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.