Sunday, December 30, 2007
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Once at the Cafe John introduced me to many folks and then arrived Nora (Mike´s girl) and her mother Barbara...both from Germany and both beautiful souls. Barbara had just finished a 50 hour journey from Germany to join her daughter for the holidays. And so we commenced on another night of drinking and talking and Carlos showed up and Steve was there and Justin played guitar in the corner and confessed it was his birthday and it was mescal shots and a grand toast and finally I practiced some self discipline and grabbed a cab home knowing the next night would be a marathon. I was right.
Being fairly new to Gt when Mike said come at 8pm I thought 8:30 would be fashionably late...I was very wrong. In Gt time I was geeky early and Nora hadn´t even had a chance to shower yet! But soon enough the gang trickled in...Carlos and his new girl from Taiwan that he had just met...and Genesis an expat from Ca (see pic below of Genesis, Barbara & Nora)...and Martha another expat and Jason the singer from Seattle who teaches in Honduras....and John and then Steve came streaking through the house with his nutty French expat pal, Benito....shirts off and tattoos...they giggled and ran back to No Se to tend bar.
Barbara and Nora had spent the day creating an amazing gourmet feast (see pic of master chef Barbara). We had celery soup and salad and turkey and duck and rabbit and two kinds of potatoes and zucchini casserole...and bread and cheese and wine and my god we all stuffed ourselves! It was a stunning meal in a stunning place. Mike and Nora´s apartment is gorgeous, open air with tall ceilings with chunky exposed beams and wood molding and course walls and eclectic decor. The table was set with candles and decorations and fruit and wine....and suddenly Mike looked across the table and said he needed my help. He said his family had a tradition that to start the holiday dinner someone would chuck a roll across the table....well, sweet Mike picked me and chucked the roll he did...I caught it of course and he said he knew I would have good hands.
After stuffing ourselves with incredible food the night eased into the slow long comfortable decent into a torpid evening of conversation and disclosure punctuated by burst of laughter and singing...and of course...lots of drinking. I heard about Barbara's younger men and her time in Paris and the gay clubs in Berlin and how the gays are so great there....and Nora shared about her crazy rock&roll marriage in Denmark and then to Antigua and sleeping with Mike a year and a half later...woops. And we heard Mikes stories about smuggling their new brand of mescal into Gt from Mexico (they have since become legal but their brand bears an appropriate moniker...Illegal Mescal is the brand! One story involved a guy dressed up as a priest and his friend had put porn in his bag which the border guys found....confused they just zipped up the bag and sent the "padre" on his way.
I lasted until 3:30am and felt more welcome there then I ever could have imagined would happen thousands of miles from home...a stranger just weeks in this town. These folks are amazing and I am so blessed to have the privilege of their company and generosity. Cafe No Se and the boys have become a touchstone for this quirky broody butch dyke from Ca.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
On March 15, in Colotenango, Huehuetenango, at least two demonstrators protesting the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) were shot and killed by Guatemalan army forces.
The men who were shot to death were Juan López, from the village of Xemal, Colotenango, and Ical resident José Sanchez Gómez, who died from his wounds in the hospital. Both were members of the Campesino Unity Committee (CUC). According to CUC, at 6:30 in the morning on March 15, CUC members gathered to demonstrate peacefully, along with members of the National Indigenous and Campesino Committee (CONIC), the Association for Community Promotion and Development (CEIBA), MAMA MAQUIN, MAGISTERIO, and the National Coordinating Committee of the Displaced of Guatemala (CONDEG).
Guatemalan farmer Juan Lopez from Xemal was shot dead by armed forces.
The demonstrators were blocking the Inter-American Highway as a form of protest when, as CUC reports, a contingent of police from the departmental seat of Huehuetenango faced off aggressively with demonstrators, while army troops surrounded the protestors. At around midday, without a word, the government forces began to throw tear gas into the crowd towards the women and children, and opened fire on the men. In addition to the two men killed, at least ten protesters were injured, two critically. The Center of Informative Reports of Guatemala (CERIGUA) reports that the number of injured reached fifty. The names of some of the wounded:Marcos PérezSantiago MoralesJose Gomez SánchezDomingo RamosMiguel Angel VelásquezPedro Pablo Domingo Prior to the shootings, CEIBA had reportedly learned that the army planned to surround protestors and attack them.
The Associated Press wrote "Mauro Guzman, mayor of Huehuetenango, a city near the site of the protest, said police were fired upon." However, Mauro Guzmán is the governor of the department of Huehuetenango, and not the mayor of the town of the same name.
BACKGROUND:On March 10, the Guatemalan Congress ratified CAFTA. On Monday, March 14, about 4,000 demonstrators opposed to the agreement rallied in the streets in Guatemala City. Police used tear gas and a water cannon to disperse them after police were pelted with rocks and bottles. Nineteen people were injured and 16 were detained.
The government and the leaders of civil society reached an agreement on the evening of March 14 to initiate a dialogue process, to be mediated by Cardinal Rodolfo Quezada Toruno, with the aim of ending the violent protests of the previous few days by coming to some agreements regarding the trade agreement. Nonetheless, before any meeting was held, President Óscar Berger on March 15 bypassed the dialogue process and gave CAFTA his full approval.
Vice-president Eduardo Stein is meeting today, March 16, with leaders of the movement opposed to CAFTA to try to defuse mounting tension over the treaty. It is not clear how Stein will seek to placate the protesters now that CAFTA is a fait accompli. The protesters want CAFTA to be put to a national referendum.
The protesters are also calling for the interior minister, Carlos Vielmann, and the director of the National Civil Police, Erwin Sperissen, to be removed from office and want a response from the government to their demands by today, March 16.
1. Express concern about the recent extra-judicial executions carried out by the government security forces in Colotenango, Huehuetenango
2. Urge President Berger to negotiate an end to such conflicts rather than allow repressive measures to be taken by the security forces.
3. Calling on the government to carry out an immediate, impartial and exhaustive investigation into the killing of Juan López and José Sanchez Gómez, to make the results public and bring those responsible to justice
I am in the the peten...the lowland jungle of northern Guatemala. There is something about this place that seduced me last January when I drove from San Ignacio, Belize, over a long, bumpy dirt road through small pueblos with shack houses with tin roofs and perfectly dressed school children...and then into the biosphere/National Park and Tikal. The jungle....I just had to come back and spend more time here. For some reason, I was enamored with this land of extremes....even with all it´s heat, humidity, and bugs....
There are two seasons here: wet and dry. Literally folks recognize a winter and a summer...these were the seasons also recognized by the ancient Mayans. A subtropical rain forest, the winter, which ends in November, brings an average of 12 hours of rain a day. The summer brings oppressive heat and humidity...one thing about the peten, you sweat.....and nothing seems to fully dry once wet.
I have been lucky in that the weather has been far more moderate than my previous trip. The heat is a bit less and the humidity not as intense....and praise the lord, the mosquito's have been moderate as well...I think I have about 10 new bites...plus ten from the Honduran jungle leaves me with about 20 itchy spots.....and hopefully no tropical diseases.
But let me start at the beginning. I have been known to say that I prefer to get up early only if it involves sex or fishing....well, I guess you could add jungle trips to the list. Of course this trip started with a 4:00am van pick-up and then a drop off at a small bungalow at the Guate City airport....still dark, the driver pulled over at a building that looked nothing like an airport and indicated I should get out. I was the only one to leave the van....trusting into the dark I went.
After checking in, weighing our bags to make sure we were under the 20lbs limit for the small craft we boarded a prop plane and headed north....most everyone crashing as soon as the plane took off. After nearly an hour we descended into a thick layer of clouds and landed in Flores airport....a stark place. I was greeted by a guy from Jungle Lodge who collected a few of us and into the van we went. An hour drive to Tikal and the lodge....entering the park it was just as I remembered it from a few months ago. We checked in, dumped our bags, and met our guide Carlos, an affable middle aged guy with an infectious smile and a limp. We walked the park and Carlos educated us on the history of the site including descriptions of the political tensions regarding the archeology and excavations. We spent hours walking the park, climbing the temples, taking in the jungle....seeing the birds and creatures, spider monkeys....something that looked like a raccoon....toucans.
Carlos and the Jungle Lodge
While walking Carlos and I invariably talked politics....he said he makes a clear distinction between the US government and the US people. He said that whenever there is a crises in Gt. the US people respond with great generosity....he explained that he was in a motorcycle accident and hurt his leg badly. He could not afford surgery in Gt. Visiting US surgeons operated on his leg for free and he is now recovering.
Carlos was born in Gt. and is of Mayan and Spanish decent. He speaks excellent English and pursued archeology as a second career, earning a BA at the University of Florida in Gainsville....he boasted, "I am a Gator." Back to the lodge we were served an excellent lunch. One man´s salad was late in coming and Carlos seemed very agitated about this....he finally confessed that his family owns the Jungle Lodge. His father had been associated with the site and excavations from the 1950´s....and he is credited with discovering temple 5. There are amazing historical pictures in the restaurant showing the early excavations and the archaeologists and excavators working diligently to reclaim the site from the jungle...a very daunting and laborious task. Only 10-15% of Tikal has been excavated and it is suspected that there are more than 3000 structures. Carlos was animated and warm regularly hugging folks...we were lucky to have him as a guide.
After a 4:00am start and walking miles through the park, a long siesta in my modest but comfy room was in order....hmmmm....clean sheets and extra pillows. Yummy! It was a satisfying nap.
Zoran...the Serbian Guy from the Jungle
On the tour a sweet, handsome guy named Zoran seemed extra friendly to me. After a bit he "casually" mentioned he had been married for 12 years then was involved with a man for 5 years....having recently been dumped. We immediately clicked and I invited him to have dinner with me and he enthusiastically agreed. After a siesta and a shower we met at 7:00pm and started drinking a lovely white wine from Chile. We had an excellent meal and immediately shared many details of our lives....Zoran sharing his heartache about his coming out in Serbia....the war and harboring his family in Greece....his world travels.
We ate and drank and formed the fast friendship that comes from being thousands of miles from home, heartbroken, in the jungle, traveling alone....the winter solstice promising a rebirth and healing. God bless the gays. We drank more Chilean wine and lamented that the lodge would close at around 10:00pm because the electricity would be turned off (it is on for a limited time each day...couple hours in the a.m....one in the afternoon....and in the evening till 9-10pm...then off with the generator). We were lucky that we got light until 10:15pm. Zoran was leaving first thing in the morning and he considered trying to change his flight so we could do the sunrise hike together....but in the end it made no sense. So he walked me to my bungalow and we hugged good night promising to keep in touch and visit each other...SF and Athens. He wrote down his contact info titling it..."the Serbian guy from the jungle." Special guy and I hope to make it to Athens someday soon....and I promised to take Zoran sailing in the SF Bay....and to the Castro of course!
Sunrise in the Jungle
I woke at 4:30am to the sound of my travel alarm....dressing quickly in the dark with the help of my headlamp....then to the lodge where folks gathered and checked in with the guides. We fell into a line and trekked through the dark jungle...only the light of our lamps shining on our path....no moon or star light could penetrate the jungle canopy.....and a thick mist hung all around us making the air heavy and wet.
We crossed through the central plaza where the previous nights solstice ceremonies endured into the early hours (mostly westerners...more on this later). They maintained a large fire with fuel and a constant supply of incense. People played music and were dancing in the blackness of the night.....the two temples of the plaza undulating in the flame light.
We continued to temple 4 and then made the steep climb up the rickety stairs to the top. Temple 4 peaks well above the jungle canopy offering stunning views. When the sky is clear you can see the temples of the main plaza and a few other structures....you are literally looking down on the jungle (had climbed it the previous day with a clear sky). This structure was the tallest human-made structure in the western hemisphere for over a thousand years until the late 19th century when the towers for the Brooklyn Bridge were erected (pic of ruins above canopy....temple 4 on the right and to the left temple 1 & 2 in the central plaza).
Once to the top, we all settled on the steps and our guides instructed us to be quite, explaining that this is a place for meditation....one guide suggested that we consider how often we should be so lucky to be quiet at such an amazing site on the solstice with people from all over the world. We shut our pie-holes and waited for the sun.
The dawn was not really a sunrise....rather with the typical heavy morning mist of the jungle, we watched the jungle emerge through the mist. Now, it is difficult to describe the noises that come with the waking of the jungle (this happened in Copan also). As the sun comes the place just bursts with noise and activity. Birds everywhere squawking and singing....and howler monkeys and spider monkeys and things I can´t even imagine all yelling and screeching their good mornings. We all watched and listened in silence for the better part of an hour as the jungle woke up and started the trip towards summers light. It was a stunning start to a new year....presenting a unique solute to the light and the promise of good things to come.
Juan and "A Lady in Red"
For the rest of the morning a small group of us were given a tour by Juan, a half Mayan half ladino man who has been in the peten his whole life. Juan spoke good English and knew a lot about the wildlife. We took more circuitous routes to the sites....single track trails through the thick of the jungle. We saw many toucans and parrots and a bunch of spider monkeys. At one point the monkeys threw things at us from high in the canopy. I had a pair of small field glasses and watched them eat plums...doing their incredible gymnastics while they ate and looked for new bunches of the fruit.
Now Juan and I chatted as I am want to do with the folks I meet on the road. When he learned I was studying in Antigua he started talking to me only in Spanish....making his sentences slow and simple. He advised I should listen to romantic Spanish songs where the singers enunciate. He explained that he learned English in this manner and noted a good song was "A Lady in Red."
Freak Shows...Westerners Where They Should Not Be
The evening Zoran and I ate dinner a man most of you would recognize from Berkeley or the Haight. Mid 50´s, long gray hair, hippy-dippy clothes (see pics). He and some other folks like him invited us to view his video about the "Mayan chakras". Well, as a cultural exploration, I could not resist (and Zoran and I were a bit tipsy by now). "Lionfire" gave some barely coherent introduction explaining that the Mayan chakras come from the back and up over the crown chakra....ok. We watched a short video that was a bizarre montage of Tikal images and psychedelic colorings and FXs. Very fucking bizarre. I feigned appreciation and Zoran and I took our leave preferring a bit more conversation and Chilean wine.
What I discerned from pressing a few of the locals is that the bulk of the Mayan traditionalist do not do there ceremonies in the central plaza on the solstice anymore because of the presence of these hippy-dippy freak-shows that come from mostly the states. There were not many, maybe 35 or 40 total and they stayed the night in the jungle with the fire and whatnot. I gotta say it was repulsive.
A few of this crew had meals at the lodge and I was subjected to their prattling nonsense and obliviousness. One corpulent and clueless man talked incessantly at his two female companions....didactically talking about the peace and bringing the peace to the people and the book he was going to write about the trek to Tikal for the solstice. He spoke loudly and pompously, imposing his words on those around him. Unfortunately I ended up in the van to Flores with these people and they presumptuously asked the men to take them to their hotels not in Flores. They were loud and obnoxious in the van and when they departed the Mayan guys said they were not supposed to drive them there and that they had taken advantage of them. These folks are not typical of the US folks I have seen here and I was appalled at their clueless behaviour.
Generally speaking the US folks I see about can be grossly categorized in the following stereotypical ways:
Scrappy Students: Students who wear the same clothes every day....not flashy...wear a Guatemalan bag slung over a shoulder...or a backpack. Most seem to be on the road for awhile....or in Gt for some time studying.
Squeaky Clean Richies: these folks stay at the nicest hotels, for short periods of time, and are conspicuous as they dress for the day...they look squeaky clean and out of place...pot bellied men and shopping women.
Young Drunks: the very young kids from the US...they drink too much, talk too loud and stumble around like it is Greek week. They drip with clueless privilege.
Crunchy ExPats: these folks have soaked up some of Guatemala and seem at home. They are low-key and respectful, speak fluent Spanish and seem very chill...if sometimes cool and aloof.
And in Conclusion
Well this has been a rambling entry of everything and whatnot. Let me finish by saying that I love the jungle....and after talking to a few folks who have been, I am starting to think seriously about the Amazon. To be continued!
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Monday, December 17, 2007
Friday, December 14, 2007
Next weekend I will fly to the petan, the northern lowland jungle, and stay in Tikal, the national park and one of the most significant Mayan ruins (see pic). The timing is significant because I will be there for the winter solstice. The Mayans were advanced astronomers and structures are built relative to the placement of the stars and sun...there will be special ceremonies and celebrations.
Both places I am going alone although my roommate (Judy) and I will overlap in Tikal for one night. I am staying in the jungle at a lodge and hope to see the much touted wildlife in the mornings and evenings.
I see many women traveling alone from all over the world. It is an inspiration. I will be traveling 5 hours by bus to Copan. Am going to eat, pack, and sleep as soon as possible. More soon.....
When we arrived we were swarmed by little boys selling walking sticks made of thick, stripped branches. We all bought one for Q5...less than a $1. I indeed broke down and hired a horse after slugging half way up the steep, rock and root strewn trail. Sweet Juan walked behind me with his horse, smiling and saying "taxi, taxi." My group consisted of mostly folks in their early 20s who scampered ahead, not seemingly affected by the thin air thousands of feet up.
After a couple of hours we reached a plateau above the lava field and the view was spectacular. After soaking that in, taking pics, we all carefully picked our way across the brutal other-worldly surface. The black, igneous rocks were sharp as razors and only about a year and half old as this volcano continuously erupts, sometimes dramatically spewing ash over Guatemala City. The last big eruption was in 1965.
We walked precariously across the lava field and got right next to the oozing fire rock. I got about 3-4 feet from the lava and the heat was incredibly intense....a classmate said that her eyelashes singed a bit (Cindy, from Portland in pic). After a stunning sunset we quickly and carefully picked our way back across the lava field and back up to the plateau where we stayed until it was dark, waiting to see the amazing contrast of the lava against a moonless night. Stunning.
All of a sudden our guide, said we needed to go rapido rapido! He got serious and said we must stay together and go immediately...we all practically ran down the steep trail, headlamps and flashlights lighting the way through the highland forest. We at the end of the group (me second from the last..last hilrious guy from Vancouver) all got a little concerned as our guide seemed a bit frenetic, and save for one couple behind us, we were the last group off the mountain. At one point, lookiong back to make a comment to my fellow traveler, I ate shit on the trail, twisting my already sore ankle...but it is not serious and the men were all so concerned and attentive...the upside of this patriarchal culture. I am one of the oldest students and am treated with deference, especially by the young Guatemalan men/boys.
In recent years many people have been robbed and cars broken into in this area. Our guide, an activities director from our school, is kinda fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants and seeing him so serious about our rapid decent was a bit disconcerting. A few gringos noted that to take this trail and walk on the lava field and run down in the dark in the states would require a serious liability waiver. Not in Guatemala! Many have noted the assessment of risk is on a whole different scale given the reality of life in Guatemala.
Back at the trail head and park entrance, we were again besieged by little dirty boys, asking for our sticks back, and begging for money and food. I returned my stick to a small boy who labored under the weight of an armful of already returned sticks.....and I gave away a bag of chips. We were hungry, we stunk, we were very dirty, I had dirt in my underwear from my fall....but everyone was happy having seen an amazing expression of the power of mother nature.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Monday, December 10, 2007
Sunday, December 9, 2007
- Guatemala ranked 117 out of a total of 174 countries in 1999
- In 1997 the GDP per capita was US$1,690, in comparison with an average of US$4,127 for Latin America and the Caribbean
- The average monthly income per family in the whole country was US$227 in 1999
- In the urban areas the figure was US$423
- Almost 70 per cent of the population lives on less than US$2 per day, and of these, almost 30 per cent of the population of the country, and 8 per cent of the urban population live on less than US$1 per day
- Income distribution is extremely uneven, the difference in income of the richest and poorest 20 per cent of the population differing by a factor of 30, in contrast to 12.7 in Costa Rica and 15.1 in Honduras
- There is a correlation between the high population growth rates in regions and departments with higher indices of rural and indigenous populations with higher indices of poverty
- The marginalisation of the indigenous cultures has been inherited from the Spanish colonial period
...and my friends and I will spend a hundred dollars for dinner in San Francisco....."fuck you lady."
Saturday, December 8, 2007
The lake is stunning and has several towns along it´s shore. Mayans have lived in this area for thousands of years. After when the Spanish arrived they used the Lake as a sort of command post for the Catholic conversion of Mayans and exploitation of the natural resources for Spain. Despite this dramatic intervention in there way of life, Mayan culture has maintained a cohesion culturally, and religious traditions are now a blend of Mayan and Catholic traditions. The churches have iconography of both traditions and the ceremonies are a blend....in some churches the mass is said in both Spanish and the Mayan dialect.
The small towns around the lake are mostly Mayan with a smattering of expats and Ladinos (mixed race, Spanish and Mayan). The Mayans cultivate crops and makes and sell crafts and products using the rich colorful fabrics so distinctly Mayan. Gourmet coffee is also a specialty of the region.
The principle town on the lake is Panajachel (Pana) which is a crazy blend of hotels and restaurants and markets and taxi cabs that will run you over. I took a day long tour of the lake visiting three small towns. On the ferry I met a mother-daughter travel team from Illinois now living in Florida and Oakland respectively. We hung out for a chuck of the day.
Friday, December 7, 2007
Thursday, December 6, 2007
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Monday, December 3, 2007
Here is not the only place where guns are seen. Visiting the bank one is accompanied by young men in municipal uniforms, ballistic vests, and the equivalent of a sawed-off 12 gauge shotgun, pistol-gripped. For those of you who know guns, you know that these are weapons designed for immediate and total close range "stopping power"...and the spread of a shotgun blast is not discriminating. Such short-barrelled pistol-gripped shotguns are illegal in the US. Rob a bank....get blown in half. Sobering.
The streets are cobblestone, a course type without sand-fill to smooth the surface like I have seen in the villages of Mexico. The streets are swept clean, but nothing grows here....it is all cement and plaster. The plants are saved for the courtyards and gardens that live behind the heavy wooden doors leading to houses and businesses. Most places seem to be built around a courtyard in the traditional colonial style...open air, a fountain, flowers and trees and ivy climbing the walls. And pardon my candor (those of you who have travelled in Latin America will appreciate this) the city does not smell bad.....(save for the vehicle exhaust) no sewage smell.
The dominant forms of transportation includes small cars, scooters, chicken buses (rehabilitated and wildly decorated school buses) and dirt bikes (motorcycles)...the latter making a lot of sense given the rough road. There seems to be absolutely no regulation of emissions. In the narrow wall-lined streets, a cluster of passing vehicles means a hefty dose of inhaled toxins.
The city sits in a valley, fronted and flanked by volcanoes, some large some less imposing. These are not quiet little buggers, no, many are active and moody. This morning I was attracted to "oohs" and "aaahs" in the courtyard at school where everyone looked up as the volcano Fuego (fire) erupted! White and grey smoke puffing up into the sky, mixing with the lenticular clouds. Apparently this is a regular occurrence...every few days or so. The rumor is that the volcanoes are more active in December, but this assertion seems apocryphal given my understanding of geology (but then volcanism is hardly my specialty!). I will hike a volcano soon. Guide books warn to inquire carefully as some hikes present the real danger of blasts of poisonous gasses or small burst of hot rocks. Hiker beware.
People are friendly, except the westerners. I am so surprised that when I try to engage westerners most literally avert their eyes before I can bid a greeting. Finally, this morning a young friendly guy from Chicago saw me desperately walking around on my morning "coffee" break looking to say hi to someone....he called "hola" across the garden and introduced himself. His group of young men were friendly and kind and I thanked him for saying hello. I could opine for some time on possible reasons for the cold shoulder....many of the young women are French and such behavior feeds the stereotype....but I will conclude for now that they just want to speak Spanish. I shan't take it personally for now....but starting Thursday I will (ha ha).
Oh, an exception to this was today in a cafe where a man wore a Missoula shirt and I asked if he was from Montana. He said no, Iowa. He asked where I was from and I said San Francisco. His reply, "oh we don´t even think that is part of the United States.....the coasts that is" he explained. Hmm. He continued to explain that folks in the middle of the country are a little more conservative. Wow, I never knew sir. Thanks so much for the clarification.