Posts Tagged ‘traditions from yore’

Guatemala diaries: Tikal the jewel of the country

April 5, 2013

452457474491486454Camino Real was a beautifully spread-out hotel. I had to take a lot of steps to go through the pool area and get to the rooms. My husband found himself all bitten by something on the river and goes to sleep after taking an anti-histamine. I have the evening all to myself. I roam the grounds and go around looking for the Canadians since this is my last chance to see them.I find them up on the terrace looking at stars! The constellations are bright and incredible. They explain that we are far away from city lights and also closer to the southern hemisphere. It is magical to see Orion’s belt, The Pleiades, the big and little Dipper. I see another side of the Canadians: they know a lot about astronomy and are good teachers. Being totally geeky, I love all this. It is almost 8pm, I eat something in the restaurant and go to bed after a long conversation with the two of them. I shall miss these guys who have gone through so much in life and have been friends from grade school. I shall miss their wry humor, their different accents, their intelligence and most of all their kindness to us. We exchange emails and bid our goodbyes.

The next morning after breakfast, we find that Bugs is not there, but a new guide, El Sabio.  He speaks flawless English and is very knowledgable about the Tikal area. He tells us that he lived in the US for many years when he was younger. Cara and Steve are still with us and we drive to the grounds of Tikal. El Sabio talks about environmental degradation in Guatemala but also about efforts being made to counteract it.  He reminds me of the young man I met in Amatique, but is more animated and articulate about his love and passion for his country.

El Sabio shows us first the grand scale thinking of the Mayans when they built Tikal. The plan is immense and the presence of waterways to keep their city functioning is foremost in their minds. Of course heirarchy is important and the more powerful among them, like royalty and noblemen live closer to the sources of water and transportation. We walk around to look at the pyramids and I am overwhelmed by their gigantic pyramids and the arrangement of each one of them. Climbing on top leads you to see the positioning of other pyramids. Mathematical calculations in laying out this city was  an integral part of the planning for the Mayans. We see the mighty Ceiba tree that is so revered by the Mayans here. We also see some ocellated turkeys that are colorful and very tame around us.

I am glad we waited till the end to see this magnificent site. We have lunch at the park with hundreds of people under a shaded area. El Sabio first drops Cara and Steve back at the hotel, more goodbyes… Then we go to Flores airport and take the tiniest plane with no flight attendants  for a one-hour ride back to Guatemala city. The vacation is almost over.

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: 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: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 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