Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mayans - the people who discovered chocolate

It is a sad statement about our study of pre-Columbian history that many well educated Americans (okay, me, and I presume many others who fancy ourselves well versed in history) studied the Mayans and then learned about the Aztecs and sort of thought of the Mayans as disappearing into history. Some of that is natural to the study of history - students are often unclear about when the Ancient Greeks became the Greeks who have big fat weddings...

Guatemala´s population is heavily Mayan - percentages widely vary, but most people are either a mix of Mayan and European ancestry or just straight Mayan. There are Mayan language schools here in Antigua and Spanish is the second language in many rural homes. The mais y frijoles diet here dates to Mayan times and the backstrap weaving we´ve purchased so much of is Mayan in origin too.

I have a new appreciation for the most famous contribution of Mesoamerican culture to the world - chocolate. I would hardly call myself a chocoholic, but I enjoy an M&M, the occasional Twix or a hot cocoa now and again. Since I´ve been here, i´ve gained a new appreciation for Guatemalan hot chocolate (Guatemalan has sugar, the Mayans was unsweetened). It makes the expensive hot cocoas I have at home taste like the back of a postage stamp. I´m hoping to bring some home, but am a bit concerned that the supermarkets are closing for New Year´s Eve....

If I find some, i´ll have you over for hot chocolate

El Mercado de Panajachel

We passed up a chance to go to the big Sunday market in Chichicastenango and stayed closer to base to hit the Sunday market in Pana. The Chichi market is one of Guatemala´s biggest tourist attractions, but the idea of a large portion of the day taken up by bus rides was not terribly appealing. Aside from that, we had a connection to the Pana market: through Kiva, we´d lent to a group of weavers who sold in Pana. Although we wouldn´t have necessarily seen them at the market, we spent enough on Mayan textiles to safely say that we helped pay back our own loan.

After another fine evening at La Casa del Mundo, we set off early Monday for a return to Antigua.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Lago de Atitlan

We arrived late on Friday night into Antigua de Guatemala - and the lovely Hotel Aurora. After breakfast, we strolled out to the market before catching a shuttle to Panajachel, the largest town on Lake Atitlan - a large volcanic lake in the Guatemalan Highlands. The ride was the typical "minibus" trip - a large Hyundai or Toyota van with every seat taken, driven faster than my comfort level on winding mountain roads - nearly identical to one we took in Thailand. Only tourists can afford minibus trips, so we shared the ride with a Bavarian, 2 Italians, a gringo of unknown origins (he didn"t go to the lake, so he may be ex-pat) and another American couple.

Aside from the aforementioned gringo, we all got off at the docks to catch a launch to one of the many lakeside towns and resorts. Lisa and I paid for a private boat (suckers) to get to La Casa del Mundo - easily one of the most beautiful places either of us has ever been, The hotel is the only game in town, so everyone has dinner there, ensuring interesting conversation and comparing of notes on travels here and elsewhere. Lisa reserved the hottub after dinner, so we sat underneath the very dark sky and saw more stars than I knew existed. The tub was made on site- a wood burning stove stuck in the middle of a small pool - smells of oak rather than chlorine - i may try to duplicate someday (probably harder than it looks).

An incredible place to spend a weekend

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try writing an email without using an apostrophe..... i see it printed on the key but can{t make it work.... i get {{{{ instead......

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Risk Management

So you`ve waited on the painfully slow belt at Baggage Claim and perhaps thought to yourself: "can´t this thing go any faster?"

it can .....

but there is someone in the USA - I blame an actuarial type in Risk Management at the airport - who keeps the speed set low - in order to avoid the 15 suitcase pileups and other mishaps that we saw last night at the `Guate` airport - i´ve never seen lugguage fly off the belt before - saw 3 bags do that last night - also saw 3 pileups caused by tags getting stuck or bags being off kilter before returning to the loading area.

Best baggage claim experience ever.....

getting ahead of myself

So, people often refer to their skill in a particular language with a laughed off  "I know enough to get into trouble" and there is often an implication of drinking or picking up a member of the opposite sex.  I have learned my lesson without getting into any real trouble (thanks to my translating wife)

Waiting in customs line at the Guatemala City airport (BTW a beautiful new place that reminded us of Bangkok´s new airport and MUCH nicer than Miami where we spent 3 hours) there was announcement that I understood enough of to presume this:

"Those who have a TACA Airlines connection to San Salvador should wait in line 1" - we were waiting in line 1 and I was expecting to get inundated with people.....

What was said:

"Those who flew in on TACA from San Salvador and other connections will find their baggage on Belt 1"

Lisa pointed out that I missed the key word "equipaje" - no real trouble would have ensued had I been left on my own, but I do understand the expression a bit more personally.