Friday 25 February 2011

Film titles in Spanish

It’s nearly impossible to have conversations with Spanish speakers about films because they are usually known by completely different titles. Film studio marketing execs for the Spanish-speaking world seem to have banged their fists on the table in exasperation at the titles before them and lamented, “Too… thinky!” So, they came up with the following alternatives. Take a guess, answers at the bottom.

Title in Spanish – Literal translation in English

1. La Familia de Mi Novia - The Family of My Girlfriend
2. ¿Cómo Sobrevivir a mi Ex?Surviving My Ex?
3. Juegos Sexuales Sexual Games
4. Viviendo Con Mi Ex Living With My Ex
5. Ligeramente Embarazado - Slightly Pregnant
6. El Sueño Posible - The Possible Dream
7. Siempre Hay Tiempo Para Reir - There's Always Time To Laugh
8. La Maldicion De Las Hermanas - The Curse Of The Sisters
9. Las Esposas Perfectas The Perfect Wives
10. Sintonia De Amor Love Tune
11. El Mensajero De La Oscuridad The Messenger Of Darkness
12. Estafa De AmorLove Scam
13. Perdiendo El Control Losing Control

The Titles as we know them:
1. Meet The Parents
2. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
3. Cruel Intentions
4. The Break Up
5. Knocked Up
6. The Blind Side
7. Funny People
8. The Uninvited
9. The Stepford Wives
10. Sleepless In Seattle
11. The Mothman Prophecies
12. The Brothers Bloom
13. Click

The robot voices in Transformers sound hilarious in Spanish, by the way.

Thursday 24 February 2011

Palomino, Costa Caribe de Colombia

Here’s the copy for a flyer we made to help promote our friends Vladimir, Mary, Marc and Julia in Palomino – not to forget the adorable, diabolical young Juanita and Lucas. They are running Pachamama guesthouse and the Fundacion de la Madre educational project. We were really affected by Palomino and these guys – we were sorely tempted to stay there and teach, but unfortunately time is pressing on and we feel we should get back to our families within a few months, so we had to pass.

Palomino is a small, coastal village only 2 hours from Santa Marta - it has a lot to offer in terms of outdoor activities and is a much cheaper option than entering Parque Tayrona. Palomino offers:

- amazing, wild, 10km beach - hardly anyone on it!
- stunning 1.5 hour jungle walk and 2 hour tubing trip down the Palomino river
- beautiful trails into the Sierra Nevadas
- cheap accomodation (under 10,000 pesos)
- friendly local indigenous communities

Palomino is still relatively undeveloped in terms of tourism. It's a good time to visit - you will have the place pretty much to yourself and your tourism can really help the local community. Pachamama is a guest house based in the village, offering hammocks, camping and rooms. The beach is a pretty 20 mins walk from there. The couple that run it are super helpful and can help with tubing and any tours you want to do. They are also running a project to improve the quality of education in the area. The community is crying out for English teachers - if you are a native speaker and have some time to spare, you can get involved straight away. Or you can support the project simply by staying at Pachamama, or taking their tours.

Contact Pachamama
phone 320 406 2092 email,

About the writers of this review:
We are a mid thirties English couple travelling for two years. We have volunteered in several countries around the world, wanting to get under the skin of places and cultures. We have looked for opportunities on the ground, or from recommendations, rather than paying money via a website. This is one of the best opportunities we have found anywhere - you can give real, tangible help immediately; the local communities are friendly and interesting; the nature is absolutely stunning and it's a cheap place to live. If you can volunteer long term, Pachamama will cover many of your costs - speak to them now. If you would like to ask us any questions, feel free to contact us through our blog, see below.

Alex and Tania,

Funny story: when we did the tubing down the river Palomino – an incredible experience by the way, the jungle is absolutely stunning – our german friend Patrick wore nothing but some rather modest bathing shorts. Right through the village, with plenty of locals and indigenous Indians to give slightly bemused admiration from the sidelines. With the inner tube diagonally across his body, he looked pretty much naked. He wasn’t bothered in the slightest.

Map - San Pedro to San Gil

Our route from Guate to Colombia. Click on the icons for more info about a place. You can zoom in using the + and - controls top left and drag the map by clicking on a point and moving it.

Ver San Pedro to San Gil en un mapa más grande

11 Sundays in San Pedro La Laguna

Every time Rick, who we first met on the shuttle from Antigua to San Pedro La Laguna (Lago Atitlan), sees us, he laughs and calls out "You're still here then!" He thinks we’re going to do what he, his wife, the other Rick, Ricardo, Bob, Canadian Bob and all the others have done and stay here forever. Everyone’s story is the same: they were passing through and that was however many years ago. This is the closest to South America some of them ever reached. We have a little kitchen installed on our hammocked balcony where Alex works minor miracles with rice, beans, spaghetti and eggs, sometimes in the same dish. We’ve had two dinner parties, and think of the long-haired tabby cat that steals in through the window whenever it’s open as our own. We could never be sure that Rick wouldn’t turn out to be right. But we also spent around 8 weeks in San Pedro de los Pinos back in D.F., so clearly we have a bit of a thing for San Pedros.

Sunday is our big day. It is the anchor of the week. It's how I remember time. We don't have breakfast on Sundays, because of Smokin' Joe's barbecue at La Piscina, known as the Lake's best feed of the week. Bacon-wrapped steak in Jack Daniels, the unfeasible Flintstone burger, Jamaican sausage and so on, accompanied by massive sides and followed by strawberry crumble (though they think it's called a ‘cobbler’!) or chocolate brownie with ice cream or whipped cream. There's table tennis, pool, a pool and giant 'extreme' Jenga (two extra levels). All that’s missing is giant Connect 4.

There are a few hours to digest all the food and discover what's been happening in the rest of the world before the pub quiz at El Barrio at 8pm. On our first Sunday, Brian, an expat from Bermuda, approached us and asked if we'd like to join his and Tony's team. They needed cover for music and entertainment, and we needed cover for everything but. We became 4 Candles. We finished second behind team Zig Zag, the regular champions. The following Sunday, we bumped into Brian at the barbecue. Tony, from Germany who runs a business here, had sent him to find team members, thinking we'd gone. Obviously, we hadn't and went on to our first victory.

Team Zig Zag was the Bjorn Borg of the quiz - the undisputed champions with 6 victories under their belts. On our first outing, Team 4 Candles, or John McEnroe, if you will, almost ended the run, finishing second (just as Borg defeated McEnroe in the 1980 Men's World Championship Final). As with Borg, it was their last win. Team 4 Candles went on to dominate the tournament - sorry, quiz - in a Roger Federer kind of way, accumulating 6 wins, levelling with Borg. I mean Zig Zag. Then Rick, Teresa et al finally pulled their fingers out and The Lobotomists entered the scene, pushing 4 Candles to the brink on their first outing. A very Rafael Nadal kind of threat. And, sure enough, they hammered their point home the following week, forcing 4 Candles into second place.

The El Barrio 'Megabowl' (as the event was touted) between 4 Candles and Zig Zag was still on though with 6 wins each. Then, disaster. Just as Federer did when first beaten by Nadal at the Wimbledon final, 4 Candles crashed out of the tou... quiz in a lowly fourth place ("How the mighty have fallen," commented the compere Ben), The Lobotomists proving again what we were up against. The following week, Nad... The Lobotomists didn't show up (neither did Nadal the year after beating Federer), so 4 Candles' 7th victory was somewhat hollow. But The Lobotomists were there for our 8th and final victory, which was crucial as Federer's wins don't count as much if Nadal doesn't show up.

Team Zig Zag advertised for team members in the monthly Sol De Atitlan San Pedro guide. They were looking for "a European female, 30-40s, you keep the beer!”

We’ve made friends with many of the expats here. I met John the other day, a USAn* who has just moved into the house opposite. He was glad to hear I was British.
“Oh good,” he said, shaking my hand vigorously, “You don’t hate us as much as everyone else.”
“Well, we’re as bad as you guys!”
“Yeah, man, you are. We’re the Bad Kids On The Block!”
Mind you, it’s not so bad for travelling USAns now that Obama’s in charge.

I am one of possibly a fraction of people who has not been in the lake. There's no doubt that, from the surface, it's stunning, whether tranquil or choppy, but as you may know by now, I have a testy relationship with water and refused to get in it. It's said that the water here used to be crystal clear with many meters visibility and filled with a huge variety of fish. I've only seen three fish in the lake and they were all dead. Some years ago, a bright Gringo spark had the idea of setting up black bass farming for Gringo tourists and, without any natural predators, the black bass ended up eating nearly everything else in the lake. During our first conversation on the shuttle, Rick told us that the lake had recently risen 10 feet, encroaching inland by 150 feet over crops and properties. Rick's 6 month-old home had become a lake-front property almost overnight. Some buildings have been completely surrounded with front paths leading to water instead of the front door. There's also a problem with a tide of litter washing up from all over the lake, collected by groups of concerned villagers. There’s also the recurring cyanobacteria problem. Locals advise against swimming near the towns, from which a lot of waste makes its way. The state of the lake is a reminder of what happens when a precious resource is taken for granted. None of this bothers Alex. Water always calls Alex in. This water calls to me too, but it says something completely different. But you don’t have to be in the lake to enjoy it.

And there are so many other things to do in Lake Atitlan. We've climbed to the tip of the Indian's Nose, which looks exactly like the horizontal profile of a Mayan face, with the forehead physically moulded to slant backwards. We've walked - and ridden hungry and stubborn horses - through San Pedro's narrow alleys and out through the town to the narrow lakeside path lined with tall grasses offering lovely views and access to a tiny beach with a rickety pier (where you can see the dead fish). We've climbed the deceptively tall San Pedro volcano, the oldest of the three that tower the lake, dead for 40,000 years, since when Toliman began to grow, and for the last 10,000 years, volcan Atitlan. For the comfort that's worth, that's the one furthest away from us. We have kayaked across a conveniently calm lake to San Marcos La Laguna where I watched Alex jump from the variously tall vantage points and, eventually, the tallest, a wooden platform some 5 metres (I have no idea how tall it was!) above the lake. Alex has become an expert of the local geography and takes me round the all the paths he’s discovered that don’t deteriorate into landslides. We saw visitors filling the cemetery, bright with candles and flowers, in celebration of the Day of the Dead. We’ve watched the colour of Volcan Fuego’s ashy burps turn from black to burnished gold in the early glow of the rising sun. We saw the shadow of the earth swallow the full moon on the night of the winter solstice, a once every 500 years event, with Venus, Saturn and Mars rising in the east, and followed the moon as it set into the eye of the Indian’s Nose. But we haven’t done the 400-metre zip-line yet.

Rick was nearly right, we nearly stayed there forever. And we still might.

*We have discovered that the term ‘American’, usually used to refer to people from the USA, strikes a discordant note with a small but distinguished number of Latin Americans who will respond indignantly that they’re Americans too, thanks very much. Gringo aside, I have been unable to identify any other term for people from the USA, therefore, I hereby coin the term USAn (yoo-es-ay-an).

For a walk-through in photos of Big Sunday in San Pedro, click here

Post from the vault: The Mysterious Life Of Brian

Another old post from Mexico D.F. ......

On our way back to the flat after breakfast this morning, a tiny, grey baby (I guess it’s romantic to think that it is anything other than a) rat was quivering in the middle of the pavement. Everything is cute when it’s a baby. Perhaps days old and still blind, she seemed to be okay, if not for very long. I picked her up and stood there with the baby rat quivering in my hands, wondering what to do with her. I took her up to the grassy section of the reservation in the middle of Avenido Patriotismo where, without any obvious food, and without even knowing what a baby rat eats, it was clear I’d be leaving her to die. So, I returned to the flat with her. What to do with a baby rat? There’s a flowerpot on the little balcony of our flat with an attractive looking succulent that looked like it could provide shelter and even a climbing frame for a baby rat. So, I popped her in it while I went to check out her options for breakfast. Not knowing what baby rats eat, I gave her milk, some bread and a piece of mango. When we had to go out, I made her a bed from a sock and created a protective biosphere using a chair, a plastic rain mac and some string. The only other thing I could think of giving her was a name. Her name was Brian. We went out, but I could only think of Brian. I came home to check on her, carefully removed the biosphere and peeked into the sock. Brian wasn’t there. I searched around the base of the pot, all round the plant, even the ground beneath the balcony. She was nowhere to be seen. When I was a kid, I had a Tamagachi electronic pet. I fed it and trained it and let it out to do its business but it seems I didn’t play enough games with it. One day, when I got home from school, the LCD screen had a note on it saying ‘BYE BYE’. My Tamagachi electronic pet had run away from home. History, it seemed, had repeated itself.

Post from the vault: Mexico City (D.F.)

I may not have been posting, but I have been keeping notes. Here's a post from about 7 months ago about life living and working in D.F. .........

I begin the day with a freshly squeezed orange and guava juice (Mexico has a much firmer grasp of the concept of ‘freshly squeezed’ than we do) from the little stall universally at the bottom of the road. They get through 50 kilos of oranges per day. Then I carry on to the tube – sorry, metro – station where I descend three escalators down to the earth’s core and wait for the train. What I can't do on London's tube is walk down to the women only section where everyone can do their makeup without being groped. At first, I pooh-poohed the idea. I’m an Independent Woman; I don’t need to be segregated. Now, when I'm with Alex, I’m gutted I can’t go down there. And I’m learning: who needs an eyelash curler when you have a spoon?

At first, I was cruising along the metro thinking, ‘wow, this is much better; fast, smooth, loads of trains, the ticket barrier takes my ticket immediately so I can’t lose it, the train vendors always have chewing gum, stationery sets, sewing kits and handcrafted wooden models of cartoon characters like Buttercup from the Powerpuff girls just when I need them’. But, inevitably, when I’m running late, or stuck in the tunnel waiting for someone to turn the train off, wait for 10 seconds, then turn it on again, the romance of it all wears off and I begin to make different observations. Which system is jerkier? El Metro, definitely. It seems a question of dubious skill in London and one of sadistic fun in D.F.. Alex told me that he was on a train once that braked so suddenly that a passenger slid the whole length of the row of empty seats lining the carriage. I’m glad I wasn’t there, I’d have been no help at all. I’d have been in hysterics. Then there’s the mysterious smell of burning on the platforms and such highly polished floors that if you turn a corner too quickly, you can travel much quicker, further and closer to the ground than you intended. But overall, I love those big, square, orange trains, all the tempting donut, taco and hair-accessory stalls and the echoes of different amounts of pesos bouncing around all over the place from all the various vendors.

It’s taken me 6 weeks to generate a full-time working week from both schools and private students. Some students are preparing for English exams, others for jobs, and others just like to chat. I have grown very fond of them all. It’s lucky that the private students always remember to pay me because if they didn’t, I’d have a hard time asking for it - students inevitably become friends. It can be difficult to explain the difference between ‘I have been living’ and ‘I have lived’, or to find a ‘rule’ that explains the pronunciation of ‘heard’, ‘heart’, and ‘beard’, so I have been spending almost all my free time creating materials for the IATHIA course in English (I’m A Teacher Honest I Am), either by searching the internet and lovingly crafting pretty PDFs, or straight from my own head: lists of irregular verbs, verbs with prepositions, a dictionary of English idioms which I found on the web and rewrote entirely and an explanation of tenses that my best friend not only doesn’t understand but doesn’t even believe I understand.

Most of my students are of an intermediate standard, whose requirements go beyond the nomenclatural. To help them with the meaning, sense and lyricism of the language, I devised this lesson plan: The student and I take turns reading aloud the poem The Spider And The Fly by Mary Howitt. I read with my best Jackanory voice to give them a sense of expression and a little ... drama. Then I play the student Lullaby by The Cure while they read the lyrics. Then I give them interpretations that have been made of the song (that it’s about nightmares, depression, sexual abuse, that it’s based on Mary Howitt’s poem) and ask them to work out how these interpretations have been made and whether they agree with them or not. To do this, they must understand more than the literal translations of the words. It’s also an opportunity to listen to The Cure.

Learning works both ways and I’ve learnt at least as much as I’ve taught. Struggling to find the right word during one of our classes, one student explained that his brain was like a room full of documents stacked right up to the ceiling with an old man slowly leafing through them trying to find the right one, and just when he thinks he’s found it, an extractor fan turns on and scatters everything everywhere. Another student knows more English grammar than I do and we spend most of our time trying to get her to use it. When I gave her an exercise on pronunciation, she took one look at it, rolled her eyes at me and said, “Is a joke”, and I have to agree that English pronunciation really is. She is currently planning my parents’ itinerary for when they come to visit in August. Another student’s story about discovering he had a long lost cousin serving a life sentence in prison in Miami and going all the way out there to visit him for the first time was so absorbing that I almost forgot to correct his grammar.

During the day, I never have to worry about finding food and not spending much on it. My favourite is the rosticeria near Sevilla station. The site of all those golden brown chickens slowly turning and dripping their delicious juices onto the chunky slices of fresh cabbage and onions, served with either arroz or papas (rice or crisps) and a batch of hot tortillas every time I walk past it, which is almost every day, is a temptation I fail to resist about three times a week. And tortas. Tortas are the mother of all sandwiches. They shame other sandwiches. With tortas, no one even bothers to ask for avocados (of course there are avocados, are you mad?). Or chilli. I like to end up with one bursting with still sizzling chorizo and melted cheese with tomato, onion and general sauce goo. And avocados. And then there is pozole (po-zo-le); a tasty soup that you load with fresh onion, lettuce and radish. And avocado and chilli, of course.

At home, I spend an hour or two arranging my schedule for the next day, a harder task than any of the actual lessons. But thanks to the understanding I have with my private students, Carol didn’t mind putting her class back 2 hours so long as Ricardo was happy to take the lesson on Thursday instead of Wednesday (which he was), which meant I could fit in Arturo’s class after all, which was earlier than Ricardo’s, so then I was clear for Sergio right after Arturo and, thanks to Carol, I was also clear in the morning to take the short notice class the school had given me at 11am. With all that sorted out, I can sort out my lesson plans before I get up between 6 and 8 for my first lesson of the day.

When we tell people how long we’ve been in Mexico, they immediately say “Wow, so we’re have you been then?” and are stunned when we tell them we’ve only been outside the city once. But we’ve been busy!

Couple o' pics

Couldn't resist. Tania is going to write more extensively about San Pedro, one of our very favourite places. Here's a pic taken from the edge of the lake, about 30 seconds from our apartment, at 6am on the night of the lunar eclipse, 21-22 december 2010. The moon is setting into the eye of the "Mayan's Face", also known as the "Indian's Nose". We spent a lot of time walking up there.

And above are two shots of the mouth of the river Palomino, where we just were. A pretty special spot. The sea's on the right, the river on the left. There's a tiny channel connecting the two and quite a current into the sea. At dusk, fish would robustly leap out of the river to say hello, about one every 10 seconds.