Posts Tagged ‘nature’

Cambodia travels: boat ride on Tonle Sap

April 13, 2013

054050057060If you look at a map of Cambodia you see two major rivers : one is the Mekong and the other is Tonle Sap. In fact, the river Tonle Sap near Phnom Penh becomes a mighty lake before you get to Siem Reap where the famous Angkor Wat temples are located. Sol decides to take us on a boat ride on the Tonle Sap River the second day.  We see the breakfast area crowded with tourists from Australia, Europe and parts of Asia. We wait till the crowds thin down to find tables to sit at. After breakfast, we all wait outside where I see something quite private.  A young child and adult bow to a monk who is blessing them.   It is not something I would see openly in the streets of India. Sol comes in the van to take us and I remember the expression for good morning so I say to him and the driver, Arun sus dei. They grin back to acknowledge the greeting.

“We will pick up our lunch from the same restaurant and take the boat right there” says Sol. It is a beautiful sunny day and we walk into the  restaurant that looks so different in daylight. The lunch is packed not in plastic containers, but in straw baskets! The containers look so beautiful, some of us want to carry them back to India. Sol and the driver help bring it all to the boat as we get in. The boat has a lower and upper deck with chairs and we all pile in and sit down.  Some of my cousins take out their i-pads to play Scrabble. Some want to climb to the upper deck. I just want to laze around and see the shore as we take off.

We see areas in the water with plastic bottles and realize that these are nets with floaters to mark boundaries where people are fishing for fish, shrimp and other sea creatures.  People , young and old seem at ease moving around in water.   The houses along the shore look modest dotted with a few temples here and there.I see a mosque and realize there is a small percentage of Muslims here. The breakfast, the sun makes us all sleepy and we nod off for an hour….

Soon Sol wakes us up letting us know we will be getting to a village near the river. Sol says that  they make silver ornaments here. Some cousins are curious to see them and buy a few. On the way I get distracted by little children riding motorbikes and bicycles. I am always interested in children wherever they are so I stop and they start saying a few phrases in English, “How are you madame?  What is your name?” Cheeky little darlings! So I ask them their names ( very difficult for me most of the time) and ask them why they are not in school. They smile and of course change the subject to India , my clothes etc. ( In Malaysia they start singing movie songs and want to know about the actors in Bollywood) Sol hurries us to the silver factories. The women are honest and tell us it is silver plating on brass pieces. We watch them work and then get back to the boat, where lunch awaits us: chicken satay, toasted spiced vegetables, rice, and baked fish along with a fruit to eat, bananas. OK, one more opportunity to snooze before we get back.

Guatemala Diaries: going north to El Peten

April 5, 2013

442443446441Breakfast at  the Catamaran is quite lovely. There is not a lot of variety which makes me savor the dishes more. I find I am attracted to their dark brown big cookies that they call Polveroso. I can see why, they powder in my mouth. We realize Arty will leave us today and we will have a new guide to get us to Tikal in El Peten.  Arty and the boatman place all our luggage on the bigger boat and we sit on the benches to get off at a point where the bus will pick us up.  We have spent the past two days on water!  Soon we arrive where the bus will be waiting for us.  Arty looks uneasy and once the bus comes and we get in,he tells us that there were wild dogs near the dock area and he did not want us to linger.  Arty and Manuel get off in the middle of an intersection and we bid our goodbyes to them. The new guide is ready for us in the bus. Let’s call him Bugs Bunny. Bugs is eager to please and goes into the history of El Peten, the northern region of Guatemala. I am too sleepy to listen and catch snatches of his talk, when suddenly he points out the Belize border which is high up on a hill with flags.

Bugs drones on and on.  The poor fellow must be so tired talking to a quiet bus.  We finally arrive at a shopping mall and see a Chinese Restaurant. We all want that today. The food is actually very good. ( I remember teaching English as a Second language and asking my students who came from Central  American countries about their favorite food and they would invariably say:”Chinese food.”)  Bugs and the driver eat with us, asking for tortillas to go with their rice and chicken dish. Only in Guatemala can you have your tortillas with Chinese food. But in India they make Chinese food with Indian spices and if my Indian friends come to the US they would be thoroughly disappointed with Chinese food there. And everyone who goes to China says the food there is totally different from all of this.

We finish our lunch and get back to the van in the mall. We see an armed guard and I am completely unnerved by this experience. Why do they need a man with a gun in a mall?

We get to Flores and know we are close to Tikal which we will see tomorrow.  Paco and Juanita leave us at a hotel there and we hug them European-style( hug, kiss one cheek, hug, kiss the other cheek) I shall miss them, they were so full of energy, especially Juanita. We go through a wooded area on a dirt road and see a hotel called Gringo Perdido which looks quite lovely from the road.  We keep going passing several hotels and arrive at Camino Real, Tikal.

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: 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….