Thursday, March 21, 2013

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua was founded in 1543 and served as the seat of Spain's colonial government. Much ruin was brought to Antigua by volcano eruption, and Spanish Crown ordered the relocation of the colonial government to the now Guatemala. We spent three days in Antigua and visited a bunch of places: a jade factory, a home visit, a school visit after taking a ride on a chicken bus, churches, and museums (a Maya art museum, a coffee museum, a silver museum), and a macadamia farm.

A view of Antigua from a hill nearby our hotel. The mountain in the distance is one of the volcanoes.
 When we are in town, we observed one volcano puffing:
The school visit:
The home hosted lunch:
 A few examples of the art of Maya:
 The above exhibit was shown in this colonial building being renovated:
I rode in a tuc tuc in Antigua:

Friday, March 15, 2013

Maya's clothing, custumes, and graves

One can be overwhelmed by the color in Central America.  The color from flowers and birds, and the color from fabrics and clothes.  And the raised Graves where loved ones are buried.

The Scarlet Macon from Copan:
Common folks go about their daily lives  in the Solola market 30 some miles from Guatemala City, and near Atitlan Lake.
Perry and Kathleen were dressed up by the store owner at Santiago (a villiage by the Lake Atitlan) who wants to sells us items.  I have to say they are really good quality hand made products.
We visited a cemetery where all the colorful raised graves sitting high on the hill and overlooking a river.  over there I first learned about Maya's deity Meximon.
A "priest" will pray to Meximon for the family when a loved one was dead, as a comfort to the remain relatives alive.  Respect shown to Meximon is through feeding him wine, cigarette, money , ash burning, as well as praying.  When Spanish occupied the land, they apparently incorporated Meximon in the building of the church in order to appeal to the locals.

The one in the center is Meximon. A colorfully decorated "wooden" thing.
In the following carving found in a Roman Catholic church, Meximon is sitting in the center.
And there is always the colorful costumes for festivity and dancing (at a dinner in Antigua):
How little things (here is a fully sized doll in the lobby of the hotel at Lake Atitlan) make me happy:

Visiting a today's Maya villiage in Honduras

When in Honduras, besides visiting the Copan ruin, we also took a horse back ride to the village of La Pintade (Painted because they found painted rocks on this location). One family opened their home for us to see their living conditions (quite primitive); And we were surrounded by children from the village trying to sell us husk dolls.  The impact of poverty made all of us uneasy and wished that our interactions with the children could be different.  I asked permission to take pictures of some children.  Some allowed me to do so, and enjoyed looking at themselves through my digital camera.

I was able to observe my fellow travelers and am moved especially by the sense of graciousness and kindness of Dale and Karen; and the spirit of Donna on this trip.  Donna contrived polio when she was 4, but never was discouraged by her disability, and is always positive and happy.  Her partner Larry is a kind and considerate person.  Those foursome have been friends for 20 years.  And it certainly has been a pleasure traveling with them!

 Below is Donna on the horse back, and the shadow of me on my horse back:
 The homemaker whose home we visited:
 The children all have such nice smiles:

Sarah is 11, and speaks excellent English.  She followed me and talked to me in length in English. She told me that she walks 1.5 hours one way to go to school, and is learning English on a scholarship. I encouraged her to study hard.  I don't know why she picked me, but I was delighted to learn more about her.

San Salvador and pupusas

The first night of the Route of Maya trip was spent in San Salvador.  Our little boutique hotel turned out to be just 2 blocks from the manufacture plant of McCormick in El Salvador.  It was an interesting surprise.  I walked up to the plant to see if I could see the QA Manager there, but was not able to meet her as she was in a meeting.
The local people like to paint the electricity poles with beautiful birds:
The following morning, our local guide Rick took us on a bus tour to the center of San Salvador.  One can see some signs of colonial influence.  But ordinary people, just like the rest of the world, focused on the dilly living, like the street vendor below:

Rick took us to a very contemporary church near the city center.  The designer incorporated the sense of struggle from earth quakes, and the yearning for hope.  I like this church called Iglesia Elrosario.

Rick is the younger generation that benefited from the recent political stability and economical growth.  He and his relatives just opened a restaurant and he was very nice to take us there for some delicious pupusas.  His mother-in-law cooked them freshly just for us.  It was delicious and I ate two of them!
A pupusa is a traditional Salvadoran dish made of a thick, handmade corn tortilla , a maize flour dough that is usually filled with a blend of cheese, cooked meat and refined beans.  Pupusas are typically served with curtido (lightly fermented cabbage slaw with red chilies and vinegar) and a watery tomato salsa.

 Rick bid us good-bye near the boarder of El Salvador and Honduras.  I wish him all the best as he is so positive and hopeful about future, and he certainly started our trip with much friendliness and kindness.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Route of Maya

I joined OAT's trip of "The route of Maya" from Feb 21 - Mar 5.  This is a land tour with 14 members in the group.  We had 4 couples and 6 single travelers. We followed a route from El Salvador to Honduras, Guatemala, and ended in Belize. 
This is our group:
From back row to front row, left to right:
Larry, Gail, Dale, Peter, Elliot,Perry
Donna, Karen, Abel (our tour director), Joyce, Paula, Julie
Peggy, Christina, Kathleen
Couples are Larry and Donna; Peter and Peggy; Karen and Dale; Perry and Kathleen
I appreciate this group of folks, who all are very much world travellers. 

We visited 5 sites of Maya ruins on this trip:  Joya de Ceren in El Salvador; Copan in Honduras; Tikal in Gutemala; Yaxha in Guatemala, and Lamalai in in Belize.  A map of all Maya ruins is shown below:

Before excavation, Joya de Ceren was once totally covered by volcano ashes .  Copan, Tikal, Yaxha, and Lamalai were covered by jungles. While we now know that some 1,500 years ago, Mayan priest-kings built scores of pyramids, carved stone monuments, constructed handball courts, laid out streets of their cities in a grid pattern, we still do not know what exactly happened around 900 AD that made all the Mayan cities gone distinct.

At Joya de Ceren, I learned that Mayan used re-bar technology (bamboo re-bar used to enforce the buildings) and utensils with beautiful paintings :

We also saw this beautiful bird (Mot mot, the national bird of El Salvador) at the ruin:
At Copan, I learned about ancient Mayan king using monument as a political statement to legitimize his God and history given authority. Yet human ambition and arrogance eventually led to the destruction of the kingdom.  Human beings still are driven by similar forces today.  Have we really learned from history or are we even able to learn any wisdom from history?

Tikal, at its peak, was home to an estimate of 100,000 Maya.  The Tikal site comprises roughly 6 square miles and contains about 3,000structurs.  I climbed the Temple of the two headed snake, which was built around 740 AD.

 The view from the top of the Temple of two-headed snake.
 More structure were seen in Yaxha.  We started to get weary by them now:

However, the Lamanai ruin was a different experience.  We had to ride on a boat to reach the site via the New River.  Along the ride, we observed many wild life.
 The is quite a climb to the top.  One has to use a rope when coming down.
 The group climbed to the top:
 The Temple of Mask:

 It's interesting that we found similarity between the face of our Maya tour guide (Ben) in Ambergris Cay and this carved mask:  Notice the round face, big nose , the thick lips, and the two big front teeth.