Sunday, February 28, 2010

February 28

Today marks the end of our first four weeks in Guatemala. So far it's been a wonderful experience and we're looking forward to our remaining nine weeks. It's Sunday and since we enjoyed our experience at the 1534 original Guatemalan cathedral in Ciudad Vieja, we decided to go back. Unfortunately, time got away from us and we almost were forced to arrive late.

As we walked out the front door of our apartment, we noticed that Volcan Fuego was looking good.

Rather than walk, we decided to take a chicken bus to the intersection just down from the church. Unfortunately, no one had alerted the chicken bus drivers, so we began walking into Ciudad Vieja, where we would increase our chance of finding a bus once we passed the intersection in front of the cemetery.

We were just on the edge of Ciudad Vieja when a bus appeared and stopped to pick us up. We didn't need to go far, but it was just too far to walk and be on time. As it was, we arrived only about five minutes prior to the start of Mass and had to sit about two-thirds back from the front of the church.

A children's choir sung this morning...loud...with a clavinova pretending to be an organ...loud also. Occasionally they were even on-key. They were spirited, however, and the congregation sang along with them.

After Mass, I did the tourist thing and took a photo of the sacristy.

I have to admit that the congregation, at least those members sitting near us, were most welcoming. At the sign of peace, we had to shake hands with everyone in our pew and in the two pews in front of us and also in back of us.

After Mass, we walked down to the corner and took the next bus heading for La Antigua. It was about 12:30 p.m. when we arrived, so we headed over to Pollo Campero for lunch. We made a mistake when we ordered. We decided to order the shrimp plate and asked for a Caesar salad with it instead of the fries. Linda then decided that she wanted some fries also, as it seemed to help with her altitude sickness. We thought that we had asked for two orders, but only one arrived. We called the waiter over and asked for the second order, but only got a second soda. Finally trying again, we got another order, with salad and with an extra order of fries. We wondered how they were going to figure out the bill on this one. I decided what I thought we should be charged at the maximum and if they got anywhere in the ballpark, I wasn't going to make a fuss. As it was, they charged us about Q10 less than I expected. All in all, it was a good laugh and a good lesson. We should never try to make changes to set orders. Change isn't something that folks here seem to handle well.

Following lunch, we headed over to Parque Central where the pan pipe bank was playing once again. They had played on Valentine's day also.

While sitting in Parque Central and fending off the wandering vendors, we saw an information kiosk for the Lenten processions and picked up maps and other information.

You may have seen photos or read about these Lenten processions. If so, I doubt if you really realize the seriousness with which they are approached. They start at a church just outside of La Antigua, where the platforms with the sacred images are stored, at 1:00 p.m. They walk a defined route through the city and return to their starting point at 11 p.m.

Along the route, various families prepared alfombras (rugs) in the street on the path the procession will take.

One little girl even decided to make her own alfombra using the leftover material from her parents efforts.

Soon the street vendors appeared, a sure sign that something was going to happen.

The first true indication that the procession was coming was the arrival of the Roman soldiers.

Soon a procession of purple robed attendants appeared. Many of the older ones take turns carrying the large platforms through the streets.

Not long after the attendants appear, the processional platform comes around the corner.

While this is a large platform, it only had thirty attendants carrying it at one time.

The statue of Jesus on the platform is very similar to the one above the altar in the old cathedral in Ciudad Vieja.

We're told that the larger platforms, which will be used during Semana Santa (Holy Week) will require fifty attendants.

In addition to the main platform, two smaller platforms are also carried in this procession.

After the procession has passed, the city cleaning crew arrives to pick up everything that doesn't belong in the street, i.e. trash, alfombras that have been walked on, etc.

We walked several blocks to once again view the procession. I took a short video that gives a good view of what we saw.

After leaving the procession, it was past 4:00 p.m., so we decided to have dinner before returning to the apartment. After eating, we headed over to the outdoor part of the mercado to pick up some fruit. We then went looking for a chicken bus heading towards Alotenango. We soon found one, boarded it and were soon exiting right at the road to our apartment. It had been a good day.

February 27

We had originally decided to bus down to Escuintla, but after considering the opportunity to travel two hours by chicken bus, we decided to forgo the pleasure. Instead, we relaxed at the apartment until about 10:30 a.m. and then headed down to the highway where we quickly were picked up by a chicken bus heading to La Antigua. We even managed to snag part of a seat to sit on.

Once in La Antigua, we headed over to McDonalds for a quick lunch. Following lunch, we headed over to the mercado to continue our hopeless search for the elusive dining ware. We also tried a number of shops along Alameda Santa Lucia, the main road that runs past the mercado, to no avail.

After a consolatory soft-serve ice cream at Pollo, we decided to follow the directions given in my Rough Guide to Guatemala and walk to San Felipe de Jesus. On the way, we stopped in the park in front of La Merced to rest and watch the crowd. Afterwards, we toured the monastery attached to La Merced for a Q5 admission fee (60 cents). The ruins are in excellent shape and within the central courtyard, there is a massive and well preserved fountain, much like the one at San Francisco El Grande.

From the second floor (that's all there is up there), you can get some good views across La Antigua, such as this apartment building that the owner thinks may need to be expanded,

this courtyard surrounded by church offices,

or this language school that labels their study areas in both Arabic numerals and one of the Mayan dialects.

You can also get close enough to the dome of La Merced to see the animals that have been placed around it. Can you tell what they are?

They animals around the dome are actually lions created by artisans who obviously had never seen a lion.

From La Merced, we continued our walk following the directions in our Rough Guide. Obviously, I can't follow directions, as we soon found ourselves on the highway to Jocotenango. After a consolatory chocobanana (frozen banana dipped in chocolate), we hopped on a chicken bus heading for Joco.

At the Azotea Cultural Center (where we went last Saturday), there was going to be a traditional Mayan ball game. The only difference, of course, being that the losers would not be sacrificed. Actually, most Mayans disagree with the opinion of many scholars that such practices took place. They think it paints their culture with a bad brush and say that more research is needed to determine if indeed such practices did take place. It always comes back to needing more research, doesn't it. Here is the backboard with the goal (ring).

The game consisted of three parts. The first was preliminary invocation to the Mayan gods.

The second part is what we usually think of as a Mayan ball game. The warriors taking part can only use their elbows, stomachs, knees and forearms to move the ball. The object was to get it through the vertical hoop on the wall.

The third part was called "fire ball" and looked much like hockey, but with a burning ball in place of the puck.

Following the conclusion of the game, we walked back to the highway and took another chicken bus back to La Antigua. Since it was late, we went ahead and went to a restaurant for supper. Afterwards, we went looking for a chicken bus to take us back to the apartment. While walking through the chicken bus terminal, we spied this heavily modified bus.

It wasn't long before a chicken bus heading for Dueñas appeared and we headed home. This trip was strange, since we started off with few passengers and, once filled, every passenger except us exited before our stop. We expected to be dumped somewhere in Ciudad Viejas, but our driver dropped us off at the cemetery as we had requested upon boarding. He then headed back to La Antigua for another load.

We relaxed, did on-line research and watched another movie in English with Spanish subtitles. We're starting to critique the Spanish subtitles. Often, they say something significantly different from what we're hearing in English. What do you know, maybe we're learning something.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Earthquakes and Tsunamis

Just in case anyone is concerned, we are not in any danger from the earthquake that hit Chile as it is about 5,000 miles to the south of where we are located. We did feel the effects of a 5.6 strength earthquake earlier this week, but have heard of no damage or injury that resulted. Obviously, earthquakes are quite common, both here and elsewhere in the world, including Illinois, Oklahoma, New Jersey, Alaska and California. Here's a link to see world-wide earthquake activity during the past 24 hours and past week:

Regarding the tsunamis that are heading for the Pacific coasts, we are also in no danger from that threat as we are at over 5,000 feet of altitude. We are considering taking a trip down to a Guatemalan city, Escuintla, which is only 1,167 feet above sea level, but it should be safe enough also.

Friday, February 26, 2010

February 26

Today was an unusual day. We needed to go to Socorro School in La Antigua, but knew that we needed to be there just after school let out for the day, because I needed to do a preliminary assessment of the condition of their computer lab.

We finally walked down to the highway around 10:00 a.m. and soon caught a very full chicken bus heading into La Antigua. We were fortunate to find seats, although they were aisle seats as the third passenger in the seat, which means that one cheek is unsupported.

We arrived in La Antigua around 10:30 a.m. and decided to go to McDonalds for an early lunch, but had to wait until they changed from their breakfast menu at 11:10 a.m. before we could order.

While we were waiting I took a photo of their fountain,

their fountain with their main trademark,

some of the beautiful plantings and

other beautiful plantings. Is your McDonald's this lovely?

Following our lunch, we walked across town to Socorro School and were in the library by noon. I didn't have much to do, but wanted to run several additional malware elimination programs and fix the Microsoft Office 2003 that was not installed properly originally. All these tasks were completed by about 1:00 p.m., so I headed up to the third floor computer lab. There are twenty-three computers in the lab. I booted up one and determined that the installed antivirus software was about a year and a half out of date. I installed Avast, the free antivirus software that I've been using, and started it checking the status of that system. For this, I was using a computer security CD I had burned with a variety of fee and open source tools. While this computer was running, I decided to check another one and discovered that it didn't have a CD drive. I pulled out my half-gig USB drive and plugged it in without thinking. Before long, it was obvious that the young woman in charge of the computer lab was done with her end of school day chores. These did not include dealing with computer security issues, but rather involved sweeping and mopping the floor, dusting the computer tables and the window sill and covering each monitor, tower and keyboard with a protective cover. These are good things to do, but I was finding from my virus scan that the computers in the lab were significantly compromised. Her cleaning tasks completed, I could tell that she was ready to leave, so I pulled out my USB drive, aborted my virus scan and shut down both computers. Later, when I scanned my USB drive with the anti-virus software on my laptop, I discovered it infested with trojans. I had to reformat it and reload the software I keep on it. I also need to find a way to make it read-only, so it can't get infected again.

Leaving the school, we started walking back across La Antigua. One of the interesting things about La Antigua and Guatemala, for that matter, is the sidewalks. Sidewalks, in most places are designed to promote walking. I'm not sure what their purpose in in Guatemala, as this next photo shows.

Truthfully, some sidewalks are smooth and level, but they tend to be the exception here.

Soon after leaving the school, we passed one of the many colegios (private schools) in La Antigua where the parents were lined up in their cars to pick up their children so that they could take them home. I thought Susan and Donna would enjoy this photo, since they do so much of this themselves.

As we continued our walk to Pollo Campero for our traditional soft-serve ice cream cone, we passed one of the many restaurants you can find in La Antigua.

It's truly amazing how many different types of restaurants, including ethnically different, you can find in this city.

After enjoying our ice cream at Pollo, I headed over to the Bodegona to see if I could find a mousepad. None of the computers I've been working on have mousepads and I wanted one to carry with me, since many of the tables that are used do not work well with mice. I had to go to the second floor of the Bodegona, which could more properly be called a mezzanine. I wondered over to the area where computer stuff is sold and eventually a young man asked if he could assist me. I tried to ask for a mousepad in Spanish and he replied, "Oh, a mousepad" in English. He didn't know where they were, so he asked a young woman who worked in the department if they had any. She pointed to a locked case attached to a post that held USB drives and other stuff. In the bottom were placed some mousepads. The young man checked his database and told me the price. I nodded and the began to look for the key to the case. He couldn't find it, so he asked the young woman, who threw him her keys. He opened the case and I pulled out a very plain, blue mousepad. Having a fancy design wouldn't improve my mouse work. He locked the case again looked up this particular mousepad. It was Q10 ($1.20) less than the one he originally quoted me. The then took an order pad (triplicate style) and wrote up the purchase. He had me write in my name (don't know why?), which I did in an unreadable fashion. He didn't seem to care. I pulled out the money and gave it to him. He then asked me to wait, as he went into the back to complete the transaction. Several minutes later he returned, put the mousepad and my receipt in a bag and handed them to me. All this was for a Q6 (72 cent) purchase.

I headed back to Pollo and we decided to go over to the mercado on an exploratory trip. Linda has taken a liking to the knives we have in our apartment. We learned from our landlord, that they had been purchased in the mercado. He and his wife had tried to find them, but failed. We tried for about an hour and also failed, although we did see many things and areas of the mercado that we had missed on previous visits. Unfortunately, we'll probably never be able to find them in the future.

It was almost 4:00 p.m., so we decided to have an early supper at Pollo Campero. They have an excellent grilled chicken plate with a pseudo-Caesar salad and a beverage for Q39 ($4.88). It was a good thing that we had eaten, because it turned out that finding a bus back to the apartment was going to be an adventure.

We went to a street where buses heading our direction pass and also stop to load and soon had one appear. Linda, however, has been irritated by the practice of overfilling the buses and decided to let the first one go on without us, as it was too full. The next one to come our way was about 20 minutes later and we decided to take it, even if it too was heavily filled or so we thought. Evidently, the driver was of a different opinion, as he continued to pick up passengers until they were hanging out the front door.

When we got to our road, the bus was so packed that we couldn't get near the door to exit, in fact, we couldn't even move down the aisle to try to exit. So we decided to ride the bus to the end of the route in Alotenango and take it back to our apartment from there. Sure enough, when we got to Alotenango, everyone exited except us. We moved to the front seat behind the driver, who turned around and saw us. He asked why we hadn't exited and we told him that it has been impossible to do so when we passed our road.

The bus started back towards La Antigua and when the ayudante came by to collect fares, he shook his head at us indicating that we didn't have to pay this time. Soon we were at our apartment and the driver dropped us off right at our road. You could get upset over things like this, but what would it accomplish? I much prefer laughing about things like this and enjoy seeing more of Guatemala.

Back at the apartment, as I mentioned earlier, I cleaned and reloaded my half-gig USB drive and did some on-line research. Later we did some video chatting with Donna, Sal, Nic, Cos and Gia in California. We really enjoy seeing them, especially the twins who are convinced that we live in their computer and get irritated when we don't appear whenever they want to see us.

Tomorrow we're thinking about going to a seafood restaurant in Escuintla recommended by someone we met at the expat breakfast. It's only about 20 miles south of our apartment. In the afternoon, we're going to Jocotenango, which is on the north side of La Antigua, for a traditional Mayan ball game as played in ancient times. There will be one difference, I learned. The losers will not be beheaded.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What's In A Name?

For the past twenty-five days that we've been in Guatemala, we have been in and around a very famous city that goes by a variety of names. Some people call it Antigua, which is actually incorrect and misleading. Antigua is an island that is part of a country in the Caribbean called Antigua and Barbuda.

It's more correct to call it La Antigua, which means "the old one," which is a reduction of it's full modern name, La Antigua de Guatemala, which means "the old Guatemala." Guatemala, of course, is the name of the current capital of Guatemala, often also called Guatemala City or La Ciudad de Guatemala.

The original Spanish name of the city of La Antigua is a bit more boastful. They called it "La Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad De Santiago De Los Caballeros De Guatemala" or "The Very Noble and Very Loyal City of Santiago of the Knights of Guatemala." I don't think I'll be using that one very often.

February 25

Today we were able to attend the weekly expat breakfast at Cafe Condessa, on the west side of Parque Central. Around 8:00 a.m., we were waiting on the highway when a chicken bus appeared and stopped to pick us up.

When the ayudante came around, I once again paid Q5 for the trip into La Antigua. The research continues. Arriving in La Antigua, we walked to Parque Central and the Cafe Condessa. There was a small group already there when we arrived at 8:35 a.m. and others continued to arrive for the next hour.

There was no program, merely introductions and pleasant conversation. One individual, whose wife is returning to Guatemala from Tennessee, has been coming to Guatemala for fifteen years and has lived here permanently for the past four years. Others we met came here from Houston and New York. There were many others with whom we didn't have time to visit this time.

I did have the opportunity to visit other parts of the restaurant, including an historic pila (colonial washing machine)

and a lovely fountain in a patio area.

We did solve two mysteries. If you remember the blog entry in which I described the woman in ropa tipica with the perfect English, I now know more about here. It seems that she is originally from Brooklyn (N.Y., not Iowa) and has lived at Santa Catarina Palopó for the past twenty years and has, as is said, gone native in adopting Mayan dress.

Another individual, also in ropa tipica, who we saw at Nim P'ot, surprised us with her fair skin and blond hair. It turns out that she is an albino, of which there are a number in some of the outlying villages.

During breakfast, we explained to the people sitting with us why we were in Guatemala and what we were doing while here. One of the men sitting across from us, named Carl, told us that he was in Guatemala volunteering with the Church of Christ. He invited us to one of their prayer meetings and we thanked him, but noted that we were attending the cathedral in Ciudad Viejas. He went on to tell us that the computer his church had was not working and I offered to check it out for him.

We first walked over to this house, which was where his car was parked. On the way, we passed the headquarters for the tourist police.

We soon were on the road to San Lorenzo el Cubo, where the church was located. Once there, we checked all the connections, plugged it in and turned it on. The tower seemed to start, but the monitor did not respond to the video output. I got out our netbook, connected the monitor to it and soon had an image on the screen. We popped the cover of the tower, cleaned out all the dust and decided that the problem might lie with the connection on the motherboard from the external video port. The external video port was wobbley, as if it had been stressed too many times. I suggested that a separate video card might solve the problem. Carl mentioned that he had a desktop at home, so we hauled the tower to Carl's house in La Antigua.

Carl's house was a very neat one-bedroom house with a loft on a quiet side street on the west side of La Antigua. I asked him what his rent was and he told me to guess. I guessed $500 and he said that I was correct. The house shares a walled enclosure with another house, and comes fully furnished with a maid and gardener. There is also space to park at least one and maybe two small cars.

We opened up Carl's home computer, cleaned out most of the dust (didn't have any compressed air) and quickly determined that it also had integrated audio. I replaced the cover, reattached all the cords and cables and booted it up. I then installed Advanced SystemCare and ran it. Carl now holds the record for the most fragmented hard drive I've yet encountered. Fortunately, Carl runs an excellent anti-virus program and the system was fairly clean, although cleaner after ASC was run.

We were ready to go to lunch and Carl invited us to join him as his guests. He took us to La Fonda, which I assumed was the same restaurant we had eaten at with Kristen on our first night in La Antigua. I was wrong. There are three La Fonda restaurants, all in the same general area of La Antigua. There's got to be a reason for this, but we don't have a clue what it would be.

The La Fonda we visited this time turned up to be the same one that Bill Clinton had eaten in in 1999. Here's a photo of his chair to prove it.

Please disregard my comment that the earlier La Fonda had been the one he had eaten it. I was the victim of incorrect information.

Lunch was a delightful, typically Guatemalan lamb stew with rice, a Guatemalan tamale (without the filling you find in Mexican tamales) and corn tortillas in a lovely patio area.

When we had finished eating, I told Carl to let me know if the new video card worked so I could do the system cleaning I had volunteered to do for him. After thanking him for the wonderful lunch, we headed over to the mercado to pick up some fruit and vegetables that we needed. After an Alice in Wonderland exploration of the mercado, we found a stand that had what we wanted and quickly purchased Q50 ($6.00) of produce. We then headed over to Pollo Campero for a soft-serve ice cream cone and a clean restroom.

From Pollo, we picked up a dozen eggs at Dispensa Familiar and headed over to our bus pickup area. On our way, we met up with Mark, who lives downstairs. His Mercedes, the one that picked us up at La Aurora Airport almost four weeks ago, has decided that it needs a new transmission, so he's reduced to riding chicken buses just like us.

The trip back was uneventful, but cost us Q6 for the fare to our apartment. Once back, we discovered that our electricty was out. Since I started this blog, it's come on for about 2 seconds and went out again. If you can't read this blog entry, it's probably because our electricity is still out.

At least being without electricty doesn't affect our air conditioning. The window is still fully open and the temperature in our apartment is a pleasant 70 degrees. Later, we may have to partially shut it to avoid being chilled.

Tonight, after dinner, we will probably watch another English language movie with Spanish subtitles, do Internet research, finish blogging and try to have another video chat with the kids...if we once again have electricty. Otherwise, we'll be going to bed very, very early.

Update: Our electricity did come back on, but soon went off once again. Our neighbor from downstairs, Mark, came up to make sure we had a candle, which we did...actually two. According to him, this is the worst outage he's experienced in the 16 months he's been here.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

February 24

Today, since Linda still wasn't feeling good, I ended up going into La Antigua on my own. Since it was laundry day, I hauled a laundry bag with me to drop off at the lavandaria we use and used in 2007, when we were last in La Antigua.

I didn't have to wait long for a chicken bus to appear and the ayudante grabbed my laundry bag and put it under the dash as I found my seat. When he came by to collect the fare, I once again handed over Q3 (36 cents), but this time I got no change. Maybe my theory of being accepted is incorrect. Obviously, more research is needed.

When I arrived in La Antigua and started to exit the bus, the ayudante grabbed my laundry and handed it to me once I was off the bus. I've seen this with others who bring large objects on the bus that are stowed in the front, but it was the first time it had happened to me. Very considerate, it was. (Sounds like Yoda, doesn't it?)

In no time, I walked over to our lavandaria, dropped off the laundry and arranged to pick it up around 3:00 p.m. I then walked across town to Socorro School enjoying the beautiful weather. I didn't see any snow or ice anywhere.

I arrived at the school around 9:30 a.m., rang the buzzer and was quickly admitted. Waving at the school secretary, I headed to the library. Once there, I booted the library computer. After logging in, it was up and running in less than 2 minutes. Not really believing that I had really solved its problems, I ran several programs that reported that there was no malware present.

I did have one problem that I wanted to work on. The computer has Microsoft Office 2003 installed on it. When I first tried to use it, it insisted that it needed to complete the installation process. I tried several things to deal with this irritation, but to no avail. Unfortunately, there is no installation disk for this or any computer I've yet to work on and without one, it will probably be impossible to deal with this issue. One possibility would be to install Open Office, but that would probably introduce its own set of issues.

About noon, I decided that I had done all I could do for the day with this particular computer. I do have a lab of about 20 computers on the floor above the library, but I'll probably have to work there afternoons when there aren't any students aren't in school.

It took me about a half hour to walk across town to Pollo Campero, where I had lunch, since they offer free Internet access. I ordered lunch and unpacked my netbook, which I had with me. I needed to do some grocery shopping at the Bodegona, but didn't want to be hauling around groceries until it was time to pick up our laundry.

After about an hour, I went by the Dispensa Familiar to get my second weekly infusion of cash. I then walked over to the Centro de Formación de la Cooperación Española and studied Spanish for about an hour. I then went to the Bodegona to pick up the things on my shopping list. After checking out, I headed over to the lavandaria to find that our laundry was just about packed in our laundry bag. After paying for our laundry, I lugged it and my groceries over to where the buses heading back to the apartment load.

The first bus to appear was an Esmeralda heading for Dueña and I decided to take it. Once again, my laundry was placed in the front of the bus under the dash. This time, when the ayudante came by collecting fares, I received 50 centavos change for the Q3 I handed him. Go figure! Obviously more research is needed.

I got off at the intersection and lugged my groceries and laundry the length of the cemetery to the road leading up to our apartment. It was a little after 4:00 p.m. and I was tired.

We had an early dinner of scrambled eggs with onion and güisquil (pronounced: “weeskeel”), which is related to the cucumber and the squash. Here's a link to more information on güisquil: . I believe that I provided this link earlier in my blog, but you must not have been paying attention or I wouldn't be providing it again.

Our evening was spent watching a movie on television, doing on-line research, testing Edubuntu and video chatting twice with Donna, Nic, Cos and Gia. Nic and Gia got their hair cut today and we were able to check back to see the results.

Tomorrow we're joining a local expat group for breakfast at Cafe Condessa, which is on the west side of Parque Central. It will be interesting to meet them and find out why they moved to Guatemala and what keeps them here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

February 23

Because of the trouble I've been having with that library computer at Socorro School, I decided to try to get there earlier to give me more time to become frustrated. Linda wasn't feeling well (possibe altitude sickness - we at about 6,000 feet), she stayed at the apartment, while I went in by myself.

As I walked out the front door, I saw that Fuego was looking rather calm. (Note: this was before I had discovered that he had been falsely accused of being the source of Sunday night's loud noise.) I quickly walked down to the highway and, almost immediately, a chicken bus appeared and stopped to pick me up. It was only partially filled. There were three people in each seat, but the aisle was half empty. I stood for a short while until someone got off and I was able to rest one of my cheeks.

Soon the ayudante came by to collect fares and I experienced the first surprise of the day. I handed him my Q3 (36 cents) fare and he gave me 50 centavos (6 cents) in change. This had never happened before. Could it be that we had moved from being mere gringos to being accepted as part of the community? It's really too early to say. More research is required.

We quickly arrived in La Antigua and I decided to walk to the school. I arrived there at about 9:00 a.m. and buzzed for admission. After identifying myself, the secretary buzzed the new electric lock and I was able to enter. This new lock was one of the first changes instituted by the new director. I guess you could call it her first accomplishment.

After greeting the secretary, I headed up to the library, where I immediately booted the computer I'd already spent so much time on. To my delight and surprise, it actually booted in a reasonable length of time.

For the next two hours I ran about four separate programs, some multiple times, designed to clean different types of malware from computers. In the end I had removed 14 rootkits, 1 worm, 26 spyware programs and numerous virsuses. When finished, the computer worked much more efficiently and even booted from the off state in less than 2 minutes.

About 9:15 a.m., I felt a strange rumble and asked the librarian if that had been an earthquake. She acknowledged that it probably had been. Almost immediately, a much stronger earthquake occurred, later labeled by USGS as 5.4 on the Richter Scale, that made me feel as if I was encased in one of those jello molds that are wiggle when placed on a plate.

Fortunately, there was no damage and no one was injured. This was my second surprise of the day.

At about 11:00 a.m., I had done everything I could do on the library computer for the time being, so I decided to leave for the day. Although only two hours, I had accomplished more that day than I had done in most of the past week. This was my third surprise of the day.

On the walk back, I called my mother in Beaumont, Texas and chatted with her about what we were doing in Guatemala. She even rode with me on a chicken bus for a short time. Soon the ayudante came by to collect tolls and I once again handed him the Q3 that I understood to be the standard fare. Once again I was handed 50 centavos in change. This was my fourth surprise of the day.

Now with the reduced fares I'd had and an additional 10 centavos coin I had found on the ground while waiting for the bus to return to the apartment, I was up a cool Q1.10 (13 cents) for the day. If this trend continues, I can see real wealth on the horizon!

My fifth surprise was that the bus was so empty, that I had an entire seat to myself. Of course, because of that, I took my backpack off and laid down my walking stick. Later, when I started to get off, one of the other passengers hurried to the front of the bus to return my walking stick. This is just another example of how friendly and caring the people of Guatemala have been to this particular gringo.

My sixth surprise of the day was my success in managing to get dropped off right at the road to our apartment. Of course, an alternative explanation could be that they also dropped off another woman at the same time who turned out to be our downstair neighbor's maid. Oh well, it was still a surprise.

Back at the apartment, I had my lunch and eventually decided to take an afternoon nap. Later in the afternoon, thanks to a heads-up from Susan, I manged to call my step-father and wish him a happy 86th. birthday.

Supper, computer maintenance (I've got to take care of our computers, too.), video conferencing with Donna, Nic, Cos and Gia in California, on-line research and blogging took place during the rest of the evening. Tomorrow, we have to take the laundry in, do grocery shopping and begin tackleing the computer lab on the floor above the school library.


I've just learned that the "belch" we heard on Sunday evening was not Volcan Fuego. Instead, it was the Space Shuttle Endeavor breaking the sound barrier as it prepared to land at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Evidently bad weather in the U.S. caused it to take the more southerly route over El Salvador.

I would like to extend my sincere apologies to Volcan Fuego for unfairly and incorrectly blaming him for the disgusting noise. Now, can he stop with the stink?


Evidently, there was an earthquake this morning on the Mexico-Guatemalan border according to INSIVUMEH (Instituto Nacional De Sismologia, Vulcanologia, Meterologia E Hidrologia) - that name reminds me of when I answered the telephone with "Iowa State University Extension - Des Moines County," only more so). It was evidently felt in Guatemala City, although it didn't disturb my sleep. From the lack of response near where we are, it's obvious that I wasn't the only one who slept through it.

By the way, we could smell Fuego this morning. We had assumed that the burning smell came from the finca next door. Soon after we arrived they had been doing some burning, but we haven't seen any more burning for several weeks. The smells have continued on an on and off basis. Now we know, it's our friendly neighborhood volcano.

Monday, February 22, 2010

February 22

Today, because I had to finish up the blogging I couldn't complete last night, we didn't get away as early as we would have wished. While finishing my morning blogging, Fuego once again belched, although not as loud as last night.

How loud was it last night? Well, for family in Texas and California, it sounded like a refinery had exploded. For folks back in Iowa, it sounded like the IAAP might sound if all their munitions were to go off at the same time. It was truly a "get your attention" kind of sound, but I've seen nothing on-line about it, except for some expats blogging about it.

This morning's belch was significantly less than last nights - more like a train wreck. Maybe now Fuego will calm down and play nice for the remainder of our stay.

As we walked out our front door, we could see that Fuego was still unsettled.

After reaching La Antigua, we caught a tuk-tuk and "enjoyed" the vibrations form the cobblestones all the way to Socorro School. On our way in to the library, we saw the director, who was much more outgoing to us. On Friday, I had presented her with my old ISU business card. The same thing happened to us in 2007, when I presented my business card, which indicated that I was a "director," almost immediately we received more respect. Guatemalans have a high level of respect for directors.

The morning's work on the library computer was once again slow going. I once again installed updated anti-virus software via a read-only CD. This was to prevent the spread of the infected files, of which this computer has a bunch. Around 11:30 a.m., which is when we like to eat lunch, rather than the 2:00 p.m. favored by Guatemalans, the anti-virus program was functioning well, so we headed over to the ruins of the Franciscan Monastery

on the grounds of San Francisco el Grande Church.

Admission was Q5 (60 cents) each, but we enjoyed visiting the museum again and walking through the grounds. The ruins are all that is left from the original monastery after numerous earthquakes.

You can get a feeling for the size of the monastery, by the size of their kitchen.

Thoughout the La Antigua area, there are numerous depictions of St. Michael the Archangel and the old Franciscan monastery is no exception.

There are still Franciscan monks on-site, but they have a much smaller and probably more modern monastery next to the church.

After eating lunch, we headed back to the school to continue battle with the library computer. It finally finished around 2:00 p.m., so I began running other programs that might find additional trojans, viruses, and worms. They did, but continued to lock up before completing their assignment. Finally, soon after four, when the computer locked up once again, we decided to call it a day, packed up and headed out.

When we got to the front door, we discovered that the lock was a new electronic lock that didn't seem to have a way to open manually. I went back to the office and finally got the secretary to press the button that would let us leave. As we exited, we were joined by a small, elderly nun who had also been in the office when I asked for the door to be open.

Once outside, the small nun invited us to see their home, which is attached to the Belen Church, not far from the school. Not knowing what to expect, we were led into a beautiful and well appointed conference center. Evidently, a hotel had been built in the ruins of the Bethlehemite monastery and they were able to purchase it. The facility has lodging, group dining facilities, a lovely chapel, meeting rooms and a garden that is out of this world. It was hard to believe that we were still in La Antigua, with its noise and bustle.

The nun led us on a tour of the garden area and then led us into an enclosed area with plantings, but unrestored walls. At the end of the walkway, we were shown a small, monk's cell and told, in Spanish, that this was where Hermano Pedro, Guatemala's saint, had died in 1667. There were a number of plaques around the entrance commemorating this fact.

We then walked back through the peaceful gardens, through the conference center and to the front door, where we thanked the nun for her hospitality and left. As we walked down the street, we were pleased to see a tuk-tuk approaching, so we flagged him down.

Since it was well after 5:00 p.m., we headed to McDonald's (Remember, Hermano Pedro is their patron saint here. They have his statue on display.) for dinner. Afterwards, we walked over to the street where our buses load, found one heading for Alotenango and boarded. At this time of day, the bus was filled by the time we loaded it and well filled after making several more stops for additional passengers.

Once again, there were people waiting at the cemetery to board, so we decided to exit and walk the short distance to our apartment. Tonight, we rested, did Internet research, blogged and made a large pot of soup for the coming days. Tomorrow, we will try to make an earlier start so I'll have more time to spend cleaning up that library computer. I'd really like to be finished with it, as I have another computer lab at Socorro that I haven't even seen. If its computers are as bad as the other computers I've found here, I may have my final three weeks in La Antigua already booked.

February 21

Today we once again slept late. When we did get up, we must have been in slow mode, because it was about 9:00 a.m. when we realized that it was time to go to church. Because of our experience in getting chicken buses and our need to usually walk into Ciudad Vieja, we realized that it was possible that we might not make it to San Francisco Church (on the east side of La Antigua) on time. Rather than risk being late, we decided to walk into Ciudad Vieja and attend Mass at Iglesia de La Virgen de Concepción de la Ciudad Vieja, which was founded in 1534 and was the original cathedral in Guatemala.

Ciudad Vieja was established as the second capital of Guatemala after the Spanish were encouraged by an indigenous uprising. The name, Ciudad Vieja, means “old city,” which is interesting, because the Spanish moved the capital to La Antigua de Guatemala, which means “The old Guatemala,” after the original Ciudad Vieja was lost under a massive mud slide. By the way, the “new” Guatemala (City) is the current capital. The current church in Ciudad Vieja was obviously built after that massive mud slide, since some guidebooks note that only a single tree is left standing of the original town. Here's a photo of the town clocktower.

Enough for that digression. We decided to walk to the church (we'll never do that again), which turned out to be quite a distance through Ciudad Vieja. The people we met were very pleasant and smiled to see us, as we were the only gringos around. We arrived at the church about 10:45 a.m. and were pleased to find out that there was an 11:00 a.m. Mass. Our backup plan, had there not been an 11:00 a.m. Mass was to go on the La Antigua, where we could have attended the noon Mass at San Francisco el Grande.

The church is beautiful and the people we met were very welcoming. When the Mass started, we were amazed to see fourteen (14) altar servers process in, followed by six or seven Eucharistic ministers and two lectors, one being a boy. The priest followed this parade in visiting with the congregation all the way.

The music was provided by a slightly too loud Clavicord with three miked singers. Actually, they did a fairly good job and at least on one of the sung Mass parts, we found that we could sing along. We found the Mass very easy to follow, as the priest and the lectors spoke very clearly. We didn't get much of the sermon, because of our limited Spanish, but did enjoy his practice of getting active feedback from his congregation. As we left the church, we knew we would be back.

Walking down to the highway, not far from the church, we waited for the next available chicken bus to La Antigua, which soon arrived. There was a detour prior to arriving at our normal drop-off spot and we ended up getting off the bus at the terminal, behind the mercado.

We immediately went to Pollo Campero for dessert (a soft-serve ice cream cone), but more so for access to clean restrooms and on the sidewalk stopped to listen to a family band.

From Pollo, we went to our favorite comedor for another helping of Chicken Pepian for only Q20 ($2.40) each.

After lunch, we went back to the terminal and found a chicken bus heading to Jocotenango, a village on the north side of La Antigua. We got off at Jocotenango's Parque Central and saw a depiction of the official village vegetable

and started following the signs to the Mariposario, a butterfly garden. On our way, we saw a woman drying clothes on top of her house

and the entrance to a gated community, just across the street.

Just when we were about to give up, we found it and immediately saw a bus identical to the one we had been riding drive right past it. Oh, well. We needed the exercise.

We were the only visitors to the Mariposario, which had a Q40 ($4.80) entrance fee per person, but the attendant gave us a fairly complete and understandable explanation of the stages in a butterfly's life in Spanish.

It felt good to know, once again, that we were understanding Spanish, even if it was “más despacio” (more slowly). After the initial lecture, the attendant led us into the butterfly enclosure, a large net tent filled with plants that attract and/or feed butterflies.

We spent about an hour trying to take photographs of mainly non-cooperative butterflies.

Often, before we could snap the photo, they would be gone.

There were some lovely flowers in the enclosure,

Including this flowering banana tree.

One brave butterfly even decided to become my buddy.

After leaving the Mariposario, we went out to the street and waited, with some locals, for the next chicken bus to arrive. As we had noted before, it was on the same route as the bus that had brought us to Jocotenango. It soon returned us to the terminal in La Antigua.

We've gotten into the practice of eating supper in La Antigua when we're there at or after 4:00 p.m. Since it was only 3:30 p.m., we decided to walk over to El Centro de Formación de la Cooperación Española, where we could sit in the shade in one of their patios and read some Spanish books we had brought with us.

After 4:00 p.m., we headed over to that famous Guatemalan restaurant, McDonalds, and had one of their combos. Once again, although I had a winning scratch-off coupon, I didn't win a free round-trip to South Africa for the World Cup (fútbol). Oh, well. Better luck next time.

We had heard a band playing earlier and had seen men, both young and old, dressed in purple robes, but had not made the connection. As we were heading for a bus back to our apartment, we saw one of the Lenten processions with the large wooden float that are carried on the shoulders of a whole bunch (hows that for precision) of men, while a band plays religious hymns. Unfortunately, it was about two blocks away from us and the sidewalks were packed, so we decided to try to catch one of these processions next weekend.

Because of the processions, the bus routes were all changed up and some buses were delayed. We finally got a bus supposedly heading for Alotenango, but were surprised when it turned around in Ciudad Vieja and had everyone exit. I guess I should have known something like this was going to happen, when the ayudante hadn't charged me as much as I had expected him to do.

We walked the remainder of the way back to our apartment and spent the rest of our evening relaxing, watching television, working on our blogs and reading. Unfortunantly, our Internet connection was flaky, so, if you haven't gotten this installment of my blog, that's the reason.

Just as I was going to save this entry, we heard a very loud, roaring noise and felt vibration. We looked out our windows and didn't see anything. I got our front door key and opened the front door to look out and saw nothing. When I got back upstairs, our neighbor Jackie was talking with Linda and told us that the sound we heard was Volcan Fuego. We had seen it smoking during the past three weeks, but had not yet heard or felt it belch. Now we have. Unfortunately, because of cloud cover, it's impossible to see anything. I'll let you know if we can see anything tomorrow. Note, for family especially, we are far enough away from Volcan Fuego so as not to be in any danger from it, however, related earthquakes could be a different story.

It appears that we aren't the only ones to be concerned about last night's belch from Volcan Fuego. Here is a link to a blog maintained by our downstairs neighbor, Mark, in which he comments on last night's noise: .

We've been smelling something that seems to be burning during the past week. It's very likely that we have been smelling "Fragrance de Fuego." We'll keep you updates, should anything else occur.