions. I had arranged with everyone to get sworn in as Vice President in via telephone but for some reason I couldn’t find my charger the night before and my battery was on its last legs. I was hoping and hoping that my phone would stay on long enough for me to get sworn in but I kept getting text message updates from my friends in the meeting that two students were trying to stop the proceedings and the debate had stalled for almost an hour. 

In the meantime we had finished our food and drinks and we ran into our friend Meryl whose 21st birthday it was. We were so excited to see her and we gave her the bracelet we had found with her name on it earlier that day. After celebrating with her we walked over a block to a place called RumBar to meet Colin and Ali’s guides from their volcano hike the day before. The place was nice and small and we got to meet their guides, play with a giant dog who was hanging out and talk about their hike on the volcano. My phone was literally beeping that it was about to die when I finally got the call from our freshly-sworn in Chief Justice, Kayla. I was so excited and I ran out into the courtyard to repeat after her and recite my oath. I only messed up the oath a little and it was kind of nice to hear everyone at home laugh in the background. It made me feel like I was there with them. I finished my oath just as my battery was about to die and Kayla congratulated me on officially being Vice President of the student body!  I was so excited and ran back into the bar where my friends congratulated me with hugs and high fives.  It was a really nice moment, having great friends to celebrate with but at the same time knowing that I have so many wonderful people to come home to. I’m so excited about student government next year and I’m really looking forward to the work waiting for me when I get home.

We literally got everything done just in time since we had to meet Mike in the park at 9:30 in order to make it back to ship for the 11pm curfew. We wanted to stay since we were having so much fun but we all had early trips the next morning and didn’t want to risk missing them. We ran through the rain and made it to the park where Mike was there waiting for us. We hopped in the cab and started the drive home in the rain, excitedly talking about the day we had had and our plans for our last day in Guatemala. We got back to the ship a little after curfew but Mike brought us to the industrial entrance and it was only a short walk from there to our ship. We swiped our cards and tried to go swimming again. It was a little too chilly this night but we had fun nonetheless and after a really great day and I went back to my room and fell asleep as one of my favorite movies, Bride and Prejudice, played on the loop on our TVs. Great Day