Eugene! Eureka!

The alternate title for this post might be “all puppy all the time.”

We’re home!

We had a terrific weekend reconnecting with family in the Bay Area and introducing them to Penelope. Doug, our youngest, is working with Sarah’s brother in Marin County, doing construction and remodeling.

Doug and Puppy

Doug and Puppy

Niece Ella played with Penny, as did two or three of her friends, as much as they possibly could. Three just-pre-teen girls can love a puppy a whole lot! And a puppy can absorb a lot of loving.

Ella’s dog Watson, a large chocolate lab, was the best dog uncle imaginable. He thumped his tail and the puppy attacked it. If he sat still, she attacked his ears or his nose. If her puppy teeth got too bad, he growled, which may have taught her some manners.

Ella and Penny

Ella and Penny

Watson and Penny play tug of war

Watson and Penny play tug of war

Cabin and puppy Feb 13 002

Then we had a few days in the mountains introducing Penelope to snow and to our middle boy Alexi, who is wintering in a summer recreational cabin in the Sierra.

Puppy Claws

Puppy Claws


She came with us on our walks; she has the advantage that she skips over the crust. I generally break through.

Alexi and Penny

Alexi and Penny


When Penny got tired and cold, Alexi carried her home in his jacket.

When they both got tired and cold they sat on Sarah’s lap in front of the fire.

Sarah, Alexi and puppy

Sarah, Alexi and puppy

It was a bittersweet visit to the Sierra cabin, as one of the siblings who inherited it now wants her share in cash, so it looks as if the cabin will have to be sold. We are saying fond farewells to one of the most beautiful places we know.

We have been taken out of our context of privilege, shaken around a bit and now we are back. What next?
Having braved the Internet we’ve learned that blogging is actually sort of easy, even for the technologically impaired elderly. What a delight to have been able to share parts of this trip with you all and receive your support.
We are very blessed.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T. S. Eliot
Little Gidding V

Marin County

Travel in the US is different than in Guatemala or Mexico; we keep noticing that.  We stayed with some snowbirding friends in an RV park in Arizona, where we fed utterly cute animals at a petting zoo: the lorikeets are particularly attractive, nothing beats the fuzzy donkeys for sheer cuteness, the deer slobber, and the Boer goats have the softest lips. 

Sarah with Lorikeets

Sarah with Lorikeets


After purchasing my official Geezer Card at Joshua Tree National Park (Hoorah!  I am an official Old Person!) we eventually picked up our new puppy near Bakersfield.

 

 

Penelope

Penelope

Sarah meets Penelope Sarah meets Penelope

She is making the trip north both more challenging and more fun. She sleeps in the passenger foot well, a magic puppy crate. Every time the door is opened the scenery is totally new!
Across California, stopping at lovely if a bit cold Carrazo Plain again, through San Luis Obispo and up the coast. We visited a beach inhabited by elephant seals, in the nursing and caring for young season; they make an amazing noise.

Elephant Seals

Elephant Seals


We spent a night in Big Basin State Park, the first state redwood park and by some reckonings the oldest California state park. (Yosemite was owned by the state at one time but certainly is not a state park now. Should it be counted as the oldest?) It was a little dark and not actually really warm, but a night of worshiping redwoods is worth a little difficulty. A warm fire is wonderful if you can get it going.
Camping in Big Basin under redwoods

Camping in Big Basin under redwoods


We also spent a night at a terrific county park outside San Jose, where an owl hooted nearby for hours in the pre-dawn and a coyote yapped at us firmly and angrily a little later, as if we were intruders. Once again, at both these parks, we were the only campers present.
We are visiting family in the Bay Area now, with plans to head up to the Tahoe area to visit our middle boy and then, later next week, to turn north again for the final push.

Arizona

The Beatles said it best: Back in the US, Back in the US …

Before the border, though, we spent a night at an old hacienda made into a lovely hotel by the addition of comfortable beds and bathrooms, with the original doors and windows, very nicely done. We unexpectedly found a large stained glass window in the garden.

Hacienda Hotel El Fuerte. stained glass window

Hacienda Hotel El Fuerte. stained glass window


At San Carlos we were back in serious Gringoville; it is a retirement community for escapees from winter. We enjoyed the decorated tree at a small fishing area.
Tree at San Carlos

Tree at San Carlos


We stopped again in Santa Ana, where Edgar and Anna run a small RV stop, perfect for first and last night south of the border. They are getting to be of “mayor edad,” but are the most friendly and hospitable people you can imagine. Edgar gave us a Chevrolet hubcap to replace the one we lost in Guatemala.
Edgar gave us a hubcap

Edgar gave us a hubcap


Crossing the border was uneventful, though three officers had to check under our bed and they seemed insistent that we might have undeclared meat or produce (are you sure you don’t have a couple of potatoes left over?) that we could give them. The border station itself looks very expensive, lacks the slightest sign of “Welcome to the USA,” substituting notices about the penalties for assaulting a federal officer, for smuggling currency, for failing to declare pork products, and so on, and has some significantly unfriendly looking dogs.
It has been cold. There was snow in northern Sonora and southern Arizona, but we had a lovely Arizona sunset our first night here.
Arizona Sunset

Arizona Sunset


Today we took a hike among the cactus. The desert is (slightly) green after recent rain and snow, and the flowers should be terrific in a month.
Saguaro Hike

Saguaro Hike

El Fuerte

Morelia was beautiful, reminding us of Queretaro. Both are of an age and a type. Historic Morelia is made largely of a rosy stone that gives the old streets a glow.

Street in historic centro of Morelia

Street in historic centro of Morelia


We have started retracing our earlier route; I find it interesting to see the same things with different eyes. We are more experienced in Mexico than a few months ago.

We visited Isla Janitzio, a tourist island off Patzcuaro. It is a hilly island perhaps faintly suggestive of Greece, with an enormous statue of the revolutionary hero Morales on the top.

Janitizio topped by the giant statue

Janitizio topped by the giant statue

One can climb up inside the statue, perhaps faintly reminiscent of the Statue of Liberty?, even up a narrow spiral staircase to the top of the arm.

Looking down inside the statue

We saw a wedding reception with probably two hundred people seated at long tables, and watched three men trying to set up the sound system.

Power for the reception music

Power for the reception music

We met a couple from Eugene who spend several months every winter in the campground where we stayed in Patzcuaro.
Then back to Villa Corona, but there wasn’t a circus. The warm swimming pools, heated by hot springs, were even more appreciated this time, I think. Back to the same trailer park in Mazatlan, where we visited with a couple from Pacific City Oregon who spend about six months there every year and who are trying to find homes for their litter of (mostly) fox terrier, “rescued”-mom, puppies. (They threatened to hide some in our car.) We are picking up our puppy in Southern California in a week.

Our new puppy

Our new puppy

We have had a few more adventures turning down roads that might, but in fact don’t, lead to where we want to go. We are getting much better at these adventures. We have driven through dozens of gamma ray detectors, doubtless funded by US anti-drug money. What do gamma ray detectors detect? (And don’t say “gamma rays.” That isn’t helpful.) At a vegetable inspection today (like California), Sarah said we had no fruit, but we had candy, and held up the package. The inspector said, “Me regale uno?” so of course we did. That was the cheapest propina (tip) yet.

We have learned that the maps, even the much-recommended Guia Roji (Red Guide) should be considered suggestions or improvisations or hypothetical. And we have learned that sometimes you can’t get where you want to go unless you have been there and know how to do it. We wanted to turn off of the major beltway/southern bypass around Guadelajara onto the major highway that leads toward Puerto Vallerta or, eventually, to Nogales on the US border. These are not small roads. As far as we can tell, you cannot make a left turn to do that, nor is there an exit with a cloverleaf. What you do it keep driving until you are pretty sure you have missed the turn, then take a “retorno” or make a U turn across the median, and come back and make the right turn, which is clearly signed.
We can tell we are back in the north of Mexico. We see lots more US license plates, and some of them are even valid for 2013. (Many are on cars that were imported and stay here, presumably without local papers, certainly with really old California or Texas plates.) We talk with more people who have lived in the US and speak some English. And we are seeing wheat tortillas advertised on the streets. In Guatemala, people trimmed the vegetation on the sides of the road with machetes. In Belize, they used gas powered weed whackers carried with a strap over the shoulder. In the south of Mexico they seemed to have newer hand carried weed cutters. Today a crew was cutting the vegetation with a tractor.
Last night at the beach, the restaurant people moved some tables and had us pull the car inside the fence, under the roof, for the night. You can just see the car in this picture I think.

Camping spot at Playa Ceuta

Camping spot at Playa Ceuta

We waded, lounged on the sand in the sun, had dinner at the restaurant pictured, and enjoyed a terrific sunset.
Sunset at Ceuta Beach

Sunset at Ceuta Beach

Our lunch restaurant today had a Brown Swiss cow head mounted above the bar. It reminds me of a Tom Lehrer song:
“I went and shot the maximum the game laws would allow,
Two game wardens, seven hunters, and a cow.”

Trophy Head

Trophy Head

It is going to be difficult to return to rain, clouds, darkness, and cold. It rained today in El Fuerte, Sinaloa, perhaps trying to get us used to going home. We are looking forward to warm friends to make it worthwhile.

Morelia

Cuidad de Carmen, Campeche, was previously known as Tris, the pirate island.  It was the refuge from which English, and Dutch pirates raided Caribbean shipping and towns with near-impunity.   Tabasco is wet, green, humid, hot and full of egrets. The road to Villa Hermosa crosses rivers, bayous, backwaters, streams, flooded fields with belly-deep cattle, and generally looks like (is) a tropical delta.  This was the center of Olmec civilization, the first in meso-America.  Giant Olmec heads were moved to a park in Villa Hermosa decades ago from their original site at La Venta when petroleum exploration and development, the number on

Sarah watches 3000 year old man emerge from cave

Sarah watches 3000 year old man emerge from cave

e obvious economic driver of these Gulf states (Halliburton and Schlumberger trucks and offices), seemed to require that they be moved. 
Each one is at least 5 feet tall and 3000 years old

Each one is at least 5 feet tall and 3000 years old

Mayan ruins at Comalcualco were built of brick on top of mounds of packed mud, all covered with stucco, as there are no rocks.  They are beautiful but oddly reminiscent of a Victorian English folly, a pretend pyramid built of red brick.  The bricks were made with designs (animals, human figures, etc.) and then laid with the designs facing inward. Only hypotheses as to why.

Sarah checking the brick pyramid

Sarah checking the brick pyramid

 

Tabascan churches are striking: colorful and idiosyncratiC. They say that Tabasco was never really properly converted due to a dispute between two missionary orders, so it developed more or less on its own. We liked San Miguelito, with St. Michael slaying a dragon above the entrance. 

San Miguelito, Tabascan church

San Miguelito, Tabascan church

Tabasco likes color

Tabasco likes color

Tabasco Torre

Tabasco Torre

I was taken by the presence of a turkey in the crèche.  If there was one big miracle why not smaller ones on the side, such as a turkey in Bethlehem in year 0?

We found Orizaba more of less by accident when it was time to stop our hurry northward, and it is a lovely and untouristed town.  The present Municipal Palace has (yet another revolutionary and depressing) Orozco mural from the 1920s, in what was once a series of  schools.  The old Municipal Palace is an Iron Building (Edificio de Hierro) designed by Eiffel and used as the Belgian Exhibit at a late 19th century Paris International Exhibition.  It was taken apart, shipped in several vessels to Mexico, and put back together in Orizaba, a la Erector set. 

The Iron House

The Iron House

Detail of Orozco mural

Detail of Orozco mural

Anangueo is Butterfly Town.  It was a mining town until a drop in the market price of silver caused the closure of the mines, throwing everyone out of work.  The town is beautiful and obviously there was money there when the buildings were built.  Now it is the gateway to El Rosasario, one of the winter refuges of the Monarch butterfly.  We saw uncountable millions hanging on the trees, looking from a distance like giant wasps nests, gazillions of Monarchs hanging together for warmth.  It was warm enough, barely, for us to appreciate how amazing it must be in later February and March when the butterflies fly off in orange clouds.

Monarch on Sarah

Monarch on Sarah

A mass of wintering  Monarchs

A mass of wintering Monarchs

Not far away is a valley with hot springs.  We found the only place that seems to be open all year, and had the most delightfully sulphurous green-watered hot soak.  Ahh.  We drove through more of the pine-clad, oak-punctuated green hills of Michoacan, one of the loveliest states in Mexico (along with Oaxaca, Chiapas, Campeche, and a few others).  

Campeche

Campeche is the southwest corner of the Yucatan Peninsula, so we have traveled some since I last wrote. I flew from Cancun to Wichita to celebrate my parents’ 189th birthdays with them. My dad just turned 95 and my mom 94; all three of my brothers and I were there to celebrate.
I left Sarah in Mexico; while I grasshoppered in Kansas she took Spanish classes in Playa del Carmen and then sat on the International House terrace later, messing around on the computer, reading her novel in Spanish, doing her homework, and watching the passing tourists in their various traje (native dress). Tulum had Christmas giraffes on their main street.

Christmas giraffe in Tulum

Christmas giraffe in Tulum


After Kansas and Spanish school we set out, finding Cenote Yokdzonot, which the women of the village had organized as a cooperatively run swimming area with restaurant and camping.
Cenote--beautiful swimming hole

Cenote–beautiful swimming hole

We went to Chichen Itza early, as soon as it opened, which was a smart move since we got to enjoy the ruins before the crowds (serious crowds) and heat really arrived.
Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza

We found more Maya ruins and the largest church in the Yucatan, built by a zealous bishop on top of the platform of a Mayan temple, using many of the stones from the pyramid. The size of the church grounds shows how big those pyramids really are. The town of Ixamal used to have twelve of them. I’m surprised there are any rocks left in the fields.
We climbed what is left of Kinich Kak Mo

We climbed what is left of Kinich Kak Mo


And so Merida, a lovely colonial city. It reminds both of us of Oaxaca, another historic relaxed city that we both enjoyed, only warmer. South down the coast to Celestun, one of our favorite places so far. It is a casual small town on the ocean, not on the way to anything. Some words for my amigos de aves (bird watching friends): flamingos!
Flamingos! and one white pelican

Flamingos! and one white pelican

magnificant frigate birds! (At least I think so. I don’t see anything else in the book they could possibly be.) melodious blackbird, orange oriole, gray necked wood rail, cinnamon hummingbird, tropical kingbird, a bunch of ibises, ladder backed woodpecker, and a lot of other birds that we also see at home. Our boat stopped at a fresh-water “ojo” or “eye” of the jungle, among the mangroves. The man selling snacks said there are no crocodiles there, so of course it was perfectly safe for a dip.
Sarah takes a dip in the ojo de selva

Sarah in the ojo de selva


We could see how people arrive in a town like Celestun intending to stay for a day or two and don’t get around to leaving. Somehow in our relaxed state we bought another hammock.
And on to Campeche, the capital of the state of Campeche, at the southwest corner of the Yucatan Peninsula. Pirates were plentiful along this coast and the town was once walled. When it cooled a bit we walked along the very rebuilt remains of the fortifications, watched colored fountains that danced to music and a most Mexican espectaculo of Campeche’s history heavily romanticized and acted to more colored lights on Campeche’s bastions.

Tulum

We are back in Mexico. Although his was not exactly like our trip, I want to quote Stephens on his return to Mexico after a year in Guatemala during a civil war.
“An immense weight was removed from our minds, and we welcomed each other to Mexico. Coming in from the desolate frontier, it opened upon us like an old, long-settled, civilized, quiet, and well-governed country.” Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan (1842).
Stephens entered Guatemala from the Atlantic and entered Mexico in Chiapas, not far from where we left Mexico and entered Guatemala. We felt much the same way when we left Guatemala and entered Belize, and then Mexico: we were entering a civilized and well-governed country. In Belize, we immediately noted not only that English is the official language, but that services at the border are arranged for facility, to move people from one station to another in an organized fashion, and staffed adequately. This has to be a legacy of the Brits, along with cricket and tea.

Who but Belize would put all that in one ministry?

Who but Belize would put all that in one ministry?


In Guatemala, I was served “coffee” which I could see right through, to the bottom of the cup. In Belize I was told the coffee was not hot, but the tea is always ready. Now back in Mexico, where they put the Nescafe bottle on the table and serve a cup of hot water; cafe a su gusto.
Breakfast in Chetumal: dominoes and as much instant coffee as I want

Breakfast in Chetumal: dominoes and as much instant coffee as I want


In Belize we immediately noticed much better roads, more diversity (lots of Chinese restaurants and stores, along with others), more black faces, cricket fields, and generally a Caribbean atmosphere, with colorfully painted clapboard houses raised on stilts. We found our “inn” in Belize City and were welcomed by very friendly and outgoing hosts, in what looked just like another house in the neighborhood but had been adapted to hotel use. We walked up and down in Belize City for Christmas Eve, and went to Caye Caulker for sun and sand on Christmas Day.
Christmas Day on Caye Caulker

Christmas Day on Caye Caulker


In Belize, just about everything closes on Sunday, and everything is closed on Christmas Day. A very few places, mainly small groceries, are open on Boxing Day. So touristing on Cay Caulker was our best option. We snorkeled, communed with the fishies, petted rays and sharks, and celebrated the 7th Principle.
Traveling at leisure, we entered Mexico on the 27th. We have walked a bunch more Mayan ruins,
At Kohunlich

At Kohunlich


visited a manatee,
Manatee

Manatee


seen Spanish chapels and Spanish forts and Mayan chapels, been to a good Maya Museum, and cooled off in a very Mexican balneareo at which we were the only foreigners.
Stela replica from Chetumal

Stela replica from Chetumal


Cooling off at the balneareo

Cooling off at the balneareo


Our campsite on Lago Bacalero was more or less a tropical paradise.
Sunrise from our campsite

Sunrise from our campsite


And now we are in Tulum, in Touristlandia for the next ten days or so, until we get through Cancun and out the eastern side.

Belize

Then to Tikal, the major Mayan ruin in the Peten (Northern Guatemala). We found preparations for the next day (the actual Baktun end day, by general consensus) everywhere. The morning national newspaper, Prensa Libre, said that road improvements to Tikal were finished in time for the celebration. Tell that to the fellows spreading asphalt, painting yellow lines, and grading shoulders. The newspaper also said that all accommodations were full except for camping. That should have given us a clue. Because of the Baktun, everything in the National Park was upturned–entrance gates were moved, roads were being re-bricked with trip lines invisible except to tourist ankles, personnel were swarming, walls were being painted, and most importantly for us, camping was not allowed–“is cancelled” for the duration.
The site, however, is as impressive as you could imagine.

Tikal Pyramid

Tikal Pyramid


While G. rested and recouped, Sarah set off to find us a place to sleep. A pleasant young tourist agent, part of a corps of hundreds, when told that the newspaper said camping was available, suggested that the same paper probably also said Guatemala had a good government. We found a room-with-shared-bath at the Jungle Inn, which was just fine (no camping, but other accommodations were available) and we arose at 4 am to take an early tour to see the sun rise from the top of a pyramid.
The sun rose into impenetrable mist but we heard the jungle wake up (howler monkeys particularly) and watched the tourists, including several meditators who managed communion for at least 45 seconds at a time and a set of Eugene sorts who burned cornhusks and Mayan incense upwind of the whole pyramid-top crowd and then fell into an extended group embrace.
We walked on through other plazas, buildings, temples and ball courts, surrounded by deep and chattering jungle. Lots and lots of folk were getting ready for the big celebration in the evening. We were particularly struck that the Mayan participants–dancers, spiritual leaders, etc.–were walking, carrying their gear. The chubby white guys in uniforms, police, tourist police, military and park service, were all in trucks and newer cars, most driven fast down the same roads that walkers used. Es Guatemala, by now not so surprising, but still sad and a little scary. The day was becoming hot, busy, and crowded so we headed out, convinced as we passed the lines of trucks and buses going in that we were headed the right direction.
At Yaxha, a neighboring ruin where our friend at Tikal had assured us camping was open, and where the tourist magazine in Antigua extolled the newer camping palapas, the camping was also “closed for the duration.” Driving the 6 km into the ruins was also closed. (Pay 5 quetzales for parking and wait for the tourist bus.) We stopped instead at a private field where the owners had set up a campground, plus two cabanas, a palapa, and a comedor.
The comedor at the Yaxha Campground

The comedor at the Yaxha Campground


The three generation family was very friendly. Sarah took Vilma’s blood pressure and made a friend for life. We took the afternoon off. I was still a little shaky from my tourista tummy woes and appreciated an hour in a hammock. Sarah made a terrific packaged chicken noodle-with-added-veg soup that was exactly what the doctor ordered. Unfortunately, as I got better she got sick and we stayed in the green. cool quiet for two nights after everyone else left and as they closed the place down around us. Vilma kept coming over with fruit, medicinal tea, and to see how we were doing. Most telling: We moved the car up next to the palapa after everyone else left, so we would have shelter if it rained again. At about that time a police truck drove by. Vilma and her husband promptly came over looking for us because they could not see the car where it previously had been, and they had seen police go by and were concerned. They were relieved to find us still there.
By the time we left we felt like family

By the time we left we felt like family


I toured Yaxha on the day the world ended and enjoyed more ruinas in the jungle. This site was, again, massively impressive, and we tourists were outnumbered by the t-shirted staff and Red Cross volunteers. I guess everyone was at Tikal, making Yaxha a great place to see as the world began again in this next Baktun. I climbed a pyramid and looked across the treetops at another down the way.
Yaxha: pyramids in the jungle

Yaxha: pyramids in the jungle


Yaxha is on a pretty lake. The sign intrigued me. I think the crocodile does not like to get soap in his mouth, maybe.
Do not use soap in the lake.  It annoys the crocodile.

Do not use soap in the lake. It annoys the crocodile.

On the third day we arose and drove into Belize. Belize is very different from Guatemala. It is Caribbean, notably more prosperous (more expensive), British influenced (was a colony until 1981), has better roads and infrastructure, more black faces, more diversity generally. We haven’t seen scrawny dogs dodging traffic, nor do we see so many people sitting who appear to have nothing to do. We are in Belize City, at the Red Hut Inn, where we blog in AC and on a rooftop terrace and have been welcomed by innkeepers Julie and Lewis, a delightful couple with 5+ languages, 5+ small dogs and a contagious welcome. Tomorrow to Caulker Cay, snorkeling and sunburn and Caribbean R & R.
Though it’s a relief to be clean, healthy and relatively safe, there’s much about Guatemala, failed government, lawless racist history and all, that we will miss and mull over in these next months of travel towards home.

From Antigua to Flores

We drove to Coban with one of Sarah’s basic English students and he gave us the four-star tour of his home town, San Cristobal de Verapaz.  The lake and the park are lovely, reminding us of home in Oregon.Image
The chapel of San Cristobal on top of the village’s highest hill has a great view of town at sunset. In front of a cross surrounded by remnant stalactites and stalagmites from somewhere cave-ish (many in these limestone hills) there was a fire pit area for traditional Mayan offerings.Image

On the way back to Edy’s family home, we got to see the San Cristobal Christmas parade twice.  The parade featured many pickups and some other vehicles all decked out for the holidays with lights, Christmas trees taped to the roof, inflatable balloon-type holiday figures (think Mickey and Donald in whirling teacups), dancing, marching and sign-carrying groups of children from the YMCA and suchlike, and lots and lots of caballeros on horses.Image 
As we were detouring around the central plaza, we ran into the start of the parade again so we saw it all twice, the second time through in the dark, with more impressive lights and tireder children and horses. Image

Edy’s family of parents, grandparents, uncle and six siblings welcomed us as honored guests. Mama Ofelia is a wonderful cook. They even provided a mechanic to fix our ailing emergency brake after the parade, on Sunday night, for a house call that ended up costing about $2.50 US.

At dinner, Edy’s uncle Rigoberto waxed eloquent in easily understandable Spanish. He is a brilliant, largely self-educated man who has greatly assisted Edy and his siblings in getting their university educations.  As their first language, the family speaks Poqomchi’, one of 23 indigenous Mayan languages. Tio Rigoberto told us about his experiences as a six-year old in San Cristobal during the “guerra internal”- the “internal conflict” of the 80’s during which more than 200,000 Maya were murdered by the Guatemalan army in a truly horrific campaign of deliberate genocide that was relatively unrecognized in the international news- a campaign that was directly armed and aided by the US.

 San Cristobal, a heavily Mayan pueblo, was hard hit:  the military had a large base there,  helicopters dropped bombs and strafed people from the air.  An older uncle was forcibly “enlisted” (enslaved) into the army and was killed during his tour of duty. Four hundred yet-unidentified bodies were unearthed at the old military base in Coban just two weeks ago. 

We have been so fortunate to live in (relative) peace.  At least we don’t have to worry that our army will start massacring us any day.

The last two have been driving days and we are now in Flores, which has the only commercial airport in Guatemala outside Guatemala City.  We found the drive not particularly challenging,

The paint job is deliberate, as it makes a recognizeable Mayan word

The paint job is deliberate, as it makes a recognizeable Mayan word

although we comment that to get somewhere in Guatemala or Mexico, it is best if you already know where you are going and how to get there. Directional signs are often absent or, if present, face only one way on the connecting road: often not the way we are going. We got onto our correct northern road with only one “retorno.”
Flores, in the Peten, northern Guatemala, is heavily influenced by tourists who come to visit the Mayan ruins of Tikal, which we plan to see tomorrow.  Flores is a lovely town in the middle of a sweet lake; we are already thinking of it as Antigua North.  We found a hotel on line for tonight, despite the influx of travelers for the End of the World.   It was good to sleep in the car again last night and it is good to be back on the road. 

 

 

   

Last Antigua Days

    This morning we will head out of the land of readily available wi-fi.  Our last week in Antigua has been packed with activities, images, events, and emotion.  The English Language Program wrapped up with a most outstanding talent show Thursday evening. Several of the students least articulate in English declaimed self-written poems about the Spanish Conquest and the state of Mayan culture (in Spanish) with great intensity.  Three students put together mime costumes (shiny black plasticform fitting mime pants) and whiteface and did a “skit bilingue,” without words of course, showing a Mayan wedding, followed by the man wrapping a belt around the wrist of his wife and thereafter controlling her, until she triumphantly removed the belt at the end.  The teachers who have been here every year said they have never seen such overt feminism in the students.  You go, girls!

    Friday was graduation day.  Each student presented a talk in English; it is most impressive how much they have learned in two weeks.  Then we gave diplomas and there were more things to say.  Saturday we went to a proper Mayan ceremony in honor of the students, their families, the foundation, the earth, the sky, corn, spirit and a lot of other Spanish and indigenous parts of the world. A gorgeous Mayan spiritual guide performed the ceremony with help from our students and explained the 13 B’aktun- the date for the change of the Mayan calendar and the world.

 

This is the “centerpiece” for the ceremony: cardinal directions and colors, copal incense burning, pine needles on the floor–indeed, not just here, but throughout the rooms.Image

The end of the 13th B’aktun (Oxlajuj B’aqtun) is, of course, a sign of a change of era, which our guide suggests is badly needed.  For all the reasons we know, and probably some I don’t, we hope people will change with the end of the old time and adapt to the new.  Prayers were offered.  At least I assume they were prayers.  Understand, this was all in a mix of Spanish and one or more Mayan languages, so I missed some of the subtleties.

Image

Then there were speeches of appreciation: from students to teachers, from various people to various other people in the Fundacion for Educacion y Profesionalisation Maya (FEP Maya), appreciation for a founder who died earlier this year, and so on.  Each teacher was given a lovely gift, with more lovely speeches.

Image

Then we had lunch: pepian (you in Eugene may well be invited to try this very Guatemalan chicken stew with sesame and sunflower seeds, chiles and what all else..), tortillas, rice, squash, and a drink rather like atole.

We met the families of some students, who came for the ceremony, and then had to say goodbye to students and teachers, making it a bittersweet afternoon.

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Sarah packed the car and we readied ourselves for our last hotel night (last hot showers) for a while. (They found a room for us after all, so that we didn’t need to sleep in the green car in the parking lot.)  Then we went down to the Central Parque for a Saturday night fling, or at least dinner.  First, we found a dance of the devils (no prize for realizing why the devils all have yellow hair). The devils were rescued in the end by an angel and the Virgin, but the devils (some in drag) stole the show.

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Then a concert, to which some of our students had alerted us earlier, a Mayan student chorus and orchestra doing excerpts from the Messiah, in Spanish. Wow. Also more speeches.

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The chorus and orchestra, above; below, the overall setting–the old cathedral ruined in the earthquakes of approx. 1773.

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After a  restaurant dinner with dominos, we encountered a street performance: a mime was performing a “wedding,” with enlisted help from the audience to be all the parts.  Here was the source material for the Mayan wedding mime in our talent show.

What a full two weeks this has been. we’ve had an-impossible-to-duplicate intercultural experience: more and more evidence that we are all human beings, with similar hopes and dreams. And, as one of our students said in her thanks speech, “We all are eating tortillas, and we Mayans even eat bread.”

At some point , our student Eddy will arrive, we’ll organize him and his guitar into Giuseppe, and we will get back on to the road, to drive north to his home in Coban.  We are fortunate to be able to take this very talented singer home on our way to Northern Guatemala and the famous ruins of Tikal. Back to the hot lowlands, through green mountains, perhaps more adventures.

We think often of friends and family. Wish you a thoughtful Advent/Hannukah/Solstice.