Monthly Archives: March 2009

First week in Honduras: San Pedro Sula, Tela, and Utila

It’s been over a week since I last posted and since I’ve been in Honduras. I was in Copan for one night to see the ruins in 2006 but otherwise this was my first real time here. I was in San Pedro Sula for one night and Tela on the Caribbean coast for about a week. Right now I’m writing from Utila, the smallest of the three main Bay Islands that include Roatan and Guanaja off the coast of Honduras.

Utila is known for being the best place in the world to learn scuba diving and to swim with whale sharks. So I’m not sure what I’m doing here! Maybe I’ll take a course and do it or I might just snorkel around the reefs. Right now I’m just using it as a relaxing cheap place to chill, write, and collect my thoughts.

I’m still trying to figure-out how to use this blog. It’s a new medium with advantages and disadvantages and I’m trying to find my voice. How much detail do I go into about my time in San Pedro Sula or Tela?

Should I talk about how the food is surprisingly good? How the tortillas in northern Honduras are usually made from wheat and cooked in a way that makes them taste more like delicious nan from India? They’re called baleadas but should I talk more about the cheap ones you buy on the street like the ones I’ve been living off of in Utila that include just beans, cheese, and maybe some onions?

But I have to mention the one I had at a restaurant in the Guamilito Market in San Pedro Sula where you could add all sorts of things like meat and cream and how in my baleada I had a sweet fried plantain with some cream on the side and delicious steamed broccoli and cauliflower, and some beets.

Baleadas with broccoli, cauliflower, beets, cream and sweet fried plantain at Guamalito Market in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

Baleadas with broccoli, cauliflower, beets, cream and sweet fried plantain at Guamalito Market in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

I’d like to mention two people I’d normally avoid but enjoyed talking to while eating that baleada: a somewhat incoherent old man and then an Evangelical preacher. The preacher used such familiar terms that it was very easy to understand his Spanish. About all I understood from the old man was that he used to build houses with concrete blocks and he was impressed when I said I was a landscaper/gardener.

In that back area of the mostly touristy market there were also many women making (corn) tortillas and other little shops for locals.

Making tortillas at the back of the Guamilito Market in San Pedro Sula, Honduras

Making tortillas at the back of the Guamilito Market in San Pedro Sula, Honduras

Visiting local markets is always one of my favorite parts of travelling and San Pedro Sula was no exception.

The very American "City Mall" in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

The "very American" City Mall in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

At the same time I really enjoyed staying in my own room with Wi-Fi at Los Molinos B&B (contact them at  in a safe, clean, rich suburban neighborhood of San Pedro Sula down the street from the very American “City Mall”.

Well, there’s a lot more to mention from Tela and Utila but I’ll save it for the next posts!

And to stay at Los Molinos B&B in San Pedro Sula contact them here (in Spanish or English): losmolinos_sps@yahoo.com.

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An unschooler/worldschooler goes to Spanish school

Earlier this week on a whim I decided to post my “status” on Facebook as: “Eli Gerzon is taking a Spanish class: maybe he’s been overreacting about this whole school thing the last 10 years. That got a surprising number of comments! Most were from people not in the unschooling scene (I wonder if my unschooling friends were worried) but my good friend Peter Kowalke (creator of the documentary Grown Without Schooling) seemed to get I was pretty much joking when he simply wrote: “Wait for it…”

Well, here it is….

Honestly, this wasn’t school as we usually think of it, so I wasn’t planning on comparing it to school in general but I actually gained some real insights. I also learned a ton of Spanish. My world of Spanish has grown so much and I have so much more confidence and appreciation for the language. I’m really happy about it actually!

But about that whole unschooler “overreacting to school” thing….

I found out about unschooling almost exactly 10 years ago. Honestly, every couple years I have thought about school again, wondered if I was “overreacting”: “Maybe I was just being too sensitive. I love learning and so many wonderful, intelligent people view school as a good thing.”

Then I’ll give school another try and I’ll remember: I’ve definitely been too arguementative and just a jerk about the subject of school (I wrote about that in an article about why I left school) but that does’t change the fact that school is not really about learning.

(It’s like that old addage: “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after me.”)

I don’t know exactly what school is about.

I know there’s fear, control, judgement, and superficiality involved: school controls you with the fear of being judged by superficial indications of your worth. It seems like the primary motivation is fear of being judged poorly and a desire to be judged well on such accomplishments as worksheets, tests, and ultimately grades and degrees.

Still, I wanted to improve my Spanish after only learning from my travels around Mexico and Guatemala and I thought I’d give this school a try.

Like I said I learned a ton. But there was a significant difference between Academia Antigüeña de Español and most other schools,

Academia Antigüeña de Español: the Spanish school I went to this past week in Antigua, Guatemala.

Academia Antigüeña de Español: the Spanish school I went to this past week in Antigua, Guatemala.

which the charming owner, Julio, made clear in his original sales pitch: “The school adapts to the student, the student doesn’t adapt to the school.” He said that after I said I only wanted lessons 2 hours/day for 4 days rather than the usual 4 hours/day for 5 days.

The first two hour lesson with my teacher, Elsi Romanti Guzman Blanco, was new, exciting, and fun. In fact, I decided to do lessons 4 hours/day after all.

By the end of that first 4 hours of drills and worksheets I disliked the Spanish language for the first time in my life. She would drill me on something she showed me a few seconds before and I would have no idea. My mind was mush and I had no motivation.

I didn’t do any of the homework she had given me and it was clear I wasn’t motivated during the next lesson. She asked me what was wrong. So I explained to her, in Spanish, about my feelings and basically about unschooling.

I’ll write about how all that went in the next post. But I’ll be writing to you from another country because I’m leaving Antigua at 4am tomorrow morning for Honduras!

Thanks for reading,

Eli

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Pre-Semana Santa Procession with Alfombras in Jocotenango

(Haga clic aquí para leer en español (click here to read in Spanish): Pre-Semana Santa Procesión con Alfombras en Jocotenango.)

I mentioned last post that I went to an amazing pre-Semana Santa  procession with “alfombra” sculptures in Jocotenango, a town next to Antigua, Guatemala on Sunday, March 15. “Semana Santa”, means “Holy Week” and takes place the week of Easter but there seems to be very big festivals leading up to it. This procession began at a church in the center of Jocotenango, went around that town and then ended in Antigua at another church at 11:30pm.

All along the way people are building these unbelievable “alfombra” sculptures on the path of the procession, made of colored saw dust, wood chips, pine needles, vegetables, fruit, palm tree seed pods, plastic figurines, and many, many flowers. Some larger 3D sculptures, like one of Noah’s arc, are saved right before the procession comes but most of it is trampled by the procession and cleaned up afterwards. It reminded me of those Buddhists sand mandalas that are also soon destroyed after they are made.

Man working on an ocean themed alfombra using a stencil and colored saw dust in town of Jocotenango, near Antigua, Guatemala.

Man working on an ocean themed alfombra using a stencil and colored saw dust in town of Jocotenango, near Antigua, Guatemala.

Alfombra that includes Noah's Ark in the procession in Jocotenango, Guatemala.

Alfombra that includes Noah's Ark in the procession in Jocotenango, Guatemala.

Head of the procession stepping on the alfombra after Noah's Ark was moved out of the way.

Head of the procession walking on the alfombra right after Noah's Ark was moved out of the way.

Alfrombra with flower basket.

Alfrombra with flower basket.

Long view of alfombras.

Long view of alfombras.

Alfombra with animals made of fruit and vegetables.

Alfombra with animals made of fruit and vegetables.

Women's float further down the procession.

Float to Mary carried by woman further down the procession.

Man working on an alfombra further along the path where the procession will reach later in the day.

Man working on an alfombra further along the path where the procession will reach later in the day.

There was of course a lot of religious symbolism and words about love and light, but also lots of fish and birds in the art which I found interesting. It was truly unbelievable how much beauty, creativity, dedication, and fun was involved in the whole festival. And this is just what they do. There’s such richness, colorfulness, and beauty here.

For me it really is unbelievable what they create. It makes me wonder what we could create in “my culture”. I’m not sure what “my culture” is!  There’s definitely something unique about each person and group but there’s something in common among the festivals and the markets I’ve been to in Guatemala, Mexico, and Thailand. There’s something in the air, there’s a richness that comes into being so naturally it seems.

I have a suspicion there’s a birthright to a richness of soul that we have lost in the U.S. Part of the reason I travel is to learn how to reclaim that birthright. I’m not saying we should have processions with alfombras in the U.S. The point is these gatherings and creations have to come from deep within the self and the group. But it seems there’s something we can learn from these countries we often look down on or pity. I’m glad I’m from where I’m from and they do deserve our compassion and our help in many areas, especially since the U.S. has been the cause of so many of the problems in these other countries. But there’s some very important things we can learn from them.

I just started taking some Spanish lessons which is a popular activity among travelling foreigners in Antigua and many other places in Latin America. But it’s the first time I’ve ever been formally taught Spanish! I’ll post about it soon. But it’ll only be a few days for now because I’ll be going to the beaches of Honduras this weekend!

Please feel free to subscribe to my RSS feed or live bookmarks, leave comments or questions here or to e-mail me directly: eli@eligerzon.com. I love to hear from people and means a lot to me.

Alfombra of a candle, part of the general theme of light in many alfombras.

Alfombra of a candle, part of the general theme of light in many alfombras.

Alfombra made of a butterfly made of pine needles and spraypaint: they guy who made it was still standing and seemed proud of his work in a really nice way!

Alfombra made of a butterfly made of pine needles and spray paint: the young guy who made it was still standing there and seemed proud of his work in a nice way!

Beautiful alfombra of flowers made or flowers.

Beautiful alfombra of flowers made or flowers.

A flower made of flowers from the same alfombra as above.

A flower made of flowers from the same alfombra as above.

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View of Antigua from a police motorcycle

I mentioned in the last post how it’s difficult to fit everything into a monthly travel newsletter. I arrived in Guatemala on Wednesday night, have been here for only four days and I can’t fit it all in this post, so I’ll spread it out in the next few.  Honestly, I haven’t exactly been seeking out excitement but sometimes you can’t help it when you travel.

For example I was looking for pretty simple activity when I ended up ridding on the back of a police motorcycle up a steep winding mountain road to get an amazing view of Antigua at “La Cruz”. Last time I was in Antigua I went to the police station and, so as to avoid getting mugged, they lead a large group on a nice short hike up a mountain to this view point.

This time Mathew, an English guy from my hostel, and I were directed to a different police station on the opposite side of Antigua where they had us jump on the back of their motorcycles. They drove us all through the cobble stoned streets of Antigua and then zoomed right past the hiking trail and up a road to the same spot as before:

View of Antigua from Cerro de la Cruz.

View of Antigua from Cerro de la Cruz.

Eli at Cerro de la Cruz with a view of Antigua and cloud enshrouded Volcàn Agua.

Eli at Cerro de la Cruz with a view of Antigua and cloud enshrouded Volcàn Agua.

La Merced Church and the arch in Antigua, Guatemala.

La Merced Church and the arch in Antigua, Guatemala.

It was amazing and it was very kind of them to do that specially for us but I had mixed feelings! It definitely wasn’t the safest thing to do without a helmet. And I don’t have great associations about riding on the back of police motorcycles up and down mountains in Latin American countries. But as you can see in one of these photos part of me was definitely having a good time!

Eli (the one in the light blue shirt) on the back of motorcycle with Antigua police escorts/travel guides.

Eli (the one in the light blue shirt) on the back of motorcycle with Antigua police escorts/travel guides.

Then they offered to take us further up to another view point. There we could see the town of Jocotenange next to Antigua. They told us that there is a festival and religious procession that starts there and ends up in Antigua. I knew that during Semana Santa (“Holy Week” leading up to Easter) they laid out these amazing “alfombra” sculptures on the road that a large religious procession then walks over. But I didn’t realize they do them on the Sundays leading up to Easter as well!

I’ve also been hearing and thinking a lot about the issue of safety in Guatemala. It’s so strange to contrast some terrible stories I hear with the unbelievable beauty, creativity, and fun I saw at the the pre-Semana Santa celebration in my next posts. I do think I’ll be totally safe, I have no problem flying home or going to another country if I don’t feel safe.

Again, as contrast to that ominousness here are some lovely photos from around Antigua:

The Parque Central in the center of Antigua, Guatemala in full bloom.

The Parque Central in the center of Antigua, Guatemala in full bloom.

School kids, Mayan women in traditional dress, street vendors, and others in the sunny Parque Central, Antigua, Guatemala.

School kids, Mayan women in traditional dress, street vendors, and others in the sunny Parque Central, Antigua, Guatemala.

View of Volcàn Agua from the streets of Antigua: one of the three volcanoes around Antigua (it's inactive and directly due south of the city).

View of Volcàn Agua from the streets of Antigua: one of the three volcanoes around Antigua (it's inactive and directly due south of the city).

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In Antigua, Guatemala: my first post!

I’ve begun another journey around Central America: I landed in Guatemala City Airport at 9pm on Wednesday night and am now writing from my hostel in Antigua. I’ll be in the area for the next two months: not coming back until winter’s really over this time!

I’ve thought about writing a blog for years. I’ve had my Stranger in a Strange Land Newsletter, but that’s only once a month at most.

Honestly, I’ve been wary of starting a blog because I’ve had mixed feelings about the medium. Blogs are first drafts. They aren’t very edited: what you see is what you get and you get A LOT from some. I think the bottom line is whether or not you actually have something to say in a post. I really don’t want to waste my readers’ time or mine for that matter: I don’t want blogging about my experiences to get in the way of experiencing them.

But recording ones experiences can definitely enhance them, as my newsletters have for me, and there have been so many stories I’ve wanted to share over the years but didn’t have room for in my newsletter. And I do have a lot to say about education, unschooling, worldschooling, and travel and hopefully this will be a way for me to connect with people interested in what I have to say. I’ll also write about languages I’m learning because that’s a major passion of mine even before I started travelling.

A good thing about blogs is I can mark the topics that are covered in each entry. So if you’re interested in education and travel but not language, or language and travel but not education, then you can choose entries accordingly.

I’ll definitely talk about the unschooling scene. It’s meant so much to me to speak at these huge unschooling gatherings around the U.S. these last few years and meet so many unschoolers: there were 700+ people at gatherings I went to in Texas, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Ohio. I think it’s a really exciting time for unschooling.

I also hope I can to speak to people who don’t like the term or the scene of “unschooling” but do support people, young and old, being empowered, informed, and free. I’ve had my issues with the term unschooling and the application of unschooling but I think in the end it’s one part of a whole education and whole life that includes worldschooling, homeschooling, unschooling, and even some school. I’ll explain what I mean by all that later!

This is getting to be long for a blog post and I haven’t even gotten to any stories of Guatemala! Instead, I’ll just share some photos from around the beautiful colonial city of Antigua, Guatemala and get to the stories in the next post.

Take care,

Eli

Breakfast at Yellow House hostel in Antigua
Parque Central in Antigua in full bloom.

Parque Central in Antigua in full bloom.

Beauty contest winner at the head of a parade leaving the Parque Central in Antigua.

Beauty contest winner at the head of a parade leaving the Parque Central in Antigua.

Burger King and Queen in Antigua parade.

Burger King and Queen in Antigua parade.

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