At Santiago Atitlán with Volcan San Pedro in the Background
Last night, after an agonizing ninety minutes going through customs after a number of jumbo jets had disgorged over a thousand Chinese, I finally returned home. We wasted no time in going to sleep, as I was still on central time. The last day of my vacation was twenty-six hours long.
All in all, the trip was a success. I went everywhere I planned to go using a variety of transportation, including airplanes, tourist shuttles, tuk-tuks (more about these later), fast motorboats, buses, taxis, and at one point a hired car. My itinerary was as follows:
- Los Angeles
- Guatemala City
- Santiago Atitlán
- Antigua again
- Copán, Honduras
- Rio Dulce
- Flores/Santa Elena
- El Remate
- Guatemala City
- Los Angeles
The toughest part, as I suspected in advance, was going between Copán and Rio Dulce. That’s where I hired a driver through a Honduran travel agency to drive me to Rio Dulce with a two-hour stopover at the ruins of Quirigua, which was on the way.
In the weeks to come, I will describe the vacation in some detail, as well as including a number of historical, cultural, and other observations as they come to mind.
Where I Spend My First Five Nights
Tomorrow morning, I leave for Guatemala. I have a late morning flight which gets me to Guatemala City at 5:10 PM Central. At the La Aurora International Airport, I will try to convert dollars to quetzales (probably at felonious rates) and use some of the quetzales to get to me Antigua via shuttle bus. I will be spending my first five nights. My hotel is just past the Arco de Santa Catalina in the photo above, taking the first left. The volcano (Agua) is one of three surrounding the city.
For about 200 years, Santiago served as the third capital of Spanish Guatemala, moving to the present capital after a devastating earthquake in the 18th century. To this day, many of the old Spanish churches exist only as façades backed up by ruins. Even some of the church ruins are spectacular (see below).
La Merced Church in Antigua
If this trip turns out to be like my South America vacations, I will enjoy looking at the old Spanish churches almost as much as the ancient ruins. I was surprised, especially in Peru, where the churches were actually more interesting than the Inca ruins. It was not unusual for me to attend Mass, sometimes twice in one day, just so I could spend more time gaping at the religious artwork.
I may post once or twice during my trip—minus photographs, because I will be using computers that will not allow me to load data—though my next regular post will be at the end of the month. Wish me luck!
Honduran Invader Armed to the Teeth
Even as thousands of Hondurans are making a bid to upset the American government, I am planning to invade Honduras. On Friday, I went to the Bretton Woods Foreign Currency Exchange in Brentwood and bought $140 worth of Honduran lempiras. (That’s not a food: It’s what their currency is called.) I checked to see f they had any Guatemalan quetzales, but they were dead out. I’ll just hope to get those at La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City.
My Honduran destination is only a few miles shy of the Guatemalan border: The Maya ruins at Copán. It will be the first Maya archeological site for my upcoming trip. The others are Quirigua and Tikal, both in the Petén region of Guatemala.
Five Lempira Note
The Five Lempira note illustrated above has a portrait of Francisco Morazán, the only figure in Honduran history I have ever heard of before. He figures in John Lloyd Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán as the generalissimo of the Central American Republic, which existed briefly before splitting up into its component parts.
I hope the Hondurans manage to find some place in the world of the Norte after they succeed in overthrowing the Trumpf Dictatorship.
Villagers with Torches from Frankenstein
It suddenly came to me this evening that, whatever happens with Trumpf, America is in for a rough time of it. Martine and I were at the Siam Chan, a local Thai eatery, and we overheard two elderly couples praising our Presidente’s performance over the first two years of his term. My reaction surprised even me: I toyed with the idea of getting up and giving them a tracheotomy with the fork that had plunged into my stuffed chicken wings. (No doubt, they got their money in the real estate business.)
Sad to say, the American voter is like the villagers in the Frankenstein movies. It doesn’t take much to get them all outraged and go after the monster with flaming torches. Except, instead of the monster, the victim of their wrath is anyone who doesn’t agree with them. I wanted to fricassee these two couples, shove them into their car, and set it alight. Not exactly a rational response, but that was the way I felt.
Now, the other side is exactly the same. I sincerely doubt there is much of a chance of compromise with a MAGA-hat wearer. Just as there was no love lost between many flyover Americans and that nigra Obama.
In this environment, political arguments can escalate to lethal plus in microseconds. This country is going to be riven between two opposing armed camps until we all learn that we inhabit the same land and have to find some way of coexisting peacefully. Is that possible? In time, yes; but in the near term, we’re all in for it.
So when you meet up with that crazy uncle of yours at some family dinner, it’s probably best to change the subject if anything like politics or religion is discussed. I mean, they burned heretics, didn’t they?
The Statement at the Lower Left Used To Be on All Dover Paperbacks
As long as I can remember, I have been a big fan of Dover paperbacks. I was reminded of this as I started reading Howard Carter and A. C. Mace’s The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen (1923). There, at the bottom of the back cover, stood this bold claim:
A DOVER EDITION DESIGNED FOR YEARS OF USE:
We have made every effort to make this the best book possible. Our paper is opaque, with minimal show-through; it will not discolor or become brittle with age. Pages are sewn in signatures, in the method traditionally used for the best books, and will not drop out, as often happens with paperbacks held together with glue. Books open flat for easy reference. The binding will not crack or split. This is a permanent book.
Alas, this claim does not appear on more recent Dover paperbacks. In my collection, I have at least several hundred Dover books on chess, Shakespeare, ghost stories (a Dover specialty), mysteries, G. K. Chesterton, Anthony Trollope, John Lloyd Stephens, and numerous classics in the public domain. Not only were Dover books well made, they used to be relatively inexpensive. No more. I still follow them at their website and still occasionally order from them.
What King Tut Looked Like at the Age of 18, When He Died
King Tutankhamen had a short and probably not very happy life. He became pharaoh at the tender age of nine, but he was bedeviled by illnesses that caused him considerable pain and shortened his life. Tut’s father was his uncle and his mother was his father’s sister. Apparently, incest was not expressly forbidden for the pharaohs and their families.
Notice the club foot: King Tut was accompanied with a number of canes on his afterlife journey. By the end, he also had a compound leg fracture, malaria, Köhler Disease, and possibly also sickle cell anemia, Marfan syndrome, mental retardation, adiposogenital dystrophe (note the feminine hips in the above reconstruction), Kleinfelter syndrome, androgen insensitivity syndrome, aromatase excess syndrome, in conjunction with sagittal craniosynostosis syndrome, Antley-Bixler syndrome, and temporal lobe epilepsy. Oh, and he also had buck teeth and a cleft palate.
In other words, the mighty pharaoh was an unholy mess. There are signs that his burial was conducted in haste, as the paint on the walls of his tomb did not dry properly.
The Guardian Ka for the Afterlife of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen
There has been a major exhibit of treasures from King Tut’s tomb at the California Science Center in downtown Los Angeles. The exhibit started in March and is ending in a few days, so I decided I had better hustle if I didn’t want to miss my second chance at one of the world’s great archeological treasures. (I missed my first opportunity some years back.)
In the end, it was not a pleasant experience. The exhibit was well mounted, but it was mobbed with family groups who were intent on SmartPhone snapshots of everything on exhibit. It was as if instead of people with minds attending the exhibition, the attendees were actually digital devices. No one understood what was being photographed: They were merely putting together a portfolio that could be used to demonstrate to friends that, yes, they had been in the presence. The children were mostly bored and acting up.
In the end, I seriously suggested that, at the entrance to the exhibit, all SmartPhones be collected and smashed to smithereens with mauls. That got a few laughs from the museum staff, but I seriously doubt they acted on my well-intentioned comments.
Although I have been interested in Pre-Columbian archeology for many years, I know very little about Egypt under the Pharaohs. I know I have Howard Carter’s book somewhere in my library about his discovery of King Tut’s tomb, as well as a few other volumes on the general subject, I have been extremely remiss. Resolved: After I return from Central America at the end of the month, I will try to catch up on the subject.
And that is my only New Year’s Resolution for 2019.