Tuesday, June 28, 2005 by Jeff
All links should be working now. If you find one that still does not work, please let me know and I'll fix it.
Also, I apologize for the pseudo-links that are sometimes inserted in this blog by Blogger.com (or some other capitalist greaseball). I have no control over it.
Monday, June 27, 2005 by Jeff
Tikal, where we were, and Palenque, where we were heading, were contemporaries of each other sometime around 700 AD. The river that divides these ancient kingdoms now marks the border between Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico. The excavation of both ancient sites began in the Fifties, and the archeologist who led much of that early work at Palenque is, oddly enough, buried directly in front of one of the pyramids. Palenque is marked by an incredible forest and, unlike Tikal, a park-like atmosphere. Much to her surprise, Heather has been captivated by Mayan history and consequently fed our tourguide a rich buffet of questions: Why does this tower lean? How did the Mayans poop? How extensive were their aquaducts? What are the spots on these buildings? How did such little Mayans climb such large steps? Because the buildings here are in relatively close proximity, we saw everything we wanted to see in an afternoon.
[Photos: 1 2 3 4 5 6]
Next we spent a quick day-and-a-half in the attractive tourist trap known as San Cristóbal de las Casas (a prominant site of the Zapatista's bloody 1994 uprising) before heading back to Guatemala and the comfort of our temporary home, Xela. We've been here a week now, taking more Spanish lessons and trying to avoid eating out too much. A housekeeper at our hostal invited us to a fiesta this past Saturday in nearby Olintepeque for the celebration of their patron saint San Juan Bautista. Among the hightlights were me on a mechanical bull (and off), the dance of the white conquistadors, and being a foot taller than everyone. The day ended, as they all do lately, in a flurry of umbrellas and rain. The following day, thanks to a recommendation from a Guatemalteco in Tucson, we hopped a bus for Momostenango not knowing exactly what we'd find. What we found was a beautiful mountain town little seen by tourists, a big outdoor market, and more rain. We then crammed onto another "chicken bus" for the ride home.
My time here is growing short and, frankly, I dread coming home to teach Research Methods for five grueling weeks. I can't yet speak Spanish as well as I'd like (of course), and I'm overwhelmed by how much I don't know about Guatemala. However, being a relatively rich white guy stuck on the "tourist trail" in this impoverished country feels to me both humbling and absurd. I'm so out of place here, and yet I fit right into the tourist economy that the Guatemalans are working so hard to cultivate. The feeling is difficult to convey. Suffice it to say, this trip is doing exactly what I'd hope for: giving me a new and challenging perspective on myself and the world in which I live. It's an amazing, sad, exciting, and infuriating place.
Monday, June 13, 2005 by Jeff
On the east coast of Guatemala is Livingston (note the English influence), a small waterfront town, accessable only by a boat ride down the Rio Dulce [photos: 1 2 3]. Livingston boasts one of the world´s few and most vibrant Garifuna communities. The Garifuna are a small ethnic group expelled by European invadors at the end of the eighteenth century from St. Vincent Island, and virtually the only black, Spanish-speaking Guatemalans in the country (they also speak their own language and quite a bit of English).
One side of Livingston is dominated by the impoverished Garifuna, with their tiny wooden shacks, tin roofs, and no visible means of economic subsistence, and the other side by ladinos (people of mixed Spanish-indigenous decent) and a minority of Mayans. The main road is crawling with "tropical"-themed restaurants and small stores catering exclusively to tourists. After sipping mixed-fruit liquados (shakes) and eating your choice of sea life, you can be on the beach (what there is of one) within five minutes. The ladinos own the touristy stuff, and the Garifuna play the music and dominate the informal economy.
For her part, Heather wanted to participate in that economy by having her hair braided on the street by a local woman. When the bill came 2 1/2 hours later it was three times what we were originally told. $33 lighter ($0.22/braid), we licked our wounds and bought another liquado. A really nice, unshaven, fifty year-old man in bare feet and baseball cap struck up a conversation with us about books. He told us about his band's U.S. tour last year (including a gig in Tucson), and was at pains to distance his much prided Garifuna culture from this fake-tropical ambiance. An hour later, he had walked us across town through his dilapidated neighborhood to a tiny, thatch-roofed cafe where he played his band's c.d. for us. We offered him $20 (a lot of money for this place) to burn a copy of his music for us and then naively left expecting him to drop it off at the hotel later in the day. He'll eat well this month, and we may never hear Punta Rock again.
[Photos: 1 2 3 4 5]
Another day of travel to the north brought us to tiny island town of Flores in the Peten [photos: 1 2], a region marked by its quickly disappearing rainforests and the classical Mayan ruins atTikal. Tikal National Park is a sprawling complex of pyramids, temples, and other structures dating from 3,000 bc to about 700 ad. We hired a very sharp guide who taught us as much about the flora and fauna of Tikal as he did about the ancient Mayans. The place was awe-inspiring to say the least, but for me the wildlife stole the show. Spider and Howler monkeys, toucans, rabbit-sized rodents, brightly colored turkeys, tarantulas, carpenter ants, woodpeckers, parrots, and other unknown colorful birds - some harder to photograph than others. By the end of the day clouds moved in to rescue us from the sweltering heat and we had the main plaza to ourselves and our photographic eye.
[Photos: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15]
Wednesday, June 08, 2005 by Jeff
Coban is a small town of about 20,000 in the Alta Verapaz department in the middle of the country. We´re about a mile above sea level and surrounded by Dr. Suess-styled mountains - many small, rounded mountains jut side-by-side from the ground. Steve and Camille arrived from Tucson five days ago (Saturday) to meet Heather and me in Antigua [photos: 1 2]. After a day seeing the local color [photos: 1 2 3 4] here and finding closed doors at every museum, we hopped a shuttle to the capital to catch a bus to the warmer air of Coban.
[Photos: 1 2 3 4 5]
Monday was a full day. Two hours from here is a recently discovered cave with a gently flowing stream pouring from it. Decked out in swimsuits, borrowed shoes, and candles (plus a couple flashlights), a group of ten of us waded into the cave´s mouth surrounded by the screeching of bats. Stalagtites dripped into the water and our candles barely lit the ceiling in many parts. All told, we probably walked and swam 1/3 of a mile, which included climbing rope ladders, scaling a 10-foot waterfall with a rope, and jumping off a 6-8 foot wall into a pool. It was absolutely incredible.
The cave opens up to the Rìo Cahabòn, where we jumped into tiny intertubes for a lazy half-hour float downstream. The riverbanks are densely forested with a thicket of enormous vines begging to be used in a Tarzan-like fashion. From there we were driven to the most beautiful swimming hole I´ve ever seen, Semuc Champey. It´s an expansive stretch of emerald green, stepped pools in a limestone bed. All of this sits over the river which flows beneath it for a quarter of a mile. The river enters an enormous cave in a torrent of whitewater, and exits at the other end below a wide 50-foot waterfall into yet another a large pool. This land, as I understand it, is cared for by the government but has no legal protection. There may be a giant resort hotel on its banks by the time you get here.
[Photos: 1 2 3 4 5]
Steve and Camille left today for a few days of solo exploration, and we´re staying behind for a tour of a local coffee plantation [photos: 1 2 3 4 5 6] and to plan tomorrow´s journey. We expect a couple weeks more of travel before settling into Xela (again) for more language courses.
Thursday, June 02, 2005 by Jeff
Heather finally arrived two nights ago. After a night in Guatemala City we hired a minivan for the hour-long trip to Antigua. I now have the ability to post photos, so take another look below for some pictures I've been saving up for two weeks.
We've spent the past couple of days here just wandering randomly. Today we came across this enormous old church [photos: 1 2 3 4 ]. I wish I could tell you more about it, but it was a random find. The hostel we're staying at has the nicest, fastest computers I've seen anywhere - a perfect place to upload photos. It's a buck an hour for the internet, which is the most expensive I've yet seen. In general, this town seems much smaller than Xela and much cleaner. The streets are wider and the people wealthier. Fewer stray dogs.
I'm running out of time, but want to leave you with one last shot of Heather at her finest. Cheers.