Archive for the ‘history’ Category

Guatemala diaries: Rio Dulce contd.

April 3, 2013

379356( My second post carries the first  half of this trip) We get off at Livingston.  I see Cacao plants for the first time here.Then Arty tells us about the food in this area which is very good and points at the menu on a van.348350‘Garifuna food is great” he states.So how come we never got to try it? As we walk near the port area we see a washing area that reminds me of how we used to wash in India before we had washing machines there. Here they seem to use oval-shaped concrete basins to wash and then rinse clothes.  We walk along and see them selling spices that go with rum and listen to music in a small cafe where we have some good coffee. The Canadians find some good rum here and take a couple of swigs perhaps to deaden their senses before getting back for the ride on the river??  I am not so scared to get back on the boat to a place called Aguas calientes. Apparently, you  can dip in a hot spring and also go to a sauna.  We get to the place and are not too impressed with the not-too clean pool they call a hot spring. The water is certainly warm but not worth going in so most of us decide to sit down at the little restaurant there and have some pan de coco ( coc0nut bread) and talk to the woman who has a little boy there.  Suddenly we see schoolchildren rowing boats on the river. “They are returning from school!” I am shocked and ashamed of my fear of the water to see small kids rowing boats on their own. The woman shyly states that she plies a boat here all the time. We wait for the Canadians to return from the sauna which they say was more like a cave.  We are now ready to go to lunch further down.  We will be going through El Golfete, the broader part of Rio Dulce and will take 45 minutes to get to lunch.  Arty places the order as the boatman takes us there. We see a big restaurant where the owner has his own fish farm and we have a splendid meal of fish, rice and veggies. I have never seen my husband attack a fish with such gusto!! Then we get frozen choco-bananas for dessert. Some of us wash it all down with the local brew Gallo. Arty tells us that tonight we are going to stay at a hotel right in the middle of the river.

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: 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: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.

Guatemala diaries:Chichi contd

March 25, 2013

Before dinner that evening( where we are the only  two served by our waiter,Juan, dressed in 16th century style attire) we go to the bar area to talk to the gentleman at the bar. He is a small man with glasses and speaks English and Spanish, but tells me that he is Mayan and speaks Quiche. His mayan name is Loo with an accent on the ‘oo’ sound that abruptly ends, kind of hard for me to say! What a charming room and adjoining rooms! We discover an ancient typewriter in one of the rooms and  paintings by early 19th century Guatemalan artists called Garabito andAlfredo Suarez. We discover a computer as well in that room and quickly check messages.

Loo is very friendly and talks about the German American who started this Inn. (There is a faded black and white picture of the gentelman, early 50’s rendition. Most hotels in Guatemala seem to be owned by Americans who must have come here early on in the 20th century) He mentions that tourism is low right now( pretty obvious since we seem to be the only people around)I ask him about  buying stuff at the market and he states that it is a good place to bargain and buy beautiful hand embroidered ‘huipiles’, the blouse the women wear.  I regret in my mind the fact that I missed a chance that evening buying one of those by bargaining too hard, feel like a tightwad not having bought something from that woman.

Juan comes and puts firewood and lights the fireplace. We go to bed with several layers shivering and I, for once, wear my shawl tightly wrapped around in the morning to have a look at the beautiful birds chirping while my husband grumbles about the cold, cold night.  Before Simba arrives, we have breakfast and walk up and down the undulating, cobblestoned  streets as the vendors come in and out cleaning up after the Sunday market.037027043056040

guatemala diaries4: on the road to Chichi

March 22, 2013

It is Sunday morning and we get ready to meet our new guide at 7.  Simba( I have to call him that,with his blond mane and big body, he reminds me of a mighty lion) greets us at the front and we get into the van. He is both our driver and guide. Simba stops at a hotel in Zona viva to pick up two women who would be with us for half the trip.

Simba talks all the way. We first stopped at a coffee processing plant and talk to a lady who explains the process and let us try the coffee there which is delicious. Then we get on the road again, winding roads; it feels like I am in the hills in India and also makes me feel a little sick.  When I do sneak a peak outside,the view is breathtaking and Simba points out some volcanoes as well in the distance.  Many hair-pin bends later we stop to eat lunch.  I see a woman making tortillas; she takes a lime size dough from her pan of ‘masa’ and just pats it in her palms and she puts( a slightly thicker version than the corn tortillas I have seen in the supermarkets in Chicago)the tortilla on a hot concave base and cooks it. We try and our efforts are pitiful; they either tear up or are tinier versions of hers. She must think we are inept cooks!  Lunch is good and filling: lots of warm thick tortillas with beans and cheese and a cup of hot chocolate to wash it all down.

Back on the bus with my eyes mostly closed with more twists and turns as we go up mountains.  We see lots and lots of women wearing colored skirts and beautifully embroidered blouses.  Simba tells us that based on the style of their skirts and blouses one can tell which group of Mayans they belong to since there are over 20 different Mayan languages and groups in and around Lake Atitlan and surrounding areas.  We finally arrive at Chichicastenango to the Sunday market where many Mayan families would be selling their wares in between the two churches, El Calvario and Santo Domingo.  On the way we stop at some trees growing along the sides of the road and pick up orange-colored beans.

Simba drops the two women at their hotel.  It is a charming place with cockatoos, macaws and beautiful trailing vines and plants everywhere. Our hotel Mayan Inn is 023smaller but similar.  Our room is tiled, has a fireplace with rugs and two  beds.  It is chilly already and I know we will cover ourselves with layers of blankets and need the fireplace started.019012008

Guatemala diaries:3

March 20, 2013

I realized that my posts are not chronological. So let me start from the beginning. As I mentioned earlier, we had sufficient warning as we picked up our bags from a young woman who lives half the time in Guatemala and the other half in Miami. As we walked out and I was successful in warding off anyone who spoke to me in English by responding in Spanish, we saw our driver ( carrying our name and tour company). Marcelo chattered all the way and I noticed some big buildings. We were staying at Barcelo (Westin chain) close to Zona viva ( Zone 10) the safer zone. The hotel was beautiful and the young man attending to incoming cars assured us we could walk around till 6pm. We stepped outside gingerly and saw ( what else) a Macdonald’s. Reassured by a fast food chain close by we walked towards Zone 10 where most of the tourist crowd was housed in several hotels we could see. The crossroads near the hotel was pretty with a big jacaranda tree in bloom. Lots of little shops lined the sides of the street and we peeped in to look at the wonderful brightly colored textiles. We quickly returned to our hotel. That was our first glimpse of the capital.We were leaving early morning for Chichicastenango, for the Sunday market and we would probably see more exciting handicrafts there.ImageImageImage