Rabies, Pupusas and Sun….

Yet again – another exciting week. Traveling is never boring, whether the excitement is good or bad. A little annoying thing happened that I didn’t post in the last blog as I wasn’t sure of the severity of the situation… last Saturday while we were on the horseback ride, walking up from the beach, a group of dogs came out of the bushes and started barking at us(perhaps for invading their territory). The most aggressive one came up and nibbed Alexi on the leg, luckily through his pants, but it was enough to break the skin and worry us a bit, as rabies is known to be prevalent in Guatemala and a lot of Central America. For those who don’t know, once you see the symptoms of rabies in a person, death is inevitable… However, if immediately after you are bitten, you get treatment (vaccines), you will likely be fine!  So, after reading a bunch of death stories and rabies doom and gloom online, we were a bit freaked out, even though the dog likely didn’t have rabies.

On Sunday, when we got to Antigua, we immediately inquired at our hostel about the local hospitals and doctors. They told us that the best place in town to go was a private hospital called Hermano Pedro. We told them we didn’t have regular insurance only traveler’s insurance, but they still sent us there. After some difficult Spanish conversations and a slightly irritated Guatemalan doctor comprehended the situation, a nurse gave Alexi a rabies shot and instructions for another series of shots (which we later discovered were not quite right) and charged us $140! When we got home, we called our traveler’s insurance company, who said we did the right thing by getting the shot, but that we also needed another shot (a passive form of the vaccine) that the doctor at the private hospital didn’t give us.

We then spent Sunday and Monday at our hostel(The Yellow House hostel – very cute and comfy) calling(via Skype) around to various hospitals and doctor’s offices in Guatemala to try to get the other shot, only to discover that due to its high cost, it’s not really available anywhere in Guatemala(maybe to diplomats, but not to measly tourists). Our insurance company had come to the same conclusion and offered to fly Lex back to Miami or SF just to get the shot! Alexi had also chatted with his cousin Claudia in El Salvador, who chatted with his other cousin who is a doctor, who informed us he could take care of everything when we got to El Salvador, and could see if Lex even needed the extra shot. After some deliberation, we decided that the insurance company was stressing out and assumed it a liability, so we decided to go ahead with our travel plans and to follow the regular 5-shot regimen given to us by the insurance company, his cousin, and the Internet!

On Tuesday, after 2 days of worrying, we went ahead with our plan to go to the kite festival in Sumpango, Guatemala. And what a great decision it was! We met Jack (our tour guide) in front of our hostel, and met a group of nice, fun New Zealanders who were also going with us. We all hopped in the back of Jack’s pick-up and had a lovely 30 minutes ride to Sumpango. When we got to Sumpango(after coffees and sandwiches provided by Jack), we climbed up a small hill and had a beautiful sight before our eyes – giant, beautiful, colorful kites of all shapes and sizes – some as big as buildings and others small enough for kids to fly around. We walked through the kites, admiring all the details on them and took pictures. Then we decided to walk down a market street where a bunch of locals were selling their goods. We were then on a hunt to find the local cemetery, as we heard it would be decorated in flowers for Day of the Dead.

After about 20 minutes, we found the cemetery. Mom, you would have died (as she likes cemeteries a lot, interestingly enough). The people had freshly painted all the little buildings in the cemetery and there were flowers, smells of sage, and people everywhere. I had to stop for a few minutes and look at everything, as the sight of all these beautiful people paying respect to their deceased loved ones was amazingly moving. The whole scene was like a Natural Geographic photographic, but of course, was real! We spent some time there, taking pictures, ensuring not to disrespect any of the families that were mourning. We then spent the rest of the day walking around, watching kites fly, flying a kite that another guy in our group had brought, eating pizza and plantains and enjoying what was before our eyes. As we rode back, we made plans with our New Zealand friends to grab dinner together after we got Lex his second rabies shot.

After resting at the hostel for a few minutes, we decided to return to the private hospital, as it was (we thought) our best option. We hailed a taxi and the taxi driver asked us which hospital we wanted to go to – the private one or the public one… The public one – the hostel hadn’t told us about this option?? After a few seconds of deliberation, I convinced Lex that we should try the public hospital, as we knew they were generally free in Guatemala. After a 10 minute ride, the driver dropped us off at the emergency room (which is where you’re supposed to ask for rabies shots, in case you were wondering). We filled out our form, and with the help of a nice local woman, gave it to the right person. We waited about an hour and a doctor came to talk to Lex and I. In our broken Spanish, we explained the situation and he agreed that we indeed needed the shot and asked Lex a series of questions (which the doc at the private hospital didn’t do) and sent us to a nurse to administer the shot. After Lex got the shot, we didn’t know quite what to do, so we went back to Admissions and double-checked (in Spanish, of course) that we weren’t supposed to pay anything. Nope – this time it was completely free! From $140 to free – that’s a pretty good deal, I’d say. Too bad Guatemala offers free health care but the U.S. doesn’t.

After that, we grabbed dinner and some cuba libres with the New Zealanders and went for a walk to see if they were having any night-time ceremonies at the local ceremony… alas it was closed, so we said goodnight and went home. The next morning, we ate breakfast and hurriedly jumped on our shuttle to Guatemala City to get to the Tica Bus station, which would take us to San Salvador. On the shuttle, we met an Australian nurse named Rosie, who was also going to San Salvador, so the 3 of us watched each other’s stuff and chatted at the bus station. After about 3 1/2 hours of waiting, the bus arrived (about an hour late) and we were on our way to El Salvador! It was a fairly comfy 6-hour ride – cushy seats and cold AC, with a few stains here and there and a fairly gross bathroom. We had to cross the border to El Salvador, which included first a stop at Guatemalan customs to exit and then a second stop, where the Salvadorian border patrol got on the bus and checked our documentation. All in all, it didn’t take too long. We arrived in San Salvador at about 8:00 pm, and were immediately greeted by Alexi’s cousin Claudia who lives in San Salvador(San Marcos, near SS, to be exact) and speaks English and Spanish. She took us out to a mall area where we ate at Benihana’s but everyone was speaking Spanish – an interesting experience and the most expensive meal we’ve had so far! We then went back to her cute house with colorful walls, and passed out fairly quickly.

Thursday morning, we went out to breakfast at a cute Salvadorian place called Don Pedro’s and had eggs, beans, plantains, and coffee. We then drove to a place to meet up with Alexi’s uncle, grandma and grandpa who we were to drive down to San Miguel with. As none of them really speak English, it was an interesting ride, but we got to practice our Spanish a lot.  We relaxed at their very cute house for most of the day and then went to a great pupusa place for dinner. They had cinnamony chocolate horchatas, bean and cheese pupusas, and a great Salvadorian singer performing live! Friday wasn’t too eventful, but we checked out the local mall and ate at Pizza Hut – pretty funny – and looked for a guitar for Lex. Friday night, his uncle drove us to see some fireworks, but they started happening while we were driving right next to us, so all the cars slowed almost to a stop to watch them. It’s nice to see people that aren’t in a giant hurry all the time! I don’t think I’ve ever seen fireworks so close! Oh, also, we’re staying at his grandparents house with his grandparents and his uncle and are speaking Spanish about 98% of the time(2% with each other and what English his uncle knows), so it is challenging but we are learning quickly!

Saturday morning we had decided to wake up early to go with Mita(Alexi’s grandma) to Honduras as she has some clients there that she sells to. We hopped in the car with her, Alexi’s grandpa and the driver at about 7:00 am(after a homemade breakfast of beans, cheese and coffee, and bread, of course). The drive was very pretty – we passed a lot of beautiful green scenery, hills, farms and buildings, and of course, the Honduras/El Salvador border. It was about 2 hours to get to a town called Choluteca, where apparently Alexi’s mom was born! We spent most of the day in the car, inspecting our bug bites and eating snacks as Alexi’s grandma would just hop out and go in shops to talk with her clients. But we got to get out a bit to walk around in the very hot sun! Choluteca is definitely a place where everyone is selling something – clothes, toys, cheese, fruit – whatever they can. After a long day, we went to Wendy’s for lunch – ha! We returned home to relax some more and to eat some pasta and beans.

Today, we slept in a bit(8:00 am) and were woken by Lex’s grandpa’s call to breakfast. We then went out with his uncle to buy a guitar(he bought one for only $50!) and to get Alexi his 3rd rabies shot – only 2 more to go(again, it was free). While he was in the hospital with his cousin(who is also a doctor), I sat and spoke in Spanglish with his uncle outside the car while we sipped cold bebidas(non-alcoholic). We then went to a parking lot where they were having an event of sorts with food, drinks and live music. Lex and I of course ate more pupusas while his uncle had carne asada and we all watched a Salvadorian singer. El Salvador, so far, is not what I expected. It’s a lot more developed than Guatemala and is pretty commercial, with a lot of “American” restaurants – Subway, Pizza Hut, etc, but definitely has a lot of local stores and restaurants, too. Oh, and San Miguel(where we’re staying) is HOT! We’re using lots of fans and wearing minimal clothing. Lex’s family is so sweet and is taking amazing care of us, too! Check out my pics to see more of them, the house, Lex’s bite, the kite festival etc! Adios for now!

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