Pulpology: Mark & Sonia's Intercontinental Absurdities!


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22 August 2007
Jungle Tour and blackouts
downtown LivingstonThe Iguana offers two local tours, one a beachy/boozy kinda day ending at Siete Altares waterfalls, and the other a tour of town and Garífuna culture also ending at Siete Altares. After my veg day, I decided it was time for a little cul-cha, and chose the second tour. We had a pretty good crew: Matt & Helen, Evan, two Israeli girls named Mor and Tair, and two crazy dentists named Al and Philip who'd spent some time volunteering at a dental clinic elsewhere in Guatemala. Along the way we were joined by an odd French couple -- she was bubbly and chatty, and he said no more than three words the entire day -- and a woman named Marisa from San Francisco. Led by local Garífuna guide Francis, we had a good group.

The term Garífuna refers to both the language and the culture of the local people, who are of African descent. They're found throughout the Caribbean Coast of Central America. I'm not going to give the full history lesson here, but if you want to learn more there's a good site called Garifuna.com (of course!) that explains all about their tumultuous history, culture, and society.

Francis, our, um, like, tour guideWe started the day strolling through the town of Livingston, while Francis gave us some stilted history and cultural notes. He'd lived there all his life and was clearly interested in sharing his knowledge with travelers from all over the world, but he wasn't the most articulate fellow. So it was a little tricky to parse out his, um, you know, like, information about the, like, um, local people, you know? As with the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica, the accents here are more Jamaican-sounding. So even when they're speaking English, you have to listen closely to understand what's being said.

creepy saints inside the hybrid churchBut Francis was a fun guy and eventually we became accustomed to his delivery. He showed us the local church, where they have three types of services: standard Catholic, traditional Mayan, and a Garifuna version with a lot of Afro-Caribbean practices that must be really interesting to witness. The church was decorated with the usual creepy-eyed saints along the walls, dressed in local fabrics. This time they took it a step further and even put wigs on some of the statues. Freaky deaky.

festive wreath on a colorful tombNext stop was the cemetery, which looked like a funky blend of Pere Lachaise, New Orleans, and clown college. Each grave was painted a different bright color, and many were festooned with huge plastic leis or flowers. Francis explained that they celebrated Dia de los Muertos here, similar to Mexico, and the belief was that a person's life should be celebrated with a riotous party. Gotta love that. So they basically have a huge block party once a year, right in the graveyard, and relatives bring items that their loved ones would have appreciated during their mortal time on earth. Bottle of rum for Uncle Junior, big plate of tamales for Aunt Maria. Lots of music and food and drinks for the living, as well. Sounds like quite a time.

backyard jacuzzi, Livingston-styleWe trooped through the village, stopping to wave at cute indigenous waifs with big brown eyes who would occasionally pose for pictures. It was getting really hot and incredibly humid, so when we hiked up a small hill to see a mirador that afforded views of Belize and Honduras, it felt as though we'd just climbed a huge mountain. That beachy boozy thing was starting to sound better and better. We walked, and walked, and walked, all the while Francis keeping up a friendly banter with whomever was at the front of the group. Finally we hit the river, where a man in a small canoe was waiting to take us to the next spot. We went in two groups, and although there was little breeze along the river, it was a tranquil trip to skim across the water's surface, passing  mangroves and other lush vegetation.

beauty and the beachWe regrouped at a small restaurant for a quick beverage and to feed bananas to the local spider monkey, tethered to a huge tree by a long rope. A bit cheesy and canned, yes, but still fun! From there we walked over a huge suspension bridge and to a small beach. Finally! We all rushed into the water, only to find it to be the approximate temperature of bathwater. Ehm, refreshing, not! Plus there was some highly nasty slurm on the bottom that squished ickily underfoot. Bleccccch. Still, it was fun for a quick dip and a brief swim without touching the bottom at all. And the breeze on the beach was lovely indeed.

Marisa takes the plungeAfter a brief lunch of ubiquitous ham & cheese sandwiches coated with the requisite mayonnaise (hey, there's a reason they're not known for their cuisine around here!) it was time for the highpoint of the day: Siete Altares waterfalls. We had to sign into the park -- I always wonder what the heck they do with all this "sign in" information -- and then head up a short series of steps. The pools were shallow like at Semuc Champey, with rock formations throughout that made it easy to walk across, and small waterfalls trickling between them. The very last pool had a really cool waterfall that people jumped off. And the water was actually refreshing! It was also fun to hang out behind the waterfall and watch people go plummeting over the side.

The trek back to town was made more interesting when only two taxis showed up instead of the requested three. Two cars for a dozen people? How are we supposed to do that? Why, the Guatemalan way! Stuff a few folks in the open trunk and have them hang on for dear lives over the bumpy roads! Unfortunately I was laughing too hard to get any pics of this adventure, but it was hilarious. Until one of the taxis ran out of gas. Apparently this is a pretty common thing, since gas is so expensive and they can only afford to put in a few eyedroppers of gas at a time. We left that group behind and our driver sent another person to go pick them up, so once again all's well that ends well.

That evening a huge storm ripped through Livingston. Remnants of Hurricane Dean, coming to say hello? Who knows. It knocked out power right in the middle of my shower, which isn't as big a deal when the shower wasn't hot to begin with, but it did make it challenging to finish up in the dark. We spent the rest of the night hanging out at the Iguana by candlelight. I wasn't in the mood for drinking games and hit the sack early, in anticipation of a long and tiring travel day to Honduras.
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