Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Santo Domingo, Antigua

The aqueduct is still in use today even though many of the buildings collapsed around them during the countless earth quakes that rattled Antigua.

The breathtaking surroundings of what was once a massive monastery complex in the heart of Antigua. The complex covers several acres and was a renowned site for Catholics during its heyday  

This massive ceremonial ceramic sculpture is at least one thousand years old. We could not help but to marvel about its size and remarkable resemblance to east Asian art. The Mayan artisans were highly skilled and much more advanced than modern science acknowledges 

The view of what is left in the main cathedral. A high profile wedding was conducted prior to our arrival.

The weather here is very nice even though the air quality is not. Antigua is known for their verdant gardens and incredibly mild climate.   
We had an amazing day strolling the grounds of Santo Domingo. The traffic and world outside disappeared within the serene complex. The are a variety of reasons that make this spot such a special site. For starters there is a nice collection of ancient Mayan art from the area. Modern art is also on display giving the gallery an urban feel as well. After the art displays we visited a colonial era collection of household goods set in a reconstructed home. The whole place felt perfectly laid out from top to bottom. One of the most amazing aspects of the visit was visiting the crypts beneath the church. Since the whole complex is self guided seeing the skeletal remains alone, in a dark cavern, was chilling. The kids did amazingly well considering they were looking at human skeletons for their first time. To finish off the experience, there was an amazing restaurant and high end hotel flaking the property which made it feel like a resort. This was a great family experience and would recommend Santo Domingo to anyone.        

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Market day in Antigua

This is Mike...
Market day is a big event and people from all over Antigua come down the hills to sell everything imaginable. The streets come alive with commerce under the smog filled sky. Coincidentally, we have spoken to many locals about the air quality and they insist it will get better once the rainy season begins. I guess that is one way to look at the problem, bury your head in the sand! As I am writing this post, burning stuff is filling the air around the city and making the skyline obscure. This is no way for a population to live and I feel bad for saying this about Antigua. If you read anything about Antigua, you will be left with dreamy images about a city of eternal spring, cobblestone streets, colonial ruins, etc. and not the air quality. If only I could find a way to pipe the smog through the computer to your home you would all understand what I am saying. Today, we were walking to the market and decided to turn around and drive instead. My whole family decided to drive because we were tired of the chicken bus exhaust, tired of the dog poop on the streets, tired of the tripping hazards and tired of the non pedestrian friendly drivers. Don't get me wrong, we are not burned out on Antigua, as it is still a cute place to visit. We are just realistic with Antigua's shortcomings. We are tired of the scratchy throats and burning eyes! In the end, special places like Antigua need to do more to protect what they have before they lose it.               

Indigenous people bringing their crafts for sale

The ruins in the background make for a surreal setting

Beautiful dresses and jewelry adorn the Mayan ladies

The girls shopping amongst all the vibrant colors

Once the wind blew some of the smog away we went up to the overlook to take a picture of the city. This image was not possible any other day in Antigua so far.
Near the market is a place to buy wood that is already sized for a  typical stove.

The city is covered with large ruins which add so much charm to the city

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The stupidity of some

This is Mike...
   We visited a Serpentario (reptile exhibit) where they rescue injured, abandoned or confiscated reptiles. This is an organization that assists in the eventual release of native animals provided they can fend for themselves in the wild. The only exception for release are none native species and some of the venomous snakes, where they are milked regularly for their venom. This is done so they can produce anti venom for the nearby hospitals and clinics.
   Guatemala, like the rest of the world, is suffering ecological damage from the introduction of invasive species. Some examples would include the release of Cobras, Siberian tigers, Anacondas, etc. into the wild. These, and other introductions, along with the heavy hand of man are making the wild spaces more difficult for native species.
   One of the confiscated snakes, was an extremely venomous fer-de-lance viper which was duct taped to a man's thigh, when he was boarding an airplane. No joke, boarding an airplane with a viper duct taped to his inner thigh! They also showed other examples of deadly frogs captured in film roles at the airport, and so on. I guess the stupidity of some can never be underestimated.
Consuela, the crocodile, was injured because people wanted to kill her for her tail meat. They shot her hind leg and hit her with a blunt object blinding her right eye, but she still managed to escape. She was found sometime later in bad shape and was brought to the rescue center where they amputated her infected hind leg. She will not be released into the wild but will be part of a breeding program the center has set up for crocodiles. 

Thankfully, this former pet, ended up here instead of the wild.

Honey, is that you? Donations keep these awesome places alive and we recommend visiting shelters like this as part of any vacation.

We were at this exhibit with our Spanish instructors and Elise said, in Spanish, "Tengo mierda de serpientes." Everyone busted out in laughter as she said, "I have Sh** of snakes." She meant to say, "Tengo Miedo de serpientes." Which means I have fear of snakes. Let nobody think it only happened to Elise. A few days prior, I was riding on the back of my teacher's motorcycle as I had to go to the ATM to pay for class. We got stuck in traffic and the sun was blaring on us. As I was holding on his love handles while he was driving I yelled, "Estoy claliente!" I thought  I was saying, "I am warm." The correct phrase should have been, "Tengo color." What I yelled to him on the back of his motorcycle was "I am h*rny." Afterwards, he told me what I said at a coffee shop and we both laughed. The joys of learning a new language are many.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Spanish Classes etc.

Some of the Spanish students put on a play about Mayan deities that was quite entertaining.
After the play, the place got groovy, the DJ played great music and everyone started to dance
The kids spotted a Burro on the way home from school and decided to hang out a bit. Sierra and Zoe really like their new friends from North Carolina. They are extra happy we are all staying at the same place, right around the corner from the school.

One can catch a funky horse drawn carriage ride in downtown Antigua

Another prominent cathedral in Parque Central

Children taking a shortcut through Parque Central on their way home from school

Typical Spanish colonial building for the area, it has been the same for hundreds of years

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Getting settled

This is Mike...
Antigua is a UNESCO world heritage site, and it is easy to see why. The old buildings, with the charm of yesteryear, are everywhere and in fairly good condition. Something rare in Latin America, is this place has strict building ordinances to preserve the charm. The cobblestone streets add a certain sophistication especially when you see the very well dressed locals in suits, business skirts, etc. hurrying to their businesses. Antigua is bustling with worldly goods, like imported cheeses, wines, Sushi restaurants etc. This, is the easy stuff to see, as it is pleasing to the eye. Less easy to see, or at least stomach, is the poverty here. I took a picture of a man passed out on the sidewalk, in what appeared to be his wife's lap, while walking home from the market today. I immediately felt so bad for taking the picture that I deleted it. I thought about the biblical saying, "There too but for the grace of God go I." We are all so lucky. Each and everyone of you reading this blog, have made it. You might be frustrated at times about this or that, but you made it. I thought about the love and devotion of this wife, for holding her man in sickness and in health, for better or worse, on that sidewalk. As much as Antigua can be easy on the eyes it can be hard on the soul. The disparity is extreme, and I am sure this will unveil itself further as the days go on.
Another thing the pictures cannot show you is the constant smell of burning debris. To date, every place we have been in central America has smelled of burning grass, trash, wood, etc. To be sure, there are valid reasons why they burn things here. They burn grasses to clean out pastures before the rainy season, to give the new grass a chance. They burn wood to cook and also burn the chopped debris in the forests to clear it. They burn trash because nobody picks it up and it needs to go. There are a variety of reasons why they burn things here, and for whatever the reason, the air is thick. Combine the constant burning with no emission controls for cars and trucks and you have a noxious cocktail that people are forced to breathe daily.
Still, with all of this, I have to say, the positives outweigh the negatives. We are planning to stay here for about a month or so and visit Lake Atitlan at some point. We are all enrolled in Spanish school, which is quite fun getting us all ready for school in the morning. The kids love the semi role reversal, watching mom and dad rush out the door with them, backpacks in hand. All I can say is, God Bless coffee :) 

The world famous chicken buses of Guatemala

I guess they found a creative way to reuse glass bottles. Considering this is only 5 feet off the ground, it could actually injure a completely innocent person as well.

The streets have a lot of charm, even when you are off the beaten tourist path like us.

The Arch of Antigua is a popular site to visit. There are not a lot of tourists around at the moment but the city is well equipped to handle lots of people.

The pastel colored buildings are everywhere and give this place a grand colonial charm

The Central Park area of Antigua is a beautiful place to hang out. On Sundays, the indigenous people come in from the mountains to sell their wares. We were here last Sunday to see the festivities but my camera was dead. 

A typical display of salsas from the areas. We had to take this photo as the plate looked so appetizing. The salsas were very delicious and the green one lived on to its name picantito. 

This cathedral was destroyed by an earth quake and is now a museum of ruins. There are many ruins in and around Antigua, serving as a reminder of the volcanoe's presence and strength.  

Men do stupid things all around the world. Can you see the guy laying down at the top of this pile? Just for clarification, we were driving 50 miles an hour here, just outside Guatemala City.
We have seen so many overturned semi trucks that nobody would believe us if we said that we saw at least one everyday of driving.
Elise and the kids, walking around Mayan ladies on the street. We were told you can identify the women's status and even village, by the colors, length and designs of their dresses. We have not been able to identify this yet, but do admire the beauty and pride the dresses represent.  

Monday, April 20, 2015

Arrival in Antigua

This is Elise. We arrived in Antigua yesterday after a long drive. It's very nice here with beautiful mountains and lots of colonial charm. We are starting Spanish school today. I hope it helps my communication skills!
We will post more later, just wanted everyone to know we safely made the journey here.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Adios Copan

This is Mike...
Tomorrow we will be leaving Copan, Honduras for Antigua, Guatemala. Sundays are the best days to cross the borders because of the big rig traffic. We are looking forward to cooler days over there as it has been in the 90's in Copan. This hilly little colonial town has been a very nice experience for us, especially since we never thought about coming here originally. I guess this is proof about keeping an open mind while traveling.    
The world goes by slowly in these small, timeless, colonial towns

Overlooking a residential part of town

Hillside homes abound in this town

Some of these super steep roads give San Francisco a run for the money

We visited an awesome bird sanctuary that rehabilitates native birds for eventual release back to the wild. If they can survive on their own, they are released. If they cannot fend for themselves they are kept in a safe area with large aviaries and other companions. Above, is the endangered Great Green parrot, native to the Mosquito coast of eastern Honduras, and a real beauty.

Toucans are very smart and cute. Zoe enjoyed holding this guy and talking with it.
The Parrots mate for life and live for a half a century or more, not ideal for pets. These refuges end up with unwanted pets or injured wild birds hit by cars, fall out of nests while chicks, etc. The bird Sierra is holding, above, is making a nice recovery but might not return to the wild because it is so friendly towards humans.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Las Sepulturas

This is Mike...
Las Sepulturas is special because it is a village near the Copan mega-structure. This is where the regular Maya lived, essentially the suburbs of the day. This appears to be the only such neighborhood found by archeologists to date. The village had an intricate water waste system to push out everything during rainstorms. Also, many of the homes had small alters and food storage areas and were comfortable for their day. The scribes and artisans were highly prized and would have lived in accommodations such as this. The other, not so well off working stiffs lived in simple wooden structures that have since completely deteriorated.
I'll take a 3 bed 2 bath unit with a view, it must have a view.

Hey neighbor, when is cocktail thirty?

Enjoying the walk with two remarkable girls

Are those ants on the tree?

Nope, those are one inch thorns all over the trunk. I finally found a tree Zoe won't climb.

This is the elusive MotMot bird with its long colorful tail feathers. Elise spotted this and we observed it for several minutes and enjoyed the noise it makes. We ascertained the name comes from the noise it makes, motmot, motmot.

Looking for sour creme and onion Pringles? We were the only tourists in this entire site. We have seen very few tourists to date but this was weird. Elise was happy to see a machine gun wielding soldier at the entrance. Without him we would not have visited this site as it would have given us ibbie jibbies to be alone in the jungle with boisterous kids.  

The carvings are so well preserved in this climate

Amazing art is all over the place

The kids standing in front of a bed
The superb glyphs and plaster are worth noting on this image