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Voyage to Chiapas – Day 2

06/02/2013

P1000681P1000683After breakfast at Hotel Misión Palenque, we visited the ruins of Palenque.  Both Marina, and our required guide, explained many facts about Palenque that you would otherwise not realize.  The required aspect of a local guide is a full employment program but, in reality, our guide was very knowledgeable and well worth the fee.

 

P1000700The name Palenque (Palisade) is Spanish and has no relation to the city’s ancient name, which may have been Lakamha (Big Water).  There is abundant rain and many streams there, so it was an ideal location for a city.  Palenque was first occupied around 226 B.C., and flourished from around A.D. 630 to around 740. The city rose to prominence under the ruler Pakal, who reigned from A.D. 615 to 683. He lived to the then incredible age of 80.  The city was finally abandoned around 1123 A.D.

 

P1000687There is much debate about why Palenque was abandoned.  Our guide believes that it was abandoned because of the excesses of the 1%.  As the rulers demanded grander and grander symbols of their power, the people had to move further and further away to get the resources needed to fulfill their desires.  There was a jade necklace uncovered there that had to take at least 100 man-years to make; talk about excess!  Eventually, the people moved far enough away that they were no longer subject to the whims of the rulers.  Without support of the people, the rulers and the city failed.

 

P1000695P1000693The Ceiba tree is the sacred World Tree of the Maya.  According to the mythology of the ancient Maya, the great Ceiba tree stood at the center of the earth, connecting our Earth world to the Spirit world in the heavens above.  The Ceiba descends 9 levels into the underworld, which is not considered hell, but a cold, damp, dark place called Xibalbá.  The bridge from the underworld to the heavens is middle Earth, our Earth.  The Ceiba then reaches upward 13 levels to the heavens where Hunab Ku, their Supreme Deity, resides at the top.  Modern Maya respectfully leave the Ceiba standing whenever they are harvesting forest timber.  The Ceiba tree is represented by a cross and can be seen in the Temple of the Cross Complex at Palenque.

 

P1000711P1000713From the ruins there is a path leading to the museum.  There are at least 200 "steps" as you walk the 2 kilometers to the exhibit.  Some of the "steps" are quite steep, so you need to be fairly able-bodied for this trek.  The sights along the path make the walk well worth the effort.  We saw gorgeous forest / jungle foliage and a beautiful stream and waterfall; the very things that attracted the Maya to Palenque.

 

MapFrom Palenque we took highway 199 to San Cristóbal de las Cases, our next stop.  San Cristóbal is 7,000 feet higher than Palenque so there are many twists and turns in the road as you climb through the Sierra Madre de Chiapas mountain range.  This is a 244 km stretch, which takes about 4 hours by car and 5 hours by bus.  There are also at least 200 topes on this road; many seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  Some on the tour needed Dramamine to get them through the ride to San Cristóbal, it is that curvy.

 

Map 2There is a distinct change in foliage as you climb from the jungle of Palenque into the clouds.  At altitude you begin to spot pine forests, something quite foreign to Méridanos.  Another sight you may see along the way is young children loosely holding ropes with flags stretched across the road.  This is Zapatista territory and they want you stop.  Different people tell different stories about why they are stopping you.  Some say it’s to get you to buy something from the roadside stands while others insist it’s to charge you a toll.  Neither applied to us as the bus slowed down, but did not stop for the frail barricade.

 

At about 7:00 p.m. we arrived in San Cristóbal, tired and a little woozy from the mountain ride.  We were all very ready to disembark the bus.  Autobuses are not allowed in San Cristóbal itself, so they had to park at the ADO station.  The station is was about 7 blocks from the hotel and was a wonderful leg stretching walk.  Some opted to cab it to the hotel as the cab fare was included in the tour price.

 

The hotel was downtown, just a few blocks from the Cathedral and zocolo.  After dropping off our luggage and bundling up a bit for the much cooler weather, we headed off for the first of many wonderful meals in this beautiful city.

 

Day 3 – San Juan Chamula and Zinacantán

Voyage to Chiapas – Day 1

05/02/2013
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AdvertismentMy maestra de español, Marina Aguirre, organized a trip to the state of Chiapas.  It was 8 days and 7 nights, from January 18 to 25.  Except for some meals and purchases everything was included in the price.

 

The tour included the cities / towns of:  Palenque, San Cristóbal de las Casas, San Juan Chamula, Zinacantán, Amatenango del Valle, Chiapa de Corzo, Cañon del Sumidero, Tenejapa, Toniná, and Agua Azul.  Marina scheduled the trip so that there was a festival occurring at most stops.  Below is Marina’s itinerary.

Itinerary Page 1 Itinerary Page 2 Itinerary Page 3

Marina rented an Autotur bus which accommodated the 26 of us quite nicely.  Our drivers, Victor and Johnny, were marvelous and handled the mountain roads with ease.

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We stopped for lunch outside of  Campeche.  After which we did get a brief bus tour of the walled city.  Seeing the walls and cathedral of Campeche made me want to schedule a weekend trip there soon.  So taking an hour out for lunch, we resumed our ride to Palenque which took about 9 hours on the road.  Thank goodness for a bus with a bathroom!  The goal of day one was mainly to get us from Mérida to Palenque, where we stayed at the Hotel Misión Palenque.

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Day Two – Palenque to San Cristóbal de las Cases

The rest of the story

18/10/2012
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I’m going to do a "Paul Harvey" follow-up to Debi’s wonderful blogs about our trip to Belize.  I was one of the party of eight that travelled to Belize with Debi.

 

A bit of a back story.  I had surgery here in Mérida ten months ago to have my prostate removed in a procedure that most US doctors would not even attempt.  The surgery went very well and I am in the final stages of recovery.  If anyone needs an excellent urologist here in Mérida, call Dr. Coral.

 

painAs with all body modifications, including surgery, things just don’t work as well as Mother Nature originally designed them to work.  An often seen side effect of having ones prostate removed is bladder infections.  Now most women are familiar with this malady but, for me, it was and is something totally new and more than a little unpleasant.  One thing that I have learned is that, if left untreated, a bladder infection will totally shut off the bladder.  If you want something that will cause you to totally lose focus, try not being able to pee for a day. Or should I say it like Leonard’s Hofstadter’s mother, "urinate?"

 

P1000221Well this happened on our trip to Belize.  As a result, early our first morning I was at the hotel office urgently inquiring as to where a doctor, clinic, shaman or hospital could be found.  Pedro, the hotel owner, directed me to a clinic just two blocks away, the “Doctor Otto Rodriguez San Pedro Polyclinic."

 

P1000227Once inside I was seen by a doctor within thirty minutes, and then ushered into the urgent care area.  There, a nurse (Maria) and a medical student (Alex) inserted a catheter to relieve the pressure. After a urine test confirmed the bladder infection, the doctor prescribed three daily injections of a sulfa drug and three separate prescriptions (an antibiotic, antispasmodic and an anti inflammatory).

 

P1000222Maria and Alex removed the catheter and Maria then gave me the first injection.  After which, I went back to see the doctor for my prescriptions.  While writing up the prescriptions, the doctor explained to me that medical care at the clinic was free.  The examination, today’s injection and the following two injections as well as all of the prescriptions were free.  No cost, zero, zilch, nada, nothing!!  However, he said, any and all contributions are welcome to assist in their treating others.  Feeling quite overwhelmed by their skill, kindness and willingness to treat a foreigner without question, I made a contribution roughly equivalent to a US emergency room co-pay.

 

Needless to say, once the pressure was off, I was able to enjoy the remainder of my trip to Belize.

Brazos Abiertos

25/06/2012
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I just spent the most amazing and rewarding four days in the company of some very dedicated young people.  I volunteer with a local organization, Fundacion BAI A.C. aka Brazos Abiertos.  Even though I have been with this group for a few years it has been solely in a fund-raising capacity.  The committee has a great time,  we put on lovely events that are enjoyed throughout the community and rake in some big bucks so this group can continue with their good works.  All well and good but I realized I truly didn’t know exactly everything the charity did.

A few years back I visited the village/Comisaría of Komchen to check out the volunteers from the USA and TEAMM Yucatan in action during an education campaign.  It was so incredible to see all these young people working with kids in the local school to educate them about sexually transmitted diseases. 

But I was ready to do more, so when Carlos and Luca told me there was room for me in this year’s testing event at Isla Mujeres; I jumped at the chance to help.  This is the fourth year for the HIV testing on Isla but the first time there will be night testing.  We traveled to Cancún via ADO bus which, in my humble opinion, is the only way to travel in Mexico!  We then took a cab ride to Puerto Juarez and then a ferry ride over to Isla Mujeres.  We were met at Casa Sirena by our host Steven Broin who is also our benefactor for this trip.  The next few days were spent meeting with the team and relaxing as this is also a "thank you" to all those who have volunteered this past year.  brzaosgroup

 

On Thursday morning, our director Luca Cuturi and intern, Laura Sharkey spoke at a press conference to discuss what Fundacion (Brazos Abiertos) would be doing on Saturday.  After the conference, Luca and Laura were approached by the prison commander.  He asked to have the team come to the jail to test the 20 prisoners as well as the prison guards.  This was a first, so the team was ecstatic!  On Friday afternoon, the majority of the team headed to the prison.  I elected to stay behind, as my Spanish language skills are lacking and I really didn’t have a job to do.  It was quite an experience for everyone who attended. 

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Here is Ricardo, Laura, Arlette, Laura and Marcos who were given a ride back to the hotel after the testing! 

 

Saturday morning we were up early, so we could leave the hotel by 9am.  Today’s testing was being held at El Parque de la Gloria on the south end of the island.  This is where the working people of Isla live and the park is the center of the community.  When we arrived the city workers had a tent up and the tables and chairs were being unloaded.  They also provided a cooler with ice and cold beverages which were very welcome as it looked to be a incredibly hot day.  Once everything was set up the people started arriving.  I was amazed to see the first group was three women of varying ages.  Looking closer it was apparent they were all related.  Grandma, her daughter and then granddaughter were all there to be tested.  I walked around the park handing out flyers which provided information as to what we were doing in the park.

brazostesting 

 

It was a little slow in the beginning but as the morning progressed we saw more and more coming to be tested.  I was impressed with the number of women of all ages and young adults who attended.  The local government had lunch provided for us and we were even visited by the congressman for Isla Mujeres.  Right before we got done packing up we found out that more police were coming over to be tested!  Really amazing!

 

We headed back to the hotel to rest up until 8 p.m. when we walked over to the zocolo, just a block from the hotel.  Once again the city was there with tables, chairs and that cooler for the next wave of tests.  This night the target group for testing was the restaurant/bar and hotel workers as well as younger "at risk" folks.  We had just finished setting up the testing tables when the first group from one of the restaurants arrived.  From then on it was a steady stream of people.  Everyone was so appreciative that we were available to them and that we worked with their schedules.  My favorite job that night was when Lana and I acted as the "condom fairies" handing out free condoms up and down Calle Hildago.  We made lots of people very happy!!

 

By the time we finished, a little after midnight, we had tested about 150 people that day.  There were only two positives, one at the prison and another during the morning testing.  Afterwards, Steve was ready for us with some munchies and a cold beverage or two.  Then the mayor had pizza delivered to us at the hotel as a THANK YOU!!  Exhausted, we all called it quits at about 2 a.m. 

 

As we rode back to Merida the next afternoon I was tired but in a good way.  I reflected on the work this organization does which is so necessary and worthwhile.  I was constantly in awe of these young people; Intern Laura Sharkey, Marco, Omar, Ricardo, Laura and Arlette along with Lana and Kody from Texas.  They all have jobs; most are going to school and; they give of their free time to help run these testing and educational events.  To watch them assist people with questionnaires, provide detailed educational information about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases,  and then one on one counseling after the testing was what impressed me the most.  They are so passionate about this cause and incredibly professional.  Dr. Carlos Cabrera has so much to be proud of.  He has done an outstanding job with this group.  And now Brazos has formed a support group which meets once a week for those in Merida who have tested positive.  I count myself very lucky to be associated with such an important organization and look forward to our next fundraising event! 

And one more thing…thanks to the other two "senior" volunteers; Cotting White and Fred Martinez!!

Lawmaking and Religion

23/02/2012

The current set of politicians (from all parties, but mostly Republicans) are scaring the living shit out of me. At first I was just amused at the ramblings of the tea baggers and others. It was kinda cute that Sarah Palin thought she could see Russia from her house, but now it seems that some are thinking Rick Santorum has a real chance of being nominated by the Republicans to run for President.

There is a Republican in Indiana that thinks that Girl Scouts sell cookies, lesbian sex, abortion and communism. The Republican controlled Senate in Oklahoma wants to give the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents to a Zygote (fertilized egg); while, at the same time, withholding the right of marriage to gays.

Virginia has a Republican sponsored bill before it that would require doctors to perform a medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasound on individuals seeking an abortion even for nonsurgical, noninvasive, pharmaceutical abortions. The woman doesn’t have to look at the image, but they would have to undergo the procedure regardless.

What happened to the Republicans that wanted "the government" out of our lives? How is the government taking control of a women’s body going to shrink the size of government? How is preventing loving gays from marrying adding jobs to the workplace?

Now my rant – Religion should GET THE HELL OUT OF LEGISLATION! The legal system needs to be secular, not religion based. Laws need to be just and fair for all! The USA is made up of many religions, ethnic backgrounds and more than one sexual orientation. Religious zealots should not be allowed to control someone else’s life in any fashion. They should be free to worship and behave in a manner stricter than the laws, but should never be allowed to tell me how to behave beyond secular, rational guidelines.

If a pair of consenting adults wants to get married, then let them. If your church doesn’t want to officiate over their marriage, then don’t. But don’t outlaw it in total. And don’t even think of starting the argument that this will lead to bestiality – that doesn’t involve two consenting adults. And who decided that a bunch of old men (Catholic Bishops, the Pope, the Ayatollah, Focus on the Family and Rabbinical Councils) should decide what women can and can’t do with their own bodies.

I cannot think of a better closing statement to this discussion then that of President Obama in a 2006 speech delivered at the Call to Renewal conference, then Senator Obama offered these thoughts on the relationship between politics and religion:

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values.It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

2012 Carnival – Children’s Parade

17/02/2012

For the first time we went to the Children’s Parade, the opening parade of Carnival.  It starts at 4 p.m. on Thursday and travels from the Zocolo to Santa Lucia Parque.  If you’ve not seen it, put it on your calendar for next year – it’s just the cutest thing!  Click the thumbnail to see a larger version of the picture.

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Everything Apple

27/01/2012
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Apple nanoI have an ancient iPod Nano. I refuse to get a new one because there is still room on this one for more music – I’m very picky about what music I put on it. Nope, no full albums for me; I cherry pick the songs that I really like. Problem is the battery no longer holds a charge. So begins my odyssey to find someone to replace the battery in my bazillion year old iPod.

As with almost all of my techie forays I began at the Tech Mall or Centro Plaza de la Technologia. It’s the strip mall on the southwest corner of Calle 59 and Calle 56 in Centro. Unfortunately the only information I got from the folks at "The Mall" was that there is an Apple store in Plaza Altabrisa or as the expats call it "The Altabrisa Mall."

So off me and my friend Tom go to the Altabrisa Mall where we find the Apple store. It’s conveniently, for us, located right next to Starbucks. After a brief discussion with a couple of the clerks, we discover that the mission of this store is to sell stuff and, maybe, handle a little warranty work. So where do I get my iPod repaired? They suggested I try Avante Soluciones near Mega Balcones.

AvanteAvante Soluciones is the only authorized service center for Apple in the Yucatan. They handle warranty issues and maintenance of current Apple products. It appears that they are also equipped to help with Apple software issues and even sales of new products. My friend Debi had her iPad2 repaired under warranty there. They are located at the corner of Calle 18 and 23 in Chuburna de Hidalgo. They are open from 9-2 and 3:30 to 7, Monday through Friday. But they don’t fix old Apple stuff! Continuing my quest, I ask where I can get my iPod repaired. They suggested that I contact Israel Villajuana.

So I called Israel.  His cell number is 1 51 77 98 and his e-mail address is mochix@gmail.com  After struggling through a few sentences of Spanish explaining my problem, I discover that Israel speaks flawless English. His company is ComuniMac and, yes, he can replace the battery in my iPod. ComuniMac is located on Calle 30 between 33 y 35 in Colonia Emiliano Zapata Norte. As a reference driving north on the prolongation at Calle 35 you will see the restaurant "La Recova" on the right. Take a right turn here and right again at the next street. His business is on the left. Israel’s business hours are from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. I found it hard to get there between those hours, so I asked if he made house calls. For a very small fee he said that he would pickup and deliver the finished iPod to me.

silver-apple-logoI now have my iPod, with its new battery, in hand and it works like a dream. You can’t tell that he opened the iPod and, of course, he even returned the old battery. His work is perfect. So if you need work done on an Apple product that is out of warranty, Israel is your guy.

There is someone in Mérida that can fix anything/everything, you just have to follow the breadcrumbs to the end of the trail.