Archive - Apr 2005


Out of the Frying Pan, back into the Smog

Buenos Dias from La Capitol, Guatemala City. Yesterday was another long gruelling day of travel. I got up at 5, caught the 6am bus out of El Estor with 2 others travellers I had met there. We got to Rio Dulce and had breakfast, and then they were headed down the river to Livingston, where I had already been, so we said goodbye. It was fun doing the tour of the nature reserve, hanging out in El Estor, and at least a short leg of travelling with some others.

My new friends jumped on a little boat leaving for the river right from the little gringo-owned lakeside restaurant where we ate. I sat there a little longer and finished tea, and then went to the bus station and got a ticket for the next bus to Guatemala City. The bus ended up being an hour late, or perhaps it just never came and I actually got on the next hourly one. At any rate, it was a great example of people who sell services here telling you what you want to hear, especially when there is competition. there was another bus company just across the street, so I think they tried hard to make their service look comparitively attractive. leaves early, cheaper, takes less time. It turned out to leave only a half hour earlier and it took 6 hours as opposed to the 5 that I was told, but if they had told me the truth (assuming they knew the truth), I might have gone with the other company.

Anyway, the trip was pretty miserable. At least the bus was a greyhound style bus and not a school bus, but we drove through the hottest driest parts of Guatemala, and the bus was really underpowered when we got to the mountains leading up to the capitol.

Finally we got to the city, shortly before dusk, and I found the hotel I had planned ahead of time to stay at, just 2 blocks away from where the bus stopped (each bus company has their own terminal in Guate, its strange, but thats privatisation for you...) The neighborhood is really grotty, Zona One, which is the historic town center, but now the most crime-ridden and dangerous place in town, I think, except for maybe parts of Zona Four. I checked in, then quickly hoofed over to get dinner a few blocks away before it got too dark. I ate at Camparo, which is like Guatemala's answer to Kentucky Fried Chicken, because I didnt want to take chances in this neighborhood with searching for a better restaurant and I wanted to get done fast and get back to the hotel, and I knew Camparo, its a chain so like all chains you always know what you'll get.

It was friday night and I was kind of bummed that i felt not safe enough to go out and try to see a little Guate City nightlife. I could have taken a cab to a bar or club, but i didnt want to spend the money. So I just glumly trudged back to the hotel. However once there I realized the hotel room had cable TV, and I ended up watching a bunch of gringo movies, with spanish subtitles so i could justify it as practicing spanish. I saw the end of a jackie chan film about stolen nuclear bombs, and then most of the Ali G movie, which was hilarious in sort of British Beavis and Butthead sort of way, and then most of a Chris Rock and Anthony Hopkins movie, also about a stolen nuclear weapon.

Seems to be a current zeitgeist or fear within the collective imaginary, the idea that there are all these old soviet warheads floating around the former soviet bloc, maybe getting sold by mafia to terrorists. Probably a lot of truth to it, and indeed something we should be worrying about, a lot. In a way the situation is more unstable than before the USSR fell. But no one ever talks about it in public. Everyone thinks ah, cold war over, we are safe. yay. no nuclear holocaust. think again, people.

Here in the Capital its a constant fume filled noisy polluted mess. My cough has gotten worse, logically, again since getting here from the relatively more fresh air of the coast and the Lago Izabal area.

Anyway, this afternoon after my laundry is done I am hopping a four hour bus back to Xela, staying a night there in town, and then tommorrow getting a bus in the afternoon out ot the Escuela de la Montana, the mountain school, which is another location that my school has, on a former coffee plantation out in the country. So ill be away from the internet for all next week. I'll probably check it one last time tommorrow morning. Then maybe i will come into town the next weekend just to get on the internet, and maybe get a change of pace, and then ill be at the mountain school again for another week.
After that i head out of Guatemala and north into Chiapas, Mexico.

I have lots of good photos I'd love to show you but i am out of time again today. hopefully tommorrow morning. Ive been given a free pro account on Flickr too, so maybe i'll upload a whole bunch. yay.

On The Steamy Shore of Lake Izabal

Hi there, I am writing this from a little internet cafe in El Estor, a block from Guatemala's biggest lake. I have decided that this place feels hotter than anywhere else I can ever remember being. I say feels because I dont know exactly if it technically the highest temperature, etc. I think its somewhere around 38 degrees Celsius. The nearest city that shows up on weather maps is Puerto Barrios, where its supposedly only 33. (91 F). Who knows? the important thing is that its also insanely humid, and unless you're right down by the water, there is almost zero breeze. At least in Livingston, where I was before this, it was just as hot but seemed cooler because there was a nice breeze from the ocean most of the time.

So I found this internet place and walked in and its actually the only place in town that is airconditioned, which at first seems heavenly but the AC doesnt really help much. it might have dropped the temperature by 1 degree, and only when you are standing right in front of the machine.

Constantly dripping with sweat, and even thinking too hard make me seem hotter. Not to mention trying to pick bones out of a fish for dinner. Thats hard enough work to leave you drenched with perspiration.

But, I like it. Its all worth it. I think I last blogged from Copan. Here is what happened since then, briefly. on Monday morning I grabbed breakfast and then caught a bus for the border. I crossed back into Guatemala and got another bus to Jocotan, about 30 kilometers and a half hour away, and then another bus from there to Chiquimula, about 45 km and an hour away. Then I got hustled onto another bus to my next destination, Puerto Barrios, 4.5 hours away.

I noticed that the best thing for short local bus trips is to get on a little minibus, because they fill up fast and then they go faster because they dont stop, because no one else will fit in. Unless someone gets off. If I ever have time to do a not quite so political documentary I would like to come back to Guatemala and do a film about the guys who work on the buses. Not the drivers, their job is pretty straightforward. They just drive. But there is always another guy who basically does everything else. Takes money, advertises the bus and its destination to people on the street (usually by shouting the destination and then 'Hay Lugares!', which literally means 'There are places!' (on the bus, still, for you to sit). Often a 'place' is definied quite loosely here. It might be an actual seat, or it might be a tiny patch of floor on which you are welcome to stand, wedged between 2 other people and a giant sack of potatoes, for instance, for 3 hours.

To make a long story short, the trip on monday was hot and long but I was lucky to get a seat on all the vehicles and none of those vehicles were school buses, meaning they were actually designed with adult-sized bodies in mind.

I got to Puerto Barrios at about 3pm. Puerto Barrios, on the Carribean coast, is Guatemala's main sea port. It used to be basically the monopoly property of United Fruit Company, and the only way to get there was by the railline that United Fruit also owned. Now there's a highway. Theres nothing in Puerto Barrios really but dust and sweat and noise, so I immediately found my way to the boat dock where the ferry and other boats go to Livingston. The usual entreprenuerial spirit is alive and well there, with guys trying to sell you passage on the smaller faster and more frequent launches. i saw that they were the same sort of plastic bathtubs that i experienced at Lago de Atitlan, and I also wanted to save money, so I waited for the ferry. No tengo prisa, I said, I'm not in a hurry. I also noticed a gaggle of 18 or so blonde white gringos get on the launch and I was like, nope, definitely not. I relaxed at a little diner near the pier and had lunch, since I had not eaten since breakfast 8 hours ago.

The I got on the ferry, with the locals, and it was so much better. Over and over I make these kinds of decisions and am so happy with them. At first I argue with myself, thinking, oh wait, maybe you should go where all those other tourists are going... but no. There are so many reasons not to. Usually I get more chance to practice my spanish, to relax, to pay less money, and its usually less stressful. Like in this case - Those little boats are scary!

Anyway, then at 630 pm i found myself in Livingston, a little town you can only get to by boat, where a river meets the Carribean. Shipwrecked African slaves formed their own society with Carribeans natives on the island of St Vincent in teh 18th century, and when the British finally kicked them off they ended up in Livingston and a few other places on the Honduran and Nicaraguan coast. The culture is very different there.

Tuesday I went on a tour around the town and area, went swimming and walking on the beach. Wednesday I left Livingston and took another boat down the Rio Dulce to the town of Rio Dulce. Its classic tropical jungle kind of surroundings. I'll write more, i hope, about my thoughts about archetypal images during this jaunt. Anyway, in Rio Dulce, which is where the river flows out of a huge lake, the aforementioned Lago de Izabal, I then caught another bus to this little town, El Estor. It gets its name from a store that these gringos had here for years. People said 'vamos para El eStore', cuz thats how you pronounce an english word like Store. (similarly they pronounce my name 'Esteev'). So gradually the town that grew up around the store just got called El Estor.

Anyway, I was here to see this huge nature reserve, a river delta that drains into the Lake. Shortly after I got to town, which is really a very small town with hardly any tourists (yay!) i ran into a woman from Holland who had just arranged with a guide to go to the delta. Its cheaper with more people and so i was happy to have met her. it was really great luck. and it was fun hanging out with her. We found 3 other travellers, all from Italy and Switzerland, who also wanted to go, so at 6am we met Benjamin Castillo, local boatman and nature expert, and he took us into the reserve. It was really really great and beautiful.

Ive been sitting here too long already so I will end there for now. Hopefully soon I will upload some of my amazing photos of the tour this morning. Great birds, howler monkeys, turtles, mangroves, manatees... it was super. okay, chao for now....

J Lo in Upcoming film about Juarez Femicides

I just found out that a film called "Bordertown" is supposedly starting production this July and stars Jennifer Lopez (and maybe Antonio Banderas?) as an american reporter from Juarez who goes back to investigate the murders there.

I of course have my misgivings about a Hollywood film treating this issue with any accuracy or respect. But at the same time, wow, imagine how much attention it could bring to the actual situation. It is vital though that they stress that it is based on REALITY. And of course they need to respect the wishes of the families of the victims and not exploit them.

Wow, I can hardly believe it. I need to finish my doc soon!!

In other news I will blog in a little bit about whats up with me. i

18 Rabbit's Hieroglyphic Staircase

next time i form a progressive rock band, that is what i'll name it: yup, 18 rabbit's hieroglyphic staircase. Doesnt that sounds great?

18 rabbit was a Mayan king who ruled Copan in the 8th century AD, or DC as the say here ("Despues Christo" i guess). And the hieroglyphic staircase is an amazing set of steps going up a pyramid in Copan that is covered with thousands of hieroglyphs that tell the story of his dynasty.

I happen to be in Copan right now, just over the border into Honduras. or rather, the little town next to the ruins of Copan. Ironically this little town is called Copan Ruinas. the town is really pretty pleasant. ancient Copan was on of the biggest mayan cities, and has some of the best sculpture and most well-preserved stuff with lots of hieroglyphic texts that have been deciphered to learn about the citys history.

i got here early this morning, found a hotel and then promptly headed to the ruins. they are amazing. i would post a photo but i just dont have the energy to try to hook up my camera. hay mucho calor aqui! and muggy! very tropical. nice. the ruins, anyway, are really stupendous, and fascinating, and theres too many to see in one day. unfortunately the museum where a lot of the sculptures have been moved, to keep them preserved, is closed for repairs till november. but there are replicas out in their original places. The experience has me wanting to read more about the mayans. and the olmecs too.

slight political note: lots of honduran soldiers are about here, with M-16s. many guarding the ruins. others you just see around town.

tommorrow, day 3 of my 9 days off from spanish school: back to guatemala and north east to Livingston, on the carribean coast.


After 8+ hours of buses I am now in far eastern Guatemala in the small city of Chiquimula, about 60 km from the Honduran frontera. At least this trip I took first class buses, which means it costs maybe 2 dollars more but you are sure to get your own seat with adult-sized legroom. But, they still stop at random places to pick up people by the side of the road and squeeze them into standing in the aisle. Anyway, I wanted to make it all the way to the border and to the Mayan ruins of Copan just across, but it was just too long of a trip to make it before the border closed, i realized, so i stopped here. Also I met with Otto, who lives here and works with Sister Schools International. He found out about the Bolivia computer project and wanted to meet me to talk about getting computers here to Guatemala. So we

Lago de Atitlan

Last weekend I went to Lago de Atitlan, which was formed thousands of years ago when a huge volcanic explosion made a giant crater that then filled with water. It

Comida Guatemalateca

Hola, well I said I would write about Guatemalan food so vamos. Premiero, queiro dicer que WINDOWS SUCKS. Again I


Wow, it has been so long since I've blogged. Disculpa. But if you know what I've been up to it will come as no surprise that i've been busy, and have not been able to get much internet access.

Also, I have for the last week or so always been envisioning this grand blog entry in which I completely describe in great and eloquent detail my experiences here in Guatemala for the last 2 weeks, or since I last blogged. But this very idea has daunted me from being able to do it, because it seems like such a big task that will take a lot of time that I don

Antigua Guatemala: Muchos Gringos


Well, I'm out of the sweltering heat of Monterrico and halfway up into the highlands, in Antigua. And as you can see, I've made it to a place with a much faster internet connection and managed to upload 3 photos. The first is an example of a typical chicken bus. the second is a section of beach in Monterrico, and the third is the fountain in the central square of Antigua.


I arrived here yesterday after taking the boat and 3 chicken buses, with virtually no waiting. The whole process was much faster than getting there from Guatemala City, but no less stressful.

the main fountain in the Parque Central, Antigua, Guatemala


In Guatemala

I am typing this in an internet center on the Calle Principal of a tiny town in Guatemala called Monterrico, on the Pacific Coast. As I sit here typing this my body is dripping with sweat. This is just about the most humidity I have ever experienced. Maybe Corrumba, Bolivia was worse. If you are outside, on the beach, laying in a hammock as breeze from the ocean blows in, it is quite pleasant here. But right now Im in a little stucco building into which very little air is circulating, even though there are numerous open windows and doors.

So, I will make this short. I basically want to say that I am here, and having a wonderful time. AFter a day of travelling to get here which consisted of 2 hours of driving to OHare, 2 hours of flying to Houston, 6 hours of waiting in the Houston airport, and then 3 hours of flying to Guatemala City, I arrived at the very pleasant Hostel Dos Lunas. After a night there I spent another day travelling from Guatemala City to here, getting my first experience of "chicken buses", the main mode of distance travel in Guatemala - these are actually old school buses from the US and Canada, usually painted some garish combination of colors and given a name and other decorations. I am attempting to upload a photo from my camera of one of these.

Suffice it to say that I eventually made it after 5 hours of travel to get what i think is only about 150 kilometers. But it was fine. The last half hour featured a small boat which took down a mangrove canal from one little village, La Avallana, where the bus route ended, to Monterrico. Monterrico is a dusty little town devoted mostly to weekend Guatemalan beach enthusiasts, and the beach is supposed to be the best in the country. It is a black, obsidian beach, very beautiful, very hot, with beautiful crashing waves. Im staying at a hotel that is literally right on the beach, called Johnnys. I woke up and stepped outside, blinking, and had one of those moments where I couldnt quite remember or believe where i was. Its a paradise. palm trees, hammocks, little bungalows and a bar that serves cheap food and drinks. Various tourists, including several gringos, but not too many, since this is during the week. Overall I am having a thoroughly wonderful time. I am still getting over my cold, but I feel the hot weather burning it out of my body as I lay on the beach.

On Sunday I am due in Xela, the small city in the highlands, not far from here )nothing is THAT far, Guatemala is fairly small. where I will be studying Spanish. Till then, Im just trying to relax, and get some hot climate time in, since Xela is very high altitude and is quite a bit cooler temperature. This sweltering place will help me to appreciate that, I think. Anyway, learning spanish is the important thing, and I feel like even lounging here in this beach town for the last 24 hours i have learned, or reinforced, a lot.

ugh, i am beginning to wonder if i will be able to upload a photo. i have already spent an hour installing software, etc, which has costed me 12 quetzals. only about US$2.70 but i was hoping to be out of this hot room sooner! see what i go through for you? well, screw it. another time. this connectino is too slow, the computer is too slow. fuck it.

but anyway, here i am.