Thursday, December 25, 2008

Quirky Christmas

Photos from the Petén region in Guatemala, gateway to the ruins of the great Mayan city of Tikal.

I was especially taken by the absurd beer tree perched on the highest point in Flores, the tiny island town where we stayed while visiting Tikal. This island was once the home of the Itza and the site one of the last independent Mayan kingdom, Tayasal. Naturally the Spanish eventually got around to destroying the place, along with the rest of the Mayan world, in the name of god and king. Then went broke.

Guatemalan snowman
where once the mighty Mayan Spaniard stood.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Solstice

A text version of this poem located here

I wrote this poem several years ago and added the graphic later as the two seemed particularly suited to one another. It's based on a photo I took of the full moon rising over a canyon in the mountains of northern Nevada. It was a difficult place to get to even in a jeep with an experienced off-road driver. Unfortunately, after a few unusually wet springs and flash flooding, I doubt access to this magical place even exists anymore.

Winter solstice is one of my favorite times of year so occasionally I repost this or another poem that I've written for the occasion. May your days be good ones and the nights bring you peace. Cheers.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The morning after

Yesterday at the LA airport when the US Customs Officer handed my passport back he smiled and said, "Welcome home". I very nearly shed a tear. If you know me, you know how rare that is unless I am watching a video about suffering animals or a smalchy dog food commercial. Not that I was desperate to get back. I wasn't. In fact, I'm really not even back yet. I am between worlds. Here and there. Last night I dreamt about Centroamerica, the people and places we came to know. The friends we made. The animals, the smoldering volcanoes, the Mayan world, ancient and today. The interesting, sometimes bizarre travelers sharing the road. The horrible (not)cobble stone streets of Antiqua and winchy sidewalks embellished with neck-breaking, jaw-crushing drop-offs and skull-bruising windows overhanging the narrow and wildy irregular passageways. Bar none, the sidewalks in Costa Rica take the tarta. They include sudden, unmarked holes deep enough that Mr. Lee, who is 6'3, could stand upright in some of them and disappear completely from view unless you happen to be standing right at the edge of one of these random and inexplicable gapes. I even miss them. They challenge my Attention Deficit Disorder by turning the simplest Sunday stroll into an adventure dangerous and thrilling enough to rival even the edgiest episode of Survivor. And the mossy, moldy, cracked and crumbling walls being ravaged by trees and sagging under creepers blooming up and over. I especially miss them and the lull of languages, like the language of birds, a welcome hiatus from too much information.

Already the conveniences and routines of life here are reclaiming me from that improvised, life-size, handmade reality that opens and closes like nocturnal flowers. Don't get me wrong. I am glad to be back. Certainly the good ol' EE. UU. (US en Español), is an amazing and wonderful place that I am fortunate to call home. And, yes, it is good to be back to my own language although, of course, we are both going to work on our Spanish every day because we are going back and anyway learning a new language is a good workout for the brain. Certainly traveling to and in Mesoamerica is a huge pain in the ass but the place has gotten in our blood. I don't want my world to be complete without all that chaos and mystery and color and, of course, the sweet empanadas we bought every Sunday from the nice woman who baked them then sold them out of the back of her station wagon while her family sat in the car and waited. And oh... those tasty pineapple tartelettes on special occasions. But this morning, in spite of the nostalgia, I managed to fill the feeders in the Bird Park. No one has discovered it yet but they will. Someone will do a fly-by and discover the payload. Oh yes.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

All good things ...

We're home. After 24 hours and three planes, back over deserts and black water, over cities glittering like gold in the dark, after a night in LA, back over clouds and snowy mountains we're home and behind closed doors. It's like being in a dream, or a slow motion movie without sound. We're back in the quiet white house on the street of quiet houses far from the bruised flower crush and swirl of colors, languages, people, the humming streets, markets and parks, and soft voices whispering from the shadows.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Volcan Pacaya

The part we didn't get to. Photo by Issac
Antigua, Guatemala
I just read that volcan Pacaya first erupted 23,000 years ago but we just got there today and M. Lee griped the whole way up and down. This was his second visit and when the guide took us on the short cut instead of the loop trail it really pissed him off. The two of them even got into an argument at the crossroads (in Spanish) which was interesting in itself but to no avail. We missed the ridge view and best approach to the lava field however it didn't end there. On no. By the end of the hike, M. Lee had explained to everyone in the group what the guy had done so no one tipped him although he made a point of shaking all our hands so we could discretely slip him a little cash (which people are generally happy to do for a job well done). When that didn't work, he walked us to the van for a second good-bye. I didn't feel sorry for the guy. He earned it. When he wasn't playing the sport he spent a lot the time talking and texting on his phone. WTF?

Anyway, lava is incredible no matter what. A couple of people set their walking sticks on fire just because they could. The rest of us kept a little distance. It was shoe melting hot. Caliente. Muy muy caliente. Infierno. Hell hot. And dangerous. A sudden shift of direction and all bets would be off. We could see dual rivers of lava coming off the ridge (see photo). Unfortunately, because we had a lazy guide, we were not that high on the slope but hey... lava is lava. Where we were, it had slowed down cooling the surface so that a deathly hot tinkly gray ceramic partially covered the roiling fire flesh from which glowing eyes of flame appeared and disappeared and boulders rose up and broke free. In the hour or so we were there, the front advanced about 50 feet downhill and I suspect that when the guide lit his cigarette on one of the boulders, M. Lee hoped it would reduce his face into bubbly pizza. Just sayin'.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Monkeys? Oh yes. Turns out we saw lots of monkeys at Tikal. Howler and Spider monkeys swinging around in the upper canopy, hanging by their tails, lounging on branches, grabbing and shaking tufts of leaves to get the tastiest ones. I could hear them biting and chewing. I could smell the fragrance of the leaves. And even though the zoom on my camera is nothing special, I think I got some cool photos but probably won't post them until after we get home next week. I'm still having connection problems.

There are signs around Tikal that say, "No moleste los animales (Do not bother the animals). There should also be signs that say, No moleste a los humanos. While we were sitting on the top of Temple V, a coatimundi (pizote as they are called in Guatemala) took a special fancy to the peanut butter sandwiches in M. Lee's backpack and was so persistent he even had fantasies of punting the little guy off the structure. That would have sucked. The day didn't start out all that well as it was. We caught the pre-dawn shuttle and along the way we encountered several animals in the road. The first was a mother hen and her chicks. The bus almost squashed them but M. Lee assured me they all got away. I heard them cheeping as we whizzed by. I was sitting in front and next we barreled around a corner and there in the headlights I saw a small white terrified dog cowering before the onrushing bus. He wasn't so lucky. A second later he disappeared beneath the bus and I felt the bump as one of the tires ran over him. It was wrenching. Not long after that, we came upon a band of horses sleeping in the road. One colt in particular was dozing with his nose just on the other side of the center line. I yelled, "Oh shit" as we roared by. I'm not sure the horse even woke up but we didn't hit him.

After the pizote on Temple V, I had my own "nature" experience with one. We were enjoying a mid-morning snack on the steps of another structure. I was feeding the birds, which is bad in itself, when the pizote showed up. Unknown to me there was a bit of a tamale in the side pocket of my backpack but he knew it was there. I was busy photographing him when he rushed me, grabbed my bag with his teeth and tried dragging it away. For a moment, he seemed to contemplate lunging at me but fortunately he didn't.

We spent two days at Tikal and in spite of the women tottering around the Grand Plaza in high heels and guys drinking beer in the shade of Temple of the Grand Jaguar, it was like I hoped, ancient and great, a Mayan metropolis lost and locked away for a thousand years and found in the mist buried beneath by the jungle. It was wonderful. We did our best to get off the beaten track and did. I'll tell you more later but right now, gotta go.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Isla de Flores, Petén Basin, Guatemala
Today finally we saw monkeys. Monos. Howler and Spider monkeys. Wild. In the trees. Hopping around the forest canopy eating leaves and grooming themselves. And a coatimundi grooming herself on a branch. I did see a monkey in Nicaragua. It was sitting on the frame of a house but I only saw him from the window of a shuttle so M. Lee claims it doesn´t count but I say a monkey is a monkey. It counts. But today we saw lots of monkeys at Yaxhá, a Mayan site in the Petén. A little Yaxhá trivia: this site was the location for a series on the "reality" show Survivor. A group of hot model types spent a couple of months at Yaxhá battling to survive the cut. Anyway, it´s a huge site, some great pyramids and many many more not excavated. And, because Yaxhá gets far fewer visitor than nearby Tikal, it´s a lot easier to catch glimpses of wildlife including crocodiles as it´s built on a lake. No. We didn´t see any crocodiles but we were warned not to swim. Muy peligroso! Here´s a tip. You can stay at Yaxhá for free in their ecco village. It´s primitive. Hammocks (bring your own) under a thatch roof with mosquito netting but then you´d have a real chance of even seeing jaguars in the evening. Tomorrow Tikal will be crawling with humans so I doubt we´ll see much wildlife there but I am hoping for a few wild parrots because this is all the jungle time we get this trip. One can hope.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Bus to Tikal

Antigua, Guatemala
This evening we leave for Tikal which is north along the Beliz border in the Petén Basin. The bus leaves from Guatemala City at 10 pm. It's an 8 hour trip to the Island of Flores, jumping off place for the area. Can't say I'm looking forward to that but that is less than half the time it took going one way to Nicaragua so no problema. I could do it standing on my head. And this time I bought Dramamine. We're traveling on Auto Bus de Norte. It's considered a "luxury line", this in comparison to travel by chicken bus. I don't expect it to be luxurious, any more than the King Quality bus from hell, but "luxury" buses are safer in general and that is an issue.

When we hiked Cerro Negro in Nicaragua our guide, an American kid from LA, told us that the previous week he'd said good-bye to a friend of his, a young Dutch fellow and fellow volunteer at Quetzal Trekkers, who left for Guatemala on a chicken bus. Unfortunately for everyone involved, a gang of drug dealers hijacked the bus when it got to Guatemala, killed all 21 people on board, including his friend, beheaded one of the victims, drove the bus in a rival gang's territory and torched it. Chalk up another tragedy to the bullshit US "War on Drugs". Prohibition does not work. We should have learned that in the 20's during the alcohol prohibition. It's not a moral issue. It's the goddamn Bottom Line. Astronomical profit. How else are these gang members going to make millions? Not selling jewelery to the tourists. All drug prohibition does is feed the mafia and leave heartbreaking wreckage in its wake. Ok.

Enjoy your day. Hasta luego.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Saturday notes on the fly

Antigua, Guatemala
I hope you had a happy thanksgiving. We didn't do anything special here. It's no big deal in this part of the world, a fact I find very refreshing. We did, however, have treats. My pick... cheesecake but it turned out to be cloyingly sweet. So far the pastry in Centroamerica has been way too sweet for my taste. Babyland.

Our time is winding down here. We return to the states in about two weeks. Yikes! I'm not quite ready to go back into the box but, on the other hand, I look forward to seeing family over the holidays. There are a couple of things we still want to do before we go, visit Tikal and volcan Pacaya. We're planning to leave for Tikal at the beginning of the week. All in all, that trip will take about four days. And, before we return home, we want to climb Pacaya, a volcano just outside of Antigua. It's a short hike. M. Lee did it once already a couple of months ago but I was in school that day. Gotta see it. Lava pours right out of the earth and you can get as close as you want. If you´re a fire walker this is the place to be, or if you´ve ever wanted to roast a marshmallow over a volcano. Me? I just like lava and in Guatemala you can walk right up to it. This is a world that lawyers have not managed to strangle the life out of yet.

We did climb volcan Cerro Negro while were were in Nicaragua but I haven't gotten around to writing about that yet and so many other things. However, I did post some photos from Cerro Negro on Flickr if you're interested. There are more to come but now my camera isn't showing up on any computer. So it goes. I'll have to do a retrospective after I get home.

Other than that, last night some of my dreams were in Spanish. Oh, and I finally understand the answer to the age old question... Why did the chicken cross the road? Yes.

Friday, November 21, 2008

There and back again or so it seems

Antigua, Guatemala
After a 17 hour bus trip, during which I had an 11 hour bout of motion sickness because the first leg of the winding road was in a lumbering, smelly, double decker bus driven by a lead-footed pinhead who obviously thought it was a taxi in rush hour, we're back in Antigua under the same gray skies we left a month ago, our time in hot hot Nicaragua a phantasmagoria of images, smells, tastes, sounds, textures, and memories of several delightful friendships made along the way, including Paloma the dog. I´m still having trouble accessing my photos. I now have about 3000 on the 8 gig card in my camera so the cafe computers get hung trying to access them. I swear, we both swear, this is the_last_time we travel without laptops. But, in case we do, I did finally get a pro flicker account and from now on will (once I upload these) upload photos regularly instead of waiting until there are so many they would choke a elephant. Bad metaphor. Sorry elephants.

Anyway... about Nicaragua...
From Chinandega we did make it to the beach. Jiquilillo (He-key-leo). We didn't stay at Rancho Esperanza but that's the place I´d recommend. Nate, the owner/manager is a great guy and from there you'll get the purest experience of the place. On his recommendation we hired a local guy, Eddy, to guide us on a boat trip through the Padre Ramos Estuary, an irreplaceable, endangered wetlands reserve in Jiquilillo. Eddy is another great guy (28) who, since SELVA pulled out because of Nicaragua´s political instability, is waging what is basically a single-handed battle to save the estuary that is, among other things, the traditional nesting ground for endangered sea turtles.

Before leaving Nicaragua, we saw ongoing demonstrations in both León and Managua, the capital city. They were a drag. Sunday afternoon, M. Lee walked to the bus terminal to get our tickets for the next day and on the way back to the hostel found himself in the midst of a mob of masked protesters firing morter guns and being generally shitheads in any way they could. The blasts went on for hours. Seems they need to intimidate the losing side which is protesting the fact that the elections were not monitored or transparent.

Ironically, the next evening just after dark as the bus wound its way north through the mountains, I glimpsed two huge white Brahmas bedded down peacefully under the trees by the foot path through a small yard leading to an open air thatched roof hut. The family was gathered around the cook fire on the porch as the cows chewed their cuds in the yard. It was one of the most tranquil scenes I´ve ever witnessed.

Tonight, after the usual round of explosives, the bells of La Merced are engaged in a sad duet. I am awash with fragmented impressions, and detached memories. Anything is possible. At the moment, I´m not even sure which world I live in.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday aftermath

León, Nicaragua.
Today we are hanging out online. Suits me. There is a big FLSN parade streaming by the door as I write this and small bombs going off to whistles, shouts and the barking of dogs. The riot police are out enforce. Seeing them is small comfort. The elections did not go well last week so there is a lot of unrest throughout Nicaragua. Shit. One of our friends at La Tortuga is a Chilean fellow. He grew up with this crap and is very nervous today. It doesn't settle too well with me either. Things are raw here. Centroamerica is not a tidy place. Things are exaggerated, over blown, past ripe. Life is in the streets. Its wild beauty and grace have a corresponding shadow of chaos and despair.

Otherwise, I am melted to a sticky pile of sweat. Showers don´t help. A second later, I am again a sticky, sweaty blob. And I have become addicted to ice cream. So it goes now that the rainy season has finally ended. What was I thinking? Well, gotta go. Keep the home fires burning.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Chinandega, Nicaragua.... So today, back out into the current that flows past our quiet blue room at La Tortuga Booluda, back out onto the road leaving. A cab stops in the middle of the street. We throw our bags in and go. He takes us to the market where we grab a shuttle which takes us out to the highway, trash piled along the side, lined with blooming fence posts. We converge with trucks, bicycles, cars, foot traffic, hand-made carts pulled by half-dead horses... all moving together, a dark flow crossing the smelly gray river, one great hydra-headed body decorated with moons, stars, galaxies, universes moving... always in the same direction... to Chinandega, the hottest city in Nicaragua. Chinandega, where a hen and rooster are shackled together beside three women sitting at a table on the median strip in the road. Chinandega, where life is just a way of keeping the meat fresh until it's time to eat.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Notes on the fly

León, Nicaragua. So far, León is my favorite city in Centroamerica, maybe even throwing in Mexico, except for Oaxaca. The rainy season was looking like it was coming to a close but when we had decided to go to a surf camp on the coast a hurricane blew into the gulf and now threatens to ruin everything. We are going anyway. We got a very special deal through a couple of Canadians we met in Antigua. They know a Canadian guy who opened this place a couple of years ago and, because we know them, he gave us the same super deal he gave them. Sounds too good to be true and you know how that goes, but what the hell? After all, what could possibly go wrong?

Other than that, I haven't found a computer since leaving Antigua that will let me get my hands on my photos. Another opportunity to practice acceptance and patience. Wonderful. I have some notes about Granada and León but probably won´t get around to posting them until we get back from the coast as supposedly there will be no internet or phones there. Maybe later tonight.

Until then, as travelers must do, I will make things do double duty and use words from an email I sent my family.

Election night we were in Granada watching with our house mates at Casa Ernesto. At 11 pm, when CNN announced that Obama the winner, we clapped and cheered along with the rest of the world. Finally, collectively, we mustered the courage to rise above the hate and fear mongering of the radical right to reset the course for America and hopefully the world. Before the election seemed everyone we met in Nicaragua brought up the election. They all, without exception, liked him. Even a couple of kids sitting on a street corner in Granada reminded us to "vote for Barack on Tuesday". Since the election, we are like heroes around here. People have come up to us on the street and to say how happy they are that America elected Obama. A family sitting in their rocking chairs in the evening smiled from their porch, yelled "Obama" and give us the Thumbs Up. Shopkeepers and street vendors have told us how grateful they are Barack was elected president. On the other hand, seems things are kind of edgy around the White House these days, as White House correspondent Jon Decker discovered. Barney lashes out.

As for me, I am thrilled that some unsuspecting homeless shelter pup is going to be our First Pup!

Anyway, I just read this article at Salon that I think details some of the static that's existed between our different generations on these strange things called hope and change (as well as between my own ears) and thought maybe one or two of you might like to read it as well.

Apology. (Click through the ad. Button in top, right hand corner)

So that's it for now. We've gotta get ready to leave in the morning. Hasta luego.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Volcanos and gallo pinto

Fast Eddie's photo Not mine.

Granada, Nicaragua. We're back in Granada. Ometepe was a bust. I found the photo at Fast Eddie's blog. I'll post my own rainy season version of the dual volcanoes later. The thing about the rainy season is that it is a Season of Rain. Lluvia. Not a rainy day. Not a rainy week. Or month. The rainy season is six months of rain and what happens after six months of rain? Visit Ometepe is you have any questions. I think this is the last time we will travel in the tropics during the rainy season. Yes, it's cooler and yes, it's cheaper and yes, it's not overrun with tourists but for a reason. In the rainy season the tropics are a Mess.

In our defense, traveling at this time of year was not our first choice this time. We had to bump our plans back from last spring. We've done the rainy season before, during 2005, the year of Katrina which trashed New Orleans and Wilma which trashed the Yucatán. We were in the Yucatán, under Katrina's outer whips so when Wilma hit, it was the last straw. It chased us off the muddy, trash strewn Caribbean and home with vows to never return in the rainy season. But the fates conspired against us.

Ometepe was miserable. I didn't even get one decent photo of either volcano. Both were shrouded with their cloud forests. The first clue that is was not in peak form was that the ferry terminal was flooded. To disembark, we had to walk across a makeshift sandbag sea wall. I'll insert the photos later. The shuttle driver warned us that the caminos were malo, the roads were bad. Very bad. Mucho agua. Still, we had to see for ourselves. We harbored hopes of finding a tranquil hideaway in spite of it all. But he was right. The water level of Lake Cocibolca is so high from months of rain that the nice sand beaches it is so famous for are all under water, the roads are muddy ruts and the lovely trails winding through the howler monkey jungle are flooded. After a couple hours of grinding through the sludge and visiting soggy hotels we decided to go back to Moyogalpa and return to the mainland on the morning ferry. On the way back, the shuttle got stuck in the mud so, along with the help of some kids and finally the policía nacional who happened by, we helped the driver dig it out.

But it wasn't all bad. Max, the driver, made a week's pay. We managed to get settled in a nice hotel just up from the ferry terminal, moments before the afternoon torrent. And after the rain, we got pizza at a restaurant with a dirt floor, got to sleep early and grabbed the six am ferry for the two hour trip back to the mainland this morning.

After the ferry docked we got a taxi to the bus station. That driver tried to scare us into having him drive us all the way back to Granada, a thirty dollar trip. He told us there wouldn't be a bus for three hours. We ignored him. The Granada bus waiting at the terminal. We hopped on and enjoyed another lovely two hour, two dollar trip back through the trash strewn country side, past countless starving dogs and smoldering piles of household plastics. We got back to Granada in time for breakfast at Nica Buffet, not a buffet but a great hole in the wall cafe owned by Ed, a cheery old Dutch fellow (that's him in white in the left hand side of the photo, who remembers that I like coffee con leche and we both like No. 21, the Nica breakfast of plantains, gallo pinto, and the eggs scrambled. Home. Don't bother to go there from the 4th to the 20th of November. He'll be away on vacation. Possibly the Corn Islands. We may be there too. Anyway, after breakfast we went home to Ernesto's. More about Ernesto later.

Need a happy ending?
Mr. Bones has left the building

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Notes on the fly

Granada, Nicaragua

We've been in Nicaragua for about a week and are finally getting adjusted to the heat, humidity and pace. Very very poor country; second only to Haiti in the region. There is no opportunity. Fifty percent unemployment. Bright, personable, able-bodied young people everywhere with zero opportunity. It's heartbreaking.

Usually, markets are the colorful heart of the city. Unfortunately Granada's dark market is an explosion of filth and chaos. The place is jarring, death's presence is so intimate and the suffering so tangible that I feel grossly irreverent, sacrilegious, being there as an outsider, an observer. I don't see how this town will ever attain the coveted status of tourist attraction until they somehow manage to change it. Apparently the town has been trying to get people to move to a new location but nobody wants to go.

Sorry. Gotta go. Time's up here. Tomorrow we leave for Ometepe, an island in Lake Cocibolca with dual volcanoes, one living and one dead. More later.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hasta mañana

Antigua, Guatemala. Still trying to catch up with myself, so here are a few more photos from this last month.


Tienda from within

Maya women at La Merced

Fellow Spanish students

Living and the dead

Child in the ruins

Rainy season

Antigua vendadora

Perfunctory shot of El Arco and volcano

Furniture mover

Coming to the end

Rainy season is finally nearing the end and we were planning to leave for Nicaragua this morning but things got messed up. We were overcharged $60 for the bus tickets on King Quality so today the guy is back in Guatemala City redoing it. Tickets can not be purchased or upgraded via fax, phone or online. King Quality insist on someone showing up in person, with passport copies. So it goes.

Stairs to our apartment, Casa Luna

You might wonder why we are going to all the bother and expense to go executive class but it's a 17 hour trip, longer if you count the shuttles on both ends, and the seats are supposed to be more comfortable.

Roof top neighbors

We have really enjoyed our stay at Casa Luna. It's a small place, six rooms, and very quiet. We stayed in the roof top room which is up a narrow iron spiral staircase. It has its own small garden and great view which we shared with a couple of Boxers, one roof top over. Mario, the owner, is a great guy, speaks fluent English and is very helpful whenever anyone has a question or problem. I highly recommend the place.

Charles, assistant editor La Cuadra

M. Lee, Sunday walk

Our room, Casa Luna

No time rest

Sorry to break focus here but I feel compelled to pass along this email I just received from MoveOn. I hope you will pass it along as well. It just takes a minute. We can't let the bastards screw us again. There is far too much at stake.


1. The polls may be wrong. This is an unprecedented election. No one knows how racism may affect what voters tell pollsters—or what they do in the voting booth. And the polls are narrowing anyway. In the last few days, John McCain has gained ground in most national polls, as his campaign has gone even more negative.

2. Dirty tricks. Republicans are already illegally purging voters from the rolls in some states. They're whipping up hysteria over ACORN to justify more challenges to new voters. Misleading flyers about the voting process have started appearing in black neighborhoods. And of course, many counties still use unsecure voting machines.

3. October surprise. In politics, 15 days is a long time. The next McCain smear could dominate the news for a week. There could be a crisis with Iran, or Bin Laden could release another tape, or worse.

4. Those who forget history... In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote after trailing by seven points in the final days of the race. In 1980, Reagan was eight points down in the polls in late October and came back to win. Races can shift—fast!

5. Landslide. Even with Barack Obama in the White House, passing universal health care and a new clean-energy policy is going to be hard. Insurance, drug and oil companies will fight us every step of the way. We need the kind of landslide that will give Barack a huge mandate.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Antigua photos

Antigua, Guatemala

Roy, this one's for you....

Chicken bus in the rain

Antigua, Guatemala. Tropical Depression 16 and it's gray buckets of daily rain have pushed my travel wardrobe to the brink even though I packed for the rainy season. All in all, my backpack weighs a mere 22.6 lbs, my carry on bag maybe another 7 or 10 lbs and my purse, stuffed to capacity, perhaps another 3 or 5. That's it. But I brought two light weight, poly, long sleeved pullovers and, thank the gods for them, I am (barely) squeaking by. Yesterday in class I wore four layers, including my raincoat, for the whole session. My desk was just under the roof and right next to the giant roofless courtyard in the center of the school. Naturally, the whole school is open air because it is, after all, the tropics, so the rain was an arm's length away. And this morning? Rain. But today, no matter. I am happy anyway. Even though I only went for three weeks, it's like the first day of summer vacation, we are at a great internet cafe, with a wonderful open air courtyard garden restaurant five feet away, and with the help of M. Lee, I finally managed to access my photos.

Chicken bus, Antigua

This photo was a lucky shot because, blurred as it is, it captures the hellish reality of the "chicken buses". Granted, they are wildly colorful and dedicated to saints, mothers, daughters, and wifes, and protected by numerous dangling religious icons and filled past capacity, with many people in traditional, colorful Mayan dress, and there are chickens and baskets of aromatic, steaming, home-cooked food and shawls and headdresses full of jewelery and hand-woven cloth of many colors bound for the market and streets and you might consider the buses merely picturesque, if only a little dangerous careening around corners. Unfortunately, gangsters shake down the drivers on a regular basis and those who do not, or can not, pay their "protection fee" are murdered. A young guy, 28, was recently shot to death here in Antigua because he didn't have enough money to meet their demands, and the newspaper included a long list of other victims from this year alone. A couple of thugs were arrested but everyone knows nothing has changed. So, if you decide to ride a chicken bus for the fun of it, please do not deny the driver his tip. His life actually depends on it.

more photos to come...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Week's end

Antigua, Guatemala I just finished a third week of language class, this time in a different school, CSA, and even received a lovely, albeit cheesy, full color diploma for my efforts. I felt like an idiot when the director handed it to me but my very nice profesora signed it with such extreme flourish that I had to accept it graciously, which I did. What the hell? I can now actually string together a couple of rudimentary sentences in Spanish so yeah.

The material at CSA was presented in a much more organized fashion than the first school I attended, and my teacher had me do a lot more repetition and reading aloud in class. Very important for those of us who live, how shall I say, in the moment. I forget the verb forms a second after conjugating them. And CSA provides an endless supply of free coffee. That goes a long way with me. The downside is that they are twice the price of other schools in town. Okay for a week but not for a long run.

Now, I just have to trust that in the three short, miserable weeks I submitted to linguistic torture, a few new neural pathways managed to sprout and will find hospitable ground in one of the abandoned garden barrios of my brain, there are many, as my daughter said, "one little dendrite at a time. Poco a poco. They better. She told I can't come home until I can order her "a burrito with no lettuce, sub tofu and extra pico on a whole wheat tortilla. And make it snappy.

Anyway, it was fun and I am glad it's over. M. Lee gave me Poco Buug as a graduation gift. When I finally manage to get some photos off of my camera, I will post a photo of him along with a few from our travels to date.

In other news, it continues to rain, rain, rain. And Antigua had a minor earthquake yesterday. No big deal for the locals but it bothered me. The town is surrounded by active volcanoes, there's one at the end of main street, and it's full of ruinas from previous quakes. In fact, the town was basically abandoned for about 100 years after a particularly bad one in 1773. We were planning to go to Nicaragua in a few days but now we're not so sure. There is a tropical storm covering Centroamerica and rivers are flooding everywhere. I am so glad I'm not in the US glued to the screen slavering over the political news and firing off one blog comment after the next. Better here in las tormentas.

Table for two

San Jose, Costa Rica.
It was a dark and stormy night after a dark and stormy day after a dark and stormy night and in the morning it rained. But that did not stop Enrique. He dashed across the wet branches, leapt onto a banana tree, crept down its hard green hand and peered at the table below. And waited. Finally he came, the big man with the shaved head. Enrique curled his sharp black claws into the fruit. His tail stiffened and twitched. He narrowed his liquid black eyes and whispered, "Buenos dias, mi amigo."

The man sipped his coffee then settled back. "I know you are watching me, Enrique. And I know what you are planning but I warn you. This buffet is not for filthy little thieves like you."

Enrique dashed down the tree and out onto the railing beside the man's table.

"Panqueques! Panqueques!"

The man poked his fork at the squirrel but that did not stop Enrique from leaping onto it.

"One bit and I will go, Senor."

"No bites and you will go, Cabron."

Their eyes locked. The man smiled and slowly lowered his fork to the plate, stabbed a slice of pancake and ate it and they continued staring at one another as he took another bite and another then again he poked the fork at the squirrel, this time waving it in his face.

Enrique smiled. And launched.

Language addiction

San Jose, Costa Rica. We are still in Costa Rica. Tomorrow we return to Guatemala and perhaps more school. We're just checking out Costa Rica this trip but looks like it's a must return. Some years ago Costa Rica figured out that offering eco-tourism would be a good investment and really, it's a no brainer. Who doesn't want to roast marshmallows over a volcano in view of both the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans... simultaneously?! But not for us this trip. We're concentrating on Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Maybe in the spring. I can't believe it but we are both kind of yearning to go back to Antigua and do more language school. They didn't tell me that language school can be addictive, especially as I can get addicted to anything, but it's hard walking away from once you get started. It's like leaving a puzzle unfinished in the middle of the table. In any case, tomorrow it's back to Antigua and the rain. They said the damn rainy season was supposed to taper off this month. We shall see.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Ghost hotel

We are in Guatemala City for the next couple of days en route to Costa Rica, staying Hotel Casa Blanca. It's located in a concrete and razor wire ghetto near the airport. Not to worry. Razor wire is a regular design motif in Centroamerica, even in the better neighborhoods. The only other guest in the place is a fellow from India who is in the country to sell parts for textile machines to the Mayans. He cooks his own meals barefoot in the kitchen and seems distinctly disinterested in small talk. Otherwise, the place is a ghost ship manned by the two lowest ranking members of its crew, the cook and her compadre, a kid who drives the shuttle jalopy. Seems they both live here. I think he sleeps in the kitchen. Neither speak English. They are very nice but their stock answer to any question (yes, in Spanish) is "Un momento, por favor." So we waited until 10 o'clock last night for the manager/desk clerk to swing by before we could get permission to print out our boarding passes. Of course, by then the page had expired. There is no phone. They have no maps of the city and, if you want drinking water, you have to go to kitchen and ask for it, if you can find anyone around. Did I mention we will never stay here again? I don't recommend you do either.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

People along the way

Antigua, Guatemala. Pepe the Rooster woke us this morning as usual followed a bit later by thousands of firecrackers and pipe bombs. At least the big blasts sound like I imagine pipe bombs sound, not as overwhelming as canons or rockets but much louder, sharper and threatening than firecrackers. And both were accompanied, as usual, by the crazy ringing of bells. The Catholics again. They have been relatively quiet since the weekend, probably because of the rain. I doubt even god knows why they do it and suspect they couldn´t give a reasonable explanation, if pressed. It´s just nuts and really annoying.

Otherwise Antigua is something of a show piece for Guatemala. I recommend it for the short list. Very tourist friendly and otherwise tranquil... as long as you stay away from the outskirts and avoid taking forest hikes unescorted as the place has a thriving sub-culture of muggers and pickpockets. One of the people staying at our hotel was mugged a couple of nights ago but then he was wandering around the public market at 2 am, drunk. He has no memory of the event. He didn´t even know it happened until he looked in the mirror the next morning and saw his bloody, bruised face. Then he discovered that his bag and money were gone. Apparently they left him with a little cash, probably because he´s so damn likable. He was pretty nonchalant about it all. Said he´d been thinking he wanted a new bag anyway so no big deal. Very flamboyant. Very rich. Reminds me of Mick Jagger, in true tatters. He is a member of the Mashantucket Pequots which is a very small tribe in Connecticut (less than 1000 members). However, in 1986 the Pequot started getting it together and today they own the largest casino in the world (4,700,000 sq ft), Foxwoods Resort Casino, along with a little miscellanea like a pharmaceutical company, a shipbuilding company, and several inns and hotels. Sadly, he´s been alone and adrift in Latin America for several years. Getting mugged is nothing new. I get the very uncomfortable feeling that if he doesn´t get clean up, he´ll die of an overdose or maybe get murdered. If I could, I´d say just the right thing and he´d be, insto presto magico, addiction free but it just doesn´t work that way. Enough people certainly tried with me. But who can really say, in the long run, how we all hold together and effect one another? One thing I do know for sure, things happen in their own time, not mine. And keeping a good thought for someone never hurts. So... good luck, Sky. You know what to do.

We have been in school now for almost two weeks and my brain is throughly mashed. I have learned a bit but by the end of each day I´m tongue tied and lost in a miasma of accents, rhythms and phrasing. Even my English sounds like a second language. And my dreams are in shipwreck Spanglish.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Los Viajeros

After a week of immersion language class here in Guatemala, vocabulary words are flying around in my head like bats at twilight. They swoop through my dreams. I find myself muttering them as I scurry through the rain but, for the most part, they escape meaning. So, I wrote a poem with some of the peskier ones. I broke one of my cardinal rules against using words that have been drained and destroyed by overuse (moon) plus my Spanish lacks rhythm, but what the hell? This is an emergency situation.

Los Viajeros

La ruta es larga.
El dia es corto.
La noche es
ruidosa y calor.
Estoy afuera
con la luna.
La ruta es angosta.
El cielo es ancho.



The Travelers

The road is long.
The day is short.
The night is
noisy and hot.
I am outside
with the moon.
The road is narrow.
The sky is wide.

Also posted on my poetry blog.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cat school

Antigua, Guatemala. This morning before dawn, through the rain, we were greatly relieved to hear little Pepe crowing. We missed hearing him for a couple of days and feared that he might have ended up as Sunday dinner. We have bonded with him over the roof tops even though it is a bit of a drag that sometimes he crows at midnight. But, he´s not an ambitious rooster. One round or two at the most, and he´s done.

Otherwise, we started school yesterday and my brain is already looking for an escape. Immersion is just that... tossed in the deep end. Sink or swim. I have pages of notes. This morning I practiced counting to twenty. Also, I am supposed to study lists of opposites, hot/cold etc. We are doing the afternoon session and school starts in one hour. I´m console myself that we are signed up for one week only.

It is good to be away from the incessant election news. I haven´t read a Huffpo headline for over a day. It is all very far away which is an immense relief. I am thinking about it now but mostly I have been focusing on the endless rain, on how incredibly terrible our shower is and where to get another cup of coffee. I bought my first cup on my own this morning and managed to communicate with the barrister without embarrassing myself too much. Cranking up my brain to study is another thing altogether. M. Lee, of course, can simply sit down and study... silently. A+ student, doncha know. I, on the other hand, have to walk and repeat things out loud and constantly call my mind back to the point. It is, at best, like herding the proverbial herd of cats, but in my case they are very bad, very tough street cats.

Well, gotta go.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Camera woes

Antigua, Guatemala. No photos today. I still haven´t figured out how to upload them to the web. My old reliable camera died two days before we left for this trip and I haven´t figured out how to upload photos off of the new one from the road. Plus cafe computers here suck. SUCK. Anyway, gotta go. I spent all my internet time this afternoon getting nowhere once again. I hope your day is going better.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Puppies to market, jiggity jog

Antigua, Guatemala. Today we moved to a new place and paid for the next week, then got a load of clothes to the laundry and enrolled in a language school for the coming week as well, so guess we´re set for now.

We also got to the market this morning. I managed to take a lot of stealth photos, some which looked like they may have turned out pretty good, but we shall see. The romance and glamor of it all was very short lived however. We came upon two very sad young puppies tied together and to a post via some twine. Just as we walked by, a very picturesque Mayan woman bent down, yanked them up off the ground and held them dangling by their necks as they twisted and cried in the air while a customer examined them. Then she dropped them in a black plastic bag. It seemed to me they were being sold for slaughter although M. Lee disagrees. Harsh world out here.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Rainy day in Antigua

Antigua, Guatemala. A little rooster woke us up this morning. I call him Pepé. I think he starts about 4 am. It's raining in Antigua but then it is the rainy season. Oddly, we ran into someone from Eugene at the lunch place. She's been here 8 months working on adopting a adorable little Mayan boy. She and M. Lee had mutual friends. We borrowed one of her umbrella's to run home and get ours. So, we're looking for a language school this afternoon. Gotta go. School starts on Monday.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Tonapah good-bye

We just got back from another lovely weekend convention in Tonopah. I didn't visit the man disappearing from the photo stuck in the wall of the stone miner's shack.

I didn't poke around the Mizpah this time or check to see if the lights are still on at Bobbie's abandoned Buckaroo Bar out on Hwy. 6

"Back Funa and Two Babies"

but here are a few photos from my favorite graveyard down by the Clown. I took them last spring. Don't worry. Nothing has changed. Looks like this will by my last trip to Tonopah for a while.

I'll miss the place, the people, its ghosts but all good things must pass. Luckily, all bad things pass too. Even naked Sarah Palin will eventually blow away.

Anyway, it's late. We're leaving for Guatemala on Wednesday and I'm not ready but then I won't be ready until a week after I walked out the door.