Archive for the ‘historical fiction’ Category

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 :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