Books Worth a Look

  • Little Bee by Chris Cleave - This book is a must read. Better than anything else I've read, it takes you vividly into the life of a person in the 3rd world who has no choice but to escape. It is brilliantly written & works well as an audio book. Often I've sent info about the wonderful refugees I've met in Europe. We know only so much of their plight as it is painful for them to recall much less live through again by recounting it. But over time it is clear what they've lived through. This book is excellent as you discover the horrors of their world. Somewhat how to me, it is like being in Europe near a Concentration Camp. One has an obligation to visit it. 'Never to Forget.' In this case, to have our eyes opened.
  • Garbage King by Eliz Laird - The book is set on the streets on Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia and here lives Mamo and his sister Tiggist. When Mamo's "uncle" offers a job, he soon sets out on a bus to work. Little does he know that he is actually being sold into slavery...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Corte de pelo (haircut) for $ 5, McCafe, chicken bus vs mini van...

Imagine an excellent haircut for $5, & that´s expensive here. Care is taken, including a straight edge shaving of hair above the neck. You do not leave until all cut hair is carefully brushed away. Oh & the barberia doubles as an internet kiosk.

McCafe - It is not easy getting decaf coffee in Latin America. After the corte de pelo, I eyed a McDonalds. Oh yes they have decaf, but in the next room. Wow! Like a coffee, pastry, cake place in a Border's bookstore.

After a sip, I wanted more cream, so I askd for a bit more. No problema! They empty the cup into a container, add cream and then blend it again! Such service & in a ceramic cup mit saucer for $1.25. When I finished I started to take the cup & saucer to the counter. The young man rushed out to get it from me. Oh and there's a lovely outdoor garden in which to enjoy your coffee.

Nicknames - I never use Philip, no me gusta, only Phil, but in Spanish I've never seen Phil, solo Felipe. BUT, in San Pedro, hope!! The Spanish Phil is lipe BUT the Tzutijil Phil is lip. So Senior Phil as they prefer to say is Talip. That I like!!

SAFETY - Mini-vans vs camionetas (chicken buses) - To the visitor it makes no sense that chicken buses (recycled & incredibly decorated American school buses) are much less safe than mini-vans. Mini-vans are full of tourists w/ cameras, laptops, money, jewelry etc. I've learned the reason is two fold. 1st camionetas (chicken buses) will likely be safe as long as the driver pays either the police or local gang. Exception is luggage carried on top of the bus. Mini-vans are likely safe because the robbers etc. know that foreign governments will come down hard on the Guatemalan gvernment to find the perpetrators. Thus safer to rob locals & gringos (anyone not Latino) who stray into very dangerous areas, for example Guatemala City.

Venturing en camioneta (chicken bus) out of Antgua - Taking a camioneta to a nearby village is an interesting experience. Occasionally you'll see a gringo, but basically locals, esp. the indigenous people. There is a driver & caller. The caller gets off the bus & loudly calls out the bus' destination, as in Antigua, San Felipe or Guate (Guatemala City). The fare can vary from 1.5Q to 5Q which are questzales (19 cents to 64 cents). The caller also helps indigenous people with their large bundles. He also collects the fare during the trip.

Venders often board the bus to sell chicklets, creams, newspapers. Sometimes bombaderos, firemen, come on board to ask for contributions.

The buses roll along just like school buses, but sadly often their exhaust is terrible. Young backpackers including young women often travel country to country in chicken buses. It can take many, many hours to make one trip like that. For me it would be not only uncomfortable but I think unwise given the varying degrees of safety given the rural areas.

Today I went to the Pueblo, San Felipe. The church has a unique & attractive facade. Across the street is a outdoor market which sells clothing and cloth products. Quite reasonble prices, 1/2 what they are in the mercado in Antigua.

Riding the bus this morning, a young father sat down next to me holding his 5 years old daughter. Though Gautemala City has hospitals, many come by bus to Antigua & then to San Felipe for broken bones to be reset & put into casts. His daughter had both legs in casts. She had lovely eyes & was quite personable. The indigenous here are mostly Cakchiqueles, pronounced CAK chee KEY les. My name in Cakchiquiles como Talip is Ma le´p.

Monday, November 15, 2010

An Afternoon to Remember

Servando, Pat and a young lady from Guatemala City visiting Santa Cruz,

In August while at Santa Cruz on Lake Atitlan, I met Noê & Servando. Servando who was then 15, lives in Santa Cruz. He is quite a personable young man. He gave me his email address & has kept in touch regularly on Facebook.

To be honest I was a tad unsure as my Spanish is still in its formative stage! Not to worry! Servando is an amazing, talented and affable young man. We quickly began talking over the lunch menu. He asked me many intelligent questions:

  • What music did I like?
  • What my family is like?
  • Was I religious?
  • Is futbol popular in the U.S.?
  • Have I heard of "Rammstein," a German industrial metal band formed in 1994?
We talked at length about careers. He wants to work in cinema. We talked about the advantage of researching several possible options just in case the cinema field did not work out.

Enter the young lady from Guate (Guatemala City). She overheard us talking. It turns out she is familiar with cinema in Guate & has specific contacts for Servando. Gracia a Dios! This was terrific for him. Later in the conversation, I was able to obtain recommendations of Guatemalan & other Latino films to use to improve my Spanish at home. A muy amable chica!

Enter Pat Tropie I met Pat on Servando´s Facebook friends page. Pat is from Washington State & lives in Santa Cruz 6 months a year. She is head of an NGO which assists Santa Cruz youth in many important ways. Please check the site out at

There we were, the four of us, talking animatedly about the experience of Lake Atitlan and their youth. As is often the case, words cannot adequately express how impressive a young man Servando is. A truly gifted individual personally, in his contributions to Santa Cruz, in his interests, and I think future.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Culure & History

My Spanish class consists of conversation for about 3 hours. My teacher is Mayan & has lived in the U.S., so I get a unique perspective. Some things he´s shared & I´ve gotten from our film nights.

  • San Pedro is almost totally indigenous. The largest group is Tzutujil, pronounced zooteheel. Accent on the heel. The people treat you very well, always a buenos dias, buenas trades etc., a ready sense of humor and warmth. They work very hard. My host, Juan, is a teacher. No on vacation. so he & his 18 year old son go to the mountains several times a week to pick coffee. When not doing that he assists his wife, Rosalia, in baking and decorating the large postres (cakes) they sell.
  • Zack is the two year nieto (grandson) of the school director, Marta. He is very cute & readily relates to the students. The school property is a narrow strip of land that goes from the street to the lake, about a football field + a little more in length. The last 1/3 has small cabanas for individual classes. Yesterday as Zack was going to the beach with his abuela (grandmother) he said good bye to each student cabana by cabana. Right now he is sitting in this room avidly watching a cartoon. Well for a bit, then he was off to play, but not before coming back to say hola!
  • Los Perros, the dogs A travel blog on San Pedro commented on the dogs & concern about rabies. So I wondered if I should get the shot in advance. (Recommended for anyone who is going to be in country for several months.) Good thing I didn´t! There are lots of dogs, but they just stand & watch your progress as you walk by.
  • Marriage The indigenous, at least Tzutujil, tradition is that the young man takes his soon to be bride into his house for the night. He is then married. The next morning the son´s father takes a plate of bread to the girl´s father to say, " I am sorry my son stole your daughter." Then together they plan the boda, wedding!
  • Security in San Pedro I have had the pleasure to go to school &/or visit about 15 places in Central America & Mexico. San Pedro is by far the safest. Why? The locals say it´s because of religion. Great emphasis is placed on not doing harm to people in both the Evangelical & Catholic Churches.
  • Religion is very big here. All through the village, there are sayings neatly painted on the walls from the Bible as well as common wisdom seen in many countires. The older Mayan religion has blended with Christianity.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

People you meet in San Pedro

This is truly a fun week. San Pedro is a great place. Some of the people:

Monica from Germany a lovely young lady, 28, traveling throughout Central America for several months. She has a room also at my homestay & we´ve checked several things out. For a slender person, she can eat a ton - a point of humor for all.

Israelis San Pedro and Guatemala are a big draw for young Israelis who have completed their two years of mandatory military service. Apparently much of Central & South America are quite popular with Israeli youth.

Ventura, my Spanish teacher is a very resourceful young man of 27. He spent two years as a gardener in Washington State for one of his former students. He saved most of his money to be able to come back & build his own house. I´ve seen pictures of it, quite lovely. Apparently it is a blend of Mayan & American thinking. His friends do not understand why he wants to build on the outskirts of the village, not closer in town, & with so many windows! It´s the view of the lake he´s after!

The Tuchs´family Rosalia & Juan and their 18 year old son, Abner, are terrific. Rosalia goes to great lengths to make sure I can eat what she´s preparing, given my Diabetes Stage 2. This is summer vacaton now & several days a week Juan & Abner go to the mountains to pick coffee. Rosalia in addition to keeping the house & running the homestay, bakes large cakes for fiestas.

Abner, a normal teen, watches futbol, helps out with dishes in the house & visits friends in the evening. He is very polite & has a nice sense of humor.

James from New Zealand is working on his first novel. A very laid back & interesting young man. I marvel at how some young people can make their way without much concern for conventional materialism.

Jennifer from Nova Scotia Her husband wanted to visit India again, so she´s here volunteering & living in one of the Cabanas on the school property. Roughing it to be sure. She would relay an adventure then add, given my age. Then she found out she was two years young than moi!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Mayan Village

I did not fully realize just how indigenous Lake Atitlan is. Each village is carved out of the base of the mountains, thus the hilly terrain. Streets have no name, except Principal. So there´s a main road that snakes around, a pedestrian beltway! Then interconnecting streets which are also cobblestone, but somewhat narrower. Then you move to cobblestone paths, about 2 people wide. Finally there are dirt, sometimes dirt & rocks paths.

It´s quite interesting how safe it is. I went to the Buddha last night with Monica from Germany! Buddha is a typical gringo spot. It´s ok, but places like this here & in Mexico make me wonder about how hard it must be for locals to see such wealth so easily spent.

Buddha is operated by two Americans. There I ran into my Aussi/English friends again, really nice people. After a bit I headed back to the casa. Monica stayed w/ several Germans ladies. As I did not know the area, I simply walked in the direction I thought might work.

Eventually I came upon paths I recognized. In several places, it became quite dark. I hesitated, but found it all fine. People pass you, often saying Buenas noches! Not wanting to hike back up I took a tuc tuc, costs 63 cents! Quite safe & unique.

The vast majority of the people here are Mayan and have experienced the prejudice & injustice of minorioties all over the world. Much like our native Americans, they have been robbed of their land, customs and culture. A lady from Vermont commented that she thought when global warming did its final thing, these people would survive as they´ve learned to survive on little using what is available.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hola de Guatemala - segundo tiempo!

Getting Here!

Always interesting! Flights were good & meeting a Brit & Canadian to go to dinner with was fun. Later met several guys & ladies in their 20´s visiting Antigua from Gautemala City - fun & funny!

The ride to San Pedro was quite interesting once we were off the highway. Narrow, lots of holes & some precipices due to September mud slides - in one spot it looked like we were hopping boulders in our van!

San Pedro is different. VERY narrow & many STEEP - like San Francisco steep - hills. After settling in, I walked straight up a road w/ a neighbor to watch a futbol (soccer) game.

The players were quite good. Concrete seats & a very dusty playing field. After the toss, all players stood completely still, many w/ heads bowed & prayed - quite impressive to see many young, atheltic young men so peaceful. EVERYONE in the stands stood quietly. Lasted about 2 1/2 minutes.

My Spanish is doing ok. Hard part is understanding the fast speech & words I don´t know yet. Still, all in all, I am able to carry on a conversation fairly well. Everyone I have met in very friendly. Young & old alike go out of their way to smile & say hello. So far several people couldn´t tell I was from the states. Speaking Spanish helps. That plus lots of Canadians & Israelis here.

Tomorrow is the first day of class. I´m hoping they have a canopy tour this week - zip lines above the rain forest.

Take care all!


Thoughts on the amazing people I get to meet.

Rich, my 19 year old friend, soon to be Franciscan and recent community member at Haley House in Boston. An article he wrote.