Sunday, June 26, 2011

June 26, 2011

Greetings from chilly, wet Antigua,

We arrived back in Antigua Wednesday evening and leave again tomorrow for Lake Atitlan, but many adventures have occurred in the interim, so here is the scoop.

A bit more about the Garifuna people I alluded to in the last post. This is a population of Caribe descendents, who mixed with an African populations, brought to St. Vincent Island in the 17th c. Through time and battles between the Spanish, French, and English, many of the Garifuna, now freed "Black Caribes", lived on the coasts of Honduras, Belize, and Guatemala. The Garifuna of Guatemala live in Livingston, on the edge of where Rio Dulce flows to the sea.  Although they have been here since the 19th c, and fished and worked this small spit of land, following the Guatemalan civil war, when many Guatemalan's sought refuge from tyranny, Livingston turned from a fishing village to a tourist destination, serving as a jumping off point to both Belize and Honduras, Rio Dulce, and interesting river travel. The Garifuna have been marginalized, living in ghettos at the east side of town. We voluntarily went on a tour with a man from the ghetto, who wanted to show us the life.  It was devastating to see the level of poverty and sitting around, with seemingly no hope. In contrast, on our last day we went kayaking and the driver of our transport boat, a Garifuna man, who told a different story of Garifuna who work, are part of the community, and choose to live the lives they have. Interesting experience altogether. We did witness many, many Mayan folks coming up and down the river to attend the political campaigns on Saturday, and many Garifuna men and women sitting around the park listening, however not really mixing together.  We were there too short a period of time to know what to know or believe. Another time possibly.

On Sunday we headed away from Livingston on a long boat ride to the town of Rio Dulce, up the canyon, along the river, through the lakes, and to the bridge. We met our next driver, Fredy, who took us through multiple military and police check points, through the Peten region to the Jungle Lodge, at the opening of Tikal, the site of the tallest Mayan pyramids, set in the jungle.  On our first afternoon and night we walked around a bit, had a light dinner in the restaurant, and readied for our 4:30am hike through the jungle for the sunrise over Tikal.  It was spectacular walking in absolute darkness, albeit the head lamps, listening to howler monkeys starting their day of territory marking, birds screeching above our heads, and the rustling of the leaves in the jungle.  We arrived at the fourth temple, which is about 10 stories high, climbed the wooden steps, and found a front row seat, overlooking the jungle to the first, tallest temple.  Although there was no sunrise that morning, there was a grey glow and rising of mist from behind the pyramids 1&2, which began to cover the pyramids, then the jungle top, and eventually over us on the steps.  It was far more magnificent than a sunrise, although that would have been nice as well. After four hours of hiking, history lessons, and study of architecture with our high school hiking buddies from Wisconsin, we found breakfast at the Lodge, readying ourselves for our second hike with the same guide, to see the rest of the park, now in the light of day.

Our guide was Antonio Ortiz, son of one of the original archeologists who began the uncovering of Tikal.  He had grown up playing in these jungles, so shortcuts through undergrowth were part of the tour.  We hiked, climbed, and stood in awe at the uncovering of a civilization that had collapsed before the Spanish arrive in the 16th c.  It turns out there was a ten year drought, and no amount of animal or human sacrifice by the rulers could coax the rain gods, so the commoners, the uneducated ones, killed off the ruling class, and disappeared into the jungle to live and survive. Because they had been the farmers for the rulers, they could subsist on the farming they knew, and remain the uneducated people of Guatemala today, from everything we see and read.  There seems to be a move afoot to change that, but it will take much time and energy, as these were the same people who were brutally killed in a genocide move by the military and guerrillas, who were there to protect the Mayan people, but when the people would not serve either militant group, were killed by both groups.  There seems to be some effort underway to rectify this atrocity, but change is slow.  Just last week the brother of one of my new Guatemalan friends was murdered in the barbershop.  He was running for political office that was bent on bringing about change, but others had designs for less change. And so it goes here. Ron Wilhelm works with villagers throughout parts of Guatemala, helping them tell their stories of the tragedy of the Guatemalan civil war and the pain of lost people, who may or may not ever be recovered.  His skill as an ethnographer is of great use and help to the people he meets and works with, no doubt. Releasing that kind of pain takes many hands and years to bring about.  Here in Antigua there is an excellent photographic exhibit in the EspaƱa cooperativa about the civil war and the photos tell the story of mass burials, very young boys with guns, and Mayan women pleading in groups for answers, retribution, and salvation.  The Maya, it seems, left more than pyramids.

We spent a hot, restless night of bugs and mosquito nets, since the electricity is turned off in the evening at the Jungle Lodge. The next morning we toured the two museums on the grounds and were met with beautiful pieces, which were unlabeled, and without documentation of any sort. The pieces were magnificent, but viewing limited, due to the limited knowledge of where and how these were brought here. The ceramic museum was a bit more welcoming, with some sinage, and a great display of the first kings' bones with his 6 kg of jade we had heard about. The pieces were well reconstructed, but again, without documentation, objects behind glass. In the afternoon we left for Flores, the town south of Tikal on the lake.  Our hotel, Peten Esplindida, was on the shore of the lake, across from an island, connected by a short bridge from Flores.  After the amount of sweating we had done in the past week, between Livingston and Tikal, we opted to hang out in the room, catching up on emails, and waited for the cool of the evening to go down for a dip and dinner near the pool next to the lake.  Some folks we had met from Vermont, touring Tikal when we were there, wandered over and had dinner with us. It was a pleasant evening of chatter and story swapping. They are in the medical field and had originally planned the C American trip to Honduras to do medical relief. but the trip was cancelled due to fear.  So, they created their own trip, and here we were. They were headed to Antigua, so we gave them some tourist advice, and agreed to meet at the Welten for dinner Saturday night. We spent the next day hanging out by the pool, watching movies, and readying for the short flight to Guatemala City.

The flight was short, but the wait quite long. Our 5:00 flight turned into a 7:00 flight, due to an overburdening of the airlines by a group of 120 Japanese tourists, who had chartered all six planes leaving from Flores. Unfortunately, they had overlooked the nature of the slowness of Guatemala and arrived at the airport, just 25 minutes before their scheduled flight, so all flights got delayed, since it took nearly an hour to get checked in past the ONE person checking passports, airport tax stickers, and tennis shoes.  We arrive in GC, picked up our transport, and arrived home at the apartment around 9. Such is the way sometimes. The next day was my workshop at the school on the learning brain, so I reviewed my materials and found that what I had sent forward was what I needed, so put together some notes, and crashed.  Tom had gotten so worked up over the lateness of the flight and the circumstances surrounding it, that he was exhausted from frustration.  He crashed the minute we had unpacked.

Thursday, I showed up at the school early to watch other presenters, just to take note of style, to sort of see where I fit in. Needless to say, I didn't since everything was ppt, written in Spanish, and spoken in Spanish. The teachers were receivers of information, with limited, if any interaction or feedback.  I knew I was an outlier, for many reasons. I also discovered that I was an add in, an expert from out of town who had been squeezed into the schedule. I had originally be given a 90 minute session, which in writing was 60, and I was the last presentation of a four day week of constant sessions.  I decided to honor the 60 minutes, used no ppt, engaged the teachers throughout, turned the learning over to them, and surprisingly, spoke in Spanish the entire time.  I had three interpreters at the ready, who threw me words now and again, but between what I knew how to say, hand gestures, drawings on the board, and interactive learning, we got the job done, and everyone left seeming to understand what went on. But, as with all 60 minute workshops, at the end of a long week, when you wish you were somewhere else, who really knows what went in and stuck.  I had prepared well, given back the gift of time to a place that had given me so much time and freedom, so walked away feeling ok.  After the workshop a woman with whom I interfaced daily at the school invited me to her 18thc hacienda in the city for lunch.  Like two little girls, we sat at a small table on the porch, telling each other stories, while I listened to the story of the death of her brother, her father's military background and his political affiliations, and the life of a Guatemalan woman living in Antigua.  It was glorious.

Tom and I were invited to breakfast with the teachers and administrators, which involved getting across town, meeting a school bus in front of one of the Catholic churches, and riding north through the mountains to a lovely log structure, where we had breakfast with about 50 people from the school.  It was loud, wonderful, and tasty. Along the way there and back we saw fields and fields of vegetables, fruits, and people in them tending the produce, trucks being loaded with large bags of avocados, etc.  It was truly amazing, with the exception that you are reminded that the people working these campos/farms are workers, not owners of this land, and in all likelihood will never own the land.  Such beauty and sadness mixed in a single place.

Saturday I worked all day writing on an article that I am trying to send off for publication on the Fiesta Math Night project.  Although we have several short pieces in publication now, this one involves the report of the findings from four years of narrative writings by the students on the FMN experience, from start to finish. There were some amazing things learned, so the publication is warranted. Hopefully today it will hit Tom's careful editing fingers, and the publisher by the end of the week. Today is a great day, because we get to skype with Adam and Catherine and my mom. We plan to take ourselves to Panza Verde, a restaurant in town named after the people who stayed in Antigua after the 1773 earthquake that emptied the city. They got this name for surviving on avocados, hence the term, green bellies.   We are off tomorrow for a four day jaunt to Lake Atitlan, where more adventures and new learning await.

BTW, pictures from the first three and a half weeks of June are posted on facebook, so enjoy, I know we did.   Hope all is well for you and yours. Love jeanne

Sunday, June 19, 2011

June 19, 2011;

Greetings from Livingston, Izabel, Guatemala, where we have been residing since Wednesday afternoon. More about that in a bit. First, happy Fsther's day all fathers who are reading and following the blog. I hope the joy of fatherhood has been as uplifting as the lives Tom's and my chldren have been to him, and by extension, me.

When left off last, we were laying by a pool in Copan, Honduras, enjoying a sedate life. The next day was quite the adventure into Mayan antiquity. We ventured to the ruin of Copan, deserted some time before the conquistadors found central America. We were fortunate enough to have an outstanding guide who was born, raised, and lived in Copan, and studied Mayan history at the national university of Honduras, and belonged to the society of historians and archeologists, all determined to continue the study of Mayan history and culture. We walked, climbed, and tunneled through ruins of magnificence and careful preservation. We learned that they were u touched somewhat because the Spanish found no gold there. The tamales were magnificent, but what marked this site was the intricate carvings that included Mayan dating, details of you and old leaders, that were carved with great depth, sometimes all the way through the stone, up to eight inches. We learned of these oddest on of the area and the greed of the rulers to continue to oppress the servant people, as they captured more and more lands, eventually collapsing under the inability to sustain. The fourteenth king turned to the people and create a representative system, bit this was scoffed, destroyed and life as they knew it ended. We learned that inside the pyramids were other pyramids and large alters, in full color, that were discovered through tunnels, that we uncovered and now walkable, somewhat. We were able to see the Grand alter in replication in the museum. The plastered, full size, brilliantly painted alter was approximately 40 feet high with multiple figures of the kind we saw in the ruins. The museum also had multiple statues original to the site. The museum was an open air configuration of three levels: the underworld, where we entered through the mouth of the serpent, the living worl, and the heavens, which showed the open sky above. Needless to say, it was magnificent. Something poignant was the absence of the mention of women throughout the entire tour. This did not parallel what we saw in the square in Copan. All other central areas in Guatemala, Peru, Chile, Italy, Germany, etc, people gather in the central square in the evening, but here only men were noticeable, no matter what time of day or night. The next day we learned from our driver that men in Honduras were a bit machismo, and expected women to stay home, hence, no women were around, although some were on side streets, working in shops, restaurants, and sold food from carts, but not in the square. Very different.

We were driven four hours, by our trusty guide Isreal, who only spoke Spanish tom us, even though he could speak English. He patiently waits while I formed careful sentences, hoping for some sense making. He got is to our launch at Rio Dulce, where we boarded a boat for Livingston, Izabel, guatemala, at the mouth of the river and faces the Caribbean. We checked I to the Villa Caribe, which overlooks the river and ocean. That night we arranged a trip to Playa Blanca, which included a walk though a series of seven waterfalls, on the way to the beach. Since all transportation here is aquatic, since there are no roads to Livingston. The falls were fantastic, which were traversed by climbing up the jungle mountain, along rocky, slippery shores. We played for a while below the highest fall, in a pond of crystal clear water. The beach was more grey than blanco, and the water brown, rather than Caribbean blue, green. We learned that there are so many rivers feeding into the ocean here, that the water along the Guatemalan coast, although just miles from Belize, are all like this. I was pleasant enough. The exciting part was the boat ride home in the driving rain, with seas rising all around us in the oncoming storm. When we returned we wandered into a visitor center, in search of kayaks, sailboats, something, and met two ladies fro the US who were here on a Rotarian International project, and got invited to visit a school with them the next day. Needless to say, we said yes. We did arrange the kayak trip for Saturday. On Friday morning, the next day, we boarded a launch with the rotations, and were tours through a school designed for the advancement of Mayan children, set in the jungles, on a small tributary along the rio dulce. The school is 20 years old and focuses on increasing educational opportunities as well as commercial experience for the students in restaurants and hotels in Livingston. The school is centered on supporting the Mayan communities in the mountains surround the peninsula north of the school. It was amazing to see the industry, intent, and concern for increased education. On our final day we went kayaking, which of course, required a launch ride up the river, to the place to kayak. By the time we got in our individual kayaks, it had begun to rain,a nd hard, so we paddled in the rain, which was a break from the stifling heat of the launch ride, slowly meandering along other rivers. We paddled through jungles for about six miles, and a had a glorious time with our garafuna guide, who had lived his entire life here. The rain stopped and started all afternoon and continued throughout the evening, where, as we had each night, watched the storm through the picture windows of our cabana, which overlooked the river and sea.

The most striking thing about our stay here, beside the watery world, was the mix, or non-mix of the garafuna, Maya, and Spanish cultural groups that live in this town of ten blocks on the hill. The garafuna, a group of freed caribe-African decendants, lived in abject poverty at the east side of town, whereas the Spanish lived in the heart of town, although there was some mixing at the docks. On Saturday the Mayan people flooded the small village for shopping, and yesterday, to register to vote. There is more to be learned here, although we did tour the garafuna village with a garafuna guide on our second day.

I have run out of blogging time, as our launch out leaves in 45 minutes, and we are not packed yet. Pictures will be up next week, so keep checking Facebook for the three and a half week photo journal. We find our way to Tikal today, so more to come next week.

Hope all is well for you and yours. Love Jeanne

Monday, June 13, 2011

June 12, 2011

Greetings from Jeanne,

We are sitting next to a lovely, palm tree-lined, dark blue tiled pool, having a gin and tonic, checking emails, enjoying our new setting in Copan, Honduras.

Our time in Puerto Vallarta turned out great, albeit different from years past somewhat. On Sunday we got caught up on what our current time share situation was and are set for a while. on Monday we hung out and attended a cocktail party at the place, Tuesday lingered on our balcony, after a long, hot walk into town. Wednesday was an exceptional day. We rented a car and drove to a beach town oath of Puerto Vallarta, Los Alayas. We played in the light waves, rode the inflated banana over the tougher waves, behind a speeding boat, and just hung out with all the Mexicsn families enjoying the beach, waves, and fares. We drove tonthe hotel for a quick rinse off, then out tom the cliffs, north of town for a champagne, seafood dinner, overlooking the bay, while the sun twisted it's way through the clouds, shooting orange, pink, gold streaks onto the water and sky. The waiters really got into this being our 33rd anniversary and brought us flan decorated with Happy Aniversary along the edge, and more drinks. We slept well that night. On Thursday, we hung out, swam, as we did most mornings, and found our way to Jota Be, a Dance hall, which hosts salsa lessons from 9-10pm every evening. We joined the class, learned a few new steps, then stayed for an hournor more of salsa dancing, as the only couple on the floor. It was so cool. On Friday, we went into downtown to shop for the kids, then returned to readymourselves for the next of the trip, getting oarding passes, laundry, and just reorganizing luggage to accommodate the new goods. In the evening we went to the marina where we boarded a boat, which took us across the bay, north of PV, where we were served a lovely dinner on the beach, then walked into an outdoor heater when it was dark, to see a dance performance of authentic Mexicsn dance. The show was an extradonary display of feathered costumes, exceptional dance, and fire twirling. It as dazzling. We rode in the front of the boat on the way home and enjoyed the wind in our hair, waves, stars, and moon. Such a night.

We trekked our way back to Mexico City on Saturday and enjoyed our lovely cena at the Hilton, then headed out down reforma toward the zocalo. There were throngsof people out walking with their families, novias, novios, etc, enjoying the cool night, ice creams, time together. We joined right inon all counts. The zocalo was camped in by numerous people making political statements regarding the government, violence in Mexico, the drug cartels, etc. They were peaceful, but determined. It wad glorious to witness such resolve. On Sunday morning in MC we went out to take photographs of the extraordinary bronze sculptures we had noticed the previous week in front of the Palacio. It turns out they were all completed by an artist from Mexico. For those of you who follow us in picots, you'll have to wait a few weeks, and we'll make some new albums of these when we get back to Antigua. We went to the museum of tolerance across from the Palacio. Mostly the museum focused on the holocaust, but there were displays of atrocities since tis this time. They showcased atrocities in Guatemala, Rwanda, Cambodia, Darfur, etc. The museum is donein film, graphic, and writing, and authenticatesmthe horrors, leaving the viewer eith a sense of senselessness of thismkindof abuse toward humanity. There are extensive educational programs, projects,a nd opportunities for community members to rise up and act well toward others. Amazing.

We started our long, long trek To Honduras Sunday afternoon, arrived in Guatemala City late, flopped down, rose very early, jumped in a van, and spent old people time napping and laying by the pool, where the almost full moon jas just risen above the tile covered roof of our hotel, where we sit, write, read, and are enjoying life on the road. Ruins of Copan tomorrow.

The adventure continues. Hope all is well for and yours. BTW, forgive the extra ms throughout,as I am typing on an iPad, so hit the m, n, or no space bar on occasion. Jt

Sunday, June 5, 2011

June 5, 2011

Greetings from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico,

We are sitting on the porch of our condo, looking out at the sun on the waves of bluish, green water, as it laps up on the shore,though the waving palm trees that line the shore. We look like two old duffers enjoying our vacation. It is truly lovely.

We arrived here yesterday after a whirlwind week of museums, ballet, and trips in and out of Mexico City. We used the Hilton Reforma in MC as out home base, returning MondY, Wednesday, and Friday to a welcoming team of HH staff who spoiled us rotten. We had happy, happy hours every night with drinks and cena, and beautiful breakfast each morning. When in Mexico City, we attended the performance of the National Ballet Folorico Company at the famous Palacio de Bellas Artes. The performance was extraordinary, set in the beauty of the architecture of this hall. More here: Also in MC we went on a tour of the floating gardens of Xochimilco, which is a series of canals, marking the original waterways of Mexico City. We had lunch on the flat bottom boat, which was prepared by a lady on another flat bottom boat. The mole, barbacoa, and other Mexican food accompaniments were wonderful. Our guide poled the skiff along through ecological centers, farms, and many miles of waterways, making for a very pleasant anniversary afternoon.

We spent Tuesday of that week getting to and enjoying the Olmec museum in Xalapa. Tom had gone there last year and wanted to share this with me. It was magnificent in size, restoration of artifacts, and presentation. It was great to see. The hallmark of the collection was the immense size of the carved heads, which stood about 12-15 feet. There were also masks of people smiling and children playing and waving, all in very minute detail. As with the Mayan and other ancient cultural groups, no one really knows why the Olmecs no longer thrive in this area. We walked around the center of Xalapa and then down, down hill to the dammed river, which serves as a small town lake. As rhe capital of Veracruz, there is a large state house, with outstanding murals that tell the story of Mxican independence. Moat interesting is the chronicle of the independence from US and other oil companies, with the formation of PEMEX, the national oil company of Mexico, since 1938. It was a nice time and particularly nice bus trip to and from MC.

On Thursday last week we took a bus to Cuernacvaca where we toured the Morelos Province museum of history, gardens of the summer home of Maximillian, and 16th c. Cathedral. In had studied Spanish there several times across the last six years, so wanted to share my experiences with Tom. We enjoyed a day of museums, but were really taken with the lively evening at the zocalo where there was formalized Mexican ballroom dancing with live bands, fire twirlers, and just folks out with their children, enjoying the cool of the night.

We have not moved too far from our spot here at the Sheraton buganvilias, but have the rest of the week to figure that out. We have been co ing here since 1994, so feel pretty confident that something will come to mind. If you have travelled with us here, we have some sad news: Hector's closed six months ago. We arein search of his new spot. We heard about a lace to maybe rent a bare boat, so who knows, we might get out on that great Banderas Bay yet.

I will get pictures of the Mexican adventure as soon as I can, so keep checking Facebook and something will appear.

Hope all is well for you and yours. Love Jeanne