Escuela de la Montaña Adventure: Part I

By Dylan Crovo

Sunday morning was spent in Xela (pronounced shay-la); like any other morning spent at 8,000 feet in Guatemala, the day broke shockingly cold. Shivering despite my poncho, an impulse purchase made at one point or another by every member of the group, I arrived at Xela’s central park. In the mere 10 minutes it took for the rest of the group to arrive at the park, looking no less foreign in their new rugs, the temperature pf the sun had increased well beyond the acceptable range for sweater wearing. Unfortunately, the temperature in the shadows had not yet reached the acceptable range for t-shirt wearing, leaving me in a form of clothing limbo.

We seated 15 people into four cabs (each person in possession of no less than two backpacks) and set off for the bus stations. Every group’s cab ride was different. One group, for example, prayed for their survival—white knuckles gripping whatever possible while their driver swerved in and out of traffic—spending more time in the oncoming lane than in his own. All the while, comparing himself to a drug lord, he claims, he had once jumped 15 cop cars.

Perhaps, fortunately, my ride was slightly less harrowing, but harrowing it was still. Approximately 10 minutes into our ride we began to notice we were leaving the more commercial areas of the city behind. We began to wind down residential streets seemingly in no real hurry, fear that we were to be robbed began to grow. As we slowed to a halt in a particularly nondescript area, fear reached a fever pitch. Our driver shut the engine off and while we watched, holding our collective breath, he simply walked away. Moderately relieved but still on alert, we began to discuss where he had gone and how we intended to get to a bus station we didn’t know the location of. But, to our relief, our driver returned a long five minutes later. He turned the key that had been left in the engine and began to drive, seemingly more confidently than had before. As we closed the remaining distance to the bus station we came to the realization that our taxi driver had simply been lost and was asking for directions.

If you were to ask someone who stood five feet seven inches tall how the bus ride to the mountain school had been they would have said mildly cramped. If you felt you needed another opinion, but this time asked someone who was approaching five feet ten inches, you may get the response “very cramped”. If you still were not satisfied with the information you had been provided with, you may feel inclined to ask me what I thought of the bus ride to the mountain school. At six feet two inches, I might tell you that the bus ride was nearing unbearably cramped. I may go on to say that the seat in front of me was approaching five inches closer to me than my knees would allow.

After two hours it was our turn to disem-bus; we collected our many bags and squeezed our way off of the bus. A stream of “lo siento’s” escaped our mouths as we jostled people out of the way. A short walk later we arrived at the mountain school. During the drive, we had descended nearly two thousand feet in elevation, a welcome change for those of us who spend our home lives at sea level. The elevation change also brought with it less erratic and indecisive weather. It would seem that in this new location, when a conclusion about what temperature it ought be was reached, the discussion was final.

Upon our arrival at the mountain school, we were given a short time to set our stuff down in our new bedrooms. It was then time to meet our homestay families. This homestay was different from the last, in that we would only be spending meal time here. Little did we know the homestay meals would be one of the week’s more popular topics of conversation.

Day two began with a name game in order to make acquaintances with our new teachers. If you have ever played a name game you’ll know two truths. Number one being that nobody actually wants to play a name game. Similar to a compromise, it’s something nobody wants, but everyone can live with. And number two, they are hard. This particular name game was not only hard as is, it was also in Spanish. After we had struggled our way through the game, it was time for classes to start. As there were twice as many of us as there were teachers, we split into morning and afternoon groups. Given that I happened to fall into the ladder, I promptly took a nap.

Afternoon came, and I made my way to one of the many small gazebos that would be our classrooms. I was delighted to find that I had much in common with my Spanish teacher and the first half of class was spent conversing about what motorcycles we have, what motorcycles we want, and what motorcycles we’d like to build. The second half of my class was spent attempting for what may be the final time, the preterite. My relationship with the Spanish preterite tense is not a good one. It has been explained to me approaching five times with no luck, for whatever reason it never stays in my head. I do not know if it was simply a case of fifth times the charm (might have made that one up) or if this teacher was simply far better than my previous few. But for the first time, I’ve begun to get a handle on the preterite.

The following afternoon we were given the opportunity to go and see a local Mayan shaman. As I was unfortunately not present on the first attempt, I’ll let Jon tell that story.

Wednesday came and we were told we would be playing soccer, daunting news for someone who is well aware of his soccering ability. We were subsequently loaded into the bed of a pickup truck and set off for Colomba. We arrived at the soccer field looking like a bunch of greasers with our hair blown back by the wind. Once split into three teams, we took to the field. It was explained to me that when a goal was scored the scoring team would remain on the field while the team that had been scored upon would remove themselves, hanging their heads in shame. As the first two teams took the field, our team watched. I wish I could tell you that I was studying the players, looking for weaknesses that I could later exploit in order to score a blazingly fast and well-placed goal. In reality, however, I was simply trying my best to remember rules of soccer.

Soon, to my dismay, my team took to the field. I’m pleased to report that we won, possibly thanks to my panicky uncoordinated, and above all else, lucky goal. But the more likely explanation would be that we had a high school varsity soccer player carrying our team. After our victory, scoring three goals and allowing none to be scored on our own, we broke for ice cream. After ice cream had been eaten, and in direct violation of the 30-minute rule, many of us went for a swim in the indoor pool next to the soccer field.

One scenic, if windy, pickup truck ride later we returned to the mountain school.