Part Three -- DIOS MUNDO AND WINTER DAYS IN THE LAND
OF ETERNAL SPRING
WHERE HAVE ALL THE MAYA GONE? TO CUT CANE SEÑOR.
Guatemala. Jan. 20. 2:15 p.m. Lunch. Hotel Perez, San Marcos.
At 9:10 I arrived at the Tapachula Post Office to mail home a 6.5 pound
package - papers and articles about and collected in Mexico. From the
package window I was sent with a small scrap of paper which said 2735
to stand in line at the stamp window. The stamp seller sold me 76 36
peso stamps. I complained that I could not place so many stamps on one
package and was told that they can be placed in an envelope. One should
not argue with native ways, so I returned and handed the 76 stamps to
the package clerk. He complained that there was no way to stick 76 stamps
on my package. I sent him to the stamp window. He returned with many,
though fewer stamps. As we began to stick them my mental calculation
revealed we had been shorted some stamps. He went off again. I left
the Post Office with one package mailed after thirty minutes.
The next stop, at the Guatemalan Consulate for a visa, lasted only
fifteen minutes. The consular official, with my passport in his hand,
told me, "That will be two dollars." I told him I had pesos only. He
immediately said, "That will be 1,000 pesos." I paid up and he returned
my passport with visa. Seven minutes later I had a ride directly to
the International Bridge where twenty money changers called out "change"
in mispronounced English. The area reeks of urine.
After crossing the bridge, on Guatemala soil, a soldier directed me
into a small building. Inside were two men. The man in uniform sitting
on a table was playing with a handgun. The man in civilian clothing
standing behind a counter told me to pay two quetzals for having crossed
the bridge. I told them that I had only pesos and that I wanted a receipt.
"We don't give receipts for pesos."
One does not argue with a man who enjoys fondling his gun. I handed
over 250 pesos and walked out.
The following stop had a slightly more official air. A uniformed immigration
officer asked for my passport, typed my name on a list, stamped the
passport and said, "That will be one dollar." It is best to not argue
with the official who has one's passport. I stated that I had only pesos
and handed him 500. To my surprise I was given a quetzal in change,
my first quetzal. I said, "Gracias," and walked out.
Two soldiers in camouflage uniforms were exceedingly conspicuous against
the customs building, their machine guns were even more conspicuous.
Yet another armed and uniformed person directed my to enter a door and
I obeyed. I felt herded by this time. Inside my pack was inspected and
I was informed, "That will be one quetzal." I surrendered my only quetzal.
The customs officer placed a glob of white glue on top of the backpack
and stuck a paper on it which says, "Inspected." I asked to weigh the
pack on their scale "at no charge." 23 kilos.
Back into that intense smell and up the road I walked, soon into fresh
air, past campanitas and other wildflowers and up the steep grade. Beside
the road at the top of the riverbank there is a sign: "Welcome to Guatemala,
Nation of Eternal Spring," Just beyond the sign at the police checkpoint
called Garita de Policía de Hacienda I was allowed to pass without paying.
My first ride was in a full taxicab. The driver repeatedly shut off
the engine, coasting as much as possible. When I thanked the driver
he responded, "I'm a servant to humanity."
Twenty minutes from the border we arrived at a checkpoint. Using hand
signals a soldier directed me to get out of the car. The driver did
likewise and informed the soldiers that my pack was in the truck. Five
armed men surrounded us. I was hand signaled to remove the pack.
"You can talk to me, I will understand," I said.
"We want to check your pack."
I pointed out the inspection sticker and while lifting the pack out
asked, "What are you looking for?"
The response was, "We want to see if you have anything worthwhile."
"The most worthwhile thing I'm carrying is scientific knowledge, and
the worst things I have are dirty hiking socks." They laughed and the
ranking member dismissed us without inspection. That was at 11:24. Five
minutes later we met a jeep load of camouflaged soldiers with automatic
In Malacatan at 11:38 I caught a ride in the back of an empty truck.
On the edge of town, where we passed a checkpoint without stopping,
the road began climbing the Sierra. The roadside flowers were abundant,
including many I hadn't seen until there. On the steep grade, as we
approached four Indians climbing under large, heavy burdens, the driver
honked although the oncoming lane was vacant. The burden bearers moved
to the side of the road. In San Pablo the spread of the giant, old ceiba
tree in the center of the plaza and the plaza are about the same size.
Coffee plantations predominate at that altitude. After ten minutes my
ride turned off amidst coffee farms in the countryside.
I walked up mountain for a half hour. The fourth vehicle to pass picked
me up. There were two other passengers in that old van, one a National
Policeman. I asked him what Policía de Hacienda means. "Police of Honesty,"
he replied. The van was very near dead, had a bad exhaust leak to the
interior and was gravely overheated. I wasn't certain if the other passenger,
an elderly woman, was sleeping or unconscious from the fumes. The engine
heat was nearly unbearable. I hugged a window. We arrived in San Rafael
After I had walked only a few blocks a bus that had passed me twice
picked me up. I placed a showy orange Bougainvillea blossom on the dash.
From San Rafael the mountain climb begins in earnest. With a jammed
full bus we switchbacked in first and second gear up the 45 degree mountainside
for 45 minutes. At each stop the assistant quickly blocked the wheel.
We crested a ridge at over 7,000 f.a.s.l. and then descended towards
San Marcos. The route ended in front of the Guatemala National Bank
where I was told they cannot change pesos or dollars. Two soldiers with
M-16's guarded the premises. At another bank I got the same story and
saw the same security. They directed me to this hotel for change.
3:38. A small church in San Pedro surrounded by a fiesta. I
couldn't resist a stop because the marimba band, "Soberana India," is
really entertaining. What excellent sounds! The street is quite filled
with this neighborhood festival. I just looked up and noticed that a
National Policeman, standing alone and apart from the crowd, is staring
at me. Because I hadn't consumed enough the Hotel Perez wouldn't change
traveler's checks. I arrived at the San Pedro plaza just after the bank
closed and was directed to the store next door where they paid 9 quetzals
for 1500 pesos and 60 quetzals for 20 dollars. From that perspective,
including the soldier buying a new walkman, I could see six soldiers
and five guns. They concentrate near the money. I walked into the street
with the right currency to feed my hungry face, passed a woman with
a basket of ripe, beautiful bananas and asked if they were for sale.
"Yes, .25 quetzal a dozen." I purchased four bananas for a Guatemalan
dime. Taking into account all of today's transactions it cost me 420
bananas to get into this so-called republic.
Directly before me people are stringing a piñata on a rope stretched
across the street. About 100 people, mostly children, are excitedly
gathered around. This piñata is an earthenware bowl topped with a glazed,
ceramic rabbit. The bowl is filled with treats. A blindfolded child
now begins swinging a stick in the air trying to find and break the
bowl. The children awaiting the shower of contents are yelling directions.
Suddenly a strike! A large pile of kids just formed. A second piñata
is being strung up. The marimba continues.
9:57. In my tent on a cold and windy night in the highlands.
From San Pedro I walked an hour. The area is densely inhabited and agriculturally
rich. Some of the dried standing corn plants have cobs six feet off
the ground. Courtyards are crowded by piles of drying corn. Drying corncobs
are everywhere, billions of colorful corncobs. Fields of green vegetables
dot irrigated portions of the hillsides. The land is rich and filled
with people and it is their custom to greet so many smiles per mile
I tired of walking immediately before a steep grade and caught a ride
in the back of a pickup. The ascending panorama was beyond description.
There is an especially majestic quality to steep mountains amidst clouds
when covered by humanity. Viewing from above the clouds makes the scenery
the more enchanting. Late afternoon soft lighting enriched the vision.
The road quickly climbed thousands of feet. I had to put on my jacket.
The cold air was noticeably thinner. At 5:30 we began to descend from
the 9,600 f.a.s.l. pass.
On the outskirts of Quetzaltenango I caught a ride with a truck which
had passed me twice. I climbed into the back and enjoyed the company
of a Native man. We stopped at a simple roadside food stand where a
dinner of beans, rice, tortillas and coffee costs one quetzal. The other
rider departed after we had eaten. Before we drove on the Indian driver
remarked, "Stay out of sight so the police can't fuck you." They assured
me they would stop at my turnoff, the road to Panajachel. I climbed
into the back alone.
It was a cold ride. I had to add a warm shirt under my jacket. I also
wore a wool beret, pulling it over my ears. From my seated vantage below
the truck's rack I saw the upper level gun slots of two police checkpoint
towers. We were not hassled. The stars and brilliant moon seemed to
gyrate overhead as we wound through the mountains. We reached the junction
I began walking. At one point three barking dogs attacked, but they
didn't bite. I filled a hand with small stones and continued. While
on the lookout for dogs I spotted a drunk and tried to avoid detection,
but it was too late. As I passed he grabbed hold of my arm, perhaps
only for balance, and said, "Give me your bills." In Spanish that's
paper money, not accounts payable. He seemed too drunk to be a real
threat so I said, "I have no bills, only pure gold coins." I gave him
a Mexican 10¢ coin saying, "Here, have one." He let go of my arm
to take it. I swiftly walked away. The high altitude moonlight was too
bright to fool a drunk. He began to give staggering chase.
"Here's one. Get this one, he's escaping," he yelled.
I continued walking fast, wondering if the roadside building I past
was yet another police checkpoint. Suddenly eight men rushed out and
down the road towards me shouting, "Stop."
The best defense is a definitive offense. I turned and immediately
asked, "Are you all drunk?" I noticed they were all armed. One was carrying
the National flag."
"No, we are the patrol," the flag carrier responded. After they approached
I saw they were Cakchiquel Maya Indians and that what first appeared
to be rifles were actually wooden sticks. We were soon joking, including
at the drunk's expense. They said it was eight kilometers to the next
village, Solala, further than I want to walk tonight. I inquired about
their activities. They are on the road all night. The leader with the
flag said, "We are here until death, and we will patrol until death."
Well, this seems a secure setting so rather than brave more dogs and
drunks I pitched the tent near their quarters beside a little church
surrounded by a cornfield. The tent is facing east for the first morning
sun rays. It's windy and getting colder. And it's time to rest.
Jan. 21. 7:49. The night was really cold, so cold and windy
that condensation rained in the tent. Excepting a tiny cloud forming
near the tip of the Toliman volcano, the sky is clear. The sun feels
great. Tent and bag are drying quickly. I'm meeting my neighbors. One
of them is last night's drunk. This morning he wants my watch. His mother,
whose house is the nearest, and his sister are discussing my equipment
in Cakchiquel, their native language. The women wear beautiful, colorful
hand-woven garments. I'm the only person with shoes. It's time to begin
packing and walking.
9:10. In an hour one vehicle with space and many overfilled
vehicles have passed. Most vehicles are filled beyond capacity because
today is market day in Solala, a beautiful village overlooking Lake Atítlan. Panajachel, a town on the lake shore, is my destination.
Nearby two men are tilling a field by hand, forming raised rows of
soil with broad, sturdy adze-like hoes. I've stopped to take a candid
photo. Their task is backbreaking labor, the field is changing at an
10:50. Solala. The zocalo, on the market's edge. Enjoying fresh
watermelon. On the hill above town a dozen soldiers with automatic weapons
were guarding the military garrison entrance. A few minutes later I
passed a crude rock bunker with more soldiers. In the street which is
the main road into town, a block from this plaza, there is a National
Police checkpoint complete with a stop sign, a "Welcome to Solala" sign
and a National policeman with an automatic rifle. I don't recall this
degree of military presence during my visit here 10 years ago. The difference
I photographed the street checkpoint. The man with the gun noticed
so I walked directly towards him and inquired about restaurants.
"Did you take my picture?" he asked.
I denied it. I explained that the camera has a telescopic lens, that
I had taken a picture of the tall tower on the plaza. He asked if I
was interested in buying some ancient gold and jade pieces from a dig.
Is he corrupt?
11:22. Having breakfast. I walked by a coffee vendor cranking
the grinder as he called out, "Café a .50 la libra." At yesterday's
exchange rate that's 17¢ U.S. per pound for fresh ground Guatemalan
Altura. This market is among the most colorful in America, the vivid
garments the local Indians wear are like no others. The scene is busy.
I'm going to search for old hand-woven cloth. Two eggs, rice, beans,
tortillas and two cups of great coffee, 30¢ U.S.
2:06. Psicódelico Restaurant. Panajachel, also known as Gringotenango,
is definitely a tourist hangout. Western languages are heard on the
streets, gringos are promenading main drag, cloth sellers are everywhere,
venders call out in broken English and the prices are high. I'm enjoying
a Gallo (Rooster) beer and a rest after 12 km. of walking. Peter, an
Australian I met today along the road, is just now arriving.
2:32. An acquaintance Peter made elsewhere on the Gringo Trail
just walked up. We are at a main street veranda table nearly amidst
the many pedestrian passersby. Peter and I have common interests, especially
rock art. He has seen aboriginal Australian rock art. It is great to
speak a little English.
The small stone sculptures collection I wanted to study in Panajachel
no longer exists. M.C. reports that the collection disappeared at the
time of his father's death years ago. Well, on to Antigua, the colonial
8:41. Cafe Victoria, a Chinese restaurant. Antigua. After a
short wait I caught a ride with an elderly man named Carlos, a man of
conservative bent and Spanish descent. Carlos said he had never before
stopped for a hitchhiker because he feared the possible consequences.
He usually locks all his car doors and does not like to stop for any
reason. He said that I have a very honest face and hinted that he was
tired and needed a conversation to stay awake. Hitchhiking frequently
presents that requested favor. On the climb to Solala we met a jeep
load of soldiers, and in Solala a truckload. Along the highway we passed
three now familiar National Police two-story checkpoint towers.
On entering Chimaltenango I remarked that in contrast to the Solala
area fewer people wear native clothing, that the majority wear modern
synthetics. Carlos responded, "Yes, it makes one feel more secure to
arrive here." He stopped in front of a National Police tower, dropping
me kilometers from the Antigua turnoff. I suspect he worried that I
might rob him elsewhere. I gave him a gift of Indian art.
From Chimaltenango I caught a ride with a bus. I wasn't thumbing but
the bus driver's helper called out an offer. He took my pack onto the
roof, I entered the back door and joined the back of the bus crowd.
A conversation about earthquakes and fault lines ensued. We were near
the fault line of the devastating 1976 earthquake. I traveled this same
route shortly after the disaster, witnessing entire towns leveled.
We passed an army garrison and the conversation shifted to the military
presence. I remarked that I was both surprised to see and unaccustomed
to seeing so many heavily armed men. The young man seated beside me
said, "Here soldiers are as common as trees," and, for emphasis, he
pointed to the woods. His words were too true for he had unwittingly
pointed out a group of camouflaged soldiers in the forest. We all laughed.
Just down the road we easily spotted another group wearing camouflage
in a gravel pit.
In Antigua I climbed the back stairs of the bus rather than waiting
for my pack. Hitchhikers fix tires or engines and don't expect service.
It's a habit. On top I found the kind helper and my open backpack. He
quickly claimed it was an accident due to his lifting the pack by the
strings. Two Peace Corps trainees on the streets recommended a good,
reputable hotel. I asked if they were accustomed to seeing so many soldiers.
"Yes, we live near an army barracks," one said. I'm beginning to think
that everyone does. The other one said the army would be working with
her on a reforestation project. The chow-mein is excellent.
In the hotel. Tomorrow, in part, will be spent reviewing colonial
art and architecture with attention to prehistoric influence. The local
colonial era began in 1527 when Santiago de Guatemala, the first Spanish
capital, was established in this valley. Fourteen years later an earthquake
in combination with summer rains unleashed a mudslide from the slopes
of Mount Agua volcano, destroying the young colonial base. As a result
Antigua was founded, again officially named Santiago. Antigua flourished
as the capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala with jurisdiction from Chiapas
to Costa Rica. Earthquakes in 1717 and 1773 destroyed much of the city
and the capital was again reestablished in 1776 at present day Guatemala
City, a move which contributes to Antigua's continuing colonial ambiance.
Three immense volcanoes surrounding Antigua have historically threatened
destruction. A colorful colonial era description of the volcanoes by
Thomas Gage reads as follows:
"This volcano or mountain...is not so pleasing to the sight, but
the other which standeth on the side of the valley opposite unto it
is unpleasing and dreadful to behold. For here are ashes for beauty,
stones and flints for fruits and flowers, baldness for greenness,
barrenness for fruitfulness. For winter whispering and fountain murmurs,
noise of thunders and roaring of consuming metals; for running streams,
flashing of fire; for tall and mighty trees and cedars, castles of
smoke rising in height to out-dare the sky and the firmament; for
sweet and odiferous and fragrant smells, a stink of fire and brimstone,
which are still in action striving within the bowels of that ever
burning and fiery volcano. Thus is Guatemala seated in the midst of
a paradise on the one side and a hell on the other, yet never hath
this hell broke so loose as to consume that flourishing city. True
it is that many years ago it opened a wide mouth on the top, and breathed
out such fiery ashes as filled the houses of Guatemala and the country
about, and parched all the plants and fruits, and spewed out such
stones and rocks which had they fallen upon the city would have crushed
it to pieces.
"...all the while I lived there the noise within the mountain, the
smoke and flashes of fire without, and the summer earthquakes were
such that with the use and custom of them I never feared anything,
but thought that city the healthiest and pleasantest place of dwelling
that ever I came into all my travels."
Jan. 22. 7:19 a.m. Restaurante Los Capitanes. A rooster in the
hotel courtyard and church bells went off together at 6:00 sharp. I
was up earlier than the person responsible for plugging in the hot water
heater so a much desired hot shower must wait. It's cool at this mountain
altitude. The clerk plugged in the little heater and promised hot water
later. They promised hot water when I checked in.
After I ordered breakfast three MP's walked in, stacked their rifles
in the corner beside the jukebox and sat at a table. One was singing
and as we made eye contact I asked, "Tocas tambien?" (Do you play also?)
He pointed towards the jukebox and rifles and said, "There it is."
I turned to the two Mayan Indians at the counter beside me and joked,
"They play guns."
Both men discreetly laughed. We conversed. I said I was on my way to
the church with renowned artwork. As I reached for my notes one said,
"San Francisco?" Very correct indeed.
2:35. Guatemala City. Having late lunch. Between breakfast and
the church I passed the National Children's School and saw written on
the wall, "Amnesty no, Popular War yes, the assassins who committed
the massacres are the Army."
The San Francisco church courtyard portal has botanically accurate
morning glory depiction in stucco relief. The artistic twiners wind
around and climb the portal columns, atop which are small alternating
mushroom and shell images. I asked the first passerby to identify the
flowers. The man responded, "I don't know. They are beautiful, made
of pure God." After doing photography I toured the adjacent convent
ruins and therein gathered seeds of a reddish purple morning glory variety.
The convent caretaker, who wears a crucifix, identified the morning
glories by the name "Quebra cajete." I asked what the name meant. He
said that they are bad, that it means that they cause a person to drop
what he carries, "Causa que caiga cosas de la mano." Different Indian
and Spanish names and notions about certain botanicals persist today.
One person's little bells--campanitas-- are another's bewitching.
I viewed the ruins of Santa Clara convent and at 10:00 arrived at the
old "Universidad de San Carlos," today the National Colonial Museum.
The first two paintings I examined, both 18th century oil paintings
of the Blessed Virgin Mary by anonymous authors, depict heavenly blue
morning glory flowers amidst the details. One features baby angels in
both substantial and transparent apparitions surrounding Mary ascending
At the hotel I discovered that the water heater was unplugged for a
reason, it doesn't function. After a cold shower I walked in what I
though was the correct direction to the Iglesia de la Concepción ruin.
On passing another church ruin at the indentation in the barbed wire
fence enclosing the area on the huge wall buttress I noticed the following
written on the large plaque: "Here was located the house where the famous
soldier-historian, hero of the conquest of Mexico and Guatemala, Bernal
Diaz del Castillo, author of the 'True History of the Conquest of New
Spain.' lived and wrote." My first impulse was to sit for a while and
write in the very place where Bernal wrote. I proceeded no further than
to unbuckle my backpack because the easily recognized smell of urine
reached my nostrils. A quick visual inspection revealed that in both
buttress corners the late conqueror's floor was wet and adorned with
piles of human feces. A fitting transitory monument, a proper monument
to conquest. I continued towards Chimaltenango and examined the La Merced
church facade. I asked directions. I had been going the wrong way. After
passing and examining the remains of the church of "La Imagen de Jesus
Nazareno de Candelaria" I arrived at the "Monastario de Nuestra Senora
de la Conception," the "Monastery of Our Lady of the Conception." The
historic interpretation reads in part: "1620. Completion of the Monastery
of the Clean Conception." Within the monastery I asked to see the ruins
of the regal and expansive home built for Juana Maldonado y Paz. For
a fee I was allowed to enter. A young girl unlocked the door and accompanied
me. I photographed several interesting stucco escutcheons and collected
flower seeds. Back on the street I photographed a portal with beautiful
sun and moon images.
I put up the thumb at 1:37. At 1:38 I had a ride with a reckless speedster
who ignored stop signs and drove through a 40 kmh residential zone at
100. I stepped out onto the sidewalk near the National Theater at 2:16.
Too fast! It's all too obvious that I have reentered the modern western
world, leaving colonial and native environs behind. Diesel fumes fill
the air, noise is incessant, prices are higher and people don't automatically
greet each other. My Guatemalan enchilada, basically a pile of red cabbage
on a tortilla, was garnished with a little slice of a hot dog, the local
equivalent of the red dye number 3 cherry I assume.
4:53. Hotel La 14, Annexo. My impulse is to get out of the cities
and return to the villages and the countryside. The streets are impossible
to breath in, the noise of internal combustion is atrocious, there are
even jets taking off directly overhead. I shall endure. I' m reminding
myself that there is much material of interest in museums here. Even
the Kaminal Juyú ruins, a site comparable to Teotihuacan, are within
the city or, more accurately, under it.
Jan. 23. 7:35. Restaurante Bilbao. At this hour few are open.
I talked the kind staff into feeding me. The waitress is mopping up
around my feet. They open later. I had wanted scrambled eggs with vegetables
and I explained that "huevos a la Mexicana" is eggs with tomato and
onion. I was told that's "huevos a la ranchera." Well, I also love ranch
style eggs so I said great. Borders are merely lines placed on a map
by some former power after the invention of nations, armaments, colonies
and paper deeds, but in reality they are stinking river crossings, machine
guns and corrupt individuals with the power to take your pesos. They
are also a very effective means of keeping people separate. From Ciudad
Juarez to Tapachula huevos a la ranchera does not mean two fried eggs
covered with red cabbage and a little wiener bit. This is America, but
not the United States. Here life is practical and waste is absent. People
search the garbage dumps for food and graze swine in the dumps. They
won't find my eggs. I wasn't told, "Oh, allow us to do that over for
you, Sir." I got a very polite next time, and in view of the number
of beggars I've seen in the few blocks I've walked in this great center
of modern civilization I cannot argue with local economics nor the intricacies
of local cuisine. On to the museum, to check out the past, for it hasn't
always been like this. Actually, it's never been like this before.
8:39. Out onto the capital city's urine stained sidewalks I
proceeded, down the carbon monoxide and lead filled concrete and adobe
canyons, walking to the museum. I noticed I was following 3 soldiers
wearing camouflage. My attention was drawn to their ammo harnesses with
bullet clips. I was taking count, so to speak, of how many people they
could kill. They stopped at a crosswalk. I inadvertently caught up to
them. Clearly printed on one bullet harness I saw the letters, "U.S."
I've walked much further and am seated a block from the entrance to
an urban military garrison called the "Tactics Center of the Heroes."
Fifty feet in front of me is a barbed wire and chain link fence surrounding
the garrison. Between me and the fence is a monument to Bernal Diaz
del Castillo erected on the 400th anniversary of the writing of his
"true" history. It reads as follows:
Bernal Diaz del Castillo was born in Medina del Campo (Spain) in
1496. He died in Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala in January
of 1584, Alderman in perpetuity of this city and one of its principal
"I do not have other riches to leave my children and descendants
except my true and notable history."
"Oh what a difficult work it is to go to discover lands in the manner
in which we adventured."
"Moctezuma died and it was as sad as if it were our padre."
Text of the plaque which covers the tomb of Bernal Diaz del Castillo
"He fought in 119 battles in the Conquest of New Spain, Guatemala
and it's provinces and Yucatan, as one of the principal Conquerors
of them, he was one of the Alderman of the Noble and Loyal City of
Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala and he wrote a history illustriously
embellished with the lights of his deeds and the true events of his
times, making them known thereby in the two hemispheres of both suns.
He died at an old age and began to live without limits and without
From Guatemala to the illustrious Soldier-Chronicler Don Bernal Diaz
del Castillo on the 400th Anniversary of having concluded his immortal
book True History of the Conquest of New Spain 1568-1968.
The sound of continuous gunfire punctuates this sitting and setting.
Camouflaged planes and helicopters take off directly overhead. The concrete
is clean and unstained and the only smells are exhaust and gunpowder,
but perhaps I shall pass by after dark. Better yet, let me vent my disregard
for the conqueror with quotes from his "True History" describing the
first battle fought under Cortes in the New World:
"...we doctored the horses by searing their wounds with the fat from
the body of a dead Indian which we cut up to get out the fat, and
we went to look at the dead lying on the plain and there were more
than eight hundred of them, the greater number killed by thrusts,
the others by the cannon, muskets and crossbows, and many were stretched
on the ground half dead....The battle lasted over an hour....we seared
the wounds of the others and of the horses with the fat of the Indian,
and after posting sentinels and guards, we had supper and rested."
"These were the first vassals to render submission to His Majesty
in New Spain."
Well, onward. The museum is a few blocks further down the Avenida de
la Liberación and then to the left.
11:21. The National Museum of Anthropology. On the front steps.
The electricity went off so it's dark inside. Upon entering I was told
that tripod use is not allowed. The guards sent me to a second story
office to obtain permission. When I admitted not being associated with
a University I was informed that "use of a tripod is considered professional"
and a formal written request to the National Institute of History and
Anthropology on official sealed and numbered paper would be necessary.
I inquired about studying the 23 mushroom stones in the museum's possession
and was informed that the same process would be required. I did see
five mushroom stones on display, all tripod types. Many interesting
stone sculpture are exhibited, including a Mayan stela so detailed and
complex it would take all day to apprehend.
4:46. Cafe Reforma, after photographing 33 small stone sculptures,
mostly mushroom stones, in the Popol Vuh museum, a spectacular regional
collection. The museum is located on the sixth floor of this modern
building, which features a full height, central atrium. Numerous plants,
including 3 story palms, jungle the atrium. The elevator back wall is
glass and faces the atrium, an elevator in the forest effect. Upon entering
the museum the sound system was playing, "We built this city on Rock
Nearby on the sidewalk I encountered a man with a machine gun guarding
a garage entrance. I stopped and asked, "What gun is that?"
"A Ruger 223," he replied. I asked what he was guarding.
"The U.S. Embassy."
Jan. 24. 8:43 a.m. Friday. I'm enjoying a late breakfast. I
had to wait for tap water this morning. When I finally asked the hotel
clerk he said a faucet must be on elsewhere and he went off for a moment.
He returned and said that the water would flow. Yesterday when I returned
to the hotel I received my laundry and asked for the bill. The same
clerk, a very nice man who did the laundry himself, wouldn't charge
Last night at the suggestion of a mutual colleague, I met with M.T.,
a doctor interested in ethnomedicine. We had little time together. We
exchanged study materials and made tentative plans for the weekend.
10:47. Cafe Elliot. This morning archaeologists at the Instituto
de Antropología y Historía de Guatemala showed me a recently excavated
mushroom stone, one of the most beautiful of all the mushroom stones.
The one foot tall creation is very smoothly finished and in perfect
condition. The base is a coatimundi, the animal's long snout points
up the stem. In Mayan mythology the coatimundi is the trickster figure
associated with the vault of heaven. Do the mushroom stones represent
the vault of heaven? Without official paperwork or requests I was allowed
to photograph using the tripod.
12:00. Tree of Life Vegetarian Restaurant. I'm trying to contact
the owner of the world's largest and best mushroom stone collection.
The directions I received on a very poor telephone connection failed.
One finds the most interesting places when lost, and in this part of
the world a vegetarian restaurant with carrot juice and whole grain
bread is not to be ignored, especially not with a name like Tree of
Life. The decor is much like uptown USA; wood wainscot, vegetable and
mushroom wallpaper, a birch forest wall mural, wicker lampshades and
green plants. A few pleasing native products compliment the decor, especially
the weaving on the reception counter. The helpful restaurant workers
are telephoning to solve my poor directions. Jefferson Starship on the
local rock station fills the background.
"We built this city We built this city on Rock and Roll; Say you
don't know me or recognize my face Say you don't care..."
2:49. Waiting in the reception area again. Though I had been
informed on the phone that K.N., the collection owner, would be here
until one o'clock, when I first arrived the secretary said he was out
until three. I revisited the Popol Vuh museum a few blocks away. Along
the way I saw in the Banco del Caf*, the Bank of Coffee, a beautiful
mural depicting native people wearing traditional hand-woven garments,
a very pleasing tribute to the artistry of the people who pick the crop.
All the depicted garments have spectacular, colorful birds in the designs.
The armed guard would not allow photography. How could I argue?
One notices many more details during the second viewing of a museum.
I examined the one of a kind collection of large earthenware Quiche
burial urns then reviewed the Mayan polychrome pottery collection and
photographed vases with the "U" glyph, the glyph associated with the
fantastic toad at Izapa. In the polychrome painting the "U" glyph is
associated with Mayan enema depiction, possibly an alternative to oral
medication of remedies that would cause vomiting.
The caretaker-guards were most collaborative. I inquired about turning
on a spotlight, it proved to be burnt out and the man returned with
a drop light. When I inquired about an unlabeled item he referred to
the files and returned with an answer. I like being closely watched
in such benevolent fashion.
Of course, the art impresses the most. I was most amazed by a stone
sculpture of two coatimundis standing upright on the rim on opposite
sides of a bowl. Their long pointed snouts balance a delicate narrow
ring. To create this ancient artwork the sculptor had to remove most
of the stone, a difficult and, to me, seemingly impossible task.
4:27. Back at the Elliot Cafe. At 3:05 K.N.'s secretary informed
me that he would not return for the afternoon. I walked the three blocks
to a public phone and called his residence. I was informed that he had
departed to his office ten minutes prior. I returned to the office a
third time where, without my saying a word, the secretary told me to
sit down and said I would be promptly attended. K.N.'s son J.N., greeted
me. I explained my object, to study the mushroom stone sculpture collection
held by his father. He asked what institution I was with and I said
none. He asked for letters of reference and I had none. He noted my
name and address and the names of several references and told me to
call him on Monday.
Their's is the largest collection of mushroom stones in the world and
includes a set of nine miniature stones depicting the Nine Lords of
the Night. This group may provide the best clues to the real meaning
of the use of the mushroom form in these small stone sculptures. Are
they related to astronomy, a zodiac, the vault of heaven? Are they hemispheres
or mushrooms? When I reported hoping to study the National Museum's
mushroom stones on Monday J.N. cryptically stated, "If they are still
there." Their family business is coffee so I mentioned the new methodology
of producing edible mushrooms from coffee bean husks. I was deposited
in the lobby in full view of the guard.
While walking back to the old city center I passed two urban military
garrisons. On one from the building corner a new tower with narrow gun
slots is being constructed projecting into the streets. Next door several
machine gun toting guards stood watch at the U. S. Consulate entrance.
At the entrance to the Politecnic Institute, now seemingly a military
garrison, I asked the five armed guards standing in a row at the gate
if I could enter to photograph the murals. I was firmly told, "No way."
I could fill a book describing the number of armed men in this country
and the kinds of arms; sawed off shotguns in the banks, etc., etc.,
but enough said. Let me say they are very many indeed, and then I shall
say no more. Nor shall I grow accustomed to the constant presence of
individuals equipped to so easily end my life or the lives of others.
Today I saw a poster about the First Conference on Peace scheduled
for February. A bus I rode had written on the window, "Amor is vivir.
El Año Nuevo en Paz es deseo de su piloto." (To love is to live. The
New Year in Peace is the wish of your driver.)
Now to decide how I can best spend this weekend. I will know more after
I phone Dr. M.T. tonight.
Jan. 25, 7:35 a.m. Awake since the first rooster at 5. At 9:00
M.T. will pick me up. We will travel to Antigua for the day. Meanwhile,
I'm enjoying rereading M.T.'s article in "Ethnomedicina en Guatemala."
I've also enjoyed the hot shower, though I wonder about the method by
which the water is heated. A thick red wire comes out of the wall and
attaches to the tin can sized shower head. A black wire attaches to
the water supply pipe where it exits the wall. There is only one valve
and the flow regulates the temperature, slower is hotter.
7:49 p.m. Wimpy Hamburgers. Gringo food is my choice tonight
because I need to change a $20 traveler's check. This eatery makes change
at a good rate, but only if you order food. A 1/4 pound cheeseburger
costs 58¢ U.S.
Today in Antigua was thoroughly enjoyed, though late in the afternoon
the shutter of old Pentax SP 500 #3288022 failed. It remains open at
1/60 second and slower exposures. I imagine that all the faster shutter
speeds are now inaccurate. The top of the shutter curtain still works,
but the bottom is loose. This may be a real complication for I know
not if it can be repaired here.
Our first stop of the day was the colonial museum to review the ethnobotanically
significant paintings, the Virgins with morning glories. After viewing
the San Francisco portal we visited the agency and people responsible
for Antigua's preservation. They presented a lecture-slide show of colonial
fresco art in Totonicapan churches. Most impressive were the 18th century
frescos which fill the San Francisco el Alto church with floral splendor.
M.T. is an Antigua native and his driving led past many an interesting
architectural feature and more church ruins. He served a picnic at his
family's coffee farm and surprised me by displaying his mushroom stone.
We visited the rams which assist his microbiology work with occasional
blood donations. After a short break in the open hayfield for the volcano
view we returned to the town center to tour a beautiful colonial home,
the house of Popenoe. It was recently fully restored and filled with
precious articles and furnishings of its era. My favorite artwork was
the immense wood relief carving of two angels. Architecturally, I most
liked the second story dovecote room. The 100 plus stuccoed nest cubicles
which line the room's walls stand five levels high, like a miniature
apartment complex. From the dovecote room we ascended a narrow spiral
stairs in a domed tower to the flat rooftop for a splendid volcano view,
one including the many church domes. The sleepy little town of Antigua
is a treasure and certainly unique in all America. Let us hope the earth
remains merciful and the volcanoes quiet.
Our last study stop was the La Merced church and adjacent convent ruins.
Very little remains of the 16th century frescos which led us there,
yet our visit was not without reward. M.T. was resolute about examining
other details and I followed. We climbed to the partial upper level
of the ruin which buttresses the church's east side wall. From there
we walked out onto the now wall-less second floor of the convent quadrangle's
south side. When we turned and walked back towards the church we were
facing the dome. From that perspective I noticed an architectural detail
too interesting to ignore and too distant to adequately discern. I dug
for the 135 mm lens and asked M.T. if he knew what the gold statues
around the dome depict.
"They look like lions," he responded.
I lifted the camera. They were not lions. Excited immediately, I handed
the camera to M.T. Much to our surprise we stared at three creatures
seated on their haunches with small rear legs tucked under full upright
hairless torsos. Their arms or forelegs extend straight down, balancing
robust chests. My excitement surged and my hair stiffened as I peered
again with aid of the telescopic lens.
I was awe-struck and had a vague sense of deja-vu. We were staring
at faces that belong to our ancestors from a million years past; bold
features, sloped back foreheads, long hair, partial balding and an eerie
alertness of expressions. They were unmistakably protohuman faces. I
took one photo.
Had we found, discreetly depicted in the architecture of a colonial
Catholic church, what Darwin would theorize after its construction,
the notion of human evolution? A multitude of questions came to mind.
When had someone sculpted those faces, faces not unlike those created
by evolutionary theorists today, faces distinctly individual? Were the
artist and image Mayan or European? The questions must wait. The image
remains vivid in mind.
We moved to the church interior, a living, functioning church with
people and prayers. White doves on great drapes of blue cloth seem to
fill the tall vault. There the shutter broke while winding the film.
The late afternoon was spent relaxing with M.T.'s compadre and his
compadre's family. Because of my wanderings the conversation included
reminiscing about their youthful journey to the great Mayan ruins. I
listened with attention. In such circumstances in a private home with
the noise of children awareness of nations and boundaries dissolves.
Today's colonial study has been a royal day indeed. Even the sunset
was one of the best of the now familiar blazing pastels, this one above
and beyond majestic cinder cones. The exchange of information and local
guidance have been fruitful. Also, I was given a letter of introduction
from M.T. to the owner of a private mushroom stone collection. Prehistoric
influence in colonial art is quite apparent and would be a fascinating
study, probably even aiding in understanding and deciphering prehistoric
art. My intent is to pursue first what came first, to concentrate on
the most ancient era, to follow the course of prehistoric art. Tomorrow
will be spent on archaeology. Meanwhile a rest. Tonight I'm tired.
Jan. 26. 8:53 a.m. Sunday. At a little eatery, the "Naturalist
Fountain," on Batres Blvd. I'm without the usual weight of daypack and
photo equipment and not adjusting to the idea. My mood is definitely
down. Will I find adequate photo repair facilities? Tomorrow, Monday,
will better serve to resolve the problem. Today a visit to the south
coast, including the museum in La Democracía, Finca El Baul and ? What
a contrast it is to walk the streets of Central America's largest city
after a day of colonial splendor. Near the market two men strained hard
pulling a two-wheeled cart with more than a half ton of vegetables.
A grey haired man helped by pushing. Their's was not the only human
drawn cart in the neighborhood. The trash and unmentionables thereabouts
are somewhat overwhelming. Within a few blocks of the National Theater
along a fence a half block long section of street side without concrete
sidewalk, just natural soil, seems a very popular place to defecate.
People obviously back up to the fence, thereby depositing a perfect
row of feces piles. National Theater indeed! Beside the main boulevard
one man was hanging it out such that all might see. Facing the busy
street and his fellows the gentleman was urinating on a handy pile of
gravel without inhibition. This city needs sidewalk urinals and toilets.
In the better zones of town they could also install bidets. Perhaps
the numerous soldiers could help install the new sidewalk fixtures.
With sidewalk johns the inefficiency of doors and private chambers would
not impede those laboring at there daily toil just like now. The city
center streets are enough to make a person puke and I saw a few places
where people had. I just drank the last pint of made to order carrot
juice. Someone will have to run past the National Theater to the market
for more carrots. Carrot juice, 57¢ a pint.
11:02. Riding a new bus, 90 minutes for 42¢ U.S. The stereo
is great. Public transportation is great here. We are at the market
place in Escuintla and surrounded by vendors. The moment we stopped
at almost every window someone's head burst into the bus shouting what
they offer. The variety is surprising; homemade drinks in plastic bags,
many fruits, fried foods, whole chickens, and much more. Watermelon
is the best seller. Other people surrounding the bus carry heavy wares
balanced on their heads, just the right height for displaying them to
the outnumbered passengers. An arriving bus terminates the siege. We
are making our escape.
12:02. La Democracía Archaeologic Park. Surrounded by monumental
stone heads and full-bodied sculptures, best described as near spheres
with projecting heads and limbs. One has a metate on the chest. The
stone head beside the museum entrance has closed eyes and an expression
of serenity. What beauties they are! Children are playing baseball nearby.
The Cultural Center's public address is playing music complete with
an occasional commentary. A ceiba tree, 10 ft. wide at the trunk, towers
overhead dominating the plaza-park.
The Cultural Center's announcer is speaking of the archaeologic treasures
of this region. He says people come to see "Dios Mundo" and place offerings
in his mouth. He says they slaughter chickens at this Dios Mundo altar
and let the blood in the mouth of Dios Mundo, and that it is important
that such customs continue, that they testify to immortal time. Quiche
people arrive to this coastal plain from the mountains to conduct these
rituals. Thirty-five years ago when the sculptures in the park were
discovered, when they were first brought here, within days people began
lighting candles before them. On to the museum.
Later. Inside beside the entrance are four mushroom stones,
all simple tripod types. Another tripod type, displayed at the base
of a large mural, has facial features engraved on the stem. The tripod
types are the oldest form of these sculptures. Are the tripods symbolic
of triangulation? The Popol Vuh relates that the ancestors of the Quiche
Indians came to this side of the earth "on stones, as if there were
no sea." When they arrived they "measured the earth and the sky" and
they pointed to the cosmos (as though to a certain position on a map?)
to indicate from where they had come. Employing fundamental astronomy
and triangulation is how to survey, measure the earth or navigate. Does
this Quiche history indicate a navigation ability enabling their migration?
Many murals decorate the museum. In this, the lecture room, they are
illustrations of the Popol Vuh. The principal mural is entitled, "This
is the origin of the ancient history of the Quiche." Below it burn two
candles. Ancient tradition burns strong. The mural symbolizes Tepeu
which the Popol Vuh describes as the formative force, the omnipotent
force which is impossible to explain for we cannot understand the infinite
space, the germinative matrix which causes all the universe to form
Sylvanus G. Morley, the noted Mayanist, described the Popol Vuh best;
"beyond any shadow of doubt, the most distinguished example of Native
American literature that has survived the passing centuries."
The beginning is my favorite excerpt:
"This is the account of how all was in suspense, all calm, in silence;
all motionless, still, and the expanse of the sky was empty. This
is the first account, the first narrative. There was neither man,
nor animal, birds, fishes, crabs, trees, stones, caves, ravines, grasses,
nor forests; there was only the sky. There was nothing brought together,
nothing which could make a noise, nor anything which could move, or
tremble, or make noise in the sky. There was nothing standing; only
the calm water, the placid sea, alone and tranquil. Nothing existed."
12:59. The museum closed for lunch. I'm sitting next to the
ceiba tree and taking another look at the colossal monoliths. What impressive
sculptures they are. The elicit the best of emotions. My mood was transformed
upon entering the plaza. La Democracía is a small village, but oh what
a park! Onward, to try to find Dios Mundo.
3:04. Finca El Baul. Facing 30 stone sculptures of various sizes.
I just noticed a guard with a gun sitting behind a tractor and spying
on me. I think I'll leave.
3:36. Sitting in front of Dios Mundo in the fragrant incense
of the copal fire found still burning. Dios Mundo and the adjacent stela
are blackened by smoke, have candle drippings on them and have fresh
red carnations on and before them. Also before them are small flat-topped
stones covered with fire residue and candle drippings. Patches of earth
15 ft. in front of Dios Mundo and 10 ft. in front of the stela are entirely
fire blackened. Sugar has been thrown on the lower portion of the stela.
Bees are busy consuming it.
Sprinkles just fell. The atmosphere is very active and unstable. I've
lit a candle and placed it on the square flat stone in front of the
gigantic zoomorphic-human face seemingly emerging from the earth which
is Dios Mundo. For how long have people been arriving here? Ah, sun
4:44. It's raining, it's pouring in very large drops. My rain
gear is in the hotel. I've taken cover in this roadside vending stand.
They have no refrescos, only hard liquor is sold. Three cautious young
girls surround me. I've given Sandra Elizabeth some art work, a drawing
of Rochester Creek's petroglyph panel.
At El Baul, which is a sugar cane plantation, the private guard was
carrying a shotgun sawed off at both ends--here comes a bus.
5:07. In a fish restaurant in Santa Lucia. The El Baul guard
(there are seven of them according to the bus crowd) was wearing a belt
full of shotgun shells. El Baul, an immense plantation, has its own
sugar refinery, private police force and rows of very closely placed
little shacks for the seasonal workers. Many archaeological objects,
including the thirty stone carvings near the refinery, have been found
on the property. Mushroom stones have also been found and Dios Mundo
is on the property. These ancient artworks attest to human occupation
for millennia. Today the fields contain cultivated sugar cane. The vast
holding reportedly has one owner. Workers are crowded into shanties.
It's surprising that Dios Mundo remains on its little hilltop.
Today's rain, the first in many weeks, is now only a sprinkle so I
may yet see several other large stone sculptures near the village. Mmmm,
great local fish. Mmmm.
10:01. Back at the hotel. A very kind family drove a few miles
past their turnoff to drop me at the hotel door. They know M.T. It's
a small country.
After the rain stopped I returned to the cane fields. A kind local
man witnessed my wandering the wrong way, joined me, and guided me to
three sculptured rocks; two stela-like stones and the greatest artwork
of the day, a boulder topped with 12 feet by 15 feet of carved surface.
This latter sculpture, elaborated in high relief and executed with perfection,
depicts a larger than life human surrounded by two smaller people, faces,
a miniature person, a hand puppet, birds and foliated scrollery. The
large central figure wears knee length pants and sandals. The rock projects
from the ground, is of indeterminate size and, in all likelihood, will
never be moved.
The sculptures, all great artworks, are part of a sugarcane field.
Without local assistance it would have difficult to find them. Perhaps
a sleepy tractor operator will someday ruin one. Steam rose from the
rocks as we viewed them. One moment the volcanoes near Antigua were
visible, the next time I looked they were enveloped by clouds, pastel
sunset clouds in turbulent motion.
As darkness approached my kind guide and I stood at the plantation
boundary in front of his tiny lot and home. We spoke first of his time
in the United States working while an illegal immigrant. We looked out
across the land and at the sculptures of his ancestors and the faint
light on the again clear volcanoes while speaking about Agrarian Reform
laws, agreeing that changes in land ownership are needed. Certainly
great artworks were not intended to be sugar cane fields. Certainly
people should not need to travel across the continent to work. We also
agreed that he should not be confined to a small parcel on the village
edge, an unemployed man overlooking rich earth complete with the fine
art of his ancestors.
I returned in two hitches after departing at dark. I had forgotten
the moon during my nights in the city, so the rising full moon was a
surprise. Another surprise was the bright red river of fire, the stream
of incandescent lava flowing down the Volcano de Pacaya. It is clear
and very, very windy tonight.
The first ride was in a cattle truck cab with a mestizo rancher and
an Indian. They had many questions. We discussed my travel plans. I
spoke of the art of Izapa and mentioned my interest in Quirigua, Guatemala,
the Mayan city ruin with immense monolithic sculptures and intellectual
curiosities such as dates of 90 million and nearly 400 million years
ago engraved in everlasting stone. I told them I wanted to see and sit
on the world's largest toad sculpture at Quirigua and compare it with
the earlier Izapan toads. The driver stated that in ancient times people
used toads to cure a skin problem called "disipele." His companion,
the Indian, said people still do, that he has seen it done. At my request
he explained that it is a problem of the skin of the leg becoming red
and peeling, that a toad belly is rubbed on the leg in the form of the
cross. This is repeated three times after which the toad is immediately
thrown into water so it will not die.
Ah, death. In this morning's paper there is a story of three dead men
found by the garbage dump gleaners. The three bodies had tied hands
and legs, were gagged, had been tortured and had gunshot wounds. They
had been killed by strangulation, wrapped in large plastic bags and
dumped. People sifting and searching the landfill for food or useful
items opened the bags. Last night on the sidewalk I had a conversation
with an individual who I must not name to protect this person from the
guilty. I was warned to be careful about what I say. This person said
that if one is noticed opposing the government or speaking out nothing
happens immediately but they determine where you sleep and at night
two carloads of judicial police enter your residence, take you away
and you are never seen again. I was also told that the people live in
fear, that it is unwise to venture more than a few blocks from your
home because you do not know when a policeman might ask for your identification,
and that the officials claim that guerrillas do these things, adding
that the people know that it is the police and soldiers who are responsible.
I was surprised at such a warning and outpouring and, if it is true,
at the risk of making the statement. When the same new Jeep passed a
second time we quickly disappeared into the night. It is bad enough
that one's days are numbered without the possibility of being personally
eliminated--as in murdered--by fellow humans. At the museum today I
saw a modern mural depicting prehistoric human sacrifice. Do our "modern"
tendencies to sacrifice individual lives bear on our belief that prehistoric
Americans sacrificed each other? Let us end our present predilection
for sacrificing human life. What will future people say of what is happening
today in America? IÍve heard reports claiming 60,000 Guatemalans
killed since the CIA overthrew the democratic government and that the
Indian peoples of this modern nation state are enduring the longest
sustained genocide on the planet.
Jan. 27. 10:49. The Elliot. This morning's paper reports an
earthquake of non-destructive magnitude in the northern provinces, centered
between Tapachula and Solala. Around San Marcos the quake caused people
to run out of their homes in a heavy downpour. Billions of drying corn
cobs must have been taken indoors as clouds grew and threatened. Twice
yesterday I thought about earthquakes, first as I jogged from Dios Mundo,
hurrying towards town with an immense, dark cloud rapidly churning and
building overhead. The changes were so wildly rapid I wondered if an
earthquake was about to occur. By then it had. Because of the unusually
strong, powerful winds experienced while driving between volcanoes towards
the capital last night I again reflected on earthquakes. I have a feeling
that something ominous is going to happen, but that feeling is uncertain.
I found a camera repair shop. The camera will be ready tomorrow for
a surprisingly minute fee. With camera promised I can proceed with arranging
to see the mushroom stone collections, beginning with Dr. M.A., to whom
I carry M.T.'s letter of introduction.
12:08. Dr. M.A. will see me tomorrow one hour after the camera
is promised. J.N. apologized that his father has a cold and that much
of the collection is packed. He stated that these factors and my short
notice make it impossible to study the material at this time. We agreed
that I will keep them informed of my return schedule. So now it's off
to the National Museum to see the director, one Sra. Guerra. I hope
she is friendlier than her name, which means war. I have an official
sealed and stamped paper in hand.
12:53. The front desk again sent me to the second story office.
The secretary informed me that Sra. Guerra is out until 2 o'clock. I've
taken a chair to wait. Someone is in the inner office, but who? Now
the secretary says I must leave so she can close the office.
8 minutes later. Sitting with the guards inside the main door.
The secretary just arrived and called a guard aside for a conversation.
I think I'm about to get the boot and I feel I'm getting the snub.
1:35. It seems I'm being trusted a bit, the guards are busy
eating lunch and I'm left performing the duties of doorman. One employee
was surprised to have a stranger, an obvious foreigner, refuse him entrance.
I hadn't seen him leave and had to call a guard to identify him. What
would a Bolivia to Guatemala flight cost? I'm thinking about travel
options. Things are happening too slow and as a result I've had a great
weekend and seen sights and sites I otherwise would have missed. It
takes too long to travel to South America to wait on layers of bureaucracy.
I don't mind short waits while writing, but for now not much else top
annote, so here I sit, just waiting.
2:23. Still waiting, though I had a conversation with one of
the guards and an "ethnologist?" I turned the subject to toads. The
guard confirmed the use of toads to cure disipele. He reported that
with one hand one grabs the toad's forelegs and with the other hand
the hind legs. The afflicted area is rubbed with the toad belly which
causes the toad belly to become a very bright red color. He added that
then the toad is thrown into a pot of water . The ethnologist asked
the guard if it was really true. I told them that my other informant
said the toad must be thrown into the water so it won't die. The ethnologist
asked if the cure worked if the toad died. The guard smiled and responded
that it only works if the toad lives. It's too bad the museum is closed
today, I'd rather study exhibits than "ethnologists."
4:03. I was back on the streets at 2:54 after having been verbally
assailed by Sra. Guerra by means of her telephone conversation to those
she says must decide if I can see the collections. People at the Institute
told me "she must decide." While glaring at me and speaking to a third
party she listed all sorts of reasons why I should not be so allowed..
She stated that my lack of institutional backing was in itself sufficient
reason to deny me. During our brief conversation she stated that it
would be impossible for her to go to any other museum and ask to study
material without an officially presented request. I informed her that
to the contrary I had never before been so denied. Meeting Sra. Guerra
was not a pleasant moment though I really enjoyed her expression of
shocked surprise when, 45 minutes late from lunch, I answered her knock
on the museum door with, "You must be the director."
I'm enjoying the present moment thanks to chorizo tacos at this Mexican
restaurant, Los Cebollines, on the Plaza Espa?a.
5:15. Back at the Elliot. Along the way I met two French tourists
who had intended to travel to Nicaragua. The returned from Southern
El Salvador due to unmistakable warfare in the form of battling with
guns in city streets. At a travel agency I discovered that a La Paz-Guate
flight would cost $645 U.S. For that price I can travel by land for
two months and perhaps I shall. A short hop over a war would be cheaper.
Today seems wasted compared with the company of stone heads and stelae
yesterday. I hope to be traveling soon, seeking more rewarding digs.
Jan. 28. 7:00 a.m. Reading this morning's issue of Prensa Libre.
A 31 year old man was found dead in the street, shot thrice in the head.
Neighbors reported hearing voices and gunshots early in the morning,
though no one admitted looking out their window or observing what had
occurred. The body was found 90 minutes later. Prensa Libre also reports
that yesterday in Honduras for the first time in 55 years someone became
President without military intervention. The report says that U.S. Vice
President George Bush, who was present for the historic event, assured
the Presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras that the U.S.
would support a political solution if one is found in Nicaragua.
9:12 p.m. San Salvador, El Salvador. Alive after traveling from
capital to capital. Another National Museum is nearby.
This morning, after 52 minutes in the Post Office to mail one package,
I met M.T. at La 14. We re-exchanged study material. He surprised me
by announcing that he had arranged companions and transportation for
me. Soon R.L. and her brother P. arrived at La 14. I checked out and
with gear loaded we drove to the camera shop. M.T. had found in me a
teacher for his former student. She immediately quizzing me about the
new methodology of mushroom production using biotic waste. The camera
was ready and working.
To pass the time I had allowed for walking we viewed the colorful tiled
benches of the Plazuela Espana. The colonial era Spanish tiles depict
the discovery of America from the distant European perspective. Only
at the fourth bench did we view a backside, a Christ the King scene.
At noon we met Dr. M.A. then walked to his home. While saying that
Portland, Oregon, is most beautiful in June thanks to the flowers we
passed into his home's entry courtyard filled with orchids abloom and
carved stones. A doorway niche is dominated by an 8' tall reproduction
of a Mayan stela. Surrounded by flowers and archaeologic treasures,
at a table below a bright skylight, I set up camera and tripod. The
mushroom stones were
brought out, six of them with animal figures for bases; two monkeys,
one human, one pisote, one an unusual face and one anthropomorphic animal,
possibly a toad. Dr. M.A. called two of them "tomb brothers," disclosing
their burial provenience.
Before we parted at the city edge on the Pan Am to El Salvador R.L.,
P., and I lunched at Los Cebollines. The conversation centered on the
degree of pre-Columbian intellectual achievement. After describing the
statues on the La Merced church dome I asked about indications of local
prehistoric views of human origin or evolution. R.L. immediately referred
to the Popol Vuh citation of monkeys as an early generation of humans.
"...the monkey looks like man and is an example of
a generation of men which were created and made..." Popol Vuh.
Finding America -- Part
I -- Part II -- Part III -- Part
IV -- Part V -- Part