Archive for enrichment voyage

Voyage Update: Egg Mc Effin’ Muffin

I stared out over a vast carpet of sugar cane and reminisced about the movies Burn and Sugar Cane Alley. I thought about my ancestors working in those fields, organizing, rebelling, and maintaining culture. Shifting my attention to the tour guide, a Caucasian man named Vincent in his mid to late fifties, I grabbed my ipod and prepared to take a few notes on the bus.

Mooch and I had signed up for a course on the Mayan calendar and divination system, followed by a self-guided tour of the ancient city. Our guide began a light discussion of the cosmology during the hour long drive towards Antigua, where we would sit down for the full lecture. As Mooch dozed, I jotted notes about Sephardic Jews being pushed out of Spain and given sugar cane as a means for economic gain. They traveled to the Caribbean and made a fortune in the slave trade. I read Jews, Slavery, and Dixie back at Chapman, and learned that Jewish people had once been quite the racialists, owning enslaved Africans and participating in the trade. A lot of the sugar goes to rum, and much of it is exported as is. Off the record, cocaine is actually the biggest export.

When we got further along, Vincent noted the coffee plants to our right, which are now shaded by trees above. Apparently, environmentalists and consumers have made an impact by requiring that birdsong be present during crop production. There is a film about the coffee crisis as well, which I watched on Netflix called Birdsong & Coffee: A Wake-Up Call. I’m not sure if it’s still there, but give it a Google. It’s quite interesting.

Mooch’s head banged into my shoulder every now and then as the bus swayed this way and that. I was tired, too, because of hour 5am wake up, but this was too interesting for me to sleep through. Someone asked about education, and Vincent said that if a child does not want to go to school or doesn’t seem particularly interested, they don’t have to. Many stay home and help their grandparents while learning various skills from them — cooking, cutting wood, carrying water, etc. Mayans just don’t require that their kids attend school. Children are an integral part of the family income. They are the perfect height for coffee picking. The Mayans prefer to maintain ancestral languages and traditions.

The Maya have to work within the system to continue to live the way that they do. In politics they don’t really have a voice. The local representatives and governors don’t necessarily have their best interest, and most of their votes are paid for. They do go out and vote, though. Sometimes they are tricked into voting for things that don’t suit them well, which sounded very familiar to me. Another similarity between the Mayan community and my own is that they lie on the census or don’t participate at all.

As our bus pulled into the small colonial town, I was immediately aesthetically pleased. I didn’t want to reach down and gather my things for fear of missing an arched doorway or tiled roof. The colors were like a painting, each one situated next to another that complimented it so well. People were sparse, but they were there — perched in doorways reading fine literature, strolling the stone roads, and enjoying the peace. It was quiet in Antigua, but that was part of its charm.

We pulled up at Y Tu Pina, and got out. This quaint, yellow, trendy coffee shop was where our lecture would be. There had been no available breakfast on the ship at the early hour we left, so we were starving. I ordered french toast for each of us and we took our seats in the second room of the cafe. Mooch plopped down on a couch in the last seat available, and I grabbed a wooden chair. My friend, Daniella, pointed up to a faded sign on the wall, and in the cutest aqua font, it read: “Free Wi-Fi.” I had my ipod, and would later use the web to calculate my birthdate on the Mayan calendar. I pointed out to her the words “Egg McFuckin Muffin” on the menu, and we both chuckled. It was my kinda place. The french toast was like none I’d ever tasted. It was doused in cinnamon and the two halves had a thin layer of cream cheese in between. The whole ensemble was laid over a bed of strawberries. It was the best I’ve ever had, and that was without syrup!

There are 22-32 different Mayan languages and different dialects within each. Religion differs based on location — highlands, bush, forrest, etc. Vincent has lived with the Mayans since 1987, and he speaks K’iche, Spanish and Kaqchikel. He has also written a book on the Mayan calendar and divination system. There are priests specifically called to “day keep.” Though he is not one of them, he has been allowed to study with them.

I found so many parallels between Ifa (the Yoruba tradition from Nigeria) and the Mayan divination system. The Maya determine the destiny of a person based on their date of birth, according to the “Sacred Count Days.” In their cosmology, humans are said to be created from maize, and the “Sacred 260 Day Calendar” orders both the lives of humans and the way the crops are tended and harvested. Gestation takes 260 to complete in the womb of a woman, and it takes that same amount of time for a maize plant to be birthed in the Maya highlands. There are also 260 Odu Ifa (divination signatures) in the Yoruba system.

The Maya observed that humans have 13 pulses (one at the neck, two at the wrists, two in the elbows, two in the shoulders, two in the hips, two at the knees, and two at the ankles) and 20 digits (ten fingers and ten toes). 13 times 20 equals 260. At birth a person enters their day, their sun, and their destiny and is named after the day they were born. I could bore you to death with numerology and parallels or you could just order Vincent’s book, The Sacred Count of Days. It includes a detailed introduction, a page on each deity, and character tendencies for people based on their birth dates. Mooch was wide awake and attentive during the lecture. She couldn’t wait to calculate her own. She had read the characteristics of each, and found mine before we even calculated it.

After a very informative lecture, I was ready to set sandal to street and explore the nooks and people of Antigua. The first thing I spotted reminded me of Hannibal. Just across the street on a colonial wall, in a medium white speech bubble with a dark black outline were the words, “Ay Robot Comics.” “A comic book shop?” I thought. After a photo with the sign, I went in and spoke to a white guy in his twenties with a handlebar mustache. He was a very nice expatriate (from Canada, I think), who made me feel the warmest I’ve ever felt in a comic book shop. He had a lot of vintage comics in one section, and all of his current stuff in another. He gave me a tour of the titles, and Hannibal and Vince (our friend back home) would have been proud of my ability to carry on the conversation. Based on my tastes, he recommended Y: The Last Man — Paper Dolls for me. I read half of it on the tour bus back to the port. So far so good.

Mooch took a horse ride around Central Park, we watched a mime near a pretty fountain, we ate gelato, and walked through a few churches before it was time head back to the bus.

I really appreciated the oversized doors. One can open half of the door for the horse, both doors for the carriage, and there is a small door that opens as a “people” door. Large door knockers are located up high for the horsemen and a each building had a beautiful brass doorknocker for people. Brass lions and hands are of Moorish (Muslim/Arabic) influence that the Spanish brought from Spain to Guatemala after 1524. There also seemed to be Moorish influence in the beautiful tachones, which may be in the form of rosetas (brass or iron decorations) that were initially placed on doors so that the camels in the Muslim world would not rub against the doors and knock them over. Alas, there were no lions or camels in Guatemala but the beautiful decorations remain.

The street vendors were very persistent, but I thoroughly enjoyed the people and architecture in this pretty little town, and I’d gladly sleep in a sleeping bag on the cobblestone to be a part of it.

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Voyage Update: Still The Same OG (Nicaragua)

Litter filled gutters flanked dirt roads traveled by pedicabs and tired sun kissed people. M-80s went off every few seconds. A deep throaty male voice called out, “Come here, redbone. Damn, girl!” as I made my way out of the port. After a mental double take, I realized that what I heard was, in fact, English, and did sound like someone from the deep south. When I glanced in the direction of the Dizzy Gillespie-esque voice, what I actually found was a small Nicaraguan man drinking his troubles away.

Instructions from the ship had warned women not to smile at or make eye-contact for too long with men in Nicaragua, because it is seen as a romantic invitation. I kept it moving. I was headed to a bank, which would ultimately decline my transaction due to too many strange charges. I notified my credit union of my travels and provided them with a list of where I’d be on each date, but things happen. My friend loaned me ten bucks, and that was all I needed to have a great time.

Shop owner in Nicaragua

I didn’t have high hopes for Nicaragua before my arrival. Based on my research, there is a lot of crime, dirty beaches, and poor people. Fortunately, I’m not a boring person and I wasn’t accompanied by boring people. Most things in Nicaragua (as you’ll note in the pics) are made in China, so it was difficult to find hand crafted items. The security guard at the port had told us we were already in downtown when we asked how to get to el centro. It didn’t look like it. Each single story row of establishments was shared by residences and businesses. We could barely tell the difference between the two. The bank really did look like a bank, though. That was about it.

Like in previous countries, I appreciated the multi-colored paint on each dwelling. It had a certain charm. Shortly after we left the bank (still on foot), a small parade came through. I’m not sure what it was about, but I’m pretty sure they were carrying the Virgin Mary. Well, it was a replica of her. When we finally found the “park” the guard had mentioned at the center of “downtown,” we stumbled on a young man named Hamilton. He spoke very good English, which he learned largely from rap music. Despite the origin of his vocabulary, he was very respectful, and offered to show us around for about 3 or 4 bucks. This included his friend on a pedicab. He promised a beach that didn’t have black water like the one near the port did.

Pedicab

We told him we’d be going to the ship to eat, but we’d take him up on his offer at one o’ clock. He agreed. While we were browsing the products of the one craftsperson we could find, we spotted a starving little boy. Our future guide was also hungry, so we promised to smuggle them both burgers from the ship. Hamilton walked us back to the port and told us to meet him under a Coca Cola awning a block from the ship.

With a stack of napkins, large purses, and even larger hearts, we wrapped burgers at lunch time. Cups of fries, and two brownies also made their way into our sacks. After lunch we each ran to our cabins to place our beach attire under our dresses and hurried off to meet Hamilton. He was there, but because we were ten minutes late, he was worried that we had tricked him. Determined to find the little boy, we made the pedicab wait. The boy was so happy when we handed him all of the food. Hamilton saved burger and fries for the beach.

Hamilton and Bobby

When we piled into the tiny cab, I thought it’s metal pipe frame would bend. Each time the poor guy pedaled over a speed bump, I was sure he’d have a heart attack. We were heavy. There were also five of us! I admired the roosters, ducks, kids, and small dogs as we rolled by. Hamilton would ask us what various words meant along the way. He was really trying to master his English. He asked what it meant to “stir up” something (as in stir up trouble). We had fun answering all of his questions. Some of them were so random. That’s how I figured out that he learned a lot of English through rap music. He wanted to know what “gibberish” meant. When I asked him where on earth he’d heard that word, he said:

Nowadays everybody wanna talk like they got somthin to say/
But nothin’ comes out when they move their lips/
Just a bunch of gibberish
” –Eminem

The whole pedicab broke out in laughter (except for Mooch and Empress). He said it just like Eminem with no latin accent. It was hilarious. Anyway, the beach had a lot of litter above it, but when we got down near the rocks, it was okay. I actually got in, and I probably have cholera, but that’s okay, because I enjoyed myself, right?

Me getting cholera

 

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Voyage Update: “Somewhere Out There” (Costa Rica)


A man with a strap sent my baby across the jungle. I’m pretty sure my heart went with her. By the third time, her feet brushing against the tree tops didn’t bother me as much. I stood on the small brown milk crate, and waited for the operator, Juan, to connect my third hook to the pulley. My body rocked backwards and I crossed my shivering ankles as I had been told. He asked if I was ready, but I don’t think I replied before he let go. Extending my right arm behind my head, I rested my gloved hand gently on the thick cable. The next thing I knew, I was admiring Costa Rica, greenery from above. Ziplining was thrilling! I don’t think I’ll do it again, though. It’s one of those things where once is enough.

 

The country itself, on the other hand, has much more for me to explore. Our sassy, extremely educated, awesome tour guide shared so much detailed information. On the hour long bus ride to the rain forrest she told us about Costa Rica’s main exports. No one guessed that microchips were number one. Bananas and pineapples were behind that, and coffee is in the top ten. Eighty percent of people in Costa Rica work in tourism in some capacity. The people are very educated, because school is mandatory, and the government does so much to help people along (free books, uniforms, etc.). The country stopped having an army long ago, to invest that money in education. The only reason to attend private school is if one wants to study a foreign language, and that’s not very expensive either. There are many colleges, both public and private as well. Costa Rica’s public colleges are ranked 18th in the world, so a degree from one is far from toilet paper. The private ones are around $4000 per year.

Health care is free as well. There are also private medical facilities for those who don’t wish to wait. Since the private doctors and dentists have to remain competitive with the free public ones, their rates aren’t very high either. Many tourists go to Costa Rica for plastic surgery and dental care. Our tour guide got her entire two years worth of braces (Invisalign) for $250. I hadn’t picked my jaw up off of the bus floor before she backtracked to tell us that room and board, books, and a stipend for living expenses were included in a public college education.

Mooch on a string

I, of course, asked if there was an ethnic enclave of Costa Ricans of African descent. She said it was about six hours away in Limon. That’s the same thing that happened in Ecuador both times. According to our tour guide, the government had shipped Italians and Chinese people over to build the railroads, but they weren’t able to, so they ended up using people of African descent, who were already in the Caribbean. As a result, a large population of black Costa Ricans live near that coast. They speak Spanish, English and patois. I met a few on the strip when we got back to the port.

With a 98% literacy rate, there are no Costa Ricans working in the banana fields, because they are all so educated. Immigrants from Nicaragua and Guatemala work in the fields for $400 per month and receive free housing, a bicycle, free school nearby for their kids, and free food. The country is behind Ecuador in banana production, because Costa Rica is a green country, and requires that companies refrain from using plastic bags during production, and dispose of waste properly (not in the ocean). Certain companies (Dole, Chiquita, etc.) don’t want to spend the extra resources to reduce, recycle, and reuse, so they operate primarily in Ecuador, where their carbon footprint goes unnoticed. Costa Rica is fine with that. In fact, the government has bought large swaths of land and turned them into protected parks, so they could preserve forrest areas that various companies were begging to burn down. Colombia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Brazil are way ahead of Costa Rica in terms of coffee production. The country, however, boasts that quality over quantity is their motto in this regard. I tasted a small sampling of the good stuff, and I must agree, they know what they’re doing.

The president of Costa Rica is a woman. When the bus found out, we all cheered. Then we found out that she was still a douche bag, who spent the 80 million dollars China gave the country on her own social media image instead of repairing the country after a recent earthquake. We all yelled, “Booooo!” She only has 13.7% popularity with the people. Speaking of earthquakes, Puntarenas (the city we visited) will be a separate island after two more shakes like the last one. The country sits on a lot of fault lines, and is highly prone to quakes. That’s nothing I’m not used to, though. *wink*

Almost everyone I met on the strip spoke both English and Spanish, and their English was good! Most of them went to private school. People smiled and spoke, and everyone was polite. Shish-kabobs, ceviche, ice cream, fish, and more were all sold right on the street out of little carts. You know, like downtown Los Angeles. I didn’t get in the beach water in Costa Rica, because close to the port, it always looks like gasoline. The locals had no problem riding the waves. We watched them occasionally as we picked up trinkets from the local artisans. In Costa Rica, the items didn’t say, “Made in China” on the bottom, so that was comforting.

Stick meat

Our second day, we returned to an internet cafe we had found the first evening. Everyone checked in with their families, and then we strolled along the strip. I couldn’t find a t-shirt to suit my fancy, but I got a small owl puzzle for Fuss. There weren’t any black dolls in this area either. I’d be interested to return to Costa Rica and hang out in Limon. Our tour guide from the first day said there was no use tasting Costa Rican food unless I was in Limon, so I didn’t. All of my meals were eaten on the ship. I’m trying to save money wherever I can. Outside of tacos in Cabo, I don’t see us spending on food again. I can get Guatemalan food from my neighbors in the states, and the food in Nicaragua today didn’t seem appetizing. Ciao!

Me on a String

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Voyage Update: “Here We Are Now Entertain Us” (Peru)


As the six-by-nine speakers in the back of the small seventies cab blasted Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” my friends and I piled in like sardines waiting to be entertained. Instead of men selling fruit, like back home, the center dividers in Callao and Lima dawned dancing children expecting donations. Some really had skills, but others relied on cuteness to earn soles (the national currency). We kept our windows up and our doors locked despite the mild heat in the atmosphere. The city bustled like New York, with people moving very quickly to their destinations. Lots of things were being yelled, and in Callao, they honk incessantly. When street traffic stands still like the freeways in the states, everyone just lays on the horn.

Crammed in the back of a cab

This time we were traveling with Juan, a local, who was a friend of a friend of a friend. He’s an activist in Callao, who works along with El Ministirio del Culturo (the Ministry of Culture) to bring good health, educational opportunities, and other enrichment services to the Afro-Peruvians. The friend who connected us with Juan is Owen, who actually works at El Ministirio del Culturo. We met with him Thursday for about an hour and a half to discuss the current state of Afro-Peruvians. His organization is currently in the research phase. They must collect the data on how many Afro-Peruvians there are and where they are before being able to help them. Peru hasn’t done a census since the seventies, and being black is not considered a thing to necessarily be proud of. When surveying people, they must be clever and ask whether a grandparent or great-grandparent was of African descent. Because Afro-Peruvians are sprinkled here and there, it is difficult to prove there is a need for services and that if funded, people will be accessible to receive the help. Sometimes the organization has to use the hospitals diabetes and hypertension statistics to prove that there are sufficient numbers of Afro-Peruvians, because the government recognizes these as diseases prevalent amongst those of African descent.

Meeting Owen at The Ministry of Culture

The conversation with Owen was perfectly timed. It followed a trip to an Afro-Peruvian museum, where we learned about slavery in Peru. The guided tour included descriptions of the middle passage, the type of work the enslaved Africans did in Peru, and the impact on society following slavery. Apparently, there was a caste system similar to India in Peru following slavery, but it was based on ethnic mixture. The less African and Indian one possessed in their lineage, the more well off they were. While the system doesn’t legally exist anymore, the effects are still present today, of course. We explained that in the United States a similar situation took place (i.e. house negro, field negro, etc.), but it sounds like the perquisites for such differences were greater in Peru.

Afro-Peruvian Museum

The museum was fairly close to the presidential palace. Though it was thoroughly guarded, we were able to take photos. The fountain in the center of the area was surrounded by a beautiful cathedral and a courthouse. We were on foot at this point, so I was really able to take it all in. I’m sure it hadn’t been a coincidence that Juan had the taxi driver take us through the Graphic Design District. There was a whole alley plus two additional blocks of graphic design companies, printers, paper companies and the like. I appreciated it, even though he claimed it wasn’t on purpose.

Wednesday was our first day in Peru, and we covered a lot of ground. Mooch sat on my lap in the back of the first taxi, so by the time we got to the Naval Museum my foot was asleep. The weaponry was very interesting to look at. They had everything from swords and guns to canon balls and torpedos. Mooch was able to learn how a torpedo works, and she plans to study it further. She really liked that. Juan took us to eat lunch next door to that museum, and when we walked in, not only did we feel underdressed, we thought we wouldn’t be able to afford it. A pianist played Mozart and Christmas tunes in the corner of the airy restaurant, which was decked out in crisp white modern furniture. Everything turned out just fine. The food was really good, though it was a tad too salty for my taste.

Mooch at Coney Park in Peru

The kids were asking for fun. Juan looked a bit confused, and we ended up taking a small van-like bus, called a combi, to the mall. That’s not exactly fun for kids, so they seemed let down, and we thought the language barrier had soiled our intentions, but Juan had a plan. There was a small amusement park at the mall called Coney Park, and boy were they amused. We had gone to the bank to change our dollars to soles prior to crossing the street at the mall, so after gelato, I purchased six rides for Mooch for twenty soles. The exchange rate is 2.57. Not bad. I even had a chance to step away and videotape some young men doing skateboard tricks nearby.

To get to our next destination, we darted through dense traffic in the combi. Los Angeles, Compton, hell even Watts doesn’t compare to the way folks drive in Peru. The “bus” driver threw his hands up and yelled obscenities out of the window each time he cut someone off in transit. He went backwards down a one way street during rush hour. There is no real map or system for combis or buses in Peru. As the driver drives, another worker hangs out of the door and shouts out the destinations and collects the money from passengers. Cities and streets are painted on the side of the combi. We almost collided with other cars several times, but we arrived at our destination alive.

I changed my tampon standing up in a fifty cent bathroom. I had already planned to suggest the Magic Circuit, which is a park with several fountains and dancing water with lights. We travelled there that night, and it was beautiful. Everyone seemed to have a good time. Mooched was getting a little ill by that point, so Juan bought her some manzanilla tea (like chamomile). We got back to the boat around ten — in time for snack.

At the Magic Circuit of Water in Peru

By Friday, I was used to dipping and dodging in traffic. Juan’s brother drove us to the artisan mart, and we left Mooch on the boat with tea, Ibuprofen, and a television to get plenty of rest. Then we got our Peruvian shopping done. I had noted to Juan on Wednesday that none of the dolls in any stores had brown skin. He said he had a friend, who made black dolls, and he’d connect us Friday. Her name was Marite. We met up with her first, because I’ve been collecting dolls from every country. Her dolls were not what I expected, but I purchased one anyway, and I helped get one for Empress (the other child traveling with us). Marite simply paints white dolls black. I was looking for hand sewn. It’s interesting, though, that she does this because Afro-Peruvians literally don’t have any other way to get black or brown plastic dolls. Those varieties exist only on the internet.

We didn’t get to go to Machu Picchu with others from the boat. It was too expensive, and the excursion took the entire three days in Peru. I was content with detailed explanations, photos, and living vicariously through shipmates. I think it would have been too much hiking for Mooch, and it’s a journey one should complete without children.

We got lunch, more gelato, and then headed back to the ship. I really loved the Mira Flora area. The houses are very modern and the city is well established. The people in Peru weren’t particularly warm, but everyone we met directly was very nice. I appreciated the physical contact. They gave a hug and a kiss on the cheek with every greeting — even in business settings. Though there were times when language was a barrier, like when we described a food court to Juan in Spanish and he took us to the grocery store’s deli section, he was an awesome host. He carried bags, wiped kids faces, consoled them, and described each facility thoroughly. He only spoke Spanish, but we hung on to his every word. Others in our group were put off by the traffic, but if there had been more of a concentrated community of Afro-Peruvians to raise my kids in, Peru would have been on my list. I felt very at home. It delivered.

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Voyage Update: Iguanas!! (Equador)


Pulling into Guayaquil, Ecuador was similar to pulling into San Pedro, California. It was very industrial. There were large metal crates placed here and there, and men with hardhats bustled about. Ours was the only cruise ship. There weren’t any gift shops our tourist areas near the port, and there weren’t people bombarding us with stuff to sell.

We waited for a shuttle to take us from the ship to the metal detectors, and once we got through, there were a few cabs waiting just outside the port. I accepted the first guy that offered a ten dollar round trip with waiting included. I was the sole Spanish speaker on this little excursion, because Saudeka was ill today. There’s a respiratory virus circulating the ship.

As we passed the drab apartment buildings with bars on every window and door, the cab driver, Fernando, told me I should ride with my purse under my legs, because someone may pull up next to my window and snatch it out of my lap. I was already on guard, because this is one of those countries where the police stand around with large rifles.

After about fifteen minutes of swerving, we arrived at the artisan market. In most of the countries we have been to, people (including cab drivers) drive like they are on cocaine. The craft market was super cheap! I got a couple of hand made dolls and a parrot. I’ve really become obsessed with national birds on this trip. When I had spent ten dollars, I asked the driver if he could take us to the park with the iguanas under the same rate. He did, even though it was downtown. This was such a big difference from the thirty and forty dollar taxi rides we’d had in the other countries.

Mooch walked right up to the iguanas and began to pet them. We only stayed briefly, because this time Fernando stayed in the car. He had already warned me that if people heard everyone else in my group speaking English, they would automatically know we were tourists, and we’d be subject to theft and attack. I pulled out my camera to snap a few pictures of Mooch at the park, despite his telling me not to. When I did, the record stopped and all eyes were on me. I just mean mugged everyone, took a few more pictures, and put my camera away. We left shortly after that, because it’s just a regular city park where iguanas live, so it isn’t that fascinating. Neither of us wanted to spend more than twenty dollars in this country, so we had Fernando get us back to the ship for lunch. We will be in Peru for three days, so we must save for that.

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