Archive for the ‘Creative fiction’ Category

Guatemala diaries:Amatique bay resort

April 3, 2013

286345As the driver takes us to the hotel, Arty warns us that it is far from Puerto Barrios and would take at least half an hour to get there. My heart sinks because I am waiting to hear from my son if the money has been sent. Chicago has had a major snowstorm and he is having trouble going outside his house. Just our luck. This means if we do not hear from him we might have to wait till we get to El Peten where Tikal is . That would be the final place, otherwise we have to ask someone in our group to lend us money. We walk into the hotel which is very beautiful; each separate cottage will be a room for each of us.( We do not take any pictures because we are fretting about not hearing from our son.) We check in and wait;no calls. I want to go for dinner, when suddenly Arty calls and says that my son called his number and I have to go into the city to pick up the money in 1 hour! I get one of our friends from the bus to come with me in the taxi that takes me to a mall in Puerto Barrios. Talk about a  swanky mall in a dodgy city. We walk from bank to bank till we find the right one ( I feel like I’m in a Woody Allen movie) and get in by 6:15, only 45 mins to get it all to work. I am the first one in line but the nasty woman recognizes a friend in the line and takes him in first. I want to scream but I do not want to alienate her. She is flirting with the guy!  He finishes his business with her, giving her a lovely smile and takes his own sweet time to leave the chair. I walk in , start talking in spanish and give her my name and my son’s name. She gives me a paper with the amount in quetzales and says I have to now stand in line at another place there! Luckily there is only one person ahead and now the time is 6:55. Why do I need so much drama in my life?  I get the money and we leave, oh that was close!

It takes another 45 mins to get back. It is 8pm in the night and I am glad we resolved this problem and glad that I had someone else in the taxi with me. We eat at the restaurant and I plan to go bird-watching the next morning to give me something special to do.”Yeah, only you would think of getting up early as a gift” is my husband’s retort. Before going to bed, I send a thank you note to my darling son who saved us.

The next morning, I really get to appreciate the beauty of our resort. And the gentleman who takes me ( the other 3 individuals were too chicken to get up at 6am) is a sweet, well-mannered young man who talks about the beauty of nature and you can see he loves his country. We spend an hour looking at the different flora in the wild and come back to learn the names of certain birds I had seen in my travels so far in Guatemala. ” That is a Moctezuma, a black bird with a yellow fork-like tail, this one is of course a macaw, you must have seen it in Copan” he says as we go through the list of some birds I remember seeing. We share coffee and I depart for breakfast. I have an Amatique Sunrise for breakfast. It is actually very good, reminding me of the food at Wishbone Restaurant in Chicago( a flour tortilla, wrapped in black beans, spice, tomatoes and onions and drizzled with sauce and cheese). Arty hustles us all to leave and we put all our bags in the van and follow him to take the boat to Rio Dulce.

Guatemala diaries: on to Quirigua and Puerto Barrios

April 3, 2013

314320The next morning we decide to go to Cafe Welchez for coffee and Arty joins us. We go back to the hotel to have breakfast which is pretty simple and tasty. I am not hungry since I am nervous about making sure we are financially OK once we reach Puerto Barrios.  The others are already sitting in the bus so we hurry and put in our luggage and join the rest .  We stop on the way to Quirigua for lunch and see rows and rows of coffee being dried close to heavy-laden mango trees. We pick up some beans and they have a thin membrane covering the seed that looks almost light brown in color. Arty tells us to hurry since there is a football game starting soon and the crowds will be in to watch the game there. We order our food and start watching the game. Barcelona leads; Paco and Juanita start dancing with joy. Actually the crowd is also cheering Barcelona; apparently Milan is not popular here.

We leave just in time to get to Quirigua.  This reminds me of Copan; however, here the structures are made of sandstone and tells the story of the deceitful leader who captures the king of Copan and becomes the new king: a story of intrigue, deception and killings. There are several zoomorphs, representing mythical animals. Quite impressive.326330We leave Quirigua and finally find ourselves in the port area: Puerto Barrios. This place is considered to be a little ‘dodgy’ being a port town and has a very interesting demographic mix. There are a lot of Afro-caribbean people as well as Indians from India who mixed with the local population and are called ‘coolies”.  We see a ‘Tajmahal-like’  cemetery indicating the presence of Indians here.  We move on to get to our hotel, Amatique Bay Resort.344

Guatemala diaries: Copan, Honduras

April 1, 2013

248258273280297The stolen wallet leaves a mark on both of us. We are  irritated to have to get up early and avoid each other in the morning. I sit at the very back and meet a delightful couple called Cara and Steve from Washington State. Cara is a weaver and jewellery maker and her partner Steve carves wood. They share their brochures and spend a lot of time chatting with me. They have all heard about our recent loss and are very concerned. Right in the frontof the bus are the Barcelona pair, Paco and Jaunita and behind them are the two older gentleman from Canada. With Arty and the driver we are 10 of us in the bus. Arty is very good  giving us vivid details about our next part of the journey and we actually go through different parts of Guatemala city before going northeast to the Honduras border.

I have to say a word about the weather; almost every day has been sunny and pleasant. Arty says we are now approaching the warmer regions and except for a boat ride on Rio Dulce,we will feel warm most of the time. I am looking forward to it, though I never complained about the cool weather in the southern part of the country.

Copan is across the border and you realize that the Mesoamerican culture of the Mayas must have extended from southern Mexico all the way through Honduras. Arty tells us that after lunch at Copan, we will have a new guide there and he will meet us later.

Lunch is a filet of fish with some cooked veggies and rice, fairly decent stuff and we wash it down with water.We can use our quetzales or convert to lempiras. We wait for the new guide and Paco and Juanita start chatting as we wait. My husband buys a hat for me since it is getting really warm and sunny. I cradle the water bottle in my hands and keep taking swigs as we chat.

Then we go with the guide. We are 8 of us excluding the thin tall guide who takes us to a wooden board to explain the ruins of Copan. I hear macaws around me and my husband tries to get a picture of one of them.

The guide has a long wooden stick with a feather at the end. He explains that they are supposed to be very careful when they point at the stone structures and not in anyway cause marks. The ruins of Copan talk about the mayan people  living there from 1200BC   and leaving almost 850 years after the birth of Christ. The ending of this civilization is considered a mystery, but it seems to point to the fact that the mayans moved because of too much strain to the natural resources in that area.

I am struck by the beautiful stone structures that are called Stela and marked with an alphabet.  On the sides is heiroglyphics that depict the time period.  Some are protected by a cottage-like roof on top.  I love their sports arena where they played something like basketball, but used their hips and elbows to move the ball. What dexterity they must have had!  And then I see trees growing among the stones and the guide tells us that archeologists will  not move the trees and cause the crumbling of the stone structures, like Pompeii reconstruction caused. I am reminded of the Angkor Wat complex where the trees grow out of the stone faces. There is a lot to see and we walk around looking at the excavations that are still going on.  I am impressed by one statue where the last king is holding the hand of the first king.  Our guide tells us that there is more to be discovered in Copan. Amazing place!

Arty comes back and takes us to our hotel for the night.Both of us go for a walk  around the hotel and find a lovely cafe for wonderful coffee, Cafe Welchez.  I am tempted to have a sandwich there for dinner but we want to explore the town. The cobblestoned streets and the friendly people make this a perfect border town.  Paco and Juanita join us for dinner at this place which reminds me so much of the NYU area in downtown Manhattan.  The food( Cafe Via Via) is excellent here- vegetable soup&’ muchachas’:  a tortilla sandwich with melted cheese in between. I chatter in spanish with Juanita leaving my husband and Paco staring and smiling politely at each other. We walk back to the Hotel Marina which has a beautiful garden area near the swimming pool and we meet a lot of vacationing Americans who are having a good time there.  I sit down to collect my thoughts and put it on paper, hoping to have good news in Puerto Barrios the next day regarding the money and new credit cards….

Guatemala diaries: back to Gautemala city

March 30, 2013

167244I remember the movie Sliding doors.  It deals with parellel worlds and the woman has a chance to relive experiences and discovers something by going home earlier.  Sometimes I wonder if I could have changed that moment by taking the wallet from my husband sooner. But now all I can do is to take our passports and think of what needs to be done immediately. My husband and I decide to go to the hotel and hope to make some phone calls to the credit card companies and maybe email our son to send some money to us. Fortunately for us, we had some money in my purse, the passports were still there. Simba, Hedda and Jennie do not wish to leave us alone even though we want them to finish the sights in Antigua.” Oh, No, this is terrible, we would feel awful to leave you alone, let’s go back together.”  Once we get to the hotel, I can see my husband being his efficient self calling to cancel all credit cards. Meanwhile, I am able to reach my son through the magic of technology( all you youngsters will never realize how amazing life is today with androids, i-phones etc. Greetings! I come from the age of no computers and am still marvelling at our exponential discoveries with micro-electronics, nanatechnology  and all the rest of it.)  He assures me that he will send the money and we decide to pick it up at Puerto Barrios ( in 2 days) 

We finally urge the three of them to go sight-seeing and I eat something in the dining room.  Casa Santo Domingo staff have been stellar throughout all this, letting us use their phones without a murmur and even helping us dial through. We have to send a letter of thanks to the manager letting him/her know what a classy staff they have there.  Meanwhile, our bags are patiently waiting for us.

By all this time, Simba comes back and we are ready to get back to Guatemala city.  It is a quiet ride back and we thank Simba for all his help and bid goodbye to all 3 of them at Hotel Barcelo. Then we get back to our hotel and send some emails and go to bed to get up really early for the next phase of our trip, onwards to Copan, Honduras with the new guide , Arty.

Guatemala diaries: part of the procession in Antigua

March 29, 2013

180204172That night was so lovely eating in that dining room in Casa Santo Domingo. I think about it the next morning as we go in for breakfast. What a blast we had! Last night these mariachi guys sang to us moving from table to table and made me feel  like giggling. The soup was heavenly and the waiters were dressed in purple while the hostess was dressed like a nun.

The same attires invite us for breakfast and I wonder at the reminders around us of a Catholic country. I feel a little uneasy, not because I am non-Catholic but I would feel equally uneasy with a Hindu religious theme surrounding me in a hotel. Separation of church and hotel is important to me I guess. After all the hoopla for breakfast, we pack our bags and wait for Simba. He comes very late and that is the first strange thing that happens today. “Why so late?” we say together. ” Too much traffic today, they have a big procession in the main square, lots of crowds” he says wearily. Semanas santa, they start their parades long before Easter here.

Simba is like the Nike ad; he just does it and does not say what is going to happen next. Now I wonder, maybe things would have been different that day if I had known we would be walking into crowds, the procession would take so long, etc, etc. But that is just me, Epimethius, worrying after the event. 

“Antigua used to be the capital of Guatemala, but then they had earthquakes and had to move to capital to Gautemala City,” Simba informs us, I can see this city being the jewel of the country with its colonial-style architecture and beautiful cobblestoned streets.

We first walk down the cobblestoned road avoiding the cars and see a black statue holding a cross in a park. “That’s Bethancourt, he was one of the first to start helping the poor. I will show you the famous hospital he started further down.”  We are admiring the streets, the buildings and then he shows us the fountain square. I am struck by the new gas station across from this ancient  european-looking square. No wonder my brother loved Antigua, it is so charming…..the old ruins intermingling with the brightly colored houses, the cobblestones, the sunny weather, the festive atmosphere.

Now we see more and more people and the vendors selling food.”Corvates, corvates!” they yell and I wonder why they are talking bow-ties and then I see them, honey-dipped deep fried batter that looks like bow-ties! Ices, colored candy, little games for children and vendors yelling are all around us.  Soon we see a procession far, far away moving slowly. Simba warns us to be careful with our  purses and I am close to a barred wooden door, looking at the procession. We have finally stopped to watch after seeing rows and rows of beautifully decorated sawdust and vegetable creations on the road. The procession will walk over all this hard work, and that is the creators’ penitence! Of course I get it, I went to a Catholic school and remember the nuns talking about sacrifice and all that. Most religions have this self-effacing part, like the fasts Hindus keep to ‘purify’ themselves.

The procession comes closer, first we see people dressed as Roman soldiers, then the purple -robed Nazarenes, the place is filled with them. They all avoid stepping on the decorations. Finally, the big tableau comes into view, carried by several people, quite a sight.  As the procession walks over the decorations and we are getting to slowly leave, my husband says, “My wallet’s gone!”223227237241

Guatemala diaries: Antigua & Casa Santo Domingo

March 29, 2013

148It is about 3 in the afternoon and we are approaching a beautiful yellow and white filigreed church of the Merceds. We are struck by the intricate workmanship. There are some people hanging outside and I get a little distracted when a young gentleman approaches me speaking  clear, unaccented English, ” Excuse me but are you from India? I love your country; I lived there for a few years!”  I am delighted to meet  him and his wife joins him to add, ” I studied in Calcutta in 1998!”  We talk, laugh and I leave excited to meet someone like that in Antigua. Simba urges me to go in and look at something in the front. I enter the Merced church, I am continually amazed by the statues of Christ with stigmata; parishioners are attending a service and I quietly walk to the front to see this magnificent colored carpet of many colors and surrounded by vegetables of all kinds. ” Simba what a beautiful carpet !” I exclaim and he corrects me, ” No, it is not a carpet it is a design made with colored sawdust!” I think of kolam / rangoli in India and marvel at it by going back in again. By this time it is getting darker in the late afternoon and Simba decides to drop us off at our hotel, Casa Santo Domingo. Hedda and Jennie want us to be dropped off first because they say that they are dying to see this hotel of ours. Well, the lobby is grand and has many statues and the passage area to the dining room looks wierd with holes in the stone walls. Apparently it was a Dominican Monks’ monastery. It looks grand and has a whole museum area that is closed by the time I discover it. 154159156The hotel room looks inviting and I feel like taking a nap before dinner.

Guatemala diaries: Antigua we are there!

March 28, 2013

At Santiago de Atitlan , the streets are narrow and people’s residences are at the back. Squashes and flowers and dogs abound on the narrow passages to the back and the houses are very modest. As we walk the streets, I see young children playing football so I have to ask them who their hero is. They mention someone from Honduras. We had been told that in Honduras, football was not a sport, but a religion.

Walking down the cobble-stoned streets we see more shops and lovely hats for the grand-kiddos. They look liked the bowler hats that Bolivian women wear. More hurried bargaining and purchases later, we sit in the boat to go back.  Half-way through Lake Atitlan, the boat stops. Oh No!  The driver is joking about lack of petrol, what!! He is able to start the boat and we reach our old hotel in one piece. Too much drama for me….

Simba is loquacious as he drives us closer to Antigua, he talks about Chimaltenango, Quetzaltenango ( we did not go that far west) and as we reach Cocotenango  we have to ask about  the meaning of the ‘tenango’ piece that was added to all these places ( Chichicastenango as well) ” Ahaa! ” says Simba,” Tenango just means ‘the place of” in Mayan.”  Of course! Think of  ‘nagar’,   or ‘pettai’ or ‘halli’ in India and ‘ville’ say in the USA. Makes sense.  

So then of course we learn that the ‘Chimal’ refers to  trees so it’s the place with trees and  Quetzaltenango is the place with quetzales, the beautiful bird of Guate that is getting endangered due to excessive hunting and then my favorite, Chichicastenango:124141142 supposed to be the place of stinging nettles. Don’t believe the last one, my sweet sweet Chichi  did not have anything unpleasant for me!  Well then I started thinking about names in general. Greenland is hardly green, a desolate patch of loneliness and ice for miles and Iceland is a gorgeous place with geysers and beautiful scenery even if it is cold. And then we have a place in Chicago called Downer’s Grove, seriously??

While Simba is chattering we get back on the Pan-American highway but the road keeps winding and I close my eyes and listen.  How much more of this? I have a dread of big white lights in buses, cold chocolate milk, because as a child, feeling motion-sickness was always linked with those two things. So as I felt woozy, I had to think about them and feel worse. Soon we are on less tortuous terrain and stop at Chirijuyu near Chimaltenango, for lunch.  And what do I eat there? More thick tortillas made fresh, an excellent bean soup and yes, chocolate milk!  My stomach feels like cement ( those tortillas are small but thick) as we get closer to Antigua.

Guatemala diaries: Hotel Atitlan to lake Atitlan

March 27, 2013

113116109The gift shop at the hotel is truly amazing( the prices are amazing too but we are assured that the quality is top notch) Of course the great shopper husband goes a little crazy buying for our grandsons and other family members. I have a good time chattering away with the saleswoman in Spanish. I notice that Spanish expressions like”Hijole” are not common in Guate, I have to curb my Mexican spanish here(and forget my chilango spanish too!) What excites me is the fact that people are forgiving when I make mistakes  and are so gracious when I speak the language. We leave the gift shop and I meet the Spanish couple from the gardens; they are also touring the country from Barcelona. Paco and Juaquina are thrilled to continue talking in Spanish having great trouble articulating in English with the other tourists in their group. We go to our room that is  charming and sit down to journal. There is one thing that is a bother though; we keep moving every morning to a different hotel and this particular one is so lovely with the gardens, I would have loved an extra day here.

That evening we go to Santander street in a ‘tuk-tuk” where the guy speaks impeccable English. ” Lived in Chicago for a few years, but had to leave……” he says, I understand why. The shops are exciting and we bargain and buy more little outfits for the grandchildren.  Meanwhile it is time to meet the women, Jennie and Hedda from our group at Bombay Cafe. We go in expecting great food and I order something that is supposed to be an authentic Guatemalan dish, called vegetarian version of pepian. I am thoroughly disappointed with uncooked vegetables and a fairly OK tamale. This means I will not trust everything Lonely Planet tells me.  We keep going out to do more shopping and I tell myself ‘no mas!’ 

Next morning, our packed bags are put in the van and we are hustled to the dock area in the hotel garden. Slowly I get into the boat and we have others besides the four of us. There is Simba, another tour guide, Arty and his 6 tour group; Paco Pena ( he does look like the famous Spanish musician) and his wife are part of that group. Simba tells us that after Antigua, Arty will be our guide and he will depart. I will miss the gentle lion.

Arty is a chatterbox; the moment he finds out that I speak Spanish, he keeps me busy talking. I enjoy the scenery and feel glad that I am not seasick. Well this is a lake, and I should be fine. What a beautiful place! We are surrounded by mountains and some of them are volcanoes. I breathe in the cool air and admire the blue water and greyish -blue mountains all around.  Soon, Hedda decides to steer the boat and my husband is vowing that I do it when we are returning. You are crazy ! I am barely OK sitting in a boat and he expects me to steer it?? The boat ride is not too long and we see women washing clothes near the shoreline, white-billed ducks called pato de poc  and get down at Santiago de Atitlan.

Guatemala diaries:to lake Atitlan

March 26, 2013

094095098108Landed in Panachajel, close to Lake Atitlan. The lake area is a popular destination for tourists and all the different Mayan communities live close to and around this lake. Panachajel, where we are, is crowded with foreigners, especially white people and has some interesting store fronts.  We get to the restaurant called Casablanca  which has pictures of Bogart and Bergman but also a motley of photographs of Mayan women, abstract art and some pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses added for good measure. There is even a painting of Mother Teresa hung on the walls around us already crowded with different pictures.  The food is delicious and we learn that the owner is from North America, what else?! We are close to Santander street and plan to come back in the evening for food at Bombay cafe( I have already checked out Lonely Planet for some restaurant suggestions) and some shopping. They have ‘tuk-tuks’ here; what we in India would call’autos’.  Simba takes us to our hotel through a bumpy, gravelly road to a beautiful hotel on the lake called Hotel Atitlan. The gardens are absolutely gorgeous and I see a couple in the garden who need someone to take their pictures. Simba leaves us to remind us to be ready in the morning for a boat ride on the lake. My husband is waiting to shop at the big gift store right there in the hotel and takes me in.

Guatemala diaries: leaving Chichicastenango for Solola market:

March 26, 2013

089041071072Simba is a very interesting guide; he looks like a guero(white man) but is very connected to the Mayan people. He calls himself a ladino, which means half Mayan and half white. Apparently, his grandfather was an American, who came to Guatemala and had a Mayan mistress whom he abandoned and went back to USA.  I think that must have made Simba bitter about his white ancestry and maybe makes him closer to the Mayan traditions. Whatever the reasons, he is fascinated with the curanderosloosely called witchdoctors in English, but it is more like alternative medicine)  of Guatemala that I mentioned in my first two posts.  having grown up in India, I am very familiar with this whole world of alternative cures and medicines. The sweet woman , Raji, who takes care of my sister’s house and dog in India follows these traditions. When her son has problems with mental health, she prefers going to somebody and ask for advice instead of going to a psychiatrist.

So we follow Simba up the hill to see the colorful gravestones in the cemetery. There is even a gravestone with the Virgin of Guadalupe ( the dark-skinned Mary of Mexico) There are smoke-covered dark areas where the Mayans have obviously used incense, candles and rum offerings to their gods, a prefect blend of local beliefs with the Catholic tradition. We leave Chichicastenango to go onwards to Lake Atitlan . On the way, we stop at another colorful market at Solola to see dark- colored chayotes, vegetables, chillies and fish. Here there is more colorful attire, more Mayan groups from different parts around the lake.