The Pilgrimage for the Virgin of Guadalupe

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The Patron Saint of Mexico is the Virgin of Guadalupe. It is an incredibly important part of the country’s culture, and there are churches and shrines in her name all over the country. Every year, for the week or so leading up to December 12, they are in every corner of Mexico.

The text “Nican Mopohua” tells us about the appearances of the Virgin of Guadalupe to San Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin in December 1531, on the hill of Tepeyac (a hill located north of Mexico City, belonging to the mountain range of the Sierra de Guadalupe, which defines the northern edge of the Valley of Mexico). The appearances of Our Lady The Virgin of Guadalupe to Juan Diego, the miraculous imprint of her Holy Image on his humble cloak, and her message of love, has the singular purpose of announcing her beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, to the people who inhabit the “new world”.

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Throughout Mexico and crisscrossing the entire Yucatan Peninsula, during the first 2 weeks of Decemeber, kids (and some not so young) are running or bicycling as a promesa (promise) that they have made to la Virgen sometime during the year. These promises are personal and private, but the worship and sacrifice in the form of pilgrimage are performed in groups.  As we drove around, we saw groups running from Tekit to Sisal in Yucatan, and from home in Puerto Morelos across the state line to Progreso and Sisal to Izamal. Some of them were wearing team-like uniforms, and all of them wore at least a t-shirt that indicated where they were running to and from, and bore an image of la Virgen. Many of them carry lit torches like Olympic runners and are called antorchistas.

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What’s the story?

When the Spanish conquistador Cortés arrived, many of the Aztecs and Native Americans from other tribes saw him as Quetzalcoátl, the god of the ancient Nahual traditions, who had returned as predicted. Through a series of misunderstandings and strange luck, Cortés was able to subjugate the tribes who lived in the central valley of Mexico. After a few years of rampant slaughter of their people and of seeing their beliefs and rituals destroyed or proven false, the indians who survived were discouraged and despairing. As Carla puts it, they felt that their gods had abandoned them. After all, they were no longer able to offer sacrifices, yet the sun continued to rise each morning.

They had lost their faith and they needed a miracle to rekindle it. In 1531 there was a solar eclipse. Then Haley’s comet appeared in the sky. And last but not least, a woman appeared who stands “in front of the Sun, steps on the Moon and dresses with the Stars”. She presented herself as an agent of the true God, with a face that had mixed European and Indian features. And not only did she appear in that fateful year, but she asked that her church be built in the same place that Tonantzin, the Native American Goddess Mother – the Earth Goddess – had been worshipped and venerated for years.

There are those who believe that Guadalupe and Tonantzin are one deity… the mother goddess of all the Americas. There are others who think the Catholic Church appropriated Tonantzin in order to bring the indigenous population into the fold.

 

Just for fun; a motorcycle, two helmets and a camera

While visiting Lindsay’s friends, Tammie and Paul in Morgan Hill, CA, we were encouraged to borrow Tammie’s motorcycle and go exploring. I thought to myself, “does she really mean that?”
Well, she did. What a wonderful idea. It’s a 2005 Yamaha 750 Silverado V-Star. (It’s for sale if you can handle it! No wait, I wanna buy it…)
Paul provided the very cool riding jacket, so I looked the part, you know!

 

 

 

Now, I have to say that Lindsay and I were a bit nervous at one point. We had just left Paul and Tammie’s neighborhood and got onto Interstate 101. We had to accelerate up to 70 mph just to keep up with traffic. Of course, it seemed like twice as fast.
Luckily, our exit was within a mile or two and we got to slow down and take a look around.

 

I can see myself getting into this way of life. What a way to travel!
Just like when my roommate Peter said the best way to experience Key West was from a bicycle, I can thoroughly recommend cruising the hills of Northern California on a motorcycle.
We made our way around Anderson Lake and over a bridge.
( 37 09′ 09” N 121 34′ 55” W for you Google Earth fanatics!)

 

And curled our way up to cooler winds at Henry Coe State Park where there were some hikers making their way back out again to the parking lot.
I got one of the hikers to snap a shot of us. Can you tell I’m having a good time?

 

This truly is one of the most beautiful areas I have seen in the States! Just imagine this covered in snow!

 

I guess we’re in the dry season….
Lindsay did a spectacular job of taking pictures, negotiating the turns and making sure I was paying attention to the occasional passing car or hairpin turn!
And even managed to take a shot of herself underway!

 

So as we made our way back down from where we came, I got a bit more confident.
And being sailors at heart, put the bike in neutral and did lots of coasting on the way down.
I know it seems kind of simple, this afternoon motorcycle trip, but I have to say it has reminded me how much fun I can have on a joyride!
Now I really understand why I’ve seen motorcycles being trailered around in the States!

Tikal “At the waterhole”

After such a crazy day in the caves and pools of Semuc Chempey we were totally wiped out, but we still decided to head out the next day and inflict yet another supposedly 6 hour bus trip on ourselves. As it turned out, a whole bunch of people from Zephyr were heading out with us… could it have had anything to do with the lack of water at the hostel… hmmm?

So the local tour company squeezed a whole bunch of gringos into a van again… not an inch to spare! And off we went north. The trip was mostly uneventful, until we arrived in one small town and came to a stop next to the river. After a while a small cable ferry came over and we piled on with trucks and motorbikes and slowly made our way across.
car ferry
We got into Flores late in the afternoon, and were really glad we had decided to call ahead and make a reservation at one of the hotels, for ourselves and a couple of German girls who’d stayed at Zephyr with us, so we didn’t have the scramble other travelers went through to grab the last few rooms in town.Flores Arial
Flores is a funny old place, basically an island with a bridge or causeway connecting it to the main city of Santa Elena.

Flores Bride tuc tucs
It’s a quiet little town in the middle of Lago El Peten, which is so huge you can’t even see from one end to the other. Although a little touristy, it’s very pleasant, so, unlike most of the other backpackers, we rejected the idea of getting up at 4 am the next morning to rush off to Tikal for the day trip… we’re just too old for that and preferred to sleep in!!
Flores El Peten
We enjoyed a day wandering around town and had our best meal yet in Guatemala… exactly what we’d been looking for since we got here… a good menu del dia – a very cheap (about $2.50) for a tasty plate of food and a drink. We searched out a eatery on the main square where it seem half the office workers in town were, and had chili relleno (a big, non-spicy chili stuffed with a mix of shredded chicken and veggies) and avocado and beetroot salad and fresh corn tortillas…. YUM!!
Flores flag
Basically, we dwindled the day away wandering up and down this hill of an island, watching all the tuc-tuc (local taxis) whiz around the cobble-stoned streets.
Flores tuc tuc
Tuc! Tuc!
At 2:30 in the afternoon, we jumped on one of the emptiest shuttle vans we’d been in and headed north to the Mayan site of Tikal. We’ve been to a few Mayan sites here in Central America, but Tadd was really excited about going to such a huge ancient city as Tikal (“At the waterhole”). And even though I’ve been before, I knew how amazing the place was, so I was excited too!
Hacia Tikal Tadd
Look at the excited gringo!
Beyond rejecting the 4am tour out of Flores, we had also decided to treat ourselves and spend the money to stay at one of the fancier hotels that are right inside the national park, very close to the ruins and in the thicket of the jungle… As we spent the afternoon relaxing in the pool, we watched spider monkeys swing and jump through the trees!
Tikal spider monkey living a life of luxury
Tikal spider monkey
First thing the next morning we joined up with a guide group and headed into the ruins… nothing less than spectacular. We wandered through the forest, while our rather amusing and very knowledgeable guide, Cesar, explained all about the location and the Maya. We passed lots of smallish temples and some big mounds of jungle that still encased other, un-excavated buildings. Eventually we reached the tallest of the temples, number IV.
Tikal IV stairs
We slogged our way to top… we are so unfit!!

But, of course, it was worth it for the view…
Tikal view me sepia

Tadd seemed dutifully impressed as we looked out over the seemingly endless jungle, as a million shades of green covered the land in every direction.

Tikal view Tadd sepia
A few smaller sites, and lots more tidbits from Cesar and we reached Temple V…

Tikal has all spice plants
Tikal has all spice plants

Tikal big nose mask
Temple V has seriously steep steps!!

Tikal temple V stairs

It’s pretty amazing considering that when they found it, it had trees growing all up the sides

Tikal V View 5
As ever, the view from the top was amazing, looking across to the other complexes of Tikal, which peak out through the greenery.

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Tikal temple

Tikal view temples 2
But Tadd didn’t get to see it, as he opted to stay down below… That’s him in the middle in the greenish t-shirt with his arms up in the air waving at me.

Tikal temple V view down
Tikal temple V
Tikal Gran Plaza
The Grand Plaza
Temple I… or was it Temple II… the were all starting to look alike 😉
Tikal Temple I
Oh no that one’s definitely Temple II!

Tikal temple

The local wildlife seems to like the ruins too… a very curious Coati.

Coati 2

Can you say, “Big, old pile of rocks”? Just kidding!Tikal V excavation photo

There was just time for a photo in front of the huge Kapok tree roots before heading back to the pool!
Tikal ceiba roots us

Week 30 – Ruins and Caves and Ancient Cultures, Oh My

Having spent a week or so in Rio Dulce… checking out the different swimming pools and happy hours around all the marinas, and enjoying the excitement of the World Cup. We decided it was time to head out and explore some of this country.

So we got up early…
Sunrise Rio Dulce
Sunrise over the Rio Dulce

And jumped on a bus to Guatemala…. “Hey! Wait! I thought you said you were in Guatemala already??” I hear you say… well for some strange reason the locals refer to Guatemala City just as Guatemala… so you can travel from anywhere within the country of Guatemala to Guatemala ) or sometimes Guate… it was little hard to get used to at first… but we got with the program.

Although the country is pretty small, though incredibly densely populated, it seems to take ages to get anywhere as the roads are great and super windy, up and down through the mountains. It means some spectacular views of course, and sometimes you get to enjoy them even closer than you care to when the bus and truck drivers play a little chicken while passing on the curves… but they do seem to know what they’re doing.Six hours (well more like seven) later we arrived in Guate at the terminal of the Litegua bus, feeling rather sore , but glad to arrive (and this was on a semi-luxury bus). Luckily as we arrived rather later than scheduled we only had a few minutes to wait for the next bus out to Antigua… actually Antigua Guatemala (which means old Guatemala… how many Guatemalas can they live with in this country).We were headed to this lovely, colonial town to meet up with some friends, one of whom we’d met in the jungle in Belize… but my stupid local phone was not allowing me to text her… so we rolled into the beautiful old town of Antigua wondering how to find the girls… when Tadd suddenly points and shouts, “There’s Cassie!” … it wasn’t the first time that had happened with her… we had sent her an email once we arrived in Rio Dulce, and as she and Jill walked down to check their email and see if they had a message from us… they bumped into us at the bar!!

So we jumped out of the bus and yelled down the cobblestones as the girls disappeared around a corner… but only for a second, as Jill popped her head back around and spotted us. It turned out Jill was grateful that we found them at that moment, as she was saved from going to wander around some supposedly wonderful old convent or something and dragged off by us back to the hotel and on to Happy Hour!!

Antigua by night
Antigua by night
We had hoped to go hike up the nearby live volcano Pacaya but it had apparently spewed lava only the week before and so, most likely wisely so, they weren’t allowing silly tourists to climb all the way to the top. Instead we spent a couple of days chilling with the girls, shopping, wandering around, enjoying the night life, a little salsa dancing, and waiting to bump into a jewelry-making friend we’d met in Placencia (Just ask for Alan in the plaza he said… well no one knew him… but just when we had started to think it was a joke, we turned around and there was Alan!).We picked the girls’ brains about where to go and what to do in Guatemala and then Cassie headed for Mexico, Jill back to the UK and we squeezed into a minibus with a bunch of other gringos and another crazy driver and set off for the mountain town of Lanquin.

The drive wasn’t too bad, well, until we headed down the dirt road from Coban to Lanquin. It was worth it though! On Cassie & Jill’s advice we had called ahead to one of the popular and busy backpacker hostels – Zephyr, so arrived another 7 bus hours later in Lanquin and just grab our bags and wander off to our new temporary home on top of the hill.

The tiny town of Lanquin is dwarfed by the surrounding mountains.
Lanquin Town
El Zephyr was pleasant enough place, full of backpackers, dogs, kittens and run by an English bloke and a Belgian guy. Apart from not getting too much sleep the first night (it was Julie’s birthday apparently) and the water pump going out on the 2nd or 3rd day requiring bathing in the river… we had a lovely time.

There was some amazing food and drinks,

Pizza night Tadd

Fortunately we arrived for the infamous Pizza Night…. Yummmmy!!!

…tubing with the birthday girl, and then the essential trip to Semuc Chempey. A bunch of us climbed into a pick-up truck

On our way to Semuc
On our way to Semuc

But us oldies decided we’d be more comfortable inside the truck’s cab (you should have seen how many of them wanted to try to squeeze in the cab on the way back!)

And we headed up and out through Lanquin,

Hacia Coban 3

Semuc bridge
Semuc bridge
and then proceeded to drive straight up the side of a mountain and down the other side.The first place we arrived was at Las Grutas Marias (The Maria Caves?), but before we could venture in we were strong armed into playing on a rope swing over the river. Tadd went first and claimed it was no big deal…

Then we hiked up the hill, past the waterfall to mouth of the cave.
Semuc jungle trail
Semuc jungle trail
semuc cave waterfall
semuc cave waterfall
Where our guide began handing out candles!! One each… and then lit them… interesting!! The group of 10 or so of us then followed him into the cave… I’m sure this is the start of some stupid horror or vampire movie!! But it actually turned out to be pretty cool.
Grutas las marias
Grutas las marias
We walked through the waist-high water, scrambled over rocks, swam, climbed ladders, and clambered up small waterfalls… all while holding a candle… that amazingly stayed alight most of the journey!!
Grutas Las Marias 4
Grutas Las Marias 3
There were the occasional bats… but otherwise just us and the caves. We’re pretty sure that if they had really explained what we were going to do, we might have passed on it!!After emerging from the caves, we wandered across the river to Semuc Champey.
Semuc raging river
Semuc raging river

 

We checked out the map and decided that we didn’t need to walk up to the “mirador” (lookout) as that would undoubtedly mean a big climb. But when the guide came up and announced that was exactly where we were headed no one bothered to say no!
Semuc sign
The trail started off as a pleasant ramble through the rainforest, but we quickly came to our turnoff, which sent us pretty much straight up a sequence of steep wooden staircases… half an hour and much sweat later… we made it… and while we were mostly red in the face and still trying to catch our breath, the group decided it had been worth the trek… WOW!! What a view we had.
Semuc view 3
And it was even better than the crappy picture my blackberry could take… there is a big, gushing river flowing down through the forest, that suddenly disappears underground for about a quarter of a mile… while up above there a series of turquoise pools that look a lot like the terracing of a rice paddy from this high up.

After the picture taking, we hiked back down and went for a swim, slither, swim, jump, swim dive, swim down through the different pools, before finally heading back, exhausted to El Zephyr. Fun, Fun, Fun!!

Semuc view tadd

 

semuc rio 2

Semuc pools

Week 24 – Staying at Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve

Cockscomb Jaguar Jaunt

So our little adventure into the Cockscomb Nature Preserve started with a long overdue culling of some undersea creatures clinging under our dinghy. We’ll just let the air and sunshine to the dirty work, shall we? Crazy wriggly stuff under there! That’s about six months of growth!
After a short bus ride and an expensive taxi ride into the park, Lindsay and I were glad that we brought all of our own food with us. We didn’t want to pay that taxi fare again until going home! Then after a warm welcome by Orlando The Park Ranger and a brief introduction to our humble accommodations, we went on a short hike to the nearest waterfall.
With a helpful sign…………
And we were immediately refreshed in the cool, clean NOT salty water.
It had been weeks since we had felt this relief, and only by means of air conditioned sleeping.
Elevation has its benefits, doesn’t it?
Like this appealing trail that just begs to be discovered all over again.
Which leads to fantastic views of the Maya Mountains!
This truck was used when the vast area, now protected, was used for harvesting the mahogany trees.
After hiking the trails early morning and even late at night in search of wildlife. Alas the jaguars and gibnuts eluded us. We took to enjoying the inner tubes while floating down the Stann Creek River. We even went twice in one day.
We met Cassie from London and she joined us in our tubing and dining adventures.
And then Cassie got her second wildlife wish as a flock of Tucans flew overhead and across the river in front of us all. I’d never seen them before. Kinda funny how hard and fast they must flap their wings, in order to remain aloft with that enormous beak!
Even though we didn’t see loads of creatures, we had fun trying. I figure that the preserve is so large, and the area in which humans can walk down the trails is so small in comparison, that the large creatures don’t necessarily need to be near the trails so they pretty much stay away. Just a guess though.
We made a new friend in Cassie, we felt relief from the Belizean coastline heat, and we got a little satisfaction by getting our picture taken while sitting on a jaguar statue.
And oh, by the way, I ate stewed Gibnut with rice and beans when I got back to Placencia. Yummy.

Compact and Bijoux Ruins

After sailing from Placencia to Punta Gorda Lindsay and I had the urge to go sightseeing. And, besides being the place for checking in and out of the country, the State of Southern Belize called Toledo is known for it’s Mayan culture and ruins.

Having sailed down the coast of Belize, we’ve noticed the inland topography change from a flat marsh to tall forested hills. We went around town and discovered the cost of tours was quite high at $95 USD per person. Lindsay referenced her Lonely Planet guide book and we decided to use a public bus to get to an archaeological site called Nim Li Punit (It’s not English or Spanish, it’s a Mayan name). It wasn’t too far from the main highway, so we wouldn’t need to walk too far. The reason we decided to use a bus was because, for the most part, Punta Gorda is one big bus stop for the travelers between Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. Lots of American-made school buses to choose from, so we just showed up at the edge of town and waved down the first one going our way. The 45 minute journey cost us just $2.5 USD each. It was worth every penny!

The road leading North from Punta Gorda is called the Southern Highway. My opinion of it’s condition, using a scale of one to ten, is a nine. The absence of paint and reflectors is all that separates it from a Texas-sized paved highway in the States! The roadside was quite populated with simple concrete and metal houses in various states of construction or demise. One in ten was made of wood.

Lindsay at RuinsWe arrived at our site as the attendant, or conductor, told us we were there and pulled over to the left hand side of the road. My inexperience in public transportation showed as I exited the bus and passed in front. The driver was quite clear in his disapproval as he used his horn until I was clear of his path. I don’t think I will do that again. Lindsay told me that apparently the driver is in a hurry to make it to the next stop before his competition does. This enthusiasm for efficiency and income in Central America is rare. Maybe they just enjoy the race, I’m unsure, but I do know that I for one didn’t appreciate it.

Lindsay and I were the only ones off the bus. It was early in the day, and the only people we saw were some women washing clothes in the shaded stream adjacent the gravel road going uphill to the ruins. Of course, they asked if we were interested in a necklace or bracelet, which we were not. We climbed the hill for about a quarter mile. The wild parrots were easily spooked and made lots of noise as they flew out of the trees by the pairs. Other long-tailed and colorful birds flew and called all around us. Very cool.

As we approached the entry point of the site, we saw a few nicely constructed buildings for the officials and some of the more valuable artifacts. We paid our $5 USD each and made our way through the placards and cases of stone relics. We knew that the name Nim Li Punit is derived from a carving on one of the site’s twenty-six stelae, which depicts a figure wearing a large headdress. In the Maya Kekchi language, nim li punit means “the big hat”. The monument on which this carving appears is the longest stela in Belize. It was laying down in one of the buildings and was probably over twenty feet long and two feet wide. It was two-thirds carved with a figure, and then many squaresymbols that represent the date and purpose of the stela. Translation code has theoretically been “cracked”, but there are so many question marks in the description of what it said that I can’t recall any of it. It was about 1500 years old.

The entire site was a rather small one, but interesting none the less. It is assumed from the types of structures there, that this city was primarily into political and religious undertakings, and the ruling family engaged in long distance trading. Touring the ruins, only a small percentage of the structures and walls have been rebuilt. I had a strong urge to stay and put it back together again, and a feeling of disappointment to see some of the sites left to overgrow again. More signs would have been helpful, but I suspect that the lack of knowledge about these sites is the reason for that. I left with more curiosity about the ruins and the Mayan culture than when I came.
Lindsay and I made our way back to the road to find a bus to the next town called Big Falls. We had seen some waterfalls in the tour books and thought it would be fun to see and perhaps swim. We decided to start walking, and wave a bus down headed our way. We walked for over an hour, through a construction site, and finally waved down a young guy in his pickup truck. We were disappointed to find out that there are no falls in the traditional sense, just an area where it slopes down a bit more than the rest of the river in the area. We discovered a fancy lodge along the river and hitched a ride back to Punta Gorda with some people that we met there. Not a bad day of exercise and adventure, and we were back by lunch time!

As if we hadn’t had enough excitement for one day, Customs and Immigration (these are two separate departments, if you didn’t know), and a Health Department official decided to pay us a visit on our boat. I think because we were up on deck finishing lunch, and the ferry boat had just arrived with very few passengers, and the officials were already there on the dock, they decided to come over and check our papers.

Unfortunately, we had a problem. The Customs officer pointed out that we had not extended our ships papers along with our passports last month. Ooops. Nobody told us we needed to do that. But of course, explaining the procedures is apparently only their job once someone has not followed their procedures, based on our experience. We straightened the entire problem out on shore for zero dollars, her signature and a stamp, that’s it.

Now we’re good until October 29th. Who knows what will happen when we go to extend our stay at that time! We’ll be sure to write about it if it’s interesting!