Wednesday, March 24, 2010
And so tomorrow morning I will leave Guatemala after being here for about six weeks (minus a day in Mexico). It's hard to pick memories out of so many, but the above photos, in my opinion, do a good job of representing a few of the key experiences I have had here.
I will miss this country. The people here are amazing - they seem to simply refuse to allow the problems in their lives to darken their smiles, and I have never encountered such hospitality and grace. Guatemala - from it's low tangled jungles, to it's Volcano tops so high above the earth you feel like heaven is just out of reach, will always have a special place in my heart, and I hope to come back soon - as there is still so much I haven't seen.
So it's back to Belize for a couple days, and then on home to Canada.
Thanks for reading along, and God bless.
All my best,
There's almost definately an accent or two in the name, but it sounds how it's spelled.
I came back to La Antigua specifically to visit/climb this volcano. Guatemala has three active volcanoes - I have now been up close to two, and this morning I watched the third erupt as I went for a morning stroll.
I should correct myself actually - what I have seen are technically not classified as eruptions, they are called explosions. An eruption is what you walk accross on the way up Pacaya. The volcano's last major eruption was in 2004, when it went off in an eruption that was visible from the capital city. It has been active for almost two years (if memory serves me correctly) which means there has been continuous explosions and lava flows.
To get to the lava flow, or one of them, you walk over the now cooled remains of the 2004 eruption, which is like walking on the moon, or at least what I imagine walking on the moon would be like - only it's hotter here.
The first couple pictures are of the cooled lava flow - and the peak in the distance is the actual crater of Pacaya - it doesn't sound the same as Santiaguito though - Santiaguito had a deep rumbling sound, while Pacaya had more of a quick bang-whoosh sound to it. But looking up at the sound we could see lava and rocks firing up out of the little peak - which was especially cool once it got dark.
Eventually we rounded the corner and were greeted with a gust of hot wind as we neared the flow. There are no restrictions here - and so I was able to stand about two feet away from a lava flow, and poke around in it with a stick - lava is suprisingly heavy. The heat, of course, is extreme - and under your feet you can see more lava below through cracks in the cooled top crust - it is over these cracks that you can cook marshmellows. Lava cooks'em great too. Luckily it's so hot they cook almost instantly, because standing in one place for too long would result in melted shoes.
All in all, it's an amazing experience - and hiking back down in the dark with the volcano going off in the background is excellent. I would like to thank Pacaya for being nice while we were there, since running away from an eruption - over the last eruption - would have been impossible.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
A couple days ago I went to this site, as it is only a short walk from where I have been staying in Panajachel. The reserve is tucked into a little corner of a small valley, and you have the option of walking the trail, or paying more and walking to the top and Ziplining back and forth the whole way down.
Personally, I was there to see the wildlife and the jungle, so I walked. The reservation was created by a couple who originally set it up as a coffee plantation, and the coffee plants are still there - some of them well over 15 feet tall (really more like coffee trees at that point) and they are growing amongst a little jungle. The path consitsts of a series of very short walks connected by suspension bridges, which make our Vancouver suspension bridges seem like concrete walkways. The signs say only six people on at a time - I was glad to be alone, and wouldn't want to watch six average sized adults try to cross.
But the park itself (the bridges really are part of the experience) is beautiful - tall trees overhang the valley with vines falling down all around as you cross from side to side over a streem below, before coming to a little observation deck, where you can watch a family of resident monkeys hanging out (literally) as well as watching the zipliners criss crossing back and forth overhead.
A couple bridges later, you cross in front of a narrow waterfall falling about 60 feet from a cliff above, and then the trail loops back around.
The walk takes about 45 minutes if you walk slowly, and I was glad to be there midmorning on a weekday, therefor not having to deal with many groups of tourists from Pana or the other Lake towns.
Next is the little butterfly garden, which is just a piece of the jungle with a net over it and a small building where several glass cages contain caterpillars and coccoons of various types at various stages of - whatever that process is called.
The only real difference in the butterfly garden, aside from the butterflys (how do you make that plural?) is that it has many different flowers growing in it, for obvious reasons, so it is a little extra pretty. The butterflys aren't exactly swarming, but there are a few cool ones, and I have noticed that in general there's lots of butterflys in the wild here, so it was interesting to get a little closer.
Friday, March 19, 2010
I have been asked on various occasions what transportation is like here - specifically, what is a chicken bus, and what is a Tuk Tuk. So, I took a few pictures to help explain.
Chicken busses are the tune pumping, tooth rattling, God praising public transport of Guatemala. Sure, you can get second and first class busses, but they're not nearly as fun. The drivers and ticket takers of the chicken busses are characters of their own breed - kind of like the Guatemalan equivalent to Newfoundland or West Coast fishermen, only crazier. The drivers navigate steep roads at top speeds, passing everything in sight at any time. Literally. One bus I was on, the driver passed about five different vehicles, on a narrow mountain road - no guardrails - while going up-hill towards a blind curve as fast as he could go. Not that the curve matters to them, they will pass in the middle of one if they feel like it. They do all of this while their counterpart hangs out of the open door yelling destinations to anyone who is on the side of the road. Sometimes, when they pick someone up on the fly, the bus will head off with the back door hanging open and the door guy up on the roof securing the new passengers load, he then climbs back down from the roof and back into the bus through the rear. I have to admit - it looks like it would be a lot of fun, and you can probably cross the whole country for just over the equivalent of ten American dollars, so the price really can't be beat.
You can also get things while you're riding the bus - need some fruit? Chicken? A new car battery? How about a change of religion, or maybe a permanent marker from a one legged man? Makes our own public transit look about as exciting as watching paint dry. I think the sermon was my favorite, but every bus is a different trip - so who knows what I'll see next.
Tuk Tuks, are these cute little three wheeled things that are the main mode of Taxi in smaller towns - Mr. Bean would have a field day knocking them all over if he ever visited.
They look like fun, and are cheap, but Guatemala's roads in the towns are all cobblestone - not even ones - and Tuk Tuks don't have any suspension, so while they seem like a good idea, you're more likely to keep your teeth if you hoof it.
So there it is, that's how you get around.
Hello from. . . Mexico?
Two days after Santa Maria, I jumped on a chicken bus and headed for Mexico - I left Xela at 5AM and shortly after noon was sitting on the beach in Puerto Chiapas (fomerly Madero) Mexico. Why sis I go to Mexico, you might ask. Well, having seen the sunrise on the Carribbean Sea in Belize on the west coast of Central America, I thought it would be cool to see it set on the Pacific East coast.
Not a bad idea, but an interesting experience. I do not have a guide of this part of Mexico, and couldn't find any information on the internet - so I was basically flying blind as soon as I crossed the border. Chiapas is Mexico's poorest state - which is definately saying something, but when you cross the border the difference between Mexico and Guatemala is immediately visible, well paved roads connect even these far flung port towns, and huge plantations stretch as far as the eye can see. Bananas, Plantains, Mangoes and Tobacco were the most prevalent, and the tropical landscape is dotted with huge trees, the shade of which would cover the entirety of most properties in Canada.
I got to Puerto Chiapas fairly easily, but was led off to eat quite a way out of town (everybody wants to lead you smewhere) but hailed a pickup back after walking for only a short distance - which was good, because it was crazy hot and I had EVRYTHING to carry. So I got back to town and encountered a bit of a snag - Puerto Chiapas doesn't have a bank, so everybody uses the ABM at the corner store, unfortunately the machine had been broken for a while. So that left me with two options - say "okay, I saw the ocean at least" and head back to Guatemala, or go to Tapachula in a taxi and try my luck there. I went for option number two.
I have never been so happy to see an HSBC in my life. I got more pesos and jumped back in the cab, returned to Puero Chiapas and booked into a hotel for the night. I went out later and sat and watched the sun go down as the waves crashed against the shore, and felt a sense of accomplishment at having accomplished my goal.
Puerto Chiapas, I must say, was not as happy to have me as I was to be there - the town serves cruise ships on their way south, and I guess one person was not what they were used to. The entire time I never saw another traveller, and the locals in town (with a couple exceptions) were less than welcoming. So, the next morning I rose early and went by to Guatemala by a different border crossing, and nine hours later was in Panajachel, Lago Atitlan - which is where I have stayed.
So, a fun little adventure - in total I was in Mexico for less than 24 hours (which suprisingly did not seem strange to immigration) and was very happy to get back into Guatemala.
For Gwen, if you look into the left corner of the photo above you will see a couple stray dogs who were also enjoying the sunset and the surf.
While we were on top of Santa Maria, Santiguito erupted several times. Having now seen the two Volcanoes from the other side on the ground, I now know that Santiaguito is actually kind of on the side of Santa Maria - when you're on top, you look straight down into Santiaguito, which is one of Guatemalas most active Volcanoes.
The sound of a Volcano erupting, when you're that close, is somewhat like a violent earthquake - it's a low rumble, which if I had to describe it (which I guess I do) sounds like raw power. Possible comaparable to the roar of Niagra Falls.
Several times we heard it erupting but were unable to see because of the clouds, and with the sound, I kept waiting for the earth to start shaking - it sounds violently powerful, and when we finally got to see it in the morning, still dazed from lack of sleep and an incredible sunrise, it was an amazing experience.
I gotta say, I'm glad to have finally finished writing about Santa Maria - I can't think of any more strong, descriptive words - and really, words arent enough.
Photo 1 is the Sunrise, photo 2 is the Sunset
The Sunrise and Sunset from above the clouds is breathtaking, to say the least. To the West there was nothing but clouds, and so the sun sets into a field of white, and does so quite quickly. Whereas to the East you can see the Volcanoes around Lago Atitlan (which is where I am as I write this) and a little farther away are the three Volcanoes that surround La Antigua. The Sunrise, I must say, is in my opinion the more beautiful of the two - though saying that sounds stupidly picky. When the sun rises though, at about 5:45AM, the whole world seems to change - however, with the sunset you get more of a sense of watching the world turn, which is a cool feeling.
Monday, March 15, 2010
This is probably easier if I split it into sections, since I took so many photos and the trip consisted of different experiences.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Friday, March 5, 2010
After the coffee plantation we returned to Guate, and the next day went our seperate ways as I went back to Xela, Denise returned to La Fraternidad (also in Xela) Dania went back to CEDEPCA, and the rest of the group went back home to life in Ontario.
welcome to La Azotea, which is a coffee plantation (as you may have guessed) just outside of La Antigua.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
The peace park was created after, towards the end of the thirty-odd years of civil war in Guatemala, the villagers of this little area had had enough of the army's misconduct towards them - I won't go into detail about what the army did, (or rather was accused of doing, since they'd probably deny most of it) but things had, after quite some time, finally reached a boiling point.
Confronting the army in the aquare accross from their base, the villagers were demanding that two soldiers that they had proof against and had tried to take as prosoners be returned to them when someone of other gave the order to fire.
The villagers fled of course, but many were killed - thirteen I believe - before the shooting was done.
At the time of this incident, the eyes of the world were on Guatemala because of the growing reports of terrible crimes being committed by the military against the indigenous Mayan population, and so this event caused such an uproar that the army, for the first and only time, was forced to leave the town and sign documents stating that they would never return - which to this day, they have not.
This, sadly, is only one story os probably thousands of saimilar incidents - the difference? People noticed this one, whereas the rest are tales generally only known by those who lived through them - and about half the population of Guatemala was either too young at the time to remember the war, or wasn't born yet.
We heard the story from an eyewitness to the event, who happened to be on his way home from cutting sugarcane when he saw us in the park. It was a tragic event of course, yet so often it takes a tragedy before anyone really sits up and takes notice, much less does anything. The graves in the park are a sad reminder of that, most of those killed were very young, almost all too young to have ever seen their country in any state of what we would call peace.
After the peace park we drove into Santiago and visited the main Cathedral there. Here we heard the story of the priest, Stanley Rother, who in 1981, although he was from Oklahoma and had been warned by the authorities in Guatemala to be quiet or stay away, returned to Santiago to his congregation and at one time said - quite famously "the pastor shouldn't flee" - and so he stuck by those words, until one night two gunmen came to the church and murdered him in the rectory where he lived.
This again was a common occurence during the war, in the rural areas many priests dissappeared, while in the cities it was dangerous for professors at the colleges and universities - both (priests and professors) were often warned to be quiet, and if they did not comply (and probably best to leave town too) they would be kidnapped and either never seen again, or found dead.
For villagers the war was a time of constant peril - gatherings of more than just a few people were suspect, and so many were too scared even to attend religous services. At the same time, many churches opened their doors at night to let villagers come and sleep in their relative safety, rather than risk a night time visit from the military, who in many areas were bored most of the time and had a tendency to drink and cause trouble.
That's the best I can try to explain it - there's probably a lot more that could be said, but I would hate to give the impression that everyone in the military was evil or corrupt, what happened in Guatemala continues to happen all over the world, every day - people are people, and it is situations (in my opinion) bring out the best and the worst of humanity. Both the stories I related, while in one way being horrible, are also stories of people doing incredibly brave things, and it is that part of the story that is important to remember. In North America it is easy to look at other places and judge them, forgetting that our own history is also filled with stories both of persecution and honor - so it's important to remember, when we think of a place like Guatemala, that the country is still in the early stages of climbing back up from a difficult time, and so it's not our job (or our place) to try and fix the country, that's something they can figure out for themselves.
Saturday, February 27, 2010
My account of our time in Xela has been fragmented (as you may have guessed) because we did a variety of different things on each day - our day consisted of, in a general sense, construction, lunch at La Fraternidad, and visits to the womans groups and churches.
As previously mentioned, we split up after the church service and went home with our adoptive families. We went in pairs, so after the service was over me and Steve jumped into the back of a pickup and headed to our home for the night.
The other church we visited while in Xela was the Templo Evangelico Presbiteriano Filadelfia. Some of the funds for this church were raised by four presbyterian churches in the Hamilton are of Ontario, which is where several of our group members were from - Specifically Wendy, Heather and Deanna, whose church had been the main force behind the fundraising.
The above photo is of the wonderful people who welcomed us to the (here we go) Iglesia Evangelica Presbiteriana Monte Sinai Nimisac. Thant's the full name, obviously.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
The first photo is of some of the women who work at La Fraternidad and the second is of the view out over Xela from their offices.
We left Guate early and loaded everything up, then started the 4-5 hour drive to Xela where we would be spending the next three days. The picture above is a shot of Lake Atitlan as seen from the road. There is no such thing as a straight road on the highway, since these mountains are volcanic and so any valleys are winding affairs.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
You may be wondering why I didn't post a picture of Guatemala City above. The reason for that is that I never really got an overview type photo of the city - I have many many pictures of Guatemala City (or Guate, as it's called here and as I will refer to it from now on) but it's hard to find one picture that shows the many different sides of Guate, and so I chose this picture of the fountain in the central park on market day because: a- I like it, and b- my mom will like it. So there you go.
As most of you know I spent the last 10 days with a mission group consisiting of myself and seven folks from Hamilton and ThunderBay Ontario, respectively.
I will not go into great detail on the mission trip because there would simply be far too much to write, and theoretically, you all have lives too. But I will give a short overview as best I can to try to explain what I've been up to.
I arrived in Guate City after a couple of flights between Belize, San Salvador and Guatemala and after a short wait met up with the rest of the group in the airport, we then left and went out front where we met one of our guides Dania, who works for CEDEPCA, which is an organization that is in a partnership of sorts with the presbyterian church.
Okay, lets try this again. I was starting to write a point for point explanation of the trip and I will have to keep remembering not to, lest I end up sleeping in this internet café (hey look, I used an accent. Hope it's the right one)
Okay, so short form. We met up the next day with our other guide Denise, who works with another organization called La Fraternidad in Xela (or Quetzaltenango if you have lots of time)
fun fact: Tenango means "Place of" hence Antigua is sometimes called Gringotenango, or "place of Gringos"
Right. So we met with Denise. In Guate we visited the relief map which is a huge model of the country of Guatemala layed out in a park - it's to scale and showes the vast differences in elevation between the volcanic mountains and the lowlands to either side of them. We also visited the central square and saw the church there and the vast, crowded market there.
We attended church on Sunday at San Juan Apostle where we were recieved like family and did our best to sing the hymns in spanish, although for the most part we recognized them from their english equivalents. It was refreshing experience to be in such a warm and welcoming place despite our differences.
We stopped on our way back from the church and looked out into one of the valleys of the city where the houses of the poor had been built right down the steep sides. I was struck by the poverty I saw before me - I had seen it on television and in movies but it was never really hit me until I stood and saw it for myself. It's hard to describe the feeling, but it was like a deep sadness, it hurt to see that people live in such conditions - many for their whole lives without a chance at a better life. I will never forget that feeling, and I have felt it again and again during my time here in Guatemala.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
I have enjoyed my time here, even if it's much more touristy than I had originally thought - there are many beautiful parts of Belize, and also of this little island. I have had an opportunity to get to know some of the locals, and for the most part they are wonderful people - though as with any place geared towards tourism there is also a healthy supply of hustlers here, but they are mostly harmless.
So off I go again, back on the boat, through Belize city and then into the air on the part of this trip that was one of the main reasons for the whole thing - the mission trip.
Over the next ten days I will have an opportunity to learn all about the work the church is doing in several areas of Guatemala, as well as a few chances to get my hands dirty and help out. As many of you know I started this whole thing to try and find a way to reset my own values, and now I look forward to meeting people who's lives, although materialistically poor - are rich in family and values.
So thanks for reading - I hope you've enjoyed the Belizean part of this adventure, and in ten or twelve days I will get back to blogging on the adventures I have with the mission group,
Thanks for reading, and thanks for the feedback.
Love and Prayers,