That last blog entry was a little dark, so rather than to leave it at that I’ll talk a little about what I actually like about Central America in a more positive way instead of saying I prefer being alienated there rather than here.

I’ve already said that I like the absence of blandness. Really due more to poverty than choice, the raw edges of things are not covered up with a veneer that’s intended to hide, when you come right down to it, mortality. The visual environment is more lively, authentic, less visually impoverished. Secondly, I enjoy meeting other travelers and expatriots from all over the world and sharing our stories. Most important, I like meeting Central Americans. I may be on thin ice, in danger of delusion when I talk about people poorer than myself being friendly, easy-going, warm, but there is something of that in their culture. Here are two stories I’ve told often, probably in this blog, but they make the point. In a little restaurant in Nicaragua, I went upstairs to the bathroom and found it occupied. Then the owner came out of the bathroom all wet with a towel around his waist, and after he got dressed he joined me downstairs for a cup of coffee. In Guatemala, I went into a bakery and asked the owner if she had coffee and she said no, but then she said she’d make me some, and she went into the other room, which was her own kitchen, and made a pot of coffee, and then she sat down and joined me. So I keep going back to Central America.

I’m reflecting once again on the question of why I like to hang out in Central America. What’s the point of it? One answer is that in a poor country, necessities and luxuries are cheap to me, I can afford more comfort and safety, better food, I can pay people to do stuff for me, and so on. Being rich is corrupting, and I know that, but we’ve talked about that before and it’s not what I want to dwell on right now.

We went to the airport in Belize early, at 8:00 AM for an 11:00 flight, in order to make sure everything was in order for our flight home. No one was behind the airline counter and the automated check-in kiosks were shut down. We found out they open at 9:30. For about an hour before they opened, employees milled around trying to keep busy, moving slowly, not booting up the kiosks. This assured that by 9:30 when they opened for business, there would be a long line of passengers waiting. Among my interactions with the ticket agent, she asked me if my accordion fits in the cage they have for measuring carry-ons. I said no but it fits into the overhead. She asked again if it fits in the cage. I said musical instruments are allowed on board, and she said OK. Everything worked out, they allowed us to board early with our instruments, they were actually very cooperative and responsive, but I was aware of being alienated in this foreign environment where people set up unnecessary impediments to things going easily. I was aware of feeling relieved that soon I’d be in Houston, which I hate, but where I feel better equipped to deal with things, to be demanding or assertive if necessary, or simply to anticipate what people might do.

So, why do I want to go where I’m alienated? Here’s the insight I had in the airport in Belize. I’m alienated here at home; I feel like an outsider in a culture that generally offends and annoys me, here in the U. S. So I’d rather go to a culture where I really truly am an outsider and don’t belong. There are things about the third world that I like: an absence of blandness, more of the friendliness and easy-going openness that’s found in places where globalization is not so pervasive, and so on. But fundamentally, I’m more comfortable being alienated in a place where I really am a foreigner. That’s what it comes down to.

As a foreigner, I’m exempt from the pretentiousness, from the social hierarchy, sort of outside of it. I’m a guest, treated with hospitality and respect. If I commit faux pas and don’t understand the social subtleties, not to mention the language, well, that’s to be expected and it’s shrugged off. I’m sincere and respectful enough that they don’t consider me too arrogant, just an ignorant foreigner. It’s a nice position to be in. And conversely, I don’t have to be annoyed or offended by things I observe and don’t approve of in the culture, because it’s not my culture. I’m just passing through.

It’s our last night in Belize.  We’re flying home in the morning. It’s been a really good trip, and the first international tour of Bellows & Squawk. Here’s an observation in closing.  We travel to learn things about the world, and something we learned tonight during dinner from a show on the TV in the restaurant  is that you can toast a bagel on the hot plate of an electric coffee maker.

Caye Caulker, April 20

Ima slow down’a da tropical pace a life, mon.  I left the Asics behind and started walking around in flip flops all day.  Betty sez:  “25 days into the 27 day trip.  Some people are slow learners.”

This morning we had breakfast at Glenda’s Restaurant, which has about 13 items on the menu and all of them include a cinnamon roll and coffee.

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The frigate birds interest me very much.  They’re difficult to photograph with my little point and shoot camera that fires about a second or two after you push the button.

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The biggest ones have a wingspan of over 7 feet.  They can’t walk very well or swim, but they can fly for weeks at a time, snagging fish off the surface of the water.  They hatch one egg every couple of years or so, and they care for the chick for up to 6-8 months.

 

Yesterday a family unit arrived at our hotel consisting of an older woman and  two young couples, presumably her children and their spouses.  They had vast piles of luggage and occupied three rooms.  We couldn’t figure out what language they were speaking.  It sounded vaguely like Italian, but wasn’t any of the major languages.  This morning they left for another hotel, piling all their luggage onto a golf-cart taxi.  Apparently this hotel wasn’t to their liking, or else maybe they were annoyed by those uncouth American guests who were practicing music out under the palapa.

Here’s a house that interested me because of all the little religious signs around the front door.


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Betty sez:  We went snorkeling this morning.  We didn’t see many fish but we didn’t drown either.  Gerson: This afternoon we saw more iguanas in the yard of our hotel than we did fish.   Betty: And they were bigger.

For our last few days of vacation, we’ve bailed out of Guatemala and are in Tourist Heaven, also known as Caye Caulker, Belize.  Our hotel is extravagantly luxurious:  lights and hot showers at all hours of the day and night! Wi-fi that works!  Air conditioning!   A refrigerator, micro-wave, and TV!  Betty adds that we had a delightful Cubano sandwich for lunch, a mere 10 feet from the Caribbean lapping at the shore.

 

On the crowded bus from Guatemala, I sat next to an Australian woman about the age of my daughter who is studying to be a psychologist, and whose parents are immigrants in Australia from Herzegovina. She had been in Xela studying Spanish, and was on her way to Mexico.  We talked about our ethnicities.  She passed right by Tikal and didn’t stop to look at it because it’s expensive and she’s not much interested in sight-seeing as a tourist. I can appreciate that.

 

And I shouldn’t, but I can’t help myself from talking more about that Malaysian investment banker from London with the figure of a model.  Betty and I are obsessed with her.  I commented to Betty that she had had a boob job.  Betty said she had great breasts, and I said that if even I, who am oblivious, noticed that they were too good to be real, then they weren’t.  Betty said, “The best money can buy.”

 

Speaking of wi-fi that works, now I can upload some Tikal pictures to the blog.IMG_1044

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Tikal, April 15 (actually posted April 17)

The trouble with writing a travel blog is that you write about the highlights and lowlights, not the daily slog.  True, a blog is not as bad as Facebook, but it tends to emphasize the exciting.  So I faced down a bandit and we busked on the pedestrian mall, but what about an hour of waiting for a bus on a noisy road with semi trucks going by in the hot sun?  So here we are at Tikal and we took 3 days getting here from Panajachel and it was a bit of a slog, and you don’t want to read about it.  On the other hand, there is something to be said for that style of travel in comparison with the Malaysian woman we met here who is an investment banker in London.  She’s smart, articulate, friendly, poised in every way, and perfectly gorgeous.  She flew in the same night we arrived, went on the 4:00 AM guided tour of the ruins, and flew back to Guatemala city that night, headed for Lake Atitlan the next day for one day. So we could have flown from the city to Flores in under an hour instead of 10 hours on buses, broken up into two days, but aside from saving some money we had a different kind of travel experience.

 

I didn’t know whether I’d like Tikal, it being touristy, expensive, hot, and humid, but I do.  The ruins, besides being big and impressive, are spread over a large area in a remote location, so it involves hiking in the tropical jungle, seeing and hearing monkeys, parrots, pizotes, toucans, turkeys, and guinea pigs.  The spider monkeys are curious and come close to check us out. We extended our stay to 4 days here.

 

Now for a rant.  What’s a blog good for if you can’t rant once in a while?  Any U. S.  president before Obama could have negotiated an agreement with Iran and been a hero, as Nixon was with China, but our congress will thwart anything the black guy tries to do, because he’s a black guy.  I’m no fan of Iran because it is a theocracy, but like Iran or not, what is our national interest?  Let’s look at who the most important allies of the U. S. are in the Middle East.  One is Saudi Arabia, a sclerotic, autocratic monarchy that supports Islamic extremists and will collapse into chaos when the king can no longer hold things together against social change.  The other is Israel, a religious-nationalist apartheid state that will collapse into chaos when a Jewish minority can no longer keep an Arab majority suppressed.  Iran is the strongest, most stable country in the Middle East right now, and as such, is our natural ally.  I don’t like them either, and I don’t want them to have an atom bomb because atom bombs are a bad thing, but we’re already teaming up with them to fight ISIS because we have to.  As far as atom bombs go, I’m more worried about Israel than Iran.  If Iran gets the bomb, it will change the balance of power in the region, but they won’t have to bomb anyone with it precisely because they are strong.  Israel is terrified and crazy and I fear that if their status as a Jewish state is threatened, they would start World War III.

 

So back to talking about Tikal.  These Mayan structures impress me not only for their size but their esthetics, their symmetry, the proportions between their elements.  I don’t know anything technical about it, for example whether the Mayans were interested in the same Golden Ratio as the Greeks, but clearly they had a sensibility that is universal, that we can appreciate esthetically and mathematically.  I can’t illustrate this with pictures right now because we’re in a place with low internet bandwidth even during those hours of the day when there is electricity.  Actually, it’s kind of interesting that even in this place that’s off the grid, where they have to run generators for 6 or 8 hours of the day and it’s turned off for the rest, and where there is no cell phone reception, we have wi-fi.

 

When I look at the ruins of a former civilization, I think about how they didn’t build these monuments to be appreciated after the builders were gone.  They planned to be around forever.  The legend we repeat today is that the great Mayan civilization collapsed abruptly, but actually their populations ebbed and flowed, with fluctuations in the climate. What finally did them in was the Spanish.  However, at Tikal in particular, the wealth and capability to build these monumental structures disappeared around 1200 or so years ago (the people themselves are still around).  I think the collapse, besides the grandeur of the site, is what fascinates us.  We like the idea of a collapse rather than the idea of fluctuating populations.

The things we take for granted…


First, a warning. This column contains potty talk. If you’re particularly squeamish or easily offended, stop reading right now and wait for the next blog entry, which may or may not contain references to bodily functions.


It’s income tax week back home, the time when some folks like to gripe about all the services they’re paying for but don’t believe they’re personally benefitting from. Like the public school system when they don’t have kids at home, or the bike lanes when they don’t even ride a bike.


After three weeks in Guatemala, I have a slightly different view of the infrastructure our tax dollars pay for. Not that they’re always perfectly or efficiently spent, but we’ve built ourselves communities that provide relative security for our basic needs.


Like clean drinking water from the tap. Here, you have to assume the tap water is always under a boil alert. You can’t drink it, wash produce in it, or use it to brush your teeth. And if you have to fetch your water from the nearest creek, your daughters may be spending their time carrying water instead of continuing in school.


Or like electricity. Thankfully, this device has a battery so I can write my blog entry in the middle of the day, before the nightly 4 hours of electricity comes on in this remote corner of the country. And don’t even get me started on the availability of hot showers!


Now for the potty talk. This is my first trip to Central America, so I was new to the toilet paper routine. Back home, I’d always assumed that used TP went down the sewer along with all the stuff you went into the bathroom to take care of. Not here. Apparently, the sewer systems are so fragile they can’t handle TP, so everywhere you go to…go.., there’s a little waste basket next to the potty.


That is, if you’re fortunate enough to find TP. Luckily, Gerson, being a seasoned traveller, insisted we each carry our partial rolls in little baggies. Whew!


Clean water, consistent electricity, working sewer systems. These are all conveniences we take for granted every day at home, yet my sense is that many Guatemalans, and I’m sure folks in many other countries, can’t imagine having access to all three of these basics.


So we pay our taxes, sometimes for programs and services we don’t necessarily need or want. Still, let’s not forget that the infrastructure we’ve come to rely on, that allows us to be such a productive society, takes contributions from all of us.


And a full roll of TP doesn’t hurt either!

(Note: we tried to insert a photo here, but with the internet bandwidth we have, it looks like it would take maybe a half hour or more to upload it, which may exceed the remaining battery on this computer, and we won’t have power to recharge it until after 6 pm).

 

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