Friday, November 20, 2009

La Madre Naturaleza – Mother Nature’s Broken Heart

NOVEMBER 20, 2009

As I mentioned on one of my previous blogs, it is the rainy season here in Guatemala. The season goes from June through October. They tell me that before I arrived here, they had had staggeringly low levels of rain; in fact, I have personally seen many failed crops - dried out corn stalks to be exact. And this drought has caused thousands of deaths. Well, as luck would have it, Mother Nature decided, better late than never. So it has been raining almost continuously since I arrived six weeks ago; and they tell me that just the rain we have had here over the last 2 weeks was more rain then they have had over the last 4 months.

I joke about it at our table during meals. In Spanish, I propose, “I think that some guy has broken Mother Nature’s heart and she continues to cry. Well, I am going to have a chat with her; I think she needs some girlie advice on this matter. Because enough is enough - the rainy season was supposed to have ended already!”

So about 2 weeks ago, I was out to dinner with Bonnie and Ana who both live at the same complex as me. About half way through our dinner, it started to rain. And then it was REALLY pouring. We were quite far (about a 15 minute walk) from where we live and even though we were looking for about 20 minutes, there weren’t any taxis passing by. Luckily, I had the phone number of a taxi driver in my phone. I called him, and, although he was in Guatemala City, he sent by another driver who reached us in 5 minutes. WOW, it was raining so hard!!! None of us really wanted to leave the restaurant and go to the taxi since it was pouring so much.

As we started to near our side of town, we noticed increased amounts of water in the streets. And on our corner the water was GUSHING down the street, flowing swiftly like a river. Ana noticed a ‘bubbling fountain’ in the middle of the street. Later on we determined that the sewer cover had burst, causing pressurized water to spew out.

The taxi somehow, miraculously, made its way down through this rapidly rushing ‘river’ to Olga’s door. We were actually terrified to get out of the taxi – it was pissing down with rain and the water on the street was about a foot high - maybe more – we couldn’t really tell. In front of Olga’s door, which is where we were going to enter our complex, there is a barrier:

I never really understood why it was there, rather, I just considered it an inconvenience since always we have to step over it to get in & out. However, I now know why it is there and I now know why I call it a ‘barrier’! The racing water was just a few inches from the top of this barrier.

I mentioned before in a previous post about all of the various things jutting into the sidewalks and all of the holes, etc. Well now, swirling in my head, were visions of me slipping on the cobblestone or falling into an open sewer, loose street grate or drainage ditch. As you can see by this photo, there is a long drainage ditch on our street:

It was so dark, there was so much water and none of us could remember exactly where these deep ditches were. I’m sure that the others were thinking the same as me – that we would either be swept up and carried away by the rushing water or the other frightening proposition - that we would step in or get caught in some sort of a hole.

I sensed that the taxi driver really wanted to leave so I took a deep breath and finally braved it since I had my key ready (which I was tightly grasping, afraid that I would lose it to the rapid river). I made my way, pretty much knee high in water, to the door. My shoes were squishing all over the place. I guess that in all the commotion, I was really clasping my key hard because later on, in the morning, I realized that it had broke in half; the remainder had gotten stuck in Olga’s door!

I snapped this photo of the taxi leaving our street to go ‘upriver’:

Once ‘safely’ inside, I realized that the adventure wasn’t over yet. For our whole complex had been invaded with water and I had no idea how hard it would be to wade through it to get to my cottage. Here is a photo of what the entryway outside of my cottage usually (when dry) looks like:

Here it was the night of the flood:

It continued to rain strongly on & off all week. But the good news is... we haven’t had rain in more than a week now (yeah!) I think that my chat with La Madre Naturaleza worked –for it appears as though she is finally over him…whoever he was!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Halloween – Latin American style

NOVEMBER 16, 2009

The Latin American ‘equivalent’ to Halloween is called “Dia de los Muertos” –Day of the Dead; specifically in Guatemala it is called “Día de los Difuntos” - Day of the Deceased. And here, in Guatemala, they certainly have some unique customs and ways of celebrating their Deceased.

There are two places in the whole country which are really famous for elaborate celebrations and it just so happens that both of them are pretty close to Antigua (“La Antigua”). So I decided to go to one of them to check it out personally. After a beautiful 30-40 minute drive from Antigua through a countryside of lush, green rolling hills, I arrived at the Mayan town of Sumpango (Tzumpango is the Mayan name). There, I was met with a swirl of colors, a flurry of activity and quite a lively celebration. The first stop was the bustling cemetery to view the locals, who literally are partying in the cemetery! They bring food, music and all types of intricate decorations, which they use and enjoy around the gravesites of their dearly departed. The cemetery definitely comes alive and gets a vivid facelift this day as it is literally ‘littered’ with hundreds of people; many wearing their finest clothing (especially the hand-woven huipiles – traditional blouses of the women) as well as colorful fresh flowers, new paint jobs on the graves and mausoleums, incense, food smells and all sorts of other delights for your senses. Most people are mingling about, but for people with recent losses, the day can obviously be quite somber.

Here are some cemetery scenes (I highly recommend that you double click on these to enlarge them so that you can see them with better detail):

The second stop was just a 5 minute walk through town to the local football (soccer) field. The tradition is for locals to build massive and extravagant kites, display them for public viewing (oohing and aahing) and fly them – both parts are judged in separate competitions. In some cities/villages, they will fly the kites high above the local cemetery and in others (as is the case in Sumpango), they use an alternate location, like the football field. They view the kites as a symbolic link between the living and the Dead; a way to communicate with the Dead as well as a way to release of the souls of the Dead from agony.

Here are 3 excellent links which explain the festivities, traditions and customs more in detail:

Here is a video which I took from a rooftop; including the cemetery, kites and surrounding land; this should help you to understand the scale of the event:

And here are some of the photos I took of the kites:

Here I am in front of the festival’s tallest kite – 18 meters (54’ high).

Each participating kite has a sign telling how big, how many people worked on it (this group has 21 people), number of years they have participated, etc.

Each kite takes months to construct due to their size and design detail; here is a close-up of the workmanship and materials (the kites consist of pieces of tissue paper which are taped together and affixed to bamboo sticks).

Some of the spectators (including Ana, Bonnie and me).

The “Miss Kite Festival” finalists lineup.

This is a kite that one group is bringing over to the completion to see if it will fly.

The first batch of kites (the smaller ones) are all lined up (on the "runway") and ready to take their turn to try to fly.

Here is YouTube video of one of the kites in flight; just imagine how many people it takes to get them in the air:

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Signs, Arches and Hills

NOVEMBER 9, 2009

Happy November and Greetings from Central America!


I love the painted signs outside of businesses in third world countries. Sad to say, but I think this creativity actually stems from the fact that many of the people are illiterate so they have to draw /paint what they are selling on the signs so that illiterate people will know how to find a store. I have seen this in many other places also, like in Kenya and in Southeast Asia. None-the-less, I LOVE these signs!!!

office supplies store - Ciudad Vieja

pet spa - Guatemala City

paint store - Ciudad Vieja

butcher - Jocotenango

dental office - Sumpango

laundromat - Sumpango


The architecture here is so spectacular; a lot of it is from the 1500’s and is Colonial/Spanish stye; especially famous are the arches.

Arch in Guatemala City

Arch at the cemetery

in Ciudad Vieja

Antigua's famous arch

See this Wikipedia link for a picture of this arch (the one in Antigua) during the day (as well as some general info about Antigua):,_Guatemala


Antigua is basically flat with a grid plan. However, besides being surrounded by 3 volcanoes (2 are active) there is a nice hill which I climbed up the other day. The hill is called, "Cerro de la Cruz" or, Hill of the Cross. I took these photos from the top of the hill so that you could get a perspective of the size of the city. Notice how, as dusk comes, the clouds start to obscure the volcano; but then it makes a final cameo before the night takes over. By the way, Guatemala has 33 different volcanoes!

For those of you who have written me and are awaiting my response – please hang in there - I will try to get back to you soon. My life down here has been pretty occupied with all of my activities: yoga classes, salsa classes, gym (yes, they have a gym here and I actually joined it), hikes/rambles/excursions, trying new restaurants, lots of cultural activities and music to check out… oh, and of course… Spanish lessons and homework!!! Spanish takes up at least 20 hours / week. Busy busy!!! I haven’t even had a chance to do any shopping/checking out any of the stores that have beautiful clothing or art or anything like that yet.

Speaking of Spanish lessons, some of you have asked for photos of the people I am eating with, etc. The below photo has (from left to right): Chris, Tommy (both down here indefinitely), me, Martin (our teacher) and Bonnie. We are all taking private one-on-one lessons from Martin, but decided to have a weekly collective group lesson together – hence the photo.

Gotta run, off to my Salsa class! Please let me know what is going on in your corner of the world.

:) Julie