Saturday, April 29, 2006

Copan, Hounduras

The locals like to say that if the Mayan city of Tikal was like New York City - the population and busines capital of the nation - then Copan was like San Francisco. Lots of art and culture, and a whole lot fewer skyscapers. Tikal (apparently, I didn't get there) has some of the tallest pyramids in the Mayan world. Copan's pyramids aren't as high, but are very well preserved and the carvings are fantastic.

But before I get to the ruins, I had to go through a little more modern detritus.

Pyramid 1 at Copan has these incredibly tall, steep steps to the top. The priests who used to trek up thos bad boys would wear 40-50 lbs of jade! Talk about buns of steel!

In the main plaza around Pyramid 1, the king 17 Monkeys erected 17 statues of himself. As silly as this sounds, he was the most powerful and successful of the rulers of Copan... so I guess he deserved it. He's in his medatation pose and his headdress is made of macau feathers. The Mayans were VERY into the macau. Then again, according to my guide, pretty much any animal that showed up in any of the carvings was 'sacred'. Could - just maybe - one or two of the carvings have just been for the hell of it? Nah...

Also in the main plaza - human sacrifice. They would lay the poor fool out on this huge hunk of rock, slice him open and then collect his blood in the grooves. The person chosen for sacrifice was the team captain of the losing side in the Mayan equivalent of soccer. Just goes to show that there is a deep and organic tendency to take goal based sports VERY seriously in Central and South America.

The playing field for sacrifice ball. I know there is a proper name for the game, and calling it 'sacrifice ball' is probably disrespectful... But oh well. The game was played by trying to knock the softball-sized ball into the goal using only the trunk (ya know - the chest and shoulders, silly!).

The Maya didn't invent true arches - notice no capstone. They also didn't invent the wheel. Go figure.

Okay, maybe the Mayans do some sculptures just for fun.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Meeting the demand for pictures!

So I've finally figured out how to get pictures up here... and I've finally gotten Firefox to agree with me. Yargh.

Anyway, this was my office. I had a table, four scales, one bed and a bathroom with a shower. All the medical necessities. Hah!

And all of the reference books were brought on my back from the US.


But everything else was in Spanish or 20 years old. Not useful. The desk got more and more crowded as I learned more Spanish... suddenly I had everything in both English and Spanish. One copy for me and one copy for the patients.

It's good to know enough to be dangerous.

Next is the exam table and the sheets that were NEVER changed. Ever. Not once in four weeks. Very freaking scary.

And then there was Chiquimula - a teeming, busy, transit-oriented and downright scary collection of mid-sized town. I hadn't seen such a collection of poor people, bad smells, fresh produce and chickens since Hong Kong. Only Hong Kong smelled better.

Most of Guatemala looks like this... except the rich areas of Antigua and Guatemala City. Which would be really really small areas.

So even relatively ugly commercial and transport centers like Chiquimula have pretty bits. I really liked this frond tree. Until the old man beggar went for my camera. Can't win it all, can ya?

Up next, Mayan ruins!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Something else I stole from Karla... I plan on being her vice chair in the campaign for world domination. I'm bringing the punch and pie!

create your own visited country map
or check our Venice travel guide

Monday, April 24, 2006

Plane ride home

Four weeks done and I’m finally going home. Part of me is sad, ‘cause this was probably my last great adventure before children and responsibility tie me down. Not that I’m not looking forward to having kids, I am. But the final death of ‘young adulthood’ is sad.

To me, the period between 18 and 30 should be when someone goes out to experience the world and everything in it. Education is a huge part of that – I’m not advocating skipping college or trade school or whatever other kind of training needed to be productive after 30. So I think those folks who just fuck off to ‘see the world’ are missing something huge – context for the experience. I think you have to know what you have (learning, experience, the privilege of US citizenship) in order to know what other people don’t.

But still, I think everyone needs some adventure. A semester (or year) abroad. Fluency in at least one foreign language. At least a visit to somewhere without all of the opportunities of the US and Canada. (An aside on Canadians – they seem to be much better at gaining perspective on the rest of the world. I think being a part of the British Commonwealth helps – those Canucks can work in places that US citizens have a hard time. And their public education doesn’t suck.) Time living somewhere where the health care is socialized and higher education doesn’t require mortgaging the house.

I think I’m a better person and a better citizen because of my non-US experiences. And I fell sorry for those who haven’t had the same opportunity. I also think those people who haven’t traveled are much more likely to vote for laws (or wars) that the rest of the world think are frankingly asinine.

So I’m sad. ‘Cause my time of adventure has just passed. After leaving residency there won’t be many more opportunities to run away to another country for an extended period. No more flying by the seat of my pants and the Lonely Planet guidebook. We hope for children and professional success and home improvement.

All of these are good things. And I look forward to them… but they don’t much allow for four weeks in a third world country.

I’m not saying there won’t be more vacations. That’s not right – I plan on dragging my poor, suffering and greatly understanding husband back to Guatemala to see everything I’ve seen. I met some outstanding folks who just started a pediatric clinic in Honduras that I want to help. I want to go to Belize with my hubbie – ‘cause it is supposed to be amazing there. I want to help the underserviced Mayan get routine pediatric healthcare more than once every two months – ‘cause you can’t get far if you’re deaf secondary to multiple untreated otitis medias.

On a total side note, lots of American couples travel to Guatemala to adopt. One such couple is sitting in front of me and they are such a pretty family. They obviously love their new son very much – his name is Brock. (Although he looks more like a Jorge.) He’s happy and smilely and his mother obviously can’t get enough of him. I would guess that Btock’s about 3 months old.

I wonder what questions he’ll ask in 18 years?

But back to my original point – I’m not like Karla. I really really envy some parts of her life. Not everything, mind, but some of her opportunities are astounding. My husband’s job won’t pull him overseas, and mine won’t either. Fate willing I won’t have problems with conception and our disposable income will go towards our kids. But even if we had similar problems, the cars and the skiing and the architecture we hope to create would probably preclude adventure. Not to mention neither my nor my husband’s profession is much predisposed to copious vacation time. And two or three weeks a year just isn’t enough time to properly adventure.

So I’m sad, ‘cause this is the last great fling. I’ve flown by the seat of my pants, seen the Holy Week of all Holy Weeks, slept in a room that would be classified as a screen porch state-side, avoided traveler’s diarrhea and helped treat patients who live on less money per day than I spend on one beer in a bar.

But I’m also obscenely happy – I’m returning to my husband, the land of hot water, A/C, drinkable tap water and busses that aren’t crammed with livestock, produce, cargo and more people than rationally fit. I also will no longer be tripping over chickens, which is nice.

‘Cause it ain’t Guatemala if there aren’t chickens, Gallo and busses. (Gallo is a beer – the most popular beer in Guatemala. It’s obscenely alcoholic, tastes like bad Bud and is everywhere, The nearest competitor is Brahva, which is less alcoholic but more flavorful. Needless to say, the clinic was right next to the Brahva brewery… and it was still easier to drink Gallo. Talk about near monopoly!)

I can’t wait to get back.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

More Antigua, less people

Well, the craziness that is Good Friday is over. I think I'm relieved. The day was fun, but I think if I had to do that two days in a row I would just about die. Too much watching your wallet, worrying about money and nose-clogging incense for more than 24 hours.

I did get some amazing pictures, though. I saw two processions altogether - that doesn't sound like much, but these guys process for 8 hours at a time. The carriers trade off every block, and generally each man or woman carries twice. The first procession carried a depiction of Christ carrying the cross, and the second was Señor Sepultado. The Señor is the dead Christ after crucifiction. - very bloody and gory. And with movable arms and legs! Will the fun never cease?

Today the streets are very quiet. Relaxing - it seems like everyone has exhaled after a long trek uphill. Now we are all happily sliding down the other side of the pass, getting ready to go back to work. I have to leave tomorrow, and I still haven't quite figured out where the busses leave. Unlike other bloggers (hi Karla!) I don't exactly plan. Oh well - as I said yesterday, things just have the tendancy to work out.

Wish me luck!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Antigua is the place to be!

For you heathens out there, today is Good Friday. I am one of the heathens, so I wouldn't normally care. But here in Antigua, Good Friday is a BIG fucking deal. I have seen about 100+ 'carpets', numerous processions and more truly pious peolpe than I've ever seen before all in one place. And one incredibly rude Frenchman.

Check this out - I've found a place to stand in La Merced Church at 6am, which is when the first procession is going to leave. The devout outnumber the tourists by, well, a whole freaking lot. So as the Lord's Prayer echos through the church, followed closely by Hail Mary, I try to appear as respectful as possible. When the Jesús Nazareno comes parallel to my position, the families around me kneel. So I kneel. Then this French asshole starts stepping over the kneeling devout - including the 80+ year old lady who had needed help to get down on her knees. He manages to step over her as she was getting help trying to get up, and literally knocks her back down to her knees. I wanted to slug the guy.

But enough negative stuff. This place is truly amazing. I am so grateful I've been able to watch these incredible people express their faith. I wish I believed like they do, but sadly, I'm still solidly athesist. Oh well.

This trip has been all about serendipity. I really didn't have any plans when I came down, except maybe I knew I wanted to go hike the volcanos. The one I hiked is called Pacaya - and a new lava flow had broken through at 6am that morning! I could walk right up to the flow if I wanted to... but given that it's LAVA it was a little too hot to do that. (Duh. right?) Actually, the fact that lava is hot doesn't seem to be a given to some people. One of the guides (!) walked up to the flow, put his gloved hand on one of the cooling flows and then snatched his hand away, saying in a suprised (!) voice, "It's hot!"

Good to know stupidity is universal. Yargh.

But anyway, back to serendipity. I woke up this morning and wandered over to La Merced to catch the start of the procession. After Jesus had been launched (more on that some other time) I started wandering looking for carpets. The carpets are art laid out on the street made out of flowers, fruits and veggies or stained sawdust - and they are beautiful. Some depict Christ, some depict the stations of the crucifixion and some are just abstract. But they are all wonderful and exceedingly fleeting. See, they are completed just before the procession arrives. During the procession, only those carrying the float are allowed to step on the carpets. In so doing, every carpet is destroyed. Some of the sawdust carpets take 20 people 12 to 14 hours to complete... and the completed project only lasts about 1 hour. The flower carpets are deliberately left incomplete until minutes before the arrival of the procession, to ensure maximum freshness.

So I'm looking for carpets, and here is when we finally get around to one of the best chance encounters ever. I managed to run into a tour by Elizabeth Bell, who is famous for the quality of her tours. So I tagged along. It was so good that I asked to pay and officially became part of the group. The quality was just too good to mooch. So from 7am to 9am I got to wander around Antigua with the best in the business. And all for less than $12! I have so many pictures that I have to pay the guy running this café to burn it all to a CD so that I can get more room back.

I can't wait to get home and post some of them.

It is a good damn day to be alive.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

¡Tengo calor!

Holy shit, Livingston is hot. And my hotel does NOT have air conditioning. Yargh. I didn't think that maybe at the beginning of spring break (or Semana Santa if you're technical about it) I might could need reservations at the nice hotel. So I'm definitely in second class accomidations. Oh well, the Lonely Planet guide didn't slam the place, so it can't be that bad.

Livingston has not been as fun as Copan. It is a little bit shadier, a little bit dirtier and a little less revamped. But hey, I still got to see the Garifuna who are definitely a niche sorta culture. Basically a bunch of slaves mutineed (good for them) and then married a bunch of locals. The Brits eventually established control of their local paradise - then deported everyone to various remote tropical hell-holes. A lot of them died of starvation on some Godforsaken rock, but some of them survived to make it here.

Here they stay, a very unique group of folks very distinct from everyone else. I can't describe it - ya just gotta be here. My best attempt is to say that because of their presence, Livingston is like a Spanish-speaking Jamaca, only possibly poorer.

The other up side is that I met a large group of American college students touring around with two very interesting professsors. One is a history prof and one is polysci. I was lucky to run into them 'cause otherwise I have no idea how I would have gotten home from the beach.

Let me start over - the Lonely Planet guide points out that the beaches in town are all crap (true) because of the abundance of litter (also true) but there is a nice beach if you take a cab (true as well.) What they don't mention (and REALLY REALLY should!) is that there is NO obvious way to get a cab back. None. I really thought I had found shit creek... until a very nice college student asked me in bad Spanish where I was from. From there we started talking and I met the rest of the group and the profs. I asked to hitch a ride on their boat (I had come over land) and they agreed.

God, oh thank God for nice people. I would have been really screwed. So I'm gonna buy them both a beer at dinner. They all really deserve it.

And the thing is, the beach wasn't really that nice. Yikes! Tomorrow, back to Teculutan. Then Antigua! Yay!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Two in one day! A record!

I´m sitting at the internet cafe basking in the A/C. I had originally come here to call my husband, but he didn´t answer the phone. He´s probably basking in the sun at the beach house. He and his buds used to have an anual weekend-long party at a Galveston beach house, and they´ve been talking about it ever since. They decided to relive their glory days this weekend.

Right now I can´t get a hold of him. Bummer.

So I´ll post again, and let the world know that he doesn´t answer his cell phone... when swimming in salt water. Which makes sense.

I spent the afternoon exploring the town of Copán. Today was the first time I´ve been in a town where I don´t feel slightly threatened. In the larger towns I definitely felt gittery. So many people, so much action, so many voices speaking a language I don´t understand. I didn´t realize how much German I knew until I started trying to speak Spanish. When I went to Switzerland, I knew how to say "I know," "I want" and "May I" When I got here, not so much.

And the thing is, when I reach for a Spanish word, find I don´t know it, half the time a German word will come popping out of my mouth.

No wonder people here sometimes look at me like I´m crazy. Err, loco.

Well, I´m off.

PS - sorry that I´m using accent marks as apostrophes, but the right key is way too far to reach.

¡Los siento!

Sorry I´ve been away, but I´ve, er, really been away. Actually, I´m still away.

I´m in Guatemala. Sorta. I´m working in a small clinic in the backwoods of Guatemala - near Río Hondo for geography buffs. Today I´m actually in Honduras (yes, HONDURAS) visiting the old Mayan city Copán. I´ll go back to the ¿safety? of Guatemala tomorrow. On the bus.

Let´s just talk about the bus. Guatemala (and apparently Honduras) is all about the bus. There are many kinds of bus:

1) The chicken bus. This is an old school bus from the US that has been re-comissioned as a people/cargo/livestock mover. The seats designed for two kiddo-sized buttocks is crammed with three to four adult Mayan sized asses. Needless to say, the fit is tight.

And I swear to God, I saw one that said `North Attleburough (I know I spelled that wrong, but I can´t for the life of me remember how I¨m supposed to spell it!) School District. The school district is outside of Boston. Hand to God.

2) Microbus - small (usually Japanese) vans that have been gutteed and narrow, cramped bench seats stuffed in the back. I was in one with about 12 other people, not including the driver. Cheap and convenient, I think these are the most prevalent.

3) 2nd class bus. A large coach, I¨ve never been on one. Apparently, they aren`t suitable for American doctors. (Although a microbus is? Doesn´t make any sense.)

4) 1rst class bus. A large coach that usually, but not always, has airconditioning. And AC is a big deal here. I have to specifically look for hotels with AC - it´s very much a luxury.

Life is crazy. I never thought I would ever see Honduras. But here I am. I¨m keeping a log on my laptop (yes, I was dumb enough to bring a laptop to a place where I have a hard time finding a phone. Stop laughing.) so I¨ll be able to post all that at a later date.

Wish me luck and talk to ya´ll later.