Another Pleasant Valley Sunday

Well, lets see. Today is Sunday, another bright sunny day here in San Cristobal so how about a stroll down to the craft market?

The first thing we pass is El Centro, basically the center of town. It is a nice little park with a restaurant in the middle. It’s not obvious from the picture but there are about twenty shoe-shine stands surrounding the restaurant.

As we go on down the street, we are overtaken by a parade. As the sign says, this one is called Viva La Santisima, Virgen de Candelaria which means something like “Long Live the Blessed Virgin of Candelaria.”

There were several floats, all well done on the back of large flatbed trucks.
All of the floats had young children on them who were having a good time tossing candy to the crowds.
I’m not sure if the basket was meant to be part of her costume or if it was adlibed but I thought it looked good.
What can I say? Just a real sweetheart.
These guys were supplying the music and doing a great job of it too.
This was not a sexist parade either with just little girls. This guy was a real angel. The crowd was really loving him because he had the biggest basket of candy to throw out.
Just this one last shot than on to the market. 🙂
This is a picture of a priest talking to three young Mayan ladies.
Most of these shots in the market were taken sort of on the sly. A lot of these folks don’t like being photographed. In some places in Mexico it is illegal to photograph a person or a person’s possessions without their permission. If you do, your camera can be confiscated, you can be fined, or in some cases, you can go to jail. I don’t think that is the case here in San Cristobal – still…
These children were just wondering around as was I. The craft market is not only a place where a lot of people sell the things they make, it is a big social event.
More visiting with the priest.
The colors of the many things displayed would put a rainbow to shame.
A tourist bargaining hard for work that is already underpriced. Of course, it is like a game. If you don’t bargain, the marketers just think you are a fool. For the few things I bought, I did bargain, but not too hard. A few pesos don’t make much difference to me and it does to some of them.
Everything you see in this quilt is hand done. I didn’t even ask the price. If I had, I probably would have bought it, then what would I have done with it. I don’t think it would fit in my backpack.
I have to tell you – after a while, to me, all the colors and textures start to run together and I basically become blind to it all. It is like sensory overload I guess. Anyway, it was a pleasant way to spend a Sunday morning. And I only bought one shirt. The original asking price was 100 pesos (about $7.50). I paid 70 pesos (about $5.25). Could I have gotten it for less? Maybe but who cares?

San Cristobal Morning Walk

Sometimes I get up early. Sometimes I get up a little later. Whenever I get up, and where ever I get up I go for a little morning walk. Stroll along with me on my little walk in San Cristobal.

In the first few pictures you have to look pretty hard to see where we are heading. It is a church on a hill.

See it yet? Check the next picture.

Now it is visible. Right there in the center.

We are closing in now. I can just see Rocky from the movie running up those steps!

They’re really not that tough – after the first dozen times.

Not many people come up here and those that do are usually quiet.

And, of course, I always want to know what is on the other side of the hill. The first time I took this walk, I figured it would just be more city. This was a pleasant surprise.

My Backpack has been Blessed!

…no – seriously. I’m not kidding. With holy water yet. By a priest.

When I came back to my hotel room today I noticed as I walked down the short hall to my room that I was following a trail of water droplets. Then I looked up. At the end of the trail was the door to my room. And it was unlocked. And there were several people standing around in the doorway. I walked up and looked in.

I didn’t know what to expect but what I saw was way more than anything I had imagined. There was a priest in full regalia sprinkling holy water all over the place; on the bed, on my backpack, on the commode, just everywhere. To say I was stunned would be an understatement.

One of the people in the doorway was the owner of the hotel and he was dressed in a very nice suit. That in itself is not usual. I guess he saw the look on my face because, despite the fact he doesn’t speak English, he made a real effort to reassure me.

“Is religious. For all hotel,” he said.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I watched the parade of people follow the priest on down the hall, sprinkling holy water as he went into the next room. For just a brief moment it did cross my mind that maybe this was some kind of exorcism and I was the object. Paranoia runs deep. Anyway, now I can come to no harm. Everything I have has been blessed with holy water.

Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Remember that great movie Treasure of the Sierra Madre with Humphrey Bogart? Well, this post is not about that movie. This post is about yesterday as I was traveling through a part of the Sierra Madre in Guatemala. I didn’t see any of the gold Bogart searched for and found. What I saw was a vision. It was not a pretty vision.

The vision was not of the Sierra Madre. It was a vision of the future of the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas and Missouri. It is also the future of the Appalachian Mountains. And the future of all the other backwater places in the USA where the poor and politically disenfranchised (or perhaps I should say politically ignorant) live.

What I saw was reality in Guatemala. It was a reality created by unchecked population growth and a government that simply doesn’t care to deal with such human problems as healthcare, education, basic sanitation and infrastructure for the masses. The external signs of this neglect were everywhere from the copious amounts of trash along the highways, the pot-holes and landslides blocking the highways to the dirt-floored dilapidated hovels where the people lived without any of the basics of a healthy life like clean water.

As I passed mile after mile of the once great Sierra Madres, now denuded of most of the original vegetation and replaced by shacks to hold the ever growing population, that is when I saw the future of most of the rural USA. There are seven billion people now on this earth. When I was born in 1948, there were only two billion. I don’t think of myself as that old but when I was a kid in the Ozarks you could drink out of any stream you happened to pass by. Now, you do so at your peril. The closest neighbor was over a mile a way. That wasn’t an exception. That was more like a rule. Now, it has about got to the point, like in Guatemala, that if you throw water out your window it goes in your neighbors door.

But people just keep reproducing like the earth is endless. And the rich keep getting richer. The poor keep getting poorer. The ignorant keep getting more so and the sick keep getting sicker thanks to cut backs in education, healthcare, worker’s rights, and environmental legislation.

While the reality I saw in Guatemala is hard, it is not nearly as hard as the vision I see as the future for rural USA. All the gold and treasure that Bogart searched for and found in the Sierra Madres may be gone now but the people who live there still have some advantages over the rural USA. Most of them still live as they have in the past; by subsistence farming. They still have that knowledge ingrained deep in their souls.

Another treasure the Guatemalans have that is lacking in most of rural USA is the climate. Guatemala is known as The Country of Eternal Spring. So, they don’t need heating, or cooling, and they have a growing season that allows several crops per year.

Even these treasures won’t save an ever multiplying population in Guatemala though. Without that inherent knowledge and climate what chance do other areas have?

Stupid Gringo Tattoo

I walk into my local hole-in-the-wall also know as a Tienda. I’ve got the munchies and I’ve decided to have a little mid-afternoon snack. I know just what I want, walk straight over and pick up a small package of Cremax de Nieve sabor a chocolate – that is chocolate flavored creme wafer bars.

I lay the package on the counter and try to hand the guy five quetzales. I know how much they are. This is not my first Cremax attack and I bought the last package here just two nights ago. The guy just looks at me. “Siete quetzales”, he says. (Seven quetzales.)

“¿Cuánto?”, I reply. (How much?) Thinking there is obviously some mis-communication here somewhere and it ain’t on my part.

He hits a number on his calculator and turns it around so I can see it. This is the favored way for storekeepers here to communicate prices with ignorant Gringos who can’t count. Yeap, that’s a seven alright.

“Cinco última hora,” I say. (It was five last time.)

“No, No!” He says. “Siete quetzales”.

“Ningún turista gringo,” I say. Roughly translated, that means I didn’t just get off the boat yesterday. I took my money and walked out.

I would like to say this is an isolated incident, but it isn’t. It has happened several times since I’ve been here and I’ve heard other people tell essentially the same story.

Basically, storekeepers here, in a lot of cases, will charge you whatever they think they can get away with. The prices are never marked. I’ve only seen one scanner in one store here and most of the time it doesn’t work.

After the above incident, I went down to the store with the scanner and got the exact same thing and took it to the counter. The woman scanned it five or six times and never could get a price. Then she started entering numbers. I figured then I was screwed. Finally, she asked me to hand her a different package of the same product. I did. She scanned it several times without success.

Again, she entered numbers into the machine. Finally she said – without blinking an eyelash – “Cuarenta y cinco quetzales.”

I just stared in disbelief. That is forty-five Q. Forty-five Q is roughly $5.75; for a small package of creme wafer bars! I can get one of the best meals in town for forty-five Q! The only thing I can figure is someone must have tattooed “Stupid Gringo” on my forehead while I was having my siesta.

Do I have to say it? I didn’t get my afternoon snack. It is definitely time to say “Adios” to San Pedro. On Monday morning, bright and early, I’ll be on my way to Mexico. Before Monday though, I have got to do something about this tattoo…

Old Music and Wandering Stars

I got up early this morning – well early for me – and went down the street for a breakfast of toast, bacon, and orange juice. Notice – no coffee. This is my second day without coffee. Maybe a temporary thing, maybe not. Then I hiked up into the  village looking for a farmacia.

I found one. I think it is the only one in San Pedro. There was a little old lady behind the counter and this old man that looked like he must have been over ninety anos. He was just standing there holding a hundred Q note and looking lost so I turned to the lady and handed her my pill bottle.

I take anti-convulsion medicine called zonegran. I carry a three month suppy with me and start looking for a supplier when I am half out. The old lady looked at the bottle like it was a relic from Mars. I pointed out the name of the medicine. She shook her head and I was on my way.

Back down to Gringo-town I spotted a Canadian I know who sits outside a coffee shop and makes shoes to give away to some of the local little ones. I asked him if he knew of anymore pharmacies in San Pedro. He said, “Nope.” That’s what I thought. Looks like a trip to San Angelo or Panajachel. I’ll ask Rafael when I have my Spanish lesson today.

So, here I am. In a hammock, earphones on, listening to “Moon River”, and “Wandering Star” and “Please Come to Boston” and all that other old stuff I could spend hours listening to. And I wander…is there anyone else out there who loves this stuff as much as I do? In the end, does it make any difference?


In My Room

Yesterday we followed The Drifters and went “Up On The Roof.” Today we are going to listen to The Beach Boys and go “In My Room.” (For those of you who don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, I’m sorry you missed all the good music and are stuck with the crap they play now.)

Anyway, I just want to show you what you could be living in IF you were staying in a hotel in Guatemala and weren’t stuck with a “Holiday Inn” mentality. My room cost less than $8 a day. Included is WiFi, cable TV (which I never use), all the purified water I want for drinking, and it is clean, clean, clean.

Out My Window

If I were to change one thing, I would ask for more hot water. The hot water here is the typical “suicide” hot water heater for Central and South America. Meaning it is an electrical rig hooked to the shower head so you get “hot” water on demand. In practice, what that usually means is you can get lots of water from the shower but it is cold water or, you can get warm water with little water pressure. Never both at the same time. I guess you just can’t have everything.

By the way, I am certain I could get this room cheaper if I were willing to bargain a little but I already feel like I am getting a lot for my money. I use about $1.25 worth of purified water a day and if I had to pay extra for WiFi that would be running me another $1 or so. So my heart is just not into trying to bargain down the price of the room.