Sunday, August 30, 2009

Los Amigos Youth Hostel, Flores

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Once I learned that they had some private rooms, and that I wouldn't have to sleep in a dorm or bunk bed with snorers and farters with whom I was unacquainted, I was all in favor of a night at the youth hostel in Flores. It's been years - decades - since I stayed in such a place, so I guess it qualifies as a remote nation, one as curious as Chad or China. There aren't many people under 40 or even 50 in our circles on the Rio Dulce, which is a sad thing to admit!

As a 'coming of age' birthday present - I was 18 or 19 -my parents gave me a Eurailpass and a cheap round-trip ticket to Luxembourg. I left the next week and spent a couple months on the move, with not a backpack but a knapsack, before returning for my last year of college. It was a most formative experience, and I was glad to see that there are still so many young people on a similar quest now.

Los Amigos, the hostel, is in the center of town of Flores, which itself is a smallish island in a lake, connected to the mainland by a causeway. Whatever Mayan facilities once existed here were destroyed by the Spanish hundreds of years ago. The locals themselves are in the process of destroying the streets, replacing the cobblestones with interlocking pavers which will be wonderful, in another year or so.

Beyond the foyer it was a pleasant surprise to find a large courtyard as well as second story rooms and rooftop palapas. Banana trees, vines and flowers, even fresh-hatched quail in lieu of the customary chickens. Artists with a vivid palette and great sense of humor had made their marks throughout.

Our compact room with cordovan-colored walls, navy-blue sheets, electric fan and window to the courtyard cost a whopping $10. There were two kinds of dorm room, maybe half a dozen private rooms, and also hammock-sleeping spaces under a roof upstairs, which might have cost $2 per night. So you can see that Guatemala on $5 a day might be as do-able as Europe on $5 a day was years ago. Which is to say, barely. Still, the folks in the cheap seats are having just as much fun as in the front row.

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Like a cat on a windowsill, I parked myself and my book in a hammock in a leafy little nook upwind of the parrot and just inside the rainshower drip line and dozily listened to the conversations around me. This is an active and vibrant hostel, lots of coming and going.
cat at hostel

I love listening to non-native English speakers using English as their common language.Young men sharing shopping tips, young women telling young men how to hitch-hike, that sort of stuff.

Several were going back to school in the fall, but several others were between jobs, or just travelling. A three-generation family was there, including a little girl who loved being pushed on the swing, and an older woman with luggage so big I wondered if she was shipping herself. A Belgian quartet arrived carrying a trumpet and something like an organ keyboard powered by blowing through a tube. They played for us all afternoon, and later that night they played at the Flores central plaza to a smallish but receptive audience of Guatemalans, who sent little girls in party dresses to drop Quetzales into their hat.

I got a kick out of the equipment the backpackers carried. The packs themselves look so much more sleek, organized than mine, and clean and new. One woman showed me her two favorite items - a silky sheet-sleeping bag liner, and a miracle towel (never wet, never dirty, never smelly!) made of miracle fiber. That sounds great - it's a challenge to get a towel dry before it festers.

But otherwise, we were pretty much out of it, conversationally. Not that no one would talk to us - they would, if we started it. Otherwise, we were nearly invisible, or irrelevant. Fine by me! I never went too far out of my way to chat up someone older than my mother either, and only recently do I wonder what I might have missed. That's one of the reasons I'm here, to make up for lost time.

The kitchen at Los Amigos is vegetarian and it puts out great food at great prices, worth going for even if you're not staying there. An avocado licuado, sugar added, is nearly a meal in itself. (Somewhere I read that Antiguans have a nickname based on the extreme availability of avocados in their diet). Tough to fit the country's best vegetable lasagne in afterwards, not to mention the brownie.

The staff is friendly and hardworking, which is good because a few things haven't changed about youth. They're not always tidy, and they still think they're invulnerable. Mainly I was disappointed to see how many smokers there were in this educated and advantaged group of people. It was hard to find fresh air in the courtyard at times. Do these Europeans and Australians think they're immune?

But I hope that I was as clued-up and tuned-in to the world when I was that age (and a smoker) as those kids around the table at Los Amigos while I was there.
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Any questions?

Overheard: Australian lad says to American: "They want you to put your toilet paper in the bin." American: "In the bed? That doesn't sound right."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

YaXha

dleivathis photo courtesy of dleiva at flickr

I'm pretty sure this place, YaXha, will be at the top of my favorite ruins list no matter how many I end up visiting. A knowledgeable local sent us here. Our guide at Tikal reminded us that the 2005 TV series, Survivor Guatemala was filmed at YaXha, and that he was featured on Day 25, or was it 27. It's also in the area preserved as part of the Mayan Biosphere, although I was sorry to see a bulldozer flattening everything, possibly for cattle pasture, right up to the perimeter.

Getting to YaXha from Tikal via public transportation (collectivo) was looking complicated, time-consuming and not without hassle, so we ended up in a taxi-van straightaway. After 75 kms, 11 of which were up a side road, we were glad we did. From our 'eco-lodge' it was another 45 minutes of walking up the hill to the site. Chak, the lodge's black Lab, who was well-known at the admission gate ("un perro muy noble"), proudly showed us the way. But when we got to the actual ruins, we found that he was 'our' dog, but not allowed in (he might chase monkeys!) So we scrounged a piece of rope, tied him outside the bathrooms and collected him on the way home.

YaXha is atop a hill between two lakes, the green one and the blue one, from whence it derives its name. In its time, it was connected by road (and, sometimes, political alliance) to Tikal and to other ruins even further in the jungle (which of course wasn't necessarily jungle then), and to other small unexcavated sites around the lakes. With maybe 40,000 people and 500 structures, it might have lacked Tikal's cosmopolitan flavor, but it does have, to my mind, the superior location.
216 lake view 2

I read somewhere that the restoration is only two years old, and privately funded by Deutschebank. Can't say if this is why there were reader boards about the architecture, with pictures of what each area might have looked like and small explanations about cultural matters, helpful even in Spanish.
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The stairways are so nicely built, with rounded handrails, framed edges, plugged screws and consistently even treads, that when we got to the top of Temple 216 - the big one in the North Acropolis with the east-west view - we commented to the guard. He replied that some of the tourists were "muy gorda"- very fat.

In fact each area had a guard/docent who was willing, even eager (it was a quiet day and not each guard brought a transistor radio!) to talk, although maybe not particularly knowledgeable. They changed areas every 8 days, from the top of the temple to the ballcourt to the viewing stand in the treetops with the monkeys. Some days there are a hundred tourists, other days ten - you can't say the place is overrun!
belizen.com?
Another point in YaXha's favor was that a lot of the undergrowth had been cleared, leaving big canopy trees with open spaces between them for that most comforting of landscapes, the feeling of shelter without claustrophobia.
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Plus when the monkeys swing through, they're easier to see.
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The 'eco-lodge' El Sombrero, on the lakefront beneath YaXha, is the only place to stay for miles, but it's nice, so no hardship.
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The owner was away, we were the only guests, and even the staff left after dinner so we had the hotel, and probably the lake and the ruins, to ourselves, except for a couple dogs.
I thought how nice a swim in the lake would be; the 'danger of crocodiles' sign was one thing, but a huge crocodile skull on the ledge put teeth into the sign, you could say.
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All the drinking water comes from the lake too, 'filtered'.

We were offered a ride back down the 11 km road to the highway, one at a time on the back of a motorcycle, but decided to walk instead. And before too too long we'd hitched the ride in the back of a pickup with a couple guys on their way somewhere with bowls of soaked corn. They were glad to know we had appreciated YaXha, but said we really should go to Naranja, 25 km past YaXha. That, they said, is 'el capital del jungle'.
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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Off the Bus - Tikal

GRAND PLAZA
gran plazaTikal (or Tik’al, according to the more current orthography) was a religious and government center in the Mayan world for about 800 years, starting about when Hannibal was crossing the Alps in 200 BC. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, in a six-square mile protected biosphere.
VIEW FROM TEMPLE FOURPhotobucket It is the largest of the ancient ruined cities of the Maya civilization, and is located in the El Petén department of Guatemala. This view from Temple IV was used as a filming location for Yavin 4 in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, looking east where Temple I, II and III can be seen, according to certain fans. Also atop Temple IV is where the only cell phone signal in the park can be obtained, in case you need to change your reservations, or call a friend in Israel, or send along your photo, all of which was being done while we were there.

Tikal is in the middle of the jungle. There are a few hotels on the site, expensive and often fully booked by tour groups. People stay 30 or 40 minutes away at El Remate or Flores on the shores of a lake. Or they fly in a small plane to a small airport, for a small day trip. We stayed in El Remate, and were waiting at the park gate at 6AM with forty other turistas.
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Supposedly the harvesters of chicle, a sap collected from trees and once used to make Chicklets chewing gun, were the first to alert the world to the presence of these ruins, in the mid 1800s. The University of Pennsylvania played a significant role in modern restoration, although there had been several small uncoverings and investigations earlier. A Guatemalan/Spanish consortium is in charge now, I think.
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One reason people like Tikal is that it’s shady, which is a good thing when you're trudging along in August. Also, it's another way of saying significantly unrestored – maybe one tenth of the 3000-odd structures have been uncovered.
How do dey know dat? De satellites tol dem so.

NASA provided a snapshot of solar radiation reflected off of the plants in the region, and amazingly (a scientist) saw patterns of discoloration in the satellite image that outlined some of the buildings he had already uncovered. With his GPS device, he pinpointed the location on a map of other nearby discolorations and discovered several areas with hidden Mayan architecture. The Maya used limestone and lime plasters in their building. As abandoned buildings disintegrated, chemicals from these stones seeped into the ground, preventing some plants from growing around the structures and affecting the chemistry of those that did grow.

http://www.nowpublic.com/culture/ancient-ruins-tikal

Ironically, by clearing away the vegetation to investigate and reveal the structures below, their ruin is accelerated. Since they’re no longer stuccoed, rainwater gets into all the joints. There’s talk of covering some sites back up until there’s better technology (and more money!) for protecting, and investigating them. Photobucket

What went on here? Well, as usual, we went in knowing not too much, and we came out much the same way. Googling around for factoids, I’m impressed with the fluidity of the statistics – top population 100,000, or 150,000 or even 500,000? 3000, 4000, 5000 structures? First settlement 3000BC, 2000 BC? Name means “Land of Many Voices’? “Green Bundle”?

I have my usual problem with the Mayans, which is that I know so little that I have trouble imagining daily life, which is mainly what interests me. I don't have a good book and the guides- well, let's just say, often play to the lowest common denominator. Julius Caesar in a toga is within the range of my culture, and thus, my imagination. General Smoking Frog or King Chocolate, not so much, though they do sound interesting. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve met them both, in other incarnations!

One reason we aren't reading reliable information about the Mayans is because a Spanish priest, Diego de Landa, in 1519 or so, took it upon himself to burn almost all of the substantial records that had existed, lest they hinder his efforts at conversion, I gather.

So we're left with what the chichleros and the archeologists and the code-breakers can tell us. Archeologists say the jungle took over the city about 1100 years ago. Before that, current thinking favors overpopulation and/or environmental disaster, specifically drought, (as long as 40 years?) brought about by deforestation, and exacerbated by a long run of unfavorable weather, as the cause for the culture’s collapse.

Tikal was surrounded by a series of man-made limestone-lined canals and ‘bajos’, reservoirs left from quarrying operations. When these ran dry, there was no other resource. Compounding the problem, apparently, was the insistence of the rulers, self-styled demi-gods, that they could control the seasons and the climate. This contention must have been increasingly difficult to believe for the people doing the actual labor.
MODEL OF SITE FROM TOURIST CENTERPhotobucket

Society seems to have been highly ordered, at least while the leaders maintained their control.There was much trade, and also much warfare. There were roads connecting the many cities, which, since these people were astronomic wizards, were aligned with the solstices and equinoxes. It must have been quite something to approach on broad boulevards these temples and palaces glistening white with hard-packed limestone and colorfully decorated with masks and trim. Remember, there wasn't jungle then. Somewhere I read that from the 60-meter top of a Tikal temple, the top of a temple ?70km? north, near the Mexican border, could be seen.

Or, as one of the backpackers said: "these guys weren't just a bunch of Indians running in the jungle they had a distinct culture and were educated."

Here’s a brief discussion taken from a Smithsonian magazine article June 2004
Though magnificent, the ruins of Tikal visible today represent but a
fraction of the original city-state. During its heyday, archaeologists
say, “downtown” Tikal was about six square miles, though research
indicates that the city-state’s population may have sprawled over at
least 47 square miles. Yet most of Tikal—the heart of Guatemala’s
Tikal National Park, about an hour’s drive northeast of the modern city
of Flores—has not even been excavated. And until recently, the same
could be said about the nature of the Maya themselves.
Mayan art and writing, it turned out, contained stories of battles,
sacrificial offerings and torture. Far from being peaceful, the Maya
were warriors, their kings vainglorious despots. Maya cities were not
merely ceremonial; instead, they were a patchwork of feudal fiefdoms
bent on conquest and living in constant fear of attack.
Perhaps the greatest Maya mystery of all is the cause of the
civilization’s abrupt decline. The last dated stela erected at Tikal
was put up in a.d. 869; the last anywhere in the Maya world, in 909.


PhotobucketNowadays of course the experience is quite different. Certain Mayan ceremonies are apparently still held, but seem limited to the ritual killing of ?chickens? and spraying of blood on small round altars. There are Mayans working on restoration projects – we were told it took a day for them to chop a new limestone block with their machetes, but of course we don't know the benchmark from the original construction.

The ruins themselves date from early, middle and late periods and have different architectural influences. There are pyramids built covering older pyramids and much in-fill development - too much to take in, so I just curiously but uncritically admired everything I saw. Doug's perpetual question was: why did such short-legged people build so many tall steps? The tour guide's answer was to point out that, unlike tourists, the Mayans didn't climb to the top every day. On ceremonial occasions when they did climb they did it in a slow and ritualized fashion, as in a church procession.

The jungle that has been arising around, and through, these ruins for the last 1100 years is full of trees and shrubs and vines of course, and rich in animal life, birds, monkeys, insects, butterflies, even jaguars. Our guide, an ornithologist in the main birding season (spring and autumn), was at least as interested in showing us the wildlife as the ruins. He rustled up howler monkeys, spider monkeys, a coatl. He pulled a fist-sized tarantulla out of a hole with a stalk of grass and took pictures of tourists pretending to eat it. He found us a toucan – such a lovely improbable creature – and orependula, a yellow-tailed bird with a spectacular nest.
He was looking for a jaguar, but they were off for the day.TOUCANPhotobucket
A friend saw a toucan drink out of a puddle. To do so the bird had to turn its bill sideways and lay it in the puddle, take the water over the gunwale, so to speak, being apparently unable to suck it through the point of its bill. Also, apparently the bill is such a heavy piece of equipment that when a baby toucan fledges, it leaves the nest forever, being unable to maneuver back in.
ORRPENDULA NESTS Another interesting bird lives in these hanging nests; supposedly sleeps in them every night as protection against predators.
orependula nests in grand plaza

Being unable to get a grip on the ancient culture, I turned my attention to modern culture – our fellow travelers.
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TOURISTS TAKING PHOTOS
Our group was dominated by backpackers of many nationalities, Canadians and Israelis and Dutchmen. Some of the Australian girls wore frothy little dresses to the jungle, and what I thought was inappropriate footwear, since we expected to do a good 10 kilometers on rough terrain, not even counting whatever temples we climbed.
GIRLS COMING DOWN STEPS
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But they did fine, no whinging Poms here, and it was fun to watch them posing outlandishly for dozens of photos. In fact it was their presence that inspired us to stay at the youth hostel in Flores later on, more about which anon.

After our official tour, we ate our box lunch, took a little nap , and tried to charge my camera battery. The things you don't think about: there's no power out here - the restaurant refrigerator is gas - and the generator only hums from 6-9 pm. Also the ground water was very sulfur-y, and we had to buy bottled water, which really goes against the grain these days. This is a park with trash cans, and 90 percent of the trash was those plastic water bottles.

Later that afternoon we walked back the entire ten kilometers a second time, though skipped some of the climbs. We went back to the corner of the park where I'd had the best vibes, Mundo Perdido. Most of the tourists were gone, and we got to sit and watch the filtered light on the ruins, and the butterflies and monkeys and birds, all of which were out in force and slowly imbibe just a little of what an amazing place we were in. Not Mayan amazing, just lovely.
BUTTERFLIESPhotobucket
SPIDER MONKEY LEAPINGPhotobucket

Cue the violins. The sun sank slowly in the west. We had a modest dinner, crawled onto the air mattress in the tent we had rented, because I hoped to stay in the park and listen to the 'jungle sounds'. If there were howler monkeys, I never woke up to hear them, though I could hear deep breathing in neighboring tents before I got my own rhythm down. I was thinking I'd get up early, sneak around the ticket taker and the tour guide (that was a dream!) and get on the trail to temple IV for sunrise, but t didn't happen.
Next day, another load of tourists was at the gate at 6 am. We crawled out of our hole on the ground and decided to try another Mayan site, YaXha.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

On The Bus, towards Tikal

FUENTE DEL NORTE AT FRONTERASPhotobucketFree of chores for the first time in weeks, we broke out of the marina for a trip to Tikal, supposedly the premiere Mayan ruin in this part of the world. It's about three hours on a direct bus to Flores, then another half hour or so to Tikal, in the middle of the "Mayan Biosphere".

First decision is: do you want to travel like an advantaged gringo? In that case, you hire an air-conditioned van, maybe try to share it out, or you take the 3 PM one-a-day Maya del Oro air-conditioned express bus. Open your wallet.

Or, will you ride like a regular Guatemalan? Wait across the street in the other bus station, and see what shows up, and when. Most days it's a normal, although well-used, bus like the one above.

Partly it was an economic decision ($7.50 Rio Dulce to Flores, versus $20 MdO, or $150 van) and partly cultural. You probably can guess what we chose.

So, what are these chicken buses all about?
Well, here's the chicken.
BUS STATION CHICKEN
chicken at bus station
In the beginning, we each had a seat. Doug gave his up early to a woman with two very young children. A Dutch tourist did the same, and a second woman with child squeezed in, and then a husband came to hover over them.

I lost my seat at the Mediterranean fruit fly inspection station, late to board because I was talking to an inspector about the American apple Granny Smith #4137 I had ignorantly chosen to pull from my pack and eat at that time. (Not a problem. Apples are a concern in large quantities, but not in tourist-sized doses. Or something like that)

We spent the rest of the ride elbow to shoulder with our fellow standees, shifting from foot to foot, heads in the overhead rack-osphere. The locals, a foot or so shorter, could see where we were going. The windows were open, the breezes were good while the bus moved, and other than the fact we didn't know how far we were going, for how long, and couldn't see anything, it was a tolerable situation.

Observations: Guatemalan, or in this case I should say Mayan, children, are incredibly well-behaved/passive. Young children will stand expressionless in the tiny space behind the seat, without fidgeting, fighting, or whining. Babies don't cry. For hours.

A preacher boarded with us, stood next to me in fact, which made me put my politely interested face on when he began to address us his estimada hermanos and hermanas, and then harangued us about "Cristo viene pronto" until his stop came up twenty minutes later. The Dutch tourists eventually gave up their conversation, and most of the locals were again totally impassive. It made me think this is a regular occurrence, like the newspaper and food vendors in the towns we passed through.

Otherwise, voices are kept low, even on cell phones. No one plays a radio, or shouts to their buddy at the other end of the bus. Nor do the adults complain. In an sub-optimal situation (ie not enough seats on a long bus ride), these people respond with equanimity, or with resignation, hard to tell the difference. It was fascinating to watch, and feel, how smoothly everyone dealt with the crowding and having to move through it to get on or off. Fascinating, and impressive.

And, to be fair, this wasn't really a chicken bus. The bus to Flores originates in Guatemala City, which is why there are probably not any seats when it gets to Rio Dulce; also it seems the chickens don't go from city to country. From Flores back to the city, you can get a seat, reserved on a computer whose graphic has no relationship to the actual bus. The chickens do take this route, but they don't get seats.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Licuado

One of the finest, but most expensive, drinks you can buy in a Guatemalan bar or restautant is a licuado, and it's non alcoholic. In the US we'd call it a smoothie, maybe even a Slurpee. PhotobucketIt's a blender half full of fruit, here con agua o con leche, or yogurt and honey if I'm at home, enough liquid to get the fruit chopped up, then ice. I even had a delicious one made of avocado, with sugar, the other day.

Licuados bear only a superficial resemblance to the artificially flavored and colored concoctions at the convenience store.

Pity about the cost, ($2+, when you can buy a beer for half that) because the mellowing agents associated with a licuado are second to none.

First of all, you have to wait. In the shade, sitting down. Breezy? +++. So you settle in, begin to switch gears from the rigors of town. All the stuff you were schlepping waits passively on the floor.

Second, the presentation: not just a bottle wearing a bow-tied napkin, but a creamy pastel mound in a bounteous stemmed goblet, (38D?), maybe even with a fruit garnish, or perhaps part of your straw wrapper will be curled. Presentation helps.

Third, cooling effect of cold blender drink, soothing little ice crystals streaming down your gullet; you could almost visualize the graphics for the TV commercial. It's guaranteed to drop your core temperature significantly.

But wait! There's more !You're packing your belly full - full of cool, and full of nutrition. "We just ate half a watermelon" says Doug, or half a pineapple, or 3 mangoes, or 3 cups of papaya.

Now I own a blender (licuadora) and my new favorite appliance, the limon squeezer (exprimadora, <$2). Every day, mid morning, and mid afternoon, something fruity and frothy is being whipped up not more than 2 feet from my 110V electric outlet.
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I bought 50 limon the other day for $1.20. I meant to buy ten limes, not ten Q worth, (8 Quetzales equalling $1 USD) but the woman had her basket empty and my backpack full before I thought of a way to say "that's not what I meant!" So I made limonade concentrate in boiling water, added sugar, then squeezed the dregs with my new exprimador. My scurvy resistance is way up, but the enamel on my teeth, maybe not. Anyhow, it was all gone in about three days. It's such a treat to be profligate!

Pineapples are less than a dollar - these are the DelMonte/Dole rejects, sometimes a little small, or lopsided. I wonder what the quality sorting standards are in pina-ville. "The ideal candidate (pineapple) will have symmetrical eyes no deeper than 25mm, a straight top...." Sometimes you'll see roadside stands that look like they're actually made using pineapples as columns and walls.
We get banana rejects too. My favorites are the "Chiquita minis" priced by the dozen and about as filling as 2 Oreos and a glass of milk. They're never green, always quite yellow, so it really is a race to the finish. Sometimes I feel like a monkey, flinging the stems over my shoulder as I reach for the next one.

We keep our 'organics', the vegetable food scraps, in a 2 lb coffee 'plastic' which, since we're eating so much fruit and veg, needs daily dumping. Lacking a pig or a compost heap, we sometimes sneak out to mid-river to dump the scraps, since we don't want the positively buoyant among the discards circling the boat all day. I don't feel good about this. Yet the marina workers say the fish like to eat fruit, and they 'chum' with custard apple, I think it is, and sometimes tortillas, when they fish during lunch hour and after work.

The marina doesn't want organics in the trash, some of which is hauled to an undisclosed location by lancha; or sometimes is burned in the back lot. Don't forget, everything that comes here comes by boat, and has to leave the same way.

The only unfortunate consequence of our fruititarianism is a near-plague of fruit flies. Wikipedia tell me that fruit flies have a life-cycle of ten days. We've had them in mid-ocean, weeks out of port, and while they're not actively offensive, biting, stinky, etc, they just don't look nice in the galley. I've started keeping fruit in the fridge, the oven, even in the pressure cooker, to foil them. Heaven help us all if the fruit flies ever mate with the ants - two more 'on-the-job-all-the-time' species it would be hard to imagine.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Coup in Honduras, five weeks later

Was it a coup on June 28? When the president appears in his pajamas, leaving town with a military escort on a Sunday morning, that's what it looks like. It has also been characterized as a justified legal government action against an out-of-control President - sort of Impeachment Light.

Guatemala shares a common border with Honduras, and we'll be heading that way at the end of the season, so we're paying attention.

"Mel" Zelaya wanted to extend his presidential term, as many other presidents do. Latin American presidents seems to be finding that four year term limits are, well, limiting, in both the good things they can do, and the bad. I believe even Newt Gingrich came to the same conclusion.

Zelaya's opponents were alarmed by efforts he made towards amending the constitution to remove term limits. A wealthy rancher, Zelaya was also thought to be veering towards the Chavez model of presidency.

Five weeks later, there are continuing negotiations with interim president Roberto Micheletti. Good thing Zelaya's official term of office expires in a couple months, with a new election scheduled for November 29. If everyone can keep trading accusations instead of bullets, all faces might be saved. Meantime, the US, and the EU have suspended much of their aid, to little effect.

The Supreme Court ruled (a constitutional referendum Zelaya had called for June 28) illegal; the Congress voted to sanction the president; the attorney general’s office began investigations into possible charges; both political parties—including the president’s own—condemned his actions; and church leaders like Evelio Reyes, pastor of one of the largest evangelical churches in Honduras, began holding high-profile prayer vigils each morning in front of government offices.
(said Christianity Today)

The larger discussion in Honduras, as in much of Central America, has to do with whether the status quo, ten percent rich/'advantaged' and ninety percent poor, shall remain. Will capitalism govern by proxy, or should an effort be made to directly accommodate every voice, including the uneducated, the impoverished and the oblivious, as certain definitions of 'democracy' might require. Despite his promises to all sides, Zelaya was apparently pretty inefficient in terms of actual governance, and no one liked the way he spent money that came his way.

The discussion rapidly gets heated. I won't get into it (let your opinion be no firmer than the facts upon which it is based), other than to say that there certainly is deep-seated social injustice throughout Central America.

Politically, several countries in the area, though not Costa Rica, are in a more or less parallel political situations: president with short term, president with opposition to his policies, some from the poor, and some from business which expects even better treatment. Will the oligarchs be supported as they have been for decades, nay, centuries, or will 'the people' get it together? The Davids have to face the Goliaths, and the results cannot be foreseen.

As a practical matter, the border between Honduras and Guatemala was closed for a few days early in July. People who were using the cheap Spirit Airlines tickets out of San Pedro Sula had to make other arrangements. With the situation unresolved and tenuous, the border could close again. But third hand reports from people in the hinterland say that if you weren't watching demonstrations in the capitol on TV you wouldn't have a clue anything was amiss. Anything could happen.

For anyone who wants to know more, here are a few links, several sent to me by a fellow boater who might have a horse in the race.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090804/ap_on_re_la_am_ca/lt_honduras_coup
http://blog.christianitytoday.com/ctliveblog/archives/2009/07/honduras_coup_w.html
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124847775316780293.html
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8164513.stm
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204886304574311083177158174.html?mod=googlenews_wsj