Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sunday, March 9th, Santa Rosa


Yesterday's flights went smoothly.  Our Antigua hotel prepared box breakfasts to make our 4:15am shuttle to Guatemala City comfortable.  Ham and cheese sandwiches, and apple, muffin, and juice helped us avoid the cost and quality of United's food.   After a two and half hour flight to Houston, we retrieved our baggage and were amazed at how easily the immigration process has been made there.  Electronic passport check-ins and stamping carried us to a 30-second baggage check-in to our next leg of the trip.  The only disappointing feature of the airport is the requirement for payment to get more than 45 minutes of wifi.  Come on, Houston.  For a three-hour layover, you really need my $8.95?

The flight home was highlighted by a charming seatmate conversation with a woman from Texas who was traveling to Maui to meet up with a friend.  Describing the life of the only Obama supporter in her neighborhood, and a writer, she and Pat shared their list of favorite authors.

Getting in to SF earlier than expected, we caught and early bus ride home.  Two fascinating women sat in front of us, who were on their way to an agricultural conference in Rohnert Park.  Due to a Golden Gate Bridge jumper, our route went east to the Bay bridge and back across the San Rafael bridge.   Pat and I played tour guides to the Bay Area newcomers, and it turned out we also had traveled to similar towns in Peru and Ecuador.

This morning, I finally got to upload the photos I took on Wednesday and Friday of this week in Guatemala.  It also reminded me that I have to get my camera cleaned before we leave for Africa.  I didn't get time to photoshop that pesky squiggle in the center of the shots out of these two albums before uploading them.  It's annoying, and it is time for an overhaul.

To see the two albums, click on:

Wednesday, March 5th, Lake Atitlan
Friday, March 7th, Antigua


Friday, March 7, 2014

Friday, March 9th, Antigua


I'm disappointed that my use of the IPad has resulted in some pretty poor posts over the last few days.  It's my fault, of course, for not anticipating what differences are presented between the two computers when using Blogger.  The ease of MacPro in typing text, loading photos from cameras, moving them to Picasa or Google Photo, copying and pasting into the post, moving them around in the post, and placing text next to photos - is what I took for granted.

When I get home, I'll re-write these posts, and get them right.  I'll also get my MacPro fixed, or get a new one.  In the meantime, my MacAir will have to fill in.  I'm going to learn more about the IPad, but it will wait for a few weeks, until I get things straightened out.

Today, we took a walking tour of Antigua.  A Canadian we met during some free time in the afternoon put it clearly.  It's not a town with anything specific which you have to see.  It's just a beautiful place, with many nice churches, small museums, a great plaza, and lately -lots of restaurants.

We particularly liked the textile museum, and followed it up with a visit to the artisan cooperative.  We had been there when we came to Antigua twelve years ago.  I bought another shirt, made in the intricate Ikot method.  In the morning, we stopped by the Jade museum, where we had to buy some additions to our collection.

Tomorrow, our flight home leaves at 7am, through Houston, and to SF in the late afternoon.  The Airporter will get us home by about 7pm, and we'll be happy to be in our own bed again.

On Sunday, I hope to share some more photos, though I have to admit my enthusiasm for taking them has wained due to my frustration with not being able to produce good posts.

But it's been a great trip.  Traveling with Adventures Abroad, and their Canadian travelers, is always high quality, and this is no exception.  We've learned much, about both these countries, and about future possibilities.  Our friends who travel with us are a wealth of information, and we will be asking their advice for years to come.

Thursday, March 8th, Antigua


After a drive up several thousand feet to the town of Chichicastenango, we walked through a public market held twice a week at the foot of the steps of the San Tomas Church.  Built in 1540, the Spanish destroyed a Mayan temple on the site, and sought to convert the Mayans to Catholicism.
To this day, Mayans have honored the remaining temple steps as sacred.

As we carefully made our way through the vendor stalls and praying parishioners, our guide told us that the Popol Vuh, the bible of Mayan culture, was ground in this church.

Fire is a vital tools in the Mayan culture, and plays an important role in understanding the cosmos.

We visited a workshop where masks, headdresses, and capes were being made and stored.  Masks play and important function in Mayan and present day ceremonies.  Societies with beliefs anchored in characters who control our lives, and stories which explain our circumstances, pay homage to them regularly.  Our understanding of the world has been portrayed in plays and presentations made to our family, our tribe, or village.

Afterward, the craftsman and his family gave us a short presentation of the town's non-violent bull-fighting activity.

Tomorrow will be our last day exploring Antigua, and on the trip.  Hopefully, I'll be able to better understand my IPad, and that these posts will again prove to be useful in communicating the story of our adventure.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Wednesday, March 5th, Panajachel, Guatemala


How strange this IPad.  Features like copy and paste, and opening up additional windows, they just take learning and getting used to. 

We're on Lake Atitlan, in the town of Panajachel, in Guatemala.  Yesterday was consumed with getting here from Honduras.  Today, we boated (at 30 knots) across Lake Atitlan, to the village of Santiago.  We climbed up the steep streets, filled with merchants and shops, and saw the church where Father Stanley "Francisco" Rother was murdered by Guatemalan death squads for defending his parishioners protests in 1981.

While in the church, it began to rain hard.  Making our way back down the town's main street from shop to shop to avoid soaking our summer clothes, we boarded our boat and zipped back across the Lake to our hotel.  From our balcony, I took these two shots.  They were the only photos I took all day.  I still haven't gotten the MacPro to boot up, and can't figure how to transfer any photos in my Nikon camera to the IPad.  These two photos were taken on my IPod touch, and I sent them by email to myself, and then retrieved them on the IPad.

Tomorrow, we head back to Antigua.  Our itinerary takes us to Chimichanga, famous for great clothing and great. I plan on buying another shirt similar to the gorgeous one still hanging in my closet after 12 years.

On Saturday, we fly home.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Tuesday, March 4th, Antigua


My MacPro computer seems to have lost its memory.  Until I get home, I'll be using Pat's IPad to write the blog, and my IPod touch to take photos and upload them.  We'll see if it's as easy as that sounds.

We're back in Guatemala, in the city of Antigua. We were here in 2002, and Pat remembers an amazing amount of detail.  There is a volcano eruption going on, which started last weekend.  It's not near us, so don't get worried.  We sail across the lake toward it tomorrow, though.  Hope it will provide some good photos.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Monday, March 3rd, Copan


 As Pat remarked at dinner tonight, "Today was a perfect day for Gregory".  After breakfast, we spent the morning at Copan, walking the grounds of one of the finest Mayan ruins in the world.  After lunch, we went zip-lining (yes, Pat did it too) from atop Macaw Mountain.  Returning to the hotel, we had a swim in the pool, and then went to a great dinner at a restaurant owned by a Canadian.  She was right.  This was a great exploration day.  But I do have to thank her for tagging along on the zip-line portion of the afternoon.  What a brave lady.

The first ruler of Copan was named after the gorgeous birds (Great Sun, First Quetzal Macaw) flying all around the grounds. Later in the day, we visited the bird park where there being nurtured back to a health wild population.  It's next to the base of the zip-lining camp.  There are lots more photos of them in today's album.

Our guide, Juan Carlos Caderon, did a magnificent job of helping our group understand the reign of the 18 rulers of Copan from 426 AD to 822 AD, the significance of Copan in the Mayan world, and of the Mayan civilization.

In summary, the Olmecs arrived from Vera Cruz, Mexico about 1400 BC, but left only pottery and jewelry.  First of 18 Mayan kings invaded from Tikal in 426 AD, evidence does exist that he had ties to Teotihuacan in Mexico, and the ruling elite lasted 400 years.  Aztecs, Incas, and Mayans wee the great American civilizations, but only the Mayans had writing, astronomy, base 20 number system, and knowledge of zero.  They had solar, lunar, Venus, and Mars calendars.

Their main calendar (Long Count) reset itself when the lunar and solar calendars coincided every 52 years, and the reigning king buried the temples in new temples.  When the 13th King (18 Rabbit) was captured and beheaded by a former vassal state chief, it put an end to the myth of ruling deities, and resulted in a serious blow to the family dynasty.  It may have provided the impetus for a peasant revolt which contributed to the decline of the site in the next 100 years.
 The ball court at Copan was one of the first constructed in the Mayan world, and contains changing rooms for the visitor and home teams,  Winning or losing team captains were sacrificed, and were rewarded with virgins in the afterlife.
 The canopy is there to keep the stairway, the hieroglyphics on each of the 2,200 pieces of the stairs - a precious part of a remarkable library of information - from deteriorating from acid rain.

Inside the structure was a three-story building, housing the burial of a king whose queen had been kidnapped and never returned.
Quarried stone were transported from a mountain two miles away.  By the early 9th century, most of the Mayan civilization had disappeared,

The Copan Museum contains a very well designed collection of sculptures from the facades and grounds of Copan.

This sculpture, dedicated in 776 AD,  contains profiles of 16 rulers.  On the main frieze, the first ruler is handing off the scepter power stick to the 16th ruler, and is meant to legitimize his descendency from the gods.
The integration of bats, and turtles, and snakes, and birds, and lots of mythical creatures can be seen in many of their sculptures.

Finally, not enough tribute can be given to Linda Schele, who pioneered the work deciphering Mayan hieroglyphics.  A huge memorial is dedicated to her in the museum, and it was her writings (Blood of Kings) which inspired me to pursue the love of the Mayans.  The Mayan meetings at the University of Texas at Austin which she organized, and the meeting notes compiled by Merle Robertson Greene, proved invaluable to advancing our knowledge of this important culture.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Monday, March 3rd, Copan.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Sunday, March 1st, Copan


 I can't recall being in three countries in one day.  

We left the Hilton Princess this morning, and drove north to the El Salvador Mayan ruins at San Andres.
 This site is estimated to have been occupied for over a thousand years beginning in 900 BC.  The early establishment was vacated in 250 AD by the eruption of the caldera of Lago llopango.  Three centuries later, after the ash had settled into a fertile plain, it was again occupied for another thousand years, until the Playon volcano covered it up for yet another three hundred years.

A political-ceremonial center, one of a few in close contact with major Mayan sites in the Mayan highlands in Guatemala and Mexico, its transformation at the end of the 9th century AD to residential use was completed after the Spanish conquest when it became an important indigo plantation and cattle farm.

After lunch at a Kentucky Fried Chicken meets Burger King, we crossed into Guatemala,   An hour later, we crossed into Honduras.

A mile from the city of Copan, we transferred our luggage into a truck, and ourselves into Tuk-Tuks, and made our way up to our hillside village hotel.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on: Sunday, March 1st, Copan.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Saturday, March 1st, San Salvador


 Celebrating my first day as a 66-year old, our tour took us to an indigo plantation (Los Nacimientos).  Rhina Rehmann and her husband own 110 acres of farmland in the highlands on which they grow several crops.  One of those is one of the highest quality organic indigo in the world.  If you've bought indigo-colored jeans from Levi Strauss, Beneton, or the Gap lately, you probably are wearing her dyes.
And the story of how she almost single-handedly brought back indigo to a country which for 300 years sold only that crop - is amazing.  Responding to a call from a French company long ago when she headed a project to re-employ guerrilla fighters after the civil war, she decided to use her inherited farm to test out what she calls "weapons of love".  Pushing back against sexism, a culture of subservience and low self-esteem, and an industry dominated by synthetic India-based product, she helped found a rigorous process which made her one of the only two certified indigo producers in the world.
Focusing on empowering workers, and keeping the means of production small and distributed, she began. to turn every opportunity to maximize revenue and minimize cost.

Today, she has expanded into several new product lines, including cashew wine and vinegar, snack treats, hibiscus tea, insect repellent (neem), and body oil from a "miracle tree" (moringa oleifera).

One of the highlights was being taken back to our hippie tie-dye days.  With some of the best dye available, our group made scarves using her indigo.

We all promised to stay in touch with her new adventures (Mayan Spa?), and I'm going to make sure her Google Map placemark has the best photos and a link to her website.

After lunch at restaurant on a historic hacienda, we drove to Joya de Ceren.  A Mayan ruin, referred to by UNESCO as the "Pompei of the Americas", it was buried about 630 AD in 17 feet of low temperature, wet ash, but not before the inhabitants has time to flee their evening meal.  Leaving pots on the stove, deer bones scattered, and utensils of the table, the villagers never returned.

Because the volcano erupted beneath a river, the ash was unusually wet and cool.  Over 1400 hundred years, extreme preservation was provided while the ash sank and was replaced by successive layers of subsequent soil and mudstone.

The latest revelation, by the original archeologist (Payson Sheets at the University of Colorado) who led the excavation work in the 1980s and 90s, is that these villagers had constructed a 7 foot wide road which they may have used to escape when the volcano blew.
He compared the Mayan villagers' plight when hit by a volcano with those of Louisiana residents hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — modern Americans who in many cases waited for and relied on federal authorities. Ceren residents, in contrast, may have been accustomed to responding rapidly on their own initiative to environmental change — inclined toward a 2-kilometer survival dash down the roadway to safety at the first sign of eruption.
The road, above, called a "sacbe," or "white way," was built with volcanic ash and had ditches alongside for water. It was found by a
The road, above, called a "sacbe," or "white way," was built with volcanic ash and had ditches alongside for water. It was found by a team led by CU professor Payson Sheets. (Photo courtesy of Payson Sheets, CU)
"Decision-making is with the family in a village," Sheets said. "If they got out, it means they decided on the spur of the moment what to do — and did not wait for the king or priests to tell them what to do."
Mayan scholars traditionally have focused on pyramids, temples and bloodletting ceremonies — activities run by tiny groups of elites.
"I'm not so interested in that stuff. I'm pretty anti-elite," Sheets said. "I want to know what the other 90 percent of the population was doing."
The traditional focus on kings and priests at sites such as Tikal, in Guatemala, led to an understanding that Mayan civilization was autocratic, with people depending on rulers to act.
CU professor Payson Sheets.
CU professor Payson Sheets. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)
Sheets contends Mayans likely were more democratic, citing evidence of town councils that suggested individual farmers had an ability to adapt on their own.
At Ceren, villagers' survival of the volcanic eruption may reflect that decentralized power structure, Sheets said.
Ancient villages "where Mayans had the shared government seemed to have been more stable," he said.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on: Saturday, March 1st, San Salvador.