Sunday, July 29, 2007

cuevas de Semuc Champey

First of all, Semuc Champey has these amazing freshwater pools that are captured within limestone formations-- formed from sediment in the water rushing out of the mountain caves that are further up river. Think crystal blue, clear, fresh, waterfalls, lots of green vegetation, and big! Big enough to swim about in about 6 different pools.

Now, the cuevas. Ordinarily, I am not crazy about tours but this one was not to be missed and not possible without a guide. It started off with a giant leap from a swing into the brown rushing river. Next, I borrowed some shoes for the cave (no havaianas unfortunately) and was given a lit candle-- every other person-- and there were about 15 of us. And we entered the cave in water chest deep among the stalactites/mites. Then, swimming with one hand, scrambling up rocks, more swimming in the dark, climbing up a rope into the face of a rushing waterfall from the depths of the cavern, yet more swimming (the longest was about 30 meters in distance- with shoes on and one hand, this is not easy), 3 meter drop into a pool of water, more scrambling and climbing and swimming. When we got to the end, the guide told us to blow out our candles. I made a comment about what a nightmare it would be if there wasn´t a way to light them up again. One guy refused to blow out his candle and swam around the corner to give us some darkness. Good thing! bc later we learned that the guide´s lighter didn´t work! Can you imagine?? Trying to get back thru that cave (about an hour ´walk´) in the pitch black dark?! One the way back, he had us squeeze thru a tiny little hole of rushing water. When we finally emerged into the light-- with tiny wet candle stubs-- we climbed up to the top of the mountain to look down on the waterfalls and pools of the Semuc Champey. Then tubed down the river back to our guesthouse. All I can say is: Intense. You could never do this in the U.S.

Jason (Portland, OR) and Quechi Mayans

Our first day at Semuc Champey-- I voted that we hang out by the river and wash off the dusty feeling of traveling on dirt roads all day. I began making a painting of the river and the yellow bridge and slowly we started to gather a crowd of Mayan children and young men-- all men (where are the women??). More and more people all around me, until I couldn't see the sun. After that, we knew all the kids in the area. We saw them everywhere. They would shout at us from inside building and various places-- always remembering us.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


So, I had a great day today. Mostly because I have crossed the intimidating boundary of comprehension!! We did a coffee tour (in Spanish) and a little tour of an orchid farm (in Spanish) and cruised around freely visiting a couple of pueblos (towns) and chatting with various people (in Spanish). Woo-hoo! I can finally communicate!

I recorded some info about growing coffee in Guatemala. Guatemala is one highest producers of coffee in the world. Brazil is first. Here´s the synopsis of growing coffee at a little farm called Finca Santa Margantan (photos later) (PS- this account is subject to future revision):

The farm was founded in 1888 by a German man.

Young plants are grown under cover for warmth and protection in organic material from seed. After a year, they are transferred into plastic bags and into the ground. The second and third year there are fruit but it is a low grade (used for low grade coffee). The fourth year is high quality. Fruit is picked with it is a red or yellow color (depending on the variety of coffee). Workers are paid 50 cincuentas per pound (about 5 cents US) of coffee that they pick. Coffee is picked 5 times a year. Each plant produces about 5 pounds of coffee per year. After the fruit is picked it is soaked in hot water and then run thru a machine to remove the pulp (skin) from the seed. The pulp is later used for organic material that is used on the farm. The seeds are washed in water and then sucked thru a pipe and deposited in a long trough to separate seeds that float and sink. The water is running and the seeds that float are pushed out the end of the trough and collected-- these are the lower grade called ´nata´. The sinkers are called ´pergamino´ and are the high quality. Both varieties are laid out in the sun for about 2 days (?) on the concrete and turned over to dry properly. Then the seeds are stored in a dry shed in canvas sacks that allow ventilation for about 6 months. The skin is removed from the pergamino and the ´oro´seeds that separated by hand so that the best quality seeds are separated from bad seeds (seeds with more or less than 2 parts in one fruit, malformed seeds, etc). There are at least three types of quality: 1 gourmet, and 2 types of Americanos). Then the seeds are roasted in a machine at 200 celsius for 25 pounds for 20 min. Roasted coffee is called ´tostado´. More time is needed for darked roasts, ex. expresso. Then, it is ground depending on the type of coffee needed, ex. expresso is more fine. Ground coffee is called ´molido´). Here at the farm, mostly processed coffee is sold-- in Guatemala. Some coffee is exported and some of that is in the raw (unroasted) form.

There are about 6 main places in Guatemala for growing coffee. They each grow different varieties which are selected based on their body, acidity and flavor and these vary depending on the altitude, temperature, and soil of the location.

We saw a few varieties of coffee at the farm. Robusta is a lower quality and Arabica is higher. Arabica requires more shade. All of the coffee at the farm need a medium amount of both sun and shade. So, there are tall trees growing in the plantation with their branches cut off. There is also some sugarcane, guava, chili, all spice, avocado, cardamon, some kind of edible palm (papa...?), beans and banana.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

micro buses

I''m up in North Guatemala-- on my way to the tropical forests of Central America. We ve been taking the micro buses. Really enjoy them. The front is the best. Where you can get the best view of the drivers making daring passes around semis on the curvy mountain roads. Little bit of squishing in the seats, but no where near the shady ´chicken buses´ which aren´t called chicken buses for nothing. Did I tell you that I got puked on by a poor car sick boy who was standing in the aisle? Kum (in Thai)-- what goes around comes around-- I once puked on a mountain bus in Laos. And made a terrible mess. But not on anyone.

I've been on this embroidery kick...It all started when I wanted to buy something with a quetzal embroidered on it-- but they were all ugly and expensive. I told Kari: I can do better than this. So, I bought some thread and I've been making little animals for my friends. Here's one-- my favorite-- a marmaset.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Ultimo dia in Xela

Moving on out! My last day in Xela. Just going to add some photos here and then words later (or maybe the photos can speak for themselves....

At school.

The street in front of my homestay.

Fuentes Georginas-- about an hour away from Xela. Hot springs outside of xela....People in the photo are friends from my language school and one of the teachers. A weekend trip.

Herbs (thyme?) being cultivated in the fields on our way up the mountain. Santa Maria. A huge volcano that required us to climb 3000 m. We could have made it-- if we hadn´t gotten lost 3 times. It was still a trip. Lots of fun.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

El Artiste

I always meet interesting people on ´pick-ups´. I realized that today when I was trying to tell my Spanish teacher some of my travel stories and they inevitably begin with ´when I was in a pick-up I met this guy...´ And yet again in Guatemala: I met this guy in the back of a pick-up on the way to San Marcos. This experience stands out specifically because it was also an amazing trip down this green lush mountain overlooking the amazing blue waters of Lago de Atitlan. I was the only gringo/a during the entire 2 hour trip (consisting of about 5 different vehicles). The 2 last vehicles (pick-ups) wer the best. I have always loved travelling the back of a pick-up (reminising back to my hitch-hiking experiences in the back of trucks across western America...)-- the great view, fresh air and feeling of freedom. So this guy... very funny, friendly, making fun of me (easy to do with my lousy Spanish) , and making friends with everyone on the truck, saying : ´Que bonita! Que bonita!´ to no one in particular but the beautiful landscape.
El artisto-- loco un poco. I ran into this guy again in the Parque de Central America in Xela while I was doing a drawing there. He laughed at me lots (always) thought that it funny the way that I was drawing. Later, we ended up checking out his studio and another day we had lunch at his place. His house was quite strange. It was full-- really full-- of doilies and kitsch. One room was dedicated to his 'son' -- which I think, was him-- now. It was decorated like the room of an 8 year old boy, complete with child-like drawings on the walls. What gave it away, was the thick layer of dust on everything. There was also a school desk where you could see that El Artiste did drawings some times. Another time, I saw him at the chocolate cafe that I frequented close to my house. And he sang along with the beautiful Spanish music with tears running down is face. Recuerdos, recuerdos! He said to me.

Our painting. I gathered us all up-- 5 of us including the artist. We did a group drawing. Start on one side and then rotate it. This was the result. We gave it to the school. Its about 1 meter by 0.5 meter.