Weekend Warrior: Guatemala Edition

Yes, you’re reading this right – it really is a blog post, finally put together by yours truly.  I know I’ve been remiss in my resolution to keep up with this blog, but I promise that the writing efforts that are not being spent here are being expended on my dissertation (which is one chapter closer to completion this month!).

Recently, I’ve been living and working in Guatemala City, at a place that is officially called Salón 3, even thought that literally just means “Room 3” (I don’t know where Rooms 1 and 2 are, if they exist).  Salón 3 is a warehouse where Guatemala’s Institute of Anthropology and History stores excavated archaeological materials – a little bit like the place where they put the Ark of the Covenant at the end of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, though even saying it’s “a little bit” like that might be a stretch. Salón 3 doesn’t have those nicely packed wooden crates, but rather is mostly filled with old, reused cardboard boxes (even some boxed wine containers) that are often disintegrating and leaving pieces of pottery all over the floor. It’s also housed within the same complex as the Guatemalan equestrian team’s stables (sports and culture are part of the same ministry here), so sometimes there are horses chewing on the plastic covering the windows.  Lastly, Salón 3 is just behind the Guatemala City zoo and they have apparently found some large rodent escapees making nests among the ceramics and stone tools.

Salón 3 is one of the places where I’ve been piecing back together artifact fragments for the past few months, making this:

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into things more like this:

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The point of this blog post, however, is not that I spend my weeks in a dark, dusty place tediously gluing together pieces of old pots that all look the same (although, as it turns out, thousands of pieces of red bowls, jars, and plates are a greater challenge than any I’ve yet faced on the Garrisons’ puzzle table).  The point is that after spending all week doing so, I’ve had some extra motivation to enjoy my weekends and discovered a few newfound gems in Guatemala.

The first of these little hidden treasures is a magical place called Mundo Petapa, run by an organization called IRTRA.  The acronym doesn’t sound that enticing, but it’s basically the Institute for Recreation for Employees of Private Companies.  Mundo Petapa is a combination theme park, water park, and zoo, hidden right in the middle of Guatemala City.  Now, to be honest, I was more than a little skeptical when friends suggested we go to a Guatemalan theme park.  There are some amazing things that this country is known for, but I think it would be fair to say that safety regulations and fully functioning, reliable equipment are not on that list.  I also couldn’t help but picture the local ferias – carnivals that are set up in towns for patron saints’ days.  Ferias usually have some bumper cars connected directly to power lines, some kind of lottery game where I only understand enough to know that parakeets pick the winning numbers, and a rickety Ferris wheel powered by a tractor, run by someone wearing flip-flops and putting the pedal to the metal (as an interesting little aside, I recently learned that Ferris wheels are called ruedas de Chicago [Chicago wheels] in Spanish since the first one was debuted at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago).  Fortunately, Mundo Petapa was a little more Disneyland than street carnival.

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The ruedas de Chicago from the feria in Momostenango (above) and Mundo Petapa (below)

My friends Mily and Martín and I rode the Brinca Kangaroo bounce ride, the Tronco Splash log flume, and the Moto Bala and Raton Loroco roller coasters, perused the zoo’s wildlife (which included an African lion in addition to the local Central American critters), had lunch in a miniature replica of downtown Guatemala City, meandered through the Valle de Dinos, and watched some impressive juggling clowns over ice cream.

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Mundo Petapa (we did not, unfortunately brave a ride on the Rascacielos [Skyscraper] drop in the background)

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Mily and Martín getting ready for a bouncy kangaroo ride

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Wouldn’t have been a day at the theme park without the classic log flume photo

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Dinosaur Valley’s biggest swinger

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A few choice specimens from the Mundo Petapa zoo, caged and uncaged

Although it wasn’t technically occurred during the week, the day after Mundo Petapa I had the chance to take a little day trip to Tikal.  Another archaeologist and I gave a tour of the site to 70(!) people from the Los Angeles Chapter of the Young Presidents Organization, which consisted of CEOs under 45 years old.  The day’s schedule was pretty hectic: we flew from Guatemala City to Flores, drove to Tikal, did lunch and an abbreviated tour of the ruins, then flew right back to Guatemala City again (a 13-hour day in total, with three hours spent at the site).  The group seemed almost equally divided between hating the jungle’s abundant mosquitos and humidity and being genuinely interested in the site and the experience.  They were a little hard to reign in for most of the tour, as you can see in the picture in front of Temple 1, where maybe half the group is poised and ready for the photo.  All in all, though, they were generally friendly and funny and I had a good time jetting off to Tikal for the day.

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Kings of past and present: the Young Presidents Organization members in front of Tikal’s Temple 1

Fast forward through a few more warehouse days and we come to Wonderful Weekend #2: Tom’s visit (his last one – which means I’m getting close to heading home!).  Since I’ve been living down here for such a long stretch, Antigua has lost a little bit of its vacation feel for me and Tom and I decided to take a vacation within his vacation and head to the beach on the Pacific coast.  Although we had some difficulty getting out of Guatemala City (who knew a highway could have three different names within one city’s limits?) and had to wait out a parade for the feria in Itzapa, we eventually made it to our destination: the quaint little village of – no joke – Hawaii, Guatemala, and the Hotel Honolulu.

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The beaches on the Pacific coast of Guatemala are always take a little getting used to.  It’s not just the black volcanic sand, it’s the way the beaches are totally unmodified and largely undeveloped.  No jetties, no dredging, no artificial dunes; just a scattering of largely inconspicuous hotels and thatched roof homes.

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The black sand beaches look and sound intriguing, but really they just turn into a foot-scalding obstacle between you and the water once the sun has been up for a bit

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The Hawaii Church: Saint Xavier of the Sea

Mostly, we spent the weekend enjoying our hotel’s pools and very fresh seafood and occasionally braved this Hawaii’s notorious undertow enough to wade in a bit.

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Tom getting his feet wet

On an early morning walk along the beach however, we also happened to save some sea turtles.  Hawaii, Monterrico, and other nearby beaches are well-known turtle nesting grounds, although eggs are usually taken from the nests by poachers and predators long before they hatch.  Near our hotel in Hawaii, a non-profit organization buys eggs from poachers and then reburies them in nests within a protected area of the beach.  When the turtles hatch, they dig their way out of the soil and then are counted and measured by the non-profit’s volunteers.

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Tons of tiny turtles just waiting to hatch

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After the hatchlings are accounted for, volunteers carry them in buckets to the beach, where they are let loose on the sand and make their way toward the sea.  As they scurry down to the waves, the smell of the beach sand is imprinted in their memories, allowing them to return to the very same beach to nest 10-20 years later.  Supposedly, only one in a thousand hatchlings survives to adulthood under natural conditions and the simple acts of protecting the eggs and giving the turtles a little head start to the sea make a big difference in overcoming those odds.  Since the turtles swim for around 72 hours once they hit the water, let’s hope most of the few hundred turtles we let loose on Saturday are happily frolicking about in the great big blue.

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 And they’re off!  Keep your fingers crossed for the little guys – they still have a long way to go…
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3 thoughts on “Weekend Warrior: Guatemala Edition

  1. Well, I’m sure glad you didn’t try the Skyscraper ride….and this tells me we have to step up our puzzle level of difficulty! xoxo Weezie

  2. I love this stuff!

    As you alluded to, cobwebs do tend to grow on this blog in between updates – but – what your blogs lack in frequency is more than offset by the quality of the content when you do get down to it. You are quite the “photo-journalist”!

    Looking at your photos of the pottery, I hate to be the one to tell you but – even after all that gluing together – I’m afraid those jugs still might leak 🙂

    Cool pictures of the theme park. I’m a little surprised you did not go for the “Rascacielos” however. Maybe it just seemed a little too tame compared to some of your adventures.

    I almost started to identify with you when you talked of lounging around the hotel pool at the hotel Honolulu. That sounded like “normal” people activity. But then you had to go out and “save baby sea turtles”! That sort of evaporated the “Corona beer commercial” image that was starting to form re: your hotel stay.

    I am always fascinated by your exploits Sarah Newman. Your writings make me smile in amazement at the variety of life you live. Thank you for the energy and time you put into each blog and communication.
    Cheers,
    Chuck

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