20 March 2008

The trip to Mordor

It´s Easter time in Guatemala, or La Semana Santa, and hordes of foreign and domestic tourists have descended upon Antigua to take part in the city´s world renowned celebrations.

For two weeks leading up to the resurrection of Christ the Antiguenos parade through the streets, on holy days, in elaborate processions lasting 12 hours while carrying heavy wooden floats with images of Jesus or the Virgin Marry on top. These can be very heavy, up to 90 people carry the Antiguan floats, and those from Guatemala City require 110-120 people to carry them.

Another tradition of La Semana Santa is the construction of colorful and artistically decorated street carpets made from colored saw dust or from natural materials combining pine needles, flowers, fruits and vegetables.

Beyond the Easter festivities, Antigua still exists and can be described as an international oasis where rich Guatemalans and people from all over the world come to study Spanish, schmooze it up at spas, fine dining, and an array of classy hotels and the typical options found in big cities for the backpackers (bars, clubs, good food, etc.)

Antigua is found nestled between the green sloping hills of three volcanoes (one active and can be seen every few days spewing off into the air) and at one time was the capital of the Spanish Central American empire that span from Mexico to Coasta Rica. After a series of devastating earthquakes and volcanic catastrophes the capital was moved one and a half hours away to present day Guatemala City.

A main tourist attraction of the city are the remains of the colonial buildings and churches that survived the passage of time. Unfortunately in the mid-1990s another earthquake hit and ruined most of what was left. A handful of beautiful buildings, or rather the empty shells of them, still stand scattered throughout the streets.

Taking a break from studying Spanish, Marissa and I had the opportunity to hike up the side of a volcano and play in the lava. As you can imagine, it was really hot. Some spots of the hike were sketchy, and you could see the lava flowing beneath the thin shell of volcanic rock you walked across. Apparently here is one of the few places in the world where you can get close enough to lava to poke it with a stick, which I did and almost burned my face off.

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This is the family we are staying with in Antigua while studying at a Spanish school for two weeks. Patti from El Salvador, and Luis from Guatemala, have three children and live behind their Salvadorian restaurant. We eat fairly well, lunch is the best meal and dinner and breakfast is usually accompanied with a large helping of beans, which I am starting to get tired of.

La Merced church where a lot of the Easter processions start and end. On holy days they have street-food vendors cooking and on this particular day you can see people selling decorations for palm Sunday.

Marissa tempting the lava gods.

Warming up next to molten lava.

The Central Park in Antigua. At the center of the city, a meeting place for locals and foreigners alike, and a place to lounge around and relax.

12 March 2008

Why did the chicken cross the road?

The people from Chamula, a pueblo in the hills of Chiapas, are a deeply religious group. By no means are they your ¨typical¨ Latin American Catholics.

While most indiginous groups assimilated completely to Catholocism with the coming of the Spanish, some groups, such as those from Chamula, held on to older traditions and customs effectively synthesizing the two religions.

The church from the outside looks ordinary enough, except maybe for the man at the door collectng a $3.00 fee to enter the church.

Passing through the church door is like passing through a portal in time. You can´t see anything at first, while your eyes adjust to the darkness. The heavy smell of frankenscence is thick in the air and a soft murmer, chanting almost, echos off the high gold painted celings of the church. And then you hear a sound so out of place that you can hardly believe it. Is that the squaking of a chicken? What the crap is a chicken doing in a church?

Photography is forbidden in the church and you are asked not to take photos of the people around town. The people believe photography can steal your soul. But I don´t think I will ever forget the place.

The church is absent of pews, people sit on the floor, which you can´t even see because it has been covered with a thick layer of pine needles, and stare off into space, as if looking for something on a distant hillside, and rythmically chant their prayers in thier native language like the beating of a Viking drum keeping the row in sync.

Beside the people are bags of chicken eggs, bottels of soda, and live chickens. Drink the soda to burp and release the evil spirits from the body. Rub the live chickens over your body to extract sickness or bad spirits. Pass the chicken over the flame of the candles and when you´re done with the chicken break its neck.

Chamula was a trip. Also my second visit, I was there three years ago.

But this time we took a horse to get there, from the city of San Cristobal de las Casas. Marissa has really good photos of me on my little horse, felt like a pony. I got a wicked sunburn and was sore for days afterward.

We are in Guatemala now, taking spanish classes in La Antigua Guatemala.

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San Cristobal is a handsome city with a lot of indiginous flavor. At one time was controlled by Zapatista rebels, but now is a nice place to spend time. Lots of good food and live music everyday. Has a large international community living in town.

Main church in San Cris.

Photo from horseback. Apparently someone saw an image of the Virgin Mary in the rock so they built a church here.

Typical country hillside in Chiapas highlands.

06 March 2008

Taking it Down a Notch

Luckily the road to Mazunte was paved. That´s about the most positive thing I can say about a road with so many curves and drop offs that it would make Captain A´rab nausous.

Mazunte is a beautiful beach cove, famous for the sea turtules that come to lay their eggs in the warm sand. The climate is tropical, and remeniscent of a steam room. It was nice in the early morning, and late afternoon when it was cool enough for physical exertion--the heat helped to facilitate sitting back and enjoying the beautiful coast.

Restaurants, bars, and hostals line the beach shore making it the perfect place to relax in a hammock or have a delicious red snapper dinner (too hungry to take photos).

Mazunte must mean hippie-ville in spanish, because there sure were a lot of them doing their hippie thing. It was a little overwhelming and the threat of a candida outbreak was enough reason for us to book it out of there the next day.

Puerto Escondito is one hour away from Mazunte and has a vibrant beach scene made of primarily of ex-pat surfers. Walking down the main strip almost feels like walking through Manhattan beach with all the surf shops, taco stands, and bars.

Known by surfers worldwide for the Puerto Escondito Pipeline (or so I read). The waves at PE are breath taking, and big. I´m not sure if I´ve seen waves that big breaking before. According to my trained eye the big sets had to be between 15-20ft, with smaller ones breaking all around.

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Mazunte beach, a nice beach cove. We watched a dog poop on somebodies beach towel, funny if it wasn´t you.

View from the balcony of Hostal Carlos Eintstien, in Mazunte. The epicenter of everything Pachuli and drum circle.

Puerto Escondito beach just before sunset. It´s like a three ring circus out there between the sky divers landing on the beach, horseback riders, crazy street dogs and locals.

The surfers we saw had to be towed in by a jet ski and shot into the waves. This dude got crushed a couple times by some big waves.

Sunset at Puerto Escondito.