Monday, June 29, 2009

The Weekend Fiesta: Cockfights, Bombs, and Sports OH MY!

This past weekend I stayed in San Pedro, and I am pretty happy with that decision. This weekend was a festival celebrating the birthday of the town, and also the time in which they crown the Queen of the pueblo (Miss America, Guatemalan style). The festival ran all throughout the weekend with many activities. Below are three of the most memorable that I need to share with you.


On Saturday everyone in the town takes to the streets for the parade put on by all the regions of Lake Atitlan (in Spanish parade is spelled desfile). Each school entered there band and a float into the parade. The floats consisted of a small display on the back of a pick-up truck. Usually that display was a little girl throwing candy into the crowd. One candy distribution ended in a brawl between little boys on the street. A policeman had to break it up. The video below speaks better than any words I could describe about this parade. The video is pretty long, but the most interesting part is with the fireworks. Fireworks are set off here like mail is delivered on a week day. Last night, fireworks were set of consistently the whole night. They are set off in the center of town, and since my house is directly at the center, I got no sleep. It would be one thing if the fireworks were the type they shoot off when Ken Griffey Jr. hits a homerun, but of course not. Guatemalan fireworks have no color, only sound. They do not call them fireworks; they call them “bombas,” bombs. Rightfully so as every night I go to bed I feel like I am at WAR! They will slow down when the festival ends, but they will not stop. Anyway, in my video you will see a man walk out into the middle of the parade standing proud with his bomba. He is about ready to light off this bomb, but the location he has selected for this bomb to shoot up into the air is right where I would call telephone pole central. If he set this off at this location it would be like the end of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; they escape through the window tower, but not without breaking the glass. Finally, all the women in the crowd start whistling (signal for something bad) and yelling at him to move. He finally moves the location. I follow him in the video for a while. Safe to say that in the end Charlie gets the factory and all the chocolate safely. (Internet kept cutting out where I am to upload the video, so I put a picture of the parade for now. You can see in this picture the telephone pole wires I am talking about).


Somebody back in the United States please call Michael Vick and tell him I found a sport that he can play, and it’s legal. Saturday afternoon two of the older boys in my family took me to a cockfight. The event was held in the same place that the kids play indoor soccer. Admission was $1 to sit in the stands, and 2$ to sit around the ring. I bought courtside tickets.

The event was sponsored by the leading Guatemalan beer producer, Gallo, which in Spanish means rooster. There were ten fights, the same amount of races at horse race with about 15 minutes of preparation before post. Preparation includes “the weigh-in.” The roosters strip down to their underwear and are placed onto scales to make sure that there is not outright advantage (see picture below).

After the weigh-in, the manager puts on its gloves. By gloves I mean gives the rooster its weapon. The owner will strap on a Swiss army size knife to the right leg of the rooster. From my experience the rooster does not know how to use the knife, but I guess the owner is hoping that the knife will act like Aladdin’s magic carpet and fly. As they bring the birds into the ring people begin to stand and cheer for their “team.” Before the first bell the referee brings out the heater. The heater is a rooster that comes out to warm up the each cock. They let the bird get some punches in, and they also hold it while the heater takes some pecks at the bird, to get him angry. Each fight goes three rounds, and if one bird is struggling you will not see Kramer jump into the ring and throw in the white flag to protect “Little Yerry Seinfield” (if you have seen that episode). Directly after the end of each fight, the owners approach and exchange money to the winner. I have left out the gore and action, but if you are into that part of Guatemalan culture, please email me.


That night we went to the basketball game to see San Pedro play Guatemala City. It is hard for me to explain exactly what this league is, but it is basically the Lakers of my city. The San Pedro team was had yellow uniforms and was sponsored by Banrural, the Development Bank of San Pedro. Not one player looked to be over six feet tall, and they were much younger then the other team. The Guatemala City team, wearing green jerseys, are sponsored by And1 and have players over 6’5’’ tall. They also had a few guys that looked over the age of 40 and a few guys that were not even Guatemalan.

The game was played on the one court in the town, which is outdoors. It had just rained, of course, and the court was wet. It was a pretty sad sighting for San Pedro. They got dominated down low. Both teams ran a 2X3 zone, and the wetness of the court seemed to add another defender. There were about 500 people in attendance that all stood around the sides of the court. The announcer talked during the whole game and half of the time was not even talking about the actual game. The half-time show was a band that played much louder music then they needed to be. And you wouldn’t believe it unless you saw it, but when the second half began the band kept playing. I stayed for about eight minutes into the second half, and because the band did not stop I left. Overall the game was quite a show. The most amusing part was the few times when a homeless dog from the town ran out onto the court and not one person even flinched. They just kept playing and within a minute or two the dog went back into the locker room I guess.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Commute + Observations

EscĂșchame…The people I have met in the third world are poor. But by whose standards I ask? They never classified themselves as being “third world” regions, but it was by the standards of the first world. Through this process we have made them, in MY opinion, even poorer. Many of them have never been to the first world, but by the way we have structured the methodology we have constructed an interpretation in there minds that we live in a heaven. Through the economic theory of relativity people in the first world are happy based on a relative basis where my car is nicer then yours and my camera has more functions then yours. But let me start by saying in the third world I feel poor in a sense when I pull out my camera. For the 30-75 years we have on this planet it is not necessarily an increase in technology that people need, but equal rights and opportunities.
Before calling me a communist please listen to an average day at my work. I leave the house at 7:00am and arrive at the office at around 8:00am, more or less. Now, in the U.S. this hour commute would consist of what the average person would consider…hell. Hoping on the same ugly freeway each morning driving 40 mph less then what it allows because of the traffic of people doing the exact same thing. In Guatemala my hour is a bit different. I walk ten minutes from my house to the boat launch. The boat is about 30 ft. long and it takes about 40 minutes to get from San Pedro to Panajachel. This 40 minutes right here is one of the most beautiful 40 minutes you will ever experience. As you can see from my pictures the lake is a pure site of Natural beauty. How many other people in this world get to drive by three volcanoes on there way to work? Back in Sammamish, WA, our town rests on the side of Lake Sammamish. Another beautiful lake, but on that lake I am tossed by the waves created from the hundred speed boats and interrupted by the jet skis riding up the ass of my boat. I assure you the only waves on this lake are created by the wind. No Traffic! Oh yeah, and it only costs $2.

Sometimes when I am around nature I think about dinosaurs. I try to picture what it was like for a brontosaurus or triceratops to be roaming around the same ground as me. Lately in America it has been very difficult to do this. The past three days I have seen quite a bit of dinosaurs. After arriving on the dock I walk another 10 minutes. Happiness to me is being in shape. How much healthier are you when your car takes you from your parking garage to the parking space directly in front of your office? On my way to the office I may pick up a mango, a pitaya, and fruits you have probably never seen or tasted. When I arrive at my office I sit in a chair that does not swivel or have leather padding at a desk that is made of a wood not mahogany. But if I want to work outside, I just take two steps. Sitting outside right now writing this post looking at the side of a mountain with a waterfall right in front of me I cannot help but say that although I do not receive a salary my fringe benefits are nice enough. Hasta Luego.

Monday, June 22, 2009

First Week!

The past few weeks have flown by faster than the rain that floods the streets of my new home San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala...and that's fast! I am still in the immersion phase, but the family I am staying with in San Pedro La Laguna is making me feel as comfortable as if they were my own. San Pedro La Laguna is a small village on Lake Atitlan, which is approximately four hours West of Guatemala City. Lake Atitlan (see picture) is absolutely beautiful as it is surrounded by three volcanoes. Its daily dose of rain makes it the greenest place I have ever been in my life. Think… “Great Valley” in the movie Land Before Time.

My office is in Panajachel, which is another village across the lake. I take a small boat to work each day. My Spanish is not perfect, but my family is taking the time to help me. My family has four children of all ages. They were very excited by the gifts I brought; coloring books, crayons, yo-yo, paddle with the ball attached, and their favorite which is the silly putty. This past Friday I hung out with the children. We played basketball in the village center, and I was like Yao Ming to them. After that I brought out my guitar and played some songs for them. I even began to teach one of the kids how to play.

This past weekend I went to Antigua, a tourist village three hours from Lake Atitlan with another volunteer named Meggie. There were many attractions to see, but the top of them all was the hike up Volcano Pacaya, pun intended. The tour book said not to go up if it is raining, but we did not listen. We took a bus to 6,000ft and hiked up to the peak at 10,000ft. It took a couple hours to summit. As we got closer to the top we began to smell the sulfur and feel the heat. At the peak we saw LAVA! It was hot and on the move. But it was raining so hard that you could only pick your head up to see it for a couple seconds. After that we began to retrace our steps down the mountain. Unlike in America, Central American tour guides are less concerned about the safety of the group or the liabilities involved. Our whole group got separated and Meggie and I were left alone to find our way back down. We could not see a football field’s length in front of us and the lava rocks were acting as quicksand. At one point of the volcano I was getting about two steps per minute. I started thinking “I didn’t sign up for this,” but then I remembered I didn’t sign anything because for these tours you are not forced to sign a waiver! We finally hit the tree line and I was able to use my “Man vs. Wild” skills (following horse manure and the water trails) back to base. But not before getting a little bloody. While stuck in the quicksand of lava rocks a basketball sized rock skidded down the volcano crashing into my leg leaving an ugly but manageable gash. It was quite the experience and if this was any indication to the next three months then Guatemala is going to be quite the excursion. Check out this video...

My House in San Pedro La Laguna

Walking around the village of San Pedro La Laguna in Guatemala I cannot help but feel very lucky for the room and family I have been blessed with. The day before I arrived the father spent the whole day painting my room and decorating it for me. So sweet! Although I did have a tough time sleeping the first night with the fumes. The patio outside my room (see video below) looks over the main square in the village. It is usually very active with lots of people and stands selling food, crafts, and just about anything you could need. To the left of the church is a basketball court. The first day the two sons in the family took me to the court to play three on three. Guatemalans are typically very short in height, so I had a field day on the post. More videos to come later. Hasta Luego

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Me Voy a Panajachel

Today is the big day!  I leave for the airport in a half hour and thought I would give a little update on thoughts and feelings.  I also wanted to apologize for not posting in a few weeks, but finishing up college has been exhausting, overwhelming, but overall a blast.  

I graduated this past Saturday and four days later I am flying down South.  Saying my goodbyes has been hard, but I am motivated to start.  I could have used another month in the States, but the reason I am having to go so soon is the need to get this microbank off the ground.  Mercado Global has already been taking first steps in planning and investment, and they need me down there asap to get started on some of the budgets and to develop the credit methodology.  

I will know so much more about my role with the bank in 24 hours, and I presume that my next post will be ten times more interesting then this one, but I can say right now that I am nervous, a little scared, but sitting above all these is a feeling of excitement.  I recently found out that I will be joining another intern, Meggie, who is a senior from University of North Carolina.  I will be living in the same homestay as her, and we have already been skyping about all the fun activities we want to do: horseback riding in Santiago, visit a coffee plantation, hike the volcanoes, travel to Antigua, Guatemala, and so much more.  Who knows what will come of the next 24 hours, but you will hopefully be hearing of me from me new desk soon.  

By the way, all my friends and I are currently sitting in my room estimating the weight of my luggage.  The consensus seems to be 70 lbs.  uh oh!  Here we go!