Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Lanchas y Pantalones/Boats and Pants

One overcast and mild afternoon after my Spanish class, I took a boat to Panajachel.  The reason being that I was having problems with the ATM here in San Pedro and needed to withdraw money.  San Pedro is small enough to be home to only two ATM machines, both belonging to the same bank.  The one I used wasn’t accepting my card and I had heard suspicious rumors about the other ATM machine thus warranting a little afternoon trip to another town on Lake Atitlan called Panajachel.  It was a relaxing afternoon filled with wandering around stalls looking at artisan’s wares, shoving a few delicious coconut macaroons down my gullet, and trying on cheap sunglasses as I’m in the market for a new pair.  The latter being an unsuccessful attempt at buying said merchandise, as it was cloudy out and spitting rain, not the best day to test out sunglasses.

I’d had my eye on a certain style of pants you can buy here in Guatemala.  If you’ve ever been to Thailand and seen the ubiquitous fisherman pants adorning every market, this is the equivalent in Guatemala.  I don’t know if they actually have a name though, like the Thai fisherman pants do.  They are kind of like a pair of pants and a skirt combined with lots of excess fabric but they have legs and elastic around the ankles and waist.   You can adjust the pant legs since the ends are elastic to make them long or short, very versatile.  I refer to them as hippie pants and they look really cool on some people, functional and comfortable with adequate air flow.  I passed a stall that had those pants in a nice striped pattern that I liked.  I started chatting with the woman and asked her if it was possible to try the pants on.  She said, of course, grabbed a large piece of fabric and held it in front of me.  Oh, I thought, just right here on the side of the street with people walking by?  What if she dropped the fabric by accident?  What if a big gust of wind picked up?  Bah, I though, when in Rome…or when in Panajachel, I guess.  I slipped the pants on and looked down at myself.  There wasn’t a mirror handy and all I could think was, my god, I look like I’m wearing MC Hammer pants!  Needless to say, they did not lend themselves favorably to me. 

“Ohhh muy bonita…” the woman practically purred at me.  These pants manage to look great and trendy on some people but on me they looked buffoonish.  I felt like a clown, all I needed was some oversized shoes and a red nose, maybe a rainbow wig.  Had I ever felt the need to clone myself five times, all of me would still fit in these pants and I daresay that woman probably says the exact same thing to everyone who shops at her stall.  A shrewd businesswoman just trying to make a sale, I would never blame her for trying. 

All I could think about was what my mom’s reaction to these pants would be.  I couldn’t ask for a better person than her when I need an opinion because she’s acutely honest and I love her for that.  I imagined myself descending the staircase at my parent’s house wearing these Guatemalan hippie pants donned for some spring occasion like a little BBQ on their patio with my dad, my sister and brother-in-law.  She would look up from the salad she was making, start smirking and say something along the lines of, “What do you have on, Bek?  Do you plan on going out in public like that?  You look like you have a load in your pants.”  Said “load” meaning poo.  The crotch is meant to hang low, really low, down to your ankles low, hence the skirt/pant combo, but I really felt like, had I had a load in my pants, these would be the best ones to wear.  And considering I just got over a bout of parasites claiming territories in my digestive track, I could probably use a pair of pants to cover up any unforeseen and immediate attacks that may occur in the future.  But I digress.  The pants looked utterly ridiculous on me or rather I felt ridiculous in them, the hippie pants would have to be a no-go.  With my mom’s voice in my head, I wandered away thinking about the time I returned from studying abroad in New Zealand with a nose ring.  She hugged me at the airport and the first thing out of her mouth, as she fluttered her hand near my nose was, “uhhh, when are you going to take that out?”  I smiled and laughed out loud, as I do when I think of my mom and her “mom-isms.”

I sauntered around a few other stalls but here’s the thing; I have a slight phobia of shopping here.  I do not like, allow me repeat this, I do not like when the person who is selling the merchandise stands at your heels and breathes on you as you look at their wares.  Literally, some are relentless and will follow you around and comment on everything you touch or even look at, “I make good price special for you.  Here are more colors, more patterns.”  Bullshit, buddy, you make special price for everyone and I’m no fool.  Having someone stand right next to me with a seemingly running commentary on everything I lay my eyes on annoys and frustrates me to no end.  And when I’m annoyed and frustrated, I’m not going to buy things from that vendor.  They are an overbearing in-law.  And when you go to leave without buying anything they make you feel guilty, “you don’t like anything?”  It’s not that I don’t like anything, it’s that you’re following me around like you’re a dog and I’ve got a raw steak in my back pocket.  

I like to be ignored quite frankly, until I come to you and ask how much something is.  I loathe bargaining.  As an American, brought up to shop in places that have price tags, I’m no good at it.  I will pay the first amount that is said simply because I’m afraid of insulting someone and I’m a total pushover in the bargaining department.  I’m a merchandise seller’s wet dream really; I’m weak and lack control of the situation.  I simply like price tags, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that except the fact that I get stressed when I have to bargain, sweating profusely and smiling uncomfortably as I timidly ask for a cheaper price. 

I left Panajachel empty handed, slightly sad that the hippie pants looked like I had taken a sail off of a boat and wrapped it around my waist.  They were baggy enough to have caught some wind and propel back me back to San Pedro had I bought them.  It’s important to feel comfortable in what you’re wearing and not feel like you’re a leftover backup dancer from the hey days of MC Hammer.  I got to the dock in time for one of the last boats in the late afternoon heading back to San Pedro.  These boats aren’t that big, they squish in about 30 people.  I sat at the stern and looked to my left.  I did a double take.  Whoa, a boat was half sunk in the water and there were 10 or 15 men wrangling with it like it was an errant animal escaped from the zoo.  The bow was above water and the stern and motor were almost all but sunk in the water.  But that’s not necessarily why I did a double take. 

I did a double take because one of the guys who was in and out of the water struggling with the boat didn’t have pants on.  Just a shirt and his underwear and not any ol’ underwear, mind you, but blue Superman tightie whities with that wonderful red and yellow Superman emblem brazenly flashing center stage.  I looked around to see if anyone else was noticing Superman and if anyone else found this as comical as I did.  Was this a machismo thing?  Did he just not want to get his pants wet?  Was he embarrassed or proud that there were at least 50 people watching his heroic efforts whilst clad only in his Superman tightie whities?  He seemed to be one of the guys in control of the sinking boat, trying to lift the motor out of the water alone much like the real Superman would do.  It was obvious he was never going to achieve this goal on his own, however.  The boat had sunk too far and the waves were too strong.  I looked up at the embankment that several other men were standing on with a rope trying to haul the boat up.  There too, another guy with only his underwear on!  What was the deal?  Why?  He wasn’t even in the water!  And upon closer inspection, there were actually several more guys helping with the boat in just their underwear, all tightie whities, no boxers or boxer briefs.  Some in the water and some out of the water.  It’d be one thing if the boat had sunk in the middle of the lake and you removed your pants to lighten the load while you swam to shore but we were at shore already.  And none of them seemed phased by it.  “Oh, Juan, we’ve got a sinking boat at the dock, get your pants off, will ya?”  And then something like, “And where’s Superman?  He’s usually game for this.” 

If you are of the mindset that everything happens for a reason, then this happened to me because I needed a good laugh that day.  I was stressed about my card not working in San Pedro.  My initial thought when the machine rejected my card being, “Oh. My. God.  I am going to be stuck here forever.  I’ll never be able to get money out of an ATM ever again and I will have no money and never be able to leave.  I’m going to have to live here and I don’t even have cash to rent a room and I’m going to starve because I can’t buy any food because I can’t get money out of this goddamn ATM.”  So Superman was a welcome, if not slightly bewildering, sight.  Also in case you’re wondering, the ATM in Panajachel worked and also no, I never think irrationally when I’m stressing about something.  Never.  Not in a million years.   

Views from a little private beach I hiked to 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Lonely Bus Ride

“When we are willing to stay even a moment
 with uncomfortable fear, 
we gradually learn not to fear it.” 
 -Pema Chodron

I’ve come to Guatemala to learn Spanish.  Three months in Tulum and I had progressed only slightly due to the high volume of English spoken there and a slight laissez-faire attitude I became guilty of.  The common language between the majority of friends I hung out with was English.  So, I felt it was time to go and achieve one of the goals that I set for myself on this adventure.  Time to learn Spanish.  Getting to Guatemala took several days, many buses, and a few friendly strangers.   Allow me to take you on the tale…

It’s raining hard, deep puddles with no boundaries, mud has become rivulets, it braids and twines.  I leave Tulum amidst tears and pouring rain saying goodbye to Ashley and Calai on a Thursday evening.  My bus is late and I don’t mind at all to spend another half hour with ones who are so dear to my heart.  And to hold Calai, his sweet baby freshness making every hard edge on a being smooth, one last time, for who knows when I will see him again.  He could be a toddler even.  Oh, how I want to stay, but I just know, I can feel it like I feel my back needing to crack every time I stand up.  It’s in my bones.  It’s time to go.  I was getting too comfortable in Tulum and I could feel myself becoming complacent with learning Spanish.  It was just too easy to get by speaking English.

I take an uneventful 17-hour overnight bus ride to San Cristobal fighting tears a good portion of the way.  I desperately grasp to the sound of the Caribbean ocean in my head, needing that sound tattooed onto my memory.  I visited San Cristobal five years ago and loved it however, I must admit, I am so sad to be in cold weather, wearing wool socks and seven (no joke) layers on my top half that my sadness overtakes my enjoyment of being here.  But I revel in the fact that a glass of wine cost less than half of what it does in Tulum.  Also, luckily my silly British buddy, Matt, is here to keep me entertained and lift my glum spirits with his jokes and our mutual love of quoting Eddie Izzard. 

Two freezing cold nights in San Cristobal and I board a bus to take me to the town on the border.  Three hours later, I’m in a taxi being ferried to the actual Mexican/Guatemalan border.  There are three people in the backseat and I am smushed in the front seat with a very friendly, older Mexican man whose name I never fully understand.  As I’ve mentioned before in an earlier post, seatbelts in Mexico are more for decoration than actual use.  I say a few silent prayers that the door won’t bust open and I topple out and roll down the steep incline as the taxi climbs high, winding hills en route to Guatemala at top speed.  As I’ve also mentioned in an earlier post, speed limits seem to merely be suggestive.  I feel the need to make small talk with the gentleman whose lap is practically on top of mine because of that precise reason.  For the Spanish I did learn in Tulum, it does nothing to help me converse with this fellow.  However, he seems to like me, or perhaps take pity on me, as he feels it his duty to escort me for the next few hours.  I will forever be grateful for this man. 

We walk into the little building to get our passports stamped only to find the man behind the desk dozing with his head in his arms.  A little clearing of my throat and his head jerks up.  Hola!  The border town, for a small, blond gringa like me, is incredibly intimidating and overwhelming.  People everywhere yelling at you to exchange your pesos to quetzals with them, yelling all other kinds of things of which I can’t understand.  I imagine it’s probably similar to a foreigner from a small village seeing New York City for the first time.  People, vehicles, dogs, trash, useless crap for sale, useful crap for sale, things, shit, everywhere.  Thankfully, my new Mexican buddy ushers me onto a tuk tuk which takes us onto a departing bus.  Here’s the thing, I don’t quite know where I’m going.  I was told by the contact at the San Pedro Spanish school I’ve enrolled in to get off at Los Encuentros and take a bus to Panajachel and then a ferry to San Pedro.  Is Los Encuentros a town, an intersection, a hotel?  I haven’t the foggiest.


The buses here are an experience to be had.  They are called Chicken Buses.  Imagine a pimped out school bus circa 1985 with shiny, colorful decal on the inside and outside boasting a love for God.  People pack in.  It’s like an absurd amount of clothes trying to fit into a tiny suitcase, busting at the zipper.  I’m not sure if I’m on the right bus or not but I keep repeating, “Voy a los Encuentros,” to my friend and he, along with two other women who are now interested in me and where I am going, confirm that I am on the right bus.  The three of them look at me a lot and give me reassuring nods and smiles which I am desperate for at this point.  How long is it going to take to get to Los Encuentros and then how long after that to San Pedro? 

The bus takes off onto the serpentine roads in the mountains in this part of Guatemala.  It’s slow going as the bus frequently stops to pick up and drop off passengers.  It dawns on me that I am not going to make it to San Pedro tonight as it’s already 4 PM and I, at the very least, know San Pedro is many miles and many hours away.  I try to enjoy the stunning view of mountains but I’m too stressed about the fact that I really have no idea where I should go now or where I’m going to sleep tonight or when the next time I’ll be able to use a bathroom might be.  The sun is beginning to set and I’m freezing in a t-shirt and jeans but my warmer clothes are in my backpack on the roof of the bus.  I try to chat with my Mexican buddy but I am having the hardest time understanding him and I’m not sure why.  I know a little Spanish at this point.  Maybe it’s the fatigue or perhaps he is speaking to me in other tenses besides present of which I know very little.

 After about three hours we arrive into a dusty parking lot with many other chicken buses and dusk settling on the horizon’s shoulders.  My three bus friends point to the next bus I’m supposed to get on that will take me to Los Encentros. I say goodbye to them (secretly wishing one of the women would invite me home and take care of me as I feel lost and afraid).  Another guy takes my backpack off the roof of the bus and waves me away when I try to take it.  He carries it over to the other bus for me, brings it inside the bus and sets it on a seat.  When I say I’m really trying to get to San Pedro he says it’s not possible tonight so I should go to Xela instead and head to San Pedro tomorrow.  He tells me Xela is another hour after Los Encuentros, which is a four way intersection.  Probably not an ideal place to spend the night.  I thank him and sit down in the bus.  

It’s getting darker now, the bus isn’t on which leads me to believe it may be awhile before we leave.  I am completely freaked out.  The guy told me that it takes two more hours to get to Xela, but I have no idea what town I’m in at the moment.  I feel really, really alone.  I am hungry and exhausted.  I’m shaking I’m so scared because I just don’t know where the hell I am.  I just don’t know, I just don’t know, I just don’t know.  All the guide books you read tell you to never be a female alone at night in Guatemala.  And here I am in a parking lot in god knows what town, completely alone.  No one knows I’m here since I don’t know where “here” is.  The fear encircles me like the darkness encircling the dirt parking lot and I want to cry.  How badly I want to transport myself back to the tropical warm arms of Tulum, back to my love affair with my bike (which I named “Choncito,” which means "piglet," which is now in Ashley’s possession), back to something familiar. 

About an hour goes by and the bus finally revs up and we are off.  It’s nighttime now.  Every second thought in my head is a prayer for safety.  Every third thought is how much I wish I had a traveling companion.  Every fourth thought is how badly I need to pee and how damn hungry I am.  There’s a part of me that simply reverts back to being a child and I think to myself, “I just want my mom.”  I take it upon myself to talk with the young guy sharing a seat with me and my backpack.  Partly because I feel as though I just need an ally, and partly because the road is so twisty that half the time we are majorly in each other’s personal space, sitting like lovers do when they can’t stand to be physically apart.   He’s friendly and chatty and wishes me good luck on my journey when he gets off the bus an hour later.  Around 9 PM, we descend upon Xela. 

Just by sheer chance, several weeks earlier, someone who was leaving Hostal Chalupa gave me a Lonely Planet book for Central America.  I almost left it at the hostel and then at the last minute decided to take it with me.  I am so thankful for that foresight as I find a hostel in Xela listed in the book that I am hoping will have a free bed for me.  I am the last person on the bus when it pulls into a dirt lot, hardly lit and no one else around.  Again, I’m shaky, nervous.  What if the bus pulls away and leaves me here alone in the dark? 

There are two guys working on the bus.  The actual bus driver and then the guy who collects the money from passengers.  The latter is the same guy who suggested I go to Xela instead of Los Encentros.  I timidly ask in Spanish if there are any taxis around.  This is the moment when I realize people in Guatemala are really, really friendly.  Both of them whip out their cell phones and start calling taxis for me.  Dónde vas?  Where are you going?  Black Cat Hostel.  I pick this one out from Lonely Planet for the silly reason that I love cats and need anything at this point to bring me comfort even if it is just the name of a hostel sharing the name of an animal I adore.  All smiles and cheer from both guys, "Esta en el camino (He is on his way)."  And they all know of this Black Cat Hostel.  Up pulls the taxi driver also all smiles and friendly greetings and into the car I go.  I chat with the taxi driver, maybe he won’t charge me as much if I make small talk.  He is so excited to hear this is my first night in Guatemala and that I am learning Spanish and welcome to Xela!  9:30 PM and there is one last bed available at Black Cat Hostel.  I run to the bathroom first, want so badly to email my family and tell them I am safe but am so exhausted and spent I crawl into the top bunk and fall fast asleep.   

In the morning I realize something about the day before.  I am always on my soap box about getting out of your comfort zone, doing things that scare you, flinging yourself out of the nest.  Traveling from Mexico to Guatemala was just that.  Let me be frank, I was scared shitless.  Perhaps because I was literally traveling into the unknown in many ways, I was leaving my cozy little tropical nest in Tulum and I am a female traveling alone.  It’s scary, daunting and intimidating.  However, I did it and I survived and I’m fine.  And every Guatemalan that I spoke with that day was so friendly and helpful, they looked at me and smiled and were enthused to hear I came to their country to learn Spanish.  Later that morning I took the last chicken bus to San Pedro.  And now I’m here living with a host family and making leaps and bounds with my Spanish.  I miss Tulum but instead of trying to just get it out of my system, as I complained to Ashley the other day, she suggested instead reflecting on all the happiness it brought me.  Reflect on the immense laughter I shared with certain friends there and appreciate those moments as something to bring me comfort always.  Leaving is never easy, fear is even worse, but it is all necessary.  The moments when everything seems impossible, like drawing a fine line in the sand and hoping the ocean doesn’t claim it, are the moments you grow immensely and learn to trust yourself.  In the end, you’ve come out the other side a better and stronger you.

“Fear and trembling accompany growing up 
and letting go takes courage.”  Pema Chodron

Last night in Tulum with my little sweet pea.

San Pedro, Guatemala- this is the view from my language school

Flor de Maiz Spanish Language School- stunning views to learn Spanish by

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Issue With Drying Laundry

All of my undergarments are dirty, do I pack together the two kilograms of allotted laundry needed for Girasole Lavanderia (Sunflower Laundry) or do I handwash my underwear and call it a day?  I just paid for laundry last week, my clothes aren't that smelly yet, however if I handwash just my undies, I will have to hang them up on the line outside for all the other travelers at the hostel to see.  It's one thing to have your unmentionables air drying in your backyard, it's another thing to put them on a line shared with an entire hostel's worth of people.  I daresay it's a lesson in humility.  I know my jokes can be foul sometimes, I swear too often, I have no filter and I say inappropriate things at the worst (or best, if you are of a similar "no filter" caliber) times.  I do have some boundaries though, however fuzzy they may be, and allowing my underwear to sway in the breeze on the rooftop of Hostal Chalupa for the casual public eyes of scrutiny is hovering just over the edge of the line.

There is nothing wrong with not wanting relative strangers witnessing my cotton drying outside.  But I really didn't have anything else to bring to Girasole so I sucked it up and washed what needed to be washed in the sink.  It took me an entire morning to come to terms with it all, I might as well have made a pros and cons list of "Handwashing Underwear and Drying it Outside."  I wrestled with the impending embarrassment should something go massively wrong in this operation.  What if someone else needs to hang up wet items and has to move my drying underwear?  I organized the laundry line just so, towels and sarongs on the first two lines and the line closest to the wall and most out of sight, my unmentionables freshly scrubbed and soaking wet.  My high hopes that said items would dry quickly were thwarted when I slowly realized that the laundry line is under an overhang of the roof and the sun never touches it.  It'll take the wind to dry it and the sun won't be of much use.  This means it will take twice, maybe three times as long to dry in this humidity.

And I have this weird obsession with constantly checking in on my wet items drying.  As if they are miniature people sunbathing, "Still damp, eh?  Ok, I'll be back in ten minutes to check-in, do you need anything to drink?  Juice?  Coffee?  Gin?"  I would do this back home when I lived alone and hung my clothes on a drying rack in my living room.  I'm like a squirrel checking in on her bounty of nuts.  I start a task and ten minutes later, I'm back to the drying rack to mark the progress.  Why do I do this?  I haven't the faintest idea.  It's an attention problem for sure, despite the fact that I am powerless to urge my laundry to dry quickly, I still feel the need to stop whatever I'm doing and constantly check on it.

It makes me think of a conversation I had with my mom before I left, "Mom, does A.D.D. run in our family?"
"No, I don't think so.  It's just a general sort of short attention span that you and I have, lack of attention and what not, we have a hard time concentrating."
We were hiking as she said this, I was fingering an autumn leaf, obviously only half listening.  I looked over at her and said, "What?"

And I was trying to be stealth too!  After washing my underwear, I gingerly stepped outside of my room, looked around and hurriedly ran up to the roof to hang everything on the line at the top of the stairs.  This is an accurate representation of my inner monologue at this point:

"I'm so busted if anyone comes up the stairs right now and sees me hanging up my underwear."
"Why?  Everyone wears underwear and everyone needs clean underwear."
"Yeah, but if someone sees me, then they'll know what kind of underwear I wear."
"People see your bathing suit bottoms drying, what's the issue with your other bottoms drying?"
"Because I don't prance around in my underwear at the beach!  Well, I don't prance around in general.  Bathing suit bottoms are much different than underwear, similar shape yes, but the functions you wear them for are completely different."

All of this coming from a woman who has no problem mooning Ashley on a semi-regular basis.  And laughing hysterically every time Calai farts and being more amused than annoyed when he peed through his diaper onto me the other night.  Still though, I don't want people looking at my underwear, I don't want to be identified at Chalupa by my unmentionables.  I don't allow myself to think about the women who work at Girasole Lavanderia, folding my bottoms into neat little squares.  Luckily, you can remain slightly anonymous with a laundry service.

About four hours into my garments drying slower than thick oil paint on a canvas, it started to rain.  I sighed in exasperation.  You've got to be kidding me.  You know that pungent, moldy smell that comes when you have wet laundry attempting to dry but it just stays wet for more than a day or two?  Ugh, this is what will occur with my hopeful attempts at handwashing and line drying.  They weathered the night out there, remaining damp and useless.  The next day, I went upstairs to check in.  Still wet, so I did some yoga in the shade.  An hour later, the unthinkable, the worst, the regrettable happened.  Several pairs had lept off the line and were lounging in various places on the staircase.  Rouge teenagers disobeying their parents, I finally understood what I put my own parents through during my high school years.  I was stunned, I was speechless, I gasped.  Shit, and the French Canadian gal in the bunk below me was walking up the stairs at that very moment.  She looked at me and smiled as I feigned cheer and said, "Ohh, my underwear is all over the place."  She just laughed.  I don't get embarrassed easily but I think I may have been turning red, just a little.

So it was too windy out, clothespins were necessary but not present.  I pondered, do I stand guard here and wait for them to dry completely (I wouldn't put it past myself to do so), catching the rebellious ones that fly off the line and putting them back or do I take them into my dorm room and hang them on the rungs of my top bunk bed?  Anonymous?  I think not.  If I did that, they might as well be on display, I might as well hang them like decorations on the walls for everyone in the dorm room to enjoy.  I just needed a damn clean pair of underwear to wear at this point too.  Ok, girl, swallow your pride, step on your embarrassment, it's time to OWN your underwear and hang it on your bunk bed rungs.  So I did.  It wasn't so bad.  I probably went into my room only five or six times to see if they were dry.

These simple little things are the issues I grapple with since I have been living at Hostal Chalupa for the past six weeks.  When I was renting a room in town, I was doing a better job of isolating myself rather than socializing and making friends.  I decided to forgo my much desired daily alone time and suck it up with little to no privacy, except when you're in the bathroom or the rare occasion that the hostel isn't busy and you have a dorm room all to yourself, and move back to the hostel that I first stayed at when I arrived.  Also, things like waking up in the middle of the night and needing to use the loo but the three steps down the ladder from your top bunk at 4AM is basically like descending Mt. Everest, so you just roll over and pretend your bladder isn't screaming at you.  The top bunk is good because no one can watch you sleep but not so good for 4AM bathroom wake up calls.

But Chalupa is an amazing place filled with good people.  Moving back there was one of the best decisions I've made in Tulum  As I've mentioned, there is a rooftop terrace. It's an asset here.  It's my yoga studio most mornings, my office in the afternoon (most of my recent blog posts and skype dates take place here) and my moon gazing hang out spot at night.  In living here, I've made a handful of good friends, I have rarely dined solo, I have learned some Spanish, and I've got a place in Tulum that feels like home.

To fill you in on my next step in my travels, I am now in San Cristobal.  I will be here for the weekend and on Sunday I am going to San Pedro, Guatemala.  I've enrolled in Spanish Language School and I'll be living with a family there.  In the months that I've spent here, I have learned some Spanish but I'm not at the level I want to be so the full immersion approach will boost the conversation skills significantly.  In April, I am going to Costa Rica to get my Teaching English as a Foreign Language certificate.  After April, who knows?  I want to get a job teaching but I'm unsure of where.  I have three stipulations, make some money, continue to speak loads of Spanish and live near the ocean in hot weather.  I don't think it will be too difficult.  It's freezing in San Cristobal compared to Tulum, I'm keeping my fingers crossed it's warmer in San Pedro...