January 5. 2012
(Please see photos following the blog below)
Dear Friends and Family,
I am sitting in the RAM marina apartment again. Much to our disappointment, they are not ready for our return. We had been told that the boat would be finished with the outside waxing and we could be put in the water as soon as we arrived this afternoon. Well, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that nothing has been done on the boat while we were away. It might have all worked out but for the last 4 days, it has hardly stopped raining and so nothing could be done as far as waxing was concerned. On top of that, the driver of the lift was in a motor cycle accident and was not available to lift the boat. He should be back at work tomorrow. Unfortunately, I am not sure they will get the boat waxed tomorrow. This afternoon, they just finished washing it for the first time.
We had planned to stay on the boat tonight but since the apartment is available, we are staying here. We will see what tomorrow brings. The worse part is that we can’t really start to make room inside the boat to live until they are finished with the waxing so we can move the outside cushions outside, put the main sail on and after testing the engines and the water maker, use the tops of those compartments for storage and sleeping. Oh well, what can you do?
Let me go back to happier times and try to catch you up. I may do it in more than one log as there is a lot to say. Our active lives have made for a longer absence from writing as well.
We finished out classes with a farewell lunch with our teachers. It was very difficult to say good-bye but I hope to stay in touch with Olga. I would take her home with me in a minute. I felt that we really made a connection and there is so much I would like to visit with her about still. As far as learning Spanish, two weeks for a beginner, especially one not inclined to study hard, is just a dent. I am still able to make some simple conversation and we are starting to recognize a lot of things that we didn’t before. I am motivated to do more of the Rosetta Stone that we have with us but only just looked at a week before starting classes. It also give us some courage to interact with locals in a way we were hesitant to do before.
Saturday was quite a day. It was New Year’s Eve and we started the day by taking a tour with Elizabeth Bell. My readers who have been here will know what I am talking about. It is suggested that you take the tour at the beginning of your time in Antigua, not the end as we were, but that was the only opportunity that fit the schedule. We had a tour through the school when we first arrived but the Elizabeth Bell tour was much more about the antiquity of the city as well as some information about NGO’s operating in the area and some of the history of the development of the city. Elizabeth came to Antigua from California with her parents when she was 15, in 1969. She has lived her life mostly in that area since. She said that until the availability of cell phones, communication was limited to most of the population and even for officials, it was difficult. This improved dramatically only about a decade ago. The town seems booming now but if not for tourism and especially the language schools which employ a large number of people in the schools, plus bringing revenue to host families hotels and restaurants, there is little industry there. Nestles has a plant there that our host Carmen worked at for 20 years. She started over 40 years ago so it has been around for awhile. As an aside, she had to read and write in English for her job and though she has not used it in awhile, it sure came in handy to help make things clear when we stayed at her house.
The NGO’s in that community spearhead many projects including keeping the town clean, building things for various purposes and Elizabeth’s passion, funds for protecting the various ruins around the town, of which there are many. They are not rebuilding structures, just trying to keep them from being damaged more. There is shoring up of areas, removing plant growth and cataloging and protecting what is there. She said that after the earth quakes, more destruction was done by man as they used the bricks and stones for building other things. I am sure it made perfect sense at the time, it would to me. All the grand churches were stripped of their treasures and they were taken to the new capital in Guatemala City. It seemed to me that there were a lot of things in the churches but the original grandeur is not there.
After lunch with our family, we went back in to town to pick up our laundry and make one last stop at the newly opened Chocolate Factory. I guess you can actually make your own chocolate bars but that wasn’t happening when we were there. They have an interesting room with information about the history of chocolate. It was used by the Mayan kings in a bitter drink. Only the people with priority received this drink. The beans were very popular outside of the Mayan culture as well and were highly prized for trading to areas that could not produce it.
As time passed, chocolate was so expensive that only people with great funds could afford it. In the last century, a process was developed that made the chocolate more affordable to the general public. It is still expensive, especially for chocolate that is really fine. I found out that one mature coco tree can produce about 100 pods. The seeds are inside these pods. The product of the 100 pods translates in to only 7 – 7oz. bars of chocolate. No wonder it is expensive. Right now most of the chocolate comes from Africa but they are starting to try to increase production in Central America. The African beans are larger but supposedly the smaller Central American beans are better quality. One of the people who runs the place said that she hoped Asians never gained a taste for chocolate or none of us would be able to afford it. It takes some effort to grow and maintain the trees plus it won’t produce for the first 3 years. It is a real commitment for someone to use property and delay a cash crop for that time.
One other thing we found out about was that they use the shells of the beans to make a chocolate tea. It is a light caramel color and really smells like chocolate. It does need some sugar though to bring out the taste. It is mild and refreshing like a tea, not like hot chocolate would be. We brought some back to have on the boat.
After we got home there was some for visiting on the Skype with family and it was time to join three of our classmate for New Year’s Eve. We went to the main street in the town that was closed off for the evening. We saw various performances on the street. The marimba players were out in force. The beautiful wood marimba is quite large. It is like a xylophone, only in wood. Up to about 7 men would play one instrument. I can’t imagine the coordination and practice that takes.
We saw some large sized dolls that dance around being held up by people underneath. There were also people doing a fire ceremony, blowing a conch horn and dancing in what looked like Indian dress. We had seen something like this in Mexico a few years ago so I don’t know if it is Mayan or another indigenous population in the area.
We were surprised to see Santa’s at the four points of the fountain. They had stuffed toy horses next to them and children would take their picture with Santa. This is a week after his visit around the world. I guess he had more time for the New Year.
Everywhere, they were selling head bands of lighted bows or devil horn or lighted toys to spin or wear. It reminded me of Disney World after dark. The crowds were so think it was difficult to move and yet the street vendors were still taking up locations on the sidewalk or the street. It made it hard not to trip over them.
We worked our way over the the restaurant we had chosen for dinner. It was a little more than we usually pay but our friends had picked it out and it was a special night so we enjoyed a wonderfully prepared French style meal. We were well satisfied by about 9:30 and headed back out in to the streets to the town square. It was packed with people. I felt like it was Times Square! There was a stage with the marimba players. Some people were dancing on the sidewalk and some were even shooting off fireworks. This sounds dangerous and it was. People were doing it right in to the crowd or with people standing around them. No one seemed to mind though and it seemed like it was expected.
Rob, especially, got excited when they started sending off the hot air balloons. We had heard about these over 20 years ago on a trip to Brazil and we had seen them pictured in art work here in Guatemala. They are about 4 ft. paper balloons that have a flame under them which fills the balloon with hot air and it rises and flies over the city until the flame goes out and then, they drift to the ground. The hope is that the flame is out before it comes down. They are beautiful in the sky, flying higher and drifting away. It is wonderful when there are several of them together as they make quite a glow from the refection of the light in the balloon. We were describing them to our granddaughter and she said that they were like the balloons in the cartoon movie of TANGLED if you happened to see that.
We got home about 11 and our host’s other son and family came over about 11:30. At midnight, we again prayed in front of the nativity and then went to the roof to see the fireworks. It was even more than Christmas this time and we could see the big ones coming from the town square.
The meal after the fireworks was also bigger. We had eaten our fill at dinner so had little appetite for the ham, potatoes, rice, vegetables, and bread that was prepared for a middle of the night feast. Our host’s son Carlos, who lives in the house, had is birthday on January 1 so we had purchased a birthday cake which he enjoyed after midnight. It was very tasty and made a nice end to the meal. Alchohol was served but not much in our family. Toasting was not done but lots of hugs all around.
The little girl that had fallen asleep at Christmas didn’t come but the two girls that lived in our house and their younger boy cousin stayed up with no problem. The two teen aged boys sacked out and had to be awakened to go home. We got to bed about 1:30. It seemed like New Year’s Eve was a bigger event than Christmas. Maybe because people stay home for Christmas but Antigua was invaded to celebrate the New Year. It was crazy but lots of fun.
By this time, we also had new students who had come in on Friday. They are part of a group of 14 college students who were there for 2 weeks of classes and then about 2 weeks of sight seeing. Their school is a small Christian school in Indiana. The following Monday, the day we left, another married couple was to come and take our room.
I am going to stop now and write again soon about our New Year Day. We spent it as we did 7 years ago to the day. I wrote about that adventure then, and you will hear about a similar one soon.
Hoping to be in the water soon,
Sue and Rob
Back at RAM
Here we are at our lunch with our teachers. We are sitting across from each of our teachers.
Here is a picture of one part of the church we had been going to. The church now is only a side wing of the original structure. You can see how one column has fallen down. The group that Elizabeth Bell is with tries to get funding to keep this from happening. The buildings will still be in ruin but not continue to deteriorate.
Here is a replica of a coconut tree with pods in all states of development. Each tree produces about 100 pods which breaks down to only 7 bars of chocolate when processed! I know now why good chocolate can be expensive!
Here is our New Year’s Eve group. The couple on the left are Jim and Anna, newly retired from Minnesota and now traveling a lot! Next to me is a young woman who is a tour guide in Turkey. She does tours in English and wants to do them in Spanish as well. Great people and you will see Jim and the woman from Turkey in the next log.
Here is Carlos with his two daughters. One is wearing the kind of head band that lights up that we saw so many of on the street. Like father’s everywhere, Dad needs some help with the candles. Carlos is now 39.
I told him that next year, he would be “over the hill.” He turned and pointed to us with a questioning look on his face. I guess I deserved that one!