Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It's cold on the mountain

Got cold here this week. We came back from Guate (on the subject of Guate, here's another shot from the lake, left), then left early the next day for Campanario, and when we really arrived back home for a while on Sunday, it was cold here. Not cold like it is in Boston – we keep up with WBUR everyday, and hearing the weather report there is pretty fun, in a way that is hard to really figure out; I'm sure a better anthropologist would have things to say about it – but it only reaches the mid-50's or so during the day, and drops into the low-40's at night. And here's the kicker: houses here have no insulation or indoor heat. We've now got 4 blankets on our bed, and they do a pretty good job for us. Right now I am wearing long johns and a thick wool sweater, a wool cap, jeans, thick socks and shoes. This is inside, working at my desk. I think in Salto de Agua (a smallish lowland city we pass through on the way to Campanario) the other day it was maybe 85. Until now, I've always much preferred our San Cristóbal climate to what was on offer in Salto, but today I'm not so sure.

We do seem to have passed beyond the rainy season. It is clear and sunny this morning, our clothes are out drying on the line. The clouds still come in in the afternoons sometimes. Here are clouds over a nice street (right).

Walker and Liz will arrive tomorrow, and give us good excuses to descend from our mountain home and be warm again.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

slice the tomato fresh

Don't get me wrong, we think it is really nice that many of the restaurants around here have menus with English translations to help out us travelers. But sometimes these menus could really use double-checking by a native speaker. Here are some of our favorite menu items:
  • Hawaiian pizza with ham and pinecones (=pineapples)
  • bagel with cream cheese and salmon filled with smoke (=smoked salmon)
  • salad with slice the tomato fresh (=fresh tomatoes...or a new English resultative?)
  • pizza with Spanish ham mountain (= serrano ham; cerro = mountain)

Here in San Cristóbal it is getting colder and dryer. Not as cold as it is getting up north, but we miss our heaters at night. Above is a picture of the view from our backyard, courtesy of Peter.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Astral travel

We returned last night from Guatemala; a few things about that –

1.) Lago Atitlán easily ranks as one of the more amazing places I've ever been. Hard to make words do it, but: big, very clear lake, ringed around by very steep, jungled mountainside and 3 volcanoes. The best part of the whole trip may have been just the lanchas, the water-buses that run regularly between the lakeside towns, and from which we could watch the lake and awesome shore/mountain roll by.

2.) Antigua is nice. But I am happy to say that it isn't as nice as our new home, San Cristóbal. I'm a little proud of our city for that.

3.) Back to the lake: did you know that you could take a month-long course, including instruction in meditation, metaphysics, and (best of all) astral travel, in one of the lakeside communities? Of course you did! You astral travelers, you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

viajando en Guate

Remember how a couple of weeks ago Jess' computer died? And then was magically revived by a nice program called DiskWarrior? Well the same thing happened to my Macbook the night before Jess, Gillian and I left for Guatemala... except my computer was so dead that Disk Warrior couldn't even find a hard drive to repair. So we are again a one-computer family for a little while. Happily almost everything is safely backed up, and the fancy new Macbooks just came out, so I have something to look forward to. In the meantime, I will be getting a nice loaner from a friend.

Maybe the saddest part is that Gillian and I had just gone to record Chol ejectives in the home of a Chol-speaker living in San Cristobal with his wife, a Tzeltal-speaker from Oxchuk. We were taking some pictures of the beautiful view of the city from their house in a neighborhood called Cascajal, high up on a hill in the outskirts of the city, and offered to take a picture of Nico and his wife and give them a copy. They were excited and she spent about 20 minutes putting on her beautiful traditional hand-woven Oxchuk outfit, and asked again whether I would really bring them the pictures and I assured her that of course I would. I had just off-loaded these pictures to my hard drive and deleted them from my camera when it died. So it was a good time to goon a mini-vacation.

Today is our last day in Guatemala. We spent two nights at Lago Atitlan (above), a beautiful lake surrounded by volcanoes near the small city of Panajachel. We swam, ate good food with views, walked up to a village on top of a hill, and shopped around the Guatemala-kitsch market (a little different from the Chiapan-kitsch markets). Yesterday afternoon we arrived in Antigua, and tomorrow morning early we head back to Mexico where Gillian and I will continue recording Chol ejectives.

Antigua is beautiful. Our Lonely Planet chapter on Antigua starts with something like: "In all the long boring conversations about where the 'real Guatemala' is, Antigua is surely never mentioned. But also should not be missed." This seems pretty accurate. Antigua is beautiful, clean, friendly, and safe, with old colonial buildings and views of volcanoes. It has a special "tourist police force" to give us directions and escort us to places near the city. Last night we ate crepes for lunch and a delicious dinner in a small French restaurant. There are Guatemalans around, but it's not clear where they actually live, as the main streets seem to be full of hotels, museums, beautiful old churches, restaurants, and shops. We're not entirely sure what we'll do today, but it will most likely involve walking around and looking at old buildings and sitting in nice cafes.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

sábado gigante

Here are the promised pictures of the giant mechanical bugs by the cathedral from the other night. They were pretty amazing.
We have a visitor named Gillian, which has been lots of fun. Today we all got some breakfast and then Jess went to work while Gillian and I walked around and looked at things, and then recorded some Chol, and made some lunch. This evening we went out and heard live music (more of this Festival Cervantino Barroco, which is going on all week), and we will get up and record more Chol ejectives in the morning.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

¿dónde está Campanario?

I just discovered that Campanario, the Chol-speaking village where I go to do work, is now visible on Google maps. Just in case you ever need to come find me, it looks like this:

View Larger Map

I made some little landmarks that you should be able to read about by clicking on the icons.

We are getting ready to head down to the Tuxtla airport to pick up Gillian, who should be arriving in a couple of hours. We're excited to have a visitor.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Gringolandia debates

We've just returned from mini-Gringolandia: a private room at the Piano Lounge at the Hotel Villa Real San Cristóbal, where some 40 or so Americans have gathered to watch Wulf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper (dreamy), and John McCain's lizardfaced grins.

Everybody on CNN and even some of our gringo audience in S.C. seems to be saying that Mr. McCain had at least his best debate, if not actually doing better than Obama. Can they be serious? Can anyone watch that man "debate" (actually a series of loud indrawn breaths, fractured interruptions, and nervous, reptilian smiles) and think that he might somehow qualify as president material? It stuns me.

Tonight did not in many ways resemble last night, when we stood in a crowd of thousands of Mexicans, watching four or five giant (15'-20' tall) mechanical insects that stalked among the crowd, to electronic music. Our friend Peter took a bunch of pictures last night, so we will get a couple up here soon; giant mechanical insects battling in front of brightly-lit half-century old cathedrals is not, I imagine, an easy thing to acurately picture without visual aid.

(Aside: Is that John McCain's house? No, it's just the Iglesia de Guadalupe, the church out our front windows.)

Anyway, (try to imagine me snorting and grinning, McCainesque, as I say this) it's nice to get to participate in Gringolandia, even if only in this kind of satellite fashion: in private rooms of fancy Mexican hotels.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

commenting made easier?

Some of you have said that you couldn't make comments on our blog. I just changed a setting, so perhaps you can now. We like to hear from you!

back from the village

I'm back from a few days in Campanario. Jess stayed in San Cristóbal to work, and I headed out with my notebook, recorder, and over 100 photos from the inauguration of the Catholic church to be distributed to various parents and god-parents of baptized and confirmed children. Campanario looks like this:
Virginia, the woman I have been staying with since I first started going to Campanario, really liked her pictures. But then looking through the rest, explained to me that I had taken pictures not only of nice families, but also of some not-so-nice families, and now we were going to have to go give them out. Oops. (The picture below includes some members of the family I stay with, and the bishop in his funny hat.)

She asked how much I was planning to charge for the pictures, and I said nothing, they would just be gifts. (They only cost me 2 pesos each to develop.) But she explained that you don't just
give out photos as gifts... especially not to the not-nice families. (Usually the photographers who come for things like school graduations charge 15 pesos a photo.) I insisted I would just give them away, so she then explained that some of these not-so-nice ladies, when I had first come to the village, and said things like "what is that güera doing here?" (she knows I don't really like being called güera, feminine "whitey") and "why don't they tell her to go back to where she came from?". So we agreed that I would charge 5 pesos and in the end we split the earnings. Picture distributing, and the gossip surrounding it, occupied a good chunk of my trip, and I got to visit with some people who I've never really met before. It was lots of fun and I am becoming fairly competent in Chol chatting.

The family also really enjoyed the story of the abandoned puppy, which made me wonder if I should have brought it to them. But then last night (tamale night), we bought tamales from the family who adopted the puppy and they say she is doing well and eating lots. I think she will enjoy city life.

Virginia also wanted to know all about the house we are staying in in San Cristóbal. Is it a whole house you're renting? or just a room? You have to clean the whole house? I said yes, and she looked at me with some surprise. You sweep it yourself? You do the laundry? I think because I have shown myself to be so incompetent in some basic areas of women's work–carrying water on my head, making tortillas, washing clothes on rocks in streams–it is hard to believe that I can take care of my own home. I explained that yes, I did, but we have a washing machine so it is easier. She wanted to know if Jess also did these things. Did he cook? I said he did. She looked at me suspiciously. Did he wash the dishes? Sometimes. I had to lie when she asked if he swept, because I think the idea of a husband sweeping would be just to much to handle, and would make me look like a bad wife.

In keeping with the theme of cute animal pictures, here are some who hang
around Virginia's kitchen. Chickens aren't especially cute after they lose their baby fluff, but snuggling with cats helps.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Where we stand

A quick note, just so you all don't think I wasn't around for this whole puppy thing: Contrary to our positions during the initial 5 or so minutes of our relationship with little Tuxtla (the puppy), it was Jessica who, minutes after we left the puppy with new friend Doña Flor de Maria, was claiming to be "pretty sad", and "missing" the puppy. For my part, I'm just thrilling at the idea of sleeping through the night again.

puppy gets a new home

Last night we discovered that the puppy slept a little better if we added a bottle with hot water wrapped in a towel to her bed, but this fake mom didn't totally do the trick and we still had to get up a few times to try to figure out what our yowling little puppy wanted. The yowling continued this morning when we gave her another flea bath:

But we clearly underestimated the cuteness of our mangy little puppy. After she dried off we set off on our trip to the vet, for more puppy torture. In less than two blocks we had already stopped a couple of times for ooh-ing and aw-ing, when we met our puppy's new caregivers.

A woman and what we think may have been her grand-daughter were standing outside and ooh-ing at our puppy. We stopped and explained that we couldn't really keep it and would be happy to give them the puppy. At first the woman said she already had a puppy, but then after some more puppy-gazing asked how much we wanted for her. Shocked, we told her we weren't selling her, and that we just wanted to give her to a nice home. And we explained that she still has a few fleas, and needs attention in the middle of the night, and hasn't had any shots yet. But this woman was unbothered and told us she had flea soap and would take her to get vaccinated when she was old enough. And that was that. We went the two blocks back up to our house to get the food and other puppy paraphenelia we had acquired since Saturday. She said we could come down and visit her whenever we liked. Here is the puppy with her new mom, Doña Flor de María Gomez Martínez:

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Puerto Arista perrito

So we went to the beach this weekend and brought back this little souvenir:
How did we become puppy parents this weekend? Friday afternoon we rented a car, picked up Peter, and headed for the Pacific. The drive took longer than expected, and it was hot and humid when we arrived, and already dark, but we found a hotel and some delicious fish and called it a night.

In the morning, after a walk down the beach we were having breakfast under the palapa on the beach outside our hotel when we saw some kids walk by and stop to play with what we at first thought was a little cat out in the sand. They left behind a tiny yowling puppy, flea-bitten, hot, and hungry, but otherwise in pretty okay shape.
The kids came back by and told us it wasn't theirs, and our waiter explained to us that local street dogs sometimes abandon runt puppies on the beach, maybe knowing that they can't feed them all.

After weighing our options, we decided we there's was nothing to do but take her with us. She isn't more than a few weeks old, hadn't even managed to get herself to the shade, and the big vultures nearby looked ready for a puppy lunch. So we went into town, got her some water, some flea powder, some puppy food, gave her a bath, and little Tuxtla cleaned up pretty well. The hotel owners were very nice and helped us find a box for a temporary bed. She cried all night, but has made it with us back to San Cristóbal with us and is looking much better. Here is the castle Peter made for her:

So now what? We can't actually keep her, but figured if we clean her up we can probably find someone here who would like to have a puppy. Peter's roommates are good puppy-parent candidates, or we'll check with neighbors and the local hippies. She is really pretty adorable.

Our unplanned perrito occupied much of our beach time, but we also managed to eat a lot of fresh fish, lounge in hammocks, swim in the sea, and at night we walked down to a nearby turtle sanctuary and watched 600 or so day-old sea turtles get released into the ocean.
(They have to be released a little ways up on the beach because in about 15 years their tiny turtle brains need to remember where this beach is so they can come back to lay their eggs. Apparently just a few yards of walking on it will do. Not all of them caught on right away, so we got to help turn stray turtles toward the sea.)

Friday, October 3, 2008

It ain't apple picking

It's Friday, and it has been a good week for us, here – Jessica is getting things done, I am picking up work, both paid and volunteer – so it's time for a little vacay. So this afternoon we are headed to the beach, with our new friend Peter, and maybe our other new friend Emily.

Puerto Arista, where we are headed, is about three hours' drive from here, South and West. We will be renting a car here shortly, meeting Peter (and maybe Emily?) for falafel, and then rolling out. We should be there in time to catch a sunset like this one. It's hard here sometimes, as I'm sure you all can tell.