Friday, March 30, 2007

Semana Santa

After basking in the glow of our warmed egos, Joe and I were lucky enough to catch the beautiful city of Antigua, Guatemala, in the festivities leading up to its most beloved holiday: Easter, or Holy Week.

Every year, the people of Antigua perform backbreaking, elaborate, mind-blowing ceremonies deeply rooted in tradition. It goes a little something like this: First, people armed with scaffolding, colorfully dyed sawdust, stencils, and flowers decorate the cobblestone streets with vibrant 3D murals. They spend hours hovering over their labors of love, each group contributing their custom design until the streets are filled with color.

While the artists tend to their creations with fine spray bottle mists, commotion brews in the street. Oh, that's right, it's only about 200 men and women lugging around 700-pound reproductions of Jesus and Mary. They take shifts; swinging pails of incense, grunting under their burden, parading all throughout the city from 10am till 10pm. Slowly they trample each sacrificial piece of art, until the street is a ravaged mess of neon sawdust and foliage.

Insane as it seems, I really got caught up in the beauty of this tradition, as each volunteer seemed honored to be suffering under this huge weight. It meant so much more to us than many other commercialized US holidays, to see people putting their hearts and bodies into this symbolic act. That being said, beware your pockets, as Semana Santa is sadly the highest week for little rotten pickpocket hands (so we've heard).

- Rach

Monday, March 26, 2007

Dear Readers,

Ahhh, our self-serving guilt trip successfully squeezed comments out of our loyal readers. You are the fattened calf from whose sweet bosom we drink.

Without you we are nothing but pictures and words.

Seriously though.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

No really, it's freakin beautiful...You should care

So we noticed from the depressingly low number of comments that my loyal sister Jaime seems to be the only person out there that cares about this blog anymore. DonĀ“t get me wrong, I'm not bitter. It's natural that after a while sardonic musings about travels completely detached from reality would get rather boring. So as a result Rachel and I have decided to be lazy, post a few phots, and give all of our amazing handmade souvenirs to Jaime when we return.

Okay, since it's prolly necessary to offer an explanation of this I will break my self-imposed silence, but just this once. So in Guatemala they make these amazing moral lesson paintings aimed at scaring the masses into good submissive catholicism. Just remember, if you stray for a moment or become lazy with your faith, a gigantic snake or a wild-eyed knife-toting criminal will enter your home and put you to death. Beware!

Also of note is the Guatemalan idolization of Saints. Here a sculpture masterfully recounts the events of Saint Joe the Angry, after he mashed his head open with a golf putter. Stirring, isn't it?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Guat chu talkin' bout Willis

When traveling a considerable distance, especially by car, there is a tangible ebb and flow. After a few months, you realize it's foolish to struggle to maintain a schedule. Once you relax and travel on a whim, you find yourself exactly where you need to be. A cult hero of the Mexico traveling circuit refers to this principle with the anecdote, "Wherever you go, there you are." Reading this before the trip didn't make much sense, as the author knowingly refused to explain his mantra. While annoying at first, it now seems the only way to describe a journey routed in the unpredictable.

Once well-reacquainted with our friend the ocean, Rachel and I made a beeline for the Guatemalan border. After 5 weeks we both felt it was time for somewhere fresh. Somewhere cooler. Somewhere we might find the unexpected. We flew through Southern Oaxaca and Chiapas, then abruptly were faced with the most obscene border crossing on the planet. I'll save the painful details, but the simplest way to describe importing a vehicle into Guatemala is that there are 20 unofficials with home-printed badges for every actual official. You never really quite know who's legit, and $15 either means that your vehicle skates through uninspected, or that you don't get through till sundown. If the Guatemala border says one thing, it's that everything can and will be bought... failure to do so will result in a complete breakdown of Guatemalan society.

All corruption aside, we're now in one of the most beautiful places on earth, Lago de Atitlan. For those not familiar it's basically a massive lake built from and surrounded by 3 semi-active volcanoes. Apparently the hippies think it's the freakin' cosmic center of the universe because it puts Paia to shame. To top things off, the gringo hippies are catered to by eager, conservative Protestant Guatemalans, who offer horse rides, boat tours, aguardiente (quite literally "firewater"), and ridiculous amounts of Devil Weed. Kinda weird irony, don't you think?

Rounding out the whole scene out is the massive indigenous Mayan community around the lake. Within 20 minutes of arriving to San Pedro la Laguna (our home for a week), you will see a brilliantly dressed group of hardworking Mayans balancing sacks of coffee, firewood, and textiles on their heads to the market. Unfortunately, you will also see the apathetic old Mayan lady instantly don a downtrodden victim frown for each tourist that steps off the boat. As she begs for just one Quetzal (about 18 cents), she keeps a watchful eye on her granddaughter to whom she is teaching that art of the panhandle instead of having her attend school.

With all its brazen contradiction, Guatemala is the most interesting place I have been yet on the trip. The natural beauty of the highlands is only trumped by the rich culture of the people that call it home. Rachel and I begin Spanish classes tomorrow and can't wait to be able to interact with the people here more. Although the US dollar ain't what it used to be, just 10 of them will buy you a clean hotel room with this view of the lake from your deck. And ever since we realized that 2 people can live in this hotel, eating every delicious meal out, for under $50 a day, it will be very hard to leave Lago de Atitlan.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Great Adventure of our Secret Spot

After a few days of attempting to surf the crowded breaks of Puerto Escondido, Joe and I grew weary for a place to call our own. We headed off on a tip from a friendly Kiwi surfer, and found ourselves in a strange land where raccoons and anteaters lived restlessly as leashed pets.

We began our journey at sunrise, loaded into a crowded motor boat, and jet across a tranquil lagoon lined with mangroves. From there we squeezed into homemade seats in the back of a truck, and held on for dear life to the little old lady on the end with her bowl of tomatoes. Along the way, hot fresh tortillas were delivered and the man with the broken machete and a slingshot climbed aboard.

An hour later we reached our destination: an empty beach lined with palapas and beautiful empty rights peeling before our eyes. Not a soul was out. We surfed to our heart's content for two days, till our arms were ready to fall off, often with just the two of us. Paradise! Our boat driver agreed to pick us up that afternoon, which in Mexican time actually means 11:00 the following day.

All was magic till this morning, as the swell picked up and we took off on waves bigger than we had seen in years. From my vantage point I watched Joe duck under a huge one, emerging on the other side, while half his board went flying to shore among the froth. His board died a valiant death, and shall be reborn someday under the hands of the Mexican we sold the corpse to for $10.

- Rach
P.S. No animals were injured in the making of this blog.