Monday, March 28, 2011

March 27,2011

Greetings from Belize. Tom and I have just finished a week of sailing with two friends from Colorado, Doug and Janet camp. We bareboated a 35' beneteau sailboat out of Placencia, Belize, a town at the tip of a peninsula, on the eastern coast of Belize. Initially we were led to believe by the debriefing staff that the trip was laden with traps of sand bars and fines for touching coral with the keel. However, when we finally got underway, we learned that this was partially true, but that the distances between cays were plenty and the sailing smooth

After a night in Placencia Harbor, just barely out of the marina, we headed north to coco plum cay where we discovered a beautiful, hidden place where could have dinner to celebrate the Camp's 25th anniversary. After a short kayak paddle and a bit of snorkeling, and of course rum, we watched the sun set. In the orange, pink glow of the aura a pair of dolphins graced us with three smiling salutes, then swam away to the depths of the sea. We took the dinghy to shore, met a party of 14 who were celebrating a birthday party and had rented the resort for the week. We entered Thatch Cay restaurant through a bamboo frond archway and found a mix of modern architecture and native thatching mixed with exotic wood appointed decor that included a lounge area with couches, board games, a fabulous bar made of multiple hardwoods, and were heartily greeted by the manager, owner, bartender, all dressed for the islands, and barefooted. We knew we had hit the right place. We shared a bottle of champagne, dinner, and great conversation, and agreed to return for the Mexican buffet the next night. As the birthday party folks drifted to the north shore for a bonfire, we headed to the dinghy in the dark. Tom escorted an older lady to the dinghy dock who turned out to be the famous Marie Sharp. Janet and Doug knew of her pepper products from their previous visit. She told us her story of building an industry of Belizian hot sauces, jellies, and chips, and even let us take our picture with her.

The next dated we sailed around coco plum cay, enjoyed some late afternoon kayaking, and returned for the Mexican buffet and enjoyed another evening with our new found friends. Doug, Penny the manager, and Steve the owner talked long and hard about their need for a good fly fisherman, which is one of Doug's points of expertise. Who knows where this will go. Penny, the manager told us about her daughter Pam's restaurant in Placencia, Rum Fish y Vino, and we agreed to check it out. Look for us in the t-shirts to mark the rum fish adventure in the Facebook album. More about this later in the blog.

Our next sailing day was a long, broad reach south to Pelican Cay. The morning was fraught with very light wind, but as par for sailing here, the winds picked up by mid-day, and we had a nice sail into the motoring only area that led us past hidden sand bars to the Pelican Islands, which are primarily mangroves and some sand.  Doug and I stood on the deck, reading the sand bars, which were glaringly apparent in brilliant greens and blues.  We made it through the treachery of sand pits, and settled in the Pelican Cay cove, which is nestled in a circle of mangrove islands.  The four of us first explored the area in the dinghy, and most of the islands were either for sale, deserted, or empty, except for mangroves.  We noticed a palapa on one island, sticking out of the palm height of the mangroves and other taller trees. A little further down we saw a dock, and were greeted by a spry young lady, who tied our dinghy to the dock, then invited us up for a tour of the Ingersoll Hideaway. 

Kim and Dustin, two young people from the U.S. who had bought the island, built a bar, house, and cabana for guests. We joined Kim for a drink, and agreed to come back for dinner that night.  Just like in the more expanded coco plum resort, this place had no menu, just what the cook was preparing.  Kim offered conch fritters and snapper, so we were in.  The buildings they had on the property were on stilts that had been drilled into the mangrove. The roof was thatched by the Mayans from the mainland, and the rest of the walkways over the mangroves, and house construction was completed by Kim and Dustin. What impressed us the most about these mangrove pioneers was their sense of balance, kindness, and willingness to give an idea a try. They had lived on a sailboat for 14 years in Florida, and finally gave up on this because of the condominium idea had encroached on the boating life. They struck out, built a utopia of sorts, and were living off the sea, seafaring folks, and finding a way to make it in a more natural setting.  They have been up and running since November and seem very content.

After this fine adventure, the rest of our sailing trip was being on the boat, bringing it back into the dock, and spending a day and night in Placencia.  In the evening, we ventured to Penny's daughter's restaurant, Rum Fish y vino.  This was an amazing find. There were four types of mojitos, excellent fish appetizers, and fresh snapper with mango sauce. We had a glorious evening with Doug and Janet, regaling stories about the trip, visiting with the owners, visiting with folks from Colorado, one of whom was interested in fly fishing and the other in sailing.  We were so taken that we bought matching tshirts, and even wore them to breakfast at Larubeja for pictures the next day.

The trip ended with three flights and a van ride to Antigua, and for both of us, it was great to be home.  The cool air of the mountains was a welcome respite after a week of sun, heat, and humidity.  We are back, readying ourselves for the festivities of semana Santa, observing at the school, and reuniting with our Spanish teachers. All is well here, hope it is the same for you and yours. Pictures of the trip will be posted on Jeanne's facebook sometime in the next day or so.  jt

Friday, March 18, 2011

March 18, 2011

Greetings from Jeanne

It has been a quiet week in Antigua. The school is in a flurry of exam activity, so I have stayed home, mostly being lazy and hanging out with Tom. We met our respective teachers for Spanish classes and are both reporting progress in speaking, writing, and reading.  It is an uphill battle for both of us: me finally breaking out of my fear to actually speak, and Tom being held back a bit, as his teacher corrects his street Spanish of 43 years.  We are both coming out better on the other end and enjoy the challenge.

Yesterday we returned to Jocotenango, a village near Antigua, where we toured three museums: coffee, Mayan instruments, and Mayan housing.  It was terrific to see the artifacts and learn new things about the Mayan culture and coffee  history in the area.  After this small adventure we found a cafeteria that had three small tables, one mamascita cooking in the back, and no menu. We were served an excellent meal of ribs, rice, salad, and corn tortillas.  It was delightful, although we were quite the curiosity, as this seemed like a local place, and it was great to see the comings and goings of the people who dropped in. 

We walked for about an hour in search of wood artisans, which is the artistic highlight of the pueblo.  After asking a number of people, we eventually found the one we sought.  The shop was approximately 10x10, and along all of the walls were glass cabinets covered in plastic, to protect the finished pieces from the sawdust from the lathe, saw, and sanding that took place in the left corner of the tiny shop.  The artist, his wife, and assistant (probably son), opened the shop and we stood in awe at the carved vegetables, both in natural wooden relief, as well as painted in very realistic reds, greens, and yellows.  Needless to say, several leaf-shaped bowls left with us and are quite exquisite. The detailing in the wood is extraordinary and the finish work excellent.

We skyped with Gordon from New Orleans for a long time and got caught up on his plans to move and work toward purchasing a house in New Orleans near the river, not far from where he works on Magazine.  It was great to hear the excitement in his voice about the potential, the possibilities, and the thrill of moving into a new place he can call his own.  We hope to see pictures of this when he and Sara join us here in Guatemala in May.

Another bonus was a meeting with Ron Wilhelm and Kim Batchelor, who had just returned from Lake Atitlan in northwest Guatemala, where they had been conducting health research and visiting a friend who does community outreach. We met them on the square, then proceeded to dinner at Welton, a nice restaurant here in Antigua. We visited through the night talking of things great and small, adventures we have all experienced, and our love for things Guatemalan.  It was a lovely night, in spite of the music, which could have been just a bit softer for conversation sake.

Today we begin preparations of sorts for our next adventure with Doug and Janet in Belize; haircuts, laundry, Spanish classes, in general, slow preparations.  Hope all is well.  Love jt

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March 15, 2011

Greetings from Antigua.

I returned from Thailand Sunday around noon, after a 30 hour journey over the pacific, U.S., and into Guatemala.  Although it was long, the end gain was being back with Tom in this lovely town. Re-entry has been really nice, since this week the school where I do my observations is in the middle of end of semester exams, so I have the week to write, study Spanish, sleep late, hang out with Tom, etc.  Life is good.

True to form, my last day in Thailand was another extraordinary study in culture, cuisine, and kindness.  Chantana arranged a trip for me and another scholar from the World Bank, who consults with the institute on assessment, to a day near the coast going south from Bangkok.  We drove about an hour along a highway where on both sides we could see pools of water which were filled with salt water from the ocean. These natural holding tanks are used to collect sea salt. The operation is very simple: windmills are used to collect sea water, the water evaporates, the salt is collected, cleaned, and stored in large stacks, which is then bagged and sold on the side of the road, as well as to larger vendors who use or sell sea salt commercially.  For 20 baht (around $2.50) for two pounds of small bags of sea salt.  We have turned to sea salt, when we use salt, so this should hold us in good stead for quite some time.

We eventually ended up at a large dock area near a canal, where several flat bottom boats were docked.  Chantana knew everyone and had a arranged an oarsman to paddle us from the dock into a canal system that led through the jungle to a jungle of shops along the canals.  We paddled past houses on stilts, with boats tied in covered areas or on racks near the houses.  After going several hundred yards, we entered the floating market. This market was like no other I had experienced.  There were many boats docked along the canals' edge, as many other boats floated in and around each other, bumping lightly into each other, with passengers in search of goods, photographs, and intrigue. This was my last opportunity to shop for family and friends, so my intent was in the this order.  The goods for sale in the boats floating by mostly included fruits, vegetables, fried foods, soups, etc. The most intriguing boat was paddled by an older woman who had a wood fire in her boat, was cooking fried bananas, and hawking her wares as she passed.  Interest in food items was a nod away, boats connecting at the gunnels, and an exchange made, sometime walking bahts, bags, and change as boats floated by each other.  Other vendors sold turista trinkets as well as nice arts and crafts from the canal shore. An interest in these vendors, a nod, resulted in the vendor reaching out a large pole with a hook at the end, pulling our boat to the canal's edge, where the goods lay.  Examination, discussion, bargaining by Chantana resulted in excellent purchases and great fun.  Once I had met my quota of space in my burgeoning suitcase, and gift needs, we headed back to our dock, through a myriad of canals through the jungle of banana trees, mango groves, and mud flats.  Because Chantana regularly brings her guests here, the owner, an older lady, offered us ice coffee, bananas, sticky rice with mangoes, and company.  We sat, visited, and enjoyed the moment of being in the jungle of her property. 

Following the repast at the hands of our kind hostess, we ventured forward to a museum of homes and gardens of poets, near the river that feeds the canal.  We toured these stilted structures and saw the dancing puppets known to this area, photographs of fishing, and observed intricate designs of the weavings of the region. Chantana noticed an open-air reflexiology spa in the garden, so she and I each took a chair and enjoyed an hour of foot, leg, and joint massage, among the orchids, birds chirping, and light breeze blowing through.  Another extraordinary experience.

Relaxed and feeling good, we then headed to the coast, as short distance away, and enjoyed a seafood lunch in an open-air restaurant, where it seems only locals eat, with the exception of us.  The restaurant was on stilts, and when we arrived, the tide was out quite a way, so we could observe small crabs, lizards, and other sea creatures scurrying about the exposed ocean floor.  The tempura prawns they served were approximately six inches long, the squid in the soup fresh, the shrimp in the rice very fresh, and the vegetables garden green.  The three of us enjoyed the breeze from the water, the food, and each others' company before we took a short walk through the fish market across the street.  At this market was a buddha I had not seen before, a black buddha, seated, but with different hand positions, and not looking ahead, but down at the observer.  His face was more engaging and less pious than other buddha statues I had seen previously, and the extensive numbers of offerings suggested that he was revered and venerated in this area. So little time, so much to see and learn. The trip on this day, combined with all the other Thai experiences teaching, learning, and living, taught me the love of a people for those who take the time to get to know them. Pictures are on facebook.

With this as our final spot, we headed back to Bangkok to drop Mark, and take me to the airport for my journey back to Tom in Antigua.  Life here is quiet this week, with no school commitment, so the hope is to work harder on my Spanish homework, get some article work done, and enjoy being back in the mountains, the cool air, and the essence of the community in the process of Lent.  On Sunday Tom and I begin our journey to Belize for a week of sailing with our good friends Doug and Janet Camp.  The adventure continues....  Hope all is well in your world.  Love jt

Friday, March 11, 2011

March 11, 2011

from Jeanne
This will be my last post from Thailand, as I have one more day, then fly out tomorrow night. Today was quite extraordinary.  My hostess, Chantana, took me to the ancient city of Autthaya, which was founded in 1350 and was the original capital of the Siam Kingdom.  It is surrounded by three rivers, which for many years served to protect it.  The city is an ancient collection of temples, palaces, and places of administration for the kingdom.  In 1767, the city was burned by the Burmese, who then chopped the heads of all the Buddha statues ( a sizable number), and took all the gold.  We toured the ruins, which are extensive, and saw the one massive (16 meters, seated), which was reconstructed about 60 years ago.  The city is now a UNESCO site, so the ruins are internationally protected, so preserved and maintained as a national park. We walked through three temple sites and the more modern summer palace of the king.

The summer palace consisted of a 46 acre collection of buildings including a very large Chinese pagoda house, light house, large gazebo, massive guest house, shrine to his lost wife and child, and beautiful sculpted gardens, including topiaries of elephants, rabbits (since the king was born in the year of the rabbit), and other animals. 

All of the touring occurred in the morning, then we were loaded onto the Shangri La Hotel cruise boat, at which time we enjoyed a beautifully prepared lunch in a beautiful dining room, going along the king's river, on our return to the Shangri La.  I went on deck after lunch and watched the extensive amount of boat traffic. There were barges filled with sand and rocks being, four long, being pulled by a single tug, struggling upstream.  There are long, slim boats with brilliant colors, flowers to Buddha flying from the bow, crossing back and forth, ferrying passengers to their destinations across the river. There are water taxies in the style of Chinese vending boats, and on and on. Truly busy river.

We returned by subway, after walking four blocks from the hotel, along a narrow sidewalk, where many, many vendors were selling food, clothes, shoes, everything, all at good prices. There were several vendors frying bugs of various sort.  Fruit vendors had cut fruit in plastic cups, soups and rice in small plastic bags, and fried anything at all in small paper cups.  This is a very busy place, which captures the worker returning from the office on the way home between bus rides or subways, and holds the group together as they finish this part of their day. The smells were so extraordinary, the bustle constant, and the intrigue high.  An amazing walk.

After our subway ride, on a clean, rapid, new, quiet subway, we stepped into a quiet, sterile health care environment, that promotes wellness, for a bite to eat with the president of the institute, for whom I conducted workshops these last two weeks.  She is a graduate of UNT, a marvelous woman, and a great conversationalist. We talked for two hours shared possible thoughts for future collaborations.  What an amazing ending to a terrific day, with the potential to return sometime soon.

I am signing off to pack, ready for my last adventure, and post pictures from today on Facebook.  I look forward to seeing Tom in Guatemala City on Sunday morning.  I hope all is well for you. Love jt

Thursday, March 10, 2011

March 10, 2011

Jeanne here:

I am still here in Thailand, even though we ended our workshops yesterday.  We had a grand ending to a terrific six days with the participants. They are each staff development folks for the nation of Thailand, and serve as the key personnel to train teachers and write curriculum, even though many of them have never taught school before, but have sharp mathematical skills.  We got into some very good discussions about how to know when staff development has worked and when it has not. This led to more discussions of the importance of research and incremental training.  It was marvelous indeed. There were some language barriers, but several folks in the group had been to the states to study for the PhD, so were able to interpret and keep the learning going in the right direction.  Overall, it was a grand time.

Tuesday evening three of the younger students invited me and Colleen out for a dinner cruise on the river, so of course we said yes.  It was magnificent. Seafood, warm breezes off the river, brilliant shrines and temples lit up, and the most magnificent suspension bridge I have ever seen.  I hope to find some photographs of it so I can take this into the geometry section of the math class.  The students drove us to the boat, which took quite a bit of time, with the horrendous traffic and all, but we made it in time to spend a little time at a Buddhist community, just looking around until we floated (pictures added to facebook).

I had a bit of a downturn in health yesterday with upset stomach stuff, but am on the mend and back to the fun of touring Thailand today.  We visited a collection of ancient Thai archeological ruins and houses collected by the prince over 60 years ago. The queen has these in a collection and the tour was most interesting and informative about the people in ancient times. The collection included pottery, weapons, boats, and houses of the period.

Afterward we shopped for a bit, then off to the massage parlor, where there was quite a raft of choices for massage treatments. We each chose our own, then headed out and an hour later we relaxed and ready for the heat of Bangkok. Finally, Colleen and I went to the Japanese restaurant across the street where you sit in a chair facing a counter where the fresh food goes in front of you on a conveyer belt.  You select what you like, cook it in the hot pot in front of you, then eat it on small plates. It is a floating buffet, and quite interesting and fun.  Colleen heads out today in a bit, and I'll hang out for two more, touring, having fun, then back to Tom in Guatemala.  Life is good here in Bangkok.  Hope all is well for you. Love jt

Monday, March 7, 2011

March 7, 2011

Jeanne here:

Since my last post many things have happened, including trips to the beach and a jewelry store in town.  The workshop Friday went well, with very active participation by the participants, with lots of questions and interest.

On Saturday, we were off with our hostess and her niece for the beach town of Pataya, on the Siam Sea.   We began our morning away from Bangkok with a stroll through an exotic botanical garden called Noognooch Gardens.  The arrangement of the plants, embedded with sculptures and pottery was like none I had ever seen. There are many pictures on the facebook page that do this trip much more justice than the words I can express here.  Not only the topiary of rows of elephants, exquisite orchids surrounded by wildly painted frogs, but the way the park was arranged with elevated walkways, which gave the viewer a panoramic perspective that was unparalleled.  Needless to say, I was in floral heaven.

In addition to the beauty of the garden, the primary animal of Thailand, the elephant, was put on display in a marvelous show of antics, fun, and silliness, as the trainers had the elephants play many sports, give audience members massages, and dance.  The audience could also feed the elephants bananas during the show after each sporting event. There was also a stylized cultural show of drumming, dancing, and exotic costumes.  It was equally nice.  After the two shows, we could sit on an elephant trunk, or pet a tiger. I chose the latter, so if you go to facebook, you'll find pictures of this.

We drove to the seaside first for a lovely seafood lunch on the beach, and enjoyed the breeze from the ocean as we talked about nothing and everything.  We arrived at the Royal Cliff Hotel, on Pataya Beach in the afternoon, and were treated to an extraordinary weekend of dining, swimming, lazing around, and a trip into the town of Pataya. This was an experience indeed.  The town is a mixture of bourbon street, las vegas, and the souk at Marakesh. There were more things to buy and sell in one strip of land along a coast than I have ever seen in my life.  The trafficking of flesh, who knows what, and tourist trinkets was without parallel. The traffic of open-air trucks, motorcycles, vans, cabs, walking folks, flowed like the mississippi river at flood stage.  It was hot, sticky, and vibrant, and felt like a great place for young folks to come, drink, and lose your soul.  We left at 11:30, and it felt good to return to the quiet of the 6 star hotel.

On Sunday we swam, rested, ate brunch, and drove back to Bangkok by early evening. Colleen and I spent the early evening at the mall we have discovered across the six lane street from us, and had Thai food, Thai shaved ice, and visited about everything and nothing. 

Today (3.7.11) was my non-teaching day, so I spent the morning with a young lady who is preparing to help kindergarten teachers align science and mathematics curriculum, using music.  We talked acoustics, etc, and had a grand time. Our hostess gathered me up and took me to a jewelry shop across town where a wizzened older woman sat across a jewelry case, bejeweled herself with 5K diamond ring, a strand of 40K diamond necklace, and diamond/saffire earrings, attempting to sell us jewelry, offering a good price, of course. She fed us lunch, gave us cups of tea, and in the end, I left with several objects, and my hostess did the same. 

Afterward we toured the teak palace, which was built in Victorian style, and is a museum now, showing the large collection of European curios.  It is huge, beautiful, and exceptional. Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed, so I will try to post the website when I find it.

This evening our hostess took us and two directors out to dinner at a lovely Thai place somewhat near the Institute. We laughed, talked, and enjoyed an amazing dinner together.  They continue to talk about bringing us back, so hopefully this will happen.

I am back to teaching tomorrow, and finish the workshops on Wednesday. I fly out on Saturday, arriving in Guatemala on Sunday morning.  My friends have plans for me on my off days, so stay tuned as I send out new messages of the adventure abroad.  Love to all. jt

Saturday, March 5, 2011

March 1-3, The Beach at Monterrico

Tom here.  After Jeanne took off for Thailand, I decided to return to the beach town where we had spent a day with Adam and Catherine.  I arranged for my MWF Spanish lesson to be rescheduled so I could go Tuesday,Wednesday, and Thursday.  Tuesday morning we left Antigua in a minibus with six people, headed for Monterrico.  Descending from the volcanic mountains, we saw lots of interesting things across the 2.5 hour drive.  Lush fields of sugar cane were being harvested, with two-and three-trailer trucks hauling the cane to processing plants to make sugar (and rum!).  There are lots of small towns with very busy people growing things and doing lots of construction work.

When we pulled into Monterrico I was dropped off at the Pez de Oro (fish of gold) hotel, where we had been before.  Actually, it's a group of small cabins (they call them bungalows) made of masonry, with palm-thatched roofs, covered porches (with hammock, chair and table), clustered around two swimming pools.  See below:

That's my cabin (with private bath), and the pool is right in front of it.  Very clean and well-kept, and cost about $37 a night.  There's a good open-air restaurant at the hotel, too.

The sand on the beach is volcanic, so is dark.  They call it black, but it's really more of a coffee color.  Very nice and clean, but hot as blazes in the sun.  In the shade, though, it's really nice, with ocean breezes cooling everything.

I met some very friendly people - a couple from Australia, a mother and adult daughter from Canada, an 80-year-old woman and her adult son (they live in Antigua, she for 40 years), but she's British by birth.  She's a painter who visited here long ago and decided that this is where she would spend her life painting.  Very interesting woman.  She's invited Jeanne and me to get together, which I think we will.

A high point of the stay was a visit to a sea turtle refuge (tortugario) run by the University of San Carlos (I think) in Monterrico.  They have a museum and big display area where you can see the turtles, alligators and crocodiles (caimanes), iguanas, birds, lizards, etc., that they protect and raise.  I posted a bunch of pictures of this on Jeanne's Facebook page in a separate album.  They collect turtle eggs at night from the beach and take them to the tortugario to hatch.  When the hatchlings are one day old, they release them into the sea.  They say the survival rate is many times greater than for eggs left on the beach (predators, etc.).  They release about 30 hatchlings each day about 5:30 p.m., and the public is invited to watch, or even pay 10 Quetzales to release one yourself.  When I went there were lots of kids there, and it was fun to see them release the baby turtles.  Here's a couple of the pictures I posted:

There's a line scribed in the sand, and the crown stands behind it to watch.  The little ones, when released, are confused for a matter of a few seconds, but then know immediately which way to go, and hustle down to the water, where the surf picks them up and they head out to start eating algae.  When grown, they get quite large, with a diameter of over a meter sometimes.

It was a relaxing and interesting trip, and the drive home Thursday afternoon/evening was good, too.  Back to work on Spanish lessons in Antigua now.  Life's good.  I hope everyone's doing well in blog-reader land.



Thursday, March 3, 2011

March 3, 2011

I have been in Thailand for three days and have had some interesting times here.  On the first day, we arrived after 38 hours of travel from Antigua to Bangkok. We spent a  little time resting, then began a long afternoon of visiting the palace (pictures on facebook).  It was an exceptional place and most informative about the view of a monarchy here.  That night I slept for 12 hours, and felt recovered enough to begin our workshops.

The workshops involve a series of presentations by myself and my colleague Colleen Eddy on curriculum, action research, music and mathematics, and activities in mathematics. I am presenting on the level of elementary mathematics and educational research and Colleen is talking about math at the secondary level.  We each have six half days, and yesterday I presented in the morning, then all day today. I close tomorrow with content pedagogy, then we head to a beach for the weekend. The people for whom we are presenting are themselves workshop presenters for teachers of science and mathematics in the country of Thailand. Today we assisted in helping them through some of their frustrations over presenting once, with no use by teachers afterward. It lead to discussions of CBAM and other tools that extend the training and potentially assure higher levels of use.  It was a good day.

One of the topics they wanted to me to present was on music and mathematics.  Although we could demonstrate in a short experiment that music and math have no direct influence on the other, their initial beliefs that they are connected continued. This was terrific because it led beautifully into the need to conduct action research, so that we can verify our convictions about connections and influence.

Tomorrow morning it seems that I am going to tour a palace made of teak tomorrow during the morning session, but am back on duty in the afternoon.  I am enjoying the people, food, and general atmosphere. 

Hope all is well for you.  love jt