Tag Archives: United States

Power to the people

Apparently, Mexico’s drug cartels have expanded ops into this and the other countries that lie between it and South America. Makes sense. The drugs have gotta get through somehow.

So there’s allegations of under the table payments to political candidates, to protect said business interests. That results in unregulated political campaign spending (there’s supposedly a US$6 million cap that each party can spend on elections) And of course then, there’s the issue of vote-buying.

Today the people of Guatemala will vote for their new president. Well, an estimated 40% of them will. This only the 4th election since the civil war ended in 1996. A civil war that lasted more than 35 years, took an estimated 200,000 lives and left more than a million refugees.

It’s interesting watching another country go to the polls. Campaigning here is a lot more colorful and a helluva lot noisier than back home. There’s a lot of firecrackers. Protests. Campaigning rallies. Cars with loudspeakers affixed to the roofed. We’re currently in the midst of a 48 hour alcohol sales ban (It’s okay, folks. No need to be alarmed. I stocked up.)

One of the two main contenders is a retired army general. Who evidently had nothing to do with anything except of course the peace negotations. He looks a little too much like Malcolm Turnbull for my liking. And his logo is a closed fist. Where’s he gunna put that if he gets in, I wonder? Although apparently he is tipped as the favorite.

The other candidate is my preferred choice only because he looks a bit like Buddy Holly. At 41, he’s the youngest candidate and only just qualifies to run for office. His logo is a much happier thumbs up. Apparently, all the youngns like him. Problem is, he doesn’t necessarily look like he’s got what it takes to do what’s needed in just 4 years (no subsequent terms allowed.)

I don’t want to be too flippant about this. It’s important that whoever gets in is going to get stuck into rectifying this country’s two most prevalent problems: poverty and crime.

Evidently some 43% of children under the age of 5 are chronically malnourished. And the murder rate last year was 40 per 100,000 people. One of the highest in the world. Those figures are staggering.

Guatemala is a ridiculously gorgeous country. And the people here seem, for the most part, happy. They’re very family orientated. It seems to me, to be a very united nation. What they need is a leader with balls to stand up to the leaders of criminal gangs, and the ability to make real headway in redressing poverty. Easier said than done, I suppose.

May the better man win.

(Oh, and as a postscript … that woman i mentioned in a previous post. The only female candidate. The one who got divorced so she could qualify to run. Two things: she is, well was, married to the current President. And a month ago, the Supreme Court upheld a sentence preventing her from continuing to run.)

11 Sept

My thoughts are also with those impacted by the tragic events in the US, a decade ago.

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Take me to the river

In San Ignacio, I found myself a cheap room in a buggy guesthouse which was run by a bossy Spanish speaking lady. A long cool shower for a hot & sweaty (and not in a sexy way) girl and then off to find dinner – which ended up being pizza in a bar while listening to David Bowie and Creedence Clearwater.

The next day I moved to the guesthouse next door (Mallorca), which was much cleaner and run by a lovely Spanish speaking lady.

I ambled about the little village, taking photos and chatting to people in the street. I found a proper coffee shop above the street run by an American ex-pat, Sean who made a very decent latte. I spent a bit of time catching up on emails, writing and reading.

I later went to Maya Walk office which had been recommended to me, and booked myself on the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) tour. The manager invited me to come back for happy hour at their newly opened bar, run by a lovely, softly spoken man by the name of Smokey. It was there I met London Mike and Canadian Steve, who’d met each other somewhere along the way and become traveling companions for the time being. Mike was also on a career break (few of us out there) and was headed to Guatemala as well. They had done the ATM caves that day and were raving about it.

I’ve regressed back into nana-dom again, rising at 6, going to bed at 10 – so I called it after just a few drinks and a feed at a gorgeous lil restaurant called Ko-Ox Han Nah where I had a terrific lamb curry. Been a while since I’ve had either lamb, or curry. It was good on the entry. Not so good on the exit.

On the morning of Thursday 18 August, the tour group convened at Smokey’s bar.

A cool cat with a big ‘fro called Jay sat next to me. He was from Harlem and we struck up an instant rapport. He ended up being gorgeous on all accounts.

On the bus I got talking to a vibrant young thing from Toowoomba – who looked like your archetypical surfer chick. She had gone to NYC to try her hand in the cut-throat fashion world there.

As the gringo trail / small world would have it – it turned out she had been traveling with Nathan, prior to him joining me on the sailing tour. He had spoken to both of us about the other, but I hadn’t known her forward travel plans and she was under the impression I was heading south along the Honduras coast line. Which had totally been the plan up until I’d gotten to Placenta.

* * *

Actun Tunichil Muknal means cave of the stone sepulcher. It’s a significant Mayan archaeological site, which is only accessible in the company if an official guide. We started off with two mini buses, but one of them broke down shortly into the journey, so all the people on the other bus piled onto ours. It was a bumpy, squishy ride over rough roads for nearly an hour.

It was then a gentle hike through some pretty bushland. We got to the site and were given helmets with flashlights, which Jay got pretty excited about. No briefing. Just off we go. What’s a waiver?

We crossed three small rivers to get to the mouth of the cave which was just pretty as you please, with cool crystal clear fresh water. The lighting through the trees gave the water a gorgeous translucent green color.

We strapped on our helmets and waded through neck-deep cold water for a few meters into the pitch black. If I’d had a hat and a stock whip, I would have felt like Indiana Fucking Jones.

We then followed in the footsteps of the great Mayans, scrambling over limestone rocks which were speckled with crystally flecks, shimmering under our headlights.

Every now and then our guide, Danny would stop and point out unusual rock formations, some of which had been altered to look like, or cast shadows of certain gods or animals…

He shared with us his comprehensive knowledge of the ceremonies that took place here. It was like a ‘living’ museum in that there were many remains of relics from the rituals. We saw skulls and bones which stone had ‘grown’ over (i think this is called calcification) and various pieces of ceramics and stoneware which had been utilized in the ceremonies.

The highlight of the tour was seeing the full skeleton of a teenage Mayan girl, who is known as the Crystal Maiden and who was sacrificed to the gods.

The whole experience was simply spectacular. I think one of the things that made it even more amazing for me was the thought that up until 1986, the cave had been undiscovered. Just call me Frontier Girl.

I met up with Jay and the two Carolines for a few drinks later that eve. I asked Smokey to deal a game of Blackjack for us, and he was happy oblige.

My ATM crew left the next morning for Flores. I met up with Smokey to visit a small but pretty local ruin at the top of the hill with amazing vistas; and then I spent the afternoon just chilling out.

On Saturday morning, I went to the markets with a bloke called Pices (or something like that). I had been under the impression it was was going to be this massive Mecca for artisans, but it was more like a farmer’s market. We had brekky and Pices told me his dreams of escaping to a big city. He wished it was him who was leaving, and me who was staying. I had enjoyed the little village of San Ignacio but I was glad that wasn’t the case.

I had spent 3 weeks in Belize and loved my time there. I would recommend it to anyone who wants something a little different (it’s a really multicultural country) but easy (everyone speaks English). The Caribbean coastline is just gorgeous. It’s warm all year round. You can have lobster for breakfast. The diving and snorkeling is stunning. It’s steeped in a really rich Mayan history. The people have a great sense of humor. And most importantly, the beer is cheap.

Having said all that, I was looking forward to getting my Guatemala on.

La La Land

I saw Martin off on his flight home to Edinburgh. It had been so good to see him again.

At LAX, they wouldn’t let me check in for my midnight flight until a couple of hours beforehand. They didn’t have left luggage facilities. They didn’t have a visitor information service. In fact, no service of any kind.

I ended up booking a hostel room just so I could store my bag for 6 hours. Stupid.

Downtown was just over a one hour bus ride from the hostel. I jumped on another hop on hop off bus tour just so I could see the sights of LA in my limited time. I was lucky enough to get the bus all to myself, so had a private guide Lucas, who was in actual fact, a film producer. Naturally.

To be honest, LA left me absolutely cold. It just seemed like it had no soul. And unlike Vegas, nothing else to hold my interest for more than 5 mins. All I could see was billboards, chain restaurants & bars, palm trees used a class dividers, and tourist gift shops full of stuff I didn’t want.

I was looking forward to getting to Memphis. I was ready to sell my soul to the devil.

1 June

If you’re going to San Francisco…

First observations are that it’s far more spacious & sunny than NY.
There’s hills. and homelessness. Amazing architecture. Pretty parklands. Cable cars. And finally decent coffee!
I noticed more gays, Asians and surprisingly, a lot of people in wheelchairs.
It’s the perfect place for a livid lesbian or an aging activist. If you want a soapbox, you’ll find one here, complete with an audience… I witnessed a few mini protests.
I was relieved to see they take their recycling seriously here. Not like NYC where, as Angie pointed out you’ll buy a coke and they’ll give you a straw wrapped in paper, then throw it that into a plastic bag with a dozen napkins. None of which you need. Except maybe the can of coke. And even then, thats dubious.

So, I ended up in San Fran twice, the weekend before meeting up with Martin and then again, after Vegas.

It turns out it’s the sort of place I could return to again and again. The deeper you dig, the more you’ll find. It’s colorful, diverse, rich with historical moments & strong linkages to famous people. Harvey Milk, Joe DiMaggio, Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Keraouc, and the beat goes on. It’s a pretty city, people are friendly and food is good.

Part 1

The first weekend I stayed at Faith’s beautiful house close to the Mission. She has two lovely flatmates who very generous in letting me stay in her room. Faith unfortunately, was in New York. I met Matt at Mojo Cafe and we shared a bit of banter. He shouted me a lovely beer by the name of Death & Taxes, made by a local couple.

Next day I did the hop on hop off bus. I wouldn’t normally, but SF is quite spread out and rather hilly. There are also 4 different types of transport not including the cable car, so it was just an easy way to get my bearings, see a bit of the city and get some interesting insights into the history.

I went down to Fisherman’s Wharf for a seafood lunch (touristy) and then linked up with Matt for a couple of cocktails and my first ever furnet at a cool lil dig called Davla.

Next day, a nice Russian brekky and the perfect coffee at a place called Bluebottle.

I spent some time ambling through the Beat Museum, and was fortunate enough to stumble into a room where some journalist students were interviewing an 83 year old woman by the name of ruth weiss who was part of the whole scene back in the day. I shared a beer with an old hippie, Hal and made my way to Oakland.

I’d been invited to a barbie by a girl I’d met in Turkey. Maya and I had stayed in touch the old fashioned way and I was seeing her and meeting her husband and kids (she’d just given birth to their second the week before!) for the first time since 1998. It was just super to catch up.

On Monday, I finally got to see Faith over The Best French Toast I’ve ever had. I later did the Alcatraz tour (this is a must do even if you’re not into tours) and then caught the cable car up the hill to meet up with Faith & her sister and friends for dinner. This form of transport makes you feel transported…hanging off the sides, imagined I was a philosophy student back in the 60s, with flowers in her hair.

On Tuesday I flew to Las Vegas to meet Martin for a bit of fear and loathing. But that’s a whole ‘nother story…

Part 2

We arrived back in SF quite late on Thurs evening and were absolutely desperate for food that was fresh, included nutrients of any description and didn’t involve cheese, sour cream, heavy sauce or fries. Or a packet of crisps as a non-specified, no requested side (WTF). We were lucky to happen upon a late night ramen noodle place with a small queue of Japanese people. Always a good sign. Some melt in your mouth sashimi, green soya beans, and clean spicy soup hit the spot.

Next day, the weather was a bit dodgy, so we treated ourselves to a luxurious massage in a beautiful old hotel at the top of Nob Hill. The pool (not snooker) room had glorious views over the city, and it started fining up.

We decided to bike over the Golden Gate bridge (thanks for the tip, jendowd). I was all like, a bridge is just a bridge is just a bridge… but up close, I realized not all bridges are created equal. It’s a gorgeous piece of modern architecture. I stopped many times to take in the scenery and photos of the bridge itself.

A short ferry ride from Sausalito afforded us a different view of Alcatraz, and the pretty cityscape. It was almost ruined by a godawful ugly snogging couple sitting opposite us. Why ugly people feel the need to engage in PDAs is completely beyond me. We moved seats.

We met up with Faith and her friends for cocktails (mixology is a very serious business in this city and I’ve developed a taste for smoky tequila cocktails.)

On Saturday we had decent enough yum cha (although nothing like the Golden Unicorn in Maroubra).

We visited Martin’s old stomping ground in the colorful Castro, sunned ourselves in Mission Delores park and strolled thru a Latin American festival before hitting up an old bikers bar with Melissa, one of Faith’s flatmates.

Early evening, Martin’s old uni friend, Nicola met us downtown, and Martin shouted us all a beautiful steak & a nice glass of red at a a cute little French restaurant.

Our last day we had a traditional American breakfast in an old 50s style diner complete with checkered floors, red leather barstools and a waitress who looked like she just stepped out of a scene from Happy Days.

And then we started off for the southern Californian leg of our holiday together…

29 May