December 25, 2011
Christmas in Every Language & Customs Around the World
Language is one of the most powerful things we have and when we can't communicate with someone because we don't know their language, we rely on hand gestures, hugs, expressions and the most universal ones: smiles when we're happy, tears when we're not.
I've spend the holidays in several countries over the years including India, Thailand, Australia, Mexico, South Africa, England, the Netherlands, Israel, France and a few places I'm sure I'm forgetting. Celebrations obviously differ even when you're celebrating within the same culture or religion. Jewish friends in New York buy a Hannukah bush, others don't honor it at all. If you've grown up in New England or northern Europe, snow often comes with Christmas and it becomes an association for you. If you live in Australia or Africa, chances are you've never had a white christmas.
Brazilians have a tradition of creating a nativity scene or Presepio, whose origins come from the Hebrew word "presepium" which means the bed of straw upon which Jesus first slept in Bethlehem. The Presepio is common in northeastern Brazil (Bahi, Sergipe, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraiba, Maranhao, Ceara, Pernambuco, Piaui and Alagoas).
In Denmark, a christmas feast was traditionally celebrated at midnight, where a special rice pudding is served. In the pudding, a single almond is hidden and whoever finds it will have good luck for the coming year. The bringer of gifts is known as Julemanden and arrives in a sleigh drawn by reindeer, a sack over his back. Sound famliar? He is asissted by Yuletide chores by elves called Juul Nisse, who are said to live in attics.
In Iraq, Christian families light candles, light a bonfire of thorn bushes and sing. If the thorns burn to ashes, good luck will be granted. When the fire dies, each person jumps over the ashes three times and make a wish.
Like in many Latin American countries, Nicaragua retains many of the customs of old Spain. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, people stroll the streets where there are many things to buy: candles, Nativity pictures, toys and foods. Children carry fragrant bouquets to the alter of the Virgin and sing carols. On Christmas Eve, church bells beckon the people to Midnight Mass.
In South America, Venezuelans attend a daily early morning church service between December 16th and 24th called Misa de Aguinaldo ("Early Morning Mass.") In Caracas, the capital city, it is customary to roller-skate to this service and many neighborhoods close the streets to cars until 8 a.m. Before bedtime children tie one end of a piece of string to their big toe and hang the other out the window. The next morning, rollerskaters give a tug to any string they see hanging.
In Japan, Christmas was apparently brought over by Christian missionaries but today, it has become very commercialized largely because gift giving is something that appeals to the culture. This is an interesting and funny story if its true, but in the scene of the Nativity when it first came to Japan, was so foreign for them because Japanese babies don't sleep in cradles. Like the states, they eat turkey on Christmas Day (ham is also common with many families) and in some places, there are community Christmas trees. Houses even have evergreens and mistletoe. They also have a god or priest known as Hoteiosho, who closely resembles Santa Claus, often depicted as an old man carrying a huge pack. He is thought to have eyes in the back of his head.
And, you've gotta love the Scots since they have so many quirky customs considering how close they live to the English. Celebration around the holidays is much bigger for New Years Eve than it is for Christmas, something they refer to as Hogmanay. This word may derive from a kind of oat cake that was traditionally given to children on New Year's Eve. The first person to set foot in a residence in a New Year is thought to profoundly affect the fortunes of the inhabitants. Generally strangers are thought to bring good luck. Depending on the area, it may be better to have a dark-haired or fair-haired stranger set foot in the house. This tradition is widely known as "first footing."
In the Czech Republic (formerly Czechoslovakia and before that known as Bohemia), they bring their traditions from the 10th century home of Good King Wenceslaus, the main character in the familiar English Christmas carol. It is said that English troops, fighting in Bohemia hundreds of years later, brought the song home with them. St. Nicholas is called Svaty Mikalas and is believed to climb to earth down from heaven on a golden rope with his companions, an angel and a whip-carrying devil.
An ancient tradition shared by the Czechs and in Poland involves cutting a branch from a cherry tree and putting it in water indoors to bloom. If the bloom opens in time for Christmas, it is considered good luck and also a sign that the winter may be short.
I'm amazed how many of these traditions involve some superficial physical ritual that somehow tells us whether good luck or bad luck will fall upon us, not unlike snapping a chicken wish bone in two I guess...or flipping a coin.
Below is a fabulous and fun list of Merry Christmas and Happy New Years in many languages from around the world. Obviously, we didn't capture them all but we did include a healthy list to get you started with practicing but you never know when you will come across someone from another culture around the holidays.
Alsatian: E güeti Wïnâchte un e gleckichs Nej Johr
Arabic: أجمل التهاني بمناسبة الميلاد و حلول السنة الجديدة (ajmil at-tihānī bimunāsabah al-mīlād wa ḥilūl as-sanah al-jadīdah)
Armenian: Շնորհաւոր Նոր Տարի եւ Սուրբ Ծնունդ: (Shnorhavor Nor Daree yev Soorp Dzuhnoont) Բարի կաղանդ և ամանոր (Paree gaghant yev amanor)
Bengali: শুভ বড়দিন (shubho bôṛodin)
Cherokee: ᏓᏂᏍᏔᏲᎯᎲ & ᎠᎵᎮᎵᏍᏗ ᎢᏤ ᎤᏕᏘᏴᎠᏌᏗᏒ - (Danistayohihv & Aliheli'sdi Itse Udetiyvasadisv)
Cheyenne: Hoesenestotse & Aa'eEmona'e
Cornish: Nadelik Lowen ha Blydhen Nowydh Da and Nadelik Looan ha Looan Blethen Noweth
Danish: Glædelig jul og godt nytår
English: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Estonian: Rõõmsaid Jõule ja Head Uut Aastat and Häid Jõule ja Head Uut Aastat
Fijian: Me Nomuni na marau ni siga ni sucu kei na tawase ni yabaki vou
Filipino: Maligayang pasko at manigong bagong taon!
Flemish: Zalig Kerstfeest en Gelukkig Nieuwjaar
French: Joyeux Noël et bonne année
German: Frohe/Fröhliche Weihnachten - und ein gutes neues Jahr / ein gutes Neues / und ein gesundes neues Jahr / und einen guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr
German (Swiss): Schöni Fäschttäg / Schöni Wienachte -- und e guets neus Jahr / en guete Rutsch is neue Johr -- Schöni Wiehnachte und es guets Neus -- Schöni Wiänachtä, äs guets Nöis
German (Bavarian): Froue Weihnåcht'n, und a guad's nei's Joah
Haitan Creole: Jwaye Nowèl e Bònn Ane
Hawaiian: Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou
Hebrew: חג מולד שמח ושנה טובה - Chag Molad Sameach v'Shanah Tovah
Hungarian: Kellemes karácsonyt és boldog új évet
Indonesian: Selamat hari natal dan tahun baru
Irish: Nollaig shona duit/daoibh (Happy Christmas to you). Beannachtaí na Nollag (Christmas Greetings). Beannachtaí an tSéasúir (Season's Greetings) and Athbhliain faoi mhaise duit/daoibh (Prosperous New Year). Also, Bliain úr faoi shéan is faoi mhaise duit/daoibh (Happy New Year to you)
Italian: Buon Natale e felice anno nuovo
Japanese: メリークリスマス (merī kurisumasu) -- New Year greeting - 'Western' style
新年おめでとうございます (shinnen omedetō gozaimasu)
New Year greetings - Japanese style
明けましておめでとうございます (akemashite omedetō gozaimasu)
旧年中大変お世話になりました (kyūnenjū taihen osewa ni narimashita)
本年もよろしくお願いいたします (honnen mo yoroshiku onegai itashimasu)
Klingon: QISmaS DatIvjaj 'ej DIS chu' DatIvjaj (sg) and QISmaS botIvjaj 'ej DIS chu' botIvjaj (pl)
Korean: 즐거운 성탄절 보내시고 새해 복 많이 받으세요 and (jeulgeoun seongtanjeol bonaesigo saehae bok manhi bateusaeyo)
Kurdish: Kirîsmes u ser sala we pîroz be (and) Kirîsmes u salî nwêtan lê pîroz bê
Lithuanian: Linksmų Kalėdų ir laimingų Naujųjų Metų
Maltese: Il-Milied Ħieni u s-Sena t-Tajba - Awguri għas-sena l-ġdida
Maori: Meri Kirihimete me ngā mihi o te tau hou ki a koutou katoa
Mongolian: Танд зул сарын баярын болон шинэ жилийн мэндийг хүргэе and (Tand zul sariin bayriin bolon shine jiliin mendiig hurgey)
Navajo: Ya'at'eeh Keshmish
Nepali: क्रस्मसको शुभकामना तथा नयाँ वर्षको शुभकामना - (krismas ko subhakamana tatha nayabarsha ko subhakamana)
Norweigan: God jul og godt nytt år (Bokmål) and God jol og godt nyttår (Nynorsk)
Old English: Glæd Geol and Gesælig Niw Gear
Punjabi: ਮੈਰੀ ਕ੍ਰਿਸਮਸ। / میری کرِسمس (merī krismas - not used) and ਨਵਾਂ ਸਾਲ/ਵਰਾ ਮੁਬਾਰਕ। / نواں سال، ورہا مبارک (navā̃ sāl/varā mubārak)
Raotongan: Kia orana e kia manuia rava i teia Kiritimeti e te Mataiti Ou
Romanian: Crăciun fericit şi un An Nou Fericit
Samoan: Ia manuia le Kerisimasi ma le Tausaga Fou
Sardinian: Bonu nadale e prosperu annu nou
Slovak: Veselé vianoce a Štastný nový rok
Spanish: ¡Feliz Navidad y próspero año nuevo!
Swahili: Krismasi Njema / Heri ya krismas -- Heri ya mwaka mpya
Swedish: God jul och gott nytt år
Tahitian: Ia orana no te noere and Ia orana i te matahiti api
Thai: สุขสันต์วันคริสต์มาส และสวัสดีปีใหม่ - (sùk săn wan-krít-mâat láe sà-wàt-dee bpee mài)
Tibetan: ༄༅།།ལོ་གསར་ལ་བཀྲ་ཤིས་བདེ་ལེགས་ཞུ། - (Losar La Tashi Delek - Happy New Year)
Tongan: Kilisimasi fiefia mo ha ta'u fo'ou monū'ia
Ukranian: Веселого Різдва і з Новим Роком
(Veseloho Rizdva i z Novym Rokom)
Xhosa: Siniqwenelela Ikrisimesi Emnandi Nonyaka Omtsha Ozele Iintsikelelo
Yiddish: אַ פֿרײליכע ניטל און אַ גוטער נײַער יאָר - (A freylikhe nitl un a guter nayer yor)
The above list was a sample of a longer list from Omniglot, a site dedicated to languages from around the world. Visit their site for more languages including pronunciations. They also made the following note: Christmas is not universally celebrated and there are a number of different dates for Christmas and New Year depending on which calendar is used. Orthodox Christians who use the Julian calendar, for example in Russia and Serbia, celebrate Christmas on January 7. Another collection of phrases for the holidays can be found here. Also check out this link on Christmas Around the World.
December 25, 2011 in America The Free, Belize, Europe, Fiji, Holidays, Israel, New England, New York, On Africa, On Australia, On China, On Costa Rica, On East Africa, On Fiji, On France, On Germany, On Guatemala, On India, On Italy, On Japan, On People & Life, On South Africa, On Spain, Reflections, San Francisco, South America, Travel, United Kingdom, WBTW | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
August 20, 2011
The Connecting Flight, The One Following the Mad Tearing Run…
The flight is delayed and you have to make that connection….or else.
It seems to happen to me more often these days and I’m not sure if that’s the result of airlines having less planes available resulting in fewer connecting flights or the fact that systems are just breaking down.
Certainly, most of the internal systems are antiquated or ridiculously absurd and don’t have a lot of logic.
For example, recently I was on an Air France flight to Paris and had to catch a connection to Budapest. I saw the connection time on the flight itinerary and in “theory” it seemed fine. After all, it was a connecting flight and for some odd reason despite how much I’ve traveled, I thought there’d be one of those “side lanes” where you could transfer to another flight within Europe. You know, arrive at gate C and just walk down a hallway to Gate D and board your plane. Logical right?
The flight was actually on time (ish) however it took awhile to settle at the gate delaying gate arrival by 15’ish minutes. Again, in theory, I didn’t think I’d have a problem making the connection. After all, I was arriving in Gate C and I was departing out of Gate D (Gate D2 that is) from Charles de Gaulle Airport.
Sure, I knew it was massive but as I was scurrying out, the Air France agent assured me it was close, repeating the C and D twice, which certainly seemed logical to me as well.
I started with a brisk walk but not a sprinting one until I realized that D was nowhere close to C since the signs for it kept reappearing after every corner turn and after yet another walking escalator disappeared behind me, there was another one on the horizon with D2 off in the distance.
We’ve all done a short sprint but this one seemed to never end until I finally stopped to ask an Air France staffer who was lingering in a busy hallway with a clipboard pressed up against her. “Budapest D2” I gasped short of breath. “Pardon,” she replied. “BUDAPEST, DAY-EH DEUX” I said, gasping even more dying for my bottle of water which had fallen from my carry-on backpack by this point.
“Tout de doit and sortie,” she motioned. “Sortie,” I thought, NO, I don’t want Sortie, I have a connecting flight. When I heard Sortie and realized she wanted me to exit, I said to her exasperated, “I have a connecting flight, une connection a Budapest. Je ne reste pas ici a Paris.” She pointed straight ahead and repeated Sortie.
So what does a seasoned traveler do with 15 minutes to go, knowing that their flight “in theory” was supposedly already boarding. She sprints of course.
Now, I’m not a marathon runner and nor am I in the best shape of my life, but having grown up as an athlete, the muscle remains. In other words, it re-emerges when it needs to, in cases of emergency or when you know you’ve spent far too much time in front a PC monitor and your body is desperate for a little oxygen.
I was wearing out and not getting a minute of sleep on my 10 hour flight didn’t help matters. When I saw the long line through passport control, I panicked as my heart raced. “Fuck,” I thought, I really don’t want to miss this flight. It’s not that I mind getting stuck in Paris, but getting stuck at an airport waiting for a small plane heading east after a half day of travel across 4 time zones wasn’t my idea of fun. Besides, Hungary was waiting.
In fact, Hungary was calling in a loud voice, saying, “Renee, you’ve been to Paris hundreds of times, I’ve been waiting for your Gypsy spirit to come taste my wine, come eat my beef medallions and my goose pate.”
I firmly but politely grabbed another Air France rep explaining the urgency, flashing my ticket and pointing to my watch which I had just changed five minutes before the plane landed. She took pity on me and ushered me through an empty line, obviously waiting for loud, late, ill-mannered Americans like me. (after all, aren’t we all?)
Passport control man was in no hurry despite seeing me out of breath and sweating and I knew it didn’t help when I hurriedly said in my pathetic French, “Je ne reste pas ici, Je suis en retard pour mon vol de Budapest.”
Quietly I was cursing, thinking, what the hell are they giving me a stamp for when I’m going to be here for 15 minutes? I also knew that the number of pages and blocks which could be stamped was running out and I still had a few years left on this passport. Slowly and smugly, I got my stamp and flew like a bird running from a cat who hadn’t eaten in days.
Sortie was ahead of me but when I re-entered, I noticed that I was somehow standing in the middle of F. Where the hell did D go I thought? It looked like arrivals and I started to move from exasperated to pissed. What kind of connection was this I thought? 45 minutes to get through Immigration’s long line and find your way half way (no, all the way) across what should be one terminal (C to D)?
Here I could speak the language (enough anyway) and was sprinting like a failed marathon runner but one who had a reason to win, and yet boarding had already begun according to my ticket 20 minutes ago and I had not even gone through a NEW security gate.
Security found me amusing no doubt as I whipped off my belt with fury like I was ready to have quick and passionate sex with a 23 year old lover. My boots came flying off as did my jewelry and I was sweating up a storm, as if the sex was already over and it was the best I ever had.
My hair was tossled, my brow was wet, my light cover up was off which showed that I wasn’t wearing a bra.
FINALLY, a sexy polite French security agent who wasn’t 23 came to my rescue. He smiled as he assured me I would make my flight and that I was in D2. but still had to get to D70 WITHIN D2. But, he added, “it’s just around the corner. I’m trying to help.”
Carry me I thought, that’s how you can help. Show up in one of those airport mini-trucks that shuttle the handicapped and seniors and make the damn thing go faster than you think its capable of going. Whisk me away. Call them and tell them to hold the plane for 30 minutes and let’s do a driveby the Air France First Class Lounge for a Parisian cappuccino & some pate for the road and then drop me off in front of my plane.
I imagined him kissing my hand bidding me Au Revoir after he completely turned my nightmare mad dashing run across the entire Charles de Gaulle airport into a nice sweet travel memory.
Cursing under my breath but remaining focused like a good seasoned traveler always does, I made a hard “gauche” after exiting security where they confiscated my mini-bottle of Merlot from my last flight. I looked up and saw the number 58. Of course I was at 58 and of course, the Budapest flight would be 70, at the EEEENNNNNNDDD of the hall. And, so I sprinted.
Nothing about arriving in Paris felt like Paris but thankfully I had so many positive memories of Paris that it would be easy to give this one amiss.
Even if the plane didn’t screw around at the gate for 15-20 minutes, anyone would be hard pressed to make this connection with the long immigration line, the distance they had to travel, and the likelihood that they didn’t speak French if they got lost on the way…easy to do at Charles de Gaulle and easy to do if you’re not a seasoned travel.
Puffing (and huffing) and puffing, I flicked my passport and ticket at the woman standing behind the gate who was about as calm, collected and type Z as you can get.
It was 12:39 and the flight was supposed to take off (up in the air, take off) by 12:45 pm. Obviously the flight was late, so while I was catching my breathe, I asked how late it was. “It’s not late,” the woman behind her said.
Hmmm, I thought. No one was on the plane yet, I was informed they were still cleaning it, yet 6 minutes before take-off and they didn’t classify it as late. Welcome to Hungary I thought, although both agents were clearly French.
I did one of those circular paces that people do when they need to think for a minute. (clearly that is). I circled around 3 or 4 times and then made a slow-paced walk over to the coffee stand where I learned that a bottle of water with the horrific U.S. dollar exchange rate would cost me $8. Had I ever been to Europe when the U.S. dollar was weaker than the Canadian one? At a time, when there are plays, comedians and talk show hosts talking about China as the new super power and America as a third world country?
I didn’t want to think about the exchange rate or the likely $10 beers and $500 shoes that lay ahead which was unlikely to be the case in Hungary since they weren’t on the Euro and I figured I’d lay low and avoid purchases in Paris to and from until Obama fixed SOMETHING, anything, so I could return and buy those $500 shoes for $200 again.
I opted against the $8 water and flopped down on a bright pink “kitch” plastic couch that wrapped around a plant sitting in a bright pink "kitch" plastic pot. It only then occurred to me that I made my flight and as I was looking for napkins at a nearby café to wipe my sweaty body down, a 15 year old Italian girl came down and sat next to me, bumping into me twice when she did so, despite the fact that there was a ton of space on the other side of her.
As we boarded, I stripped down even more since the mad tearing sprint caught up with me and not only was I sweaty but I was baking.
As I got close to the entrance to the plane, I could see the Paris day through the open crack and feel the August sunshine and feel the warm breeze coming through, hitting my face, blowing my hair back just slightly. AHHH yes, Paris in the summer I thought.
There’s nothing like boarding a plane from a place where the weather is fabulous knowing that you’re going to a place you really want to see and knowing that the weather is fabulous there too. The last time I had been to Budapest was in the mid-eighties. Yes, really.
I flopped in my seat, which had no one next to me and the seats were slightly wider than normal with an actual place to sit two drinks to my left. Recline worked. I was in the front. The Hungarian flight attendant handed me a bottle water when she saw the way I looked and I settled in for my 2+ hour flight on Malev, an airline I had never flown before.
Budapest, I reflected as my heart rate started to finally slow down. Gypsies, artists, dreamers, foodies, lovers of wine, musicians, old souls and historians. I remembered an “old world” dining experience I had with an ex-boyfriend so many years ago, where the violin players circled around us and I thought of how young I was. A kid really. What did I know of violin players and good red wine? Or duck, liver, pork, mousse, goulash and cured ham?
And then I smiled when I remembered I was coming to meet technologists not gypsies. From Silicon Valley to Hungary because there’s a wealth of incredible engineers in Budapest I was told and knew I would soon discover. As for my host?
Look for the bald man he had said. I thought, “would there really only be one bald Hungarian at the airport?” “Some say I’m as wide as I am tall,” he had added. A little more data I thought, certainly more than Air France provided me about my connecting flight.
I drifted off curled in an arch, my last visual memory of blue sky and powdery white clouds through my window, knowing that Germany was below us by that point. Hungary is waiting for me I thought as I drifted off into my thirty minute nap. Hungary is waiting for me.
August 20, 2011 in America The Free, Europe, New England, New York, On Africa, On Australia, On China, On Costa Rica, On East Africa, On France, On Geo-Location, On Guatemala, On India, On Italy, On Japan, On People & Life, On South Africa, On Spain, Reflections, South America, Travel, WBTW | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
September 10, 2006
Astral Travel & Dream Control
I recently took an Astral Travel class in Guatemala at the very spiritual Las Pirimades Center, located on the lakeside village of San Marcos, which overlooked three nearby volanoes.
It is essentially an interpretation of out-of-body experiences, achieved either awake or via lucid dreams and meditation. Those who have experienced astral travel (or projection), say that their consciousness or soul has moved them in tandem with their physical body into a parallel world. Not new, the concept dates back to ancient China.
While I live my life more often than not – smack in the middle of my head and heart (although some would disagree), I try to keep an open mind to things that raise ones consciousness.
I’ve been torn over the years about my thoughts about after-life and what shape and form this takes. Have you ever had an innate grasp of a language or empathy for a culture more than another and not really have a logical reason why? Or have you ever had a lucid dream that takes you a ‘very real’ place you may have been before but physically have never seen, and yet the images and voices are so vivid that you wake up thinking, “was that really a dream?”
She actually gave us instructions on how to practice astral travel, telepathy and dream control, including tips and ways to increase the likelihood of having lucid dreams on a consistent basis, something she said comes over time with practice. Of importance included diet, your interest in ‘going there,’ whether there is a full moon or not, going to bed early, the absence of drugs and alcohol while you are experimenting, discipline, the direction in which you face when you sleep and lastly, keeping a log to record what is working.
I learn that most people are more likely to have lucid dreams when there is a full moon and their head is facing east, although this is not universal.
Their argument is that material technology, without spiritual knowledge, is leading us to chaos. Rather than using technology to assist us with spiritual development and enlightenment, it is increasingly being used to confine and enslave people within a monetary system and materialistic world, which are both temporary.
While so many people live in fear of the unknown, she dictates that there is nothing in the Universe to be afraid of, except our own ignorance and its consequences.
According to additional research I gathered later, which also agrees with the mantra she recommended saying before going to sleep: “I will remember my dreams,” slowing down the process of going back to sleep after you wake, helps induce a lucid dream. When the dream comes, you are already awake and can consciously try to control what happens.
This site suggests that you should “be aware, that any thought related in any way to your physical body (such as a desire to speak, move hands or any part of the body, look at your body, fear that you may hurt your body etc..) is likely to bring you back to your physical body immediately. Be prepared that what you think you "know" may be a hindrance in astral travel and that ‘all your knowledge comes from the material world on Earth, and is severely distorted and/or limited. It is best not to expect anything, since it will be your Higher Self (your own higher consciousness) who will choose the best lesson for you.”
September 07, 2006
Charming, authentic Flores, enticing is its entrance from the bridge that connects its center to the surrounding strip, which lay sprawling in lush green hills. What a welcoming sight – and feel – after Belize City, for all of its cultural and colorful offerings, lacks the kind of soul and warmth found in nearly every nook of Guatemala.
Perhaps I’m just more comfortable on third world soil that smells and behaves like what it is rather than trying to be something its not. With it often comes a complicity and tenderness that the 1st world lacks and Belize, doesn’t really have much of either.
Sure the coastal villages of Placencia and Dangriga have a distinct personality and Creole drumming can be heard in either at certain times of the year. Off-season is more ghost-town like however than the Jersey shore in January.
And sure, I’ll revel in the memory of seeing manatee close to the shore of Coppola’s resort on my last day, the same morning I was thrown off balance by a five foot iguana, only moments after I swam over the most beautiful starfish I’ve ever seen.
I found kindred pals in bartenders Noel and Jacob, who laughed at my hesitation to hoist the bright orange starfish onto the handmade rock table which faced the sea. Using a rake, I reversed the motion to bring him back to his rightful home before the blazing sun dried him up and ultimately took away his life source.
The day before that, I finished two books cover-to-cover in a bright turquoise knit hammock, hung between two palm trees no more than four feet from the water’s edge at high tide. Freshly blended mango and papaya in a plastic cup sat between my legs and coconut flesh rested in the palm of my left hand, which I nursed while my right hand slowly turned the pages.
The pace and tone of off-season seaside Belize was what my body needed after days of town excursions, village markets and jungle hikes in the highlands.
Placencia’s big night out of the town was Sunday, when the entire village showed up at a local beach bar to dance or sway, depending on how much tequila you drank, to a Carribbean-style band that played a mix of Reggae-style hits and 1970s rock.
Two blocks away, the Seahorse Internet café, which is run by two young Belizian boys on the verge of becoming men, played soul and hip hop, which echoed into the night. They just integrated Vonage and were offering 15 minute calls to the U.S. for $2.50 and an hour online for $4.00.
Of the eight PCs available, the only one which grinded to a half after ever refresh was the one which still housed Internet Explorer as its default, whereas the twice as efficient machines sailed using Firefox.
I had to laugh as he proudly informed me that he loaded every system with Norton and Spybot, more than some people I know have at home. All of their computer skills were self-taught, as was their entrepreneurial spirit.
The food was marginal and the bike rentals at $12 a day consisted of uncomfortable bounding over speed bumps on a heavy fuel-fumed dirt road. Since we were on the far edge of the strip, the only direction was north, north or north.
I rented one a few times during my stay, my favorite being a girly pink bike with a bell that didn’t work, a large wire basket in the front and foot breaks, something I haven’t experienced since Africa many moons ago, and before that, when I was ten in upstate New York.
It was thundering hot during every ride, so in addition to factor thirty, I wore a colonial looking straw hat with a fashionable black ribbon, made and purchased in Sydney Australia.
The bike alone made me feel like an Colonial somehow and Belize has no shortage of British colonial remnants, now mixed with American influenced restaurants, stores, even banks. The latter has dramatically contributed to the country’s soaring prices.
While I tend to stay clear of resort culture, particularly in the third world, discovering Coppola’s place was a godsend, for with its discovery came Noel, the starfish, and a sea green pool shaped like a pond, which devoured my body daily. Not to mention the fabulous Chardonnay on a candlelit veranda, nothing between you and the ocean except for a warm breeze and perhaps that five foot iguana.
His decorative style for this property (one of three in this region), was mostly Indonesian. Having spent time there, I recognized the Balinese tapestries and wall hangings, the sculpture and the intricate details of the woodwork.
The bathroom was my favorite public space, with fresh daily flower petals scattered in each stall and a sink where water would spout from hand-carved dog’s tongues on both sides.
I divided my last couple of days between conversations with Noel, mango shakes, green pool swims and lazy hammock reading on the porch of our rented pink and white wooden beach house, a 25 minute walk along the sea’s edge to the south.
The village lacked high season energy and the few shops and hawkers around, occasionally made a feeble attempt to sell us ‘something,’ – anything, all of which was made in Guatemala, not Belize.
I was hard pressed to find anything hand crafted in Belize although I’m certain if we had spent more time in Belize City or a rural village to the east, we would have come across bowls, baskets and handmade drums, perhaps made by some of the students at Dangriga’s Drumming School.
Belizian Terry, who I warmed to immediately, spoke of dancing and drums, and how prevalent it was along the coast, yet we didn’t encounter much of it. Low season perhaps? Female energy prevailed at Placencia’s Sunday night outing, and I relished in watching four girls ranging between 18 and 23, dance like men -- pretending to be men, imitating men and exemplifying a men's sexual movements.
To the rhythm of the music, the girls quite realistically ‘humped each other,’ and this would continue at high energy levels through an hour of five to six minute songs. Never showing sign of fatigue, it was amazing how well they were able to mock men in such a feminine and innocent way, as if they were doing nothing but building castles in a sandbox nearby. Their joy was addictive and electrifying and their ability to entertain and engage was remarkable.
I reflected on all of my Belize experiences as I strolled through Flores, the closest main town to Guatemala’s Tikal jungle. My traveling companion and I both agreed that Flores aired an eclectic mix of Latin America and the Mediterranean architecture, both in shops and restaurant fronts. Some faced Lake Peten Itza, where fish was abundant on nearly every menu, as were Guatemalan ‘comida tipicas’ (typical dishes), and salads con tomate y hongo omelets. Its coffee was worth the dose of caffeine, even if you avoid it in your regular life.
The leisurely stroll reminded both of us that the end to our journey was not only evident, but close, and left us with that looming feeling when you know a fabulous thing is about to end. The promise of 1st world chaos and tension on every street corner within a matter of days.
“I’m over here,” one voice says while the other fights the voice and says, “I’ll keep this life, thanks…..” While the pace picked up slightly in the last couple of days, it was still Guatemala, so reserving energy was more evident than expending it.
September 05, 2006
Tikal’s Mayan Ruins
To the north of Guatemala – a ten hour bus ride or hour hop in a puddle jumper from Guatemala City, lies Tikal’s Mayan Ruins, a known Malaria zone. In its hayday (400-900 A.D.), a half a million people lived in the settlement, some of which is in its original form and some of it restored. 869 is the last evidence of a ‘recorded monument,’ not long before the entire Mayan civilization collapsed in 900 A.D.
In Jared Diamond’s: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, he covers Mayan society, using comparative methods to understand societal collapses to which environmental problems contribute, as well as climatic change, hostile neighbors, loss of trading partners and the society’s own responses to all of these issues. In addition to Central American Guatemala, he talks about the Polynesians of Pitcairn Island, Easter Island, the Anasazi, and the Greenland Norse.
Despite the fact that since the collapse in the 10th century, it has not been occupied since, its remarkable to think of a 500 year success, when we’ve barely passed 200, not all of which was as a global superpower.
My first impression of the ruins, particularly the center, was “this was the Times Square of ancient civilization.” Under the grass lay four layers of pavement, the oldest of which was 150 B.C. and the newest at around 700 A.D.
Strangely, the ruin site did not leave me with a spiritual connection, in the way so many other ancient sites have. Perhaps it was the neatly trimmed lawn encircled by the prestidious white fence, benches and garbage bins, or could it be the arrogance and complacence of the lodge waiters and staff, who preferred we’d simply go home?
Was it the shocking Americanization of the solo three lodges themselves, complete with 1980s rock music, Dell laptops and western menus, all of which included English and American breakfasts, hamburgers and pizza.
It was a stark contrast from the authentic villages and towns we just left; the prices reflected the western influence, so much so that many items were more expensive than they would in a large U.S. city.
Trickles of local corruption were more and more apparent by the day, such as the park guard suggesting we could pay him half the entry fee if we did so directly. It was not even clear to me if the official $5 fee went directly to the preservation of the park and with the extraordinary elevated prices of our turismo surroundings, I was left feeling more cynical than grateful, a far cry from an emotion I’d typically feel in such a natural wonder.
Despite the western impact, the early morning walks through the jungle made Tikal exceptional and worth the trek. Between four and six am, the monkeys can be heard in unison – and sometimes not – topped with a layer of indigenous birds calling to the jungle below. Other exotic animals add harmony to the otherwise loud buzz that both thrill and mesmerize you.
The jungle is both exotic and exciting, invigorating and chilling, breathtaking and surreal, yet surprisingly not at all emotional, which half a dose of such breathtaking environs and natural wonders would otherwise invoke.
It was in this environment I received word from home that a client closed a deal with Wells Fargo, and would release the news the following Monday at the Gartner Conference in Boston. At this point, I was detached from the technology world and corporate rat race, yet my mind quickly sprung to action (albeit quiet action), curious how close we were to finalizing other such deals.
Grateful to be present with both worlds (and not lose the natural one in lieu of the fabricated one), I couldn’t help but wonder how easy it would be operate in two countries well beyond a holiday.
Monsoon showers and unreliable electricity would play havoc with a regular business day’s productivity, yet perhaps the ability to be more present during the time you had, would make up for such setbacks. Sustainable presence amidst a world where technology controls you rather than the other way around, is difficult if not impossible at times.
Working from the lodge wasn’t entirely pleasant. Unlike the Guatemalans I’ve encountered elsewhere on our trip, our Tikal lodge hosts were more aggressive, and at times, even antagonistic. I wondered whether it was because we – the rich tourist – have induced a negative and perhaps irreversible effect on the local community, not unlike the arrival of the Coke bottle from the Gods Must Be Crazy.
While this is always so when western affluence meets the third world, it was more prominent in Tikal, a saddening observation.
Photos from Belize & Guatemala
Not Yet Discovered
Reachable by one of the small public boats, San Marcos, is a small village along the edge of Atitlan Lake in the southwest center of Guatemala, which has the ascendant energy of a place that is at the beginning of being discovered.
Take the dirt-and-cobblestone footpaths of an old Eastern European town, narrow and angled with a drainage ditch alongside. Replace all of the surrounding buildings and roads with a highland jungle stuffed with banana leaves above a floor of fallen avocados.
Sprinkle a few handfuls of bungalows, huts and adobes. Add a lazy lakefront with some ladder-wide tilted docks.
Surround with four or five volcanoes capped and sided in thick tropical green, sentinels half-shrouded in low clouds, retired but still vigilant over the waters.
Stir in Indian head massage, reiki and reflexology, silent meditation retreats and tofu curry. Spread thin alternating layers of Mayan and rural Latino culture.
Your dish is San Marcos de Laguna on the northwestern shore of Lago de Atitlan in the Central Highlands of Guatemala. The dish serves as many as choose to partake.
The jungle-like dirt footpaths connect small houses, a handful of restaurants, an outside country store, a holistic center and not much else. More notably, when facing the lake, your view is of the breathtaking volcanoes on the horizon, with small ‘publico botes’ and fishing boats in the near distance.
Paco Real, a quaint restaurant that resembles a community Swiss pub, was a frequent stop during my way. Set along one of San Marco’s muddy jungle paths, the place served food that belongs in some of the top review columns. Owned by French-Swiss Alain and his Mexican wife, it was one of those special finds that made you feel like an establishment alone could result in you either extending your trip – or not.
A couple of days after the Paco Real discovery, we moved into Aaculaax, an eclectic fantasy ecohotel, which was designed and built by a German visionary craftsman from thousands of recycled bottles and wood, with stained-glass detailing and giant glass butterflies doubling as lampshades.
The Bathroom (squint to see the detail, its worth it....)
Managed by 24 year old sexy Alexis, half Columbian, half German, who added to my visual senses, as if there was not enough already. The room was built into the cliff and the shower shared the same cliff stone wall. Around it was a decadent collection of stained glass in nooks and crannies which continued to surprise.
An outside but covered stained glass workshop circles the restaurant’s lower patio. Above the entrance, beautifully carved stone and glass stairs take you to wonder after wonder, discovery after discovery, all of which are deeply buried in tropical banana leafs, avocado and lemon trees and dense forest.
Stone wall holes are so numerous that ‘creatures of the night’ – some not familiar – make their way into your room after dawn through the cracks and window slats.
Our evening ritual would begin at Paco Real after a sweaty hike, kayack or class at the town’s holistic center, set in the middle of lush flora. We’d nestle up to our fireside blaze and small wooden table with its lonely candle and colorful tapestry on its top. Alain’s wifes cooking was so outstanding that it warrants a mention. Among their orgasmic selections included roasted chicken with mole or curry sauce and fresh sautéed string beans freshly brought in from the nearby village of San Pedro.
Sauteed pineapple was a fun treat too
The monsoon showers started anywhere between 7 and 10 pm and continued throughout the night, leaving the jungle dirt paths filled with large muddy puddles and slippery patches of leaves of various sorts. Water shoes, head lamps and gortex become your best friends after a couple of dreary nights of soaked clothing and wrong turns on unlit paths.
Monsoon season or not, power failures are common, and there are no generators or other mechanisms to kick-start electricity within minutes or even hours. Once you make it to your room and dry off, its time to capture or kill the ‘creatures of the night’ before dozing off to sleep and this is often done by candlelight or headlamp.
Moths, mosquitos, black flies and flat but fairly large dense furry spiders line the adobe, uneven stone walls and ceilings. Many find comfort on the lake-facing windows, which give way to the spectacular views of Atitlan’s body of water below.
Once the evening animal and insect sounds subside, you fall into a series of lucid dreams, just long enough to be jarred back to reality by an early morning rooster or the barking banter of dog packs, which were in abundance in every coastal village.
The shower barely trickles and at times, you may be blessed with one to two minutes of luke warm water, a daily challenge, whether it be to cleanse your body or clothes, often muddy and soiled from walking through muddy paths…….the only way to get from place to place.
Hard life? Perhaps, depending on your perspective, yet those who have chosen this Guatemalan village lifestyle would hardly describe their days on San Marcos or any of the neighboring villages around the lake, as hard.
While obstacles prevail, the spirit of the people and tranquility of the peaceful lake community, tucked away in a tropical jungle-like valley, make the journey more than worth it.
Of all the lakeside villages, San Marcos was by far my favorite, even moreso than the beautifully tucked away corner of Santiago. Overshadowed by the cones of the San Pedro, Atitlan and Toliman volcanoes, it is also a precious find, not to mention the eclectic but much busier bohemian San Pedro, where there’s plenty of bongo-bashing and bong-smoking counterculture in evidence.
Encountered women washing clothes on the other side of the lake, close to Santiago (below)
Mayan Colors & Textures
While some cultures use colors and style of their dress as a way to identify their school, age or affiliation, in Guatemala’s Atitlan Lake District, dress is related to class and money.
The women of San Pedro who stayed true to local tradition of long black skirts with bright red huipils (classic embroidered blouses), proudly wore their creative masterpiece, with a multi-colored stitching prominent in the back, and a solid bright color facing the front.
These women are extremely private and avoid a lot of external exposure and communication. It is not uncommon to see them turn away when sensing or catching a western glance or smile. Another indication of status among them is their prominently displayed colored headbands, earrings and beads.
Boat Bus Boat & Maybe Bus Again
The ‘bote publico,’ the water transport equivalent of the chicken bus, is a narrow blue and white fiberglass covered boat with a small external Mercury motor. It makes its way around the lake several times a day, stopping at every village along the way. Taking it back and forth to Panajachel, Atitlan’s major port, you begin to see familiar faces, patterns and daily routines.
There was the man with his daily bag of building supplies which he carried in front of him and the American resident with her two large jute sacks of plants and fertilizer – or something that looked like it.
A Guatemalan boy, not older than 15, waits for her, and as she hoists the sacks onto the Santa Cruz dock, he swings them over his shoulders to prepare for the trek through the muddle jungle paths to their final destination.
‘Getting away’ as Lonely Plant guides often refer to as a means of getting from Point A to B, is more difficult from this region. Even with private transportation, it often requires a bus, boat, bus combination before you arrive at Point B. Hmmm, could we have taken five or six flights in a day and a half on our way home?
It’s surprising how expensive this can be, particularly when you compare it to the cost of local living, i.e., food, lodging, chicken bus. Note that a typical man’s wage may be as low as 50 quetzal or $6.66.
At least for gringos, it looks something like this:
2 quetzal a minute or 8 an hour for Internet café use
2 quetzal a minute for a local phone call
7 quetzal for a bottled water or a coffee
20 quetzal for a typical soup
35-50 for a meal
3.79 a gallon for petrol
All at a 7.5 exchange rate.
September 04, 2006
Central American Market Culture
You quickly learn the local rates, residential gringo rates and a third one for tourists. They can vary dramatically from double to ten times the fair market price, depending on how gullible you look.
Clearly Guatemala is a market culture, whether it’s a twice-a-week vegetable, fruit and trinket sprawling, or a massive multi-street gathering of crafts and goods, such as the infamous Chichicastenango (Chichi), where women line the streets in brightly colored Mayan attire.
In Chichi on market day, the rows go on and on, interweaving with other rows of materials, hand-made blankets, rugs, ponchos and bags. In the middle of the square, locals slurp soup from white tinny bowls, the kind we used to take on camping trips in SE Asia. Deeply fried chicken and potato skin stands run along the edges, and in the square’s heart are ‘fixed’ fruit and veggie stalls, which remain long after the twice weekly sprawl is packed up for the day.
We discovered an authentic local eatery on the second floor of the commercial centro, with a veranda overlooking the massive marketplace below. On each side stood a church, landmarks I started using to avoid getting lost in the maze of ‘stuff.’
The majority of accommodation choices were fairly basic, some with and some without a private bathroom. We ended up at the tiny Posada El Arco guesthouse, which one could easily miss if you did not speak Spanish or have a strong intuitive nature.
Like some of the intricate cluttered paths in Morocco’s Casablanca and Fez, a calle didn’t necessarily connect to an avienda and rarely were there street signs to indicate where you were at any given time.
Most of the hotels and guesthouses are either inside or surrounded by lush gardens – healthy green tropical bush, vibrant colors from regional flora, and tree-hung hammocks. Laced with exquisite birds, you might think you died and went to heaven, except for the five am roosters and stray dogs and cats that occasionally wander into your room if the door is ajar. I’m convinced (at least hopeful), that all Gods would eliminate early morning rooster calls in all imaginable heavens.
Chichi had an energy that Antiqua and other nearby towns lacked. Poor in comparison, even more evident the evening we arrived, when the streets were bare and people were seemingly tucked away in shanty-like housing in or outside the town.
The character of the town was a washed out early afternoon photo rather than a town which held the richness of both its early morning and late afternoon light.
You are immediately drawn to the larger of the two churches, Santo Tomas Church, which was built in 1540 on the site of a Maya altar and then rebuilt in the 18th century. It lay in the southeast corner of the plaza, the local K’iche’ Maya (called Maxenos), have been left to adopt their own style of worship, blending pre-Columbian and Catholic rituals.
A major anchor of the town square, it is a long box painted white, with neither the imposing bulk nor the awesome grandeur of a cathedral. This is fitting, as the interior nurses an ecumenical faith of Catholicism and Mayan pagan worship. Patron saints for children, healing and travel line the walls, their faces hazy through the smoke from incense candles lit by Mayan women chanting remembrances for their recent and long-departed dead. Jesus watches from the front and seems to approve.
Go back on a Thursday or Sunday, however, and the church is an odd, oversized adjunct to a shantytown, as the entire square - and all the streets alongside - are taken over by the produce-mongers, rug sellers, trinket merchants, and moneychangers who make up Guatemala's most famous and frantic open market.
The secular energy spills into the church, approaching - and perhaps crossing - the line of disrespect. Mayan women in traditional dress have unhushed cell phone conversations in the pews. Local guides follow the tourists into the church, giving no rest to the haggle-weary.
At the front, a handful of supplicants kneel next to tables piled high with lit candles. They pray, their arms clutching the wooden bars of the low gate in front of them, as if resisting the force of the market's energy outside.