Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cruise: Guatemala

The next day found us in Guatemala. From the harbor we saw 3 perfect conical volcanoes - a very pretty site from the ship.
Our excursion this time took us to Lake Atitlan, several hours bus ride away. We scored a front seat this time and had great views of the countryside. Lake Atitlan is the deepest lake in Central America... but they have never been able to locate the bottom! The guess is that it's about 1100 feet deep.
Lake Atitlan

River coming down from the mountains.

One of the first things we noticed were the many sugar cane fields. Most were ready for harvest, and the field were being "fired". This is a burning off of the outer leaves that gets rid of their brushiness and any vermin in the field. But it doesn't hurt the rest of the plant. Then it is whacked down to just above root level with machetes. It eventually is piled haphazardly into big trucks and taken for processing.

Sugar cane flowers

Firing the fields

Truck load of sugar cane

Smashed cane on the roads... bet it is sticky!

Sunset thru the sugar cane field smoke.

Alongside the road were all sorts of fruit stands. Each area seemed to specialize in a particular fruit... some pineapples, some coconuts, some mangos and so on. In towns, every stand had a little bit of everything. Talk about looking appetizing! You don't see this sort of fruit in the grocery store!



and a little bit of everything!

As we got closer to Lake Atitlan, the people's appearance changed. Physically they were shorter and thicker, but what you really noticed were the amazing woven clothes the ladies wore. The people around the lake are Maya. Because of the Spanish colonial method of keeping the native peoples and the Spanish peoples separate, there are strong cultural customs and handicrafts kept by the people.

When we arrived at the lake, there were MANY vendors waiting for us with those Maya handicrafts for sale. Had you not seen the people on the ride in, you would have guessed the beautiful clothing they wore and were selling to be costumes. The colors were just incrediable!

But I'll tell you... these were the most aggressive vendors on the whole cruise! There wasn't the quiet desperation of Nicaragua... this seemed more like pure competition. Full contact hawkers! Several people seemed quite overwhelmed and ran onto the waiting buses after our boat ride on Lake Atitlan. But that was no escape...they would follow you right up in the bus!

However, they weren't the most aggressive hawkers I've seen (they are lightweights compared to the Maasai ladies of Kenya!) and I did some FINE shopping! Beautiful items.

The Gauntlet!

Buy from ME!

Hitting up the buses

Or you can buy this, or this, or this...

When we had boarded the bus in the morning, our guide noted that a nearby volcano had started erupting earlier. As we motored along getting closer, we could see the lava scorched sides and steam rising up. On the way home, I was sitting down in the guide seat by the front door of the bus (GREAT for photos!) when Deane called out suddenly "Look at the volcano!!" As we watched (!!!) it erupted again... shooting out ash and stones in a high mushroom cloud. WOW!

Here's what the volcano web site said about that eruption (25 November):

GUATEMALA - Fuego volcano
November 29th, 2008
As of the 27th of November, the National Institute Of Sismología, Volcanology, Meteorology and Hidrologia, has reported that during the 25 November explosions from Fuego produced ash plumes that rose to altitudes of 13,500-15,100 ft and drifted West and South. The explosions produced rumbling and degassing sounds, and shock waves were detected 10 km away. Lava flowed 150 m W towards the Taniluyá ravine and incandescent material rolled down the flanks . Fuego, one of Central America's most active volcanoes, is one of three large stratovolcanoes overlooking Guatemala's former capital, Antigua. Frequent vigorous historical eruptions have been recorded since 1524 and have produced major ashfalls, along with occasional pyroclastic flows and lava flows.

What a send-off from Guatemala!

Mt Fuego as we arrived...

And as we were leaving!

** Our Guatemala souvenirs **
A bag of coffee, a small weaving, a musical instrument, a traditional shirt, a water bottle holder and a native jade necklace.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

No Virginia, there is NO Santa Claus

No Virginia, there is no Santa Claus. That well known letter from 111 years ago was not true. Its words shifted a miracle into a figment of the imagination. Santa Claus is a fantasy, a make believe story that dims the real meaning of Christmas.

But don't be sad Virginia, because what Christmas is really about is truth and miracles and joy. Christmas represents the birth of the greatest gift that has or will ever be given. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16

"Santa" only gives his gifts to those who have been nice... and those who can afford gifts. But the gift that Jesus gives is there for everyone Virginia, for we have ALL been 'naughty' and "fall short of the glory of God," Romans 3:23

Dear Virginia, those gifts you find under the Christmas tree where given to you by your family and your friends who love you. They are given on a holiday that is in remembrance for the birth of Jesus Christ.

Is that not more wonderful than a fantasy that disappears like a mirage in the desert?


And that is how I would answer that famous letter.

In our home, we celebrate Christmas in remembrance of the birth of Jesus. We understand that there is only a 1 in 365 chance that 25 December is the birth date of Jesus. But that doesn't matter, as it is only a date. We sponsor a little Maasai girl in Kenya and Jenifa's parents don't know her birthday. So we selected 17 September as her "birthday" (that is the day we started sponsoring her). The important thing is the honoring of her on that day.

And so it is the same with 25 December. It is the day we choose to honor the birth of Jesus our Savior.

I wish we could say that in our home you would find no Santa objects, but you will find a few... however it will be a Santa made by a child and given to us as a gift. Other than that: none. Our decorations are nativities, winter/snow items, items representational of the birth of Jesus - such as poinsettias, stars and so on.

Our tree ornaments are little memories we hold in our hand for a moment before we hang it on that perfect branch. Or they are something that was so beautiful it made us smile when we saw it. Or they could be a gift from a friend that we will think of as we place it on the tree.

And that is how we celebrate CHRISTmas.


Oh Holy Night!

Words by Chappeau de Roquemaure
Translated by John S. Dwight

Oh holy night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior's birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh night divine

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming
Here come the wise men from Orient land
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger
In all our trials born to be our friend.
Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.


Mary, Did You Know?

c. 1991 Word Music ( a division of Word, Inc.) and Rufus Music (admin. by Keeling & Company, Inc, Nashville, TN) Words: Mark Lowry Music: Buddy Greene

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know
That your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered
Will soon deliver you

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will calm a storm with His hand?
Did you know
That your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby
You've kissed the face of God

Mary, did you know?
The blind will see
The deaf will hear
And the dead will live again
The lame will leap
The dumb will speak
The praises of the Lamb

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know
That your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding
Is the Great I Am

Oh Mary did you know?


Do You Hear What I Hear?

Said the night wind to the little lamb,
"Do you see what I see?
Way up in the sky, little lamb,
Do you see what I see?
A star, a star, dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite,
With a tail as big as a kite."

Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy,
"Do you hear what I hear?
Ringing through the sky, shepherd boy,
Do you hear what I hear?
A song, a song high above the trees
With a voice as big as the sea,
With a voice as big as the sea."

Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king,
"Do you know what I know?
In your palace warm, mighty king,
Do you know what I know?
A Child, a Child shivers in the cold--
Let us bring him silver and gold,
Let us bring him silver and gold."

Said the king to the people everywhere,
"Listen to what I say!
Pray for peace, people, everywhere,
Listen to what I say!
The Child, the Child sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light,
He will bring us goodness and light."


Little Drummer Boy

James Pierpont. publ.1857

Come they told me
pa rum pum pum pum
A new born King to see,
pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring
pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King
pa rum pum pum pum
rum pum pum pum
rum pum pum pum
So to honor Him
pa rum pum pum pum,
when we come.

Little Baby
pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too,
pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring
pa rum pum pum pum
That's fit to give our King
pa rum pum pum pum
rum pum pum pum
rum pum pum pum
Shall I play for you!
pa rum pum pum
on my drum.

Mary nodded
pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time
pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him
pa rum pum pum
I played my best for Him
pa rum pum pum pum
rum pum pum pum
rum pum pum pum
Then He smiled at me
pa rum pum pum pum
me and my drum.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Cruise: Nicaragua

From Costa Rica we sailed overnight to Nicaragua. This port is not developed enough to allow a ship as large as ours to come in to their dock area, so we were “tendered” to the shore. To do this, they lowered several of our lifeboats and by groups people were taken to the dock. It was a bit choppy when we left, and to get from ship to lifeboat took a bit of timing. Wouldn’t be a good thing to try to cross when the ship was moving opposite the direction of the lifeboat!

** Our lifeboats, now tender boat **

** Where we had to come from. **

So we were heading along the Nicaragua countryside for our excursion. First stop, a market place for some souvenir shopping. And good shopping it was too! The Mercado had many small shops to look thru, and while they more or less had the same merchandise, there were enough craftsman differences to make it fun. We only had 45 minutes – 4.5 hours would not have been too much!

** In the Mercado **

** In one of the shops with our self-appointed "guide" and shopkeeper **

From there it was a short drive to the Masaya Volcano… an ACTIVE volcano. How cool is that!? Our guide informed us that only a few months earlier, Masaya had a little ‘hiccup’. Here’s what a volcano site said about that ‘hiccup’:

NICARAGUA - Masaya volcano

As of the 19th of June, the Instituto Nicaragüense de Estudios Territoriales (INETER) informs that on the 18th of June at 1650hrs, local time, an explosion happened in the crater of Masaya volcano, that threw gases and volcanic ash in moderate amounts. Communication of the park was received Masaya volcano, the explosion was felt by inhabitants of the zone and the ash column had dark color.

Masaya lies within the massive Pleistocene Las Sierras pyroclastic shield volcano and is a broad, 6 x 11 km basaltic caldera with steep-sided walls up to 300 m high. The caldera is filled on its NW end by more than a dozen vents erupted along a circular, 4-km-diameter fracture system.

Masaya has been frequently active since the time of the Spanish Conquistadors, when an active lava lake prompted attempts to extract the volcano's molten "gold." Periods of long-term vigourous gas emission at roughly quarter-century intervals cause health hazards and crop damage.

Wow! Had I known how much a hiccup it had been, I might have been a wee bit more concerned as I leaned over the wall to look down into its sulfur smoking crater!
The sulfur... it was rough!! Depending on where you were standing and how the wind was moving, at times it was literally choking in a weird sort of way. Not choking like when you are in too much wood smoke, but a chemical it-hurts-to-breathe sort of way. But it was so incredibly fascinating to see. It was one of my favorite stops on the entire cruise.

** Himself at the volcano park entrance **

** an old lava flow from the crater rim **

** Me on the rim. The cross is at the highest part of the rim. **

** A LONG way down! **

** Long way from every angle **

** Sulfur smoke **

** Himself in the midst of the sulfur smoke **

** Sulfur mineral on pumace **

** the extremely jagged landscape of pumace **

** Notice how are the cars are parked? **

** Why?! In case it "hiccups" (erupts), so you can get out faster?? **

** Video of the Masaya Volcano **

From the volcano we headed to lunch. More beans, rice, chicken, and fresh fruit! Good thing we love that stuff! Oh, they did have some sort of beef & onions and some fried sea bass. Cute restaurant, we were serenaded by a papa and his 2 sons. Papa on a bass guitar, Son 1 on a regular guitar and Son 2 on an accordion.

** Son #2 **

There was a nice garden of various fruit trees (they served REALLY fresh fruit). It's fun to see all that produce growing instead of sitting on a refrigerated shelf in the grocery store. I have discovered that I really enjoy banana plants. They are so cool looking! And interesting. The plant stem bears fruit one time and dies back, to send up another stalk to bear fruit. The normal span of this is 3 times before the root stock is depleted (according to our guides).

** The banana flower **

** With the cluster of fruit **

** Bananas upside down! **

** With my favorite plant! **

Back on the bus and down the road to Granada. This is where the "feel" of the excursion changed. The other places we had been were pure 'Tourist'. Scrubbed venues and smiling people, everything looking good. But in Granada you remembered that you were in Nicaragua... Nicaragua -- Sandinistas -- Contras -- and Oliver North. Guerrilla warfare and a country brought to economic ruin. Nicaragua.

** A destroyed hospital **

** The square **

** The horses were pretty much scrubs **

** Tho the oxen looked beautiful **

** Local eatery **
Here in the city you could see the after affects of war. Everywhere we'd been there were souvenir hawkers trying to get you to empty your wallet by buying their stuff. Some were pretty persistent too. But here there was a subtle feeling of desperation.
** Hawkers trying to sell to those on the bus **

And here was the only place in the 6 countries we stopped at that there were beggars in a very large number... and some of them were grandmothers. The Latino culture still has great respect for its grandparents. So to see the grandmothers with their hands out, whispering "Por favor, senora" just about killed me... I can never walk by them...
** One of the grandmothers **

We walked a bit to reach the museum we were to see. I'm not sure how long they've been doing the tourist bit in Granada, but they definitely don't quite 'get it'. I got the feeling that the line of thought is "tourist like museums, so we will make a museum and they will pay to see it". But the exhibits and signage are amateur. Huge displays holding one small item. Signs with major spelling errors. Artifacts within easy touching reach that should be protected.
I hope they figure it out. It was a beautiful country with talented artisans and gracious people, well worth the time to visit.

One the bus ride back to the ship, the driver suddenly pulled over to the side of the highway. There in the trees was a family of howler monkeys. First and last monkeys I saw... which suited me just fine! I'm no fan of them...they remind me of rats with hands!
** Howler monkeys **

** Souvenirs of Nicaragua **
A piece of local pottery, a cross with clay flowers, a clay chicken whistle, a painting by a Masaya artist, a carved soapstone Nativity and a bag of coffee.