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IRTRA XOCOMIL: A Day of Fun and Thrills

Friday, April 28th, 2006

As I’m still hanging out in the Yucatan of Mexico, here’s a look back at one of my favorite days in Guatemala!….

After my debacle with losing my glasses and enduring 11 hours on the bus to get back to Xela, I wanted to have a little fun so that I could laugh and smile once more.  Easy cure:  IRTRA’s Xocomil Water Park. 

My book says it is about a 45 minute bus ride south of Xela, but I should have known better.  On the chicken bus, with multiple stops, a detour along dirty backroads because of road re-construction (due to last fall’s Hurricane Stan), and more stops along the way, it took close to a maddening 2 hours!  Me being a thrill park junkie, I always want to be one of the first in the park so that I can avoid the crowds that come later.  Alas, I finally arrived, and here are the photos of what I consider one of the top waterparks in the world.  Okay, I haven’t been to every water park in the world, or even 5 in the U.S., but I can definitely say that Xocomil does it right with little touches all thoughout the park…lots of trees and green, clean walkways, plenty of water rides to suit all tastes, reasonable food for reasonable prices, and decor that rivals the detail of Disneyland.  The best example of this is on the lazy river innertube ride, where you float under the shades of tree canopies as you pass “ancient relics” of Mayan statues and ruins, complete with rain showers, waterfalls, and “scenes” of indigenous living.



Welcome to the Park!



The main entrance.



Guests enjoying the inner tubes as they pass different scenes.  I floated on my tube four times around the park, which lasts over 10 minutes to make a complete trip.



Entering “the canyon”



A guy tries to avoid the spray.



The hydrotubes!  With or without a raft, they have 2 that are completely encompassed in darkness so you have no idea where the turns and twists will take you.



I rode every ride at least twice, including this one that shoots you straight up, and back down for a smooth landing.



The fantastic wave pool.



Right before leaving the park, I had to get my daily fix of a Sarita ice cream cone, double scoop of vanilla and chocolate (I know, so plain and boring!), it is the one addiction I just can’t shake!  Yum yum yum.

Phat Tuesday Revisted

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

So here are finally those pics from the Fat Tuesday Carnival celebration here in Xela, I think back at the end of February.  It is a pretty big deal here; Mitzi, Kathy and I checked it out in the early afternoon while it was still tame and peaceful.  When we returned, we had no idea what we were in store for…



The carnival features games, food and snack vendors, craftspeople, and rides–most of the rides are people-powered, like this merry-go-round that the ride operators push without any electricity.



Even this little ferris wheel is pushed by hand to make the ride go!!!


The event took place during the week, but the big night was Tuesday.  Covering an large area near the cemetery, there is one primary walking path where both sides are filled with vendors and stalls selling handmade crafts, candies, woven goods, dried fish, fried foods and more.  Another area contains the games (skill games, games of chance, foosball, videogames), while one end features those hand-cranked rides for the kids, and at the other end are the big rides for adults powered with electricity.

So on that Tuesday night, at 8pm it was Mitzi, Yuh Wen, Jennifer, Markus, Pablito and myself.  Joker and Martin found us a bit later and joined in the “fun.”  The big thing to do is to throw confetti at and on complete strangers within the Carnival.  Simple enough, you can purchase little plastic bags filled with shredded paper.  Or you can go a step further, and buy decorated egg shells that are filled with the paper.  In this scenario, you take the egg, sneak up behind someone, and SMASH it over their head!  We were game. 



Just confetti….



Yuh Wen contemplates buying more little egg shells to arm herself against the invading teens.


Harmless fun, right?  And it started that way.  Little kids would try to get us.  Pablito stands over 6 foot 5, so he was an ideal target.  We stuck together as a group, watching our backs because before we knew it, our whole group was targeted.  Easy reason too, we were the gringos. 

We made it past the food area, mostly intact.  But once we got to the main path of the vendors, things changed.  The egg shells of confetti changed.  Now, all of a sudden we had little kids and rambunctious teenagers throwing flour at us.  And then it was these same kids with dabs of silver paint on their hands, smothering our faces with the color.  This we were not aware of and didn’t sign up for, but yet here we were under attack!



Yuh Wen, Jennifer and Pablito have a moment to breathe.




Yuh Wen demonstrates how you are supposed to smash eggshell confetti on people’s heads, while I show off the little egg grenades.



The attacks increase, and Mitzi and Yuh Wen wisen up and flip their sweater hoods over their heads.


Our group was able to walk to the other end where the adult rides were.  Pablito and Jenny decided to ride the big ferris wheel, and Yuh Wen and I followed with some hesitation.  The ride was freakin’ scary!  Oh man, was it ever!!!  As you did the revolutions, you can hear this squeeking sound and you can see smoke coming from the mechanical generator or whatever engine is powering the ride.  And instead of a nice, relaxing ride, it is more like a thrill ride to see how fast it can go.  Was this thing going to break?  That’s not duct tape I see?  And what is up with the frayed cable wiring that secures our seat?  How strong, really, is the little pin that keeps the door closed shut?  We begin to slow down.  Thank goodness!  But wait….we are now moving slowly the opposite direction.  We go backwards!  And as fast as it can go.  I so hope this rickety ride holds up until we can get off of it!!!



Finally, we get off the ride.  Back on the ground.  Scary, but we made it.  We hear screams behind us.  And find the swinging boat ride in full swing.  We watch as the ride ends, and our eyes follow one girl that looks ghostly sick and is holding her hand to her mouth, obviously about to puke.  This was a ride that we had to go on!

Pablito and Jenny buy their ticket.  Martin is game too, with his broken foot in a soft cast and all.  I buy my ticket.  Yuh Wen and Mitzi decide to join the fun too.  Martin and I get the upper seat, and a little girl joins us.  Once the ride is loaded, we begin our swings.  Exhilirating!  Because it is sooo scary once again!  The ride operator has decided that the swing should go all the way around, even though it is not designed to do that!  So away we swing, harder, faster….the little girl next to me is screaming, “Por Favor, por favor”, I look over and her eyes are shut.  And her tiny legs are tightly wrapped around mine, as she clings for her life.  Once again I think to myself…is this ride going to break?  how much higher can this guy take it?  The ride lasts for many minutes, surely longer than what you would find at the Portland Rose Festival Fun Center.  I’m having a good time, partly out of fear, and partly because of the thrill of it all.  Mercifully it ends.  And we are all once again safely on the ground.



After the ride, with new victims on the swinging boat…


We decide to walk back through the vendor zone, and we come under attack once again.  This time there are less people wandering around, so we can tell who is and who isn’t scheming against us.  We make it to the food area, where Jenny and Mitzi get pizza, and I am craving my churros…



Churros are basically a big, fat, long doughy fried donut, sprinkled with sugar and served in a little bag.



If only I had some hot chocolate to dip this in!!


While we are stationary and eating, however, we see a big group of 12-15 teens nearby.  They are obviously all waiting for us.  With their eggs, their paint, their flour.  Suddenly, they run towards us.  A big wave of them, surrounding us and pelting us.  Half of our group runs the other way, including poor Martin in his soft foot cast.  I am on the receiving end as well, but not as bad as some of the others…could it be that maybe, just maybe I look a little Central American with my black hair and dark skin?

More chasing ensues, and things get a little out of hand.  Jenny is fighting mad, as she says that some guy stuck his tongue in her ear.  Yuh Wen, unfortunately, gets a real egg cracked over her head, and the egg whites and yolk run down her hair and face.  Things are now more physical, and these kids are bigger, faster, and more menacing because of the gang mentality…there are just too many of them, all in groups, all lying in wait, all targeting us.

Time to go.  We hightail it out of the Carnival area, and assess our damage…



Group shot, we survived!



Pablito takes off his jacket and shakes off the flour as the dust coats the air…


Moral of the story….when in Central America, if you find yourself at Carnival during Fat Tuesday, AND you are with a bunch of gringos….dress appropriately and know that you WILL need to take a shower later on.

Trip Report: Volcan Tajulmulco

Monday, April 24th, 2006

Here is the photo trip report from my hike up to the highest point in Central America, Volcan Tajumulco at 4220 meters above sea level.  As you may recall, it was a difficult hike, not so much because of the hike itself, but because of my weakened condition of food poisoning from the night before.  Plus the breakfast combination of black beans, eggs, tortillas and platanos with cream only created additional havoc on my stomach. 

It was an early wake up call at 4:30am, and we all converged at the Quetzaltrekkers headquarters at 5am where we rode the backs of pick ups to Minerva bus station, and then caught a chicken bus to San Marcos, arriving around 7am and having our gee-oh-so-yummy breakfast.  I was in the bathroom twice, but fortunately for me before all the toilet paper ran out!!
At around 8:30am we took another chicken bus to the trailhead–as the bus was very crowded, half of our group had to stand for the 90 minute ride.  I was able to get a seat, which helped but the twisty, bumpy and winding road just amplified the nausea and sickness that I was fighting.  I still don’t know how I managed to get up the mountain — I credit the guides for taking it nice and slow and for helping me out as much as possible, even offering to carry my fully loaded pack to our base camp.  Once again my stubborness sets in–30 minutes prior to our basecamp, we all collect and carry firewood, of which I take a pretty decent size and strap to my pack.  We started around 10am, and arrived to basecamp at 4pm, where I then spent the next 12 hours huddled inside a tent, fighting coldsweats and then feeling very very hot, on and off throughout the evening.  On with the photos!!
Trailhead, 30 hikers strong putting on our sunblock.
Hiking the dusty trail with views all around.
It’s a steep, slow climb.  What is funny is that we pass a group of locals heading down the mountain, sporting dressy shoes and regular clothing.  Our group with all of our fancy gear and packs must be amusing to the locals that go up the mountain on a regular basis.
Long stretches of land with sheep in the distance.
Views from the trail.
Another view from one of our frequent breaks.
Hiking up to basecamp.
From our basecamp, the view is impressive.
And another view from basecamp.
I hiked the summit, or rather climbed and rested, climbed and rested, and here are the beginnings of the dawn.
Clouds meet up with the horizon.
The sun begins to peek.
Sun rising.
Fellow hikers enjoy the spectacle.
I’m so cold and still sick, the smile hides my pain!
Hiking back down with the shadow of the mountain creating a cool effect.
The group heads down the summit and towards basecamp.  We take a different route back to camp, so there is not much climbing down.
Hiking in the shadows.
Continuing the hike down.
Enjoying the view from basecamp.  We have breakfast of oatmeal with granola, cinnamon and sugar.  It is the first real food I have eaten for the past 24 hours.
Back down down down the mountain from basecamp.
Another view hiking down.  We managed to lose one hiker for about 45 minutes.  I was the third to last hiker, and I waited for the other 2 as the main group went ahead.  When only one showed up, we waited for 10 minutes and called out for him, to no avail.  So we caught up with the main group, explained the situation, and then the 3 guides headed back up the trail where they managed to locate him.  To this day I still don’t know what happened–he didn’t seem injured or anything, so I suppose he just lost his way on the trail.
We reach the dusty road, and the winds smother us in clouds of dust as each step results in a big PUFF of brown.  I wear my bandana over my face to offer some sort of shield from inhaling all the dirt.
Almost back to the main road, where we will catch another crowded chicken bus back to San Marcos, and then another chicken bus back to Xela.  The bus back to San Marcos was the fullest I have ever been in.  It was hot, sweaty, packed, uncomfortable and quite the unpleasant experience, as you really couldn’t move your position or feet for much of the ride back.  Once in San Marcos, we had a very late lunch at that same comedor which consisted of tortillas, mashed potatoes, pasta, and a little bit of veggies.  Oh yeah, black beans too.
Bags off the buses!!  And then a 30 minute hike back to headquarters, where we check in our borrowed gear and head on in our separate ways.  It is only then do I feel like I’m getting back to normal.

Short Attention Span Theater

Thursday, April 20th, 2006

So I’ve been lucky enough to find an Internet Cafe here in Palenque to hold me over until my 10pm “overnight” bus to Campeche.  I say “overnight” because I’ll actually arrive around 3am, and since I don’t want to linger around in the streets of the town at that early morning, I’ll probably just hang out at the bus station and try to stay awake until the morning light comes and I can safely walk the 20 blocks to the hostel.

I’m glad to be heading out of Palenque…the place I stayed at last night, El Campan, is about 4 miles outside of town and is kind of a hippie place with palapas and cabanas in the woods.  My little hut had wire screen windows, and creepie crawlies everywhere, because my hut had the windows with a few tears here and there.  And where was my toilet paper (TP isn’t in the bathrooms, you either have to buy your own or they’ll leave you a roll in your “room”)…I was able to steal some at a restaurant across the road, I’m not ashame to admit that because they own the restaurant too.  So on with the pics, short attention span theater style!



My cabana is the one on the right.  It was soo hot during the entire night, and when I woke up in the morning my bed sheet was covered with insects and debris that fell from the trees above.



Another view.  El Campan has about 6 properties all adjacent to one another, and each has about 10 cabanas to rent out.  It’s like camping out at the Oregon Country Fair in Veneta, OR. 



Looking into my cabana.  I fell asleep to the serenade of all the jungle sounds, including howling monkeys, thousands of insects, some chirping bird that apparently lives amongst the leaves of my cabana, and the breeze when it decided to give me a little breath of coool.


Today I signed up for a tour to take in 3 of the area’s attractions….the Palenque archeological ruins, Misol-Ha waterfall, and Aqua Azul river.



This photo was taken from the top of Templo de la Cruz, looking towards Templo de las Inscripciones, and to the right is El Palacio.



Templo de la Cruz.



Looking down from Templo de la Cruz to Templo del Sol.



Templo del Conde.


After 4 hours at the site, it was time to move on to Misol-Ha waterfall, where time did not permit a swim, but did give me time to go behind the falls and up to the cave.


From the front….



And from behind the falls.



From the cave, and you can see all the peeps trying to make their way to where I stand.


Now, on towards Agua Azul…but first let’s see if I make it there in one piece.  So I’m in the front seat, there are 8 other passengers taking up the seats behind me.  It is about an hour drive along narrow, winding roads with a pretty steep drop on the right hand side.  And my driver is sleepy!  All the signs are there, I know because I have done the exact same thing…

– turning up the music and trying to sing along to it.

– rolling down the window, even though the AC is on, and letting in all that HOT air! 

– she had a small handtowel that she kept bringing to her mouth and wiping her face…not because of sweat, but because it was her way of trying to stay awake.

– she kept fidgeting around, shuffling in her seat, dropping things on the floor and then trying to search with her free hand….all methods to stay awake.

– and then the obligatory slap slap slap of her hand to her cheeks, and then hitting her let with her fist…stay awake, stay awake, I watch her heavy eyes and her concentration wane.  But in the end, one hour was just enough, we arrived safely and she could have a 3 hour nap.


Agua Azul is probably the most beautiful swimming spot I’ve ever encountered, even besting Semuc Champey from 3 weeks ago.   The wide river creates great shallow pools for swimming and snorkeling, with little rope swings sprinkled about and so many families, young and old alike, playing in the water.  Along the bank is a walking path filled with comedor restaurants and vendors selling fruits, empanadas, souvenirs, refrescos and more.  The cool thing about the river is that it is not just confined to one area for swimming.  I walked upstream a good 30 minutes and all along were little prime spots for swimming or relaxing in the water or resting under a small waterfall.  Agua Azul is one that you’ll have to put on your “must visit” list for Mexico!  Assorted pics below…








I’ll wrap up this post with a few more points of “Sounded Like a Good Idea, But”

– Having a roasted corn on the cob in San Cristobal.  But the one I got must have been the one that was roasting for a full week, those kernels were so hard and I could only eat half of the cob before I had to give up.

– Being all tropical and buying a fresh whole coconut at Agua Azul, where the vendor cuts a little hole, slips a straw into it and you can just sip sip sip and enjoy some coconut juice.  But after only a few sips, it just didn’t taste good and it gave me some stomach pains later on.

– Saving my Propel water for an opportune time.  Propel is like Gatorade in a cool little plastic bottle, this whole time it has been untouched until last night when I was out of water and I broke the plastic seal and took a few sips.  Good stuff!  But this morning I packed it wrong, and before I knew it, all the liquid spilled out and all over my pack inside the van.  Bye bye Propel, I should have drank it a long long time ago instead of see it waste away this morning.

– Horseback riding while I’m trying to recover from being sick.  Yeah, I already went over this in my previous post, but I can still feel my body crashing up and down in the saddle and not enjoying myself one bit.  I think my horse had it out for me.

That’s all for now, off to the bus station and I hope I don’t get harrassed!  I could always use my fake Asian accent/language, that always seems to throw them off.  Have a nice Friday and weekend everyone!

Lighting Strikes Twice, Still Sick, Scenes from San Cristobal, and Much More…

Tuesday, April 18th, 2006

I have one hour of internet time, so I’m going to see just how much I can churn out in that amount of time.  It is Tuesday night and I have an early wake up tomorrow morning to catch my bus to….Las Vegas, Nevada!  Yeah, I totally agree with Jonas and Rene, so it’s on to Sin City, bay-bee!  Well, maybe I’ll need to hold off on that for just another 2 months or so.

But I’m heading off to Palenque, about 5 hours away, and site of some Mayan ruins and a “legendary” traveler’s hangout town called El Panchan.  Hopefully I’ll be able to recover there from my sore throat, my cough, and now this—runny nose and sneezing sneezing sneezing.  Is it already allergy season?  Not only that, I have a headache and I’ve been pretty tired of late.  So I am hopeful that a change of scenery and pace is all that my body will need to re-energize for the road ahead! 

As I mentioned in my previous post, San Cristobal rocks!  So much to see and do, and so much to not see and not do…a great place to just hang out, people watch, and forget about the time on your clock.  Which is why I ended up staying a week here.  On now to a photo review of my time in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico.



Thursday I spent the late morning speeding down Sumidero Canyon in a high speed boat, and then ate lunch at a cool little town next to the river.



I ended up eating at a street stall and had my first Mexican style hamburger with its super thin patty on a huge bun, cut into portions like a pizza.



Back in town in the main cathedral square, I got a kick out of these Japanese travelers trying to make some extra dough for their journeys by selling their Japanese writing skills to the hoards of Mexican families vacationing in San Cristobal.  If I had a sign that advertised “I will write your name in English for $50”, I seriously doubt that I would have any takers.



Holy Thursday saw the night of the Last Supper, and then the beginning of his passion.  In this scene enacted close to midnight, the Roman soldiers take watch of the prisoners over their campfire.



Some of the streets were closed down so that they could be decorated with elaborate religious displays.  The ground is covered with a colored  cedar dust, and later that evening the Silent March will walk through all this handiwork.



Good Friday.  Jesus is sentenced and led out of his cage while the soldiers look on.


Jesus carrying the cross through the streets.



The guy portraying Jesus really went all out, stumbling and falling and taking vicious whips to the back from the guards.  This procession lasted almost 3 hours as he made his way around the city, and finally back to the church where it began.



Here he is hoisted up to the cross.



They were up there for about 15 minutes as the actors and voice-over speaker finished off the scene.




Finally, he is let down and into the arms of the grieving.



Later that night, I waited almost 3 hours to watch the Silent March walk all over those cedar dust scenes.  Luckily I sat close to 2 Canadians that kept me entertained as I recovered from eating too much at a buffet.  Yeah, big surprise there, huh?



The Silent March.  Here’s Jesus being carried on his cross.



Saturday I took a day tour to two villages outside San Cristobal.  This church is in Chamula, where it is forbidden to take pictures inside the church or of any of the townspeople because they believe taking a photo takes away their spirit and soul.  Our tour guide also explained the whole exorcism thing with the egg that Mitzi wrote about.



We also visited Zincantal (I’m going on memory regarding the spelling, so I could be wrong) and to a weaving co-op where we sampled their 36% alcohol “Punche” and watched the weaving process.



Sunday I walked around town and of course celebrated Easter with my bullfight.  There was a used bookfair in the cathedral square and was hoping that I could score a cheap, used book to read.  Aside from Danielle Steele novels, there wasn’t much else in the way of English language books.  I did find this gem, but for $15 US I thought his asking price was a bit too high.



I did go horseback riding, which seemed like a good idea at the time.  I was sick and figured that riding a horse would be easy.  WRONG!  10 minutes into the 4 hour ride, I wanted off.  I forgot just how beat up you get “riding” a horse.  I am still sore and stiff and suffering from the after effects of my body being bounced up and down, up and down, up and down.  My ass hurts as do all the rest of my muscles in my body. 



Church on the hill with a nice view over the city.



A shot of the Spring Fair midway as the sun sets.  I was too sore to try any of the amusement rides.



A half-ripped poster for the wrestling event!



Live, at the match!  Where lightening strikes twice and where I’ll need to continue this story next time….



The main cathedral and the center of all the action.  Surrounding my pedestrian-only shopping arcades, the government building, Parque Central and more, this is the place to just relax and enjoy everything happening around you.  The place hops well past midnight as nightclubs and late-night cafes cater to the night owls.


Alas, my hour is up!  Didn’t get a chance to tell my story of what happened to me at the wrestling event, so hopefully I’ll have time in my next update.  I’m not proofreading this post so that’s that, adios to San Cristobal!

Onward Not! Another day or two in San Cristobal

Monday, April 17th, 2006

Thanks for all your public and private email comments on where I should end up going next.  I should be well on my way to my next destination at this time, but I have decided to stay another day longer here in San Cristobal, Mexico.  There can only be one thing that would change my plans to stay longer.  No, it isn’t because I’m sick.  (And yes, I am sick–not food poisoning sick, but the sore throat/hacking cough sick where it hurts to swallow and thus I can’t sleep at night).  And no, it’s not because of some Latina girl I met.  Nor is it that I’ve discovered some hardcore hiking tour through the outer reaches of the jungle.  Nope, it’s none of those.  The only reason why I am staying another day is because of the BEST reason to stay…AAA Lucha Libre!  What is that you ask??  Basically, it is Mexican style wrestling!  It is THE best wrestling out there because of the masks, gravity defying aerial moves and the good guys versus the bad guys.  I definitely have to check this out!

Coming to San Cristobal last week was a major hassle, especially at the border where I got ripped off on my money exchange and then had to scramble on figuring out the transportation.  It was an all day ordeal, and took about 12 hours total.  But it was all very much worth it.  San Cristobal is a favorite destination in Mexico for a lot of people, and it is easy to see why.

The celebrations for Holy Week (Semana Santa) also coincide with San Cristobal’s Feria Festival, aka Spring Festival.  It is a huge celebration with parades, music, special events, expositions and more.  They even have their own “Queen of Rosaria” like Portland’s Rose Festival, complete with midway and amusement rides.  There are people everywhere and the main plaza and parque central and always packed with people, walking vendors, food booths and so much more.  And with events happening everyday for the next week, what better way to celebrate Easter yesterday than with the traditional sport of bull fighting?

This was my first bullfight, I know of it and have seen some clips via Bugs Bunny cartoons and other shows.  So here’s the very quick rundown in layman’s terms, since I don’t know all the fancy tradition that goes with it or the terms and jargon that make up the sport.

So basically you have an outdoor circular arena, that in my estimate, holds about 5000-6000 people.  Last night’s card had a series of 6 or 7 bullfights, and it begins with all the matadors coming out to greet the crowd.



After they leave, they release the first bull into the ring, where it charges around and a team of secondary matadors (I don’t know what you call them, so I’ll call them the JV team) warms up the bull with their pink and yellow colored capes.  They each take an individual turn, as shown below.  This goes on for about 5 minutes or so.



When the matador has the bull do a successful pass under the cape, the crowd shouts “OLE!”  And if you happen to start chanting “Toro! Toro! Toro!” you will be quickly hushed (no, I didn’t do this, but there was a rowdy group just a section below me that tried that and the crowd turned on them pretty quickly).

After warms up, the horse-mounted spearman comes out to soften up the bull.  Not a pretty site…he comes up to the bull and basically plunges a long spear into the bull’s spine.  The bull won’t like this of course, so he’ll charge the horse.  I’m pretty sure that the horse has some protective plating underneath the costume, but just in case, there is always a secondary back-up horseman waiting on the opposite side.  In this picture below, the horseman struggles from keeping the bull from toppling him and the horse over.



Now that the bull has been softened up, the main matador comes in with his series of colored handspears.  He has one in each hand, taunts the bull, then charges the bull and at the last minute, strikes both into the bull’s back.  This happens for a total of 3 times, and the goal is to have all 6 handspears dangling from the back of the bull.  Is there blood?  Yep, it’s not a pretty site.  Here are some pics of what I have just described.


This matador begins his charge with his first set.



This pic is of a different match and different matador successfully spearing the bull.


After all 6 spears are in place (usually not though, some fall out), the matador takes his red cape and sword and makes the bull do the “Ole” thing for about 7-10 minutes.  The live music band is playing and the crowd cheers and shouts “Ole.” 




Finally, the matador signals for the band to stop playing the music.  The crowd goes silent and they shush anyone who is still making noise.  The matador changes his sword, and with the bull badly beaten, tired and bloodied, the matador makes his strike.  Ideally with one deep blow into the back, where the bull will stagger and fall.  To end the misery, the “death matador” comes out with his short dagger, and quickly plunges in into the mammal’s skull, where you see it quickly lose all movement and it falls to the earth lifeless.  No graphic pictures to show for this moment, I think you get the picture. 

Coming into the bullfight, I wasn’t quite sure of the whole killing thing.  It was pretty shocking to witness this the first few times, and of course you feel sorry for the bull.  At the same token, bullfighting has a very long and rich tradition in Mexico and Spain and I really can’t denounce this “sport” or join PETA in a protest.  However, I will say that this is probably the last bullfight I’ll attend, because when it comes down to it, I was bored after a little while.  But that’s just me.

So tonight I’m heading back to the El Toro arena for my wrestling, and then tomorrow it will probably be on to the Palenque Mayan ruins or maybe I’ll change my mind last minute and go to Oaxaca.  I just hope by tomorrow I’ll be over this nasty cough and sore throat, and that my headache will go away.  Check back on Wednesday where I hope to have pics posted of the San Critobal Holy Week Crucifixion march re-enactment, an annual event that the whole city turns out for.

Futbol Xelaju Style

Friday, April 14th, 2006

Futbol is entirely a BIG THING down here, as Xela has their own team competing in a 10 team field comprised of cities around Guatemala.  Xelaju is celebrating their 74th anniversary, and on my first Saturday here, we headed over to the stadium to watch the team give its fans what they are looking for:  a Win.

This is something you just have to experience on your own, things are much much different here than any common outdoor spectator sports played in the United States.  The following pics were taken over the course of two games that I attended.  Here are the major BIG things to know about watching the game live in person…


  1. It is recommended that you get there early, especially if you want to premium seats.  No, they are not more expensive.  Every ticket sold at the gate is generally admission.  And the stadium does not have individual “seats”, your seat is basically a cement bleacher bench that wraps around 75% of the stadium.  And don’t think stadium high rise seating either…the top seat is probably only 15 feet high at the maximum.IMG_4626.JPG

    It is one hour before kick off in this pic…

  2. People are FANATICS when it comes to the team…wear the team colors (RED) and sit amongst other crazy fans.  If you sit in this section, you must be LOUD and jeer the opposing side.  People go all out…they bring instruments (horns, drums, etc… try bringing those noise makers into a Blazer game) and firecrackers.  Yep, firecrackers.  They light them and throw them in front of the seating section onto the field.  Sometimes the firecrackers don’t clear the wire fence, and thus you’ll have firecrackers setting off right next to the crowd of people!  I’m not that hardcore, so when I went I sat just to the right of the main Frenzy Fan Mob.IMG_4636.JPG

    Best bring your flags, colors, bandanas, jerseys, posters and whatever else represents the home team!  This is the Rowdy Section!

    People line the upper walls of the stadium for a better view at the action on the field.  They are responsible for throwing down the confetti on everyone else down below, definitely a team effort!


    Dusk falls and the team takes the field….

  3. Want more??  Then how bout colored smoke and flares and fireworks (in addition to lowly firecrackers) and confetti…the crowd is most alive when the team takes the field, once the ball is in play, and of course when they SCOOOOOOOORRRREEEEE!IMG_3859.JPG

    When we score our goals, LOOK OUT!


    Oh yeah, of course there is loud music blaring from the speakers as well!  Here you see the confetti and the lights display after a goal.

  4. The great part about watching the sport down here is what you don’t get in the U.S.  For example, little boys carrying around their shoe shine kits and hitting you up for a shoe shine while you sit and watch.  Food vendors are not part of some corporation or stadium concessions–they are little kids, old women and middle aged men hawking everything from sodas, water, candy, gum, and food made at home.  Like soups.  And tortillas stuffed with veggies or meat.  Seriously.  It was something else to watch an 80 year old lady carrying a big covered pot and pouring her drink into styrofoam cups for people to buy.  People also sold souvenir merchandise to show your support for the team.  Here I am showing off the flag that Martin bought…


  5. At halftime, it is time to use the bathrooms.  Don’t try this in Portland…if you need to piss, all you have to do is walk up to the wire fence or wall surrounding the field, unzip and take care of your business.  Which is right in front of where people sit.  It was a shock for me to see 5 or 6 guys pissing on the wall just 3 rows in front of me.  I didn’t see any women do it…then again, there weren’t too many women in the crowd.

    IMG_4644.JPGAction on the field, you watch through a wire fence that has barb wire strung along the top.  It’s not that much of a security measure, as after the game a crazy Gringo scaled the fence, took a flag and pranced and paraded along the sideline to the amusement of the locals (the guy was pretty plastered and it was kind of embarrassing to watch him).

  6. Women, single or married, will need to check their feminine fights at the door.  Whenever a woman gets up to go to the bathroom, get something to eat, or just walk though the row or aisle, catcall whistles and the like with momentarily distract the men from watching the game.  And when 5 of the women in our group got up to use the restroom together, it was a chorus of catcalls and unwanted attention.
  7. At the end of the game, when we win of course, it is time for more noise, music, fireworks and firecrackers, smoke and if the police want in on it too, then tear gas (see previous post).IMG_4651.JPG


    Mitzi looks up to check out the sky display after the win.



Why I Probably Won’t go to Oaxaca

Wednesday, April 12th, 2006

First things first, Happy 26th Birthday to my little brother! And if any of you are interested in buying life insurance or refinancing your mortgage, he can give you the whole run down. Also a shout out to Marcus “Buffwell” Berger, who celebrated his big Three-O yesterday, no doubt with some serious karaoke sessions at the Alibi and his smuggled booze in a plain paper bag (you are soo slick Marcus, you da man!).

Onward with today’s post… I kinda of cheated, since this is an email I received from Mitzi a week ago. After San Cristobal, I was going to hang out with her in Oaxaca, but since she won’t be there, I’m considering changing my plans and of course need your help to do so. Click here to leave your comments: 

And here is her story….

“Hello out there, I am here in Oaxaca now. Mexico is so close to Guatemala, but a world away in many respects. And HOT!!! SO I guess John filled you all in on the exciting birthday that I had.

We went to the futbol game in Xela, which was as roudy as usual, but just to make it a little more exciting, the policia thought, gee, this is out of control (at this point the stadium is empty, granted) we better shoot some tear gas. So we witnessed the first shot into the crowd. Since it was so exciting we figured we would watch some more. Pretty much everyone in the crowd though it was unnessesary, guates and gringos alike. So we all stood around and watched. The crowd we were standing with decided to yell ignorant pigs at the police. OK thats fine, what can they do, we aren’t really causing any problems. Shots to the ego dig deep!! We will just shoot tear gas in their direction!! Well it made for an exciting night. We escaped to gas and we were out the street. We are chatting about what we should do next and the I hear John yell RUN, TEAR GAS!! I look over and the smoke bomb is literally 5ft. from us. Then, John, like Geogre Castanza (Sienfeld reference) pushes his way through the crowd, not caring that he pushed his wife and the other girls out of the way to get to safety!! Thats my husband!! Well it made for an exciting last night in Xela.

We went to San Cristabal de las Casas the next day. ANd unfortunately saw nothing but our hotel room. I guess we can always go back. We were both really sick. We stayed in our hotel for something like 36hrs and then got on an overnight bus ride to Oaxaca. I have to say one of the worst nights of my life (I put it up there with the food poisening night). To say the least, John and I won’t be traveling by that kind of bus any time soon, especially overnight. I have a new love and respect for the chicken buses of Guate. You may be fearing for your life, but it is all relative and the buses are way below standard so they have to go slower (relatively speaking) and the desire to throw up is way different.

So I am now in Oaxaca. Alive but not well. I have been sick since we left Xela. Which I can’t say is fun, but it makes for some good experiences. So I’m at my friend Judith’s house in Oaxaca. She works all day, so I am being entertained by her parents. I am understanding just about none of their spanish, but I am perfecting to command form of spanish, eat, sit, eat, come, eat, sleep, eat, rest, eat, drink, eat!!

Apparently it is very important that I eat. These people blow italians out of the water with their eating encouragement. So, I am hanging out with the family and they are really worried because I am so sick. So the mom takes Vick’s Vaporub and starts spreading it all over my neck, my ears, around my temples, my arms. Since I am such a slut for massages I am in absolute heaven. So now that I basically am drenched in vasaline they tell me that I can not shower for two days. I am thinking, huh, I am not understanding what they are saying. Why can I not shower for two days?? When you are sick, I guess you lather youself up in Vicks and don’t shower for a couple of days, it is a home remedy. OK, fine I will be greasy.

Then the mom comes into my room and is talking about my illness. (it is time to mention that in Oaxaca they call everything little, little this, little that—they do this by adding -ito at the end of a word) So, in reguards to my sickness the mom starts talking about the heuvito (a little egg), and she leaves the room. She comes back with half a glass of water and an egg. OK. So she cleans the the egg with alcohol and then performs on me, my own personal catholic-indiginous ritual. The whole time I am thinking, I hope she does want me to eat a raw egg. After my body has been cleansed, she cracks the egg into the glass of water and starts examining it. She could tell by the appearence of the egg that for sure I was sick. No Sh#%!!!

Well I guess we are going to do it again tomorrow to really clean me out. Hopefully they will let me shower soon. It doesn’t matter how much spanish you know, sometimes you really just don’t have a clue what it is going on!! Hope everyone is well and enjoying life. Take care,, love you,, Mitzi”

Her email reply to me is as follows:

“Hey Edwin,, good to hear from you. Sounds like you are having quite the adventure. I can’t say that I am having as much fun. I actually bought a ticket to go home. I am flying out on the 17th of april. I have been really sick for over about two weeks now and I can’t get better, so I have diecied that I need to recuperate at home. We will just miss each other, sorry. JUst so you know Oaxaca is F***ing hot. So I wish you the best of fun and travel luck. I will make a point that we see eachother on the flip side. Of course you have my permission to put my email on your blog. Have tons of fun hiking, I can’t wait to see your pictures form all of your adventures. Still getting good food shots?? It could never be as good as Xela!! Take Care,,,love,,,MItzi”

So there you have it. I’m not really into the extreme temperatures of HOT HOT HOT, and since my bud won’t be there to show me around, I may forgo Oaxaca altogether for another time.  Or maybe I won’t….please help me decide!

Da Boots Are Now Retired

Tuesday, April 11th, 2006

Da Boots made it!  The hike from Nebaj to Todos Santos was nothing short of spectacular, with 2 fantastic guides and 7 other fun and vivacious hikers, our group was dynamic and I had a wonderful time.  I should have a trip review posted in the next few weeks, of course with my trip reviews from Mirador, Lago Atitlan and more.  Since I don’t know what my Internet situation will be for the next segments of my travels, I have pre-blogged posts that will appear every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, just in case I do not have time or access to update this website.  And since tomorrow will mostly be a travel day, the automatic posts will begin tomorrow and continue on that Friday/Monday/Wednesday schedule.

Alas, today is my day of recovery (ie get a massage and eat like a pig) to pack my bags, do laundry, catch up on the Internet and then tomorrow it is off to San Cristobal, Mexico.  I’ll be there for Samanta Santa (Holy Week), and then leaving next Monday the 17th to…..????

I’m in a quandary…where do I go from San Cristobal?  Originally, my plan was to head over to Oaxaca and hang out with Mitzi for a week and check out the beaches and have her play my tourist guide, since I have no guidebook.  But unfortunately Mitzy will be heading back home to Colorado a few days from now, about 2 months earlier than she planned….you can read the pretty entertaining story tomorrow.  So with no tourist guide and no coverage in my Lonely Planet Guide, I could just wing it on the lark or I can head over somewhere else.

Perhaps go northeast to crowded Mexico City?  Over the last few days, after talking with some people from my hike, I’ve been intrigued with a visit to the world’s 3rd largest metropolis (only Tokyo and New York City are bigger), but that is quite far and away from San Cristobal.  Or I could just head north to Merida, then east towards Cancun and to the Mayan ruins of Tulum.  Or I could head back down south along the Guatemalan coast and into El Salvador, entonces maybe beyond to Nicaragua.  Or another option is to retrace my steps back through Guatemala and head towards Honduras and the ruins near Copan and to the Bay Islands.

There is so much I want to see and do, all of a sudden it seems like I do not have enough time.  And this is good.  I know for sure that I will have to come back to Central America and Mexico and do more exploring.  But while I’m down here now, where should I go?  Help me decide!  I am actively soliciting your suggestions, comments, ideas, etc. on which way to go…but one place you should know that I’m not going to is back to Portland.  That is for later in June. I’m talking about now, while I have the opportunity down here.  So, where should Edwin go to after San Cristobal?  For a visual on Mexico, click on this link for a map:

You can email me privately, or submit a public comment to this post.  I won’t make my decision until Sunday, so you have plenty of time to cast your fill-in vote.  One thing I do know is that Mexico is quite a bit more expensive, travel wise, than Guatemala so I’ll have to tighten and rein in my money ouflows.  Same goes with Belize.  So please leave your comments below (just click on the blue hyperlink “No Comments”…or once there are comments, “Comments”), read what other people have to say, do some research for me and let me know where my journey will take me after San Cristobal!  And check back tomorrow for Mitzi’s story!

The Story of Semuc Champey (aka “I’m an awful swimmer” and here’s my tale)

Monday, April 10th, 2006

You know the story, I lose my glasses, and I’m stuck wearing my swim goggles.  The same swim goggles with the 5 year old prescription, the goggles that fog up every 2 minutes, the goggles the hurt my head and the goggles that whacks everything out of perspective.  Like I said, there is a reason why swim goggles are made to be worn IN the water, not out of it.

After the morning of waiting around to see if the guide can recover my glasses in the waterfall pool within the cave, I walk back to the hostel empty handed.  My lunch is a ham sandwich (with mayo and lettuce and onions and Ketchup–why must they put ketchup on everything down here?) and a small plate of nacho chips with black beans.  I have the afternoon to kill, so I decide to walk up to Semuc Champey and enjoy the natural beauty as best I can.

It is maybe a 20 minute walk up the road until it ends at the entrance gate.  Semuc Champey is a series of natural pools created as the river flows underground.  Many say this is the most beautiful place in Guatemala.  And with beauty, there always comes danger.

I pay my entrance fee, and the guards are amused at my appearance.  I try to explain how I lost my glasses; next thing I know, one of the guards is handing me a pair of glasses that someone else lost a while ago.  I try them out, hoping the prescription will be similar.  Nice try, but no.  I thank him for the effort, and continue on my way.

I walk down to the river, and then to the pools…


The Rio.



Self timer on my camera, the goggles are that noticeable, are they?



Just above the small waterfalls, are the series of pools that make up the Semuc Champey.



Here’s how the natural pools look just above the waterfalls.



A closer look at one of the many swimming pools.



Further along the path, a wide expanse of water surrounded by the trees and framed by the mountains.


I take the 25 minute hike up the steep steep path to the Mirador, the lookout for the pools below.  It is a hard hike for me, as I continually have to stop to wipe off the steam within my goggles, and I have to step carefully because my depth perception is still a little out of whack.  The view though, is entirely worth it.  Here you go!



From high above….



Another bird’s eye view…



Zooming in….if you look really close, you might be able to make out the 3 swimmers in the upper pool. 


I make the slow hike back down to the pools, where Amy, Stephanie and Renee have arrived a short while earlier.  I have come all this way, I have my swim goggles, of course I must take a dip to enjoy the waters!



This is the pool that we entered and swam in.  Or at least I tried to swim in…


They entered the pool first, and I followed.  Slippery and slimey bottom, I have my sandals on and wade slowly into the water.  It is a little cold, and I know I will need to just get right in.  I secure my goggles with a tight suction seal around my eyes, and make the lunge forward, into the water with a nice SPLASH!  Yes, the water is cool, and yes, it is refreshing.  The girls go up ahead close to a series of waterfalls.  I attempt to follow.  But it is still awkward for me “swimming” with these sandals.  At least I have both hands free though, as opposed to only have one because I’m holding a candle above my head.

I notice that Stephanie can stand.  I want to stand.  I get tired quite easily when swimming.  I’ve heard the adage that good runners do not make good swimmers, and good swimmers do not make good runners.  Where do all these competitors for triathalons figure into this, I wonder?  All I know is that I am a decent runner, and can be a decent swimmer as long as I know where my escape route is when I get too tired — in other words, as long as I know where the edges of the pool are, I am fine.  And being close to shore, or having an area of shallow water where I can actually stand to catch my breath, are my ideals.

And so I try to swim over to Stephanie.  I’m still fresh.  No problems.  I make it to the ledge, and can stand.  The water is maybe up to my chest.  The rock I am standing on is slippery though, and not smooth and flat.  It has ridges, and I need to balance myself, which is a little hard because there is some water flow and I sway as I try to readjust my goggles and do the spit-method of trying to clear out the fog or steam in my goggles.

And then I feel the first nibble.  On a scratch on my knee.  It is a little stinging sensation, a bite.  A bite from one little fish.  Make that more than one little fish.  The biting opens up my scratch, and I know that I now have a little blood that will attract more fish.  They are not pirannahs, though for this story I suppose I could call them that.  So let’s just call them that — PIRANNAHS!  Blood sucking, killer pirannahs.  Like in those classic B Horror movies hosted by Elvira, Vampress of the Night.

So here I was, trying to fix my goggles, trying to get my breathing back to normal, and now having to contend with little critters biting at me.  Well, I can’t just stand here in place as a free meal for them.  I need to get back in the water and swim.  But where to?  Oh yeah, towards the waterfall area.  So I get back in the water, swim/wade around a bit, and try to have steady and controlled breathing.  I get to the waterfall area, but the 3 are already starting to move to a different waterfall area, one where they want to try and climb.  So I follow.  Cause that’s what I do, I follow.  I follow to where the people are, so that if I get in trouble, I know that I can call out for help and hopefully someone will bail me out.  Yeah, I follow.

But it is a struggle.  I’m tired.  I see them ahead of me, and a minute or two later I see Stephanie is standing again.  Another rock ledge!  That’s where I need to be!  It is in the middle of the pool, and I’m not too far away from it.  I can make it.  And so I swim towards that ledge.  With my prescription goggles on, I can see underwater.  So I know where I need to go.  I see those stupid little fish.  As long as I’m moving, they will leave me alone.  Stroke, kick, up for a breath, stroke, kick, up for a breath.  I am closer to the girls, and I can make out the bottom for me to step on.  But vision in the water is distorted, and I realize that I am still a bit off.  So I readjust my direction, and still peering into the water, try to locate that place where Stephanie just was.  And I find it.  Good thing too, because I am huffing for air.  Just like the other spot, I am balancing myself on a little jagged edge, and I cannot completely stand with two feet.  But at least I can stop swimming and breathe normally and adjust my dumb goggles again.

Here come those dang fish.  Another nibble.  Bite.  They open up a second scratch on the same leg (I got those scratches the day before by doing that river cave tour…all participants got nicked and nacked in one form or another).  I really don’t like fish biting at my skin, it is very annoying and I am now getting mad.  I decide that I don’t want to be in the water anymore, I’ve had enough of my fair share of this paradise.  I look over to the girls, who are swimming further away to the other part of the pool, to those other cascading falls.  No more following.  I want to get back on the shore, back on the ground away from these hungry critters and where I can breathe breathe breathe to my heart’s content without having the fear of swallowing water.

A final adjustment of my goggles, and I’m back in the water swimming towards shore.  I really should have stayed at my little piece of underwater rock for just a minute longer, as I am breathing pretty hard, but those fish wouldn’t leave me alone.  I just have to make it to the other underwater rock, catch my breath, and then make the final segment back to shore.

Yeah, I suck at swimming.  It is so much easier for me in a pool, but get me out into the ocean or a lake or a pond or someplace like this, and I won’t be in the water for long.  Having my swim goggles helped, because I could actually see in the water and it is a kind of safety net for me, knowing exactly where I need to go.  However, at the same token, they are a false sense of security, and was a primary factor to my near demise.

Just swim to the next ledge.  Catch my breath.  It really wasn’t that far.  But like I said, I was already tired and I wasn’t used to swimming with my sandals on.  I am tired, but continuing with my strokes and kicks and turn my head up for air.  I see that I am closer to my halfway point.  I could see this “land” underwater just ahead of me.  All I need to do is get there, step up and I’ll be fine.  With my last withering reserve of energy, I aim for this spot, and when I think I am close enough to take a step, I stop and try to step up on this ledge that I can SEE.  Yes, I can see it.

But aha you fool, things in the water are DISTORTED.  “Objects may appear closer than they really are.”  Well, in this case, it was the opposite.  Where I thought I had a step close to my feet, was actually far below the water than I originally thought.  But it is too late.  Because I have already tried to make that step, and when I think I am about to make contact, I go up for air.  NO CONTACT, no step up, and thus it screws up my timing!  So instead of coming up for air, I get a nice gulp gulp of water!  Not fun, not fun at all. 

So at this point my eyes are freaking huge as I realize that I have misjudged my safety zone, and I need to get there ASAP because I am going into a panic.  My body takes over needing that air, and I try desperately to coordinate my breathing with my swim strokes and keep a cool head.  I flail and kick and hope that I can make it.  At this point, it is fruitless for me to try and locate that visible but elusive underwater rock ledge or whatever you call it, I just need to gun it to the shoreline.

I see the shore and the bank and know in my mind that I can make it, that I will make it.  I feel the lactic acid within my muscles, water is beginning to seep into my goggles, I am tired and the breathing is laborous and disjointed and all I want is to feel land under my feet.  Is that too much to ask for???

I continue to kick and flail, I don’t want to drown, I’m not going to drown, I’m going to make it to the shoreline.  But man oh man I want to breathe in a regular fashion, no more of this swallowing some water and expending energy where I feel the weight of my arms and legs and the tease of land under me through my swim goggles.

And then suddenly I feel it.  LAND!  I am freakin ecstatic, as soon as I touch it I try to stand up immediately and in my weakened and disoriented state of mind, I slip and come crashing onto my ass on the smooth surface.  Yes, the fish are still nearby as I can see them scatter when I fall, catching myself with my hands on the slime.  I try to get up as quickly as I can, and then stumble again, but do not fall.  I take a giant step towards the shore, trying to get better footing, ripping the goggles off my face and in my exhaustion I finally manage to traverse through the land in the water and up, up, up onto the bank, the shoreline, the earth, LAND LAND LAND.  Ground under my feet!  I basically collapse near some rocks next to our clothes, trembling because I am so tired and without energy, but happy, overjoyed and thankful to be safe again, with the ability to BREATHE deeply and feel my stomach rise and my lungs fill with good old oxygen, free and clear from that water in the pool.  I am spent.  No more going in the water for me.

In the distance, I can see the girls climb up the face of the waterfall, stand on top, and then jump back into the pool below.  I take a picture of them with Stephanie’s camera.  And then take a picture of myself and the area where I almost succumbed to panic and fear, but this is a story with a good ending, and thus I leave you with these final pics…



Those ledges in the water appear so dang close to the surface, don’t they?




A re-enactment coming out of the water.  You know that smile is real!