Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Estoy la Maestra de Yoga!

I am the Yoga Teacher! It occurred to me that I haven’t really blogged about that yet - so I thought I should. Well, my new career got off to a slow start. I planned to do my first lesson at 5pm on the 1st of July. I had 5 people signed up, everything was looking good, I was ready, with my lesson plan neatly typed up, bag of mats underarm... then at 4.45pm the heavens opened and the rain came down in torrents. Ah yes, The Rainy Season – I had forgotten about that.

I re-scheduled to the following morning, but was disappointed when just 1 person came to my very first class. They warned me that it rains most days at 5pm, so I decided to stick with the 7am class. For 2 days, no one came. People were telling me that this is too much of a party place and no one would get up that early, and I was starting to feel pretty disheartened.

Then, it picked up! The next day there was 2.... then 6... then one bright sunny morning I had 8 people, which was very exciting! Initially, I was teaching on some flat grass by the river, but as the rains kicked in, that location became too muddy. So I moved the classes to the terrace at the house, which is lovely – but it’s 'off campus' – so now I have to persuade the lazy backpackers to walk down the road. As a result, recently the 7am class became an 8am class! But my schedule is still very fluid, as the weather and the customers change.

There have been some interesting students and moments. Last week there were two people who extended their stay just to do some more yoga with me, which was a wonderful compliment. This week, there was a small, public-school girl, doing her first ever yoga class, who spoke mostly in capitals, and thought yoga was “aMAZing” and “JUST INCREDible” and “fanTAStic and “NEVer EVEN KNEW yoga could be like THAT!”

Of course there was also the serious young man in lycra leggings who huffily told me he preferred “proper yoga”. I asked what he considered to be proper yoga?
“Like they do in India,” he replied. I said that I haven’t been lucky enough to study yoga in India yet, and asked if he would tell me more about it.
“You know” he said “no-one telling you what to do – everyone does their own thing, at their own speed”. It occurred to me that if he wanted to do his own thing at his own speed, he didn’t really need to come to a class! But I didn’t say anything.

In the first week, by the river, there was a young cow that was very curious. One day, she came to class! She stood on the back row and watched intently for about 45 minutes. Finally, during the Balance Sequence it all became too much for her – she rubbed her nose against one of the girls, knocking over a very nice Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose). So I shooed her away (the cow, not the girl) – but the rest of the back row complained – it seemed they all liked her being there! The following day she was more restrained and just watched from the side (the cow, not the girl).

Yoga has been met with complete amazement by the local Mayans. None of them have ever seen yoga before and they are quite enthralled. The first day 4 gardeners watched, literally with open mouths.
“But what is Yoga?” I am frequently asked! Funny, that was the first question in our Final Exam for the Teacher Training – but I didn’t actually think I would ever get asked that in ‘real life’.
“It means union” I reply, “It’s an exercise, and a philosophy, from India”
“India, it’s a country in Asia”
“Oh, that’s a long way from here”
“Well, yes.”
“But what is it for?”
“Strength, flexibility, balance and happiness” I say.
“Oh” they say. “Is it just for tourists?”

Several of the Mayans have said they’d like to come – but it hasn’t happened yet! I also had a request from one of the ladies in the kitchen to come and teach a class at the Community Centre for a group of ladies and children. She said there might be 40 of them! Most of who don’t speak Spanish (let alone English). We are still in discussion, but hopefully one of our Mayan bartenders will come with me to translate. It could be interesting! Most of the women here still wear traditional clothes – I cannot imagine them in shorts! I can’t imagine them even owning shorts! I have this vision in my mind of 40 buxom Mayan chicks in Warrior 2, all wearing hand-woven full skirts, lace tunics and plastic slippers :-) So I’ll keep you posted on how, or whether, that happens!

Wildlife/Housemates Update

I think Behemoth #1 has left home! It seems this house wasn’t big enough for the both of us. Behemoth #2 is still in residence and in revenge for destroying his digs (the Blue Blanket) he now likes to hang out at the top of my stairs, just next to the light switch – scaring the living daylights out of me when I am on my way to bed.

A smaller behemoth (Beast #1) seems to be stepping into the voluminous, but metaphorical, boots vacated by Behemoth #1; I am watching his progress with interest.

Two pikey scorpions are roaming, but not yet ensconced in, my region of the house. The smaller one was first seen in my room – presumably he was stopping by to introduce himself – I was not hospitable, but bravely swept him down the stairs. I suspect he is now hiding in the closet at the bottom of the stairs. The second, however, is out and proud.

The cats are all fine – they have recently formed a Barber Shop Trio, led by ‘Alpha Cat’, and they get together in the kitchen, for a sing, at about 4am, which is just marvellous. ‘Tom Cat’ was ‘done’ last week, to the great relief of everyone – so the house no longer smells of cat pee. He is furious and won’t even look at us anymore. ‘Small Cat’ was also ‘done’ and some kittens were aborted. She looks very small and forlorn now – but we are making a fuss of her and she seems ok.

The last house-mates I should mention are the possums, who come through the kitchen window and mix cocktails in the dead of night – they then get drunk and dance on the roof. I haven’t actually witnessed this because I can’t be bothered to get out of bed, but I hear them loud and clear. At least they shut the cats up.

Life in the garden is also thriving – a large, totally groovy, caterpillar is living near the outside tap. So far, he has ‘burned’ both of my (human) house-mates but not me! I am too sharp. Several frogs abound, both indoors and out, which makes showering more exhilarating.

The herd of bulls from over the river have discovered the uncut grass in our garden is far superior to scrub on their side and are now regular visitors. This is particularly exciting when one to comes to the door for a look, especially if you are half-asleep and not really prepared to see a large bull standing in the open doorway.

I’m posting some pictures of my various housemates – and one (especially for my brother – who is a big fan) of the largest moth I have ever seen. This one was in the shower; I put him out the window, before the ‘shower tarantula’ got him. Behemoth #1 used to love moths...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


The junior backpacker was so young and fresh he was almost shiney. He approached the bar and asked, “Is there any chance of hot water around here? I could do with a proper scrub after that awful bus ride,” he added apologetically.

But it was too much, too fast, for our Mayan Bartender, whose English is good, but not great. He replied cautiously: “Hot water?”
“Yes, hot water! Any chance? Around here?” he made a circular motion with his hand to further elucidate ‘around here’ (a la Peter Kaye).
“Hot water,” confirmed the bartender, “for sure, yes!” and he turned, picked up a coffee cup and began to fill it with hot water from the coffee machine.
“Oh. I’m getting a cup.” Said the backpacker, a little crestfallen.
The junior backpacker and his rosy-cheeked companions conferred quietly. There were murmurs of ‘I don’t think he understood... how should we...? ...ask again! ...Why don’t you ask!’ and I watched with interest as the Bartender returned with a steaming mug of water.

Do I need to add that the backpackers were all English? The bartender placed the mug on the bar and the Junior Backpacker smiled warmly,
“That’s marvellous!” he said “thanks so much!” and with that, the young adventurers wandered away – dusty and dejected.

The bartender turned to me, “English” he said, “like you. I think he must make tea,” he added.

Before you ask – yes. I do know where you can get a hot shower around here (making circular motion with the hand). But a cold shower does the little blighters good!

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Blue Blanket

I don’t want to be boring and I know that spiders have loomed large in my last two blog posts. But spiders are looming large in my life right now – so I am afraid this is another blog about my eight-legged enemies.

Draped casually and prettily over the wall in my room is a large, blue Guatemalan blanket. The other day I decided to see if I could drape the blanket over the rafters and hopefully block out the view of the behemoth that lives in the rafters just beyond my loft (see previous blog). I couldn’t make it work – but shortly after trying; another behemoth hit the ground running, scaring the living daylights out of me, because spiders are nocturnal! You don’t usually see many in the day and you hardly ever see them moving. Like aliens, "they mostly come at night... mostly". It occurred to me afterwards that my moving of the blanket and the agitated appearance of a spider in the afternoon might be connected. Also, this morning upon waking I saw a four-incher sitting right next to the blanket.

So I have come to be of the opinion that this blanket is probably a dark and secluded, palatial spider residence. And it’s in my self-designated space. So it’s going to have to go.

My friend Judit recently told me a story (which I hope she won’t mind me repeating – as it’s a great story!) A few years ago, she and her husband took over the management of a Dive Shop in the tropics. It had been closed for a few months previously, so when they went to inspect the equipment they found whole families of spiders living in the BCDs (jackets). Their solution was to throw all the gear into the sea and then run away! She said within moments the water was full of black, hairy refugees all frantically learning to swim.

With this in mind, whilst I want the blanket gone, actually picking it up and moving it, is the last thing I want to do! I have thought of picking up one end and dropping it into the kitchen below, where I will not be able to witness the resulting exodus (especially if I am cowering strategically on the floor). But inevitably not all of the inhabitants will go down with their blanket. Some will hang onto the wall, next to which I will be strategically cowering. Not good.

Furthermore the blanket is not far from the door. So if things start running, they might block my exit. I have a balcony that I could potentially throw myself off – but so far I haven’t been able to find the key to unlock the door. Which might actually be a good thing.

What to do?

Oh and I saw my first scorpion last night – four inches away from the light switch which I had just used. So that was a valuable lesson about the dangers of turning on lights. On the bright side: in the garden we have hummingbirds! Hummingbirds! Which, as someone once said, "would be impossible, if they didn’t exist!" I will try to get a picture for you. And so many butterflies! It’s funny, you don’t see many butterflies these days – but here they are plentiful.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


I forgot to mention the cats! I am not sure how many we have because they are all identical. So, needless to say, they are all equally adorable. I am encouraging them to hang-out up here and be fierce with anything smaller than they are.

Last night a very grown-up spider emerged from the rafters – easily as big as my hand and particularly ugly – but he was crouched just beyond my designated loft space, so I made the decision he could stay! Ha!

I managed to convince myself that he was in his space and I am in mine and he has no reason to invade my loft. Of course this is a ridiculous argument as it presupposes the spider recognises the distinction between my loft and his rafters. It also assumes that he gives a damn. I decided not to look at him. That helped. In my favour, yesterday I did sweep my loft with a verve and ferocity that only those of you who knew me as a small child will be able to imagine. However at bedtime I was forced to fully embrace the fact that, should he choose to do so, he could in my bed in less than 30 seconds. He was almost the size of a small cat!

So it’s not surprising that, when one of the small cats jumped onto my bed just as I was dozing off, I should jump, momentarily leaving my skin, and catapult (or kick? I am not sure) the small cat off the bed and across the room. He/she retreated to the bookcase and sat and glared at me with equal parts bewilderment and hatred.

I said sorry, but you know what cats are like – it could be weeks until I’m forgiven.

And no MG4D, I am not travelling with a mosquito net, but it’s something I think I may need to acquire. Because mosquito nets are impenetrable (I believe they are made of the same fabric as Batman’s cape) to any and all monsters. That’s what I choose to believe anyway, and I don’t want any of you to tell me otherwise.


Leaving, arriving, old friends & new enemies

I haven’t blogged in ages – there’s been too much to do, too much going on. Which, of course, is a total waste of blog content! When life is dull I have nothing to blog about and when life is a full and rich tapestry, I am too busy!

So I have decided to make up for it now. This is going to be a long post. So long, you might want to read it in instalments. So long that you will almost definitely want a cup of tea before you start. Go on, make one now – don’t worry I’ll wait.

Ready? Good. So I left Mexico on the evening of the 27th and had a very uneventful bus ride down to the border. What is it with Border Guards? Some of the most unpleasant people I have ever encountered have been at border control. The application to be a Border Guard must read as follows:
Question 1: Are you a complete and total bastard, with no sense of integrity, courtesy or respect for your fellow human beings?
If yes, please proceed to Question 2
If no, leave now and never darken our doors again.

The Mexican border guards were charging everyone $20 to leave the country. We had words: me in my poor and broken Spanish, and them in increasingly fast and agitated Spanish.

But is it for? I asked. It is a tax for leaving! They said. But there is no tax for leaving Mexico! Yes, there is! No there isn’t! Show me this in writing! There! Look at the poster on the wall – you see the picture of the visa – there it is! That poster says you need a visa – there is no mention of a tax for leaving. There is a tax! You think I am lying to you? (Very agitated) Senor, maybe my Spanish is so bad I don’t understand you. But what is the $20 for exactly? It is a tax for leaving! (This was going nowhere) But I have no money! Then you can go to the cash machine over there. Ok, I have some dollars, but I will need an official receipt and I would also like you to write both your names, so I can check later. He will give you a receipt. Great, thanks. No, no, he will give you the receipt. But he said you would? (Some fast, very agitated Spanish) Here! Sign this! But this is not a receipt? Just sign this! (The Border Guard had a scrap of paper, on which he had written “No tengo dinero” meaning ‘I have no money’ and he asked me to sign it. I signed. Now go away! He said, and I went.

The Belizean border guard wanted to know why I wasn’t staying in Belize, rather than going straight through to Guatemala. I felt like telling him about my last visit, when I was ripped off by the Belizean Border Guards who demanded a tax for leaving the country.

Soon Belize was behind me and we entered Guatemala and the worst roads I have experienced, since leaving Guatemala 6 years ago. The drive to Flores was like travelling in a cocktail shaker. Finally I arrived, shaken but not stirred, and went looking for food.

A Vegetarian Platter

“What is the vegetarian platter?” I inquired. The waiter looked at me as if I was a complete idiot. “Vegetables” he replied. Obviously.

The following is a fictionalised account of a conversation I feel sure took place, but did not actually witness.

“She wants the vegetarian platter”
“What’s that?”
“What do you mean ‘what’s that’? You’re the bloody cook!”
“Well, what does she eat?”
“Vegetables obviously. She’s a vegetarian”
“No meat?”
“No meat”
“Not even the sausage?”
“No! No meat, vegetables”
“What’s wrong with her?
“Look, have you got any vegetables?”
“Of course I have vegetables! What do you want me to do with them?”
“Cook them!”
“That’s it? Just cooked vegetables?”
“Just cooked vegetables.”
“Are you sure?
“Ok then”

My vegetarian platter was served with a flourish and a look that said, “Well you ordered it”. It comprised: 1 boiled potato, quartered; 1 boiled carrot (halved); 12 green beans (skewered on cocktail sticks); 1 whole corn on the cob; some unidentifiable squash, quartered; rice and refried beans. It was ok! I like vegetables. But some seasoning would have been good.


It’s like Facebook – where, as I have said before – old friends turn up looking like their older and fatter siblings. The first person I saw was Guillermo, the once-cook is now an unlikely Security Guard, at about 4ft high, he’s wearing a gun that’s almost bigger than he is! Looking older and rounder – but just the same. I asked if I could leave my bags somewhere, “leave them anywhere you like” he said, gesturing towards the green space surrounding us “I hear the security here is excellent.” He remembered me and that was nice. I recognised the little girls selling fresh ground cocoa, they were, of course, the baby sisters of the girls I remembered well! Even El Retiro itself is a little older, grander and fatter than it’s former self. So many more CabaƱas, and a huge new restaurant, but still kind of the same.

I found the manager, he was expecting me and gave me the keys to Matt’s house, where I will be staying. (Thanks Matt!)

The House of Spiders

I know, I’ve kind of given away the plot in the title. So you know what’s coming. It’s a great house, very atmospheric, the kind of place you would go gaga over if you saw a spread on it in the Sunday Supplement. It’s an ‘outside’ house – where even when you’re inside, you have the illusion of being outside. Unfortunately, the local fauna suffers from the same illusion.

It’s full of wildlife. Last night I stayed in the spider-infested main bedroom. Today I moved into the spider-infested loft: on the basis, that’s it’s even more ‘open’ and outside. If I’m going to have to share my space with the locals I would rather not be locked in with them.

There’s so many cobwebs, great long, thick cobwebs that stretch between the rafters – so I knew what to expect when night fell. I watched a video in the early evening, after 2 hours seated I got up and almost every step meant walking through newly spun cobwebs – the doorway to my room, the space between the kitchen counters – everywhere! On going to bed I spotted the first few monsters – the largest probably 4 inches across (and they do get bigger than that). But what can you do? Sleep in the spider-infested living room instead? I turned the lights out and practiced some calming pranayama.

Here in my new room, in the roof, I have one wall completely open to the elements and another half-open (overlooking the kitchen). The other two walls have open space under the roof. As well as some ominously large spider webs, I have also spotted two wasps nests and an enormous ants nest just outside. I really like ants – and these are big ones, I bet they eat spiders. So it’s good to know I have some allies up here!

The following pictures were taken in the last few minutes, from inside my room.

Before you start feeling sorry for me – here’s the view I will be waking up to every morning!

The hills, the house, the walls are alive! But it’s good to be back! Tonight I will go to the bar and start touting my Yoga classes. First class tomorrow.