Sunday, August 28, 2011

August 28, 2011

Greetings from Dallas,

Well, after seven months of kicking around Spanish speaking countries, we have arrived back home, invigorated and ready for the next chapter. I have already spent the better part of the day in Denton, going through mail, getting geared up for classes, while Tom got is back in the communication loop with new cell phones. We had a nice morning, riding around the lake, watching the sun rise through pinks, oranges, and purples, lighting up the sky and placid surface of the water. It felt good to be back.

Our last week in Spain was very water intensive and great fun. Our second day in Valencia, the 20th took us to the ultra modern area of town,that holds multiple museums, budges, performance halls, and aquarium. Several were designed by Calatrava. The stunning architecture, finished out in white and cobalt blue small tiles,set in crystalline, shallow pools of water both impress and implore. The exhibits are well done, in multiple languages, and provide the citizens with miles of engagement in the sciences and arts. We spent over 6 hours here and made to everything, but only scratched the surface.

That evening, at 9:00 we boarded a ferry, en route to Mallorca. We watched the sunset, sat on the deck and enjoyed the breeze, then retired to our sleeper cabin, ad arrived in Mallorca at 7:00 the next morning. It was a beautiful night to look at stars, listen to the Mediterranean rush below us, and in general, cool off after a warm week on the mainland.

Mallorca is a fairly large, mountainous island, dotted with exquisite beaches, biking paths, many ports, and seafood forever. We arrived at our hotel fairly early, and in the wrong taxi. After some initial confusion, we were treated to a lovely breakfast, and after a morning at the pool, we were shown to our upgraded suite. We took a short jaunt to the beach, which was lovely,protected, with clear, green-blue water lapping the shore ever so gently. That night we joined the other guests for a gala dinner and dance to a live band. It was a beautiful evening, as it had cooled off pretty well.

The next day was my 58th birthday. After a nice breakfast, we wandered into the village in search of the pearls Tom wanted to give me for my birthday. We found a beautiful necklace, bracelet, and earrings in white and light grey. This man spoils me, and I love it. We continued on and found a photo card, since we filled the other one up with other Spain pictures, then discovered a board walk. We followed it along the coast and saw volcanic rock, exposed to wind and sea, boats of all sorts, places along the shore where ladders crossed over the rocks into the calm, deep sea, and scads of hotels, catering to mostly German tourists on holiday. It was a grand walk, but really, really hot. We recovered pretty quickly with a dip in the pool. Around 2:30 the wind came up enough for a sail. We returned to the beach and rented a small sailboat and took it out for an hour. The construction of the boat was such that we sat on the floor in the cockpit area and water rushed in from the stern, keeping us cool and refreshed. It was so great to be back in this beautiful, dark blue water that it was really hard to turn ourselves around to return the boat. After a terrific massage, we went down for dinner, where we shared a bottle of cava, Spanish champagne, enjoyed dinner, then crashed. It was a terrific birthday, which ended with many birthday greetings in Facebook. A grand day indeed.

We rebounded the boat at midday on Wednesday and arrived in Barcelona around 7:30pm. It took us a while to find our hotel, after walking quite a distance from the dock. We had been warned that Barcelona was known for its theft ring, so we were a bit unnerved walling down the Rambla,the old city wall, with so many people going in so many different directions. We made it our hotel, found bait to eat and crashed. The next day we found the sites we wanted to see, based on novels we had read,mor advice we were given. The first was the cathedral of the sea which was built in the 14th c and devoted to Mary. Janet camp told is about this novel when we sailed with her in march, so we both read it and it was terrifi to see the novel come to life in the stones, statues, and signature pieces throughout. Tom had heard about another church, the sagrada familia, which was started in 1866, and is still under construction. It was massive, modern, and a mathematical wonder. The architect, gaudi designed it knowing that he would not finish it, but his plans were clearly noted in the museum models in the basement. We attempted to get to his home, via subway, five stories of escalators, and climbing, but only made it to the park, but were able to see the sprawl of Barcelona from this precipis. We were slated to sail on a catamaran at 6:00, so scooted and enjoyed a 90 minute boat ride in the harbor and sea. That night we found a tapas place on our small street and drank gin tonics and cardamom, recounting our day and trip in general.

The next day we spent time in the maritime museum, which is a large 14th c structure, used for building royal naval vessels until the 19th c. The museum is under renovation, but the two temporary exhibits were extraordinary. There was a huge model of the ity and the sea in the 15th c and a nice exhibit of travel by boats across the centuries. N a second large room was an extraordinary photography exhibited chronicling the atrocities in Latin America for the past 25 years. The documentations and photos were haunting and force attention to the need to care for all humans. We had a light lunch at the museum, which it turns out to be a restaurant training place for students. It was lovely. We found the mercardo on our way back to the hotel and were wowed by the meats, fish, olives, oils, candies, fruits, vegetables, and juices. We picked up some train food for our trip to Madrid on the bullet train. We had a grand time on the bullet, with gin and tonics, fruit, and snacks, arriving in Madrid around 10pm, just in time for cena.

We found our hotel, had cena, and enjoyed our last night in Spain. A series of subway rides in the morning found us in rhe Madrid airport, readying for our ten hour flight home. It Was great to see Adam and carherine at the airport.

I will probably end this blog, as my adventures have ended withth start of the semester, which upon me. However, Tom has multiple trips planned, so, who knows, more stories from the road may appear from time to time before 2011 ends. Thanks for being a blog follower. Glad you were with us n the journey. Hope all is well for you and yours. Love Jeanne

Saturday, August 20, 2011

August 20, 2011

Greetings from Valencia,

When I last wrote, we were on the verge of a train trip to Granada from Malaga. Well, the trip was fairly long, as we had to go through Córdoba, wait, then change trains. We arrived in Granada in the mid-afternoon, a city in the highest mountain range in Spain, the Sierra Nevada. We found the his station, with our usual successive approximation, got tickets for the bus the next day, then jumped on a city us in search of the hotel, which somehow ended up being on our bus route. We were exhausted from the excessive heat, so found the 30 minute Internet spot in our hotel, fortunately in the bar, and sat quietly for a while. Afterward we went on a bus tour of the city, shopped a bit, had dinner in one of the squares, then walked around a bit. Granada centro was lovely at night, with all it's fountains, marble sidewalks, brimming with people out on a Monday night, eating, visiting, enjoying the 15 degree drop in temperature.

The next day and evening proved to be quite extraordinary. In the morning we were retrieved from the hotel by the Alhambra touring company who took us on an extended tour, with interpretation,through this very well restored site of a Muslim city on the topr of the hill above the main city of Granada. The grounds were extensive, with multiple, lush gardens of tall trees, reflecting pools, and vine-covered walkways. The buildings, representing two cultures, as in Córdoba, Muslim and Christian, showed the difference in the representation of power through architecture. The former, large buildings, simple on the outside, but extravagant inside, with detailed tile and intricate plaster work. The latter with extensive filagree on the outside, and more opulence on the inside. The latter also built a church and palace directly in front of the former, yet not destroying the former. Interesting.

We had lunch at the parador hotel on the grounds, then at the advice of a shop keeper, took a city bus to the other side of the hill at st Nicholas point, and viewed the city and the Alhambra from this vantage point, then walked down the long hill, then used back to the Alhambra for the night tour. Our guide this time was an art historian, and we were his only two listeners. Our time with him was to be spent in the same lecture as the morning, ut turned into an intellectual discussion of art, history, culture, architecture, all in the magnificent setting of this glorious palace, in the glow of darkness and soft lighting. Our guide walked Us to the path that led to our hotel, which was soft gravel, in a forest, with yellow street lamps, where we reveled in our Granada experiences, wondering what caetegena would hold next.

It was another long day of travel from Granada to caetegena, and as we have found in towns where we arrive on the bus, it is wise not to judge town by its bus terminal and surrounding area. We found the hotel, which was near the waterfront, a tavern with safire and tonic, and awaited our boat ride in the bay. The ride was pleasant, aboard a catamaran, and the view of the bay and outer boundaries of the bay beautiful. It was apparent that the water surrounding caetegena was cordoned off for military, industry, mining, pleasure boating, and shipping. Dinner at a small restaurant was lovely, as we joined the many who start their dinners at 10pm

We spent our morning, after an early breakfast, walking around roman ruins, a mideaval castle, and a museum of the history of cartegena. The port had been in use for over 3000 years, and mining and shipping a part of the life for all those years. It was apparent that he modern, living part of th city grew pretty far away from the original roman setting, as we noticed from the highest points of the hill. There were no obvious vestiges of Muslim settlements, but the history showed that they had been there, then expelled. We boarded our us headed for alicante, not knowing what to find there.

Again, the story of the bus terminal was one of no information, and unng and pcking, until we found the train station for our next day's trip. The train station supplied better information, and we found our hotel in then late afternoon. We were a few blocks from the port, found a sunset boat tour, then settled in for the daily clink of GT. The tour was on a catamaran sail boat, which went quite far from the harbor seawall, raised the sails, and turned northerly n time for us to catch the sunset. It was a glorious ride in the Mediterranean, with seas running at about 4-5 feet, rolling the boat slightly, but never raining it onto one pontoon. We returned to the GT spot for tapas, and enjoyed the lights on the water, where only a few hours earlier we watched expert rowing teams, sail boats, and viewed gigantic yachts of all types. We walked along the malecon to the beach where we saw scores of people out, dining, playing on the beach, in the water, at the casino, watching entertainment of all sorts, families out having fun. It was truly exhilarating.

Saturday we woke early, and began the 30 minute walk to th train station, and found desayuno at a cafe on the street, the usual in andalusía, toast with Serrano ham and zumo (fresh orange juice). It was nice to be back on the rails. We arrived in Valencia in mid-morning, and were immediately overwhelmed by the immensity of the buildings, the extensive details on the divides and roofs, and vibrancy of the city. We found the hotel, not far from the station, and had lunch at a sidewalk cafe, then stepped out of the heat for a few hours. We started the maritime bus tour of the city around 5:00, got off to find our boat for the next evening, and around 7:45, flopped back on the tour bus, exhausted and still giggling about our Lawrence of Arabia hike to the boat terminal, where we settle tickets for th boat ride to Mallorca today. While on the tour we noted that Valencia has grown and regrown itself over and over, knocking down ancient walls, buildings, etc, in the effort to bring more and more commerce to then place. The city is an odd mix of ultra modern, a few ancient gates, and Rocco buildings, reaching to the sky with eagles and strong women, in the name of finance. We plan to return to the newest addition, the aquarium and science place, designed by Calatrava, who designed the new bridge in Dallas.

We have one week left to our seven month adventure, and plan to spend it soaking in the wonders of españa. Hope all is well for you and yours. Love jt

Monday, August 15, 2011

August 15, 2011

Greetings from Málaga,

It has been a fascinating week as we rode trains, buses, boats, and horse drawn carriages in various Spanish towns this week. We arrived in Córdoba on Sunday the 7th and found our hotel on the outskirts of the old town, via city bus. It was a lovely place, tucked into a posh neighborhood, just up the hill from town. We settle into some lawn chairs, on the lawn near the pool, had our summer drink of gin and tonic, and read. Later we attempted to go on the night walking tour, but it only ran on Friday and Saturday in the summer. Instead, we enjoyed a small repast in the square, and wandered back, via bus.

The next day in Córdoba was altogether different. We started with a lovely breakfast at the Joel, then bused our way to the mosque/cathedral and were swept away by the immensity, granduer, and use of ecclesiastical space to accommodate variance in spiritual/cultural differences. The mosque was ancient, spacious enough for 40,000 prayer mats and celebrants, after three additions. Around the outer edges were Christian chapels, installed when the Muslims were ousted in the 15th c. In the center was a huge catholic chuch, relate with gold, dark wood, and iconic worship objects. Originally, the Moslems built the mosque on top of a Visigoth church erected in the 6th c. The juxtapositioning of two houses of worship in one was quite extraordinary, both with opulence and both reaching out to the god they seek. We followed the path from here to the roman bridge, built in the 3rd c AD, where it was apparent the Romans used the river for milling. We looked for other museums, but since it was Monday, we met with closed doors, but found a cool pool outside the acheology museum where we soaked our feet and legs, then braved the Córdoba heat, as we beat it back to the pool, and ended up at dinner, celebrating our first week in Spain with a bottle of champagne and a crisp moon above our heads. It was a great send off for Sevilla.

Sevilla, a large grand city on the same river as Córdoba, the cualquivir. Our ultra modern hotel, at the edge of the alameda de Hercules gave us pause, along with the extensive grafitti all ove the buildings and parks. However, we ventured out, found the largest cathedral in the world, with 20+ chapels, Christopher columbus' final resting place, carried by four 10' tall guards carved out of marble, the alcáthar, replete with Islamic tile art, gardens, and enormous rooms, since this is the Sevilla home of the royalty. We made it to the river cruise tour of the city, which was informative about history and positioning of Sevilla as a maritime player. Afterward, we found our way to the flamenco show Adam and Catherine told us about, Los Gallos, and caught the 10:30 show. The stage was small, and we were fortunate to get a front row seat. Each dancer, male and female, was accompanied by two or three performers of guitar, singing, and hand clapping. The dancers spurred the musicians and the feet flew, skirts swirled, and we were enthralled. We found a little place for a sandwich and ices, then fell in bed around 2:00am.

The next day we rose late and went in search of the naval museum, which we learned was closed, so we retraced our steps to a lovely restaurant, had paella, which reminded me of jambalaya, stayed out of the heat for a while, then back to the river for a kayak paddle on the river. The equipment was punk, but the river beautiful, clear, and nice for paddling. Afterward, we shared a gin and tonic on the dock and watched the final remnants of the glorious sunset that had started when we were paddling. At dark we found a horse drawn carriage and toured the places we had not visited; plaza of the Americas, plaza españa, parks, and the river. It was grand indeed. We were like little kids, oohing and ahhing.

We took the train to cádiz, the oldest city in Spain, and for that matter, Europe. We went on a bus tour and learned that this town, from whence Christopher departed in 1493, is a grand port, situated along a peninsula, with a beach on the westerly side. We stopped off at a seafood place and gorges on fried delicacies, chiding with the best of the multitudes ofmlocals who had come off the beach for mediano. We caught our bus to Algeciras in the late afternoon, and arrived two hours later, a bit concerned with the surroundings of tis working port town, until we found our next hotel. We had reservations at the hotel reina Christina, a hotel built in 1902, and had the feel of old world elegance. It turned out that many dignitaries had stayed here, so we set ip camp and spent all of our algeciras time here, laying by the pool, dining, dancing, drinking, sleeping, and goofing off. Fom here we could see the rock of Gibraltar, which turned out to be one of the calling card for the place, in addition to it's beauty.

In the morning we took the city his to la linea, the border town of Gibraltar. We walked into Gibraltar and right into a tour of the rock. This British province is home to off shore banks, gambling, shipping, and tourism. The rock juts 1200 feet out of the water, has monkeys living in the upper range, and was used by the moors as a defense against Spain, until the british took it and kept it since 1604. We toured caves, both natural and man made, took pictures with monkeys on our heads, and walked about town in the late afternoon. The fish and chips were nice, along with the English breakfast, but the best wa the full moon rise ove the center of the rock at 11:30 last night. While we waited for the emergence of the lunar rise, we amused ourselves, on the eighth floor solarium, with the active freighter traffic coming and going fom Africa to Gibraltar to algeciras. It was terrific for us two boat folks. We never did see rhe queen of the south, but it was till early.

Today we arrived in málaga in the early afternoon, found the hotel, another large modern one. We got on the tour bus and rode through sites of ancient Moslem, 14th c castles, and 16th c churches, while observing the extensive working port, and active beaches. We noticed a big party going on in the city center, so hopped off, sat down for a GT, and watched, listened to, and walked through the reveling. It was fiera time in Malaga. Ladies were in flamenco dresses, dancers from the mountains came down, bands of people in small groups were drumming, singing, young people in mosh pits singing favorite Spanish rap tunes, and everyone drinking. I came out with a small drinking cup, celebrating the day. We ended the day sedately emailing and blogging. Tomorrow we are off to Granada and the alhambra, which was the power base of the Moslems when they ruled Spain from 711-1492. I hope to find some more interesting tile art stuff for my math methods classes. Our heads continue to spin.

Hope all is well with you and yours. Love jt

Saturday, August 6, 2011

August 6 pt 2

Sorry for the extension, I can't figure out how to scroll on the iPad.. I know, fewer words would help. Lol

July 27, our last day in Guatemala.

After out glorious walk, we packed until Don Alejandro retrieved me and carried me to Guatemala city where Maria del Carmen and I met with the dean of the school of education at Francisco Marroquin. Our conversation centered on what constituted their new program and what contributions I could make. She offered me the opportunity to return in the future and teach either seminars or short courses with them. Of course, I was thrilled and suggested to her that the chains of command would have to be considered, and she said she would wait for me. O wad pretty exciting. Maria del Carmen and I were like two small girls when we left, giggling about then plethora of possibilities for research, program exchanges, etc. Needless to say, if all goes well, the next few years could be filled with great academic excitement.

When I returned to the apartment, Tom was way ahead of me for packing, so I hurried to catch up, since we had a lunch date with the administrators and board members of Colegio Boston. We made it and had a lovely time, on the porch of on of our favorite places in Antigua, epicure, watching a steady, cooling rain. Tom was right in then flurry of the rapid Spanish being spoken, but I as not quick enough to jump in, so listened, enjoyed the banter, and relished this last, glorious time, knowing we were appreciated for our love of the city, education, and friendliness. Back at home in then late afternoon, we hung out, then went out for our last hoorah. We waited until the rain slowed and wandered over to Welton for a bottle of champagne and snacks. We closed the place and walked around the puddles for a quick sleep before our early, early pick up.

We got bumped to first class on our way home and stayed in that state of mind through our three, hot days in Dallas. Adam and Catherine met us and hung out with is all afternoon Thursday. Friday I tried the DART rail/A train into Denton which is a bit of a mess at present, met with great folks, and Tom visited with Paul from work, then shopped with Adam most of the day. We danced the night away with AC at southern junction, then spent the day Saturday at the sonny Bryan bar b que stand, circus, and sali's, adding my mom and rosa and flor to the mix. It was a blast. Sunday we rode around white rock lake, which Tom did every day we were in town, met Louise AC at barbec's then settled in to pack for Spain.

August 1-4

We flew out on aug 1 for Madrid, arrived aug 2, and hit th ground running after a subway ride to our cute hotel near then opera. We took a upper deck bus tour of Madrid, during which time we promptly snoozed, while on the bus, so decided a nap was in order. Back on the bus later we took in the sights, acted like tourists, and took far too many pictures of this magnificent, baroque place. Later when we walked around we noticed in the grand plaza, the Sol, there were riot police gathering, preparing for a large protest, which did occur the next day. We slept until almost noon the next day, but spent almost seven hours touring the Prado Museum. Needless to say, we only saw some parts, but it was glorious none the less. We chose to see only Spanish art and were duly impressed to be standing in front of el greco and original work. It was an incredible experience. On the way back, we stopped and purchased tikets for a performance of the opera Carmen set to flamenco dance. We got a drink and a snack, then went to the show. The treatment of the opera, as flamenco was extraordinary. We sat on the fourth row from the stage in this small theatre and were overwhelmed at the interpretation and dancing. We decided to eat dinner like spaniards, at 11pm, and found a nice place on the way home. Both of us had fish, which was terrific, but we learned that we are not cut out for this kind of late night eating.

On our last day in Madrid, we spent the better part of it in the train station activating our eurrail pass and arranging for reservations for various days of travel. It was mostly spent in long lines. All as not lost because we subwayed ourselves to Retiro park, on a par with central park, and went rowing on the small lake, walked around, toured a modern museum, then found a menu dinner near the opera, which was tasty and light.

Aug 5
We were off to the train station early, and boarded a short train to Toledo. This walled, mediaeval, winding town, contrasted considerably from the urban sprawl and speed of Madrid. Our first stop was the el Greco museum, followed by lunch, and a tour of the Jewish synagogue, both of which are in the Jewish quarter of ancient Toledo. We attempted to visit the Alcázar, but were too late. A large tin and tonic and paella later, we crashed and called it a day.

Aug 6

We hit the ground running with a whirlwind tour of six churches, four catholic, one Jewish, and one Muslim. WOW. We had read so many books by Spanish authors regarding the distinctions and mixing of these three religious groups, but the walk around the city, up and down narrow streets, over hills, and through portals, gave us a much better sense of what this was about, both the separateness, and the challenges of mixing three monotheistic religions in such close proximity. After a short break, we took on the Alcázar, a fortress built by the Romans in the third c AD, which underwent various structural changes, finally ending up as the military ,museum for all of Spain in 2010. Much of the museum is a modern structure that reveals the original structure, as well as layers of other additions. After several hours of listening and leaning about Spanish military, we worked our way back to the Jewish quarter, where our hotel waited for us, found a gin and tonic, some tapas, and let our feet rest after the nine hour abuse we had applied. Unfortunately, I hankered for churros con chocolate, so up the hill we trekked, and in the end, it was worth it,and the walk back pleasant. We are nestled in for th evening, dreaming of our next adventure in córdoba, knowing that more history, fabulous art, and interesting times lie ahead.

I hope all is well for you and yours. Jt

August 6, 2011 part 1

Greetings blog followers from Toledo, España,

When I last wrote we were in Antigua, wrapping up our time there. Needless to say, it was a whirlwind exit, and terrific as we spun around. July 25 was the saint day for the city of Antigua, and the celebrations started early with a heritage parade of public and private school children in bands, costumes of history and events, accompanied by young princes and princesses elected from each school. It was a marvelous spectacle of sight and sound. Following the parade, the students and I visited with Elizabeth Bell, who guided us to know of opportunities for UNT students in th Antigua area. She contacted the director of the Open Windows program in a near-by village, San Miguel, when she saw our keen interest. We met Tom and attempted to see Azotea, but all museums were closed on this holiday. Oh well. The students shopped, and we sat in the park, along with other old folks, and watched the comings and goings of el centro. We even saw the evening procession of St Andrew, accompanied by lively music It was am pleasant evening.

We all met for pizza near the square and at 7:00 joined the crowd fo big band music, fireworks, and the lifting of small hot air lifts, similar to the ones in the film Tangled. Tom and I danced on the steps of the cathedral, and enjoyed the cool, clear night. The students enjoyed the night a well, but chose to sit and watch.

The next day the students and I went on Elizabeth Bell's tour of Antigua, which was fantastic, again, then met Tom for lunch at Casa Domingo and enjoyed that last, glorious opportunity to be in a 500+ year old lunch spot. The students and I hustled and found a chicken bus headed for San Miguel, where we found the open windows outreach center. We met with founder Teresa, who introduced us to the wonders of NGO. this facility serves 2500+ children every week for after school homework support, dental care three times annually, music lessons, medical care twice annually, and many other things. We discussed possibilities and left with a great interest in coming back to help. Back in Antigua, we met Fulvia at the hospital maria's mother supported until her death. It was amazing to see so many people, with so many needs, being served through the support of charitable assistance. Bonne and Cordell, two medical students were duly impressed with possibilities here as well. It was a wild and crazy time. Our light cena at the apartment was quiet, engaging, and fun, filled with reminiscence. B and C packed and readied for the journey home.

I am working on the iPad, so my space is squirrely, so I will nd here, knowing that there

The next morning the students were carried away by don rené at 5:30, after which Tom andi went on our last walk around our neighborhood, and were greeted by Fuego, our favorite volcano, with a show of fire and lava, against a sky of pink, orange, and light blue sunrise aura. We had a grand time. We faced the music and began packing, until Don Alejandro retrieved me and

Sunday, July 24, 2011

July 24, 2011

Greetings from Antigua: four days left to this leg of the adventure

Just when we thought it could not get better, being here this week has been amazing.  Our friend Johnetta spent the morning with us at our favorite boutique hotel in the neighborhood, enjoying tipico Guatemalan breakfast, then we kissed her good-bye and continued our day here, visiting with teachers, school administrators, and skyping with Adam and Catherine.  I had the great fortune to visit another public school, this time a pre-school in Jocotenango. The tuk tuk driver took me to the primaria of the same name, so through successive approximation, I made it up the steep hill to the school where I witnessed the glory of the youngest ones in the public school setting.  My host teacher was a woman I met during semana santa, but never heard from again, although she knew I was seeking opportunities to observe as much public school as possible. We met in the grocery store last week, and by Monday I was there with her and her lovely children.  Mostly I learned there that teachers work diligently with these young children, fostering learning, care, and safety in all ways. It was a brief experience, a few hours, but have garnered an invitation to return, which I hope to do in the future.

Tuesday I had the grand opportunity to visit a school in Guatemala City that was part of the Guatemática program that took six years to develop. The lead teacher in this school had been in the meeting I attended at the ministry of education ten days earlier, where I learned of the program.  I was so jazzed by what I witnessed in this school.  Every teacher in the school used the hands-on methods proffered by National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in the US, which align with the Guatematica curriculum. Every child had their own manipulatives, engaged in active learning, showed marked understanding of the topic, and communicated openly about their math learning. The students were up at the board, showing their reasoning, and the teacher served as a facilitator, rather than a sage on the stage.  This observation showed me that children in tough situations can be trusted to learn and do not need rote practices as the only means of instruction and engagement.  It was very meaningful.  After the observation, I spent the afternoon with my friend Maria del Carmen's family in Guate, and gave some assessment instrument development assistance to her daughter who is working with the private school Maria owns in Antigua, where I did most of my observations.  Afterward Maria and I goofed off in Guate, shopping, and just visiting.  She is turning out to be a very nice friend and colleague.

At 7:15pm I met Tom at the Guate airport where we waited and then greeted two UNT students from the Alpha Chi group I sponsor at UNT. Bonne Sei and Cordell Cunningham are two pre-med students who are delightful to spend time with.  We had saved a bunch of things for ourselves to do in our last week, so the four of us have been working the list. On Wednesday, we drove from Antigua to an active volcano, Pacaya, which blew last year, but is still producing lots of steam.  We hiked through the national park, straight uphill, for about two hours, and arrived at a crest that overlooked a completely black landscape, with pockets of steam rising from the ridges of molten lava. The crevice in the top of the mountain was foreboding, gaping from the pressure of spewing rocks, lava, and steam, barely a year ago.  We went on a "night hike" to roast marshmellows with heat from a steam vent, explored a cave created by the explosion, which felt like a sauna, then hiked back to our campsite in the pitch darkness.  It was exciting and scary all at the same time. The guides cooked the thirteen of us a delicious rice, vegetarian dinner.  We all flopped into our tents fairly early, as the plan was to watch the sunrise at 5:30, but the fog was so thick, no rise ever appeared, so we rose in the glow of the morning, had a quick bagel, then headed down.  The sunset the night before was so spectacular, it made up for the lack of a rise the next day.  One of the most interesting things about the hike was the need for an armed guard to protect the hikers, as there have been many robberies of cameras, money, cell phones, etc, among hiking tourists. It is unfortunate, but real. Back in Antigua on Thursday, we had a hearty breakfast, then returned home for showers and a sleepy afternoon. We all dined at La Fonda, at typical Antiguan haunt we tried our first week here.  It was nice to come back to Kak 'ik, a Mayan soup.

Friday morning we were up early and on our way with Don Rene, a nice van driver for the Doña Baetriz, the neighborhood hotel, to the beach on the west coast. We returned to Maria del Carmen's beach house as a fivesome.  We played at the beach, got knocked over by the waves, ate a bit of black sand, swam in the pool, shared a light lunch of terrific pates from Claudia's shop in Gaute, and just had a grand time being beach bums. That evening we met Ron Wilhelm's NGO Dallas group for dinner at a restaurant, where Cordell learned about how we in Alpha Chi could possibly do similar outreach in the near future. We had a grand time with Ron, his young friends, and the ladies of his church, learning about their encounters with the artists of San Juan and contributions they made to the village.

Saturday morning B and C slept in, then we were off to San Antonio Aguas Caliente, a chicken bus ride up the mountain and into the valley southwest of Antigua to shop in the Mayan coop market there.  It was a glorious adventure to be in the market with the ladies who weaved the fabric we bought, bargaining, visiting, admiring their work. B and C had a grand time negotiating their purchases for family and friends, and Tom had a grand time doing the same. We all ended up with some terrific items and were excited about our trip there.  We jumped a chicken bus back to Antigua in time to get some lunch at Pollo Comparo, after which time we directed the students to the mercado, on market day, a wild and crazy time, then headed home. They were in charge of getting fruits and vegetables for dinner.  We made it home just in time to Skype with A and C and really enjoyed seeing and talking to them, as always.  The four of us sat around with candle light, snacking, drinking, and talking into the night, and went to bed content and ready for the long anticipated adventure of Sunday.

In the early morning today, we went out in search of a tuk tuk, found a few a block down, and made it to the breakfast buffet at the Finca Filadelphia.  The morning was cool, crisp, a bit cloudy, but overall beautiful blue skies.  At 9am we joined a group of folks headed to a zip line over the forest, at the highest point in the finca.  We stepped onto the first platform, and in an hour had zipped along seven lines, the longest being 729 feet. The zip lines were well constructed, with double wires, and the guides provided the stops for the zippers, which made the ride even nicer.  We were excited about doing the really long ones next but were told we couldn't because there was a large group coming. However, we have learned here that you follow the Tom Tunks method of negotiation, continue to bump it up.  He spoke to one of the guides, who agreed to intercede, and did, then Tom spoke to the Jefe (boss), who lumped us into the group of 40 folks here on a mission trip for nutrition, and held the big reservation that had overshadowed ours.  We were so thrilled to go on this next set of ziplines, because they were very long and criss-crossed the valley.  We all yipped and smiled our way over the valley and thoroughly enjoyed the cool breeze, sunshine, and excitement of the ride.  We hiked up the hill to the truck, unharnessed, returned to the office of the finca, then hiked to the closest village, San Felipe, which has a market every Sunday, that is heavily populated by local people from the area. With the exception of Bonne, who is Cambodian/Laoation and looks very Guatemalan, we all stuck out like sore thumbs.  In spite of it, we had a grand time at the market, and bought some of their specialties of dulces and an antique coin from the finca which demarked the payment of two days labor, which could be exchanged for rice, beans, and maza, at the finca company store, as the coin was not a national monetary piece.  Cordell picked up a beautiful wooden carving of a cashew, his favorite nut, and some bags of coffee and other goodies.

We were unable to go to the Azotea, Mayan history museum, so made it back to Antigua on a chicken bus, at which time B and C shopped in the artisan market and made great deals again.  They were enjoying their bargaining skills, it was great to watch from the bench at the fountain.  We found some food for C then sat on the street in front of the cathedral downtown listening to seven marimba groups perform simultaneously, the great marimba hits of Guatemala, between speeches from the mayor, commemorating the glory of the saint of Antigua, Santiago de Cabelleros, and the anniversary of the city. The big day is tomorrow, but the centro was hopping with food, music, people, arts and crafts, and a big book fair.  After the concert the city lit off five large canisters of fire works, 20 feet from where we standing.  We hear these every day and night here, with people celebrating birthdays, weddings, whatever, but never see the lights. Well, today we did, and up close and personal. It was terrific. We ended our evening at a lovely Italian restaurant, Cafe Mediterranean. The proprieter is the father of two girls who attend Colegio Boston, and one is a girl I befriended when I was there. It was great to meet her dad.  We had lovely fish dishes, talked, and laughed.  We found a cigar for C on the way home, and the three of them visited with a group of Denton, TX firemen, while I visited with a young girl and her grandmother from Santa Catarina.  Again, a moment of excitement for me in that I could speak Spanish fluently enough to be understood, could field questions, and understand what they were telling me. It turns out they come here each weekend, selling their weavings, then return on the bus Monday morning, so the little girl can go to school.  It was a brief, but exceptional moment.

We are all settled in for the evening, awaiting the adventure of learning about hospitals, NGOs, and participating in the city-day celebration in the afternoon.  We plan to take it to the limit until we board the plane on Thursday morning. The students leave Wednesday morning, and I head to Guate for more meetings about education, and at some point, we'll have to figure out the packing, but that is another day.

I hope all is well for you and yours.  Love Jeanne

P.S.  Pictures from the current adventure will be up sometime this week, whenever we slow down enough to get it done.  Look for these in several new albums on facebook.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

July 17, 2011

Greetings from chilly, wet Antigua

This was a bonus week here in Antigua.  Our friend Johnetta Hudson came to see us starting Thursday afternoon.  Her trip in was a bit delayed, and her luggage never arrived, even though she is leaving tomorrow, but we pulled together resources of what was in the house and got clean clothes on her, along with the other things needed to make it for five days, and we had a blast together. We also got to spend time with Janet Ray and her husband Mark and their medical team that was here doing outreach work in the villages.  More about that in a moment. 

Early in the week I continued with my observations in the public school and continued to be fascinated how much these teachers can do with so little.  The students were so sweet and kind to me, offering me their snack foods, and sharing some ipad time with me when they finished their work.  I got to observe lots of student teachers teach this week, although the school was only in session for three days. Teachers were in in-service staff development on the other days.  The math teaching continues to mostly be rote delivery and repetition, although I did witness some word problems at the third grade and responsiveness that indicated an eagerness to extend the learning further in the form of addition problems presented to the teacher during break time.  I got to witness some excellent use of the recess time which is generally overly loud. Some teachers used the time to let students have snacks, then sent the out to play during the 30 minute time slot allotted.  It was a clever us of this loud-school time.

Tuesday evening we met Janet and the Dallas medical team for dinner at Ponza Verde, and swapped stories of visits to villages and life on the road of helping others.  Janet and Mark have been coming here for many years, so have been instrumental in sustaining a single family for many years. An abandoned mother and her four children are now able to sustain because the Rays supported her and the children until the mother was able to slake the father and start her own business making tortillas. After 15 years, they are on the mend and doing much better, health and life better.  Janet and I met to talk shop and worked out some interesting integration for science and math methods courses this fall.

Since this week was the last for all the student teachers, there were grand celebrations on Friday, with lots of food, music, games, etc.  The class I was situated in was a second grade class and the group sang happy birthday to the student teacher, who on this day turned 17.  Tomorrow she is a certified teacher, ready to take over a classroom of young children.  It is quite a phenomenon.

This day marked the last day of our Spanish classes as well.  In the morning, Tom and Johnetta went on a walking tour of Antigua, after which I met them for a cool drink, followed by a trip up the mountain with our Spanish teachers for la cena at the restaurant on the hill.  We had a terrific time eating, drinking, laughing, watching the fog/mist come over the mountain, as it grew into a steady rain.  We made it back down the hill, then headed home for an evening at the apartment.  At one point I looked out the window and saw Volcan Fuego spewing red hot lava, which flowed down the mountainside.  The three of us stood in awe of the magnificence of the event.

Saturday morning we headed out on a crisp morning for the Finca Filadelphia for breakfast before our tour of the Finca.  It was a clear, cool, crisp morning and we witnessed even more puffing of Fuego, although it was mostly steam and big white and grey clouds.  We had a very well informed and attentive guide and enjoyed his talk.  It was disconcerting to witness the six ladies who were building the 100,000 plant starters, since they were surrounded by quite a few children, who seemed pretty carefree, but from the site of things, were not formally schooled, and will probably only ever learn the work of the finca. There seems to be no effort to change this situation.

We met our hostess at her house in the mid day, then rode with her to her beach house on the west coast.  We enjoyed the breeze from the ocean, sunset on the black, volcanic beach, and swam in the pool until we pruned.  The same occurred, with the exception of the sunset, on Sunday, returning to rainy, cool Antigua it the early evening.  We met two amazing women at the beach house. The first was the woman who was the person who established the Ixchel textile museum in Guatemala city that we toured in February with Adam and Catherine. She was an exceptional woman and her story of how she and seven other women restored, curated, and displayed the work was fascinating. We felt when we were there, but to talk to her heightened the experience more.  Today we met another woman who teaches at Universidad Francisco Marroquin, where the textile museum and others reside, and who also heads an organization that studies the government's support of the commitments they make to education.  We had lengthy conversations about what is possible in the world of educational research and support for improvement in Guatemala.  I will meet with her on Tuesday and extend the conversation further to what might be possible between us, UNT, SMU, and Marroquin.  It was intriguing indeed.

We came back from windy, balmy, sunny beach to flooding in Antigua and surrounding pueblos.  Luis got us back safely, after which we walked in the light rain to Welten for a light cena with Johnetta, where we toasted lost luggage, a good visit, and plans to keep the fires burning.  It will be interesting to see where this takes us in the future.  It was great to spend so much uninterrupted time with Johnetta and we hope she finds her luggage before she gets home.

Hope all is well in your world. Ten days until we head north for a few days.  Love jt