Sunday, March 30, 2014

Iximche

Living in MesoAmerica has given us many opportunities to visit ruins - and yet I never really get bored from trying to decipher how the Mayans lived and what the ruin sight would have looked like back in its prime. While Rick was visiting, we decided to visit Iximche, which is actually really close to where we live - if we didn't live in a mountain range. It took a few hours, and chicken bus transfers to finally get there, but since Tikal is a million miles away, we figured a few hours on a bus wouldn't be too bad. 

At this sight, we were so intrigued with how much information they actually knew. Of course, there was a huge lack of information as well, but the conquistadors actually lived at this sight - so they had some cool information gathered from them. Like the location of the sacrificial altars, and where the royalty and rich lived (it was in this place the the Spaniards actually made their dwellings). 

It was crazy to see what could happen in just a few years.  This was a place that was built not long before the conquest, and inhabited during the conquest - yet there are now trees growing out of the temples and so much damage - I guess that is why they are called ruins. :) 
At the sight there is also a Mayan prayer/ceremony area. We didn't really get to explore it very much because there was a group of people (we're thinking Peace Corps volunteers, since there was a PC van at the sight) partaking in a ritual. We figured it would be rude to interrupt, so we just stared at them as we walked past. 
At the sight there are also a few murals, and the museum/signs spoke a lot about the culture, including the working class, artisans, and people from other villages that traded with this particular group. I also learned that when the Aztecs fell to the Spanish, a messenger was sent ahead to the people at Iximche to warn them and recommended that they form an alliance with the Spanish. Unfortunately, small pox wiped out most of the population before the Spanish were able to discover the area. Pretty interesting, isn't it?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Few Days in Santiago

After exploring around Guatemala for a few days, we decided that Rick needed to experience the magical, mystical powers of Lake Atitlan, so we headed home to Santiago. Did you know that Lake Atitlan was a haven for hippies in the 60s and 70s because it supposedly was a place filled with magical powers? Even today the region attracts some interesting people - but that is part of what gives this place its charm. 
We made sure to spend Friday morning picking out produce in the large market held in the center of town. Every day in Santiago there is a market, but on Fridays and Sundays, vendors come from all around to sell here - and we love going since there is a much wider selection. We ended up buying way too much fruit, blackberries, strawberries, pineapple, mangos, apples, bananas... seriously a ton! We had so much that we ended up making smoothies after we ate all that we were able to. 

On Saturday we were discussing the difference between Pepsi and Coca Cola, and why sodas are so different in Latin America. Caitlin and I rarely drink soda, but if we do, it is normally Coke (or maybe some fruit flavored soda), but never do we ask for Pepsi. Rick said he felt some sort of loyalty to Pepsi, so we decided to sample them both to see if we could notice a difference. 

For our blind taste test we put both Coke and Pepsi in glasses and sipped, smelled, and sampled the different flavors. 
In the end, all three of us chose Coke as our beverage of choice. But, even if it is the beverage of choice, I'm still not a huge fan. Coke has created an awful health epidemic in Latin America. When we were in Mexico, we learned about the infiltration of Coke into indigenous communities, and I was appalled at how much soda is now used in religious and cultural ceremonies. We learned all about their marketing strategies and what they have done to encourage Coke over water in many of these communities. It is a tragic thing, and makes me hate Coke as  company. There is a great article (for any that speak Spanish) that talks about the Coca Colization of Chiapas, Mexico. It is definitely worth a read for anyone interested. But of course, I didn't start this blog in order to rant about the evils of Coke, so I'll continue with my intended post. 

On Sunday we had a BBQ in the local park, which is always an adventure. One thing about Guatemalans is that they have no personal boundaries. They will come up to you, touch you, touch whatever you are holding, watch you from inches away, etc. Our experience at the park was no different. 

Rick and I set out to start a fire, and of course it was as super windy day, and we were starting a fire with carbon. After about a minute (maybe not even) of trying to light the fire, I notice a family staring at us. The mom had a basket of clothes on her head and the dad had 3 kids tugging at his arms. I quickly looked away (still haven't broke that cultural norm of not staring for more than 3 seconds) and the next thing I know, the lady is pushing Rick aside and starting our fire for us. She didn't even say anything to us, just starting building our fire. I started talking to her and I think she was surprised that we spoke Spanish - although I'm not sure how much Spanish she spoke. 

After a few minutes we had a hot fire and were ready to barbeque. We made tin foil veggies and bbq chicken. During the process, a group of kids came over to help us gather wood, and kept playing around us during the cooking process, and an old man came and sat on a bench near us and kept talking to us every few minutes. He spoke a little English and would say a phrase in English, I would answer in Spanish, and the conversation would continue in Spanish. We love Guatemalans, but we are still adjusting to some of the cultural norms. 
We spent a lot of time in Santiago hanging out in our apartment as well. It rained nearly every night, so we enjoyed the thunderstorms by playing cards and watching movies, including Mr. Beans Vacation - which Rick thought was extremely important to watch because he was on vacation. On Friday we went and explored some ruins, which I will be expanding on in the next post. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Chicken Busses and Chichi

We always want our visitors to have a real cultural experience outside of the US - so rather than take plush transports to and from our destinations, we opted to ride on chicken busses with Rick. 
These beauties are out of commission school busses from the United States, that are painted all sorts of amazing color, with added chrome accents, semi-truck horns, and sometimes they even take the seats and put them closer together to fit more in (as if school busses had extra leg room to start with). They are pretty much a glorious part of traveling through Guatemala. 
We went from Antigua to Chichicastenango, which is famous for its Thursday markets. We were super excited to see it, but we were not prepared for the death ride to get there. Chichi is in the mountains (well everything in western Guatemala is in the mountains) and the roads are ridiculously windy to get there. The driver was really in a hurry to get there, so he was taking the corners at top speed, and of course, we were nice and snug in our elementary sized bus seats. 

Once we got to our destination, we set out to find our hostel... a ridiculously cheap hostel recommended in our Central America on a Shoestring book. It was only $3 or $4 a night, so we thought it would be perfect! Well, as soon as we got into the hostel, Rick started to panic. I don't think he had ever seen a hotel/hostel that run down before. It was clean enough, and the roof had a great view of the colorful cemetery, but compared to our last hostel, this one was a hole in the wall. Luckily though, we left to find dinner and had some amazing pupusas that made everything seem better. 
The view of the cemetery from the roof of our hostel.
The next day we set out to find a fun place to eat. We ended up in a second story restaurant/coffee shop that had some amazing food. I got toast (made from home made bread) and fruit, Caitlin had french toast and fruit, and Rick got a traditional breakfast of eggs, fried plantains, beans, tortillas, and fruit. We all shared, and everything was delicious. 

The best part of the restaurant though, was actually the view of the market. This is the outside of the market, but imagine this for dozens of blocks - and at the center, there are no buildings to help keep things orderly - we must have wandered through the same isles at least 3 times, but we never really knew where we had been or where we were going. There are so many bright colors and fun things to see, you never really get bored. Rick bought a few souvenirs, and Caitlin bought a post card - but we really left the shopping to Rick. 
We spent a few hours shopping for souvenirs, bartering, and gawking at local life - but finally we decided we were ready to head back home. So we boarded another chicken bus and made our way to Lake Atitlan.  Where we continued to have adventures with Rick Roper. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Hiking an Active Volcano

I recently added hiking an active volcano to my bucket list, and while Rick was visiting, we decided to hike Pacaya - a very active volcano near Antigua. In fact, Pacaya is so active that it had erupted just a few days before we hiked it and had completely changed the landscape of the volcano. We later read news articles that said they had almost evacuated nearly 3,000 people that live near the volcano due to the recent activity. But - even though it had recently erupted, I am still holding out to cross this item off my bucket list. 
In order to trek up Pacaya, you need to have a guide. The trails are very well marked, but once you get to the base of the volcanic activity, you need a guide to show you where to walk and what areas are safe. When Caitlin hiked Pacaya a few years ago, there was flowing lava running down the mountain. All we were able to see was a bunch of black rock with a few pits of burning embers. 
It was really warm though. I mean, really really warm. I was wearing sandals and could definitely feel the heat coming off of the rock. Our tour guide even brought marshmallows for us so we could roast them on the burning lava pit. 
I was super excited to roast a marshmallow, and I eagerly gobbled up my perfectly cooked mallow. In the states we are not really fans of marshmallows, but in Latin America they are so good. I don't know if they are actually all that different, but they seem to have a variety of flavors and colors - so we are always happy when people offer them to us as a snack. 
We met a really nice Australian couple that also hiked the volcano with us, and so we spent some time chatting with them. They told us that after you work at a company for 10 years, they give you 3 months of paid vacation. I was really jealous. Maybe we should move to Australia.
We also met a ridiculously annoying (and racist) guy from South Africa who would not shut up the entire time. Luckily we didn't have to hold a conversation with him. Unfortunately, he spoke so loudly that he included everyone in his conversation, whether they wanted to be a part of it or not. If you would like to know his life story, just ask. I'm sure between the three of us we could retell it nearly perfectly. 
Rick kept comparing everything to Idaho, and how this volcano was not as pretty as the hikes in Idaho. He is such a funny kid. I like to explore the beauty and diversity of many different places. There were some great things we saw on this hike that I have never seen in Idaho - like an active volcano, banana trees, people from South Africa... the list could really go on and on. I think Rick actually enjoyed his time on the volcano - but we learned from this experience that it is much better for us to do things on our own rather than take a tour where we are waiting on the time table of other people. 
And like I said, I'm not crossing this one off my bucket list yet. There are a few more volcanoes I want to hike - and I really want to see flowing lava rather than just pools of burning heat. There are a few that we might hit up while we are in Nicaragua, so I'm sure that in 2014 I can include several volcanoes in the completion of that bucket list item.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Exploring Antigua, Guatemala

Sometimes it is nice when you have friends. 
And sometimes it is amazing when you have a best friend. 
The kind of friend that will get their passport, buy a plane ticket to Guatemala and come visit you for ten days. Yeah - we are pretty lucky to have that kind of friend. 

Rick Lee Roper came to visit us in Guatemala this past week, and it was seriously one of the greatest weeks we have spent in Latin America so far. Caitlin has been around Guatemala on the MesoAmerica tour that BYU-Idaho does, but I had never been anywhere besides Lake Atitlan, so we decided it would be a great adventure to go exploring with Rick. 

Our first stop was Antigua, Guatemala. The city is actually the old capital city of Guatemala, but after a series of disastrous earthquakes, the capital was moved, and Antigua became a super center for tourists (especially granola, bohemian-type of tourists). 
We started off our day with some ATM troubles, a quick and unintentional tour of the city while we looked for breakfast, and finally a delicious breakfast on the rooftop of a building with a great view. In Western Guatemala there are numerous volcanoes. I don't want to sound dramatic or anything, but there are like millions of them. So from the rooftop, of course you could see some volcanoes... although I don't think we took any pictures of the view while we were up there. Oops! 


Because Antigua is located in Latin America, we of course spent a large part of our time in the city exploring the churches. I know I've spoken about my obsession with Catholic churches before, but I find them so fascinating. The ones in Mexico were super ornate, but the ones in Guatemala are actually pretty plain. At least in Antigua they are. We learned that after the earthquakes and move of the capital, the churches were scaled down quite a bit. There was not enough population to maintain super ornate churches, and since there were several churches that were destroyed in the earthquakes, the church did not feel it important to continue to build buildings that could eventually be demolished again. 

One cool thing about Antigua is that they've kept the ruins of the churches in tact (or somewhat in tact) so you are able to go in and explore the demolished buildings. They all wanted to charge an entrance fee, so we decided only to go to one, but it was great! 

There were huge columns that had collapsed and great archways and cool plants growing all around the ruins. These are definitely just as cool as some of the Mayan ruins I have seen. It was so interesting to see how the church was built and be able to explore all around it. 

Now here is where I show my ignorance about the church... we went down into the basements of the church. I'm pretty sure one was a mausoleum or something, and I'm not sure what the other basements were, but they were pretty big, musty, and dark.   Steep stairs led to the entrances, and although they were pretty big, they didn't connect and we could only see one entrance to each one. One of them even contained a saint with candles burning, all sorts of dead flowers and quetzales (local currency) tossed around the burning altar. I am still not sure who it was, but it was especially creepy because we were underground in a dark pit. 

We had a great time exploring the ruins and after an hour or two exploring the numerous caverns, rooms, and sanctuaries, we decided it was time to move on and explore more of the city.

We spent a long time walking around the city. Like I said, there were several church ruins to explore, and eventually we made it down to the artisan market to do a little bit of shopping. 
Guatemala is great because they have super bright colors for all of their textiles and artisan products. We spent A LOT of time shopping while Rick was here, but it is always so much fun to haggle with the salespeople and to check out the intricate embroidery work on the textiles and clothing. 
Toward the end of the day we hiked up a little hill that overlooks the city. It was great to get a birds eye view, but unfortunately it was cloudy so you can't see the volcano behind us. Just imagine a really big mountain covered in trees. That should be the view from the top. 

One of our favorite people we met in Antigua was a man who owned a coffee shop a few blocks away from our hostel. Every time we would walk by he would yell in a thick accent, "Come to my coffee shop!" I explained to him the first time that he approached us that we didn't drink coffee. The second time, he was just as enthusiastic as he yelled, "Come to my coffee shop!" I couldn't help but smile as I reminded him that we don't drink coffee. But I didn't blame him, since all gringos look alike. :) Then, the third time it happened, he yelled his catchphrase at us from behind and as we turned around he recognized us and started laughing and running off to solicit some other potential customers. It was so hilarious. I wish you could've heard him. He was so great. 

We spent some time in the center after it started to get dark and we had some great conversations with women trying to sell us souvenirs. People in Antigua were really nice, but a lot more pushy than they are in Santiago or Mexico. They also knew a lot more English. Spanish speakers always call us "friend" and it cracks me up. You would never go into a department store, grocery store, or farmers market and be called friend by someone trying to sell to you. Would you like to buy some tomatoes, friend? No... that would be creepy. But in Latin America we are always someone's friend. I love it.

At the end of the day we went to our hostel, which was so perfect for us. Our room had two sets of bunk beds (all 4 of the beds for Rick), and a double bed. It was newly renovated, so it had the smell of paint... and some other stuff, but it was great. It felt like our little home in Antigua. 
Well, I think I'm running out of juice to write more tonight - but I will be writing about our excursion to Pacaya real soon, so stay tuned for more adventures of Devin & Caitlin... and Rick. :)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Carrying A Heavy Load

In Guatemala, men carry massive loads on their backs, with a strap around their head to hold it in place. A lot of times it is firewood, and we have seen a lot of men here with loads bigger than they are. It is really quite an amazing feat. 

Today at church, one of the elders shared a story about these men and the heavy load they carry. He said it was like us and the heavy load we carry. And he gave 4 great points to support his analogy. I would like to expound on those 4 points and give my own insight into what the missionary taught us today.  

1. These men who carry heavy loads use their entire body, all of their strength and energy, in order to carry what has been placed upon them. They are using their head and neck with the strap that has been looped around them, their backs to balance the cargo, their legs to support the extra weight, and they always use their hands to support the strap around their head. Like these men, we too must use all of our strength and energy to carry the heavy loads placed upon us. But we do not have to merely rely on our own strength. Alma 26:12 says, 'Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things."

When we recognize this extra strength from the Lord, our strength will be increased and we will be able to progress even further. 

2. These men do not run with their heavy loads, they do not gallop or walk briskly. Instead, they take small steps. How many times do we look at our lives and the immense weight of our burdens that we feel are crushing us and think that it is overwhelming? We should learn from these men carrying their burdens and remember that we do not have to make giant strides every day, but rather we need to take small, calculated steps in order to make progress. D&C 10:4 says, "Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means provided... but be diligent unto the end." 

The Lord knows us and knows that we are going to want to sprint to the end. We don't like being uncomfortable, but sometimes that discomfort is part of the learning process, and we need to move at a pace that is going to help us reach the end of our journey without tiring. 

3. The men always move forward, never backward. Could you imagine carrying 50-100 pounds of firewood and trying to walk backward? Yet with the burdens that we carry, sometimes we choose to stop our progress and look behind us, look for something that we will never find in the past. 2 Nephi 31: 20, "Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life."

 I love this video about Lots wife. 
The poor lady was just missing home, turned around and became a pillar of salt.


 Although I doubt that would happen to any of us, it is a great lesson to learn that we should not look to the past for answers, but keep moving forward. We can learn from the past, and remember the great memories of the past, but we should not try and live in the past - our future is forward and we must follow the example of these men and continually press forward.

4. The last thing the elder taught us was that when the men cannot continue, when all their strength is exhausted, they find a big rock or something sturdy and they release their burden until they are ready to move forward again. This is so symbolic of the help the Lord is willing to grant unto us. He is our rock and is willing to take our load from us if we will just come to him and allow him the opportunity to support us. 

Helaman 5:12 teaches us that Christ is our rock and our foundation, "And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall."

When we are weary, we can turn to him. We will not fail, because he is there, and he will support and love us through all of our trials and tribulations. And when we don't think that we can support the burdens we have, we must always remember to bring them to him and rest in his loving arms. 

I am so grateful to have a knowledge and understanding of the atonement of Jesus Christ, and so grateful that we can find application to the atonement and many other principles of the gospel in our everyday life, even if it is just the cultural traditions of a rural Mayan village in the hills of Guatemala.