5/28/2008 06:53:00 pm

Belize For Lunch

Posted by Tom French |

Today we decided to leave Guatemala. Just down the road (about 2 hours) from Flores (where we’re staying) is Belize. So, being from a country where it’s not all that easy to visit other countries, we thought "Why not have a day trip to Belize?"

Of course Belize isn’t high on everyone’s agenda for international travel (though, neither is Guatemala). It’s a British Colony bordering Mexico and Guatemala, of around 250,000 people. It’s got quite a lot of land for quite a small country. How they manage to run a country with that many people is a rather baffling thought, but they do and they haven’t been invaded by Guatemala or Mexico yet, so good on them.

Getting to Belize was rather easy, all we had to do was drive out of Flores turn left, turn right, then drive till you hit the border. The drive was rather pleasant, not many cars on the road, mostly just mangy dogs and stray potholes. The road got worse the closer we got to Belize, giving you the impression that perhaps the Guatemalan Government feels that Belize is the neighbour who you don’t invite to the neighbourhood barbeque, and you never go over to borrow sugar, they’re just too, strange. After all they speak English, they’re the foreigners on the Central American block.

Once we made it to the border it was a mess of cars and trucks and people, all lining up to get across a bridge which could only fit two cars side-by-side at a squeeze, an international highway at it’s most spectacular.

But we made it across the bridge eventually, after first paying some tax to a random lady with a toll booth (a random toll booth operator perhaps) and were directed by more of Guatemala’s helpful, selfless entrepreneurs about where to park, where to got to immigration, and where to change money (with them). The border was full of people selling stuff, asking for stuff, guarding stuff, sitting on stuff, shouting at stuff, parking stuff, queuing stuff. It’s all happening at the border. Even while we were lining up in immigration to get our passports done, we had a woman begging us for just $1.

We got our passports stamped with only a little bit of fuss (Jo loosing about a month off her visa), we headed over to the car people who informed Jo that because the car wasn’t in her name she wouldn’t be allowed to drive it out of the country. Eventually, however the guy said she could take it if the people in Belize said she could take it. So we all trotted off to find Belize and ask them if they’d let us take Jo’s car across the border.

In the arrivals hall in Belize it was calm, quiet, clean, and beggar free. They stamped our passports and wrote everything in a book. They didn’t have computers, which I thought was very quaint and 1960s. Before they let us through though they asked us where we were going, but no one could remember. We hadn’t really thought too hard about the whole thing. Dad tried “Georgetown?” But the man said “Georgetown is a very long way away”. Dad tried “Georgeville?” “Yes, that is closer.” When Jo was asked by the customs man where she was going all she could think to say was “Belize?”

Unfortunately the man wouldn’t let Jo take the car into Beleze, so Mum and I left the Arrivals Hall to go to Belize while Dad and Jo went back into No-Man’s-Land to move the car.

Eventually they made it out having found one of Guatemala’s many helpful men there ready to watch the car for them.

On the other side of the border things were much more calm. For a start people speak English there. Not that English is an inherently calming language, but it calms me.

Also, there were no people crowding around you, there weren't a hundred people all trying to give you a service. We did get asked if we needed a taxi, we said “No”, that was all. It’s interesting what a difference a fence makes.

Eventually Jo and Dad arrived and Mum and I welcomed them to the country like seasoned Belizians. Jo was rather flustered after all the kurffufal, I think sorting out her car hadn’t been all that easy. But Dad and Jo had made it, it was time for us to take on Belize, a country we knew very little about, and I wouldn’t have been able to place on a map just over a week ago.

We got ourselves a friendly Taxi driver, who was happy to drive us to the nearest town for the going rate (which was written on an official sign at the border so we didn’t get ripped off). We arrived at the car and found another person in it. He had his wife in the car, and he was very “Sorry”. This didn’t really bother us, the four of us just squeezed into the back seat. The driver then proceeded to drive his wife home before taking us into town.

On our way what I noticed about Belize is that everyone seems more calm. People seem to drive safer. The landscape looks pretty much the same, but the people are darker and there were a lot less police and a lot less guns.

In town we went to a local cafe/bar/restaurant thing and Jo didn’t have to do a word of translation. It was wonderful. While we were waiting for our food the power cut, and didn’t come on again for the rest of our time in the country. However the food was good, if a little luke-warm.

The rest of the time we spent in town, the girls shopping and Dad and I wandering around looking at the local bridges.

Belize Bridge.jpg

Dad on a Belizian Bridge

At three o’clock our taxi driver came back to get us, and take us back to the border. We went back through customs and discovered, while it was free to get into Belize, it was US$15 to get out. Bah! This was turning into an expensive day. But they let us through. Dad only once managed to incur the wrath of the customs officers once by taking a photo in the departure hall. They said “Hey no photos!” which I thought was getting off lightly as in the US they probably would have just shot him. (I jest, they didn’t shoot us once while we were in the US)

Belize Immigration.jpg

The illegal photo

We entered back into Guatemala, back into the chaos. Immediately we were set upon by people wanting us to change money with them and to give us a taxi. We made our way back through the Guatemalan customs, found our car, then drove home.

As we arrived back in Flores, the island town, we managed to sustain a flat tire. I got to get out with Dad and do a bit of tire changing, which I’m sure was a good bonding moment.

Jo and Dad have now gone to find a pinchazo to fix the tire, while Mum and I get to loaf around reading and blogging.

All up, I’d say it’s been a pretty good day. It’s not often you get to go to another country for lunch, and I got another four stamps in my passport. Totally worth it! Maybe one day when I get old and I just want to write books, I’ll move to Belize and get a little hut on the ocean, write smart books and drink from coconuts all day. It’ll be wonderful!

5/28/2008 06:19:00 pm

Lost Cities and Crazy Guides

Posted by Tom French |

Yesterday was ancient Mayan City day. After getting up terribly early, and eating breakfast beside our serene lake, we caught an early (running late) tourist bus to Tikal, which is a city of ancient Mayan ruins. Tikal used to be the capital city in about 700 AD, of a massive Myan nation that stretched across Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. So naturally, it’s worth checking out.

We arrived at Tikal in our bus full of backpackers, all talking happily about their lives of endless travel, to be greeted by a strange man with a mustache welcoming us to Tikal and telling us what time the bus would be back. In Guatemala you get a lot of helpful people hanging around tourist spots, telling you information, who aren’t really as selfless as their helpfulness might seem. This man turned out to be a guide, hoping to be our guide, which he soon became, after a visit to the bathroom and some bargaining from Jo, who managed to get him down from US$10 per person to 75 Quetzales per person. A saving of approximately $0.

So we set out with Able, our tashed guide, who was rather insane. He was kinda like a hyper active, monkey possessed, drama kid. He was a little bit scary, like if you didn’t quite understand what he was telling you about Mayan aqueducts he might shout at you. And seeing as I didn’t always understand, but I often said “Mmmhmm” I was often worried he would see through my ruse of comprehension and get me in trouble. Often as we wandered through the jungle he would break into bird calls or the noise of a howler monkey, which sounded a little bit like he was having an episode rather than summoning monkeys, but you got used to these mid-sentence outbursts of jungle turetts and accepted it as “just part of the experience.”

Able with Ant 1.jpg

Able Cenable

And it was a rather good experience. Even before we got to see any ancient ruins we got to see spider monkeys flying through the trees. There were monkeys all over the place, high up in the trees, throwing nuts and fruit at us. We should get monkeys in Australia.

The ruins themselves were very impressive. The archologists has restored temples, 40 and 70 meters high. And there are at least 5 of these temples scattered around the place. Some temples they have left as they found them, just tall, steep hills, covered in tress with just the stone zenith poking out the top. Others they have put back together so you can see them as they would have looked during their hey day.

Plus there were living quarters and offices and steam houses and more. The whole place used to be a city of at least 90,000 people. Now it’s mostly jungle. It’s a strange feeling walking around a place that used to so alive and so central and no is just a tourist attraction. It kinda appealed to that deserted city thing I have, but it wasn’t familiar enough to get me as excited as a deserted town would get me.

After a couple of hours of wandering about listening to Able’s informative but rather bazaar commentary we were freed from the jungle back to Tikal’s entrance where we got to eat lunch and sleep on the grass waiting for the bus home.

We pretty much collapsed when we got home. I slept, then watched The Devil Wears Prada (not brilliant but Meryl Streep was great) with Jo, had a late dinner, then went to bed.

5/27/2008 01:33:00 pm

Rojo Fun

Posted by Tom French |

For all those who want video footage of Latin American pre-football fun, this is stuff my Dad shot at the football:

5/26/2008 10:37:00 pm

Two Days

Posted by Tom French |

Friday

I was sick on Friday. Jo was at work and Mum and Dad were in Antiqua so I just hung around at home. I wasn’t actually all that sick, I’d felt terrible the day before so I figured a day off would be nice.

I pretty much hid in our apartment all day. I did have dreams of going out to a coffee shop and seeing a movie. I ventured outside at one point and went down the street to coffee shop, I stood outside and looked at it, but was way too scared to go in, so I went back to the apartment. On my way back it occurred to me that this was no surprise as doing new things in English scares me, so doing something like that in Spanish is pretty much an impossibility.

Eventually the family came home and we headed off to visit Victor’s family. It was "parents meet the parents for the first time" night. Happily, every one got on. I said very little but Mum, true to form, asked many questions to keep everyone talking, while Jo had no time to do any talking of her own as she was spending the whole time translating.

I reckon we approve of the family, so Jo is allowed to keep the boyfriend.

Saturday

Saturday was the day to meet the other family, the ones Jo has been living with for the past 5 months. We found our way over to their place, and were welcomed in like old friends.

At one point I was asked “Can you speak Spanish?”

I replied “I can only say “Gracias”, “Buenas Dias” and “Buenas Nachas”.” At which point everyone started laughing.

I couldn’t work out what was so funny. But “Buenas Nachas” doesn’t mean “Good Night” as I thought I was saying but “Nice ass”.

For lunch we all went out to the world famous Guatemalan fast food joint “Fast Chicken” (I can’t remember what its Guatemalan name is), which was kinda like KFC but without the secret herbs and spices. Just crispy chicken. Plus we walked in and we had to wait to be seated, very classy.

We had much cross family discussion, though half of what was said I doubt anyone understood. I tried to teach the boys who Jo lives with a straw trick but failed miserably. They on the other hand, showed me two good straw tricks, rude kids.

In the evening Jo, Mum and I went to a farewell party for one of Jo’s work friends. It always feels a little strange going to things like that saying good bye to people you just met, while for everyone else it’s a very significant gathering. Still we were well welcomed. We played Charades in Spanish, which is hard, even though we were allowed to say the English words.

Walking home, we met an American beggar who was holding a box of pizza who asked for just $5. We didn’t give him any money, because we had none. But we figured, in the future, if he wanted to be more convincing he should probably get rid of the pizza.

5/26/2008 02:46:00 pm

Blogging in the Dark

Posted by Tom French |

I’m sitting in the car now, we’re winding our way from Rio Dulce to Flores. I realised this morning as I woke up in my mosquito net, that my malaria safety zone may not have been quite the zone of safety I imagined it was. I looked up to find I was sharing the space with a decent sized moth, which makes me wonder how many other visitors I had while I slept.

This morning, waking up in Jurassic Park was lovely. (I had to stop writing at this point, as writing in the car made me feel sick) It turned out we didn’t have thatched roof on our bungalow. Only over the verandah. Frauds! What we did have though was a smelly pond outside our door. So I guess that made up for it.

Breakfast was panqueques, then it was back across the eternal rope bridge (which doesn’t seem so eternal in daylight) and into the car for another drive, though this was rather less exciting than the day before.

We arrived here in Flores in good time. Flores is a small town in the middle of a lake. I think we’re on an island. The whole town looks like it hasn’t been changed since the 1800s (though I have no idea about this, seeing as I know nothing about Latin American architecture) with small flat fronted, flat roofed, brightly coloured buildings on paved streets. It’s pretty cool. I’d like to have a shoot out here wearing a sombrero or perhaps hold a parade for some obscure saint. It’s that kind of town.

The power has just gone out so I’m blogging in the dark. I think I have some days to catch up on.

5/25/2008 10:20:00 pm

Dinosaurs and Falling Rocks

Posted by Tom French |

I’m sitting on my bed in an “eco-lodge” in Rio Dulce in the North-east of Guatemala. I’m trying to keep all my limbs within my mosquito net because there’s malaria here, and I’m scared of getting malaria even if it does sound impressive to tell girls that you’ve had it. I’m convinced that’s why Ryan has had more girlfriends than me.

This “eco-lodge” is full of eco looking wooden buildings with hammocks and thatched roofs. We’ve got ourselves a bungalow which with an open-air kitchen and eating area and an upstairs sleeping area. It’s all quite swish, and very Jurassic Park. When we arrived here there was a big gate wooden gate with a thatched roof (because you can tell you're in the jungle when your gate has a roof, and a thatched one at that) at the end of a long, potholed drive way. There was a kid guarding it to make sure none of the dinosaurs got out and the bad people didn’t get in. We continued driving down the road some more, through darkness, past creepy hand made signs, lighting flashing across the sky, our senses prickling, our minds alert, aware that we were in prime horror movie territory.

In the end we found a large car park with two cars in it, who knows how long they had been there, and complete darkness. We parked the car. My family decided to set off in search of the hotel (which was no where to be seen) while I went off to do a wee, as I hadn’t gone to the toilet for about 6 hours, which was a whole 270kms, large Coke and bottle of water earlier. Boy it was a good wee. Just me, standing in the jungle, alone with my urine, the fireflies and the coming storm. It took me so long I had to move to higher ground as I was worried my feet might get soaked with the localised flash flooding.

But when I got back to the car the family had found a rope bridge through the jungle that headed off into the darkness, just as we were about to set out, we were set upon by a friendly hotel man who had come to find us and fight off the circling veloceraptors. He told us to get our bags because it was a long way to the hotel. And indeed it was. The hotel man did insist on carrying the bags of my parents and Jo for them, but didn’t manage to carry mine as well, lazy bugger. So while he strained under the weight of three people’s baggage we set off along the eternal rope bridge in search of our lodgings. The bridge weaved its way through the jungle, over streams, jungle floor and malaria breeding ponds, till 500 metres later it dropped us off into a lush resort of little bungalows and wooden garden furniture, beside a river with a jetty and some boats and more thatched roofs. At least that’s what I can tell in the dark. We could be in the middle of an industrial wasteland, with a few palm fronds stuck in the ground to hide the toxic chemical dumps.

I’ll enjoy exploring tomorrow.

Of course while the place here feels rather adventurous it’s only the fitting conclusion to today's journey to get here.

We left our swish apartment only 20 minutes later than we’d planned, but in true French family style we all arrived at church just in time for the sermon. We may not be kids anymore but we’re still the same family we were when Jo and I were 9 and 7.

After church we headed off for our drive to Rio Dulce. We’d been warned not to drive in the afternoon because it’s more dangerous with all the trucks on the road then. So we left at 1pm, just because we like to live life on the edge.

First stop was lunch. We found, in the north of Guatemala City there is a hill which is like the secret kingdom of fast food. It’s got every fast food joint you can think of, and about 30 more types you never knew existed, and it’s all situated at the top a a hill overlooking the city, and only accessible by seemingly hidden mountain paths.

We only found it after circumnavigating the hill a few times, but when we got up there, it was like reaching Mecca if Mecca were built by American multi-nationals. It was wonderful.

Jo and Mum decided to go get some boring girl food from a chain cafe, and Dad and I headed off through the monsoonal rain with undersized rain coats to find McDonald’s. We arrived to find a building full of warm, happy Guatemalan families, enjoying Sunday lunch with Ronald and the happy, helpful McDonald’s staff. If there is anything I have heard about McDonald’s here it’s is that it has excellent customer service, which seems incongruous with the image McDonald’s seems to have tried so hard to create in other parts of the world, that of a cheap meal, served to you by underpaid, unhappy, unhygienic adolescents. (All you people who I know who work in McDonald’s, I don’t mean you, you’re very clean.) And this McDonald’s was no exception. If anything it was overstaffed and everyone seemed to be as helpful as the staff of a swanky hotel. There were two people working every register, one to get the meal, one to take the order and smile at you. There was another person who opened the door for you and showed you which was the best line to be in (I assume you need a degree for that, picking good lines is always such a tough job). There was even a girl whose only job it was was to take your tiny little cups they put on your tray and fill them with tomato sauce. Amazing!

So, in the light of this wonderful customer service, Dad and I did our best to baffle them with our less than wonderful grasp of Spanish. Dad was in charge of ordering, as I have a terrible fear of speaking Spanish in high pressure situations such as any inter-human interaction. So Dad stepped forward and managed to confuse them so much that in the end there were 5 people all gathered around our counter staring at us with puzzled looks on their faces as Dad said “McTasty y enslada y jugo. Jugo? Jogo? Jugo.” While I stood behind him grinning and giving thumbs up, nodding and saying “Si, Coca-Cola! Si, Coca-Cola!”.

Eventually they figured us out and we got almost everything we wanted, we headed off to meet the girls at the car, for our quick getaway to miss the evil trucks, but realised our food was on a tray, and neither of us could figure out how to ask for a bag. When we tried the Tomato Sauce Girl showed us a nice clean table we could sit at. We were forced to eat in.

Eventually we made it out of Fast Food Nirvana, and headed off across the Guatemalan country side. The road wound it’s way down, through the mountains, the rain kept falling and everyone went to sleep or read, while Dad drove.

I was torn away from my book by a massive bang underneath the car. It turned out we had just driven over a rather large rock that had been in the middle of the highway.

As I tried to figure out how a rock could have gotten into the middle of the road, I noticed that there were a few rocks on the road. As we drove there seemed to be more and more. Dad would have to slow down aDulcend work harder at maneuvering the car around these rocks, some small some large, some as big as the tires on the car.

It turned out that the rain was causing the side of the mountain the road was cut out of, to slip and for rocks to fall on to the road. When you see those falling rocks signs on the side of the road, this is what they’re talking about. As we drove we could actually see rocks falling down the side off the hill and onto the road. In some places the whole road was covered in rocks and both directions of traffic were forced into the same space, maneuvering around all the fallen rocks of various sizes. As the rain kept falling the tension built, as you we wondered if the next rock was going to be a big one that smashed into the side of the car, or if the whole side of the hill would slip, and take us with it.

The desire was to pull over, and wait till the rain stopped but to stop would only put us in danger of getting stoned where we were, and the road was only going to get worse, so we pushed on, and we made it out alive with a car with it’s under carriage and wheels still in functioning order.

From there it was a rather normal drive to Rio Dulce. Big trucks to contend with, and people doing the usual crazy driving. Dad and Jo did wonderful jobs.

By the time we made it to Rio Dulce it was dark. We had no idea where to find our place of lodging, and it was only after three phone calls, many conversations with locals, two wrong turns into a car scrap yard and a seedy looking auto hotel called “Lover’s Nest” (which had automatic gates that tried to lock us in, probably so the zombies could feed on us) that we eventually found the large thatched roofed gate to this “eco-lodge” at the end of the rather long, rather bumpy and degraded road.

And now here I am, safe in my malaria net, about to fall asleep to the sound of jungle rain on thatched roofs. What more could I want?

5/24/2008 11:02:00 am

Baby Baby

Posted by Tom French |

I had a dream yesterday that I came home from work and found out that I was a father. I had a baby that I didn't know about. (I'm not exactly sure where the baby came from, I just knew I had one.) I was rather pleased with this, as I like babies, so I played with my child for a while. But then I realised I'd been working so much that I couldn't remember the name of my baby, but I was too embarrassed to ask anyone, because forgetting the name of your kid isn't really a good look. So I just told the baby I'd forgotten it's name and we both had a chuckle at how silly I am, at least as much as a baby can chuckle.

5/23/2008 04:17:00 pm

Monks, Football and Riot Police

Posted by Tom French |

Yesterday was City day. Jo organised a taxi for us to take us into the city in the morning. Mum asked her why we couldn't just organise one ourselves, to which Jo replied that if you get the wrong one you get kidnapped. Personally I think that's pretty bad business practice.

Chances are most of the taxi drivers don't kidnap you. Or at least they don't kidnap most of their customers as I suspect it's rather hard to get them to pay the fare once you've stuck a video of them on YouTube then buried them in the desert.

After de-blinging for the city (so you don't get robbed) we met our taxi driver, Eric. He was very nice, didn't blindfold any of us, and dropped us off right where we wanted him too. He even spoke to us in Spanish for a bit while we smiled and said "Si, gracias."

We met Victor outside the palace that was built in the 1920s by escaped criminals who figured if they build a palace so they'd be mistaken for workmen rather than convicts.*

In the square out the front they were holding some kind of festival, I think. The Police had blocked off the streets and there were short men and people in business suits dropping explosives down a tube which would then make a mighty bang, kinda like fireworks with all smoke, bang and no fire. It was impressive for a little while then annoying as you'd keep jumping and feeling embarrassed that none of the locals even flinched.

There was much other stuff going on in the Square that wasn't part of any festival, just normal stuff, a man preaching about his miracle medicine, some native Australian birds that tell your fortune and a bloke selling goats. Which is kinda like meeting someone on Martin Place who's holding a cattle auction. But I say why not! We need more livestock in the cities of the world.

Victor took us to meet Jo and her work mate, Tracy, in Guatemala City's only Vegetarian Cafe. It just like Newtown except with more Spanish and less pierced septums. The food was good. I recommend the orange patty thing with the similar coloured sauce if you ever go.

Once lunch was done, we were left alone to explore the square. We didn't get to see the palace as it was closed for other tours (we think) so we checked out the Cathedral. It was full of praying people and statues of Jesus and his mates. I really like seeing Cathedrals getting used by the general populace. I wonder what has brought them here to pray. Are they there out of dedicated commitment or last ditch desperation? How many are praying for dead relatives and who has come for blessing in love? Who is just there because they love Jesus?

We went to some markets which were full of shops selling the same four tourist items. The highlight was the shop selling little statues of sexual positions next to little statues of the nativity.

We finished our time in the city centre sitting in the square eating bad ice cream while I deteriorated from the cold I brought with me from Sydney. Eric soon picked us up again and took us to visit Jo. He apologised to us because he had his wife in the car with him. We insisted we didn't mind. He said "I love you very much, my wife." which I thought was nice. Mum insisted to us that that she actually wasn't his wife, she could tell from the body language, and perhaps that they seemed like they may have been excited to be in each other's company.

Once we got to see Jo's work (and meet some friendly people) she took us to meet her monk friend at the monastery around the corner. We were greeted at the door by a man in full monk regalia, the cassock, sandals, rope belt and everything. He showed us in and went got Jo's friend, the head monk, who's name I have forgotten, who, much to my disappointment, was wearing an Adidas shirt and rather dull pants, but was otherwise very friendly and hospitable (we actually didn't see another monk looking monk while we were there, I think maybe the monk we met was on door opening ministry and he's only dressed like that so that people know they've come to the right place). Head Monk was the kind of monk you'd like to meet if you were lost in the mountains with no food and it was snowing and you'd stumbled across his monastery. He'd bring you in for some warm broth and a soft bed, and the disappointment at not finding him robed right would be even more minimal. In fact I think he has such a ministry to the homeless of Guatemala city, I was much impressed.

But as nice as he was, he had no regard for my sister's translating duties, and would dictate a short novel before pausing to let my sister tell us what he said. I think Jo may have edited him a little as she wouldn't take nearly as long to tell us what he said. For this I was thankful as I was slowly dying from my runny nose and overwhelming desire to sleep and was happy just to get the gist of what he was saying.

Head Monk took us on a tour of the monastery which was had lots of people hiding in different rooms, but was rather sparse and tatty. It made me wonder why it is that it's always the people who are doing the best work who have the least amount of money. You can fund a multi-million dollar soft drink advertising campaign but you can't properly fund some friendly, loving men who want to help homeless and elderly people.

For our final excitement of the day, Victor had decided to take Dad and I to see a soccer match. It was the final of the Red Team against the White Team (as you can see I was well informed). This was quite exciting, as Latin America is known for it's passionate soccer crowds. It's also known for it's soccer violence, which Victor warned us "could be a very big problem." However if you remember my excitement about the prospect of riots, it meant that I was definitely up for a soccer match.

When we arrived we were shown into a car park, which, once we were in it, turned out to be full. No worries, everyone just stopped their engines and left their cars in the middle of the road, as we also did.

We got out and joined the hordes of local fans heading into the stadium. We were frisked once just before entering the stadium, and once after entering the stadium. The stadium it self was large, well lit and roofless. There are very clear areas set aside for fans of the each team, I suspect so they don't kill each other. The stadium is divided into four parts, of which the Reds (our team) got three. The Whites were shoved down the end near one of the goals. The fence between the field and the crowd and between each section would have been about 5 metres high and was topped with razor wire. You kinda get the feeling they may have had problems before. It a little like that bar the Blues Brothers play where there is wire mesh over the front of the stage and everyone throws their beer bottles at them, except this was on a much larger scale.

The other wonderful thing I noticed is that, unlike in Australia they have very few rules for the fans. Mexican waves are most certainly allowed, and well participated in (except by the white fans who just shouted at the Reds while everyone booed). Plus pyrotechnics seem to be encouraged. There were drums full of fireworks right in the middle of the crowd, that just seemed to go off at random times or when a goal was scored. Compared to Australia where fireworks have to be right in the middle of the field, these were on the seat next to someone. Plus lots of people had flares with them to just pull when they felt like it, and when the game started we were almost gassed to death by masses of smoke flares attached to the fence in front of us. It was wonderful. How I wish OH&S were non-existent in Australia.

During the game there was a team of riot police standing next to the field at all times. Plus as soon as the ref would blow the whistle for half time or full time, he and the two linesmen would sprint to the middle of the pitch as four secuirty men in full riot gear also sprinted to the middle. The security men would surround the refs and escort them off the field. The would enter the field in the same way. It was rather nuts. You got the feeling that perhaps things get a little more crazy than at an Australian game.

The game itself was pretty fun. Our team one 3-1. It was tense for while as the Reds dominated the first half, but came out sloppy in the second, allowing the Whites to score a goal to even out the scores. In the end though the Reds came through, and everyone in the three quarters of the stadium was happy. The Whites were not so happy and attacked the players, though I'm not sure which team they attacked as we'd left the stadium by then.

After we met some of Victor's friends (one who was mortified that I came from Australia but had never learnt to scuba dive) he took us home, free from stab wounds and happy to have seen a Latin American football game. It was a good day. I'd give it 4 out of 5.



*I may have not got the facts quite right, it may have been built in the 1930s.

5/22/2008 10:34:00 am

Lava

Posted by Tom French |

Yesterday was volcano day! Hooray for real live volcanoes!

We all got up early and had breakfast together (it wasn't a big feat seeing as the jet lag still seems to be doing its thing) which was full of fruit, as this land seems to be. We got a phone call in Spanish to which Mum replied "Si, gracias!", though she had no idea what the man said. We assumed it was our pick up from the tourist company. We headed down stairs and sure enough there was a friendly looking man called Marco ready to drive us to Pacaya the most dangerous volcano in Guatemala. When being introduced to him I managed contain the urge to call out "Polo!"

Marco drove us in his van south to where the volcano lives. My mum sat in the back and interrogated the man about everything, as she is known to do. This is good because my father and I say very little so it's helpful to have someone to be friendly.

Once we made it off the main roads, up some bouncy tracks, through some little villages and up a mountain, we disembarked in a little village filled with children, utes and men with horses. We met Felix our local guide who would also take us up the volcano. We ended up having 1 guide for every 1.5 walkers, it was a pretty good ratio, really. Better even than for an outing of kids with special needs, so I felt pretty safe.

Felix and Marco walked us up the volcano almost all the way to the top. They wouldn't take us all the way because we could have been poisoned to death by volcano gases, pansies. Still they did take us onto the lava field where we got to stand up close to a flow of molten lava. It was pretty hot, and it didn't remind me of Mordor, so I was a little disappointed about that. But still, red hot rock, creeping down the side of a mountain is pretty impressive. I even managed to stick a stick in and light it on fire. A highly original activity for any tourist to participate in.

Once we made to back to base camp, we drank some Coke, hopped in our van and headed fo for home. Or we would have had the van started. Marco had accidentally left the lights on and the battery died. No worries though, half the man population of the town pitched in to steal battery from another car, start our car with it, then put our battery back. This worked pretty well except they dropped a spanner into the engine, and so needed to spend the next ten minutes trying to find it. They didn't find it but we set of anyway. No sooner had we got 10 meters to the end of the drive when our van was descended upon by shouting men again. We were about to drive into a ditch. We got out, pushed the van back up the hill and saved it from certain death languishing in a ditch on the side of a volcano. The men used this interlude to look for the spanner again, which they found, and we were free to go on our way.

We made it home in good time and I was silly enough to have a sleep. Dinner last night was in the steak house across the road. Post dinner entertainment was more cultural delights as we watched Jindabyne on Jo's laptop. A thoroughly depressing, but well made Australian movie.

Today we're off into the city with in a taxi is most likely not to kidnap us. Should be fun.

5/20/2008 09:07:00 pm

Some Other Things

Posted by Tom French |

- Meeting lots of people who don't speak English gives you as sense of how smart you must be to have mastered the language when you were just a child.

- They don't let you flush your toilet paper down the toilet. You have to put it in a bin next to the toilet. This promotes community and vulnerability. It also enables you to judge other people's wiping abilities and whether they scrunch or fold. If you do happen to flush your toilet paper down the toilet it clogs the system and a poor family has their house flooded. The authorities track the offending paper back to its source. If the flusher is poor they get shot, if they're rich they get asked not to do it again and everyone has a good laugh.*

- Had some unique cultural experiences today:

- I lay on the couch and read a book written by an Australian about America.
- Ma, Pa and I visited a Travel Agent
- Ate lunch at an Italian Restaurant



*This may not be entirely true, but if I were running the country that's how I would do it.

5/20/2008 06:34:00 am

Lag

Posted by Tom French |

6am. Jet lag. Dumb. Though I hear roosters. That's new.

This could be the first time in my entire grown up life that I've gotten up at 6am without an alarm. Inconceivable.

5/19/2008 11:04:00 pm

The Guate

Posted by Tom French |

So I have no idea what the title of that last post is about. I was falling asleep at the keyboard writing it. I also got the time terribly wrong, but I've fixed that now.

I'm still in Guatemala and I got to see it in daylight today. There's something a little scary about being in a country where you don't speak the language. I spend all my time looking at people hoping they're not going to talk to me. If they do I just grin like an idiot and nod. They could be calling me a stupid tourist, for all I know. But I guess I am one, so what can I do?

Today, after extensive sleep, Jo took us to Antigua, which is the old Capital city. It's old and full of buildings that look like they belong in an early Robert Rodriguez movie (funny that). We ate lunch then got lost in these maze like markets full or people selling cheap backpacks, t-shirts and toothpaste. There were a lot of women with babies too, not for sale.

Jo was telling us this morning that many houses and shops have well armed guards (as in guns, not limbs) to protect them. I've been checking them out and they all seem to have shot guns. I was hoping for something more automatic than that. But still, I like big guns when they're not shooting anyone.

At one point in the day we got lost and Jo pulled up outside a place with two guards standing on the foot path. They stared suspiciously at us while one pulled his gun half out of his holster and looked ready to fire should we make any sudden moves with our unfurled map. He didn't shoot any of us. I appreciated that, but it would have been something to blog about.

This evening's joys were a visit from some of Jo's work friends who are American and funny. Two of my favourite things. There were two boyfriends there too, who weren't American, but I let them stay anyway. They behaved ok.

5/18/2008 10:59:00 pm

Getting to was Guatemalalala

Posted by Tom French |

We've made it to Guatemala. I feel a little odd. What am I doing in this country? I don't know anything about it.

It's 3pm on Monday in Sydney and I'm feeling rather tired after much travel and little sleep.

But since blogging last I have been on 3 planes, been in three different countries and slept very little.

We've (Mum, Dad and I) just got back from going out to dinner with Jo and Victor to a Mexican Restaurant. First meal in Guatemala and it's Mexican, mmm traditional! Still their neighbours.

I did also manage to fulfill a life long dream today and go to the United States of America. Flying into LA was much excitement. I'm sad I am not going to be actually spending time in the States except when negotiating Homeland Security. But still it was good fun. I made sure I ate some fast food, because I figure where better to eat fast food than in the home of fast food. So I had a Junior Whopper meal from Burger King. I wasn't even hungry but it needed to be done. It was sufficiently disgusting to satisfy my needs. The woman who served me even threw the bag at me and my fries went all over the counter. There was an over helpful Japanese man at the counter waiting for his meal and he started to pick the chips up to put them back in the bag, but I proceeded to stop him as I felt it was probably enough having counter germs on my chips than having random man germs as well.

I'd report other exciting happenings too you but I don't think I have much to say. Planes are pretty awesome.

It's really nice to be here with Jo and to meet Victor and to meet Jo's fill in family. We've been put in a nice apartment in a nice part of town where you don't get mugged. It shall be fun.

I wonder what language they speak here.

5/18/2008 12:41:00 pm

Net Free

Posted by Tom French |

I'm currently in the Qantas Lounge because my Dad's a gold member. I'm using the free internet, going to get myself some free Coke. Then I'll go on a not so free flight to LA. Yay for LA! I'm going to the States (for about 2 hours) then we're off to Guatemala.

I'm rather excited. And sleepy.

I did just see the A380 too, which made me happy.

Yip! Next time I'll blog, I'll be somewhere else.

5/18/2008 12:45:00 am

Leaving Time

Posted by Tom French |

Finally finished here at work (rather late). Was a good youth night. Very army.

I'm going to Guatemala tomorrow. I'll try and blog.

See you then.

Love,

Tom

5/14/2008 11:28:00 pm

Flying High

Posted by Tom French |

From my email from Qantas:

Where could your points take you?
Your points balance as at 12/05/2008 is 0

You may be closer than you think to your next flight!


I'm pretty sure I know how close I am.

5/14/2008 12:37:00 am

Time to Go

Posted by Tom French |

I'm leaving the country in less than a week and I'm not really thinking about it much. Though today I did go and get jabbed. (Hep A booster for the interested) I'm spending most of my time watching movies, hanging out with friends, playing Scrabulous, organising a youth ministry, helping people with homework and reading about life. So I reckon I'll start thinking about going away on the plane.

What is exciting is that I will see my sister and her new man. I'm off to Guatemala with the Parents if you're wondering. The receptionist at the High School yesterday told me not to wear orange. I think that's because you get killed or something for wearing orange. The internet is refusing to tell me why this is, but I'll assume it has something to do with it clashing with the national colour scheme. They're very fussy about their decor in Guatemala.

Come to think of it she may have got Guatemala confused with Guantánamo. Which, while an appealing holiday destination, is not where my sister is. But if I do have to stroll by Guantánamo (Cuba is but a short hop from Guatemala) I'll be sure to wear my pink jumpsuit instead of my preferred orange. Fluoro is in!

5/11/2008 11:34:00 pm

Mothers' Day

Posted by Tom French |

We did Mother's Day today but I only saw my mother this morning. I did give her a present though, which is quite an achievement for me. I'm not really very good at giving presents.

It wasn't a highly remarkable day. We went to the retirement village with the youth group today with depleted numbers due to everyone hanging out with Mum. But it didn't make much of a difference because when we got there we found out they'd advertised that we were coming at 3pm, even though we always turn up at 4:30pm. Oh well. We hung out with the few residents that were around.

We didn't have any dinner planned so I took our much depleted youth group to McDonald's which was quite fun, mainly because I like hanging with the young guys in pressure free situations.

Church tonight was pretty strange. We had this long service that was an emotional roller coaster. I was preaching and by the time I got up to preach there had been three separate occasions for people to cry about three separate issues. Plus we were running quite late so I had to edit my sermon as I preached. It made it not as funny or informative, but I got the main points out and people probably listened more than if I had rabbited on till 8:30pm.

I finished the night with a Caesar Salad in Chatswood. Mmm, expensive.

5/07/2008 11:08:00 am

Celluloid

Posted by Tom French |

Yesterday, being a day off, I decided to fill it with movies.

First up was Forgetting Sarah Marshall which, as I'm sure has been said before, was forgettable. While it seemed more interested in showing male genitals than women's breasts (a change for those sorts of comedies) that was about as innovative as it got. It wasn't amazingly funny, but I did laugh at bits. I didn't watch it and want to walk out, but I'd be happy enough never to watch it again.

Second film of the day was Street Kings, which I watched with Lesley. It was by far an improvement on the earlier film, but still nothing brilliant. Keanu's character was frustrating with his inability to ever resolve to be either good or bad. He was just kinda indecisive except in his resolution to shoot people. It was a confusing plot, but it kept my interest, and I liked Keanu's car, so it was ok.

I did also have confirmed for me that the new trailer for Indiana Jones is one of the worst cut trailers I've seen in a while. The film looks cool, but the trailer seems to completely lack punch. The pacing is all out and it feels like it's just been slapped together. The first trailer was great, but this one is unpleasant. The Dark Knight however has a snazzy new trailer out, not as good as the first one, but still special none the less.

It's going to be a good "summer" of movies.

5/06/2008 12:15:00 am

Everything

Posted by Tom French |



So this video has been circulating a lot over the last year or so. It's kinda become "the" Christian video of YouTube.

When I first saw it I thought it was a joke and laughed for a while (I mean face it, Jesus looks like a dweeb in dress and a satin curtain), until I realised it was serious. I then noticed how popular it is and how inspirational has been for so many people.

It's interesting because I can understand why it's so popular. It pretty much beats you over the head with emotion. Even when I'm sitting there wondering why Christians make such silly art I get goosebumps as the as Jesus fights the evil dancers. What it sacrifices in subtly it makes up for in passion.

What has interested me is that I think it's really well done for what it is. I don't think it'd be particularly easy to evoke as strong and positive response from an audience in five and a half minutes as this video does. I admire the people who made this even if I don't really like it.

So while I find it's rather embarrassing to watch I just hope most of the people who watch it aren't like me. Popularity doesn't make art bad, it just helps you identify the snobs.

5/05/2008 10:27:00 pm

Blogging is Not My Forte

Posted by Tom French |

So it seems that since I've moved here to Hornsby, squatting with the parents, I've been a bad blogger. Of course it could be that I'm too depressed to type, but I think real reason is that I don't have internet in my bedroom and I'm too lazy to walk upstairs every night to blog. I could blog at work, but I'm too well behaved to waste my time in the employ of the church doing something like blogging, I like to save my time at work for things like YouTube and email forwards.

So alas, I am not a good blogger. But I am slowly working on my posts from my holiday. Of course it may not be that anyone really cares about my witty anecdotes from by-gone road-tripping, but I of course will pretend that you do, and keep plugging away.

I did, however, upload a new Tabitha about a month ago. So here it is, to please all those people who don't get the joke.

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