Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mi Gusta Muchas

The week has sped by - for having been here only 4 days I feel as though I've been here forever! I started classes this week, visited the local market - it's huge, more on that later, got lost in the rain, moved in with a host family, and hiked up to an active volcano and saw lava flow for the first time (more on that to come over the weekend too).

All in all it's been GREAT!!

Antigua is this amazingly quaint town - imagine extremely friendly people, volcanoes surrounding the city, cobble stone streets and over 40 churches, of which 30 are ruins that you can explore. You see the church here - it looks complete, but is missing a roof - so it's all grass inside, you can see throught the door in the photo below it. There are so many of these in the city - all in various states of decay. It's amazing to happen upon these every few blocks.

Because there are three major volcanoes surrounding the city, virtually every street affords a picture-perfect view, but it's not the volcanoes that make the city. There is so much going on all around. There are salsa classes on nearly every street, resaurants, plazas, chicken buses and more.

In the coming posts I'll touch on all of them!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dios Mio it's Early!

It's Tuesday morning and I'm in Super Shuttle on the way to La Guardia at the ungodly hour of 2:45 am. What was I thinking booking a 5:45 am flight? Oh, that's right, I was using miles and that's the only one that I could get.

The flight left on time and by 10:30 am I have already watched the Caribbean islands drift past me and lush mountains rise up under the wing of the plane. As we descend to Guatemala City you can see the tops of the hills have been scraped flat and small tin and concrete homes have been built on every possible inch of the mountain tops with paths winding up and down the hills to connect one small community to another. Quickly the pathways get shorter and the number of huts/houses become greater. Suddenly the wings of the plane are almost scraping the clothes flapping from the lines strung in small clearings between houses and then the plane touches down mere feet from the last home. 

The initial view of Guatemala is that it is the poorest of cities thus far visited in Central America, but as the plane turns on the tarmac to head toward the terminal a skyline of 15-story buildings emerges with "Crowne Plaza" proudly emblazened across the closest of the city's buildings.

Inside the terminal it is amazingly clean and new. Most municipalities in the U.S. would be salivating over the idea of such a beautiful facility. 

Outside the terminal I catch a shuttle to Antigua for an amazing $10. In front of me is a student, Chelsea, from Vancouver Island. Chelsea has been in Central America for most of the year already and was just home for a short break and is now returning. She plans to spend a week or two in Antigua and then head to Costa Rica. Why? It turns out she needs a root canal - it's way cheaper to come here even with a $500 plane ticket. Plus she says the dentists are great and it's a good excuse to extend her stay until school starts again in September. Hmmmm....perhaps I should come pitch the Obama administration on medical travel program and just forget about overhauling our health care. 

Maybe I will go in for a cleaning and see how it goes. I wonder if I'll come home needing dentures?

Let the Spanish Lessons Begin

Pedro told me that he thinks I should start my Spanish lessons prior to departing New York. So he got me a ticket to the Univision media buy-in event at Gotham Hall. The star of the show....Paulina Rubio. This is so exciting. I love her!!! 

But before she comes out it's the winner of Mexican Idol. He's good, but I wouldn't have com
e out of my way to see him. Then out she comes. She's got legs a mile long, great, big, blonde hair and this beautiful smile and glint in her eye. You just want fall in love with her and that's before she opens her mouth.

If you haven't seen her, you have to check her out! She's a cross of Britney & Shakira only better:

It was so incredible because we were so close to the stage. In fact the person next to me is zooming in on her cellulite as she sits on the edge of the stage. I don't know if you can really call it
 cellulite because she is so thin and beautiful, but I guess when you scrunch your leg under you
, you can get a little bit of cottage cheese look. Oh well. Can you believe she's 38 in June of this year? She really doesn't look it at all!

All in all a big success, but I don't think that I got a huge boost in my vocabulary, but I will say that I got a lot of fun and my friend, Julio, said that having seen Paulina so close gives me street cred with the Latinos. Ha ha!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Oh New York, I'll miss you!

The last four days in New York were ones that make you never want to leave the city. The rainy weather has just left and suddenly it's cool, clear spring, not quite summer, but the air is so fresh you just feel alive.

Thursday Ben surprised me by saying he had switched weekends at his Fire Island house so we could spend one weekend on the island before I leave. If you've never been to Fire Island, it is transportive place. You're so close to the city, but miles from it.

You rush to Penn Station to catch the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) out to the Hamptons, in the frenetic atmosphere of Penn Station you stand alongside harried commuters that have chosen to travel by train into the city daily so that their families can have a "real" home with a patch of lawn to give their children a "normal" upbringing. Mixed in with this group is another set of people. Eyes bright, weekend bags on the floor near them while they watch lcd screens waiting for the platform number light up next to the train that will carry them toward a crashing surf and salty breezes.

On the train the city passes your window, slowly the buildings get smaller and the spaces between larger and you're filled with the excitement that a whole weekend is about to start. In your train car you'll look around for a few familiar faces that are heading out and you'll share a smile in a knowing way that you're about to let all your cares fall behind.

You pull into a station in a quaint town, carry ayour weekend bag onto the ferry. It pulls out of the harbor and and lets the mainland and all your workaday worries slip behind you as it heads toward the thin strip of land on the horizon.

Is this how I will feel as the plane leaves on Tuesday? All my worries slipping behind feeling like I'm heading on an exciting break toward a barrier island that protects the coast from winter seas and shelters a group of people from their concerns.

I know it's the people around me, the ones that form a safe haven from life's storms - that's what I'll miss. That's what New York is to me.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Second Thoughts

I had dinner tonight with my good friends. We agreed to get take out and play Mexican Bingo (Loteria). It's like our Bingo version, but instead it's pictures and Spanish Phrases that you put your marker on. My friend, Pedro, claims this will be the bench mark to see how well my Spanish comes along. I call out each card and have the worst Spanish of everyone - even Andrew & Boun who are Asian seem to have more Spanish speaking skill in them. This shoudl be a hilarious experience.

Part way through the evening, Andrew says, "Are you going to be in Antigua the entire time? Jo was just there and she thinks you are going to be so bored. It's pretty, but there are only 12 people in the town."

"Oh no," I think, "What kind of mistake have I made? Am I going to be wanting to shove a fork in my eye out of boredom?"

The good news is, I guess I can always go somewhere else if I get bored, but I wanted to stay with one teacher the entire time so I can progress at a great pace in my Spanish. Hmmmm...suddenly Ecuador is sounding like it may be calling my name. I guess I can check out the Galapagos Islands and check into getting some tiny hats in Bolivia if I get really bored.

Herbalife -

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The End & The Beginning

A week ago things were great. I had a job that I loved, I had snagged a temporary public relations position at a large beauty company. The job was fun. I mean really fun. I worked with a team of 7 great people.

Honestly I couldn't believe how nice these girls were. I was so nervous the first day - the girls were all so cute. I remember the first girl I met was a little shy - I took it for standoffish - I thought, "that figures, some pretty girl who's bitchy & working in P.R. for a make-up company." I couldn't have been more wrong. These were the nicest, warmest, people. After the first month, I was asked if I would like to consider staying on permanently. I said, "Absolutely!" I mean really - great people and a fun job - what more could you ask for? So the wheels were set in motion, all was going well. There were a few hurdles that made this take a while - five months to be exact - one of them being, the company was on a hiring freeze, but I felt assured that this would be overcome as there was a big push to have me stay and they were "building a case for why they needed an outside hire."

Everyday I loved my job more - gossip about our models, getting paid to keep up on celebrity gossip, planning product launch events, organizing galas, arranging photo shoots for magazines & working with stylists, photographers, makeup artists. It couldn't be better. This was a dream come true. After having spent the first part of my working career doing less than glamorous sales & education events, this was the equivalent of going from school cafeteria food to daily lunch at Per Se.

But alas it was too good to be true. The company, much like the majority of companies out there right now, had suffered 6% sales drops vs. the last year's quarter - not a huge drop, but the company had to show that they were doing something about it - and that something was let go of all temporary workers the Friday before the earnings call. So with 2 hours notice I was let go on a Friday afternoon. No severance (of course).

Now this predicament was all of my own making. I mean come on - I shouldn't have put all my hopes in one basket. I hadn't looked for a job in five months even though I knew I was in a temporary position. It was just that I was clinging to this temporary job that I thought would become permanent. I just liked it SO much!

So I did what anyone would do. I sent a text to my boyfriend saying, "I need a hug!"

"I'm all arms." he replied, "Tell me when and where."

Over the weekend I worked really hard at stuffing my nervousness over being unemployed (in the highest-cost-of-living city in the United States) down into my stomach, pretending it hadn't happened & each time my fears would pop out again I would freak out and then stuff them down again. Finally on Sunday I told Ben (the boyfriend), "I don't know what to do, I'm so scared that I'm going to be unemployable for life & I'm never going to amount to anything."

I know, it sounds like such silliness when I write it down - of course I can go get a job at McDonald's, I just don't want to! Besides, how would I support myself on that kind of income?

So Ben walked me outside sat me down in the garden and said, "Why don't you think of all the things you can do now that you've never thought you had time to do before? You know, instead of taking a Spanish Class, like you've been planning, what if you went to a Spanish speaking country and learned really fast?"

"Right! Because I have a lot of money for travel. You know I've just been socking it away." I said sarcastically.

"No really," he said, "you know you could go somewhere like Guatemala and they have Spanish classes that are like $400 a month and you get 4 hours a day of class - then you can do whatever you like with the rest of your time."

I came up with all the excuses I could in my head - if I was getting paid for excuses, I wouldn't need to look for a job. But when it all came down to it, the cost of living seems so cheap in Central America that if I am half way careful with money, I could end up having an amazing experience that I would remember forever.

After mulling it over in my head all day, I discussed it with my sister (all big life things have to be discussed with her) and then said that night, "I think I'm gonna do it!"

One of the good things about living in New York is there's no need for a car -which means, no overhead. I have a 294 square foot apartment. That's all I have to worry about - if I sublet my apartment, I wouldn't have to worry about any financial responsibilities. So put everything else on hold, gym, phone, etc. & you're good to go. So I put the apartment on Craigslist, it went within 2 hours.

So now I'm committed. There can be no second thoughts I'm leaving for Central America - with no job, no Spanish language skills, I can't come back if it doesn't work out - because I now have no home in New York until the sublet is up July 17th.

The Unemployed, Non-Latino, non-Spanish Speaking, Gay guy is going to Guatemala. No second thoughts. It's all done.