Saturday, January 17, 2009

Central America: Antigua

Back to Antigua today, 4 hour bus ride thru the mountains again. I picked up a new book today, I will need it for tomorrow and maybe it will even last through my flights and layover. We have our LAST day here tomorrow, I have no set plans, so I will probably spend the whole day reading. I can't wait to come home on Monday. Not much for photos today, there's a couple of shots from Antigua, and then a shot of a dog that looks eeerily like Shayna, Dr Easleys dog. It could be her ghost! I was organizing my exposed film, too, earlier. For having brought 100 rolls, I have only shot maybe 25 or 30. And of that, only one or two in BW. So much for saving myself money with film processing, huh? Glad I left the BW chemistry at I have all of those unexposed rolls to bring back home with me. Which makes me think...something strange has happened to the contents of my suitcase. You know how when you go away, things sort of accummulate, and you need to buy another bag to even it all out? And then get charged for a checked bag, etc, at the airport... Well, I am actually finding that I have MORE room in my suitcase the longer this trip goes on. Odd, because I have been buying clothes as I need them (in thrift shops of course) and I know I have tossed a couple of things, but not enough to explain the empty suitcase. Oh well. Makes my trip back lighter, I guess.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Central America: Fire

Last night there was a fire next to our hotel. An entire restaurant burned down. Interesting that this should happen, because JUST last night I was in a position where I actually thought about how to get out of my hotel room if there was a fire. You see, they have a different system down here for doors. On our hotel room door, there is just a deadbolt, operated by a key on both way to hand turn the lock like we have at home. It is either engaged, or it is not. Claudia and I are sharing the room, and I told her she could keep the key. Now, what this means is that if we leave the door unlocked for convenience, there is nothing to keep it from swinging open. And, of course, the way the door is hung it does open up wide. So she is in the habit of locking it when she leaves...even if I am in the room (this happened in another hotel, too). I am effectively locked IN to the room until she returns. I cannot get out except by breaking the window. Not a great option, but hey, at least there is a window. At any rate, she went out last night with everyone else, and I stayed in reading and then headed to be around 10. Locked in. At about 2am, there was a fire right around the corner from our hotel. I slept thru it, I am ashamed to say, but all of the others were actually down there helping to put it out, since they had been up partying on the hotel roof and saw it when it got going. They helped bring buckets filled from local house taps. There were two fireman but they didn't have long enough hoses to reach the place, and besides, it was fed from a regular tap anyway. At any rate, I find it odd that in the place that I actually moved the curtains to look at options and had FIRE on my mind, there WAS a fire. The photos below were taken first thing this morning, as the spot was being cleaned up.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Central America: Antigua and Panajachel

After 8 hours in the bus, we arrived in Antigua last night...just in time for dinner, then to bed, then off to Panajachel, which is where the photo above was taken. Lots of travelling, and on some amazing roads. Skinny roads thru the highlands, carved out of the hillside. No place to go if you break down, and tons of hairpin turns that make you dizzy. Several trucks and busses DID break down, though, which meant that the traffic was backed up several times around all of those turns. In fact, on one of the wider roads, an 18 wheeler had been going too fast and flipped over...effectively blocking 3/4 of the road. That backup put us more than an hour behind schedule. It was really something. Add to that the smell and smoke of garbage or brush burning (looking out onto any vista, you can see between 4 and 10 fires burning at any given time) and the thick, black exhaust from all of the busses and trucks. By the end of the ride today I was nauseous from all of the fumes...Ok, it's blurry because I shot from the bus window but what I am trying to document is the way that they use all of the land here. Even areas that you think are too steep (and it's all steep), they have figured out a way to access it and plant...something. Corn, cabbage, watermelons, you name it. They grow it. This photo doesn't even show the really steep areas.

A market that we stopped at for a few hours today. Busy place. Lots of beautiful things, textiles mostly. I am reminded on a daily basis of the lessons learned in India, and I am not buying anything that takes up space. NOTHING. Nada. Not this time. I did, however, find a nice silver ring for myself today. I have been keeping my eye out for something like that, I finally found one that met my specifications. I'm kinda picky with things like that.

Steps to a church in the middle of that market.
Chicks for sale. Anyone need a nice chicken?
The colorful area on the far hillside is a cemetery.

There are not as many skinny dogs here as there were in India, but the dogs still aren't exactly pets. They scrounge around the streets looking for garbage to eat, and then when they sleep they are out cold, anywhere. I have seen dogs sleeping in the road. This one was at least within the market, no cars allowed.
This was a quick shot last night in Antigua. The place is gorgeous...a beautifully laid out Spanish city. It was the capitol until it got levelled by one too many earthquakes. We are going back to Antigua in a couple of days, I will get more of a chance to look around then. I am afraid I might buy something there, though. They have such nice things. Really nice.
And one last shot...the place I picked for breakfast today had a resident cat! As I sat there petting the happy little thing, it was the first time the whole trip I have smiled so much. Nothing like a furry creature to make me happy. :)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Central America: Rio Dulce

Rio Dulce is in the middle of the map, a skinny spot between lakes. Town is on one side of the water, our huts are on the other. I took a boat over to the town to use internet.
The hut I am staying in, beds complete with mosquito netting because it is in a swamp. The whole place is connected by a network of elevated walkways, and they are slippery. There are no handrails. Go slow. This is the first spot I have been really glad I did bring bug stuff.

We all went to a nearby hot spring yesterday after arriving in Rio Dulce. Well, I say nearby but it was actually an hour fast boat ride to another spot, then a tractor ride (all of us piled in the back cart like hay bales), then a walk thru the jungle to the hot spring. Great place. Amazingly hot water coming down...those falls are the hot water, then it lands in the pool and mixes. Depending on which pool you are in it is hotter or cooler as it gets further away from the falls. very clean water. The little fish bite you if you stay still for more than a half minute.

A blurry shot, but this boy was our tractor driver.

Central America: Tikal

Tikal is one of the largest ruin sites, certainly very impressive. Some areas still have scaffolding, some temples are being "put back together" even now. I don't feel like writing much about Tikal, but it was a beautiful spot, not too crowded (as I had been worried about) and made for a nice 4 hour walk thru the jungle. I even got some reading done up on top of one of the temples. Going up those very steep stairs was a workout, 2 days later I can feel my legs. Good to know I am burning some calories on this trip with all of the rice, tortilla chips, beans and cheese I am eating..

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Central America: Flores

For the trip into Guatemala and onto Flores we were serenaded by the sounds of a mix CD...much to my amusement, we got to hear Kenny Rogers, Air Supply, The Bangles, Lionel Ritchie, and the Eagles several times over. The driver seemed to really love it, it must have played fully 4 times! We made it across the relatively short distance, but it took a long time. The roads are an interesting mix of crushed limestone, dirt, pavement, and lots of potholes. The speed limit on the straight stretches of road was 80 Km, but we were crawling along. I understand why, after all some of the potholes could swallow you pretty nicely. At times, the van actually drove OFF of the road, on the shoulder, because that was in better shape. Huh. Well, it´s always nice to slow down and check things out, right?
Flores is a little island, with a road around the whole perimeter and then several steep roads going to the center, it's kind of a big hill. The roads are all one way, and I witnessed an amusing thing that happened to an oversized truck. The truck was trying to get down the hill from the center plaza, and cars were parked on one side of the narrow street. Because the truck was one of those supersized SUV type things, and this town is obviously better suited for rickshaws and small vehicles, it got stuck between the curb on one side and a car on the other. A group of guys actually had to pick up the car and move it as close to the curb as possible (the cars owner was not around, so it couldn't be driven to safety). Then someone got into the car and held the mirror back so it wouldn't scrape the side of the truck. In the meantime, on the other side were two poles and another curb. The truck made it by about an inch and a half. It took at least 6 people to get the SUV out of that predicament. Oh, the cars stuck behind that truck were so mad!
Today is some sort of festival. Heck, maybe every day is some sort of festival, I have no idea. There was a little parade that made their way around that perimeter road a few times, every once in awhile stopping to dance for the crowd or toss fireworks into the street.
I may look like I am ok (do I?) but today was actually the hardest day for me. From the moment I woke up, I have been dealing with little incidents that have either bothered me a little, bothered me a lot, made me want to cry, or pissed me off. There was a misunderstanding about the van to pick us up, and where to bring our luggage. I had cold, dry white toast for breakfast, and then 20 minutes later finally got butter and tea. There was a a misunderstanding about my food bill at the Trek Stop, and despite having been the first one to go pay my bill without being asked, no one remembered that I had done so and as we were leaving there was some fuss over that. The border crossing was stressful for me. We are supposed to pretend that we are just small bunches of friends going across by ourselves, because our guide is not licensed/registered to work in these countries. As a result, we are kinda on our own and although it's not rocket science, it can be difficult at times to understand which long line you need to stand in NEXT. And today there were three separate lines and two of them required payments in a combination of currencies because I didn't have enough of one or the other to cover it. Finally arriving at the hotel, I was given a small room by myself, awesome! But then a couple of hours later the guide told me I needed to pack up and move in with Claudia, because her roommate had moved in with 2 other girls...blah blah blah. I was ok with that (not thrilled, I would always prefer to be alone) but I went. As soon as I opened the door to the room, the mildew smell just about knocked me over. I am usually NOT a complainer about the places I sleep. Really. I'm not. I slept with bedbugs before, and thought it was kinda funny. But I had a mildew-y room in India for 2 nights and for the rest of the trip everything I owned smelled like that. I was not going to stay in a room that was as bad as this one. I got moved back to my original room, by myself, the other girls rearranged themselves and all is well. But the stress finally got to me and I cracked. I have spent the last several hours pointedly ALONE, with earplugs in, and reading a new book.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Central America: San Ignacio

These ruins are called Xunantunich, and they are right down the road from the place we are staying. Everyone else opted for the $75 tour of caves nearby, I walked down the street- literally- and had a great time walking around for only $5. (They do have an admission fee.) Very interesting place, but on the way out I looked in their exhibit hall, and learned about the restoration. I was a little surprised to see the before and after photos of the site. It seems most of it was re-created...and the friezes are not real at all. They are based on the originals, but then the archaeologists reburied the originals behind the stand ins. Huh. And many of the steps and walls were made from limestone that they cut specifically for the restoration. I guess I just thought that the Mayan ruins would be the way they were found, and that is not the case.

In town, I wandered around and came upon these two guys, swimming their horses upriver. Why they chose to swim them all the way up the river I cannot say! But it was a hot day, and the horses seemed to think nothing of it. It made me think of all the times I swam with Jake. Fun to do...someday I will get to do that again with another horse.

This is the ferry that takes you across the river so that you can continue your walk to the ruins. It is a short ride, and technically it's free, but we tipped the ferryman. Later on, I walked back down and swam in the river. And, honestly, I brought shampoo and washed my hair because the water supply from the rainwater catch system at the huts leaves a lot to be desired. I mean, it's clean water, but it takes forever to even wet your hair, never mind wash it. And since the last several nights my shower was similar, I really just wanted to be able to dunk my whole self into fresh WATER. I don't like salt water, and that day I went snorkeling I sure got wet, but it was the wrong kind of wet, you know? Salt...itchy.

Tomorrow we are off at 9am for Flores.