Tag Archive for 'guatemala'

Look Into The Air

Finally, I am done with my Guatemala blogging! Interesting post script – I was watching Nova last night and they had a special on Mayan hieroglyphs, which was fascinating. You can watch the entire special here. When we were in Tikal, the guides there said that the language had been lost, but the show explained that they had deciphered many of Mayan hieroglyphics, if not completely broken the code. It reminded me of this picture I took (at left). Recent scholars have deciphered much of the code, and generally stelae like the one pictured at left was a historical account of kings and their family. Anyway, if you get a chance to go to Guatemala, take as many pictures of the glyphs as you can! I didn’t take as many as I would have liked and now I regret it.

Now, on to other things. I’ve been going to a lot of concerts lately. First, I saw Jose Gonzales at the Highline Ballroom. The line went from one end of 11th avenue to the other (11th is a long block)! We managed to get in and score a table with a great view. Here are some pictures I took from the event.

The concert was great. He played a lot of his new stuff, including one of my favorites off his new album, Cycling Trivialities. Have a listen.

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This man has unbelievable control over the guitar – it is practically an extension of him when he plays.

More recently, we went to the Explosions in the Sky concert. It was raw and awesome. They proved that they are not a post rock band, they are a rock band. A friend of a friend took some terrific pictures of the concert here. They played a lot of great songs, but not my favorite (and my friend’s) song, Your Hand In Mine. Check it out.

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It was a straight set with no encore. Being entirely instrumental, many worry that the band will be boring, but I can tell you that fear is unjustified. The music was hypnotic, and EITS are experts at building their music and the crowd into a frenzied crescendo. It was blisteringly loud – at points I could have used earplugs. My friends joke that setting the radio to a moderate volume is a sign of old age.

On that point, I am turning thirty in 9 days. Christ.

Finally, I put together a little mixtape of some songs I’ve been enjoying lately. If you want to, you can check it out here. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Guatemala, Days 8-9 – Monterrico, Guatemala City

Recently I went on a trip to Guatemala. These are days 8-9 of my 9 day account.

We catch a morning bus to Monterrico with a true hippie. He’s got dreads and everything, a vegan (of course) and he is out there to save the world. Driving out to the coast highlights the marked difference between the steep highlands and the incredibly flat lowlands. It’s the first time I’ve seen flat land in a while, and I am loving it.

At one point we reach a river that we have to cross. Nearby is a brand new bridge, but we end up taking this bizarre ferry so that the driver can save a few dollars. Definitely an experience, though I don’t know if I would want to do it again.

After we arrive in Monterrico, we immediately drop all our stuff at the Hotel Dos Mundos and head out to the pool. The pool is almost an infinity pool (no infinity edge but overlooking the ocean. We have a few fantastic pina coladas, which are served in hollowed out pineapples. Then we make our way to the beach, which is hot since the sand is completely black! The ocean current is far too strong to swim in, and the sand is too sharp and black to be hospitable, but it is still relaxing and beautiful, which is what we need after our harried journey.

We walk along the beach waiting for the sun to set and I take some nice pics. Later, we see baby leatherback turtles being released to the ocean. It is really cute.

Unfortunately I am feeling sick from an awful meal we had by the market in Chichichastenango, and I develop a fever and what I’ll mercifully call “digestive problems.” Unfortunately that means I can’t check out the nightlife.

The next day, we spend the better part of the day at the beach, enjoying ceviche and taking in some sun. Around mid afternoon, the bus is back to take us back to Guatemala City. On the way back we see a volcano fully erupting, a good omen I think!

Our beach stay was not long, but it was definitely refreshing! We return to Guatemala City and stay at the Intercontinental (link2), skipping the Otelito, since it is the same price and in my view, the Intercontinental is much nicer. We go out for a bit and take in more nightlife, but crash early as we have early morning flights back to NYC.

And there you have it!

Guatemala, Days 6-7 – Chichicastenango

Recently I went on a trip to Guatemala. These are days 6-7 of my 9 day account.

Of course, we are up early to catch the morning bus to Chichi. Coming along with us is a French diplomat and his wife, who are very friendly. He has a pretty cool life – he gets to travel around to different countries but I imagine its tough when you have to relocate all the time.

The trip is long and punctuated by wrong turns and random delays. We are stuck in a traffic jam caused by a landslide for over an hour, as the machines move the rubble.

Upon entering Chichi, we were initially unimpressed. It’s more of a village than a town. And a dusty one at that. We check into our hotel, the Santo Tomas, which is actually quite beautiful.

After we’ve settled in, we head to the market square. As it is Wednesday afternoon, the market is not yet in full swing (Thursdays and Sundays are the main days for the market. Still, it gives us a chance to look around, check out the church, and scope the market for tomorrow. I was particularly interested in the church because of its syncretic characteristics (the town’s church combines elements of Christianity and Mayan religion). A funeral happened to be taking place as we passed by.

Another characteristic of this town is the huge mural that covers two inner walls surrounding the market.

After we surveyed the market, there was not much to do so we checked out Lonely Planet’s suggestion to check out the idol at a nearby hilltop. Walking to this idol seemed scary and dangerous, not because it was in the middle of the woods, but because it was so out of the way and unpopulated, heightening the fear that we would be robbed. We walked by a machete store and got directions to make sure we were on the right path. He was a really sweet old man and asked if we wanted a machete. I wondered if I needed one! In any case, the idol was not worth the hike, but it was a cool and scary adventure nonetheless.

We then retired to the hotel and ate there as well. The food was uneventful and the wine terrible. We did have a great local rum at the bar, however. Afterwards, we returned to our room which was freezing. We tried to light the chimney ourselves but it was damn difficult and we gave up (the staff would have lit the fire but we didn’t bother).

The next day we did all of our shopping. In retrospect, I wish I had bought more here, because they really have stuff you don’t find anywhere else in Guatemala, even in Antigua. There were some really nice silk scarves and other things as well. You must bargain with everyone, and it makes sense to start at half of what anyone is offering you and not go too far past 60 percent as a final price. Even then, you are likely being ripped off, especially on the wooden Mayan masks that are so popular.

Having learned that there is no direct shuttle bus to Monterrico, we headed back to Antigua with the idea that we would hit an early morning bus to Monterrico the next day. This bus was larger, and absolutely packed. We ran into another traffic jam, of course. This one was slightly different though, in that it was enormous, and it seemed almost designed to create a local economy in peddlers and roadside vendors. It otherwise didn’t make sense that the vendors where to expect the traffic jam on a highway.

If I had the opportunity to do it again, I would not stay two days in Chichicastenango — there just isn’t enough to do there. Better to catch an early morning Thursday bus and return the same evening. Also, the travel options are not great going to or from Chichi on any other day besides Thursday.

We arrived in Antigua and returned to our old standby hotel, Quinta de las Flores, since Casa Azul is sold out. No matter. We retire early in the night, to rest up for our early morning shuttle to Monterrico. Beach, here we come!

Guatemala, Day 5 – Panajachel, Quetzaltenango

Recently I went on a trip to Guatemala. This is Day 5 of my 9 Day account.

We are up early again, like 6 am. Dammit. I am really hung over. Jesus is the MAN of San Pedro.We rush down to the lakeside to catch the ferry, but we are not the last to arrive. The cigarette-smoking couple from Urquizu is joining us. Again. Small world. We catch the first of the four ferry trips we will take today, this time to San Pedro. As we arrive, locals wash their laundry (and themselves) at the water by the base of the town. Men fish on handmade canoes (pictured below). The town is built right into the mountainside, which means more climbing. We stop halfway up to the town at a coffeeshop. I take shots of locals and local scenery, while my friend wanders on his own.

After about an hour, we take the next ferry to Santiago Here, the women all wear striking purple dresses (pictured). Santiago is also built into the mountainside, which means, you guessed it, more climbing. Local kids offer to take us to some idol for a few pennies, but it sounds like a shady scam, so we pass. On the way back down, we hit up a local taco stand for some awesome tacos, but they make me wonder if we have taken our life into our hands. We descend back to the lake and catch the next ferry just in time.

The next ferry takes us to San Antonio Palopo (pictured left). Three Mayan kids join us for the ride, and they are cute but camera-shy. In their culture, its like stealing your soul or something to have your picture taken. Oh well. Palopo is a dump. In retrospect, it would have been far better to spend more time in San Pedro and, to a lesser extent, Santiago. Even Panajachel, which is by far the most developed village.

The fourth ferry takes us for the last time to Panajachel. We catch the shuttle to Quetzaltenango (Xela). We arrive there at night, and eat at Alba Mar. The chilaquiles are pretty good – its a turkey cheese and tomato base soup. Afterwards, we crash at the hotel and play some chess. We learn that we can’t catch a bus to Chichicastenango except at 7am, which leads us to conclude that we should leave Xela a day early and spend it at Chichi. Which means a 7 am bus tomorrow. Which means another early morning. Awesome.

Guatemala, Day 4 – The Volcano

Recently I went on a trip to Guatemala. This is Day 4 of my 9 Day account.

Perspective

We are up at an inhumane hour in order to catch the 6 a.m. bus to Pacaya. Awesome, a 1.5 hour bus ride with the annoying couple that smoked next to use at Urquizu. We arrive at the base of the PacayaThe Descent Volcano, where children try to sell us walking sticks for a couple quetzales. No one bites. We begin the ascent, which is way more difficult than we thought. We practically run up the first leg, ignorant of how much further we have to go. The climb is a total bitch, and with little sleep, I am dragging ass. Once at the top, we descend to approach the lava. We traverse a jagged expanse of cooled lava. The rocks are uneven and shift about; a misstep could mean a serious gash, or worse.

liquid-hot-magma.jpgFinally, we get to the LIQUID HOT MAG-MA. I’d say it more often if I wasn’t gasping for breath. We snap a few pictures and warm ourselves by the lava flow. A vulcanologist (I’ve always wanted to use thatGuatemalan Macgyver word) boils water by putting a teakettle on the ground. One of the eerie things about the volcano is a persistent “clinking sound,” one that could only be likened to the distant sound of many panes of very thin glass being shattered.

We return to the summit and begin the descent, which is thankfully much easier than the ascent. I slip on some gravel and bang my knee, hard. We make the journey back to Antigua and have lunch at La Escudilla. The food is ok, but not Urquizu good. We stroll into some churches after and prepare for the shuttle to Panajachel.
La Escuidilla, AntiguaAntigua ChurchAntigua Arch

At 4 p.m. we depart Antigua. The driver is an absolute lunatic, speeding through hair-pin turns with unguarded ravines to either side of us. We are all bounced around in the bus as this madman passes trucks around blind curves. I am furious; my friend is unaffected. The drive takes a lot out of me, and I need aspirin to calm down and relieve my headache.

At Panajachel, we eat a decent seafood dinner at Casablanca. Curiously, there are posters of Sikh gurus and other Indian art adorning the walls. Afterwards, we get drunk at Pana Rock Cafe. The live music is great and the singer looks just like Santana. I walk home beneath more stars than I have ever seen. I lay out by the pool outside my hotel room before crashing, taking in the sky.

Guatemala, Day 3 – Antigua

Recently I went on a trip to Guatemala. This is Day 3 of my 9 Day account.

jades.jpgWe get up late (by comparison), maybe 9:30. We go over to a store named Jades, and pick up some gifts. Later we stop by an outdoor market. Looking at what they charge at the bazaar, I wonder if I was ripped off. We start the day off slow, visiting Casa Santo Domingo, a former monastery converted to a luxury hotel (how is that for a commentary on man’s transition from worship of God to worship of the Almighty Dollar). The ruins are impressive, including an open air altar with 50 foot ceilings.

window.jpgaltar.jpgcrypt.jpg

e_bell.jpgWe then head over to Antigua Tours, and meet the illustrious Elizabeth Bell, an Antiguan tour guide and travel agent who has been called one of the best tour guides ever. She sets us up instantly and painlessly with a coffee tour, volcano tour, and hotel for our next stop, Panajachel. Elizabeth shows consummate grace under the time pressure my buddy has all but conjured. She’s one fine lady. I wish we would have had time to go on one of her legendary tours, but alas, it is Sunday.

urquizu.jpgcart.jpgWe eat lunch at a local haunt called Cuevita de los Urquizu. The aroma from the curries is irresistible. The food is fantastic, probably the best we had in Guatemala. We wait at about 2pm for the shuttle to take us to the coffee tour, but it never comes. Elizabeth had given us her home number if we ran into problems (how amazing is that!) and I took advantage of it to get her to compel the tour operator to properly retrieve us. After a long hour, we are picked up for the tour.

plantation.jpgcoffeebeans.jpgJosue, our guide at the tour, is terrific. Because it is Sunday, we cannot see the farm and the machinery in action, but it is interesting nonetheless, since I have never even seen a coffee bean before. The coffee they serve is black without sugar, but it tastes as though it has milk and sugar, it’s that good. The sun sets behind the Acatenango volcano as we head back towards Antigua.

We walk around Antigua at dusk, taking in an early evening mass (they LOVE them some God here). Later, we stumble into a wine/cigar shop, where I pick up a Cuban to smoke in the central square (Parque Central). We reminisce about our college days, a bittersweet pasttime. Afterwards, we have a great meal at Fonda de la Calles. There, we run into Marty, a former Pan Am stewardess who we met at the wine shop. She does social work with kids who live in Guatemala’s dumps. After a big dinner and a bottle of wine, we turn in for another early morning to see the volcano.