Austin, Texas (10 October 2008)

Still, the shock of American abundance remains. All the houses in our new community are e-n-o-r-m-o-u-s, 3500 square feet at least, up to six- or seven-, each constructed with carved stone, tiled roofing and stately crystal windows and perfectly manicured green lawns. The kitchen with an island gas burners has so much space, and we’ve got two refrigerators, two microwaves, two sinks, at least one couch in every room if not three or four, two dining rooms with their table settings (!!), shelves full of every conceivable brand new cookware and gadget, culinary mixer, coffeemaker, electric can opener, cheese grater, beautiful stainless chef knives, industrial blender, sink disposal (I’m told these blades can macerate chicken bones!!), poultry rotisserie, and a spice rack and a tool shed. The barbecue grill outside looks professional–I’ve never used it–six plastic chairs and sitting area outside for summer evenings to watch the birds come to our two feeders. Can it be humanly possible that this is all for me to use? All of this, to make me comfortable? …I felt a little horrified and privileged at the same time.

I am still astonished that the hot shower can be adjusted to comfort much less his-and-her bathroom sinks, a sitting room, a laundry room, a patio, a full stocked entertainment room, flat-screen TVs, (holy-cow we have a private projector system for slide shows!) And this being Texas, the air conditioning is on all the time and every single room has a fancy ceiling fan which is also on all the time…and it’s almost laughable how hearty and well-constructed the fireplace is, considering it is completely a superfluous garnish to a digitally-temperature-controlled house with five bedrooms. The Community Center acts more like a country club with a gym, with a coffee shop that has leather executive seats you can lean back in and people driving Mustangs for three blocks to the gym to exercise.


…I started missing Chiapas, and all my friends who I’d just drop by and say hello. I missed the affection, the humility, the musty organic smells of the vegetable markets and people with missing teeth. There was something so wonderful about being the same as everybody else, having limited choices, and just finding the simple beauty of existence, even if showers were cold. So I gave myself a self-medicated dose of nostalgia by organizing my photos, set by set, place by place, reliving it. Thanks so much for reading my blog and my personal experiences, I believe this will be my last post regarding Chiapas.

Here are the photos, enjoy:


Spanish Words of the Day:traspatio” patch garden | “tender” to tend to | “por ende” therefore, whereby | “reivindicar” to claim responsibility

Is life in Chiapas interesting or what?

Claudia, Jaime, Ezequiel, Diana y Adriana

“No man has ever risen to the real stature of spiritual manhood until he has found that it is finer to serve somebody else than it is to serve himself.” – Woodrow T. Wilson


Spanish Words of the Day: desmayo” faint | “peluche” cuddly, plush | “pellejo” hide, skin | “petardos” bottle-rockets | “cohetes” firework

9:00am tomorrow, I’m heading back to the United States.

I am going to miss my home in Chiapas…

My goodbye dinner party will start in an hour. I am going to miss the hearth, here is where we had many fine conversations with close friends and worked late into the night, with the fireplace and all the candles lit.

And in case you’re wondering what’s for dinner…

Menu: Arroz con cilantro, chile relleno con queso y hongos, espagueti con salsa marinara, pollo con salsa verde, papas con condimento, verduras al sazon… more photos later after I load them tonight.


Spanish Words of the Day: incumbe” incumbent | “transbordo” to change | “domicilios” place of residence | “repostar” to stock up or fill up with |”impronta” imprint, mark, footprint

It’s all true. Everything you can love, or hate, about Chiapas; whether it beguiles and compels you, or frustrates and messes with you. These travelogues and accounts are as much about the place as the person who is writing her memoirs.

And now that I’m preparing to go home…presenting final gifts to friends, preparing a farewell party, donating clothing, ribbons, tools and trinkets… I’m also perusing the half-written thoughts and anecdotes that never got published: the Mexican nationalism. The rampant lies and moral corruption. How many locals loitered around with shifty eyes and that suspicious posture that told you they were up to no good. The drunkards passed out on the street. The endemic complacency and tardiness. The reluctance to do anything under deadline. The shocking mass ignorance. The inability to remember simple math operations. The heated conversations which got no where.

But in spite of all of this, the irksome things paled in comparison to the good and the beautiful.

For you see, here in Chiapas, Mexico, my heart felt so full. There was nothing more I wanted, everything made sense, and there was such a strong spiritual connection to the past. The contemplation and the profundity of just being in my place in the universe, and the majesty of living in the temperate mountains with indigenous Mayan locals had an extraordinary appeal.


…Most of the time, travelers will pass time in the colonial streets of San Cristobal de Las Casas sipping a cardamom hot chocolate with anise, strolling along its churches and tasting its cuisine and touch the local textiles. They’ll pile into a private van and visit the surrounding villages with their camera, snap snap, and buy a souvenir or two, and are pleasantly surprised: it’s as trendy and bohemian hipster as parts of Brooklyn or San Francisco, with posh elegant spas opened next to the indie arthouse theatre.

But living here was different. Sometimes…sometimes… if you wander on the road less traveled, it transported into another universe. One in which you connected with more than ten thousands years of continuous human existence, one in which mysticism and spells were still told, and you wonder what changes the valleys and the plateau has seen.

There are moments when the coppery sunshine flooded into the windows illuminating all the house ferns and the wooden pillars, the Spanish tiles and the hammock felt warm, and sitting on the veranda looking up from your book, you could lose track of time staring at the misty mountains and the mysterious clouds. At all of the sudden all the magnificence of the Old World in the New World stirring in your soul again. And you can smell the pungent aroma of burning pine needles faintly in the atmosphere, rituals inextricably tied with the earth and people of this place. Tortillas sizzling over the comal.

Chiapas is not Mexico. In fact, in the popular imagination of many Mexicans, most find it either a backwards hinterland of dreadful poverty and problems, or a region of romanticized savage revolution and indigenous character foreign to anywhere else in the nation. Thus, unlike the Yucatan Peninsula or tribal Oaxaca, or the beach holiday destinations, most Mexicans to the north (and certainly those who run the country’s politics, economics and social affairs) will often harbor exaggerated fears about the south, asking “…but isn’t it really poor? Isn’t it really dangerous?“, much less venture into terrifying and volatile Central America.

So to the ends of sharing these rich life experiences with my dear readers, (so that you may ignore the local fear who’re often swayed by the gruesome media coverage of daily murders) I’ve written a short list of remarkably beautiful places from Southern Mexico to Nicaragua that have inspired and transformed me in this Mayan territory. I neglect to mention beaches since I haven’t been to too many.

But first, avoid these, for one reason or another they’re really awful:

Guatemala City, Guatemala | Belmopan, Belize | Chamula, Chiapas Mexico | San Pedro Sula, Honduras | La Ceiba, Honduras | San Salvador, El Salvador | Calakmul Ruins, Mexico

Best Flora, Fauna and Spectacular Geographical Nature:

Semuc Champey, Guatemala [limestone caves, bats, mountains] | Volcán Pacaya, Guatemala [active black volcano] | Cobán, Guatemala [waterfalls, turquoise lakes] | Roatan Bay Islands, Honduras [pristine Caribbean beaches, spectacular scuba diving] | Blue Hole, Belize [unparalleled diving] | Lagos de Montebello, Chiapas [radiant blue set of mountain lakes] | Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua [lake that has filled in a volcanic crater] | La Mesilla to Huehuetenango, Guatemala [the highway passes through white slab gorges and waterfalls] | Coastal Nicaragua [beautiful tropical plantations]

Top Elegant Colonial Cities:

Granada, Nicaragua (unmatched elegance and antique charm); Campeche, Yucatan Mexico; San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas Mexico; Mérida, Yucatan Mexico; Copán, Honduras (visit the macaw bioreserve); Antigua (very charming but too artificial like Disneyland); Suchitoto, El Salvador (nice little town); La Palma, El Salvador (really brightly colored)

Ancient Mayan Ruins and Villages:

Civilization Ruins: Copán, Honduras; Tikal, Guatemala; Palenque, Mexico; Tulúm, Mexico. Villages: Tenejapa and Zinacantan, Chiapas Mexico.

Sad, Humbling and Harrowing:

El Mozote, El Salvador | León, Nicaragua

Major Plantations:

Cacao – Toledo, Belize | Coffee Fincas – Highlands, Guatemala | Macadamia and Nuts – North Guatemala | Banana and Mangoes – Honduras

San Cristobal was definitely the best value: low prices and comparably high quality.

I think I’ll be back in March 2009.


Spanish Words of the Day:infarto” heart attack | “trillado” corny, trite, commonplace | “asqueroso” gross, filthy | “señero” solitary, unique, unparalleled | “demandante” plaintiff | “niñera” nanny

“Coleccionista de Canciones” | Camila

Tú, coleccionista de canciones, dame razones para vivir
Tú, la dueña de mis sueños, quedate en ellos y hazme sentir
Y asi en tu misterio poder descubrir el sentimiento eterno..

Tu, con la luna en la cabeza, el lugar en donde empieza
El motivo y la ilusión de mi existir tan solo tú

Solamente quiero que seas tú, mi locura, mi tranquilidad y mi delirio
Mi compas y mi camino
Solo tú, solamente quiero que seas tú
Pongo en tus manos mi destino
Porque vivo para estar siempre, siempre contigo amor.

Tú, coleccionista de canciones, mil emociones son para ti
Tú lo que soñe mi vida entera, quedate en ella y hazme sentir
Y asi ir transformando la magia de ti, en un respiro del alma..

Tú con la luna en la cabeza, el lugar en donde empieza
El motivo, la ilusión de mi existir, tan solo tú

Solamente quiero qe seas tú
Mi locura, mi tranquilidad y mi delirio, mi compas y mi camino
Sólo tú, solamente quiero que seas tú
Pongo en tus manos mi destino
Porque vivo para estar siempre contigo

Ya no queda más espacio en mi interior
Has llenado con tu luz cada rincón
Es por tí que corre el tiempo
Mi alma siente diferente. Solo tú

Solamente quiero que seas tú
Mi locura, mi tranquilidad y mi delirio. Mi compas y mi camino
Solo tú. Solamente quiero qe seas tú
Pongo en tus manos mi destino porque vivo para estar
Siempre, siempre, siempre contigo amor


David Cawley, from Ireland, at a rare birds bioreserve

“Perderte de Nuevo” | Camila

Ya había desilución, dolor
Y resignación el tiempo
Supo esperar y así la dejé de amar
No había mas que decir
Había llegado el fin
Hacía dos años ya que no me la encontraba
Estaba aprendiendo como vivir
Ya de ti me olvidaba cuando te vi
Con la mirada..desesperada..

Y fue tan fuerte volver a verte
Sufri tanto tiempo por ti
Bastó mirarte, recuperarte y saber que te irías sin mi
Y fue tan fuerte volver a quererte volver a creer en los dos
Bastó mirarte, volver a amarte
Para perderte de nuevo amor….

Senti tanta confusión al verte tan fria amor
Así fue que comprendi que tu no eras para mi
Estaba aprendiendo como vivir
Ya de ti me olvidaba cuando te vi
Con la mirada..desesperada..

Y fue tan fuerte volver a verte
Sufrí tanto tiempo por ti
Bastó mirarte, recuperarte y saber que te irías sin mi
Y fue tan fuerte volver a quererte volver a creer en los dos
Bastó mirarte, volver a amarte
Para perderte de nuevo… amor.


Spanish Words of the Day: “zarcilla” earring, tendril | “encuestar” to survey, to poll | “duradero” long-lasting | “reclamación” complaint | “centella” spark, lightning | “salitre” saltpeter, nitre | “alistar” recruit

It gives me happiness knowing that I can figure out the calculus derivative of the velocity of a ladder falling down, you know? And the other day, I was just sitting on a bench, thinking about all the nuances of muscle tissue which have to work concertedly to bring about the slight facial expressions that we can all read.” Diana looked up from her hot chocolate and gave me a quizzical look, relieved when I wholeheartedly agreed.

“I know!! Just like when we’re going through the jungle, I wonder how many cubic liters of oxygen is simultaneously being produced by all the respiratory process of plants, and I wonder about the Kreb cycle.

Yes. We’ve bonded over the fact that, when left to our own devices, weird thoughts make us cheerful. Over educated young women of the modern yuppie generation. But what camaraderie. After so much Central America and Latin-ness, it felt wonderful to come back home to Chiapas, Mexico, and finally talk to an American girl’s girl again, and from that we both started talking about our past. It was remarkably similar.

Diana is intelligent, beautiful, feminine, and strong. In fact, I could imagine her recast as Keira Knightly in Pride and Prejudice, but now–like me–she’s slung back in an oversized sweater and old sweats, without makeup a swept up hair. It’s our deliberate attempt to uglify ourselves in a place where we don’t want that sort of attention. It’s something men never have to worry about, that is, having to put effort to make ourselves look worse than we do, in order to project the exact image of the public treatment we desire. But she’s a good friend, and I can say she’s honestly beautiful.

She grew up in Romania and eventually finished John Hopkins pre-med program in neuroscience and economics. She told stories about working in India, about Eastern Europe, and wanting a child who speaks ten languages. We then talked animatedly about Krygystan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. “Oh I know a really fascinating girl who grew up in Kazakhstan, I’m going to meet her, we should all go.” The girl talk slipped into Spanish, then English again.

I couldn’t help being amazed at how unrecognizable we were from our parents’ generation, three college-educated city girls transplanted from ex-communist cultures (Kazakhstan, Chinese, and Romanian) into the First World (Munich, New York, and Los Angeles) finding common ground doing social work in one of the poorest states in Mexico, swapping books and personal stories over scented hand creams, congregated in an elegant three-story house, and still being girly. As women, our lives could have been much more limited, but we’ve all come alone to places off the beaten trail in other countries. We enjoyed each other’s company for hours. We watched Arrancame La Vida, and apart from all the Mexicans who thought it to depict life really accurately, Diana and I had a gringa response:

What’s really Latino about Mexicans, I think, is that everybody cheats on each other and has these fits of passion where it just overrides logic. Did you see how he just started at her for three seconds and suddenly the next scene they’re in bed naked? Who was that guy anyway?! See, that kind of stuff, you can’t really translate into other cultures. Or like, the general somehow just officially marries a young girl from a poor family just because she’s beautiful. Doesn’t happen in US films…it’s so Latino. Haven’t you had a guy talk to you for, like, an hour and suddenly go head over heels for you and really seem intensely enamored? I had a Colombian guy wanting to marry me after two days of knowing me. I mean to us, it seems like they’re false or exaggerating, but seriously I think somehow they fall passionately in love in fifteen minutes, and it’s a stereotype but it’s true: if you hear the songs, love seems like some horribly irremediable flu that Latinos get, and suddenly people are desperate and dying and so overly melodramatic.

Yes! I know!! And we started talking about how weird it was that women just have seven or ten babies from different fathers and somehow keep doing it even though it’s making them poorer and poorer and highly increases transmitted diseases. What exactly is going through their thought process anyways?! I mean, make a mistake once out of passion, but isn’t the tenth time getting a bit ridiculous? Other poor uneducated people manage to control themselves. And don’t give me that bullcrap about contraception being too expensive, too unavailable, and lack of education or that the Catholic Church does not condone abortion. Even someone extraordinarily stupid would have to learn by the third accidental child–if not by personal experience, then seeing all the blaring warnings around her—that (a) the mistake of having an unwanted child is far more expensive than the contraception, so you can’t say you can’t afford contraception (b) the mistake of having an unwanted is far more hassle and bothersome than contraception, so you can’t say it’s not easily accessible, (c) I’m sure that regardless of the Catholic Church’s anti-abortion stance, I’m sure they also promote abstinence. So bad excuse: why are people suddenly all pious and religious AFTER they get pregnant and not from the start?

“Yeah, so if women are being impregnated by several men, and men are going to several women, wouldn’t it be kind of hard in these sort of places to draw a Family Tree lineage thing?”

“No, over here, trying to do ancestry would be more like a Family Brush.”

“A Family Hedge. With lots of lines connecting. Like a Family-Chain-Linked-Fence.”

Ever more so, like Western Europe, many middle to upper class Mexicans now don’t believe in marriage or the idea that love lasts. Only cohabitation, hence several siblings all fathered by different men. And that’s okay! I think it’s a form of cynicism in society. Yet American neighbors to the north, I find that we are far more conservative, still clinging on to traditional notions of spirituality, long-term commitment, (and, um, not populating the earth with bastard children. We agreed that some aspects of another culture, we’re never going to understand.)

…But what I’m looking for in a relationship, is a sweet guy who wears the pants in the relationship, someone who’s got spine and makes decisions,” continues my house mate after we ranted about the Indian caste system and how horrible it was for women in some of the regions, when we’re traveling to underdeveloped nations, it’s like they always ask my boyfriend what we’d like and ask him if he wants any food or drink. Like I don’t even exist.”

To be fair, amiga… you’re highly educated, you’re the only jetting off to Bangladesh and here we are, making plans to explore Tajikistan or remoter parts of South America by ourselves. I mean, we’re not normal girls. Most guys in America would be intimidated to just do what you’ve accomplished.

True,” she conceded. (Related Article: Nice Guys Don’t Have To Finish Last.)

And the conversation drifted. We talked about what sort of mothers we’d like to be, about how strange this Latin culture was that they seem to be often oddly overtaken by bouts of passion and emotion, and how–unlike Latin America–females raised in certain Old World cultures had the advantage of being expected to achieve just as much as males in the educational arena.

And in a long silent pause, my mind slipped into thinking about the vibrating soundwaves that reverberates in our room.


Spanish Words of the Day: cajetilla” cigarette packet | “calabobos” light drizzle | “apostar” to bet, to wager | “noviazgo” engagement |

Volcán Pacaya, Guatemala. Ascension was otherworldly. After muddy trailed through thick vegetation and ducking under wire fence to get there, the path led us to a massive range of perfect black mountain ranges composed of coal and gravel crumbling down, veiled in white by mist, rain and ghostly fog looming over the pass.

I hadn’t eaten lunch. I felt delirious, tired, and the rain was smothering me…my breath shortened at the altitude above the clouds…the fog stormed thick and gray below us, some of the verdant landscape and the lights of Guatemala City far and below reaching into the distance. Terrifying lightning storms cracked next to us like an electrifying natural force, shocks of energy pummeling down. I had never been so near to lightning before. The guide screamed to tuck away my camera, the metal parts would attract the lightning. Last year a Canadian trekker was lethally struck by lightning. But I could barely hear his rapid Spanish fading into the howling wind. And in special scenarios, all ability of Spanish fades and I’m only about to huff out short phrases. Just over the black mountain, you smell the burn. Contrasting with the drab monochrome, magnificent rivers of burning lava were dripping just ahead over the black, releasing pristine white steam. No where else did I ever feel a sensation so unreal.

This being Guatemala, nobody had even mentioned what “Pacaya” was going to be like. No mention of what shoes to wear, what clothing to bring, what to expect, just a sign on a board with a $7 price. Consequently, I thought we were going to the top near a crater in hot temperatures, peer down into the bubbling lava, on a designated trail with a police escort and guide. (That’s what I paid for.) So I wore a lacy blouse, a bonnet hat, comfortable walking shoes, and knee-length capris for the sunny weather. Instead, I was drenching wet and trembling cold, with a plastic sheet over me struggling to keep pace. The guide ended up saying nothing about the volcano, instead, telling sexual jokes about how Latino men were and leaving us far behind.

By the time we got to the lava, the pumice rocks were brittle and cracked as we stood on them but you could see the thermal red glow of magma in between the crevasse. I felt the intense heat on my toes and bare skin as the soles of our shoes melted–(softened and melted! Do you know what kind of heat melts running shoes?! Pain!)—and as the flow trickled down in infrared, the guy kept telling us to get close to it, to poke at it with our sticks.

Some of us–me too–wanted to stay back, others started roasting marshmallows over the lava, but Guatemalans kept insisting we proceed forward. Nobody could remain at a distance. Two very stupid Americans ran and jumped over the molten lava, which plumes of heat singed their hair and eyebrows in the split second they leaped (they do know this is molten rock, right?) Another stepped upon cooled lava, which crushed and crumbled under his weight. I wondered how close the magma was beneath our feet. They told us that one year a girl had tried to jump over the stream and instead barely missed and fell onto the incinerating molten lava, with severe caustic burns all over her body.

While up there, it felt like walking on the surface of Venus… one of the most outstanding experiences in Central America.