Today – a self indulgent detour from my December/January travels to 1) celebrate my debut as a published travel writer and 2) the first response to my blog which both happened yesterday, popping up on my iphone as I was sitting in the gallery of the Washington State House of Representatives watching them pass a budget. It was thrilling (the budget was also a good one, but I digress….).
Yes, I write a lot for my job – material that gets read by others and could be called public writing. I’m one of the co-authors of a book on teacher evaluation:
I wrote two chapters of another co-authored book that was the product of a summer Fulbright Scholar trip to Peru – a book so obscure it can no longer be found. And I was once quoted on the glossy fliers for Slickrock Adventures after a trip I took with them to Belize. I’m also an inveterate Facebook poster during my travels with a small band of readers who regularly respond. But yesterday I became official – a solo article in Travel Post Monthly and my first blog commenter, elizzabizzy.
The travel article is posted below. Click and scroll down past the archive of current/prior editions to find the contents of the current edition. You’ll read about Carnaval Negros de Blancos in Pasto, Colombia, the last stop on my trip. And because you might be interested in what happened before the exuberance of Carnaval…coming up next – Lake Atitlan, Guatemala and Medellin, Colombia.
There are two Black Cat accomodations in Antigua – the Black Cat Hostel that promises a happy hour in the bar every night and a hangover breakfast in the AM and it’s little sister around the corner, the slightly more expensive Black Cat Inn, that promises an upper terrace breakfast and private or semi private rooms. I went for comfort as the rendevous point to meet my peregrine offspring, Zach, who was flying in the day I arrived by van. It was a great choice. The rooftop terrace was surrounded by the vibrant colors of flowers and painted buildings. The wifi signal was strong and the cups of Guatemalan coffee never-ending.
Antigua is surrounded by three volcanoes, visible from most parts of the town, that have erupted or shown activity in the last centuries. In 1717 and again in 1773, earthquakes destroyed the city. The last major volcanic activity was in September, 2012.
The town turned out to be an excellent hub for exploring the country. Tourist agencies offering cheap travel and/or hostels and adventure packages are ubiquitous.
I was raised Catholic. Midwest, small town Catholic. Serious-old school-steeped-in- tradition-Latin Mass-Catholic. I’m a fallen Catholic for many reasons, but among them was that I’m not solemn or reverent enough. And so it was that I found myself in one of the world’s most Catholic countries during that part of the Catholic world’s most important December religious festivals – the Festival of the Virgin of Guadalupe (also known as the Virgin Mary and the Patroness of Mexico).
My first clue should have been the flight from Los Angeles to Mexico City the week prior. It was filled with pilgrims traveling to the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City – the most visited Catholic shrine in the world, drawing over 6 million visitors during the weekend of the festival.
I trudged from the bus station to my budget San Cristobal hotel (found online in the bus station at three times the normal price) while fireworks blasted all around me. On the ground. In the air. Accompanied by the peal of churchbells. It was all part of the festival. As were the decorated vehicles with Virgin images and carnaval of music and rides.
This was no staid holy day of obligation and quiet contemplation Catholicism. In parts of Mexico where indigenous cultural beliefs (in this case Mayan) have melded with traditional religion, the celebrations are a rich mix of both practices. Yes, there were churches and masses and incense, but there was also noisy, messy, joyous celebration.
The following day I joined the carnival throngs of Mayan families from the villages surrounding San Cristobal. Women wore colorful ribbons, beautifully brocaded capes and black fur skirts to distinguish their village origin.
Three days of fireworks and carnaval were enough and another do-over was done. It was time to embark on the remainder of the trip. There would be no more nostalgic jaunts down memory lane from this point onward because it was all new territory. A twelve hour van trip to Antigua, Guatemala that included two van transfers and a border crossing: a do-first.
Having ecaped the combination of religious fervor and gathering Rainbow Family festivities in Palenque, I caught the bus to San Cristobal de las Casas for yet another do-over. In my memory, it was a charming mountain town steeped in colonial architecture surrounded by smaller Mayan villages. It was there, 28 years earlier, that I met the subject of one of my college research papers – Gertrude Blom.
On my previous trip, I had stayed at Casa Na Bolom, the home, hotel and research center of Frans and Gertrude Blom, internationally reknowned archeologists, photographers and environmentalists.
Frans had passed away, but Trudi Blom still lived at Na Bolom and each night at dinner she presided over a long wooden table lined with an array of guests. The Bloms were particularly concerned about the plight of the Lacandon Maya, a Mayan group whose numbers had been impacted by the diseases incurred by contact with the Spanish and white populations. When members of the group came into San Cristobal from their jungle homes, they were always given free room and board at Casa Na Bolom. My most memorable dinner companions one evening 28 years ago had been the leader of the Lacandons’, his wife and three of his children and two nuns from the United States – one a Mother Superior trying to decide if she should leave the convent to marry a man she loved. Also Gertrude Blom.
She had passed away since my stay there and I knew that in 2011, she and Frans had been reburied in a traditional Lacandon ceremony and village. Bolom is Mayan for jaguar and Frans Blom had been one of the first archaeologists to discover and excavate Palenque. Those karmic connections to my Palenque do-over were not enough to get me accommodations at Na Bolom on this trip. It had been booked up for months. I arrived in town sans reservations at the height of the second biggest Festival of the Virgin of Guadalupe in all of Mexico.