Saturday, February 07, 2004

Sao Paulo, Brazil--Day 8

Today I woke up and had just enough time to eat breakfast in the Patio before I was picked up by the taxi driver to be taken to the zoo in Sorocaba. The drive to Sorocaba took about an hour, and it was really nice to get out of the big city and see the countryside of Brazil, all of which is very green and very pretty.

We had to stop several times once we got into Sorocaba to ask directions to the zoo, and finally we made it. The taxi driver dropped me off and promised to be back at to pick me up in the afternoon. The “billeteria” (ticket booth) at the zoo was this very small and sort of shady looking window (and when I say shady, I don’t mean hidden from the sun) and there were signs surrounding all signs around the window. I paid my two Reales (which is about $1) entrance fee and set off in search of the hippos. No maps were available and I was able to tell right from the start that this zoo was not only very small, but also very run down.

To give the zoo some credit, they were in the process of remodeling the zoo grounds but unfortunately for me this meant that many exhibits were closed and that you could not walk through all of the normal pathways to get to the animals. This made it extremely problematic for me. Now I know that it can’t be *that* hard to find the hippos in a zoo, but on top of all of the confusion with the construction, I have found it very difficult to understand Portuguese and to get myself understood. I wandered around for quite some time, following the signs to the hippos, but with no luck. I asked several zoo employees where the hippos were (at least that is what I think I asked them) and was pointed in all sorts of different directions.

Finally I asked a man who was sweeping the dirt pathway from all of the leaves that had fallen. He pointed towards this big sign that said in very big, bold red letters “DO NOT ENTER-PEOPLE PROHIBITED” (despite the language problem I could DEFINITELY tell what this translated to) and he sort of gestured for me to go into the prohibited area. Here goes, I thought, as I pulled back the board that was prohibiting me and I stepped over some fencing and onto a muddy path, wandering in the direction that he pointed to. I know that I keep saying “I wandered here” and “I wandered there” but really I feel like no other word better describes my experiences so far on this trip because that is exactly what I’ve been doing- wandering until I run into something that seems of importance. This particular wander did not lead me where I needed to be (or so I thought) but only amidst the construction site. Whoops. I walked back (not wandered this time since I knew how to get back) to the man who was still sweeping and tried to express to him my problem. He got very frustrated and (I think) was saying, what? No Hippos? And then he gestured some more and finally put down his palm leaf (which he was sweeping with) and came to show me where the hippos were.

And so they were there were, right where he had *obviously* described to me (he expressed this to me by gesturing and talking in a louder tone) and I thanked him. He pointed out the hippos and their names, and then went back across the fenced boarder (back to the non-prohibited side) and left me with Tavea and Lure, the two hippos.

From seeing their living space, it was pretty obvious (or at least to me) why I didn’t notice them the first time. All they have to live in are a small pond and a concrete space with a feed stall. No signs pointing to their home saying what animals they were or anything. I assumed that their original home must have been under construction, and that they were just here temporarily (at least I hoped so). Besides that, they were both immersed in the water. A person passing by would not have any idea that there was an animal living there unless one of them came up for air at that particular moment.

Anyways, I sat down and for the next four hours, watched the two only the problem was, Lure (the big male hippo) did not do ANYTHING except sleep in the water. Occasionally he would come up to breathe (about every four minutes or so according to my stop watch) and stick his nose out of the water and then back down again. Luckily Tavea (the female) was more active and was out of the water several times to eat and then sleep a little bit in the sun before heading back into the water. Out of the water she would grunt loudly, which would wake up her companion who would surface to the top (amidst a huge amount of bubbles) and would match her grunting only in a much deeper and louder tone. He would wake up and sort of stick his head out of the water and check on her, then immerse himself completely back into the water, not to be seen or heard from for the next four minutes. This situation was very frustrating (I honestly started talking to Tavea telling her to go wake him up) but I did manage to get a few good shots while he surfaced a few times.

While I watched, near to me on some sort of amphitheater was some sort of program/activity/game for little kids. There was a whole school group of them on the stage and a man with a microphone who kept shouting things and then the whole group would yell and cheer and start chanting. This went on for about three hours and the excitement of the group never stopped and occasionally Tavea‘s ears would prick up when something particularly loud was being shouted. Then she would look back at me as if to ask me about what the heck was going on. On several occasions parents and their children would wander over from the amphitheater to where I was and look at the hippos. They were on another side that was also blocked off, and I think a lot of people were also wondering how I managed to get over to the side that I was on. When the activity ended, all of the children and parents left the amphitheater, passing the me and the hippos on their way out. I was definitely spoken to a couple of times, but I just smiled and would pretend like I didn’t notice that they were talking to me.

When it was time for me to go, I said goodbye to Tavea and Lure and found my way amidst all the construction back to the main gate. I tried talking with a woman behind the ticket gate to ask how old the hippos were, but that didn’t work. A police man came up to us and stood next to her (as if I was going to cause any trouble or something?) and what I think she said to me was that the hippo exhibit was closed. (she said something like “No vea a los hipopotamo“). I’m not sure. I said ok and smiled and went out and met my taxi driver who drove me back to Sao Paulo.

When I got back to the hotel I did my photo transfers and went on a walk. I wandered (again with the wandering) along some side streets to the tourist center that was nearby. It was closed and so I grabbed a snack (thank god “quiche” is universally used) and wandered again down some more streets, on all of which were street vendors trying to sell their merchandise. I found some sort of mall. realizing that tomorrow is Sunday, which means that virtually everything will be closed and I have no idea what I am going to do with myself. So I made my way back to my hotel to look at my guide book but ended up taking a nap. Around 7:45 p.m. I went and found some dinner and that leaves it up until now.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Sao Paulo, Brazil--Day 7

Today I woke up to the ridiculously loud alarm clock that is in my room. I managed to sleep ok, but since I slept a lot during the day, I kept waking up in the middle of the night. I got up at 7:30 a.m. and got ready, then headed to the “Patio” for breakfast. Since I am staying in an “Executive Suite,” breakfast is included and I can either have it in the executive club room, or downstairs on the Patio. I got some breakfast and went outside to get a taxi to the Sao Paulo Zoo.

My taxi driver was nice, but it was hard to talk with him since he didn’t know any English and I don’t know any Portuguese. We ended up talking just a little bit in Spanish. He dropped me off at the zoo, after about a half hour in the car, and told me that he would be back to pick me up when I needed him to. Great! So we compromised on a time and I headed off into the Zoo to find the hippos.

I followed my map and when I got to the first group of hippos (there were 2 groups with 2 hippos in each) I was honestly delighted by what I saw. This group was of a mother and her baby (and I would find out later that the second group of hippos was the same) and they were just about to get in the water. Now I know that I mentioned that the Guatemalan hippos (ok, so they’re not actually Guatemalan, but you know what I mean) were posing, but I was wrong. These two were just great. The mama hippo saw me and started grunting and heading towards the water. The baby followed and they both sort of posed for a second, then headed down their stairs into the water.

I watched for about an hour and half (most of the time it was just me watching--other zoo-goers came by occasionally) and it was so funny because the baby hippo was obviously annoying the mama hippo. The mama hippo was trying to sleep it seems and the baby kept disappearing under water (maybe to nurse??) and the mama hippo would grunt and snort and move away, splashing lots of water in the process. It was great- the other hippos that I have seen so far were definitely not this active. Eventually the mama hippo decided to get out of the water, and went up the stairs and stood overlooking into their pond. This is when it got super cute because the mama hippo was looking into the water, and the baby hippo would come up out of the water and would give (what looked like) a kiss to its mama. It was so funny, I just couldn’t stop smiling.

Both Mom and baby would stop and look at me, and then stop again (posing I am sure) and I got the best shots that I have so far. They were just so funny these two, and I was really lucky to see them swimming about and everything. The baby hippo decided that it was also time to get out of the water when feeding time came, where both mom and baby met the zookeeper with the food.

At this point I headed to the other hippo habitat, with the second couple of mom and baby. These two were equally as cute, but a lot more suspicious of me. They both would move slightly, keeping their eyes on me practically the entire time that I was photographing them. They would grunt and snort, which would cause the first pair in the other pond to respond back with snorts and grunts. After another hour or so I again had to find out what their names are.

This posed a big problem because of my lack of Portuguese. I wandered around for a bit and finally found a woman at security gate to ask where I could find out their names. She pointed me in the direction of an education center (I think that is what she said) but I found it anyways by wandering off in the direction that she pointed to. I came to the center and there were two young adults (my age) and on the table in front of them were all sorts of animal legs (yes, animal legs) that were stuffed and that people could pick up and be like, hey cool, a cheetah leg or look, an antelope leg. It was very bizarre. Anyways, I asked them if they spoke English. Luckily, the girl did and I could ask her. She her co-worker were able to tell me three of their names, but struggled for the fourth. After much debating, the girl walked me over to find a phone where she could call for information and we ran into another co-worker of hers who gave the fourth name, pointing each hippo out to me. Phew.

Now I only had one problem: it began to POUR with rain. No sprinkle, but POUR. I had my umbrella with me and after walking the young girl back to her educational booth, I walked under some trees to find shelter from the rain near the Rhinoceros exhibit, where even the rhinos were trying to hide under their shelter. By this time my skirt was soaked and my legs were dripping wet. I stood there for probably 25 minutes, then headed over to the main entrance where a big school group was standing under the protection of the roof. I stood there for another 20 minutes, getting quite a few looks from the children (my embarrassingly pale Minnesota shade was giving me away among other things) and finally the rain turned to a slight drizzle. I made it to the gift shop and then watched the monkeys for a while before it was time for my taxi to come. The Sao Paulo Zoo is also a really nice zoo. What really impressed me was how close I could get to the hippos, and to other animals without feeling threatened or for them to feel threatened. What was really neat was that a lot of the monkeys were living on islands in the lake that was part of the zoo. So they couldn’t go anywhere because they don’t swim (at least I don’t think they do!) and so they were just happily swinging on the trees on their island with no one to bother them. I watched a few monkeys on one side make sort of cat-calls to the other monkeys on another island. It was funny, it was as if the one monkey was like hey, wanna piece of me even though I can’t get over there? If I could though, I would show you!

I was picked up by my taxi driver and headed back to the hotel. We managed to talk more this time around and I tried to tell him what my job was and why I was in Sao Paulo. I also told him that I was going to the zoo in Sorocaba, and he said that he would pick me up in the morning and take me. Great! I have been surprised at the taxi services here (in a good way). The man that dropped me off from the airport has promised to pick me up and take me to the airport when I need to go, so I don’t have to worry about that, and now this guy wants to take me and pick me up for tomorrow’s zoo. I can’t complain!

I spent the rest of the afternoon transferring photos onto my computer. Around 6:30, I was positively starving, but forced myself to wait just a few more minutes until 7:00 to eat dinner. I walked over to the restaurant next to the one that I ate at last night and had spaghetti (not very Brazilian but that’s ok) and it was fine. I definitely was the only person actually eating dinner though. It was still happy hour for everyone else. Considering that it is Friday night, I bet people aren’t’ even eating until about now anyways, at its almost 10 p.m. I sat at a table and tried to make myself look “busy” (as in checking my very busy calendar over and over again) and tried not to stare as I people watched.

Again it is time for bed, so that I can get up early for the zoo tomorrow. Afterwards I might check out the tourist center and see what sorts of things I can busy myself with later.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Guatemala City--Miami--Sao Paulo, Brazil--Days 5/6

Today I woke up and did some work on the computer, packed up my things and checked out of the hotel just in time to get the shuttle over to the airport. Things at the airport were pretty uneventful, except for the guy next to me at the ticket counter. He was shipping his dog home! The poor thing had to go all the way from Guatemala City to St. Louis and I felt really bad for it. They put the dog (which is one of those really pretty-but-not-quite-a-Labrador type) and so it was in a pretty big cage. It had to be put on the conveyor belt and send through with the rest of the luggage.
I got my tickets, went through security, and waited for about an hour for my plane from Guatemala City to Miami. The plane ride was uneventful, although I sat next to these people that I met in a shop in Antigua, although I don’t think they realized it. They asked where I was from and then I asked where they were from (but I knew that it was Virginia) and the lady just said, Oh, Virginia and I just smiled. The plane ride actually wasn’t that long, only about three hours. We landed in Miami and had to taxi on the runway for quite some time. The pilot (a woman by the way) was really funny and she kept coming on the loudspeaker and talking to us about how the plane wasn’t moving.

In Miami, I had to walk quite a ways and take a train to my gate, and ended up having to eat a hot dog for my dinner, which was the only food in my terminal. I recharged my computer and waited for the time to board.

The plane ride to Sao Paulo was close to eight hours. Again, besides some mild turbulence at one point, the plane ride was pretty good. No delays or anything. I was sitting next to a Brazilian girl about my age and in front of us were her friends, obviously a couple. They spent most of the trip kissing and nuzzling each other, which was fine except when I was trying to watch the movie (Open Range, which was actually pretty good). Unfortunately on the plane there was only small screens down the middle of the airplane connected to the ceiling, so I had to strain to watch the movie. Plus the fact that this guys’ head was in the way of the screen made it really annoying to watch. I had to keep moving back and forth between two screens depending on where the kissy couple was kissing. Ugh. Finally they both fell asleep and I could watch the movie in peace, and without trying to look past them.

We landed early this morning, around 7:45 am. I had my photo and my fingerprints taken at immigration (which actually wasn’t bad because I could go through the “Americans Only” line, which didn’t have as many people in it and was in the end faster) and then met my driver who would take me to my hotel in downtown Sao Paulo. It was raining outside, which didn’t make it a very good day to go to the zoo, plus traffic was just terrible to it took us quite a while to get to the hotel.

I was able to check in when I arrived and headed straight to bed. I only managed about one and a half hours of sleep on the plane, so I was feeling really tired. I fell fast asleep and woke up at 3 o’clock pm. Since I am now on Brazilian time (which means that nothing is really going on until later anyways) I got up, got dressed and headed on a short walk around the center of Sao Paulo. I got some dinner (I made myself wait until 8 o’clock since Brazilians eat late) and now I am back in my hotel ready for bed and to get an early start to the zoo in Sao Paulo tomorrow.

Sao Paulo is a lot like New York City, in fact it is the largest city in South America and the third largest in the world! It is neat- there is obviously a lot going on here but I wouldn’t really know since I can’t understand a THING anyone says. Well, I guess that is not true- I can understand a few things in Portuguese that are similar to Spanish, but it is still very hard to even try to comprehend what anyone is saying.

But hey, you can become fluent in four days, right??

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Guatemala City--Day 4

After doing some work this morning, I went back to the travel desk in the hotel and spoke with the same girl from the day before. She looked for things for me to do for the afternoon and suggested that I go to the Pacaya Volcano which is just outside Antigua, where I was the day before. Great, I said, I’m up for seeing a really cool volcano. I opted not to do a city tour of Guatemala City or go to a Museum because I thought it would be nice to see my surroundings. So I booked my return ticket to and from the hotel and waited for my shuttle to come.

My shuttle came relatively on time this time (only 20 minutes late!) and we were off, back to Antigua where the tour started. The driver dropped me off where I was the day before and I had two or so hours to wander around again. It was actually really nice because I was able to go to a part of the city where I didn’t go the day before. I wandered into a restaurant and ordered some soup and *bottled* water, and ate a nice lunch while I waited for my tour to being at 1 o’clock.
At 1 o’clock, I went back to the tourist office in Antigua and was picked up by a lady by foot, who brought me over to another tour company and found that I actually had companions to talk to. One man, Chris, was an elderly man who worked for a travel agency in Alaska. He was really excited when I told him about the Marrs and what I knew of Alaska and he raved about Talkeetna and how I could go river rafting, being the “free spirited and adventurous person (I) was.” Wow! I came off as free-spirited and adventurous! That’s more like it!

Chris and I talked all throughout our trip up the mountain to see the volcano, which was about an hour long. We had to wind down these streets going out of Antigua and through really beautiful countryside. We started our climb up the mountain side in the shuttle bus and not soon thereafter, the entire shuttle bus filled with dusk and dirt. It was blowing up from the door (which I guess wasn’t sealed properly or shut) and filling up the entire shuttle. It got to a ridiculous point where it was really hard to breathe and you couldn’t keep your eyes open. People were opening the windows to let in fresh air but unfortunately that was just adding more dust to the problem. Finally the shuttle stopped and the driver checked on the door and sealed it properly. Off we went, climbing the mountain very slowly.

We came to several small villages on our way up, and I was surprised to see how many people were actually living near the volcano. We ended up in the bigger of the small towns and got out. The driver told us where to buy our tickets for the ascent and where the restrooms were, etc. and then we met our guide. He was a very happy and smiley guy, who seemed really excited to see us. He started by laying out some ground rules (we’re all in this together, we all hike together, it will take us about two hours to get to the top…) What?!?! What do you mean TWO HOURS to get to the top? We’re all in this together?! What is this supposed to mean? I looked around at all my companions and they seemed to know what was going on. This is when I realized that what I thought was a “let’s drive to the pretty volcano and take some pictures” really meant “let’s hike to the TOP of the volcano and back in the hot afternoon.” Oh man, I was in trouble.

We started hiking. And when I mean hiking, I mean that most of the group set off at a fast past and powered there way up to the first of our “group stops.” Within (literally) two minutes, I thought for sure that I was going to die. Honestly. I haven’t breathed that hard in a long time, let alone hiked. Last time I went hiking on like a really hike was in New Zealand, where I got myself into a similar situation. While the rest of the group went off, myself and a couple from Italy were bringing up the rear. Behind me though were two men on two horses (“los taxis”) that were there to help anybody up the mountain if they wanted. I didn’t need a horse! I could do it! I was being stubborn and thought I would see how long I could go without needing a horse to safe me.

We got up a little ways more and stopped for about three minutes to take in the view. This is when I decided I would find out my fate. I asked the guide how steep the rest would it be? Would it be the same as this or “mas tranquile.” He smiled and said, it goes up and down and the end bit is REALLY steep. It will get hard then. I almost died. Thankfully by this point there were others who felt the same way that I did.

We hiked a little bit more and got to a resting point and this time got to sit for a whopping five minutes. Just enough time for me to down the juice that I brought with me. Luckily, I had lots of water and juice with me, so that wasn’t a problem. We kept going and for the next hour and a half, climbed the mountain. Some parts were a little less steep than others, but honestly, there were no parts that went down like the guide said. Finally we got to a point where we could actually see the volcano (yeah, we weren’t even ON the volcano, we were just hiking up a mountain TO the volcano). It was really impressive- coal black from all of the ash and rocks and smoking up at the top. Actually, it was more like billowing poisonous gases from its crater. Great, if I wasn’t going to die on my way up, I was definitely going to die from gas inhalation. So we start walking but this time, we weren’t on the ground. We were walking on this ash and rocks mix which was sort of like climbing up a HUGE sand dune (remember in New Zealand Liza & Dad?) and so you would take one step up and then two steps back. It was agonizing. It took probably another hour for me to climb up to the very top, having to stop every two minutes or so. Not only was it so hard to climb, but the air was so thin up there (we were way above 10,000 feet) that it was hard to breathe AND hike at the same time. Anyways, the guide made it to the top and was waving at us stragglers down below, encouraging us to keep going. Once we made it to the “top” we discovered that it wasn’t actually the top, but that we had only made it halfway! Ugh.

Finally we made it. We were above the clouds and looking down into the valley at Antigua. The volcano was blowing its gases every which way and that. When you looked down into the mouth of the volcano, all you could see was white gas, with seemingly no end to it. It was pretty cool.

I made a bad mistake of sitting down because once I sat down I wasn’t sure if I would be able to stand up again. The guide was just smiling and having the time of his life. It was nice to see that somebody could get this excited about doing this. Actually, I was really glad once I made it to the top and proud of myself, but I would have liked to have been informed by the travel girl that it was this intense of a trip.

We started down the mountain, which was of course the ash and rocks again. But this time the rocks were sliding every which way and that, so you just had to step and then you would slide down a few feet with the rocks. This time gravity was working for us, so it was really fun. The guide pretended that he was skiing down the side of the volcano, and most of us followed suit. It was like skiing (almost) cause you would go from side to side and jump down and you would just slide down the mountain. You had to lean back because the incline of the volcano was so great that you would surely tumble and fall down the rest if you weren’t careful. Five minutes later, we were down. It took an hour to climb up it, and five minutes to go down.

The rest of the walk back was easy, but also very hard on the legs since it was just a steep climb up, that it was hard to go quickly down. We were trying to get down before the sunset, since many people didn’t bring flashlights. The descent down the mountain was good, but I never thought it was going to end. Finally we made it back to one of our stopping points on the way up and we stopped to watch the sunset, which was very beautiful. At this point, the Italian man asked the guide how many times a week did he (the guide) go up and down the mountain? The guide just smiled and said twice a day, seven days a week. WHAT?!? Oh my god, you are kidding. Nope, he smiled, 14 times per week. No wonder he looked so fit.

We set off again and soon we were at the bottom of the mountain, back in the small village. I sat down again (another mistake) and after a few minutes of washing up and getting drinks, we all piled back into the shuttle to take us down. This time we had all of the security guards that guard the mountain each day, and of course all of their weapons. The shuttle was packed, but hey, at least we were safe!

I sat next to this Australian guy named Steve and we started talking. He is a computer programmer and was in transition between jobs, with his new job taking him to London or Leeds, in England. So we talked about England and Australia and all sorts of stuff and it was really nice because I hadn’t had such a long conversation with anyone yet. I talked with Chris on the way up, but it was nice to talk to someone my own age and with similar interests. It was actually funny because Steve was in the same travel agency that I was the day before, asking about going up the volcano, and then he was on my trip.

We got back to Antigua and I had a taxi back to Guatemala City. It took me about ten minutes to wash all of the dust and dirt off of me in the shower and then I went right to sleep, which is why this didn’t get written yesterday.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Guatemala City, Guatemala--Day 3

Talk about putting my foot in the mouth. Go ahead and give me “I told you so” and I *promise* to be carefully about what I eat and drink from now on.

As you can probably guess, this morning (while I won’t go into *too* much detail here), I spent a good two hours going back and forth from my bed to the bathroom to my bed to the…well, you get the picture. What was it that I ate? Was the nice delicious fruit from the Zoo, or was it that nice big dollop of sour cream on the flautas last night? Or was it the salsa that I piled so generously onto my flautas? Whatever it was, it wasn’t such a fun morning.

Luckily though, my condition woke me up early and by the time I was feeling more like my normal self, I still had time to go exploring. I headed downstairs to the travel desk in the hotel and a nice girl helped me book a shuttle bus over to Antigua, the old Guatemalan capital. She was really nice and best of all, she also went to La Aurora Zoo yesterday and saw the hippos. She was really excited when I told her why I was visiting Guatemala.

By 12:40 p.m. my shuttle was late. I even tried getting on the wrong shuttle at 12:30 when another one arrived. I decided to go ask the girl about the shuttle, just to make sure it was actually coming. She called and confirmed that it would be at the hotel within five minutes. Perfect!

Soon thereafter, the shuttle arrives and picks me up. The driver mentions something about needing to stop by the airport and pick up some luggage. Fine, I say, as we whiz off. We head to the airport and instead of stopping by the terminals, he stops really far back next to all of the other tourist buses. We idle there for a few minutes until he decides that it is time to pull up to the main exit for the airport. He leaves the van running and gets out, disappearing into the crowd. Several minutes pass until he finally comes back, followed by a man with a suitcase who puts the suitcase into the back but doesn't get in himself. The driver hesitates and then gets back into the van and we are off again. Or so I thought. As we pulled away from the entrance to the airport itself, he gets a call on his cell phone and before I know it we are turning back around to the airport again. We pull up to the main terminal exit this time and he gets out again. This time he is gone for almost 25 minutes. Helloooo I didn’t pay to sit in a van all afternoon! However, I decided to be passive/aggressive and just wait it out. Finally a man comes out of the crowd and comes towards the van, and is beckoned by the driver to hand over his luggage and get in. Just a moment, he says, I want to get a Pepsi. Will we ever leave?

By 1:30, the three of us are finally off to Antigua. We drop Pepsi man off first and then the driver drops me off in the main plaza, which has a large fountain in the middle. I start by walking towards the plaza and spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Antigua, taking in all of the old historic homes, churches ruined and rebuilt due to earthquakes, meandering through a hugely extensive street market, browsing through stalls and shops. I also spent this time running into numerous other tourists who were there for their own life changing experience, an experience that obviously no one else could possibly understand. Except that other girl over there with the same Chaco sandals, same loose trousers, reading the same guide book and looking equally as touristy.

After all this, I decided that it would be nice to get a Popsicle (now following the advice of the travel nurse as to what to eat when you get sick) and sit down near the main plaza fountain to people watch. I was about halfway through with my Popsicle when a girl about my age came up to me and wanted to sell me her blankets. No thank you, I say as I turn back to eating my drippy Popsicle. She wasn’t satisfied, and decided to sit down next to me and start talking.

Sooo, where are you from she asks. The United States, I reply. Why did I just tell her that?!? Oh, the United States, I see. And is this your first time to Guatemala? Yes, I say. No! So, what is your name? My name, I ask. Yes, your name she persists. Katie, I reply, as my senses came to me and the words of the travel nurse “You don’t have to tell anyone the truth. How do they know that your husband isn’t just around the corner?” Ohhh, she says, Katie. Que bonita. Want to buy a blanket? No thank you. She persists further. Soo, are you married? Yes, I say, as I hold up my left hand with my old ring on it which I bought in New Zealand. Ohhh, that is a different type of ring, she says. Where is your esposo? Back home, I say. Dang it! He‘s supposed to be right around the corner! Oh I see, so do you want to buy a blanket for him? You need to get him a present, she says. No thank you. She persists further and further and I feel her trying to figure me out, and am almost certain that she is aware of my false identity. Finally, she is really frustrated with me and stands up. All this talking and you are not even going to buy a blanket, she scolds as she packs up her things and walks away.

By this time my Popsicle is beyond melted so I decided that I should get up and eat something solid for the first time today. I stopped by a small cafĂ© and grabbed a slice of bread and some extra hot tea (just to be safe) and wandered around some more, hoping that I wouldn’t run into Ms. 20 questions again.

By the time my shuttle bus came to pick me up, I had spent a nice couple of hours looking around the city. The driver dropped me off at my hotel and I grabbed some soup and bread (again following orders) and am ready to get a good nights sleep again, hoping that I’m not awakened early tomorrow morning in the same way I was today.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Guatemala City, Guatemala--Day 2

Today got off to a nice, slow start. My room at my hotel is like a cave- completely black when you have the blinds closed. It was great, I woke up several times but had absolutely no idea what time it was. When I finally woke up and got up, it was 10 o’clock. Perfect time to hit the zoo and check out the hippos! Opening my curtains, I was surprised to see an airplane, passing right through several buildings in front of me, heading towards the airport.

After getting ready, I headed downstairs to the front desk, asking where I could get a taxi. The man I was talking to picked up his phone and dialed a number, which I presumed to be the taxi service. Instead he was calling the man that was standing at a little desk about 20 feet from us, letting him know that I needed a taxi. He went and hailed one down for me, and I presented the taxi driver with my address for La Aurora Zoo. The driver and my taxi cab hailer conversed for a little while, saying “Oh, Zona Trece…Si, si, Zona Trece” (Zone 13) and it made me start wondering just how far Zona Trece was from the Zona we were in (Zona 10).

Anyways, we drove off and not too long afterwards he dropped me of at the entrance to the zoo, which was actually not that well marked, which I only considered later when I realized just how big the zoo is. I paid the taxicab driver my fare and was able to walk about 50 feet when I heard “¡Seniorita, seniorita!” I turned and it was the taxi cab man running towards me and waving something in his hand. I went back and he said “No me robo” and handed me back my 100 Quetzal bill that I had mistakenly given him instead of a $10. Whoops. I traded him a $10 for my $100 and thanked him profusely, while scolding myself for not realizing my mistake. My interaction with the taxicab driver was just the first of several really nice things that happened to me today.

La Aurora Zoo is actually a really nice and pleasant zoo. Since today is Sunday, I was surrounded by what seemed like hundreds of groups of people and families, all out enjoying a day out. Families and people of all ages surrounded me. At first I didn’t have a map, so I just headed in the direction that everyone seemed to be heading. Several times I had to stop and let a small child run past me, followed by several kids chasing after them, shouting and running in the direction of “¡El Leon!” or “¡Mira los elefantes!”

The zoo was very spacious and it seemed like all of the animals had a nice living situation, with plenty of water and vegetation. They seemed well cared for, with human annoyances being their main nuisance. I watched as close to thirty people stood by a cage watching one man with a large camera click and shout at a monkey, who I might add was none to please to be shouted at. The monkey was making a terrific loud noise that must have been heard throughout the zoo and was pacing back and forth. I decided not to watch.

After a slow start, I finally found the hippos and to my luck, while one was in the water already, the other was wading towards the water and just about ready to make itself comfortable. This one took its time getting in the water and looked right at me, pausing for several moments, almost to say Here is my best side, take this shot…no wait, here, take a picture of me like this, while the other hippo, standing almost immersed in water, was more than happy letting the sun shine brightly on its grayish and pink back. I watched the hippos for quite some time, photographing every movement I could when I was satisfied with my photos, I decided that I would need someone to help me figure out their names.
Unfortunately on the fact board near their habitat, there was no sign of what their actual names were. I walked back towards the entrance and asked a young man who was working near the gates if he knew the names of the hippos. He started going off in Spanish and every time he said a word I knew, I would nod and do my best to string the words that I knew together, in hopes that I could almost make up and understand what was in between. Nope, didn’t work. He finally went over to his buddy and came back to me and said “El hippo macho se llama Orejitas.” I smiled graciously and he wrote it down for me. What’s the name of the other hippo?” I tried to ask in my best (but pathetically broken) Spanish. He didn’t know. So I decided that I would track down someone else to tell me. Unfortunately there didn’t seem to be any zoo employees around, besides the people working at the ticket booth. Finally I found two more men who were groundskeepers and I asked them where the Educational Center was, so that I could hopefully ask them what the hippos names were. Hmmm, they said, don’t really know. The educational center wasn’t on the map, (which I bought from the first man who helped me) but it was listed on there, with “guidos” in big bold letters. I figured I could get a “guido” to help me. They didn’t know where this so-called center was, but one man decided that he could find out for me. So he tells me to wait and he dashes off somewhere. About 5 minutes later, he is back and smiling brightly. Come with me, he says in Spanish, and we start walking back towards the hippos.

Amazingly, I was able to talk with this man and understand almost everything he said, and he seemed to understand everything I was saying in Spanish. This made me feel much better about my skills (and lack thereof) and I was more than thankful that I had found this man to help me. We walked through the main parts of the zoos, passing the quite elegant “Casa de Te” and along the pathway which was very pretty, with large trees all along the sides. Ah ha, he says, as he veers off the path to the left and approaches two other men. He explains to one man my situation, and the man smiles. Apparently he is “el jefe,” the boss of the zoo. Thank goodness. I ask again what the names are of the hippos and he tells me: Orejitas and Carlita, pointing them out. I thanked all three men, and went back to watch Orejitas and Carlita for a while longer.

All of this name searching and watching took over an hour, and I realized that I was really hungry. I wandered over to the restaurant areas, and picked up a bottle of water. Sitting on the grass, I drank up my water and just watched people and families walk by. It was really nice just sitting there and taking in my surroundings. I eventually got up and walked back to a different area which was sort of hidden from the main pathways, and discovered a whole sort of street market within the zoo, all selling things to eat. Each stall sold various things, ranging from huge fruit that looked similar to oranges then sprinkled with a pepper looking powder, to meats sizzling on outdoor grills. Each of the sort of “sit down” places had an elderly woman standing outside, trying to beckon people passing by to come try their food. I opted to get some fruit and picked a nice looking bag of melon to try. As I bit into the juicy fruit, all the words of my worried family and health nurse came back into my head warning me to not eat the fruit, but I figured that hey, everyone around me was eating it and I wasn’t going to miss out--at least this time.

Satisfied with my fruit, I went back through the gates of the zoo to the outside entrance behind two Guatemalan women who were giggling. It seemed like their first attempt to go through the rotating bars failed, with both of them getting stuck. Dressed in traditional Guatemalan attire, they looked back at me and giggled some more as they made it successfully through the other gate. It was a nice moment.

I located a taxi and we drove back to my hotel. It was time to figure out how to send my pictures via email and establish a system for storing and filing the photos. I ran into problems with my email account being able to shrink and send the photos, so in the end I opted for an entirely new email address just to send photos. Five long hours later, I had everything squared away.

Around 6:30 p.m. I decided to head for dinner, and was able to find a nice place just down the street serving Mexican food. I sat down and ordered and what would I find blasting from the television in the bar? Only the Super Bowl. So, I watched part of the Super Bowl while I ate my flautas, but unfortunately caught most of the half time show, which (in case you didn’t see it) was Kid Rock dancing around on stage singing about being a cowboy and wearing, as a shirt, the American flag. Pretty ridiculous.

Now I am back in my hotel room, looking forward to another big day tomorrow.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.