13 10 2009

I just spent 5 hours wandering around in the jungle.

It was fantastic.

I decided that words just wouldn’t cut it … check out the pictures on http://www.flickr.com/photos/cathedralsfan/.  But over and above that, it does need some words and whatever to give you the setting and story.  So I’ll do my best.

I was up at 4:15 this morning, but just because that’s when my alarm clock gave me permission to quit trying to sleep.  Before five (departure time) I was standing outside of the hotel waiting on the promised bus.  Sooner or later a guy came down the street saying, “¿Tikal?”  He had my ticket’s serial number in his hand, so I followed him off to the bus.  Then we stopped by another couple of hotels, hollering “¿Tikal? ¿Tikal?”  One or two folks didn’t show up.  The attendant, who spoke good English, said we were leaving anyway, because we had selected an early ticket, and “You snooze – You lose.”  So we crossed the bridge from Flores and took off.  And stopped at at a terminal to call the hotels.  And said that one or two folks had appeared at the place where they bought the tickets, so we crossed the bridge again.  And picked up another tourist, and crossed the bridge again, and we were finally off.

I had gone to a panadería to buy pan (bread – a slightly sweet roll and two muffins) last night.  So that was my breakfast, with a little box of apple juice from the hotel.  I was hungry by 10.  We pulled into Tikal at about 6:20.  After wandering around a little, we all figured out where to pay the admission fee – which was three times as much as I had read.  One thing about Latin America I haven’t comprehended yet is their idea of “ticket control.”  Do they sell you the ticket at the entrance?  No.  They sell you the ticket fifty yards up the road.  Then, at the entrance, the “ticket control” takes the ticket, solemnly looks at it, punches a hole, and lets you in.  It has no sort of efficiency going for it.  However, if the idea is just to create or save jobs, perhaps Obama should take a look at the idea.

I will have to let the pictures describe the ruins themselves.  I wasn’t there in time for sunrise, but there was still a mist in the air.  I had read that you could hire a guide on the spot for about $10, but I didn’t see any.  So I just struck out on my own and enjoyed the solitude, in a lot of places.  The smell was immediately familiar – Jungle House at the zoo!

It was not nearly as warm as I was afraid.  That is not to say it wasn’t warm!  But I think it actually was better than it has been in town, here in Flores.  Most of the time we were in the shade, and there was a little air moving.  But I really have run up against the futility of trying to describe it!

I tried to imagine what it was like hundreds of years ago.  To be honest, I don’t even know what century it is from!  [In researching after I got home, I found that it was begun in the “B.C.” years, and I think had reached its peak before 1000 A.D.]  I was impressed by the main plaza.  The most impressive, though, was probably “Templo IV.”  You didn’t even know anything was there.  Then you ran into some wooden stairs up the side of some structure.  You climbed, climbed, and climbed some more.  From a kind of “landing” on the steep stairs leading up the face of the temple, you can see an extremely long way.  I am guessing it is the tallest structure in Tikal, which is the size of the smallest of the famous Egyptian pyramids, according to what I read.  Then you climb a few more flights of stores, and step out on the pyramid itself.  Suddenly, you are gazing out across miles of jungle.  I wouldn’t even venture to guess how many miles … You could see the mountains in the distance, though.  It is … quite frightening to look over the edge of these steps, although the face of it isn’t all uncovered, and if you fell vegetation would stop you in a few feet.  In this case, pictures definitely did not capture the sensation.  Again, I thought about the Mayan priests, and how the four of us who were up there at the moment would probably have been slain without mercy if we had been caught sunning ourselves there 600 years ago – not to mention that three of us were girls. [Oct. 30 – Maybe we should make that 1000 years ago.]  (However, I am not a Mayan expert.)  I still didn’t really get it.

I wandered around a little further.  I found another complex, “Grupo G,” and some howler monkeys there set up a horrid racket.  I couldn’t get pictures, but I took a video that I hope got some of the sound.  I had heard them from a distance earlier, and asked someone who happened by.  I had been telling myself it was revving engines, but it definitely wasn’t.  And jaguars seemed a little far out.  I would have been pretty nervous this second time, so much closer, if I hadn’t known what they were.  I think they didn’t like me …

As I wondered across a grassy plot, surrounded by moss-covered stone stairs, a little indigenous man got down from his ladder (I had noticed him there cleaning; he gestured at the monkeys) and came over to me.  He discussed the monkeys, ascertained that I understood the Spanish, and asked if I was Mennonite.  (Proof that human nature is the same everywhere?)  Then he started telling me how he worked there, maintaining the ruins, all day everyday.  The monkeys kept him company, he said.  He liked the tranquility here.  He was a “sacerdote Maya” – a Mayan priest.  Not a shaman or brujo (witch doctor), he assured me.  They practice black magic.  He just “had his beliefs.”

Really, I had felt more awe at the monkeys, the ants, which had been carrying out exactly these activities in this jungle all the centuries ago, who had been angered at Mayans invading their territory just as these were angry at me today – I had felt more awe at them than at the stones themselves, somehow.  But this small man was here, keeping the moss from growing on these rocks, just as his ancestors had done so many generations ago.  He comes in and lights his candle every morning, and although he doesn’t offer other sacrifices (that he mentioned to me), he feels that he is a priest here.

I looked into his face as he talked, and didn’t know what to say.  So I mostly listened.  He asked if I agreed with the Mayan “cosmovisión,” but I said, quite honestly, that I didn’t know much about it.  He told me that God wasn’t somewhere off on His throne – He is here, around us.  Proof?  The air that we breathe – we would die without it.  The water that sustains our life.  The earth, where we plant seeds, and they grow.  The fire that warms us and prepares our food.  These are, to Salomón, the spirit of God surrounding us … “In him we live, and move, and have our being.”  He apologized if he offended me, but I should like to know how I would have been offended.  (OK, I could go into a long-winded theological discussion here, but I would offend someone, and it would … be irrelevant.  Do I agree with him?  No.  Do I think that he needed someone to tell him, “You’re wrong?”  Didn’t Catholic priests try it 500 years ago?  Paul’s approach was better: Acts 17:22 and following.)

He asked if I would like for him to tell me about the complex where we were.  I was quite ready, as I probably could have used a guide.  He wanted to see my hand then.  And then I realized (as he was looking at my hand) that he was going to try to tell my fortune.  Which is something I had never intended to let anyone do.  (In point of fact, it was a purely theoretical question … I never expected to meet anyone who wanted to try.)  However, he didn’t exactly ask permission.  At that point, I started to doubt his simplicity, and even sincerity.  What does that have to do with earth, air, fire, and water; and did the Mayas really read palms with the same technique as the gypsies?  He told me that I would live many years, and that I had a long spiritual journey ahead of me, preaching to people.  (He had previously discovered that I had spent about five weeks at a mission in Guatemala, and that I was evangelical …)  I don’t know whether he believed it or not.  I really don’t.  I think he might have.  Then he told me some things about what that particular complex was used for, and I think I believe that, but I couldn’t help wondering if they also were his own ideas.  So I asked him if I could give him something … “Oh, that is your own affair”  (Es asunto suyo) … So I gave him 5 quetzales (under a dollar), and he pointed me out a little shortcut that took me somewhere I had already been, and he went back to his work.

His simplicity and sincerity?  He left me thinking.  I really believe that it is another example of the “living with incongruities” that one sees here.  He truly considers himself a Mayan priest.  And he truly appreciates those tips.

I spent five hours in Tikal, and left quite tired and warm.  The bus got back to Flores about 2:15, and I headed up to the only cheap, good restaurant I had found in town, where you can get a good lunch for $2.50.  Of course, I was too late for that.  I think one of the ladies felt sorry for me when I asked.  I’m sure I looked plenty warm, although I had slipped into the restroom to wash my hands and tidy my hair a little bit.  She said, “Podemos prepararle comida” … “We can get some food for you!”  So I paid twice as much, and got a good … they called it a steak, but it was pretty thin, and quite covered in a sort of tomato/mild pepper salsa, with rice, and French fries I couldn’t even finish.  And a cold Coke.  I was warm!

For the last hour and three quarters, I have been paying a dollar an hour for shade and ceiling fans – using an internet café!  Really, I’m mainly after the shade.  I checked out of the hotel, and will just go by for my luggage this evening before heading for the bus terminal.  I had another $20 I meant to change and do some more shopping, but I think I left it in my luggage, so as not to be tempted to spend it …  I guess it’s working.  I have just a little bit of money left, though …

I will close for now.  The bus leaves at 9:30 tonight.  It is scheduled to arrive at 6:00 a.m.  My flight leaves at 7:55.  Please hope and pray with me!  The folks who will pick me up at the terminal are American.  I hate to admit it, but I was relieved when the voice on the other end of the phone broke into English, and I realized that, to the couple who will be waiting on me, time means more than just hands moving around a clock …

P.S.  I might get the videos up later.  I am going to get off of here for now, though … it should be getting cooler outside!

[Reading this after coming back, I realize I was pretty tired and didn’t communicate as clearly as I would have liked!  I have done a little bit of editing since the first time around, to correct some of the worst problems.]

Ride the bus with me!

11 10 2009

This is my second post today – if you’re starting here, you might want to go back and get the first one.

While riding the bus yesterday, I did some writing.  I don’t like James Joyce at all, but here is a sort of stream-of-consciousness piece for you, if you like it!  I will restrict myself to minor edits, and leave some of the mistakes/Freudian slips for Manuel.

I got to the terminal just after 8 – most of the seats were still vacant, and I got my pick.  I watched people until about 9:45, when they started loading the 10:00 bus.  They filed everyone through a metal detector so sensitive that we all triggered the alarm, and no one paid attention.  A lady peeked into all the hand luggage.  I misunderstood instructions & got corrected.  Picking up my backpack, I almost stepped backwards over a curb, and the guy who had corrected me smiled and said, “¡Cuidado!” [Be careful!]  And I suddenly loved La fell in love with Latin America all over again.

We pulled out, and it started to drizzle.  The lady at an orange juice stand put up its umbrella.  We drove past people … people in shops, in doorways, on sidewalks.  I was seized so strongly with a desire to write that I rummaged through my backpack & finally committed a sort of sacrilege: There were two empty pages in the back of Crime and Punishment – a Norton’s Critical Edition – and I have ripped one of them out  am writing on it very small.  That means I have missed seeing lots of people, but now I can write my impressions before they blur.

We’re going through narrow streets & slummish cement block walls with purple bougainvillea lavishly spilling over the tops, and open shop fronts painted in primary colors.  We’re crossing bridges looking off into lush valleys, and the side streets go steeply up or down and are even narrower.  There are buzzards soaring above that valley.  The tops of the mountains in the distance are blurred by fog and clouds.  This valley has little shacks in it with tin roofs, all up and down the slope.  But all the time, I like Bolivia better.  I constantly think we’re almost out of the city, but then I see more of it.  I can’t decide how flowers react to poverty here – it is either disrespect or impartiality.  I think it’s the latter.  Greenery is everywhere, even poking out of rock faces.  This valley, with a small dried stand of cornstalks left in it, has a foul-looking, sluggish brown stream winding through the bottom.  And on the clothesline in front of that isolated shack along the road, a pink quilt with pictures of Tweety Bird is drying.

They are playing an annoying movie of American authenticities ethnicities [that was an interesting mistake I didn’t catch till today] overdubbed in Spanish.  At least that’s not as bad as the cowboys and Indians love story, overdubbed in Spain with a definite – Castilian? – accent, that they played between Sucre & La Paz for an audience with the heritage of Quechua Indians.

We are definitely out of town now.  We’ve just passed the turn-off back to Jalapa.  I am exulting in the feeling of being on my own, sink or swim, much the same as when I was stranded in Santa Cruz for 3 days.  Of course I recognize that it is serious, even life & death.  (So is driving to work every day.)  But there’s something about accepting that challenge, and putting my skills against it, and making my mistakes, talking to friendly people, and seeing experiencing things I never thought to see outside of books.  I’ll never climb mountains do mountain climbing, and don’t want to.  But if I married a man or had a friend (amiga) who was up to it, I definitely would backpack through Bolivia.

I think I’m noticing a change in the scenery now.  Perhaps it is a lower altitude.  The greenery & trees are becoming more “scrubby,” and there are cactus “trees.”  Seriously!  I didn’t even know that was a prickly pear’s natural growth habit.

… And here, I got a glimpse into countryside a hillside covered with palms.  At 1:30, as promised, we pulled into a little wayside restaurant.  Everyone piled out & got a sit-down meal on glass dishes from a cafeteria-style line.  I got rice and meat.  It tasted like beef, and was deliciously roasted, in a sauce that would have been stew if it had vegetables.  That was $4.50, and I splurged with another $1.25 on a big fruit cup … melons, papaya (I think), apple (I think) … Don’t remind me that I don’t like canteloupe; I like everything here.  (Still except raw vegetables.)  I am back on the bus now, deliciously full.  Habit was too strong for me in one respect … when they asked what I wanted to drink, I said “Pepsi.”

But the really wonderful thing is, this bus route is horribly indirect.   For a long time while, we have been running so close to the border with Honduras (according to the map they gave me) that I’m pretty sure the other side doesn’t look much different.  And … we are going to cross a little neck of a bay opening onto the Gulf of Mexico.  Assuming it is salt water, that is as close as I’m likely to get to the ocean for a while!  Right now the mountains are much more distant than they have been during the past month.  There are actually wide fields thinly sprinkled with cattle.  But lots more trees (and palms) than Kansas.  And I just realized I am understanding most of the Spanish in the movies, even though I’m mostly looking out my window.

Speaking of contrasts again – The first two movies are surely rated something the US that would keep them out of the public.  One had some men quite fixated on the screen at points … the other one, its audio still English, had quite strong language.  The third? Fireproof, a movie quite popular in US Christian evangelical circles about how Jesus & salvation are the answer to marital problems.  It took me quite a while to recognize it realize what it was.  Well, I suppose after the first two they probably can use this one.

We just stopped at an obligatory checkpoint.  Most of the passengers got off, and 3 officials came through squeezing hand luggage without speaking.  A sign threatened a $1,000 to $3,000 fine for “obstaculizing” the process.  (I am aware that is too literal a translation, but you get the picture.)  My backpack is under my seat instead of stowed overhead, & it just might have been hard to see past my skirt as I sat curiously watching.  But hey, if they don’t ask, why would I volunteer?  I think if I ever go into smuggling, it will be in Latin America.

After that, it was too dark to write.  And yes, that was all on less than one and a half sides of that sheet of thin paper from the back of a normal-sized book.

We pulled into Flores eventually … there is so much more I want to write, but I can’t spend forever on here.  I paid twice too much ($4) for a taxi.  I figured it was too much, but didn’t know what to bring him down to, and again, a dollar means more to him than to me.  He knew the hostel where I wanted to stay, which didn’t even bother putting an address on their website, and waited until she showed me my room, which I thought curious – until I saw her give him a commission when I followed her back down.  It was $10 a night, and well-recommended.  I like the place all right, but it had a very … college student atmosphere.  I moved this morning to a place that costs $27 a night, but I only have two nights left here, and I decided the $34 difference was worth it.  Oh, it was cute – when I bent down to write my name in the guest book, the girl reached up and felt of my hair!  Then she asked if it was real, I think.  When I said it was mine, she felt it again.  Lots of the indigenous women have long hair, but they don’t comb it like this. And tourists sure don’t.

I meant to take more pictures there … I was on a sort of second story, and the best way I can describe the sensation after looking out this morning is, like sleeping in a treehouse in the Jungle House at the zoo.  I guess that means the zoo did a good job.  It was horribly humid and sticky.  There was a fan, but that actually made me cold.  And I still couldn’t take the humidity.  I decided this morning that a hair dryer would have been more what I was after.  The place wasn’t rowdy at all.  But as usual down here, you can hear everything, down to clinking coins, from inside a room.  So I could hear people sit around talking until after 11:00.  It rained quite a while after midnight.  And I wasn’t tired enough to sleep much.  Church bells started chiming at 6:00, and I didn’t sleep any more.  Hopefully I will get tired enough this afternoon to take a nap.

I walked around some time this morning without encountering an evangelical church.  I would have visited the Catholic church, but it started at 8:00.  I got up and my hair was a frizzy mess, and I decided to wash it then instead of waiting till this afternoon.  Beside, I felt like a shower again anyway!   I couldn’t detect hot water, but I didn’t miss it.

While walking around, I came across this hotel and moved … and here I am.  I will get off of here and go back to my room, which is actually air-conditioned.  A blog kind of seems a strange place to request this, but I have a lot of people reading it, and if you want something to pray about, I need everything to go smoothly Tuesday night.  I don’t want to spend the night in Guatemala City, since it is said to be pretty dangerous, and I am going to take the night bus there Tuesday night.  It leaves at 9:00.  It is supposed to be an 8-hour trip, and my plane leaves just before 8:00 a.m.  I have to have a taxi (recommended by the missionaries) try to meet me at the bus terminal at 5:00 a.m.  I don’t have a cell phone.  Also, buses aren’t necessarily exactly on time.  It was an hour late last night when we got clear stopped.  So I really need all to go well.  I think this is the right thing to do, but I just don’t want major problems.

With that, I will close for now.  Thanks to my readers for your attention, your support, and (in many cases) your prayers!

Who would have guessed?

11 10 2009

Well, I’m sure y’all would never have had any expectation of this … but … that’s right, my plans have changed.  Not that I have any history of that.

It’s a little different this time.  During the first month in Jalapa, I offended in several points – some of them unwittingly, and some, I admit, carelessly.  If it had not been for the careless ones, we could probably have resolved the unwitting ones.  As it is, we had a long talk a week ago last Wednesday.  Several of the things Lee and Sharon brought up, I had already become aware of.  I thought we had cleared the air, and I worked on correcting the areas I needed to.  (This being a rather public forum, that’s as specific as I want to get … They weren’t anything “shocking,” if you’re curious!)  However, tensions had been running rather high beforehand, and it didn’t get resolved that easily.  I guess they also felt that I wasn’t making the corrections I needed to.  I disagree on that point, but so be it.  I was actually rather relieved when they suggested I move up the time of my departure.  One person said there was another factor or two, like (I guess) the new granddaughter’s due date moving up to just a few days after my leaving, and so I went back to Guatemala City on the same day that a director visiting from the US had to leave.

They were a little worried about what I would say about the mission, so I want to make clear that I never felt anything out of the way from any of them. As I mentioned above, if I had not been at fault in those areas, we could probably have resolved the other areas.  One thing that makes me feel a little more confident that it was partly a misunderstanding is, that I have heard one of my supposed faults charged upon my mom in exactly the same words.  And I guess I have more confidence in my mom than in myself, but I think that if her reaction in a stressful situation could be misinterpreted in that way, it is just possible that her daughter’s could.

Moving on. I just couldn’t give up the trip to Tikal.  I presented the idea that since I would be doing it at my own time and expense, it didn’t really matter which date the return flight moved to, and so I was able to set it for this Wednesday (the 14th).  We drove into Guatemala City yesterday, Saturday.  At one point, traffic was held up for half an hour due to a head-on crash between to flatbed trucks (about the size of cargo vans).  That isn’t too unheard of in the US, but when you go by, there isn’t usually a partially covered corpse lying in the road by one truck.  It was pretty sobering.

I had made reservations online for a bus with Línea Dorada to Flores, near Tikal.  (Tikal is an archaeological site).  However, I didn’t get any email confirmation, and I was rather nervous about getting my seat.  I told them I would rather get there early than have them buy my breakfast (especially at Burger King, but I didn’t say that).  Wherever there are hungry people down here, there will be someone selling food, but not necessarily bus tickets.  Sure enough, not only did the confirmation not exist (that they mentioned), but the “luxury” line didn’t even run at that time.  I think I finally figured out that it is just that it is a sleeper bus and runs only at night, so I rode in simple “first class.”  It was hardly more than half full, so my worries were for nothing.  But I did enjoy buying my own little box of pineapple juice and a sort of strawberry-jelly turnover, and eating it in the terminal, more than sitting in Burger King with a “barely-clad” woman gyrating on the television.

I know that my anxious to experience it at close grips is unreasonable for someone who actually lives in that culture, but I don’t have to time to absorb it by osmosis, to let it just soak in a drop at a time.  I know that what I’m “experiencing” isn’t really more authentic than, say the local Burger King.  But still, that gyrating woman really doesn’t attract me over there.  And it makes me use my Spanish.

Now, I am going to say that this post is long enough, and share with you, in the next one, some stuff that I wrote yesterday.