11 September 2015

Border crossings by land, water & air

Maya temple tops peek out of the jungle
Tikal National Park, Guatemala
When I last left you all, my handful of faithful readers (thank you!! :), I was headed to Guatemala. My California-based friend Sara was meeting me for this trip; she & I have traveled together at various times since the early 80s, and our arrangement for meeting up was just like in the old days: meet at 9:30 am on July 1 at the Benque Viejo bus stop (the end of the line in Belize & just before the Guatemala border). We had no way of contacting each other by phone, text, or email in the 24 hours prior to our arranged meet up time (crazy that something like that sounds almost nerve-wracking these days — 24 hours incommunicado!!). But guess what? Everything went fine!! I got to our meeting spot early, took out a book, didn’t get concerned when 9:30 am came & went, and gave Sara a big hug when she arrived at 10:30. We should all try every once in a while to live as if we can't connect with everyone instantaneously -- make a plan & pull out a book if someone runs late!

Highlights of July travels in Guatemala & Mexico:

*The bus stop where Sara & I met up was a mile or so from the Belize/Guatemala border. As we’d both been on buses for a bit, we decided to walk that mile while catching up. We went through the border formalities and then once across, walked into the Guatemala border town to catch the bus for our next leg. That is, I am pretty sure, the first time I have ever walked from one country to another.

"Rooftop" is not my preferred seat on a van!
*Tikal National Park, Guatemala, a (at one point quite powerful) ancient Maya kingdom from around 2000 BC to 1000 AD. Having been to other Maya ruin sites in the Yucatan and Belize, it’s amazing how different they all are in both architecture & layout. The temples here were higher & narrower than others I’d seen, and had decorative “combs” on the top, plus everything was very spread out in the jungle. We had great howler monkey sightings (& hearings) also — they sound almost lion-like!!

*Our trip from Guatemala across the border to Mexico: we had a 90 mile/4 hour (!!) van trip to La Técnica, a tiny village on the Usumacinta River (which forms the border with Mexico in this area of NW Guatemala). No chickens in the van, but usually there was a passenger or two on the roof; travels like this are everyday for many people in the world—that’s kind of crazy to think about. At the literal end of the road, we took a 3 minute boat trip across the Usumacinta to Mexico; a rare border crossing by water for me! At these types of little-used border crossings you have to consciously make sure to get your appropriate exit & entry stamps as there are no gates or buildings on either side that you are required to go through; here we (read “Sara”, gracias!) made sure we knew where to go to get the appropriate stamps in Guatemala & then Mexico.
Yaxchilán Maya site, on the Usumacinta River, Mexico

*Visiting the Maya ruins of Yaxchilán, Mexico, which involves a ~40 minute boat trip up the jungle river (with sunning crocodiles sighted on the way) and then suddenly coming upon this Maya ruin popping out of the jungle on the riverbank. As a friend said, we felt like Indiana Joans(es :) exploring this site!!

*A day tour to the indigenous villages of San Juan Chamula & Zinacantán in Chiapas,  Mexico, the most interesting aspect for me being learning about the religion of the people of San Juan Chamula, which is a form of Christianity with indigenous practices woven into it. Their church looks typical from the outside, but inside is very different: no pews, pine needles strewn all over the floor, the saints wear mirrors on their chests, and St John the Baptist (patron saint of the town) is front & center at the alter with Jesus off to one side. The church is not used for services, but is used nearly every day by shamans who come with small groups to cure illnesses, solve problems, etc., by lighting candles, chanting, drinking certain drinks (alcoholic & non), & using eggs and chickens (which enter the church alive but do not leave that way). It was fascinating to see some of this going on; you are not allowed to take pictures inside the church but some images can be found online.
Chamula church photo from the web

*Depending on how you determine “largest” (by size of base? height? volume?), Mexico has a couple of the largest pyramids in the world, right up there with Egypt. About 2 hours southeast of Mexico City, we visited Cholula (Puebla), which is the home of one of the largest pyramids ever built, although much of it is still underneath a hillside. Outside of Mexico City is the ancient Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan, also well-known for its large pyramids. What amazing things to see (& climb!)!

With Norell atop the Temple of the Sun
(Temple of the Moon in the background), Teotihuacan
*Mexico City was a pleasant surprise! I saw no great evidence of the expected bad pollution & crime, beyond what would normally be found in a big city (and there are over 20 million people in “el DF”--Distrito Federal). It was easy to get around in the extensive subway system (a bargain at 5 pesos/trip, currently about 3 US cents). There are a TON of museums in the city & I loved learning more about Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo, Leon Trotsky, regional archeology, and Mexican history. It was interesting, for example, in the history museums to read about the “American Invasion of Mexico.” What was that? Oh, in my school history books it was called the Mexican-American War, but yes, it does indeed seem like it was an invasion of another country!

*Visiting the quaint colonial towns of Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, and Querétero (although if you go, visit them in the reverse order to be progressively more impressed by each one). They each played key roles in the early 1800’s fight for Mexican independence from Spain and are historically interesting as well as beautiful.

With Catharine, NYC friend, in San Miguel de Allende
*Catching up with friends! Not only did I get to spend two weeks traveling with college friend Sara, but in Mexico City I met up with US-Mexican friend Norell, whom I had met in Colombia (via a San Francisco friend, kind of a crazy connection), as well as Spanish Carlos, whom I first met while studying in Madrid in 1982 & who has a been living in Mexico for the past 20 some years. Also coincidentally, Catharine, a friend from my NYC days in the 80s & 90s, was coincidentally in Mexico at the same time and we spent some quality time together in San Miguel. I love being able to meet up with friends in such diverse places!!

After entering Guatemala by foot, then Mexico by boat, I traveled by air to the U.S., where I first spent a great 10 days in Montana with immediate & extended family, catching up with each other & exploring the beauty of Glacier National Park. Then it was on to Maryland, where I have been cat sitting as well as spending time with my mother & catching up with other friends (one grade school friend I hadn’t seen in over 25 years!). Also took a trip to Gettysburg, site of the U.S. Civil War battle. It is mind-numbing to think of the carnage that happened there; even worse that wars still continue and that we don't seem to learn from history. (And interesting to come across names of Federal & Confederate military officers whom I had seen referenced in the Mexican museums when talking about the “American Invasion of Mexico", which had taken place some 15 years prior. At that point, the officers were on the same side; in the Civil War, they were killing each other. Crazy.)

Now on to the next adventure -- on Sunday I fly to Colombia, where I’ll be for a month, mainly reacquainting myself with Cartagena & seeing what’s new in the past nearly 2 years since I left (and working, working, working! :). 

P.S. To see many of the locations mentioned above (& more) noted on Google maps, see the map here.  Make sure the boxes for "Travels with Sara July 1-14" and "Mexico July 14-August 1" are checked (& the other categories unchecked if it makes it easier).
With Madrid friend Carlos & family in Mexico City
Hiking at Upper Grinnell Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana
Cat sitting my new BFF Jake!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great post!! It’s really a great tour for you and all the photos are showing how was the tour . And you are also going to Cartagena, Colombia. its really a great place. We had gone last you’re with the help of hicartagena (dot) com. and also planning for our next tour.