Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year - 2012


A friend of ours sent a Happy New Year note with this graphic. I really thought it was creative, so I stole it from her e-mail and am including it here.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Making It Through a Day


All night long, I had dreams of the dangers lurking on every corner. It didn’t help that I had read an online article from the San Francisco Chronicle describing the violence in this city right before going to bed. I had sworn that I would not take my camera out today, nor would I even carry my bag. Certain that I am on some international radar for being a victim of crime, I am playing it safe. It is not paranoia, but true life experiences. Alternatively, we did survive Cape Town twice and the heart of Kenya without incident, but why push the luck?

While we were at breakfast, there was a couple from Boston who also arrived yesterday. We chatted for a while and I mentioned my concerns for safety. One of the guys remarked with a truth that I often think about when people are concerned about the safety of Budapest. His comment was “it is funny how people get overly concerned about the potential violence when they travel, yet they ignore the violence at home. I was mugged four times in Cambridge and Boston, Massachusetts where I live within 2 years time.” It got me t thinking that he was right, but I am still leaving my camera behind. 

Yesterday when I mentioned my concerns to Ron, I shared my mental fantasy of filling my empty cola bottle with bleach. If anyone dared to attack me, I would splash them with it. His retort was “Will that make you one of the Bleach Boys?” (Beach Boys)

Leaving this city alive and with all our things is a grave concern, if you will forgive the pun. We thought of leaving a day early, but we are prepaid here and changing the reservation at Rio Dulce would be another headache. We can hunker down here, but to be sure, we wanted to get our bus ticket. Though the bus station is only a few blocks from the hotel, we will take a taxi there. I can imagine us going down the street when some car pulls up to collect all of our luggage, when we know this isn’t a service offered by the bus companies.

Within a block of our hotel on the way to the bus station, the atmosphere started feeling dark and foreboding like those Batman movies where there is never any evidence of a primary color. Strange that the sun was shining, yet there was an obscure nature as we inched our way closer to the station. Men surrounded buses with rifles of various types, but it was unclear if they were guards, customers, or category C. For one moment, I wasn’t certain whether to continue trying to find the ticket office or break into a run. Our tickets are booked: January 2, 2012 at 11:30 am.

Not leaving anything to the Fates, we brought our tickets back to the hotel before wandering off. Our hotel has closed circuit TV at the door, so they monitor from the office. There are so many layers of security gates that you have to stretch your arm through to get to the bell to ring to be let in. They as none of the other hotels, give you a key to get in on your own. I am guessing it is a simple precaution in case you are mugged and tortured, you won’t spill the beans as to where you are staying, so they can use your keys to break in. The problem here is, if you are short or you have short arms, you will need an extender to reach the bell. I have long arms and even I get bar marks in my cheek as I stretch in to reach the buzzer.

Now that the tickets were secured, we intended to visit three museums. Museum 1 – closed. There were those metal door knockers so thinking this was a security precaution, we tried the knocker and the bell and our fists. Nada! Museum 2 – closed. Museum 3 looked like it had potential as four of the employees had just walked out and were standing on the sidewalk talking. The museum is scheduled for 10am to 12 noon and 2 – 5pm. It was not yet noon, but they said it would be closed until Tuesday for the holiday, but then again, maybe they wouldn’t open on Tuesday either. Doesn’t matter, we won’t be around then anyway. What to do, what to do?

When all else fails there are always churches to visit. There are plenty of those here and even if I don’t partake, they are fun to look at, plus wonderful examples of cultural differences. One corner had a church on each of two corners and another church just 2 blocks away. They were all Catholic too. Talk about obsessive.

We went into one church and my eyes popped out of my head. For the first few moments, I had forgotten I had gone into a church. If it had not been for two dozen Mary statues in different outfits and poses, I would have had to leave, look at the building again and re-enter. The insides looked like someone set off a bomb in a party supply store. The only thing missing was the Mylar balloons that announced “It’s a boy!” Just about every square inch of the ceiling had draped banners, garland, lights, statues, and other paraphernalia that was never covered in my Catholic military training sessions. I think this was God’s way of getting back at me since I didn’t have my camera to document it all. Just trying to take it all in was beginning to put me into epileptic seizures. One interesting thing in this church, I have never seen in my life was a painting of Joseph’s deathbed. I have never heard of Joseph’s death ever referred to anywhere. All attention was first and foremost on Jesus and then Mary was taken up body and soul, but Joseph’s last years are just a blank slate. The poor guy slaved as a carpenter supporting his wife and step-son, only to be forgotten in history or myth. 

After that experience, I walked into the next church with the same caution as walking into your own surprise party after you received wind of its happening. Apparently this congregation subscribes to Better Churches and Gardens magazine; it was less audacious, but still on the ticklish side of gaudy. Life size wooden pelicans hang all over the church with their necks craned picking at their own breast to feed their young. If you want to read the full story, click here. One giant mural over a side door showed Jesus on the cross, but the cross was in a fountain. Jesus’ blood had filled the fountain. They are just consumed with these torturous betrayals of religious faith. One thing is that this church had another interesting Joseph related item which was a first. In all of my years, I have never witnessed this before, but in the crèche, instead of Mary holding the baby or the baby just being in the manger, it was Joseph holding Jesus with a peculiar look on his face. I could see the word bubble over his head showing what he was thinking, “Darn it, he doesn’t look like me at all.” To make matters worse he had a t-shirt on that said “My wife had an angelic visit and all I got was a step-son.” The Catholics here are really crazy!

The third church we visited was so unadorned, I thought we had wandered into a Jehovah’s Witness meeting hall by mistake. The crucifix assured me we were in a Catholic church. As we were wandering around, a mass started. Usually before the priest enters, there are bells jingled warning congregates that the priest is walking in, so everyone stands up. There were no bells, so I was taken by surprise when a very elderly priest was aided to the altar by his home health aide. She had to keep him propped up as he celebrated mass. Vocations must be at an all time low; this poor guy was beyond feeble. It was also during the beginnings of this mass that I realized for certain just how dangerous this city can be. The altar boys, no girls around, are armed with pistols. When they came to take a collection, those holding the basket bore rifles, for those who thought they were passing a grab bag. As we were leaving, I spotted this poster on the wall. It portrayed Jesus in the same position as Rodin’s The Thinker. Next to the poster was the statue itself, which I hadn’t noticed at first. The title is “Jesus in Deep Thought”. As we were leaving, there was a handwritten sign that said “You do not need your mobile phone to call God. Turn yours off when in church.” Someone has a sense of humor.

We walked the pedestrian street so many times looking at the street performers and then stopping to have lunch, we now have every store memorized as well as their merchandise, inventory and prices. Is it January 2nd yet?
Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Friday, December 30, 2011

If You Don't Hear From Me Again...


For some reason, we had to do one last tour of the town before leaving, but of course this included visiting another coffee shop we had not yet tried out. They make the best espresso drinks here. Ron suggested we look at the other dock, the one where boats go to the different villages than the ones we had been to. It was much smaller and less congested, but there were still multiple men trying to get us on boats.

I have this thing about checking our room multiple times to make sure we don’t miss a thing. As we were leaving, we ran into the guys next door as they were swinging in the hammocks. We said good-bye, but that is as involved as the conversation went. All of our bags were now downstairs waiting for the shuttle to arrive at noon. Standing there waiting, the three amigos came out and were standing around also. They never uttered a syllable.

The shuttle arrived on the dot in this time zone, 10 minutes late. It was empty so we thought we hit the jackpot on seat choices, but the driver told us he needed to put all of the luggage on the roof rack; he had other things to collect that needed the back space. Something new to worry about: our luggage hurling at sixty miles an hour over some cliff somewhere as we hit a pothole in the road. We climb into the van, followed by guess who? The three amigos climbed into the van too. Only because we asked, they said they were going to Guatemala City too. All during the 3 hour ride, they each played with their iPhone, ignoring each other and us as well. It turned out they were going to the airport to return home. Two of them are going to Mexico City and the other is continuing on to San Antonio, TX.

Another half hour and we were at our hotel. OMG, the neighborhood was enough to give me the heebie jeebies. Every hotel we have stayed at thus far has locked front doors. You have to ring a bell to get in; no keys are supplied for self access once you check in. That alone is telling. Once inside, the hotel is outstanding. As they claim they have over 300 Mayan artifacts, making them a true museum, part of their business name. Someone has great taste when they decorated the place; it is exceptional. Too bad the city is not. Ron said there were two differing comments in the travel guide regarding Guatemala City: big, dirty, dangerous, and fascinating or big, dirty, dangerous, and forgettable.

Just as in Cape Town the advice is to take a taxi if going out or returning once it is dark out. A difference being there is a sign posted in the lobby here, stating do not wear any jewelry outside, be cautious, etc. etc. There was a young man sitting in the lobby when we arrived. While Ron was checking in, I quizzed him about the place. He was only meeting someone here, not staying, but said that his tour book listed only 3 hotels in Zone 1 as being safe. This was number 1 for safety within this zone. Zone 1 in the city is where the museums and government buildings are, but also the bus stations where gangs and drug dealers congregate along side of the red light district. One stop shopping for all of your vice needs.

Out we went while it was still light out. Neither of us took our shoulder bag nor did we take cameras. It was a shame as there were some good shots that we missed. I would hate to have my $800 camera become someone’s New Year’s present. Finding the central square, it was filled with people, but not glorious or glamorous buildings. We stopped for a beer, then chicken at their version of KFC. 

Finally on the way back, we stopped at a deli that offered freshly made tamales. We bought four for breakfast, because we couldn’t remember if we had the breakfast plan or not. The alternative was to pay $7.00 US for the basic breakfast, 9.00 for the upgrade and 11.00 for the superior. Other meals are on offer too, but the prices are way different than the outer regions. There really isn’t much in this city to be a draw that can demand those kinds of prices within a small hotel. The four tamales only cost us 1.85 Euros a piece and they are huge.

When I asked if they had WiFi, I was given the pass code with the notation at the bottom that it cost $5.00 US a day. Fortunately for me, there is an unsecured WiFi connection that is costing me nothing. The thought did cross our mind to move our travel plans up a day, but this is paid for and there is little running on New Year’s Day, which is the reason Ron planned our departure for January 2nd. Keep us in your positive thoughts, we are going to need them.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

No More Pana Mañana


As hard as it may seem, this was an even greater kick back day than the others. What slugs we are becoming. Tomorrow, we leave for Guatemala City, so we need to get those pesky last minute things out of the way, like shopping, laundry, and getting money. Breakfast is included at the hotel, but the coffee is less than spectacular. Guatemalan coffee is supposed to be so excellent, but breakfast coffee tastes like Nescafé.

There is a coffee and pastry shop down the street that we have discovered. Their lattes and cappuccinos are excellent. Ron has taken a liking to their desserts, though I have to admit their cheesecake is pretty good. Ron had cake with his java; I refrained for once. Right near there is the bookstore where I found the 3rd book in the Steig Larrson series. I had only brought the first two at Ron’s advice due to their weight. The first book The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was 624 pages, but I finished it in the first week. The second book The Girl Who Played With Fire ran a grandiose 728 pages and that was completed early today. Now I need to read through the third and last book filled with 824 pages. Quite a lot of words. Fortunately, the book is only 7.20 Euros, so I feel like I can buy a copy even if one is sitting at home. I have been giving books away as we read them so the load is lightened and makes space and weight reductions for buying things.

I did buy one other book, but took notes of titles from books that were just too heavy to consider. They are now on my Amazon Wish List for future reference. This store also had really divine photo frames; the outer edges were all hand woven by indigenous women. We found reasons to buy six of them. They are light.

Back to the hotel to drop off our spoils, we picked up our dirty laundry and set out the Laundromat. Dropping it off for a wash, dry and fold for over ten pounds will cost us 55 quetzals, 5.5 Euros. Can we take this woman home with us? It will be ready in 2 hours, so we take off again.

We quizzed an ex-pat from the US who now runs a second hand bookstore about which ATM machine was safe to use. He gave us a map and showed us one that is in a Mercado with the advice that the Mercado is owned by Walmart and no on screws with Walmart, not even the Colombians. That is where we head since our next stop is Guatemala City, which is supposedly dangerous on a daily basis just in general without using an ATM. On the way to the Mercado, we found the Women’s Free Trade Collective, a place where women can sell their craft work and receive all of the money they sell it for. It is called Thirteen Threads and was started by a woman from the US.

There were mats that I really liked, but the weight made me think “Airline Alert”, so I passed them by. A woman came rushing in as we were browsing and started through the same mats. Had I overcome my luggage limit phobia, there was one that I especially liked. This woman had it spread on the floor and then placed it on the counter. Darn her!! Turns out she is from California and is here to teach Yoga for 8 months. We chatted about the mats. I had in mind a Welcome mat, but she intends it to be a bath mat, another great idea. I never did get the chance to ask her how or why they needed to import her to teach Yoga for 8 months. Are Guatemalans so desperate to learn the downward facing dog or one-legged king pigeon that they had to import someone from California to twist and turn them? Ron bought some bookmarkers, but the airline scale phobia was as overwhelming as having a scale in our bathroom, so I let them go.

One last stop before the ATM was the hunt for a restaurant with a used bookstore inside run by a Canadian. We went up and down the street, but could not find it. What we did find was a concrete park with patches of wonderful flowering plants in small squares of non-cemented soil. Across the street was stand after stand selling fireworks of more sizes and varieties than I thought possible.

Finally, we made it the “ugly gray building that serves as a Mercado” just like the US American said and the ATM was a non-descript machine inside with an armed guard. Hoping that no one really does screw with Walmart, we withdraw the maximum of 2,000 quetzals. I hope to the smoking god that we don’t find our account cleaned out when we return home. Paranoid with having money, 200 Euros in our possession, we head back to the hotel to drop it off and then head out again.

There are no Hard Rock Cafés in Guatemala or Belize, but in Pana there is a PanaRock Café. They have a similar logo as their name sake, so it is kind of cute. We stopped in for a beer, but being extra thirsty, I ordered a liter. By the time we were done, I really wanted a nap more than I wanted to pick up our clothes at the laundry.

All of the time we have been here, in the room next to us has been 3 amigos. Initially, I hadn’t given the first guy a thought, but when I finally saw the other 2, I realized they were Friends of Dorothy or to put it other ways, they walked with a light step or they were part of the ‘family’. Although they responded when spoken to, they never initiated a greeting or engaged in any conversation when we would see them on the balcony. Two of them were Caucasian and one was definitely Hispanic looking. All three were speaking fluent English. Just like the people we met on the boat trip, we ran into these guys around the town quite often also. My guess is that they are in their 30’s so it was surprising how early they returned to the room and didn’t leave again. Their door squeaked terribly, so it was easy to keep tabs on them.

Our farewell dinner was at a steak house we had eaten at before, but we broke with tradition by ordering pizzas. We were both quite pleasantly surprised that the pizzas were excellent. The crust was wonderful. After dinner, we tried doing a little exercise stroll, but it was more like a roll. We both felt like balloons. Tomorrow, we are out of here on the 12 noon shuttle to Guatemala City. Pray for our safety!
Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Partial Atonements Made


We returned to the village of Santiago for three shameful reasons. One - we had not seen the church there yet, because we spent all of our time looking at the smoking god. Two – we owed this woman Elena ten quetzals for two beers.Three - we owed the little boy who runs the bathroom service 3 quetzals for letting us use it without paying due to our emergency situation.

When the boat pulled into the dock, as soon as I set foot on dry land, the boys were surrounding me wanting to offer me tours or goods to buy. Each time I said “No thank you” in Spanish, English, Hungarian, and three dialects of Mayan, they refused to leave me alone asking me where I intended to go within the village. I said “I am going to stand right here. All day, I am going to stand right here until it is time for the boat to return to Pana. In the meantime, regardless of what you do, I will be standing right here just like a statue.” They kept questions whether or not I would move, but I said, that this was my spot and I would be here all day. They cracked up laughing and teasing me about teasing them. Those smiles and the joking were worth a few million quetzals. As soon as Ron joined me, I had to leave my spot for our first mission on Santiago.

As it turned out, the last time we were here, the day before yesterday, just as we were about to leave, Ron wanted a beer. He asked if I wanted one too, but I responded with save some money for me to use the bathroom. They charge 3 quetzals for public services. He wasn’t paying much attention, but ordered two beers thinking he heard that they cost veinte quetzals when in reality they cost treinta quetzals. Not only was he ten quetzals short of paying for the beers, but he spent my pee money besides.

After the woman opened two beers and wanted treinta quetzals we both burst out with that nervous laughter that is caused by extreme embarrassment. However, to the woman on the other side of the counter, it signified we were two morons trying to pull a fast one. She held her guns wanting the ten quetzals and refused to take one beer back now that it was opened. We swore we had no more money of any currency. Actually, we did have a twenty Euro note, but she looked at it like we wanted to trade stone beads with her for the beer. Swearing we would return with money, this was a reason to return. She was surprised to see us, but instead of “Hola” or any pleasantry, she smiled and said “Diez quetzals por favor”. We gave her her due and a bag of Hungarian paprika for her troubles.

Now that we had atoned for one sin, it was time to make the pilgrimage to the church. To get there, we walked up that damn hill that had not been leveled since we were here last. When we asked for directions at the top of the hill, we were directed through a Mayan open air market where at the end we were to turn right and then the church would be up the stairs on the left. Facil! There was this same-same, but different quality to the market. Most of the goods were produce that would appeal to locals, not the usual tourist items. Toto we were not in Kansas anymore, we were dab smack in the middle of culture. I snapped photo after photo. We both wanted to soak up the atmosphere. No Spanish was heard, but some dialect of Mayan. There are twenty-two Mayan languages. Not understanding a word added to the authenticity of the cultural experience.

At the edge of the market at by the park, which is a big slab of concrete with one tree growing out of the middle, there was a guy giving some spiel. He had a dozen women surrounding him, each of the ladies wearing what appeared to be traditional clothing. As we approached, I told Ron he is probably demonstrating a Veg-o-Matic. He had given each woman a small plastic cup with powder in it, but then took bags of water and filled each cup to make some drink. This charismatic gentleman who wore non-Western clothing, was speaking a mile a minute and had these ladies entranced and in giggles. I would have loved to have known what he was saying.

As we approached the church, on the left side is a grand parochial school. As you get closer to the church, all those with some affliction start approaching for money. There was a woman with no legs using her arms to walk on the ground; there was a child with one eye and another with a cleft lip, and an old man who just stood by the door asking for money. The church was still decorated for Christmas with grand crepe type tissue banners crossing the entry from wall to wall and continuing almost to the altar. What was immediately striking were the statures along either wall. First they were predominantly men, by a ratio of 9-1, but even more eye-catching was that they were dressed in real clothes, mostly outfits that the natives were wearing. Their dresser must have feared for the health of the statues for most of them had 3-5 scarves around their necks in addition to layers of clothes. (There will be photos in the photo blog).

The crèche looked like something from Charlie Brown’s Christmas. Instead of having a crèche and letting well enough alone, the ‘stable’ had tons of silver garland outlining it with electric Christmas lights blinking on and off. The three wise men didn’t need the North Star to find the way; there was plenty of glitter and glitz here to light up the sky. In front of this very public display, there was a man on a rug praying loudly in an informal tone as if he and god were beer buddies shooting the bull.

In a side chapel, there were a couple of dozen people all in native dress, meaning non-Western, on their knees praying and doing some type of ritual that did not look like anything Catholic that I had ever grown up with. There was no priest there either, so they seemed to take matters into their own hands. We had heard that in some areas, the Mayan religion has been interwoven with the Catholic in order to convert the locals. Interestingly on the way to the church, we passed a large Evangelical Church and on the way back, a Baptist one.

Walking back to the boat, we bought some things we had admired previously, like a St. Francis statue for our new apartment. Here is our warped reasoning. The apartment is on Ferenc korut. The Hungarian name Ferenc is Francis in English, so we are calling it Feri’s Place. Feri is a nickname for Ferenc. St. Francis was a good guy that we both admired, so we want him to protect Feri’s Place. Now that I write it out, it sounds lame, but it was fun choosing the right St. Francis statue.

After returning to Pana, I had wanted to replace one of our soft bags with one of the bright and colorful ones sold here. I have reservations about using it as checked luggage for fear the airlines will ruin it, but it would be fine for carry-on. We emptied and took one of the soft bags we have with us to the stall where they sold the ones I liked. We were comparing sizes, colors, while discussing the merits as opposed to the negatives of these bags. I asked the woman the price. They were 150 quetzals; 15 Euros was nothing. I verified their strength, checked the workmanship and Ron and I continued our discussion. As we are talking to each other, the woman is lowering the price to 130 quetzals. I told her in Spanish I like the bags, but I was trying to explain something to my friend. She responded by dropping the price yet again to 110 quetzals. Basically, we were ignoring her because we were caught up in our own conversation. When we finally agreed to buy one, when we handed over the money, it was now priced at 90 quetzals: 9 Euros. They are so afraid that potential customers will go to the next stall to buy the same thing; they continue to lower their price. I don’t know how they can get by. There are dozens and dozens of stalls selling the same exact merchandise.

For dinner, we decided to try street food. There are dozens of women who set up portable food stalls and sell a variety of foods. They also bring plastic stools for their customers to sit and some even have portable tables besides. From one lady, we bought a tostada and two food items we did not recognize. They were like semicircular sandwiches that were deep fried, but filled with meat. Next to her is a woman who sells slices of pie. She has pineapple, strawberry, lemon, peach, apricot, and chocolate all with dozens of little meringue rosettes on top. We sat on their stools and ate our dinner. Total cost was 40 quetzals or 4 Euros. If I become destitute, I am moving to this country.

Yes, partial atonement. We still owe the little baño boy his 3 quetzals only because we forgot. If we had only needed him again, it would have triggered our memories.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I Want to Reserve One Monkey


My herbal sleeping remedies are just not up to snuff to battle the outer influences disrupting my sleep. Though I cannot really complain, this room is costing us 900 Q for the 5 nights; that comes to 90 Euros for the 5 nights. However, there is such a draft in the window that is divided into twelve smaller windows that it feels like the big bad wolf is huffing and puffing, trying to get in at night. At the back end, there is a dog that barks non-stop, but he competes with a rooster who must have jet lag. He starts to crow at 3am when it is definitely still dark out, so his body clock must be way off.  Back to the cost of the room, this is a typical amount for the hotels here in this town. Breakfast is included also.

When we went to the restaurant for breakfast, we had choices, so we ordered two eggs with coffee. It was not feeling like an oatmeal day. We asked for a portion of ham and said would pay the extra. This really threw them, so they must not have that request often.

The day’s adventure was the Atitlán Nature Reserve, which is about 3 miles from where we are staying. Tuk-tuk time! Good thing too, the roads are treacherous even in a vehicle and there are some steep hills getting there too. Entrance fees are 55 Q or 5.50 Euros, but for the really brave, hence neither of us, they had the Extreme Cable Adventure, where you could go up on the mountain via a cable car and then use a zip line to come flying down. That was 220 Q; sad to say we did not bring enough cash with us. Darn, next time.

We walked the trails up and down and around. There were seven suspension bridges, not my cup of tea, as I have a tremendous fear of heights outside of any type of container: plane, cable car, or elevator. We followed the signs displaying the little man hiking, as opposed to the plain route signs. I figured if that little man could do it, I could too. Being outdoorsy is my greatest challenge in life; I filled my quota in Cub and Boy Scouts and then gave it all up for an extended period of Lent that lasted over forty years. Still there are challenges to be had for one’s personal growth, plus I didn’t want to disappoint Ron. The park promised monkeys. We saw one…from a distance…from the back. We were only certain it was a monkey when we saw him run up a tree. There was also supposed to be some other animal like a raccoon, but none appeared. Walking through lush greenery, there were poinsettias the size of small trees, ferns and other plants that were Jurassic sized and dozens of coffee trees with coffee berries on them. With all of this, one would think there would be a great deal of bird watching. Not a single bird was around. It did make for a peaceful walk, there was not bird calls to draw our attention from the dangers of the path where irregular rocks appeared out of nowhere waiting to trip a shoe and send you flying or the hidden holes that are covered with fallen leaves that you inadvertently step into. Seriously, yes, we had a joyous time even if we did not see the promised animal life.

Back at the central info point, we snacked on nachos and fruit salad. These were by far the best nachos I have had in some time. Fresh papaya, pineapple, watermelon, and cantaloupe are excellent ways to snack through the day. On the other side of the park is a butterfly refuge. Just as we were collecting our energy to check it out, we ran into the Australians from our boat ride. They had done it all and were leaving.

The butterfly area necessarily was stuffed with greenery of all kinds to accommodate different types of butterflies. There were not that many visible, though there was one black and red one that was totally camera shy. Monarchs or seem to be less evasive and will almost pose for you. There was supposed to be a display in the back, but it looked abandoned long ago.

Another tuk-tuk took us back to our place and from there; we relaxed, thought about what things we wanted to buy and shop for and then decided on dinner.  As we were out walking, there is one coffee shop that has desserts to drool over that are anything but traditional. Who should be sitting there, but the Spanish family that we were on the boat trip with. We chatted for awhile. They had hiked up the volcano and were exhausted. We left them and had dinner, but planned on returning for dessert. When we did, our neighbors from the hotel were at the next table. Small world, small town! As were were enjoying our cake and coffee, the little kids who are hustling wares came up to us. One little boy about 9 years old, said to me "Friend, I remember you from last night." I told him I had the same memories of seeing him too, since he would not leave our table for thirty minutes no matter how many times, I had said I wasn't interested. Tonight, he and his partner in hustling were eying my cake and asked for a bite. I had not assurance of how the waitress would react, but I told them I would buy them one piece to share. It is like feeding pigeons, once you show attention to one, a half dozen more show up. Two more children arrived as if a signal were flashed in the sky. Asking the waitress for 2 pieces of the cake of their choice, I left them to it. With a touch of wisdom, the waitress cut their choices equally and put them on plastic plates with plastic forks and divvied them out. Each of the four children came up to me with plate in hand and said "Thank you". My heart melted. 

This is a totally non-type A vacation. I am not certain if I like it or not, but I certainly don’t want to make a habit of it.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Monday, December 26, 2011

God You Are Smokin’!


September and October are hurricane months, so why in the world would we have a hurricane type storm last night, we wondered. Winds were so incredible; the furniture was blown off of the balcony of our hotel. It woke us up multiple times during the night as it set off alarms all over. Sounds like thrashing rain hitting the window was our clue that it there was water with the wind, but we were too lazy to get up to check it out. We had the alarm set for 6:45 as it was.

Today was the boat trip to the different Mayan villages and it was scheduled to leave at 8:30. Breakfast at the hotel doesn’t start until 7:30, but we were fearful of not having enough time to get to the dock if we ate here. We went closer to the dock and found a lovely restaurant where we had two full breakfasts for 6 Euros total. From there, it was a hop, skip, and jump to the dock where our boat was scheduled.

Eight-thirty came and went, but our boat didn’t. Those around the dock told us, why are you worried, it is only 8:30? Okay, we run by a different clock here, like other Hispanic countries and some European ones that are far from Hispania. When the boat arrived, it was not San Marco as we had been told to look for, but Yoselin. Close enough I guess, but it did mean additional Spanish practice to verify the situation. Who should be on our boat, but the young Canadian couple who are traveling for 8 months. Wonderful couple, we were glad to share some time with them. There was also an Australian family that we chatted with also, passing the time until we were ready to depart.

After the storm last night, the lake was choppy with crests forming as far as the eye could see. The trip to the first village would be an hour of potentially seasickness motions up and down with water splashing in the sides of this boat that was on par with a van as opposed to a boat that was equal to a humvee. Rock, roll, and get wet as the waves come overboard to slap you in the face for molesting its daily habits. Ron has suggested we sit in the far back, which meant that we had to climb over four rows of seats before reaching where we would secure our butts for the joy ride. One time was fine, but each village meant climbing over these seats to get out and back in again, while boat thought tied to the dock, still heard the silent tunes that caused it to rock and roll the day away. As the waves from other boats lapped the sides of ours, as other guests were getting out, we were all tossed like a cheap salad around the inner bowl of the boat.

I would have kissed the land at the first village, but yuk-pooh! It was not only dirt, but dirty dirt. San Marcos, the village was not much to speak of, with one long, long narrow path leading to the center. Along the path were Spanish language schools, and oh, please, Reiki healing centers, a massage center, a spiritual advisor that promised to heal your soul with tarot cards, and other obvious renegades from English speaking countries that have descended in this sacred space of Mayan antiquities and have tried to transform it into Little California, Guatemala. There was pathetically little to warm the cockles of any one’s heart in this desolate little village. The star attraction seemed to be a Catholic church, the first invaders of ancient cultures. We had forty-five minutes to explore this village, but we were all back in thirty minutes wondering what was next.

Another long ride on the boat brought us to San Juan. Once off the boat, one look at this village told us the prospects were not good. Facing the dock was one steep and lengthy hill with lots of little shops on either side. Even my desire to be consumer of the year did not persuade me to tackle that hill, so we took a tuk-tuk. If you have ever been to South Africa, Thailand, or numerous other countries, you will know a tuk-tuk is similar to an enclosed golf cart.

Our driver gave us a quick tour around the village. Shop after shop after shop with more massage opportunities, Spanish schools, and healing of various forms, all á la new age and definitely imported and not native. When you look at tienda after tienda and see these eye popping colors, one of two things start to happen. 1.) You stop looking at any realizing nothing is really going to fit your color schemes at home or 2.) You develop such sensory overload that you begin to think that your living room really would look much better if you painted it day-glo pink, turquoise, lemon yellow, lichen green, and violet. Then all of these things you have subliminally been pushed into purchasing will fit right. This has made me realize that I am of two minds. One mind says, “This isn’t so bad. The colors are bright and cheerful and the workmanship is excellent.” This is when the other mind kicks shouting “Are you crazy? Have you lost control of your senses? Where on earth would you display that for more than ten minutes without having to issue apologies?” I am certain these things have their place, just not in our home.

The next two villages were San Pedro and Santiago Atitlan, which included more boat acrobatics, sail, sail, wet, wet, climb out of the boat, and see the village. Same, same, but different. The differences were only in the size of the settlements and whether or not there were hills to climb. Well, there was one other difference. We were going to see Maximón or as the Mayans call him, Rilaj Maam. Regardless of what name he happens to go by, he is the smoking god. This hybrid god is a cross of Catholic and Mayan, but is revered throughout the Guatemalan highlands. He is generally housed in the home of the Mayan cofradia, the brotherhood of Mayan religious. After paying the tuk-tuk driver 20 Q or 2 Euros, he drove us up hills, down alleys, through the hills and dale until we reached an unpaved path of rocks and stones leading to a small building.

On the porch was a band of brothers, presumably Mayan as they were not speaking Spanish. Within hear shot we could hear talking, but we were unprepared for the spectacle. In a very small room, there was tiny Christmas type lights were flashing on and off decorating the left wall with those boas of Christmas garland. Darkness prevailed in the room regardless of the spirited lighting, but as we were escorted into the room, there was a man on his knees on one of those festively decorated rugs or tablecloths that are ubiquitous. He had this back toward us and was spewing a volume of words in a casual manner, regardless of his semi-prostrated position. He was facing two humanly men, but seated between them was the god Rilaj Maam or Maximón. Rilaj was doing what Rilaj is known for; he was smoking a cigarette. On either side of him, there were two ashtrays filled with butts with different filters. It was not clear if a cigarette is given as an offering, but each of the attending men took turns flicking the ashes into the ashtray, so that god was not disturbed nor was his attention diverted from the petitioner.

God had a rather wooden expression during this whole thing. One possible conclusion could be it was because his head was carved from wood. That explained why he never grimaced when he got smoke in his eyes. God only knows what his body consisted of, but he was covered with layers of different colorful blankets and a multitude of neck garments. As I was standing there watching this scene, I on the right also had lights flashing over my head. I noticed this rectangular glass box behind me, which my peripheral vision led me to believe it could be an aquarium. When I took a closer look, there was a mummy in there. God only knows who it is, was or if it is another petrified wooden soul.  

After this, the rest of the day was lackluster to say the least. God knows…
Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas – Go, Go, Go


It seems Christmas day is no big deal here in Antigua; the exception is the firecrackers are still going off, making every one jumpy when taken by surprise. Our shuttle was due at 12:30 to 12:45, so we had time to walk downtown for breakfast. Everything was packed up and ready to go. We walked down to Café Bourbon which we had picked out yesterday as a place to try and asked ahead of time if they would be open Christmas day.

With cool jazz playing in the background, the graphics decorating the wall was a mosaic of jazz artists, which led me to rethink that this place was named for the liquor. My next best guess is that it is named for Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Typical of our meals here, it is so very inexpensive. We each had a variety of a full breakfast with all the trimmings and both of us had specialty coffees, Ron added on orange juice. I chose a second café latte. When we asked for the bill, we thought we were undercharged. It was 100 Q. There was no sign of my second coffee or Ron’s juice. When I tried explaining to the waiter they short-changed themselves, they looked confused. We owe you more than this I insisted, “We had 3 coffees total and an orange juice.” After some contemplation, the waiter called a colleague to look over the bill and bring it back to us with an explanation. Two of our coffees were included in the meal as was Ron’s orange juice. Our two very substantial breakfasts were only 10 Euros total.

As we leisurely walked back to our hotel, we searched out fresh fruit for our trip, but it was not to be had.  We sat around reading and waiting. There was a young couple from Canada who was also leaving for Pana as we were, but they were not on the same shuttle. When ours came, we said good-bye and climbed into a van like a soccer mom would use to cart around kids. Being next to the last, the shuttle was full with every seat taken. Right next to me was a young father with his very young baby boy. It was gratifying to see how well he cared for the baby, including mixing formula while holding the baby in a nurturing manner. By the time, I poked my nose out of my novel, he was beyond needing my help. Our road trip was about 2 hours on some paved roads and highways, but others cobble stone.  

A first impression of Pana was that this was a gigantic strip mall of outdoor booths. Our hotel, Mario’s Rooms is very centrally located. On either side are booths, stores, restaurants, and more of each. From what we saw of the town, this is a major street, one-way traffic, and hundreds of businesses with hundreds of workers begging you to come to their place to spend money. We walked down to the lake, Lake Atitlán and walked the shore line where there are another fifty or so vendors trying their luck interspersed with establishments such as restaurants in secured buildings.

As we walked, we ran into the Canadian couple from our hotel in Antigua and chatted for a bit. They are on an 8 month holiday throughout Central and South America and then Tibet. We found a place for our dinner, where two chicken dinners complete with potatoes, vegetables, and bread cost 3 Euros each. The next most expensive dish was 4.50 Euros. Ron keeps telling me how spoiled we are getting.

Before dinner and on the way back to the hotel, we stopped at three different travel agencies to check on boat ride tickets to the Mayan villages. Around Lake Atitlán, there are ten Mayan village settlements where they supposedly practice the ancient Mayan customs. Each of the agencies had similar offers, but one had 4 villages for the same price as the others had for 3 villages. Choosing the 4 village ‘tour’ set us back 90 Q or 9 Euros for both of us.

 Back at the room, it was chilly, so we did pull out the blankets. Their electric outlets are very convenient. In both hotels thus far, we have found that the outlets will accommodate both US and European plugs without needing a convertor. Ingenious! We will have to see if that is available in Europe also.

One Christmasy side note: My one private student, Janos, generously gives me Christmas presents each year. This year, he overwhelmed me with a pile of them. I had wanted to take them with us and open them on Christmas morning. Ron and I don’t exchange presents; our travels are our presents to each other. With airline limits being what they are, I opened my presents right before we left, but held the memory for Christmas morning. Janos himself is my best present.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve-nt In Guatemala


This is the last day for Posadas as the inn will no longer be needed after today. Posadas originated in Spain in the 1500’s created by a friar, are now mostly popularly celebrated in Guatemala, Mexico, and some parts of the US. They start on December 16th and continue through December 24th, where they recreate the story of Mary and Joseph going from place to place looking for a room to stay. The leaders of the procession carry statures of Mary and Joseph, while all the followers carry lit candles and all are singing a traditional song. When they reach the prearranged last home where there is room at the inn, they all enter for a prayer and then snacks. Different Spanish speaking countries reportedly have similar customs, but with different names and traditions.

The day of our walking tour, we were passed by a Posada, which is strange since they usually occur in the evening. This one, however, was a group of senior - señors and señoras, where the youngest was most likely around seventy-five if a day. Canes did not stop them; they marched on with one young person in attendance making me think they were from a retirement home. It was fascinating to watch as they processed with candles and singing along their way, basically ignoring all others while concentrating on their mission.

This was the first of different holiday traditions that they have here. Yesterday, I wrote about the Christmas tree and some about mass and the family dinner. Tonight, we were privy to yet other traditions new to us and basically incomprehensible.

However, after going for breakfast, we ventured to this art gallery that was recommended by Elizabeth Bell and then again by a salesman at a Mercado. La Antigua Galeria de Arte is more than an art gallery; it is like an art museum. Having been to a number of galleries in my years, I have never been to one where I wanted to drink in each piece of art while admiring it and then wishing I could have it shipped home. With over 600 works of art, it took us quite some time to make our way through, but the different types of work from paintings to statues, kept us from getting tired of looking, but we did start to feel sensory overload. I mentioned to one of the people working there that they needed to have a rest stop, where they insist people sit, relax and clear their thoughts before continuing on. A kind of mental sorbet is needed. You know how they serve sorbet between courses of a large meal to cleanse the palate, my mental palate needed refreshing. Eighty percent of the work is by Guatemalan artists and the balance are international artists, mostly US American.

This was a day of wonder. We wondered what we would do to occupy the day. We had been to every shop and Mercado at least once. The dastardly luggage rules and regulations of the airlines are really curbing my enthusiasm for shopping. There are so many pieces I would have bought until I lifted them up to feel their weight and finally left them behind feeling abandoned. As it was, it was a relaxing day of reading, doing a few last walks in various parts of the town; we leave tomorrow, Christmas day for the Mayan areas of the country. We were patiently waiting for our Christmas Eve dinner reservation at 6:30 pm. 

Dinner was at a restaurant named Fusion, coincidentally owned by an ex-pat American. With that in mind, the portions looked less ample than at other restaurants. Here it was nouvelle cuisine, where less is better. Looks can be deceiving. Our choices were excellent and sufficient, not leaving us wanting. However, we did choose a different café for our coffee and dessert. After dropping things off at the hotel, we meandered around the corner to the church for the evening mass. I alternate going or not going to Christmas mass depending on the country we are in and what cultural differences may be of interest. A crowd smothered the front of the church watching some performance which was not apparent to us yet. What did stand out from the crowd was an over-sized wagon with the nativity on it. Standing in front of it was a throng of people holding lanterns with burning candles. We assumed they must have processed here from somewhere else since they were not moving from the church yard.

When we were able to make it closer to the church, there were over a dozen giant headed costumed people dancing around to music. I am talking giant heads like the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. One of the heads was the devil, but all of the others were various mens' faces. They danced around until the mass was to start, so we watched for ten minutes and then went in to find a seat.

This is what I would call a high mass. When the celebrants marched in, the incense was so heavy, you would have thought a SWAT team had tear gassed the place. There was never a time I appreciated the homily at a Catholic mass, but this one, which I didn’t understand went on forever. More incense! The room had cleared, so you could actually see, so more incense. Music was provided by a xylophone and guitars. It was really the highlight for me.

Close to midnight, the fireworks and firecrackers start to usher in Christmas. It sounded like a combination of a heavy storm and being bombed at the same time. These celebrations went on for hours and even around three o’clock, you could still hear someone setting off their noise makers.

Tomorrow, we have a shuttle coming to take us to a different part of the country where there are still a number of Mayan villages surrounding a lake. It is questionable what the Internet connections may be there, so I may have to hold my posts until I get a connection.

If you celebrate this holiday, I wish you a Merry Christmas.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Friday, December 23, 2011

For Whom the Bell Tours


There is a US American woman here who has made Antigua her business; her name is Elizabeth Bell. She runs a tourism agency, but primarily she sells walking tours and promotes her books on the city. Ron found out about her in our guidebook so we booked a 9:30am tour, giving us time to have breakfast beforehand.

We were to meet at the fountain in the central park, the place where Clara patrols. Of course, she spotted us immediately, but even if she hadn’t, all of her compatriots did shouting out a chorus of Clara, like tribal drums through the jungle. This is their own type of alarm system alerting them when a potential customer is returning. When you first suggest you may potentially buy at some time, though not the present, they tell you their name for future reference. What they need to include is “I will be your stalker for the rest of your time here.”

Elizabeth Bell showed up and assembled the group. She immediately corrected one person who stated she was an American. Elizabeth said that Guatemalans are also Americans, so those who need to should identify themselves as from the U.S. Although I agree with the comment, from the way it was delivered, I soon realized that this 3 hour tour was going to be really long. These tours really make me chuckle sometimes. Usually it is US Americans who start out by introducing themselves to everyone else around. Once they share their name, they want to know your name, country of origin, state if it is the US, what your occupation is, how many siblings you have, if you have any piercings, have your bowel movements been regular since being here. Based on their questioning, you would think we were doing 5 minute dating or deciding who gets the last life raft on the Titanic. Hey people, after this 3 hour tour, I am never going to see you again and no, I don’t want to friend you on Facebook.

Elizabeth moved here when she was fourteen years old and her father’s job took the family here. She has been here since and she is currently fifty-seven years old.

Elizabeth started this jolly holly tour by telling us that anyone caught cutting a tree, Christmas or otherwise from any forest would immediately be put in jail. Deforestation has ruined parts of the country so the laws have gone from fines to imprisonment. She continued with her monologue stating Christmas trees are not a Guatemalan tradition, nativity sets are. Christmas trees are tacky, especially the plastic ones. You won’t find many Christmas trees in the country, but you will see plenty of nativities. As I am staring at her while she speaks, I cannot help but notice the plastic Christmas tree decorated in the park about twenty yards behind her left side. All the stores and businesses with the exception of some restaurants will close early tomorrow, Christmas Eve.

In Guatemala, the major celebration is on the eve, not on the day.  As we hear from Bell, the churches will be jamming tonight, because many people who don’t set foot in church all year will attend Christmas mass. However, there is no midnight mass; 9pm is the latest. After mass, at midnight, the family has its Christmas dinner. After dinner they open presents and fireworks are ubiquitous. We were warned not to plan on getting much sleep for the noise. Christmas day is a relaxed kick back day. Santa Claus doesn’t come either, but the Santas you see around town will deliver presents for a fee. You hire a Santa to deliver a present and all the money the Santas earn go to charitable organizations. They volunteer their Santa time.
Once we were off and walking, the first place was the mayor’s chambers on the main square. There was an election and new people will take office in February. The president is only allowed to run for one term. As each person leaves their post, they take everything with them. The last major shredded all of the documents that accumulated during his administration. Leave no paper trail, seems to be business as usual.

We went to the new and old cathedrals, places where we had been on our own, but was now getting some input that we had not had. The new cathedral is earthquake proof, which the old one was not. This also referred to all of the buildings in the city. None of them are over 2 floors high and this is an earthquake measure. Their walls are extra thick and being so low, they cannot fall over. While in the church someone in the group asked why there was no baby in the crèche. Elizabeth explained that he does not get put in until Christmas mass which is on the eve, not the day. 

Another observation I had made was that there are no signs sticking out from buildings. The only identification of a business is on the front usually over the entrance. Until you get that close, you have no idea where the business happens to be. They have a sign ordinance here forbidding signage. The lack of flashing signs is surprisingly pleasant and attractive. Most of the stores do not have display windows either. Those that do, they are covered by bars with a shelf inside the bars, so they fill it with plants, not merchandise.

One woman on the tour was taking copious notes of everything Elizabeth said. I asked her if she were researching a novel, but she is a journalist with a small town newspaper. She kept stopping Elizabeth asking her to repeat things so they could be notated. From the pages of notes she had, she could have filled the NY Times travel section. Another woman had hurt her foot, so was hobbling around. Ron became her crutch going up and down stairs.
Elizabeth has been involved in a number of civic matters, both in reconstruction of historic buildings and social rights for women, education, and assorted other services. School is free, but books are not. They have to be bought from the beginning, so many children drop out of school after the fourth grade, luckier ones last until sixth grade. Her goal is to support the purchase of books so that more students can graduate high school. University is not free, but low cost, but again all expenses are a burden of the student.

The tour ended at one of the jade museums, where we heard about jade and learned there is a translucent and blue jade. The blue jade is quite lovely.

After the tour, we went to meet Clara in the park to buy the placemats and napkins we had promised to buy. I was not thrilled with the quality, but they were cheap enough not to squabble. After we told Clara our wallets were now closed for repairs, we just chatted. She was telling us that she sells things so her daughter can finish high school and then go on to college. She said once her daughter finishes college, she will quit. I had finished the The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, so we brought it back to her for her daughter who also speaks English. She was thrilled. She may sell or she may keep it, but it is her business that she needs to do what she needs to do.

We had a late lunch so came back to the hotel to gather our things for part 2 of going to the bank for cash. Everything will be closed Christmas day and we leave then for our next port o’ call, which Ron has warned is even lower key than here. Can I handle all of this rest and relaxation without running off to a museum or some other cultural event? With cash in pocket, we went back to the hotel to rest. Later this evening we were on our way out the front door when another guest stopped us to tell us to be careful. She was just robbed a few doors down from the hotel. She is a petit woman, young and alone; her name is Chen. As she was calling her bank, she shared that she was just returning to the hotel when a guy with a gun robbed her of her purse. She tried to just giving him the wallet, but he wanted it all. He had an accomplice on a motor scooter that whisked him away. With that paranoia, we only ventured to the church where little old ladies sell tostadas and tamales in the evenings. We had tamales, went for a beer, and returned to the hotel. We made a point to run into Chen to see if she needed money, but she has wisely left the bulk of her money here. There was no rendition of O Holy Night as the police said she will never recover her things. Merry Christmas, ho, ho, ho!
Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mercado Mercado Mercado


Ron found this restaurant listed in our guide that is supposed to have exceptional breakfasts.We needed the fortification for a day of exploring Mercado after Mercado after Mercado. We honestly checked and there are no museums here in Antigua. Without a museum to learn about culture, the next best thing is to shop. As we were heading to the restaurant, we confirmed our shuttle ticket reservations for Christmas Day when we will move on to the next city. Don't ask me what it is. Ron does all of the planning, so I am surprised when we leave one place and wind up in another.

The restaurant did have an excellent breakfast at a reasonable price, so much so, we booked reservations for dinner. They have some sort of dance performance. Until dinner time, we had to work up our appetites. As we were meandering toward the first Mercado, the old cathedral was open for exploration. It is not much more than a shell now, but it had some great architecture in its time, some still in evidence. Apparently, it was destroyed in earthquakes. They charge 3 Quetzals for entry, well worth it to explore what is still standing.

Our first Mercado was right in the center of town. We had passed the door a number of times, but did not realize what it was. Once you enter a long hallway, there are over a hundred stalls with goods that range from t-shirts to blankets, sculptures scarves. It is like a war zone. As one passes each stall, you are assaulted with the vendor's offer to give you a special price on whatever they have to sell. Of course this price is only in effect for today, so you must hurry. 

It is like a mine field trying to get past each one without having to stop and look at merchandise you have no interest in. If they should have something that catches your attention, you are doomed. Once you stop to look at something, even for a second, it is as if you have been trapped into a game of negotiation. I could kick myself each time I stop to check out something that has caught my eye, but on closer inspection is of no interested at all. A powerless comes over you. You know you need to make a quick get-away, but you are torn between courtesy and fear.

We made it down one whole row of about 45 stalls, but at the very end, Ron was attracted to painting and stopped. I have to admit, it was interesting. It was from the perspective of the ground up, while other paintings were from a bird’s eye view. There was a special deal for us for today because we were special people, but it was way too high. We left with the salesboy, not yet a man, begging us for forgiveness. Our hearts of steel carried us forward.

Mercado number 2 was a distance away, causing us to traipse through dusty streets frequented by a number of chicken buses and trucks. My first inclination was to skip over this part of the adventure and move on, but Ron persevered. Thankfully, he did. This was a cultural experience bar none. The Mercado is covers 4 square blocks and is filled with booths that sell everything and anything. It reminded me of the Chinese Market in Budapest, but items here were better quality. Still, you see the same merchandise at least 27 times throughout the Mercado. How can anyone compete? This is not a tourist area, as we were in the minority. Most of the shoppers had a better coffee color than we did and many dressed in cultural clothing that tourists generally don’t wear.  It is a maze that one could get lost in if you dare leave the straight path cutting through. I was tempted to look at other merchandise a few spaces to the left, but was afraid I would not be found again until New Years. We did look for the paintings we saw in the other Mercado, but it just doesn't exist outside of that one booth.

Our last Mercado of the day was another one in town. It is a giant cooperative where you can find many of the same things as everywhere else, but there were some differences. As the t-shirts in Cambodia say “Same-Same, but Different”. We found a great set of 4 posters, modern, a touch of indigenous, but inviting colors that we will have framed when we return.

Of course, we could not escape Clara, our wandering saleslady in the park. She decided we needed a set of table mats, which did trigger the notion that it would be good to have for the new apartment. Of course, we should buy the table first, but what the heck. After telling her that none of her colors met our needs, she promised to have a better selection tomorrow. She did sell us another table runner while she had us in her web.

We had to torture ourselves by visiting that one painting one more time in the first Mercado to see if we could reach a realistic agreement. Because it is located in the very back of the market, I told Ron we would have to make a mad dash, running past all of the other hawkers. We set a new record, but there was still no agreement on negotiations.

With great anticipation, we headed back to the restaurant where we had reservations. For the dinner show, you are seated in a different dining room than the uninitiated who haven’t been privy to live entertainment. There is no charge for the show other than your meal costs. Feeling special, we decided to order cocktails; they were listed on the drink menu and quite honestly, I have been thirsty for a Manhattan for some time now. The last time we splurged on cocktails was in Ljubljana where they tasted okay, but lacked liquor. I ordered a Manhattan and Ron ordered a martini, both specifically without ice. I would have said we wanted them “UP”, but I thought that would be lost in translation.

The drinks arrived. Ron’s martini had little ice floes floating around where miniature polar bears could have lounged or hung over the sides to catch fish. My drink was a dead give-away that there was more wrong than a polar experience. The glass was not a Manhattan glass, but one that you would use to serve a daiquiri or any of those sissy drinks that contain mini-umbrellas. Good grief, it also had a slice of orange on the side. The final clincher was that it was cloudy, not clear. I had to taste it in the waiter’s presence before sending it back. It tasted like Kool-Aid mixed with a scoop of sugar, but as far away from a Manhattan as Beijing is.

The head waiter wanted to know what was wrong. I explained how a Manhattan should be prepared. After a thousand apologies, they took it back and returned with a new drink. It looked identical with the exception that this one was adorned with an orange slice and a cherry. The cherry was all of the progress they made. The drink was identical.

Our dinner choices lost something in translation also. I ordered enchiladas, which I have been hungry for for some time, so was thrilled to see them listed. Ron ordered Chile rellenos. While we anticipated our gastronomic delights, a group of 6 xylophonists played in tandem. Six men playing in unison is a great feat and they performed superbly.

Hot plates were set in front of us. My enchiladas, note the plural, turned out to be a singular tostada. My culinary hopes vanished into thin vapors of steam coming off of my platter. Ron’s Chile rellenos was even more perplexing as it was sans the Chile. They must have stuffed the pepper, cooked it and then peeled the pepper off and tossed it.

Distracting us from disappointment were the dancers. Dressed in Mayan costumes complete with masks, they danced for fifteen minutes, the last 5 with audience participation. Once the show was over, we mourned our dinner another minute before paying the bill.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!