Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mima Goes Mayan and Ponders Greed

Technically only the crew of s/v Mima went Mayan. We returned to Honduras to visit Mayan ruins while Mima sat safely at our marina on the Rio Dulce. One of the things we had looked forward to most in the days leading up to our hurricane season forced sabbatical in Guatemala was learning more about Mayan history and culture. We had purchased Mayan history books prior to leaving Idaho in expectation of our time in Central America and we have used our geographic location as a spring-board to learn about this intriguing piece of world history. We were also pleasantly surprised when both Amy and Marshall really seemed to get into reading about this fascinating culture.

Tikal in Guatemala is generally considered to be the New York City of ancient Mayan culture and we will make a trip there in 3 weeks. Copan in Honduras is often referred to as the Paris of Mayan culture. Once we heard that and spoke with other travelers who had visited Copan we realized we wanted to go. We loaded up and after an “easy” 6 hour bus ride we arrived at the border. Perhaps I should explain what an “easy” 6 hour bus ride in Guatemala is. The bus, thankfully was not the famed “chicken buses” of Guatemala but an older Mercedes Benz bus that I am sure started its’ life shuttling camera toting tourists around to sites of interest in comfort and class. When they have outlived their lives in more developed countries they seem to get sent here and are referred to as express buses.

The airline style reading lights and air conditioning vents are all still in place, although not operational, as are the curtains. The seats still maintain most of their padding and at least they only allow one person per seat. A big difference between this bus and buses in the U.S. is you stop a lot. I mean A LOT. We stopped for the driver to hand a car radio off to a friend, for him to say hello to a passing bus driver and about a hundred other times, some of which made sense some of which left us scratching our heads. Our driver was very nice and quite interested in the gringos on his bus and loved talking with us, most of the time while driving and text messaging simultaneously. Did I mention that he was really cool? He had the look of a guy ready for anything. Big oversized sunglasses and rings on every finger and that stylish ultra-short beard that made me wonder if he just forgot to shave. None the less, it all worked for him and he pulled it off well.

I do not know much else about our driver except to say that I think he hopes to be a NASCAR driver in his next life and takes practicing with his bus very seriously. This guy moved through the gears like he was driving a dragster, and attempted and succeeded in passing cars and trucks in situations I would not attempt in a Ferrari, but he got us there safely and on time. Once at the border between Guatemala and Honduras it was an easy 15 minute taxi ride to the charming city of Copan Ruinas.

Copan Ruinas has flourished as a town because of the ruins located just one mile from town. The city retains its small town charm and friendliness, yet the constant flow of tourists has attracted many entrepreneurs catering to the broad international base of tourists. The coffee shops, quaint hotels and shops, and beautiful town square invite one to come and stay for a while. But we were here to see the ruins, so the following morning after hooking up with our guide Mike; we headed off to explore our first Mayan ruins.

The Copan ruins are the most researched and excavated of all the ancient Mayan sites. Since the turn of the 19th century archaeologists from around the world have been carefully studying and reconstructing this once vibrant city. Entire temples have been found intact contained within the ruins of later structures. The most ornate and complicated of stone carvings that exist today from Mayan culture were all found here, giving rise to the title, “The Paris of Mayan Society”. Much of the old city now looks like it did 1500 years ago minus the colorful paint, and visitors need not imagine much to visualize a vibrant city of over 30,000 people living and working in this valley.

As we walked through the ancient city looking at massive stone carvings called Stellas, and giant architectural structures, we kept saying to ourselves, “wow, could you imagine walking through the jungle and discovering that?” Who knows, maybe one of the 4Wheelers will be an archaeologist someday.

I also found myself thinking about the many similarities between this ancient civilization and ours. I do not pretend to be an expert on Mayan culture nor would I suggest that the practice of animal sacrifice resembles modern society. I am, however, struck by the similarities between the fall of Mayan culture and the current economic challenges facing the United States. Experts suggest that one of the prime reasons for the decline of Mayan culture was that they grew to a state of such excess that the environment around them was unable to support them.

This seems not unlike the excess we have seen exhibited lately by a few that has created such an economic hardship for so many innocent hard-working families. As Augustine noted, we are afflicted with restless hearts. We want more. Yet our wants are often unschooled, wide ranging, without limit, ready to alight on the first sweet-smelling tropical blossom that comes our way. The problem it seems in the matter of desire is not that we desire deeply but that we often desire deeply the wrong things. Not unlike the Mayans of old and the greed driven, “Wall Street” individuals of today.

The line is often very thin between need and want, and we are trying to learning how to live lives that embrace who we are as individuals married to a broader commitment to the natural environment around us and the most treasured of all entities, our fellow human beings. I continue to ask myself if I am balancing the realization of our many blessings with a generous and giving spirit. As we all struggle to make our way in this ever changing world we are hoping we can do so in such a way that addresses not only our needs but the needs of others. From the jungles of Honduras to your home our prayer is that we all are learning to live, love and share well.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Verbos Y Volcano (Verbs and Volcanos)

Guatemala Highlands

Mark & my Spanish Teacher

La semana pasada la familia Wheeler estuvo estudiando Espanol en Quetzeltanango. The translation for those of us not yet fluent in Spanish is that for the last week the Wheeler family has been studying Spanish in Quetzeltanango, Guatemala.

Since arriving to the Rio Dulce on August 11th we have been going non-stop. Five days after arriving we hauled out to give Mima a new coat of bottom paint. With the help of three local men we had the job done in a week and we were back in the water. It was our first time out of the water and it was quite a sight for us to see 50,000 pounds of sailboat sitting on land.

Once back in the water we got settled at Mario’s Marina and three days later we were on a bus to Guatemala City. Our good friends and cruising buddies, the Johnson’s (s/v Side by Side), were flying back to Guatemala City after 8 weeks back in the U.S. Our plan is to travel inland together for a few weeks and also to attend language school together. After a day in Guatemala City we loaded into a van together and after 6 hours arrived in the mountain town of Quetzeltanango, 182 Km from the capitol city. If you are doing the math that is roughly 113 miles in 6 hours.

Although we were in a private chartered van the sheer ruggedness of the terrain made for a very slow ride. The minutes melted away however as every turn in the road revealed another breathtaking vista. The sheer beauty of Guatemala escapes this author’s descriptive ability. In 6 hours we had gone from the metropolis of Guatemala City through beautifully cultivated fields into highland jungles and finally into pine forests always surrounded by volcanoes. As I write this I am looking out over 7 volcanoes three of which are active. The people and landscape of Guatemala are candy for the eyes, bring a smile to your face and place a joy in your heart. This is a truly spectacular country.

Upon arriving in Quetzeltanango (Xela to the Mayan) we settled in with our host family and began our week of Spanish emersion. Our Spanish program involved 5 hours daily of individual tutoring and as much Spanish afterhours as possible. We spent all our mornings in class studying Spanish and even had homework to do in the evenings. The rest of the day we spent exploring the city and its’ many attractions. Xela is the second most important economic center in Guatemala. The city is also in the center of an area populated largely by indigenous Mayans. The dress, culture and pride of the Mayan provided a fitting complement to the natural beauty of the area.

We have now moved onto a coffee finca (farm) that is cooperatively owned by the 40 families that reside here. This all organic fair trade coffee and macadamia nut plantation is a fully sustainable farm that generates its own biodiesel and has its own water purification system and hydroelectric power source. It has been a wonderful learning experience as we gain more knowledge about the history of Guatemala and the struggle of its’ rural inhabitants to carve out a place in this new democracy. Where the road leads from here we are not sure but where ever it leads we are assured of beautiful vista and charming people.

Until next time we trust your coffee is warm and your macadamia nuts sweet.
The 4Wheelers