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.

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