Thursday, December 29, 2005

Home Again...Again

Well, I am back. I left the Caribbean coast on Wednesday the 21st, spent a night in the Murder Capital of Central America (San Pedro Sula, Honduras) and landed in New York on Thursday afternoon. As I'm sure you can imagine, going from 30 degrees Celsius to 30 degrees Fahrenheit in less than eight hours was quite a shock. Not to mention the dry air! My hair started standing on end due to static before the plane even landed! Plus, I was unprepared...having given away most of my clothes, including my hiking shoes, to charity on my last day (freeing up some space for souvenirs) I arrived in socks and flip-flops. Luckily, my dad met me at the airport with a warm coat and some shoes. We got to stop at Alison & Basil's and visit Henry before heading home and diving headlong into Christmas fever.

It was a busy one, with three days' or so of celebrations. On Christmas Eve, my brother Dan and I started what might hopefully turn into a new tradition: watching Clue the movie while playing Clue the board game; I won (it was Mrs. Peacock, with the knife, in the Ball Room). One other highlight: Dan gave me a book called Cities Ranked and Rated, which lists 331 major U.S. metropolitan areas and rates them in many different categories, like Arts & Culture, Climate, Cost of Living, etc. (this is to help me choose a city to live in). I was amused, if not surprised, to learn that the lowest-ranked city in terms of climate was...wait for it...Lewiston-Auburn, Maine. Looks like I should have gone to University of Virginia; Charlottesville was ranked the Overall Number One Place to Live in the U.S.

I am just now getting to sorting my photos and putting them online. This will give me a chance to re-live the past month or so of my trip, and I'll tell you a little more about the places I was as I post the photos. First up: Chiapas. At last, the long-awaited Zapatista photos, as well as colorful textiles, Mayan ruins, waterfalls and Christmas decorations, Mexico-style. Click on the Zapatistas to see them all...


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

One more day in the sun and the water...

Here are a few more quick notes on the last week here in Caribbean paradise:

  • The island north of Caye Caulker, Belize, is Ambergris Caye. This is Madonna's famous "La Isla Bonita"--"Last night I dreamt of San Pedro" (Ambergris Caye's largest city). I didn't visit it, but I wonder if she did either...of all the places in Latin America, she chooses the English-speaking country as the home of siesta and her "Spanish paradise"?

  • The ferry I took on Friday from Placencia, Belize to Puerto Cortes, Honduras, was supposed to leave at 9:30 and arrive around 11 AM. Unfortunately, we had to go across the bay to the customs point, where we waited two hours for the man to come and process the passports (writing it all out by hand on a piece of paper) of all 100 or so people on board a boat with a capacity of about 45 with approximately seven life jackets on board. We finally left Belize at 1 PM and were on our way...except that the boat broke down several times en route and we had to keep standing up so a man could come and try to pump gas into the engine under our seats. We finally approached land, only to have the boat run out of gas completely about 20 feet from shore!! We managed to get towed in, with a herd of sketchy money-changers and taxi drivers and random onlookers watching, by a small dingy. All that was left then was to wait in an endless line for our passport stamps and we were ready to catch our 4:30 PM.

  • We (me and another American guy and an English couple I'd been travelling with on and off for a couple of weeks) didn't make it all the way to La Ceiba as planned that night, and wound up spending the night in El Progreso. I suppose progress in that town is measured by having both a Pizza Hut and a Wendy's, the latter being the only place open and therefore our restaurant of choice for dinner. We got a taxi at 4 AM to the place where we had to wait for the bus to La Ceiba. Our taxi driver kindly offered to wait with us, telling us how unsafe the area was and regaling us with tales of drugs and robbery and murder...and in no time we had agreed to pay him to take us all the way to La Ceiba.

  • I finally arrived here on Roatan, one of the Bay Islands, and I'm pleased that the mosquitos and sand flies have not been as much of a problem as I was warned. Some people have been bitten a lot, but the bugs don't seem to like me (I'm trying not to be offended).

  • I'm taking the Advanced Scuba Diving course, and have definitely spent way more time under water than lying on the beach. But it's been fun; today I identified fish, yesterday I learned how to control my buoyancy by swimming through hoops like a dolphin, and navigated a square using a compass. Tomorrow I go down to 110 feet and explore a wreck!

  • After my last dive, I catch the next ferry out and fly home on the 22nd, out of the sun and into the snow. I'll be home for Christmas, you can count on me.

  • Saturday, December 10, 2005

    Belize it or Not...

    Fun Facts about Belize:

  • It is more expensive here than anywhere else I've been in Latin America. At $6 per hour, it's also the most expensive Internet access. Therefore, this will be brief, and photos will have to wait.

  • The official language is English. Locals speak a creole-type dialect and sometimes Garifuna, both of which are very melodic and impossible to understand. Travellers who have been in other neighboring countries for a while inevitably start speaking Spanish in restaurants and shops, and I can't shake the feeling that somehow I'm cheating or taking the easy way out by speaking English.

  • The policy in most establishments is: no shirt, no shoes, no problem.

  • The main activities are: sitting in hammocks, swimming, sitting in the sun, reading, snorkeling or diving, eating, drinking rum cocktails and sleeping. I've already done my fair share of most of these.

  • The forecast for the next few days is: more of the same.

  • Tuesday, December 06, 2005

    Meeting with Rebels

    In the past week I´ve seen some of the most unusual and interesting things of my whole trip. After the San Simón experience in Xela, I moved on into the Chiapas region of Mexico, which is known for traditional Mayan villages and Zapatista rebels. Lucky me got to visit both!

    I took a tour to a traditional Mayan village where we went into the church. It was a Tuesday morning and the church was completely packed! It´s technically a Catholic church, but the Mayans worship in their own way. They have their own names for the saints, and they use traditional ways of praying. They pray out loud, sometimes mumbling, sometimes crying, sometimes pleading, so the church is full of a constant murmur of prayer, as well as the occasional whistle, used to call a lost soul back to its owner. They put pine needles all over the floor, light hundreds of candles of different colors (a dangerous combination if you ask me) and burn lots of incence, so the church is filled with smoke and different smells. Then, as part of the prayers, they drink cane alcohol, called posh, and while they used to drink a fermented corn drink called chicha, now they use Coke or Pepsi...apparently the burping helps let out evil spirits! Finally, certain rituals, performed by appointed healers, involve passing a chicken over a sick person´s body, then killing the chicken...and during our visit we witnessed a chicken sacrifice: the woman waved the chicken around over the candles for a while and prayed, then held the chicken by her side and wrung its neck! I´ve seen a lot of churches in my travels, but this one was definitely the most memorable.

    That evening, I found out that an autonomous Zapatista village in the area is open to visitors, so a few of us decided to check it out the next day. It´s an hour outside San Cristobal, where we were staying, and when we got there we went through a three-step, hour-long registration process where we showed our passports to guards in ski masks, gave our names and occupations, listed any organizations we belong to (I was surprised to realize I belong to no organizations whatsoever) and our reason for visiting. Then we were allowed in to meet with a three-person panel of masked interviewers. They took all this information again, and then basically asked us what we wanted to know. We were basically pretty clueless about Zapatistas so they had to start from scratch. They explained how they are mostly indigenous people fighting for people´s rights, and how they decided in 1994 "¡Ya Basta!" (Enough!) and formed the Zapatista Army of National Liberation and took over San Cristobal to bring attention to their cause. There was a lot of information, and well, I´ll let Wikipedia explain it to you if you are interested. We talked for over an hour and at the end they encouraged us to spread the word and encourage our friends and families to come and visit, any time, for as long as they want. So, consider yourself encouraged. As we left to wander up the street (the only one in town) and admire the multi-colored murals on all the buildings, we agreed that those were the nicest rebels we had ever met.

    Unfortunately, the bug-infested internet place I am in now is kind of bad, and the computer is too slow for me to upload any photos. But in a couple of days I´ll be in Belize with nothing much to do but lie on the beach and sip pina coladas, so hopefully I´ll find time to put some up then. In the meantime, if you want to know what a Zapatista looks like, put on a black ski mask that shows only your eyes (if you have an Adidas cap to put on top of it that works too) and take a look in the mirror.