Thursday, January 16, 2014

Signs signs everywhere are signs...

Non-PC alert.

Mistranslations crack me up. I find the website Engrish Funny - 100% entertaining. Even when no words are involved, for example in the homegrown Guatemalan signs we see everywhere, the interpretative differences are highly amusing.

No falling down stairs with scissors or spray paint

No bottle rockets 

No doing acrobatics with a person on a bike while you are kicking a ball  

No mining 

No walking like a zombie, walking like a zombie in the graveyard, no crapping

No frolicking, no German Shepherds, no pistols 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Copán, Honduras

The Mayan ruins of Copán are just 15km over the Guatemala/Honduras border. They are easier to get to than Tikal - only a 4 hour drive for us instead of 8. Surprisingly though, it seems there are more Guatemalans that visit the site than Hondurans because Copán is an 8-hour drive from Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras.

We spent 3 tranquilo days including New Year's Eve 2013 exploring the ruins and the little town nearby named (confusingly) Copán Ruinas.

Bustling, authentic and adorable all at the same time, Copán Ruinas looks like a hillier version of La Antigua with its narrow cobblestone streets, little tourist shops with purses, textiles and knickknacks, backpacker hostels and restaurants appealing to the western pallet. Like Antigua, the little pueblo has an everyday side to it also, with hardware stores, comedors, tortilla makers, and lots of locals riding Tuktuks going about their daily business. The main difference is that there aren't any Mayan locals wearing their traditional textile skirts and huipiles. Instead the ladies in town are dressed in modern jeans and colorful tight tops and the dudes all look like working cowboys, with shiny belt buckles, muddy boots, dusty wranglers and sweat-stained cowboy hats.

The food was basically the same: plates of beans, tortillas and plantains, and lots of homemade signs advertising caldo de gallina (chicken soup). In addition to the comida típica we found "baleadas" which were delicious Honduran quesadillas: a fresh flour tortilla folded in half and filled with refried beans, crumbly dry cheese and butter. The perfect nighttime street food - cheap and delicious! We tried them basic, and we tried them with fried eggs and avocado inside, all were excellent.

The ruins of Copán were amazing, lots more carvings and stelae than we saw at Tikal, protected in a smaller park with shorter temples. Open just during the daytime so no sunsets or sunrises in the park, but the temples were all right at or below treeline so didn't offer the same views as Tikal and Yaxhá. Our guide had some fascinating insights, and was an interesting guy too - his Mom owns an Inn in town and he's planning a motorcycle trip to visit all the Mayan ruins in Mexico and Central America, he's looking for sponsors and wants to film the whole thing to turn it into a documentary that will increase tourism in the area. It's so awesome to meet locals who have a vision, young visionaries with dreams and enough of an education to pull it off.

Some locals we met at a real German-owned microbrewery in town (yes! finally! good beer in Central America!!!) told us we HAD to go to the Bird Sanctuary, Macaw Mountain up the hill. It was a really cool park with a bunch of parrots, owls, hawks and other little creatures that had been rescued from poachers or donated by pet owners who couldn't take care of them anymore. The Scarlet Macaws are happy enough to make some babies and the babies are being released into the valley to try to build up the wild population. The huge red macaws are gorgeous birds, have the intelligence of a 3-year old human and can live up to 80 years, but they have the loudest ear-splitting screech I've ever heard, I seriously don't know why anyone would want one as a pet, excruciating!

We splurged on one night at a gorgeous destination hotel called Hacienda San Lucas a little way out of town. It's an old hacienda with amazing views of the valley, candle lit dinners, the best margaritas ever, and a yoga pavilion that I want to live in. It was totally expensive ($140 a night!) but worth it if you spend a full day there relaxing and doing yoga and hiking to the little Los Sapos Mayan carvings that are nearby.

Our other 2 nights we spent at Hotel ViaVia, a cute backpacker hostel with cheap rooms and tasty international food. And then Hotel La Posada de Belssy on New Years's Eve, which was disappointing. The room smelled like a public men's room - due to the urinal cake ziptied to the sink. We discretely detached the offending cake and set it outside the door hidden among some potted plants; that helped. The room was cramped and dark with a double and single bed in it - perfect for cheap backpackers but it made the room feel like a submarine with high ceilings. Oh well, we really only slept there and they had some nice hammocks on the roof.

New Year's Eve in a small town in Honduras was crazy! A few organized parties going on in bars but most of the action was in the Plaza Central where all the boys under 18 were lighting fireworks and chucking them at each other across the square. Total war zone. The night before a stray firework set a knickknack store on fire and burned down a couple shops around it. But did they mellow out the next night? Hell no! No lessons to be learned there... oh well. Humans are stupid, especially the males. But anyways, we bought a random assortment of bottled drinks at a little convenience store and enjoyed the street scene. Ladies were done up like prom night and teetering on high heels clinging to their proud hombres while other hombres made catcalls from the sidelines. Honduras is unbelievable in the catcalling realm compared to Guatemala, the men are such hasslers! As our friend said many a time when some 13 year old ogled her, "Sick!" One Tuktuk driver we rode with fired off his "whoop-whoop" siren at EVERY WOMAN he passed, and actually got close enough to spank one poor chica as he drove by. Sick.

When 2014 arrived we were dancing outside a bar/hotel called Costes who had a DJ - DJ Bais! - set up on the street along with smoke and bubble machines. So much fun! We had no idea what to expect for New Years in Copán but it totally exceeded any expectations. We danced in the street with Aussies, Americans, Hondurans and who knows who else into the wee hours.

Happy New Year!!!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Joys of Street Food

Chowing down on Chopsies' Burrito while I wait for some Chow Mein

The title of this post makes it sound like we got sick off street food, not the case! So far so good - our little tummies have been happy with our choices. We don't eat meat so I think that must help, but man, if it looks good, fresh and it's bien cheap, we'll try it! 

A good Sunday pastime is taking a stroll on Avenida Reforma which they close to traffic for a few hours so the pedestrians, dog-walkers, joggers, bikes and roller skaters can go wild. It also looks like a Kennel Club dog show. Guatemalans love their pure breeds, especially with balls still in tact, and they're all out for a meet and greet on Sunday afternoon. Wish I had pictures, that's one of the most noticeable things, is all the dogs' balls! I can't believe it, no wonder there's a huge problem with street dogs here... 

But enough about the dogs! The food is fun times! There are street vendors walking around with little bags of roasted peanuts, fava beans and cashews. There are little Granitas pushcarts on bicycle wheels, which is like Guatemalan shaved ice (we haven't been brave enough to try that yet as it looks like dirty hands on dirty ice on a rusty old hand-crank grinder with yellow#5 flavoring). There is a Chinese Food Truck, and a Goat Burger Food Truck, and the other Sunday when we were out, we had the BEST pineapple/kiwi smoothie ever. 

Piña Loca! Sans booze

Monday, January 13, 2014

Christmas! Brought to you by the biggest beer maker in Guatemala

Guatemalan husky gets a walk on a hot Sunday afternoon in January

Ahhhhhhh Christmas, a time for celebrations, family, love, Jesus, Santa and a time to buy beer, lots and lots of beer.

When we arrived in Guate in September, we began hearing rumors of a giant Christmas tree being erected in the Obelisco Plaza in the center of the city. "It's HUGE!" people told us, "and it's sponsored by Cerveceria Gallo, a huge beer maker in Guate, so it has a huge rooster head on top of it." What? Nothing says Christmas like a big neon rooster. And yet, when the tree did go up in November, it was truly amazing. Apparently Gallo went all out and bought themselves the biggest steel Christmas Tree in the world to dazzle the Guatemaltecos.

They call it "El Arbol Gallo" and here are the stats:
Tree Height: 145’ (12 stories tall)
Base Diameter: 57’
# of Lights: 1.5 Million LEDs

El Arbol Grande has 12 musical numbers that it plays, all synchronized with a light show to rival any parade in Disneyland. Every night we drove by the tree there were people just standing and sitting around the plaza watching the mammoth tree like a movie. Mesmerized.

Not just for the citizens of the capitol, Gallo put up 27 more trees (only 50-footers) in different cities and towns all over the country, we saw a cute one in Flores all lit up and cheerily flashing in the central plaza when we visited the little lake town in December.

How much did Arbol Gallo cost? Who knows, but it makes me want to drink some Gallo. It seems a tad bit wasteful to power up a spectacle like this in a country with soaring malnutrition rates, but I have to say, it was a sight to behold, something beautiful in the middle of a country plagued with horrible violence every minute of every day... and at least it's a private company funding it instead of the government.

The crane just took it down, Navidad in Guatemala is finally over.

Tree lighting ceremony