02/01/2013/11:04 pm, Halifax, Nova Scotia
We have had a fine old time back home for the holidays. With time to visit with friends and relatives, a chance to feel the cold and anticipate the coming warmth of our return to the boat, musical entertainment and relaxing moments at home, it has been very, very good. And I have finally managed to get caught up on blog postings - four going up tonight. Sorry about the wait - and then the deluge of words! I'll make a try at photos next.
Jim and I were lucky enough to get last minute tickets to the Barra MacNeills Christmas concert where we listened and clapped and sang along with the lively Celtic music. What fine musicians they are! Mary Beth's med school term ended and she was able to spend time decorating the tree that filled a corner of our living room and working with me at jigsaw puzzles on the coffee table. Our tree is always the same - fresh and natural, and loaded with the ornaments that we've been gathering over the years - tatted ones made by my grandmother, wooden ones made by my father, a huge assortment given to the children by my sister, some we've collected on our travels and even some created as school projects many years ago.
We lucked into a lobster feast in Sackville at Jim's niece's home with the Bissell side of the family before Christmas, and enjoyed a delicious roast pork dinner at my sister's on Christmas day. Liam and Alex arrived from Ottawa late on the 25th so the Lusby crowd feasted on a turkey dinner at our house on Boxing Day. New Year's Day saw a rather subdued crowd dining on a seafood casserole filled with lobster and scallops and shrimp. I say subdued because we were all up late the night before, and some of us partied hard!
Jim and I laughed with the girls as they got all dolled up in their finest party dresses (Mary Beth still says, "If Dad doesn't like my dress, I know it's the right one!"), enjoyed a glass of champagne with our neighbour and then walked down to the Grand Parade for the outdoor party there. We were dressed in our woolies and had a wonderful time as part of the crowd listening to JP Cormier, Bruce Guthro and Lennie Gallant, along with a great backup band of talented Maritime performers. At midnight, confetti guns shot streamers over the crowd and fireworks erupted behind the stage, and both friends and strangers exchanged hugs and wished each other Happy New Year. It was a great show, and a fine way to bring in the new year.
And now, we have turned to our to-do lists for the return to Guatemala - new screens for the ports ordered, fender covers to be made, trail mix picked up, water filter delivered and an assortment of odd bits and pieces accumulating in a duffle bag. Mary Beth is back at work on an orthopedics rotation, Alex has returned to Ottawa and to work at Capital City Luggage, Liam is tying flies like crazy and says he'll keep fish on the table during his 2 months with us on the boat.
We feel truly blessed. We are lucky enough to enjoy both Northern life on land and Southern life afloat these days - living fully and appreciating all that is. I read a quote from Winston Churchill the other day - "For myself, I am an optimist. It does not seem much use being anything else." That suits me pretty well, and I will continue to view life that way. We adopted a suggestion from a Facebook friend for the New Year too - to think of 3 words that will shape our year to come. Among the words that appeared in Jim's and my consciousness were delight, flexibility, expansion, peace, progress. They seem like good words to lead us into further experiences of appreciation and discovery and growth.
From s/v Madcap to you - may your year be filled with moments of wild excitement, peaceful relaxation, joyous successes and safe passage through the hard parts.
13/12/2012/10:55 pm, La Antigua, Guatemala
What a treat it has been to spend over a week here in La Antigua. We exercised our brains in the mornings, our legs in the afternoons, and our elbows and jaws in the evenings.
We chose the PLFM Spanish school for a couple of reasons - it gets good reviews generally and it is one of the oldest language schools in Antigua, teaching Spanish and supporting Mayan languages. Jim and I each had our own teacher, one on one from 8 to 12 for 6 mornings (Wed to Fri and Mon to Wed) and we chose a homestay to gain extra practice and to save money. Jim had a good match with his teacher right from the start. Although I was hesitant to do so, I asked for a change after 3 days because it didn't seem like I was getting the most from the experience, and that turned out to be the right thing to do. The director of the school had no problems making a switch and my new teacher was both more skilled and easier to understand. A number of other students had been there for several weeks, and while we admired their dedication, a week was enough for us right now. The homestay was interesting and I'm glad we did it, but it was not totally successful and we ended up eating several meals elsewhere.
The tutoring cubicles at PLFM are scattered through a lovely garden and it was a pleasing place to study. Both staff and students enjoyed conversation and typical treats at "recess". Local women came with their baskets of tortillas, tamales, tostadas, tacos (which in Guatemala are crispy cylindrical tortillas). My favourite snack was a crispy tortilla topped with guacamole, shredded cabbage, cheese and a dab of salsa. Mmmmm. A jeweller was there one day to sell his work, and we bought beautiful sterling silver quetzal earrings for Mary Beth. On another day, Raphaela displayed exquisitely woven and embroidered textiles. I spent some more money that day! But oh - her work was beautiful! And she was so dignified and gracious - not pushing me to buy anything, but clearly proud of her work and pleased to see it appreciated.
Carmen, my teacher, and I strolled up and down the pathways and pored over the books on our table as I plucked words from my overstuffed brain and strung together awkward sentences. She was so good at gentle corrections, and we laughed a lot - so much that Jim and his tutor, Marina, had to move farther up the garden because they said we made too much noise! We bought ourselves the Rosetta Stone program for Christmas and will continue to study over the winter - as well as talk with the locals during our travels and market excursions.
On the weekend, we left town to go to Lago Atitlan and Chichicastenango, which I have written about in other posts, but we made good use of our afternoons and evenings in Antigua. Another couple of hours were spent each day on homework, often back at the school where we could combine it with internet connections, yet we found time to wander through the cobblestone streets, past the many ruins for which Antigua is famous, poking our heads through open doors to see lovely courtyards and discovering a great bar and a fine restaurant thanks to new school friends. We joined Allison and Garry (from Vancouver) and a number of other folks at the Ocelot down near the main square. It was a fun place - with a photo of cigar smoking Maximon among other celebrities on the wall - and a good happy hour from 5 to 6. (Somehow or other, our footsteps led us back there more than once!) On their recommendation, we ate dinner at Hector's - on the corner just across from La Merced church - in our own neighbourhood. This fascinating little space is marked only by a small H on the door - created from a knife, fork and spoon, and a sign inside that says, "Yes, this is Hector's"! The menu is short and fabulous - we had chicken one night and beef bourguignon another night and we enjoyed a lively dinner with Amy and Bruce whom we'd met on the lancha in Lake Atitlan. (I still absolutely love the ease with which new friendships are made in this travelling life.) We ducked our spoons into fragrant and delicious caldo real (chicken soup that makes a whole meal) at La Fonda de la Calle Real on 3a Calle Poniente, and we sat in a window seat sipping a cool white wine at an elegant little wine store near the square. (Oh gee - I seem to have gone on and on about food once more - I wonder why that is!!)
A highlight of the week was the opportunity to meet up with Marianne and Wyllys again. We met them last year when we were scooped off the street for lunch at Meson Panza Verde with Santiago and his friends. As former cruisers, they keep up the same pattern of exclaiming, "Be sure to call when you are in town!" So of course we did, and were treated to a most wonderful evening in their lovely home. We sat on the roof to watch the end of the sunset, enjoyed dinner on the patio by their lush green courtyard, and admired the beautiful workmanship of the local artisans who built their home.
Along with all this fine dining, we joined the throngs of people up by the service station for Quema del Diablo - huge crowds gathered to watch as the giant devil topping a bonfire was set alight. Apparently it is a time for houses to be cleaned and waste gathered together into fires. If the crowd there was anything like the Samana Santa crowds that are all over the city at Easter, it is no place for the claustrophobic. It was a happy throng of families, loud music and lines of stalls with street food, but I like such places better in the daylight and when I'm not being crushed on all sides. The Parque Central remains a lovely place to stroll or sit on a bench and watch the comings and goings. We like it in the evenings when there are not so many hawkers and shoeshine boys looking for business - so many shoeshine boys that Jim made sure he wore sandals whenever we went there.
The day before we left, there was yet another festival. This was the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the grounds of La Merced Church. Dozens of children were dressed in typical costumes, the girls with embroidered dresses and the boys in little suits with red trim and straw hats - and oddly, moustaches painted on their faces! Many little photo stations were set up with pictures and statues of the Lady, and offerings of food and animals. Photographers were ready to take pictures of the children in much the same way as Canadian children pose for photos with Santa.
Soon enough, our week was over and we took a taxi back to Guatemala City, staying at Villas Toscana once more, before catching an early morning flight home to Nova Scotia for the Christmas season with our families.
09/12/2012/10:43 pm, Chichicastenango
This was probably the wiggliest road we have ever been on - one where the bus driver blew his horn before each corner to warn oncoming drivers of his approach, and guard rails? Uh, what are guard rails?
As we drove from Pana to Chichi, we passed small homesteads with corn and other vegetables planted in every available space; steep hills in every direction were terraced with plots of corn and coffee and avocadoes. People in native costume walked the sides of the roads, many women with bundles and baskets atop their heads. I so admire the posture of these women. They are about a foot shorter than me (5'10") and often with wiry figures, standing straight and regal until they are elderly and the years and weight wear them down. I've been told that little girls start carrying small baskets at about 7 or 8 years, with the size and weight increasing as they are able to carry them. Their hair is glossy black and the older women wear complicated headdresses or folded pieces of cloth, depending on where they are from.
Market days in Chichi are Thursday and Sunday, and are for locals as well as tourists. Vendors arrive by car, cart and on foot early in the morning and by daylight they are ready for business. Stalls line both sides of the narrow streets, and tiny shaded alleys with tarps thrown overhead crisscross back and forth between them. We saw every kind of textile - all brightly coloured - and leather work and pottery. And also plastic of every description - bottles and bowls and sandals and anything one can imagine needing in a household. And then there were the produce stands and meat stalls and bags of little fishes and rice and beans. And women selling chickens and turkeys - still live and tucked under their arms or tied to their baskets. Our favourite parts of the market were those where the locals shopped. Several generations of a family would have a stall together and we got a sense that some were happy groups and some were not. One alley had stall after stall of sad-faced, thin women sitting silently behind equally sad looking goods and we had the feeling that theirs is a marginal existence. Other alleys had chubby cheeked children laughing together and pretty teenagers giggling and women selling healthy looking produce. It sounds as if there were more women than men, and indeed it seemed to be the women who were doing the selling. Men were there, some of them carrying packs and piles, some of them selling trinkets and textiles, but I think women are at the heart of the market.
People prayed on the steps of the Iglesia de Santo Tomas and swung censers made of tin cans with holes poked in them, mouthing prayers and ignoring the tourists. Men carried huge bags on their backs with straps across their foreheads, the calls of "good price for you!" rang out everywhere, and from the top of the church steps we could see the Capilla del Calvario at the other end of the street, neatly bookending the market with churches, and looming above the awnings of the market stalls. I have never seen such congestion, nor been pursued by so many insistent vendors. We eventually had to escape to the cool tranquility of the patio at Hotel Santo Tomas for coffee among the parrots and ferns.
Once refreshed, we plowed back into the fray again, this time purchasing some table mats and napkins and aprons and a small painting to remind us of the colour of the day. I smiled to see a crowd of young women, dressed in absolutely gorgeous embroidered huipils and skirts, examining fleece jackets and hoodies! Other women were poring over tables filled with embroidery floss and purchasing long pieces of fabric that had been woven by other women. The heavily embroidered flowered fabrics from Chichi are the work of many hands. There is a big difference in embroidery too - some had threads hanging and the reverse side was a jumble of loose ends. On others, the back was just as neat as the front. Prices dropped by more than half as they saw their buyer walking away.
Lunch at Los Cofrades, upstairs in the midst of the market was a wonderful surprise. Our platters of food were both beautifully presented and delicious, and the limondas wonderfully refreshing. As the young man presented our bill, he also gave us a little paper reminding us that the "Oxlajuj B'aqtun is an event that represents the end of a time cycle ... like a snail shell... a time to remake ourselves to do a material renovation and contribute to make an individual and collective conscience ... renew ourselves from our ideas and thoughts and change actions with the people and the environment... " We had time for another walk around the outskirts of the market - this time avoiding the areas where vendors were insistent on selling the gringos something - anything - to take home. I caught a few pictures of vans loading up with local folks for the trip back to their own communities - bags of goods piled high on the roofs, men with carts and barrows struggling over cobbled streets, and yet more women with huge baskets on their heads. While I am normally very careful to be unintrusive with my camera, I decided to just shoot away here in this market town where the local people are very used to tourists - and there was also the part of me that said, "If you are going to chase me all the way down the street to try to sell me something, I feel free to take your picture!"
We piled into another little minivan, this time squished into the front seat beside the (mercifully) careful driver for the trip back to Antigua - once again craning our necks to see the fields and hills and valleys. I figured we were either in trouble or in safe hands when I saw our driver cross himself as we headed out of town! Thankfully it was the latter and we arrived safely.