Friday, December 29, 2006

Lago de Atitlan

I have now arrived at my final destination before I headback to Tuxtla - Lago de Atitlan. Specifically I am staying in a town called Panajachel. Lago de Atitlan is a spectacular lake and like Antigua, it is surrounded by volcanoes. I will spend a day or two here and then I will head back to Tuxtla.

As you may have guessed, there are a few tourists here.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Antigua es bonita

I arrived somewhat blurry-eyed in Guatemala City this morning (5:30 AM) and after seeing a bit of it, made my way to Antigua which by comparison is utterly divine. Framed on three sides by volcanoes, Antigua's cobblestone roads and colonial archictecture is breathtaking. I think I use the word breathtaking a lot, but I have good reason. I am in a spectacular part of the world.

There are a lot of ruins of cathedrals here. Earthquakes have usually been the cause of the devastation, I believe.

Alas, for kids all the stunning archictecture and scenery still pales in comparison to the allure of a hand-held videogame.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Feliz Navidad from Guatemala, Tikal

Well there was no mistaking the moment Christmas began in Flores. At 12 midnight the fireworks started going off from I would say nearly every house in Flores and Santa Helena. The building next to us had a couple of pyromaniacs setting off all manners of fireworks most of which did not launch out of their mostly closed in area, hence they kept firing them down their hall and needing to run from the mess they created. OK, I was jealous; I'll admit it. Flores which is surrounded on three sides by Santa Helena and houses on the other shore of the lake was an unbelieveable sight. In every direction where there were homes, beautiful bursts of explosives filled the air. I wanted to be able to look in all directions at once. Suffice it to say sleeping was postponed considerably.


Spending Christmas in Tikal was magical. The dizzying heights of the pyramids, the misty weather and the constant din of howler monkeys, parrots and a myriad of other animals created an atmosphere that was almost overwhelming. Fear of heights combined with some of the steepest ladder/stairs I have ever seen occasionally completed the overwhelming feeling, however I climbed every ruin that we were allowed to climb anyway. And I loved every minute of my time there (7 hours). Tikal is stunning as ruins. As a functioning city, it must have been on a level with Cairo and Rome. I always find myself wishing I could go back in time. Just to see ruins is not enough for me. The photo on the right is a view of the Gran Plaza.

Looking out of a temple window or door.


Later when returning to Flores, I saw this man walking around with a sign that says "HUGS FREE". I figured he, of all people, would not mind my taking his picture. Of course, he smiled from ear to ear, posed for the picture and then gave me a hug.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Lago Peten Itza

Having booked transportation to spend Christmas Day in Tikal, a friend and I rented a canoe and headed out to explore Lago Peten Itza. The lookout on the peninsula across from Isla Flores turned out to be breathtaking. We almost didn't go, but that would have been a huge mistake. Besides having a great view of the island, there were spectacular views of the lake in several directions. Other highlights of the day were swimming off the dock of a local park and visiting Petencito, a 'nature reserve'(read zoo here).

A bridge to part of Petencita.

The Island of Flores seen from the lookout. It is a very tranquil place.

A sunset and beer on the patio.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

In Through the Back Door

After an exciting day of travel by various methods, I am in Flores, Guatemala. Most of the transportation consisted of travel in vans on paved roads with stunningly beautiful scenery in Mexico and brutal, brain-jarring gravel roads with nice scenery in Guatemala. The trip on Rio Usumacinta, however, was more exciting. We took a launch from a middle of nowhere town in Mexico to a middle of nowhere town in Guatemala. I particularly enjoyed telling my companions who were all wearing bright red lifejackets* that the bright red lifejackets help the crocodiles to find them if we sink (* old habits die hard - I never wore lifejackets on the SALTS boats). Scott the Australian seemed to be the only one other than myself who truly enjoyed the (scant?) humour of this comment.

Some observations:

In Mexico they have a habit of holding up a rope to stop vehicles on the road (one person on either side). I have even seen children doing it when they want to sell some mandarin oranges to people in cars. It seems to me if anyone decided not to stop, this method would quickly backfire.

There are white heron-like birds that seem to have a symbiotic relationship with the cows. I have often seen them standing next to or even right on the heads of cows. Sometimes they seem to be doing something such as removing bugs, but it is hard to be sure from the window of a speeding van. It may not be symbiotic, but I can´t think of the other word (not parasitic, the other one), so we´re going with symbiotic.

The guys in the Guatemalan immigration office were having two very serious air conditioners installed. The very expensive kind. This is strange because there was a huge space open between the walls and the roof. Any attempt at air conditioning would have as much effect on the temperature outside as it would inside.

Having left Mexico from a tiny town in the Lacondan territory, traveled down the river on a thin launch and entered Guatemala in another tiny town with more dogs than houses, I commented to one of my traveling companions that it seemed an odd way to enter a country. He remarked that it felt as if we entered through the back door. Indeed we did.

Guatemala is my 47th country (more of a fact than an observation).

Friday, December 22, 2006

!Palenque, Misol Ha and Agua Azul - Increible!

I do not feel up to the task of trying to describe how beautiful Palenque and the two waterfalls
Everything I think of to say seems insufficient.

Today as I was walking through palaces and temples in Palenque knowing that almost 2000 years ago, people were being sacrificed on the stone slabs I saw and that Mayan royals lived in the rooms I was walking through is an unbelievable experience. And then you are brought down to earth by the sight of a guy mowing the lawn.

The first two pics are in Palenque, of course.

The waterfall shrouded by foliage is Misol Ha. The second and most spectacular waterfall is Agua Azul (translates to Blue Water). If you think the falls are nice, multiply by three and you will get a better sense of the scale of the falls. I intend to return to Agua Azul and go in the water to takes picture from a better angle. Having the passport and work visa documents on me meant that I was a little reluctant to leave them anywhere or swim with them. I will return to take more photos.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

In Palenque!

I am in Palenque and staying at a fascinating cabana in the Jungle apparently near the pyramids. The sound of running water, frogs and insects drowns out the live music plazing at the restaurant where I ate dinner - Mono Blanco (White Monkey). I am looking forward to sleeping to the sounds of the background jungle music.

The day was a series of amazing luck/timing. Connections just worked out for me all day. In the town of Palenque, I literally stepped out of the bus station into a colectivo that took me directly to Panchan where I wanted to stay. When I arrived at Margarita and Eds, there was one cabana left.

I would post a pic but I am working on an ancient computer that doesnt have a USB port. In fact the computer is loaded with a German version of Windows. Yes, I am in Mexico. Life here doesnt always make sense. In fact, it rarely does.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

More Christmas Program Pics

I wanted to post more pictures of the kids in the Christmas Program. So here they are. Not a lot else to say today as I am working at school on a Sunday marking books and doing my report cards.

The kids in the shiny outfits are from Kindergarten 3. They did an Elvis Christmas song. I can't remember what it was called.

Kris's grade 2s were fantastic as well. Here they are doing Little Drummer Boy (of course).

The girls and and the boys drummed. I am sure there were a lot of proud parents!

And now I conclude with the cutest kid in the Christmas program.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Feliz Navidad

For my faithful readers, I am sorry that I am not writing more often. It reflects a lack of time, not a lack of enthusiasm for blogging. There are three days of school left and I leave for Palenque, Agua Azul and Guatemala immediately after that. Before I leave, I have to finish marking all my student's books and submit my grades to the administration, not to mention, teach.

Feliz Navidad

My students have been practising songs for quite a while now. 3A did The Twelve Days of Christmas and 3B did Silent Night in English, Sign Language and Spanish. The students were magnificent and made me very proud.

Michelyn, our fearless leader, was the secret to our success as she spent a lot of time helping us learn the songs and motions. Of course she would deny that her role was significant, but we couldn't have done it without her.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


Yesterday, The American School held their yearly festival called Kermesse. It is a fair in which the parents club raises money for their various projects. There are various kid's games, basketball and football matches, a train for the little ones, booths selling different products, dances (of course), food (Mexican, by some strange coincidence) and because I was involved, a table with science experiments, of course.

The event was quite well run, and I have the impression that it was very successful. However I spent the entire day in my booth, so I saw very little beyond my visitors, the bunnies and pollitos (chicks) that the neighboring booth was selling and the intermittent silly string/foam battles that raged in and around my booth.

Although I had four experiments, the Magic Mud and the Mountain of Bubbles were by far the most popular experiments.

In other news, I am writing from San Cristobal once again. If you are one of my (three) faithful readers, you are probably wondering if I saw a parade. Actually I literally lost count of the parades (well actually, processions to be accurate) that I saw today (but if I had to guess, I would say it was over 30). The processions are in honour of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe. Since I am at an internet cafe on Avenida Insurgentes (a major road), a procession goes by every five minutes or so.

This is what wikipedia says about the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe:

Our Lady of Guadalupe or the Virgin of Guadalupe is a Marian apparition and a 16th century Roman Catholic icon. Guadalupe is also Mexico's most popular religious image. Guadalupe's feast day is celebrated on December 12th-- a day which commemorates her appearance on the hill of Tepeyac near Mexico City from in 1531. Her popularity and cultural significance are multifaceted: while Catholics honor her as the manifestation of the Virgin Mary in the Americas, she is also an important symbol of Mexican nationalism. Guadalupe is also frequently interpreted as a syncretic manifestation of the indigenous goddess Tonantzin. Finally, some theologians see the Guadalupan event as signifying a special relationship between the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the Catholic Church.

Today I saw several Mexican flags with the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe substituted for the eagle and the snake, so I can confirm the nationalist symbolism.

Most of the processions had people walking or running with torches (including all the way to San Cristobal) and many of them had people holding palm branches and flowers. There were also two purified water truck parades. Yes, I am serious - PURIFIED WATER TRUCK PARADES! Really, do you think I could makes this stuff up?

Sunday, December 03, 2006


One of the most remarkable people we have on staff is Sixto. Conversely a few teachers and most of the students and parents don't even know who he is because he works behind the scenes after hours. He starts work around four and is here all night. Sixto is our security guy (and he has a gun!), he mows the lawn, paints, cleans our classrooms if someone is away, fixes things and he recently helped me move. In fact, he was the only one of my three helpers who actually worked hard. The other two mostly fielded calls on their cel phones. I am convinced that he works harder than almost anyone in the school. I like this photo because it is pure Sixto. When you need help or want to ask him something he drops everything to do what you need. Sixto is a good argument for cloning!

My only compliant about Sixto is that he has yet to let me actually shoot his gun. Although I am generally a pacifist, a little target practice on the football field has definite appeal for me.

In other news, I have finally moved to my new apartment in Colonia Teran. Compared to the palatial apartment I had on Belisario Dominguez, the new one is much more humble, but I like it a lot and am looking forward to buying a hammock and enjoying some BBQ and a few cervezas in my new patio. I will have to remember to watch for falling coconuts which seem to have the amazing to fall exactly when I am not expecting it and when I am concentrating on something, thus exponentially increasing how much I am startled. The limes are a little less perilous. A blog about my new neighbourhood and my home home will be forthcoming soon especially as I also have a new camera.