Archive for March, 2013

Guatemala diaries :2

March 20, 2013

When I first read about Rio Dulce I wondered why a river was considered sweet; probably it looks beautiful, I thought to myself. Early morning on our fifth or sixth day in Gautemala, our guide hustled us to Amatique Bay to take a ride on Rio Dulce. He had not prepared me for the fact that we had to start at Amatique Bay on the Caribbean Sea. Just as we sat in the small boat with the nine of us ( two people to sit on each bench) Arty( that’s my name for him)the guide, casually mentioned,” Oh the Caribbean sea will be a bit rough but once we get to the river we will be fine!” He did not mention how long ( or maybe by then I was too paralyzed with fear to hear him say that; did I forget to mention that I am terrified of boat rides since I feel sick even on the passenger seat of a car?) or how rough.

Well we got on the boat with life-jackets on ( did I mention that I am helpless in water?) and for a while as the driver got the boat going we moved slowly. Then he speeded up  and each time we hit a wave( the water had these tiny waves in them) we moved up and came down. It was terrifying for me and I closed my eyes and held on to the seat in front of me. My hands were tensing on the seat and I kept saying words in Tamil in an undertone.  Then I started counting in my head: one-thousand and one, one thousand and two……. this is my way of passing minutes since my husband sweetly informed me that it would take an hour to cross the sea.  For a while( I would say’while’ equalled about fifteen minutes) I did not see or feel anything around me except the water splashing on me.  But suddenly, I thought of all those people who had plied their boats on this sea taking goods back and forth for centuries,they probably had smaller boats those days, what kind of attire did they wear then? Did they speak different languages? How did the spanish communicate with the mayans? I could actually look at the water around me, see the distant shore on the left of me and even say ” Whoa!” like the other passengers each time the boat rocked up and down.  I was ready to ask Arty some questions and the first one was, ” Why was the river called sweet? Is it because it is calmer than this sea?”  ” Not really, I think the Spanish carried sugar cane from the Caribbean to the ports to carry them across to their country. That is where that name came.”   responded Arty with a laugh. By then I was fine with the rocking and stopped holding on to the front seat telling myself that if I died, we would all die together.

The hour  passed by without my counting every second of it. Soon I could see brown pelicans and gulls skimming near the water, looking for fish. I knew we were close to the shore. “Livingston!’ said Arty as we craned our necks to look at the red 363roofed houses and green foliage dotting the shore.

Guatemala Diaries

March 18, 2013

Just came back from Guatemala, or Guate like they say there. ( Looked at t-shirts that say”Guats up?” or “Guat happened in Gaute?” or something crazy like that) As we started to pick up our baggage we were warned to be careful in Guatemala. I hear this in every new place I go to. I visit India every year and if I did not dress completely like the Indians there but hang around in Western clothes and spoke with an American accent I would have to be wary. I do code- switching as soon as I get in line to get my passport stamped, I bob my head according to the custom there and start mixing Tamil generously with my English. The size of my dot on my forehead increases and once I go to my city Chennai, I wear saris most of the time. Nobody even suspects that I am an NRI( non-resident Indian) except when they see my oversize bags at the airport every time I come and leave!

Ok, this does not work for us in Guatemala. Even though I speak good Spanish, I am carrying a camera and shooting pictures. I am definitely a tourist, it is written large on my face! So I stick with the tourists and have a guide with us. One of the first things that amazes me are the churches. The Spanish came to Guate with their Dominican, Franciscan and Merced missionaries. As a writer, I am tempted to start a historical fiction about the period they came( 1520s) and the way the Mayan Indians have blended their own earlier beliefs with the Catholic beliefs. They have an extra apostle, called San Simon( saint Simon) or Maximon who drinks rum and smokes cigars. They have offerings of rum to him and come to him via shamaans or curanderos to cure them of ills in their lives. They collect orange-colored beans and tell the story of their future lives by arranging and rearranging those beans. These beans grow all along the way to Chichicastenango where you see colorfully clothed Mayan woman selling beautifully embroidered ‘huipiles’ and mats. Near Lake Atitlan there are over 24 different indigenous Mayan languages and varying attire.029 037 027 036 073 148